Simple missions

This past weekend I met with a group of people to discuss missions.

Traditional church is complex and complicated. Think of what goes into a typical Sunday morning service, let alone the upkeep of a building, handling the finances, keeping the programs running. Ordinary people, who have no training in ecclesiology and who have jobs and families, would find it very difficult to start and/or run a traditional church.

Simple/organic church, on the other hand, is so simple, almost anyone can start one.

Traditional missions is complex too. They require mission agencies and mission boards to keep them running. Raising support is tough. It’s hard to adapt to a different culture.

A question I’ve been asking myself for some time is this. What would simple missions look like? Just as simple/organic church has a very different feel and DNA to the traditional, what would be the differences between simple and traditional missions?

What ideas do you have?

Photo Credit: Gary Koutsoubis via Compfight cc

A heroine of the faith: Lottie Moon

Lottie Moon, height 4 foot 3 inches, was a powerhouse for the gospel. Born to affluent parents who owned a tobacco plantation in 1840, she was indifferent to her Baptist upbringing until the age of 18, when she underwent a spiritual awakening at a revival meeting on her college campus. At the age of 33, with one of the first Master of Arts degrees accorded to a woman by a southern university and with a few years of teaching experience, she followed her younger sister onto the mission field in China. She spoke five languages, could read Hebrew and would learn Chinese. She had turned down a marriage proposal and left everything behind, with no expectation of ever returning home, in order to follow God’s call on her life.

Lottie started teaching at a boys’ school but soon discovered her real passion: evangelism. Most mission work at the time was done by men, but they could do nothing to reach the Chinese women. Frustrated at  being tied to teaching in school, she soon viewed herself as part of an oppressed class–that of single women missionaries. She became relentless in a battle to see women missionaries given the freedom to minister and to have an equal voice in missions proceedings. She wrote frequently to the head of the Southern Baptist Missions Board requesting more workers–whether male or female.

At the age of 45, Lottie Moon moved away from teaching into full time evangelism. Her converts numbered in the hundreds.

She wrote numerous letters to people back in the States describing the life of a missionary and encouraging Southern Baptist women to create support groups for missionaries, and to consider becoming missionaries themselves. She also argued for regular furloughs for those on the mission field, convinced this would extend their lives on the mission field.

When she returned from her second furlough in 1904, Lottie was deeply disturbed by the poverty and starvation she saw all around her and she started sharing her meager supplies with them–to her own physical and mental detriment. She pleaded for more money, but the mission board had none to send her. By 1912, she weighed only 50 pounds. Fellow missionaries were so alarmed by her appearance they arranged for her to be sent home with a companion. She died on board the boat home.

But Lottie Moon’s legacy lives on: In 1887, one of her letters home suggested that the week before Christmas be specially set aside for giving to missions. The idea caught on. The first offering raised more than $3000, enough to send three more missionaries to China. In the years since then, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Missions has raised a total of $1.5 billion and finances half the entire Southern Baptist missions budget every year.

In a letter dated February 9th 1889, Lottie Moon wrote this:

Recently, on a Sunday which I was spending in a village near Pingtu city, two men came to me with the request that I would conduct the general services. They wished me to read and explain, to a mixed audience of men and women, the parable of the prodigal son. I replied that no one should undertake to speak without preparation, and that I had made none. (I had been busy all the morning teaching the women and girls.) After awhile they came again to know my decision. I said, “It is not the custom of the Ancient church that women preach to men.” I could not, however, hinder their calling upon me to lead in prayer. Need I say that, as I tried to lead their devotions, it was hard to keep back the tears of pity for those sheep not having a shepherd. Men asking to be taught and no one to teach them. We read of one who ìcame forth and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. “And how did he show his compassion?” He began to teach them many things. “Brethren, ministers and students for the ministry, who may read these lines, does there dwell in your hearts none of that divine compassion which stirred the heart of Jesus Christ, and which led him to ‘teach’ the multitude many things”?

And from another letter:

Women, too, may find [a place]. In city and in village, thousands of women will never hear the gospel until women bear it to them. They will admit women, but men can not gain access to their homes, nor will they come to church. The only way for them to hear the good news of salvation is from the lips of foreign women. Are there not some, yea many, who find it in their hearts to say, ‘Here am I; send me’?

Amazing what one outspoken little lady can do!

(Information for this article from Wikipedia and the International Mission Board)

 (Lottie Moon–picture from the IMB website)



Guest post by Larry Bennett: Why I changed my mind about women in ministry

Occasionally, I get a comment on my blog that is so important, it’s worth creating a guest post so others read it. The story that Larry tells of how he came to change his mind about women in ministry is outstanding.

Larry Bennett is an experienced mission’s trainer to developing world pastors and leaders. He has conducted and directed training in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the USA. Larry is director of New Dimensions International in Ellijay, GA.  He has a passion for church planting and believes that aggressive and rapid multiplication of churches will be the end-time method of fulfilling the great commission in our lifetime.

Coming from a conservative Baptist background my view of women in major leadership roles, such as pastor or evangelist was not something acceptable. We clearly clung to the “women keep silent” passage. I saw no light theologically to change my mind. Besides it has been that way for hundreds of years. My mind was closed to the subject and anyone offering any scriptural proof was ignored by me.

However, a funny thing happened when I left the pastorate and started training church planters in third and developing world countries. I began to observe that  some of the most successful church planters in NE India and throughout all of Asia were women. Now this really messed with my theological model. How could this be if women were suppose to keep silent in the church?

When I related this to my peers in the States, they said, “God had to use a woman because there were not any men available.” That just didn’t make sense, even to a prejudiced preacher like me. There were plenty of men available to be used by God.

Had I been wrong about the role of women?

So then I began to search the scripture and read as much as I could regarding the subject. I didn’t find much published information, but I did find in Scripture that God has always used women in major leadership roles. As a church planter I observed one of the most obvious roles was that of Priscilla in the New Testament..

Whats my point? I learned the value of women in leadership in a practical way, in the field. My real world experience broke down my prejudicial barriers when theological arguments couldn’t budge my ignorance. And I must say, it has been a freeing revelation. To see and to know that God is just as active in using committed women as He is to using committed men is an exciting thing. Besides, I believe “more hands on the rope, steadier the pull”.

One other story that convinced me that God indeed has chosen to use women involved a training session in India. It was our first attempt to introduce Chronological Storying. I had a daunting task of training four language groups in the same room at the same time. One of people groups represented were from the unreached Maithili tribe.  Among the group of church planters was a tall, rough looking woman who had recently been released from prison for drug running.  While in prison she had come to know Christ and had experienced the touch of God.

We explained to the church planters that we were going to learn the Bible stories chronologically, beginning with Genesis and eventually ending at the stories surrounding the Cross.  I told them not to get discouraged and not to expect much in the way of evangelism because they were setting the stage for presenting the gospel.  The plan was to teach 10 Bible stories each quarter. The church planter would go out and tell the stories and then come back for 10 more stories next quarter. They would continue this process until they completed the full set of stories.

When a new story was presented, the church planter was asked to learn to tell the story, compose a song for the story and then, with a small group, develop a drama related to the story. I was enamored by the tall Maithili lady and watched how she was intently focusing on learning the stories.   As I watched her practice her story, I thought, “How will the Lord use this woman, especially since she will be so rejected because of her background and because she is a woman?  She is such a baby believer, who will believe her when she goes into the villages?”

Three months later the group came back to learn the second set of stories.  We surveyed the group just to see how the stories were received in the villages.  The tall Maithili lady stood and reported that she had led 200 people to the Lord and planted 10 new house churches, all from telling 10 stories in Genesis.  Even though other church planters had good results, no one came close to her numbers.  In the following year she continued to be greatly used of the Lord.

The Lord taught me two things from that experience.  Women will be a key player in the next great harvest of souls.  Secondly, the Word of God is the cultural key that unlocks the heart, not just good missiology.  Because Jesus, in typology,  is presented throughout Genesis, the bridge to the cross was made possible.

Felicity, your book is important to publish, especially since it is coming from those of different backgrounds. The church needs this book, I will be praying for the Lord to greatly use the book for His glory.

Photo Credit: Ehsan Khakbaz via Compfight cc

The church moves west (part 3)

One of the most outstanding church planting movements of our time is going on in India. Victor Choudhrie has written a book, Greet the Church in Your House detailing the principles behind this movement. It will come out as a Kindle book in September. This post is the final part (first part starts here) of a section from the foreword I have written for the book.

Photo credit: peasap (Creative Commons)

The influence of the church continues its march back to Jerusalem. The Muslim nations are just beginning to see their own extraordinary moves of the Holy Spirit as sheikhs, imams and even whole mosques are finding freedom through becoming followers of Isa, Jesus the Christ.

An interesting point: the speed of what God is doing is increasing exponentially. What took centuries in times past now takes decades. What took decades is now happening in a few short years. If the present rate of growth continues, India has the poential to become a Christian nation.

The march of Christianity around the globe has almost gone full circle, each wave of recovered truth building upon the last. The tide continues to advance. What will happen next? I believe that even as the world grows darker, we will see a harvest of historic proportions, this time covering the whole world. But if we are to experience the kind of growth we have longed and prayed for, we need to adopt the principles that the Holy Spirit has already revealed through the waves of church history.

The changing face of missions

We just returned from  a two week trip to Taiwan, an island off the coast of China. Tony’s parents originally were called to work in China, but when the Communists took over just a few weeks after they arrived, they moved to Taiwan where Tony’s father, a doctor, opened a clinic. Tony was born in the capital city of Taipei and lived there (with a few years break at a British boarding school) until he was seventeen. So our family has many natural ties to the island.

Taiwan is a small, mountainous island that has transformed itself into a first world nation over the past couple of decades. It is very beautiful; the people are friendly. The main religion is Buddhism/Confucianism.

We were invited to speak to the Taiwan Missionary Fellowship, a group that involves nearly all the missionaries on the island. Well over 50% of the missionaries were there, and despite a huge variety in theology and church backgrounds, there was a sense of unity and a desire to work together across all the mission groups and churches. Even though Taiwan has a very traditional missions history, and the vast majority of the churches there are based on a Western model, there was great openness to our message that could have been both threatening and controversial. Our main teaching for the five days we were there was on following the Holy Spirit into the harvest and bringing the new disciples together in small groups/churches.

It seems that right across the board, many missions groups recognize that traditional patterns of church planting on the mission field (erect a building and train a pastor) are not just prohibitively expensive, but there are far more effective ways to reach out in today’s world. Some groups we met had already  begun to adopt Luke 10 patterns of church planting and many of the others were eager to explore organic principles they could use in reaching out.

From there we went to a much smaller city in the south of Taiwan where we spoke in a traditional Baptist church. Again, our message was on being willing to trust the Holy Spirit as he leads us outside the walls of our church to reach out to a world that desperately needs him. The lady pastor, who has been at the church for only three years and has already seen the church more than tripled in size, was so hungry to learn more. Again, she was open to non-traditional methods in reaching out to the world around her.

Following this we had a couple of days at the beach, and then back to Tony’s old school–Morrison Christian Academy, which his parents helped to found, for its 60th reunion. This school has been a huge support to the missionary community, but may now be moving into its most effective phase. It has a vision for training up the next generation of Taiwanese leaders. Here is traditional missionary work at its best.

Two things strike me from our trip. The first is that Taiwan is unusual; I don’t think I’ve ever before come across such a high degree of unity and collaboration within the missions community of a nation. We know that God has commanded his blessing where there is great unity. Who knows what God might do there. The potential is enormous.

The second is that God is up to something, not just in Taiwan, but in many other nations too. In several of the nations we have visited recently, there’s a renewed sense of anticipation, an expectation that God is about to move in ways they have only dreamed about. As missionaries adopt new patterns of making disciples, remaining only on a very temporary basis with any new church and training local people in principles of church planting movements and releasing them to do the work, God is moving in powerful ways.


Commercial fishing (part 2)


As I investigated the Scriptures on the subject of commercial fishing in the Gospels, several things became apparent.  There are several passages that talk about fishing:

  • Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-19  Jesus calls the four disciples who are fishermen and tells them he will make them fishers of men.
  • Luke 5:1-11  Jesus tells the disciples who had fished all night but caught nothing to put down their nets again into the deep and they catch two boatloads of fish
  • John 21:3-11  After Jesus’ resurrection, seven of the disciples go fishing.  Again Jesus tells them where to cast their nets and they catch 153 large fish
  • Matthew 17: 24-27  Peter uses a rod and line to catch a fish that has money for the temple tax in its mouth.

There is obviously more than one way the disciples are fishing.  In the Luke example, they were in a boat and let down their nets.  In the John example, they throw out their nets.  In the Matthew and Mark examples they were fishing from the shore.  Further investigation reveals that although in English the word net is used in every example, in the Greek, different words are used signifying different types of nets.  For example, in the Matthew and Mark examples a specific purse net is described.

Commercial fisherman (which is what the disciples were) would have understood that you use different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and the kind of fish you want to catch.

So in terms of the harvest where we are fishers of men, there may be different ways that we approach  “catching fish.”  What may work in other nations may not be best here in the West

There is one more passage.  This comes in Matthew 13 where Jesus tells a parable.  The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net (literally a dragnet or seine which is a type of net used to catch large numbers of fish) let down into the water…

The question I am pondering these days is, “How do we ‘let the kingdom of heaven’ down into the community around us?  Especially here in the West where people are jaded and inoculated against the Gospel.  What kind of fishing net will catch a multitiude of fish?

Any ideas?