God’s view of time

The church has become accustomed to measuring success by the world’s standards–not just in terms of numbers but in terms of speed. In our Western world we expect fast and instant. Think microwave dinners, air travel, Internet.

I think God views time differently.

Photo credit: Gilderic Photography (Creative Commons)

A story comes to mind; the story of James O. Fraser, chronicled by his daughter Eileen Crossman in the missionary classic, Mountain Rain.

James Fraser was a British missionary who went to Yunnan Province with the China Inland Mission in 1910. He loved to hike and climb, and it was on hiking trips into the Himalayas that he came across the Lisu people, a tribal group living high in the mountains of China, Myanmar, Thailand and India. He felt an immediate affection for them. His initial contact with them  was successful because he willingly adopted their lifestyle, staying with them in their huts, eating their food, sleeping on the ground. But nothing of any substance developed from this.

So what did Fraser do?

He prayed. Nothing happened. He became discouraged but he refused to give up. He set himself to pray through. He spent whole days and nights in prayer, crying out to the Lord for the salvation of these people whom God had laid on his heart.

Finally in 1916, he saw breakthrough. Scores of families came to know Christ. By 1918, the Lisu people had taken the Gospel themselves along family lines and 60,000 had been baptized. By the 1990s, the Chinese government admitted that more than 90% of the Lisu in China are Christians.

What would have happened if James Fraser had returned home in defeat after three or four years?

God’s timing is not our timing. If we are looking for instant success, we’re likely to fail. Within the simple church we look for multiplication and that starts slowly–really slowly–and takes time to gather momentum.

We can become discouraged and give up. Or we can choose to press through into everything God has laid on our hearts.

Are there times when you’ve been tempted to give up, but in pressing through, you’ve seen Jesus do things beyond your wildest dreams?

What’s in a name? Different uses of the term, “organic”

The term, organic, means natural, nonchemical, living, and alive. When applied to church, it refers to something that grows naturally.

Photo credit: thebittenword (Creative Commons)

Two people have popularized the name, organic church within the simple/organic/house church world.

Neil Cole was the first one to do so with his superb book, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, which God has used to teach the principles of multiplication and harvest all over the world. He uses the term to refer to planting the seed of the Kingdom out in our communities where people need the Lord. Here’s a quote from the introduction:

What would it be like if churches emerged organically, like small spiritual families born out of the soil of lostness, because the seed of God’s Kingdom was planted there? These churches could reproduce, just like all living things do.

We have seen churches meeting in restaurants, offices, homes, university campuses, high school facilities and beaches. We’ve had churches meeting in bars, parks, coffeehouses and locker rooms…

Let the church be alive, organic, in the flesh. Let it be birthed in the places it is most needed. Let the church be fruitful and multiply…

In other words, Neil uses the term “organic” to refer to bearing fruit in the harvest. Everything “alive” that God created multiplies, and church should be the same way.

Another person who uses the term, “organic church” is Frank Viola. Frank has a passion for the Bride of Christ. He uses the term to refer to a church that has life within itself–the life of Jesus. Here’s a quote from the introduction of his book, Finding Organic Church:

By organic church, I mean a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (as opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.

So Frank uses the term to apply to a community of believers whose life is centered around the living Christ.

It’s a question of emphasis. I’ve been in enough groups waiting on God with Neil to know that he believes in Jesus being the center and leader of the gatherings. And Frank has a desire to see the Gospel spread. They just use the term “organic” in different ways.

We need both emphases. We need organic church.

 

Multiplication tools: vision

The vision the individual members have for your group will determine the actions they take and your group's ultimate destination.

Destination
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks (Creative Commons)

Why are the people in your group meeting? 

Simple/organic church provides a more intimate community. This is great, and an important component of simple church, but if that is why people are meeting, community is what you will get.

Simple/organic church offers a more informal and relaxed atmosphere. But if that is the main reason you are meeting, it is what you will enjoy.

Simple/organic meetings are participatory, with the Holy Spirit setting the agenda. This is crucial, a vital component of what goes on, but it is in danger of stopping there unless there is a deliberate outward focus.

Unless your group has a vision for reaching out and touching the lives of those who don't yet know the Lord, you are unlikely to see the multiplication of new disciples and churches.

If you long to see the lives of those who don't yet know the Lord transformed by their coming into relationship with Jesus, then that vision needs to be set before people frequently. Everyone in your group needs to be excited by the prospect, otherwise they will resent the thought of change. As people buy into this vision, their actions and attitudes will change. It may take a little time, but it's worth putting the vision before people on a frequent and regular basis. It can be done in different ways: for example

  • An interactive Bible study on the Great Commission, or Luke 10, Matthew 10 etc.
  • Videos such as this one
  • Asking the Lord what he wants for your group

(This last one is crucial. Everyone in our simple/organic church bought into the vision of multiplication when we spent time seeking the Lord about his vision for our group and he showed more than 50% of us the same thing in different ways. You can read the story here. We frequently refer back to that vision and make sure that newcomers to the group hear about it. Whenever a potential new group starts, we remind people how this is a fulfilment of what the Lord showed us.)

Practical application: Ask everyone in your group to listen to the Lord with the question, "Jesus, what is your vision for our group?" Give everyone 20 minutes on their own to listen and then compare notes. See if a theme emerges. See if the Lord gives you a vision of an outward focus.

 

 

Multiplication tools: the list

If you want your group to be outward looking, the list is a powerful tool.

List
In CMA's Life Transformation Groups, each person makes a list of three to four people who are not followers of Jesus that they commit to pray for daily.

In T4T, each person is encouraged to make a list of all the not-yet-believers that they know, and divide them into groups of five. Each week, they pick a group and having prayed for them, try to tell their story to each person.

Do you have a list of people you know who are either not-yet-believers or who are not walking closely with the Lord? 

It's easier to think through the people you know by looking at your circles of influence:

Picture 3

  1. The people closest to you: your family and closest friends. They don't have to live near you, but maybe you are in email contact with them. This week I offered to pray for a niece who isn't a believer and prayed for her via a facebook message.
  2. People from work: who do you know from work who is not following the Lord? The company president? The person who cleans the building? Your colleagues?
  3. Social acquaintances–people whose names you know and who know your name. Parents of those on your kid's basketball team? People in your neighborhood?
  4. Casual contacts, people you recognize but don't know their names. Your mailman, the girl behind the counter of the coffee shop where you get your morning caffeine fix. 

Practical application: Have the people in your group spend 15 minutes creating a list of all the people they know who are not following Jesus.  Suggest they commit to praying for them and if possible, telling them their story.

 

Slow multiplication or fast multiplication? Your choice.

When it comes to multiplying simple/organic churches, your pattern of multiplication will determine whether you multiply quickly or slowly.

DollsPhoto credit: archer10 (Dennis) Busy (Creative Commons)

Many people assume that the way to multiply a simple/organic church is to add new people to the church that meets in your home until it has outgrown your living room. Those who become believers, or Christians who want to join you, are assimilated into your existing fellowship. At the point at which the group becomes too large, you split it into two. 

This is the slow way to multiply.

If you prefer to multiply more quickly, then start new groups around new followers of Jesus or new people who want to join you. Some of these will become churches.

Someone becomes a disciple?  Ask them to bring together a few of their friends to explore spirituality. Help them to share their story with others. Teach them how to share the good news. Work with them and their oikos. You will soon find yourself with a group of new believers. An existing Christian finds your church? Let them know you'd like to help them work with their friends and family in their neighborhood, not yours. This is the quick way to multiply.

The faster multiplication pattern is likely to be more messy and more time consuming. It will involve people in more than just attending weekly gatherings. But it is far more effective in terms of Kingdom growth.

If you want to see your existing group excited about this and on board with what you are doing, it is important to cast vision, otherwise people will resent the disruption of a family/place where they are comfortable. The Lord did this for our group by giving us a clear picture of an orchard of apple trees. Now, whenever a new group starts, we are all excited to see the fulfillment of what the Lord has already shown us.

 

 

Ten positive signs of God at work in the church

God is at work across the nations, and I see many positive signs that he is at work here in the West too. Here's a little of what I see going on currently (in no particular order of priority):
  1. People understand the importance of listening to God and doing what he says.  The prayer movement and 24/7 prayer has an impact.
  2. Many churches are becoming more missional rather than attractional. Luke 10 principles are being applied by many across the church spectrum. Legacy churches are starting missional communities. Simple/organic churches are using these principles to produce daughter and grand-daughter churches.
  3. Churches are engaging in their communities with a resultant impact for the Kingdom.
  4. We've rediscovered some of the principles that result in multiplication rather than addition at every level. Simplicity and reproducibility are key.
  5. Discipleship that reproduces more disciples (rather than conversion) is of increasing value. 
  6. There's a blurring of distinctives between groups of people–charismatic/non-charismatic, organic/legacy, clergy/laity.
  7. Women have an increasingly equal and valued role.
  8. Legacy churches and simple/organic churches are working together with a focus on the Kingdom of God. Who knows what might happen if nobody minds who gets the credit.
  9. The separation of sacred and secular is waning. Ordinary work and its potential to be of impact for the Kingdom is valued. Church is happening in the workplace.
  10. God is working in supernatural ways; we are seeing miracles, healings and deliverances.
  11. God is raising up apostolic and prophetic leaders who serve from the foundations rather than rule from the rooftops. He is giving them his strategies and plans for their areas.
  12. We recognize that God is working in other parts of the world  and we're willing to learn from other nations.

What am I missing?

Can missional, simple/organic church multiply the harvest? A story

Crowds
Photo credit: williamcho (Creative Commons)

Simple/organic church is a great way to not only conserve the harvest, but also to multiply it.

We have a friend who is an evangelist in countries that are hostile to the Gospel. We originally contacted him because we were interested in the large healing/evangelistic meetings that, amazingly, he is able to hold in these countries. When he discovered we are involved in simple church, he asked to spend some time with Tony and me because the Lord had told him that he was to be involved in a different kind of church. So we spent a weekend with him, explained the principles of Luke 10 and answered his myriad questions.

A few weeks later he conducted a major meeting again, but this time, instead of his usual training for the church workers who were going to be involved in follow up of those who responded to the message, he trained them in Luke 10 principles, teaching them to look for people of peace, to pray for the sick and to start churches in homes.

The people came to the meeting in buses, often 150 to a bus. The harvest workers looked for people of peace in the buses on the way home after the meeting.

A few months after this meeting we traveled with him to this country to discover what had happened. The results were extraordinary.

A typical story went like this: "I started four churches following the meeting, but the people have told their friends and relatives in other villages about Jesus and now I have eight."

Two young men, aged 24 and 26, were so excited after one of the subsequent trainings that they didn't wait for the next harvest meeting. They started spreading the Good News right away, and six months later had 700 new believers in 25 churches.

The typical results of an evangelistic crusade in the West is that around 1% of those who respond are going on with the Lord a year later. In the nation we visited, thousands of churches have started.

What might happen if new believers were followed up using Luke 10 principles?