Core competencies: Story telling

A couple of the core competencies that I mentioned in the last post have provoked some comment. So this post will look at the first of these: telling stories.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich. When asked whether he would change society by revolution or reformation, he answered, "Neither of these. The best way to change society is to tell an alternative story." People love to listen to stories, and they will listen to our stories when they will not listen to us preaching. They also like to tell us their stories, and it is important that we develop good listening skills.

One of our favorite ways to start with a group of not-yet-believers is to ask them to tell us the story of where they are on their spiritual journey. It's a great open-ended question, and they will tell us a lot of things that we would like to know — do they have any kind of church background? Are they into some other religion?

I remember when we did this with a group of young people aged 17 to 25. The first girl to share her story told of a divorced background and how she had to leave her mother in California following an argument and come to live with her father here in Texas. It was in the middle of the school year, and some of her credits didn't transfer and she went from being the head cheerleader to a school where she knew nobody. She became more and more depressed, and eventually one evening found herself in the bathroom with all the medicines from the cabinet lined up in front of her. But before she attempted suicide she cried out to God, "God if there is a God, will you help me?" And God met her. A couple of days later she met on daughter, and now here she was in our living room telling us her story. The interesting thing was that there was not a dry eye in the room. All of us were profoundly moved by his story, and it provided a natural entree into talking about Jesus.

This is a concept known as prevenience:  God is at work in our lives before we surrender to him, and when people tell their stories, we can see God at work even when they don't yet know him.

But now we need to learn to tell our story without it sounding like a sermon, or a "holier than thou" diatribe. Unbelievers are turned off by our use of Christian language and probably don't understand it. We need to learn to tell our story without using any Christian jargon such as sin, salvation, redemption etc. This is a skill that can be practiced. If you  look at the times that Paul tells his story in the book of Acts, he describes his life prior to knowing Jesus, then his encounter on the Damascus road, and finally what God has him doing now.

You can develop stories for different situations too.  Someone has financial problems; was there a time in your life when God came through for you financially?  Someone has health problems; you have a story of when God healed you or dealt with the fears you had about your condition.

Suggested activity:  Spend some time working on your story, getting it to where you can tell it in 2-3 minutes.  Then find a friend who will listen to you tell it, stopping you whenever you use a word that is "religious."

[Note: There is an activity called Bible storying which is primarily used in oral cultures where Bible stories are told in chronological order.  I believe this will become a skill used more and more in a Western context too, where people are increasingly becoming a-literate–they can read but choose not to.  It is very effective.  I remember demonstrating it once, and a couple of weeks later, found the story I told blogged about by someone two steps removed from the person I had told the story to.]

Ways to see more harvest: 6 core skills

Laughing fish I am no fisherman (in the natural, that is)! On the few occasions when I have tried fishing, I have never caught anything. In fact, I vividly remember one occasion when Tony and I were taken fishing by some friends on a shrimping boat in Canada. It was a spectacular setting, mountains in the background, and a beautiful sunset, and the fish were biting. Our companions on the boat were reeling in the fish one after another, but neither Tony nor I caught a single one! I think the fish were laughing at us!

The problem? I lack the core skills. I have never been taught how to fish.

One of the problems that many people face when leaving the "legacy" church and involving in simple/organic church is that they have not been trained in some of the core skills needed when reaching out to others. In the past these things have often been left to the "professional." So what are some of these core skills?

  1. The ability to tell a variety of stories appropriate to any situation without using "Christianese."
  2. The recognition of a person of peace.
  3. Being able to naturally introduce spiritual topics into a conversation.
  4. Having the confidence/faith to pray for somebody and if God doesn't show up, we look stupid!
  5. Knowing how to pray for healing, inner healing, deliverance etc.
  6.  Recognizing a "ripe" harvest field.

Any other ideas? Are there any of these you would like us to discuss further?

Ways to see more harvest: a paradigm shift

For years, we have invited people to come to church.  Successful evangelism has consisted of persuading our friends and family to join us at church.  We have run special and exciting meetings with professional bands and gifted speakers.  Even many of our simple/house churches have had this same mindset; invite someone to church, and pray that the presence of God touches their lives.  And, praise God, many have found the Lord in this way. (First Corinthians 14 makes it very clear that there will sometimes be unbelievers in our gatherings.)

One problem:  it's not what Jesus told us to do!  And it's not the most effective means of changing lives. 

Jesus told us, "Go (or more specifically, 'as you are going'), make disciples."  As we go about our everyday lives we are looking for opportunities to make disciples.

Why is this important?  If we invite people to come to our church, who moves out of their comfort zone? They do.  Church is a very strange culture for most people who were not brought up in it.  When we go to them, we are the ones that cross cultural boundaries and go to their culture where they are comfortable.  Not only that, their friends and families are comfortable there too.  If we extract people from their own culture by getting them to join us at our church, usually they rapidly become Christianized and lose much of their effectiveness within their own circle of influence.  If they become Christians in their own environment, we have the opportunity to reach out to their oikos.

Paradigm shift: If we invite someone to come to church, we will reach that person.  If we go to them, we will reach them and their circle of influence too.

Ways to see a greater harvest: 5 things to do if your church is not focused outward


Neil Cole likes to define the DNA of house/simple/organic church as:

Divine Truth

Nurturing Relationships

Apostolic Mission

Most of our simple/organic churches have the first two—we base what we do and teach on Biblical truth, and we have a depth of community based on family relationships that others envy.  But many new churches, especially if they have formed by existing Christians coming together, may not have a missional emphasis.  After all, in what they have known before, evangelism was often the job of the professional.

Roger Thoman, in his blog, talks about the stages of simple church development.  As we "reboot" to Jesus, he infuses us with a passion to take the message of the Kingdom out into our communities. 

We have come across an increasing number of situations where, after a period of adjustment to simple church life, Jesus leads people clearly into the harvest.  For example, a network of churches in a city about an hour from our home had a men's prayer group that met in someone's home on a Monday night for several years.  Last spring, however, the Lord clearly led them to change the location to the local Starbucks.  The very first evening, one of the other customers became a Christian, and now, just over a year later, there are more than 50 people who have become believers because they changed venue. 

A group focused inwards will eventually die. So what can you as a group do if you sense that your church is not reaching out?

  1. Pray that God changes your DNA.  Many fear that reaching out will somehow interfere with the close fellowship they love.  Will the group have to stop meeting together in order to accommodate new believers? As a natural family grows, we rejoice when our kids get married and have their own families.  It's a normal part of life.  The same is true here.  
  2. Pray the Luke 10:2b virus (everyone set their alarm for 10:02 and beg/beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest).
  3. Ask God to show which group(s) of people he wants you involved with.  God has a strategy for your area (Luke 10:1). Listen to God and do what he tells you.
  4. Make a list of the unbelievers you individually know and reach out to them in friendship.  Maybe start a life transformation group that includes not-yet-believers.
  5. Choose to spend time in situations that bring you in contact with other people.  Is there a natural group that fits your group's makeup.  For example, if you have lots of young kids,could you involve in a mothers of preschoolers group. How about getting together at a coffeehouse rather than in homes?

Any other ideas? Any stories where people have seen a group change focus? 

Ways to see a greater harvest #2

 Are we willing to sit in the smoking section? (Neil Cole)

 smoking cigarette

Many of us believers are so busy with our Christian friends or with church related activities that we have no time to make friends with other people. Not only that, some have an inbuilt fear that we will somehow be contaminated by rubbing shoulders too closely with "the world."  (Love not world, neither the things that are in the world.) Or maybe we are concerned that we will not be able to resist temptation if confronted with it.  Perhaps we feel guilty for enjoying "worldly pleasures"  (I am not talking sinful situations here but the normal everyday pleasures of life.)  How sad!  The result is that we live isolated, legalistic lives, irrelevant to much of society.

Jesus himself related very well with the ordinary people of his day. Sinners loved him! Luke 15:1 says, "Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach." Jesus was not scared to be in a compromising situation with the woman at the well  (think Jewish man alone with  Samaritan women of doubtful reputation); he did not mind when a prostitute washed his feet with her tears and then anointed them with perfume. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners (Matthew 11:19). Jesus preferred to risk being identified with sinners than with the religious.

We will ony see the world won for Christ when we are willing to leave our church pews or our sofas. Jesus said that the sick are the ones who need a physician. The challenge is to get out into a world that so desperately needs him, to get into the trenches in the dirt and guts of life. As Romans 10: 14 says, "But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?"

How do you make friends with someone? It takes time! People instinctively sense insincerity if we make them projects rather than having a genuine friendship with them. They rightly run away from this.

So where does that leave us?  Are we willing to risk our "good Christian" reputations to befriend the outcasts and marginalized of our communities? How do we form genuine friendships with not-yet-believers? 

What ideas do you have?

Ways to see a greater harvest #1



 I recently reread the book, "destined for the throne" by Paul Bilheimer. The main premise of the book is based on a quote by John Wesley: "God does nothing except an answer to prayer." Bilheimer goes on to explain that God has chosen to limit himself in order that we might get on-the-job training for reining in his kingdom.

If this premise is true, then we need to rethink some of our strategy. In places where church planting movements are thriving, prayer plays a key role. David Garrison in his book "Church Planting Movements" lists the 10 features common to all CPMs. Prayer is high on his list.

We have friends in India who tried an experiment. They picked two villages; one they prayer walked, the other they did not. When they later went to do some evangelism in the first village, 45 families found the Lord. They were thrown out of the second village.

David Watson has seen many tens of thousands of churches planted in India and Africa. Recently, he questioned his top church planters to see if there were any common factors. He discovered that prayer was key to these people. Each of them prayed at least three hours per day on their own, and more time was spent in prayer with the team.

Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea was interviewed by Rick Warren. He stated that when he first started his church (at one time the largest in the world), in order to see the Holy Spirit work, he had to pray for at least five hours per day. He has now been able to cut this down to three hours.

I do not tell the stories in order to condemn us. Most of us lead very busy lives. How can we commit to that kind of time in prayer? What is God asking of us?

What do you think? Is it true that "God does nothing except an answer to prayer"?  What should our response be?

15 reasons why we don’t see harvest


Here are some reasons why we may not see the kind of harvest we long for:

  1. We are so involved with other believers we do not have time for friendship with those who do not yet know Jesus.
  2. We are fearful of being "contaminated" by too much contact with the world. 
  3. Lack of the "apostolic mission" part of simple church DNA.
  4. Lack of prayer for the harvest.
  5. Lack of training.
  6. We do not "go and make disciples."
  7. We are fishing in the wrong place, or to change metaphors, we are seeking to reap a harvest where either the fields are not yet ripe or little/no seed has been sown.
  8. We invite people to come to our church.
  9. When someone becomes a Christian, we extract them from their community to join ours.
  10. We fail to work through a "person of peace."
  11. We are not preaching the gospel of the kingdom
  12. Lack of the supernatural.
  13. Sequentialism
  14. We do not train the new believer to pass on his story and what he is learning to his friends.
  15. We scatter rather than gather.

 Some of these topics will be covered more fully in future posts. 

Can you think of any other reasons why  we are not seeing harvest? Let us know!