Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Missional Paradigms In Flux

There we sat, Tom and I, just married a few months, in front of the pastor we were told to see to help us decide our future. Bubbling with excitement and eager anticipation of a great new journey ahead of us, we said to the man sitting behind the big desk separating us from each other;

"We want to serve the Lord full time with our whole lives. We want to help people find salvation and a life in Jesus, as we have", we said. "What should we do?"

His unenthusiastic reply was: "Well, Tom you need to go to seminary or Bible school, as you need theological preparation before you go anywhere or can be used in ministry full time".

"Okay, what about me? Should I go too?" I said eagerly.

I was told it didn't matter if I went or not, since I was a woman and in a supportive role to Tom's calling. (Yes, I really was told this, and it was only the first of many more such comments to come to me over the years, but that is another topic to someday write on).
He suggested nursing school for me, or something else that would supplement our income if we needed it.

He continued on, oblivious to my obvious deflation, directing us onto the mission field as a "better fit" for us with:

"Then, you'll need to pick a country to go to and live in. Find a place, people group or culture and get prepared in what you'll need to set up a ministry there. You also need to begin to raise the monthly financial support you'll need for years, so start cultivating relationships with those who will give financially to you and your ministry."

We didn't follow his advice, and someday I'll share what we did instead. But for the sake of this topic, let me summarize the advice points that he had given us:

1. Training and education are required preparations for Christian ministry
2. Ministry is seen as a profession
3. Men are seen in the primary and crucial ministry role, women are supporters to that role
4. You need to "go somewhere" to live to be considered a missionary
5. Relationships are sought out and cultivated so they will financially support your professional ministry

Humans like systems. We like to organize our beliefs into workable and manageable systems and then set up our strategies to achieve them effectively. At some point in history, we began to do this with the Kingdom mandate to "go and make disciples of all the nations" that was given to all those who believe in and are followers of Christ.

In our created system of religion, we formed distinct ministerial jobs; professions of service and positional status and accessibility. We separated men and women, young and old, trained and untrained, usable and unusable, the really important roles from the not so important roles.
A few such categories I'll list are; " Missionary" (full time or short term).
"Pastor" (Executive, Worship, Senior, Children's, Youth, Women's, etc) . "Full time" (important ministry) vs "lay" unpaid (less important ministry).

In Frank Viola's book, Pagan Christianity, he covers much of this. I would recommend it to you for further biblical study on the subject, so I won't go into all it's history and formation. Instead, I want to relate the negative affect this theology has had upon our seeing each member in the Body of Christ as a "sent one" (apostle), an ambassador and full time representative of Jesus and His Kingdom. Each one necessary and having all the qualifications needed because each one is filled with the Holy Spirit who has all that we require.

As Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch and others have written about so much better than I could ever do, we are infused with the DNA of Christ when we become believers. All that we need is found in that Jesus DNA. It's not Jesus AND education, Jesus AND credentials, Jesus AND .....whatever gives us qualification and credibility.
Sure, we can add education, training, and all the systems of organization and classification we want. It doesn't necessarily enhance us, in fact, I think it can hinder us because we begin to rely upon our heads, our training, our qualifications, over the Holy Spirit and His empowering.

I've been writing the last few posts on some people I know who are living out being sent ones. Sent ones everyday, in all the contexts of their lives in obedience and in love.
These are not people who are professional missionaries, pastors or in any way would meet the criteria that the pastor years ago instructed Tom and myself with. And yet they are incredibly anointed and fruitful in ministry. Their lives are impacting people around them with Christ.

The story of the Samaritan woman illustrates this so well. Not only was she a woman (highly unqualified in that culture), she was also a Samaritan (low in stature), and a woman likely held in disdain for her many husbands and boyfriends. She was about as unqualified as a person could get, and yet in her short contact with Jesus, she became a missionary. A sent one with a message that she delivered to her village, and they responded to it. She had the DNA.

I'm not in any way, criticizing those who call themselves full time 'missionaries' or 'professional pastors' who serve here or live in other countries through the endorsement and financial support of others. However, I am wanting us to rethink our paradigms of missional calling.

What should be natural and a part of normal life for all of us should not be made into a professional job that only the few are called and trained to do.

My desire in writing on missional life, is to bring some balance back into our lives and theology. We have separated mission from our lives in Christ for too long.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Stories From the Trenches 4

The Apostle Paul, in exhorting Timothy to purposely multiply himself in ministry, said these words; "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." 2 Timothy 2:1-3

What characteristics do we look for in finding such men and women?
Certainly character, a history of faithfulness, a knowledge and practice of the Word of God, consistent prayer and service to the purposes of God. I'd also add a hungry and passionate desire for more of God and His Kingdom made manifest.
We like to think that finding such men and women is easy, but after living many decades, I can attest that they are not so easily found. Complacency is far more common than hunger in most people. Faithfulness is rare. Initiative even rarer.

I think Jesus addressed this issue when he taught his disciples the following;

"Then He said to His disciples, " The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." Matthew 9:36-38

I pray this regularly, and I recognized answered prayer when I met Matthew and Elisa.

I met Matthew and Elisa a year and a half ago, as they were in the process of deciding how to step down lovingly and gracefully, from a leadership position at a traditional church they attended. They had done some reading and were intrigued with the simple, organic approach to church. What is commonly called "being church" as opposed to "doing church". They felt like the Lord was leading them in this direction. Like sponges, they soaked up the concepts of simple, organic and missional life and soon were off and running with it.

Elisa, being raised upon the mission field is passionate about living a missional life. Where as many people don't have a natural outward focus, Elisa sees everyone as a potential Kingdom family member. She is giving, intuitive, warm and reaches out to people with ease, making them feel like they have value. She has the ability to cross cultures and build bridges of commonality into peoples' diverse lives. Independent, confident, and a risk taker, she is not afraid to experiment and try new ways and venues that enter into the lives of those around her. Every aspect of her is apostolic.

Matthew is a self described "geek". Where as some of us are 2 or 3G (high speed data transmission capability), Matthew's more like 4 or 5G (do they even make 5G yet?). He is smart on so many levels it could be intimidating, except that there is nothing about Matthew that would cause you to feel intimated. Instead, he's more like a familiar brother; warm, welcoming and incredibly patient with those who have a bit slower "processor", like myself!
He is a deep thinker who loves to contemplate concepts, principles and their implications to life in Christ and how to manifest these Kingdom aspects with purpose and longevity. In spending time with Matthew, you come away feeling like you've been challenged to "go a bit deeper" into understanding the mind and heart of Christ and His Word. He may be "brainy" but often times he seems led by his heart, and it is obvious that his heart is led by God.

I like to say of Matthew and Elisa that "no grass will ever grow under their feet!" They are a couple with purpose and initiative. They are intent on producing lasting fruit and giving their lives in service and honor to the Lord.

In just a year and a half, here is some of Matthew and Elisa's Great Adventure.......

Matthew led a coworker to the Lord, discipled and baptized him in apartment swimming pool and per request of this new believer, celebrated with Martini's (see the whole story @ http://www.cmaresources.org/article/a-cocktail-party).

Elisa established a friendship with an Iranian woman (not a Christian) in her apartment building, and asked if she would allow her to pray to Jesus to heal the woman's 2 year old son who was not able to walk at all or sleep through the night. Elisa prayed, the child was healed, and the two days later he was running around like any normal 2 year old, and sleeping through the night for the first time. The woman acknowledged Jesus healed her son, and even witnessed to her Muslim husband about it. Elisa connected her to some Iranian Christians who were able to speak Farsi with her and continue to teach her about Jesus. This woman is now back in Iran, hopefully sharing with other Iranians how Jesus healed her son.

Elisa has reached out to a number of her apartment building neighbors of various ethnic backgrounds. Sharing food, cooking tips, parenting advice, marriage/relationship counsel, prayer, practical help and more, she has created bridges for them to Jesus.

Elisa and Matthew have both started a number of LTG's (Life Transformation Groups) that have been instrumental in people coming to know the Lord and being discipled in Him. Elisa, like most women is relational. So she adapted the concept of an LTG into a more relational form that fits how women interact with each other and thereby taking a tool and adapted it to her environment. Totally missional.

They together, have started a number of simple churches, experimenting with such things as: the gathering of established believers who know each other already, the gathering of those who don't know each other, or a mix of pre Christians and established Christians. They have tried to "turn" a group established already, into a more organic expression (it didn't work), and have gathered people to study various aspects/books/concepts in simple, organic, missional life.

They put up a website (www.rawreligion) to be a place to connect and disseminate information, testimonies and stories for those interested in the simple, organic, missional life.

Matthew has begun to form relationships with those on the same journey to network and co-labor with them in the area. He offers himself as available to those who are seeking to know more about simple and organic church, even though he himself is new to it, he has learned enough already to impart to others valuable insight. He told me recently that when he is asked how to "do" simple, organic, missional church, he replies; "it's characteristics you walk through and not a model you follow". Along this line of teaching and training others in simple, organic, missional life, they are planning a Greenhouse Training weekend in the near future.

Did I mention that they have been on this journey for just a year and a half? I know people who have walked this journey for years and have not learned, practiced or born the fruit of this young couple.

And did I mention, they are parents, (their second child due any day now), Matthew works full time, and in addition is studying in an intense program for Cisco certification?

In a recent conversation we had together, they made this comment; "we have such itchy feet, and we want to be more involved with Kingdom work than we are able to right now! It's frustrating!"

Here is my prayer;

Lord! Give us more Matthew's and Elisa's!!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stories From The Trenches 3

Have you ever had your dreams and visions squashed by someone to whom you looked for support and encouragement? Have you been told to leave the work of ministry to those who were the 'professionals'? Or inferred that you needed to reach some ambiguous and obscure place of wholeness before you attempted anything of significance?

What would be the impact if someone you looked to for guidance and support, said to you after you poured out your idea for ministering to broken people; " you can't do ministry and have a house church! You have too many issues in your own life and family!"

That's what Becky heard a few years ago.

Most people would wallow in discouragement, pain, bitterness and anger. Maybe even quit.
But not Becky. She isn't a quitter, and neither is her husband Scott. And fortunately for them, God is not easily deterred from His plan to honor their destinies in Him either!

Scott and Becky bought a large, beautiful, historic home that is referred to as a "fixer upper". Most of us are afraid of fixer uppers, because they cost time, energy, and money. They require more than most of us want to invest. It takes a certain type of person to envision the end result over the demanding and exhausting process to get there.

Scott and Becky saw the potential of the house. They saw what it could become.
They accepted the work it required as part of the investment for the end result. A home that would hold a lot of people. A home for community. A home that would welcome people into a family. Even if those people were a "work in progress", a fixer upper, that God Himself was renovating.

Here's some examples of what I'm talking about.

Their son, struggling through some of his own issues, played in a hard metal, "screamo" band that in no way could be considered a Christian version of that genre. Scott and Becky wanted to find bridges into their sons life and with his friends, and so they invited the band into their home for their practices. Yup, into their home. Smack dab in the living room.
So, here was the metal band, screaming loudly, guitars, drums and amplifiers pounding away in their living room a few days each week. Most of us would of said; "not in my house! No demonic, angry music allowed here!" But Scott and Becky saw it as an opportunity. An opportunity not without sacrifices on their part, but sacrifices they were willing to make for the end result.

Scott and Becky began to build relationships with the band members, feeding, talking and getting to know them and their lives. Soon, one of the band members joined Scott in a bible study and allowed Scott to begin to pray over issues in his life. This young man, eventually received Christ, and although he is still struggling, he continues to stay in contact with Scott and Becky. He knows he has a place in their home and in their hearts.

Marsha is such a person who also knows that she has a place in this family. Beloved and valued even when she struggled with drug addiction, Scott and Becky always kept the door open in their heart and home for her. They loved, encouraged, supported and spoke truth with Marsha. They continued to invest in her and share the realities of God's love with her in consistent and real ways. They were committed to Marsha through the good and the difficult seasons of finding salvation, relationship, healing and freedom in Christ.
Now, Marsha, growing in her faith and commitment to Christ, is in turn, investing in her friends who are still entangled in drugs. She is imparting to them the same love and commitment and the door of hope that Scott and Becky shared with her. With Scott and Becky beside her in it, encouraging and supporting her like healthy families do.

Scott is not a trained musician. No one would hire him for a worship leader, and yet, he is exactly that. When I met him, he only knew a handful of cords on a guitar. But it was enough for him to pack up the guitar and drive over to the neighboring nursing home to play for the residents there once a week or so. Why? Because he says that he felt "God wanted him to". When he does these sing-a-longs with the elderly, he feels the presence of God and he feels Gods pleasure. And he loves doing it!

Scott and Becky pray to be vessels in the hand of God, and ask for opportunities. They ask; "Who can we reach out to today Lord? How can we touch someone with your love?" Then, they respond. Organic (lead by God), simple (natural, relational, and easily implemented into normal life) and missional (outward). They are walking in the ministry that God placed within their hearts, fits who they are, and is doable given their unique life and availability.

Because Scott and Becky have started a couple simple churches, they get asked a lot" how do you start a church?" and Becky replies; "you just love people and let God start it with those He is touching. It's really not that hard."

God has a plan for each one of us. A destiny that is unique, fruitful and tailored specifically to who and what we are. He looks for willing vessels to work through, and partner with, because He chooses to and takes great pleasure in it.
Do you believe that? Do you live knowing that God desires to take your life and your uniqueness and make it into something supernatural, powerful and lasting? Your visions, desires and longings are there for a reason and for fulfillment in Christ. If you've been shut down in the past, or have been discouraged or disillusioned, it's never to late. Tomorrow is another day, with new opportunities and adventures.
Go for it, and see what God will do with your life!

"This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ' Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts.
Zechariah 4:5-7

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stories From The Trenches 2

Blaine is a man responsive to God. He listens and obeys. Simple. He allows God to manifest Himself and His purposes. He lets God be God. Organic. He reaches out to people in every context of his life to introduce Jesus, and enters into their lives as someone who cares. Missional.

A few years ago he and his wife sold their large 2,400 sq ft. home on 10 acres, and purchased a fourplex in a lower middle class neighborhood. They gave away what wouldn't fit into a small two bedroom 750 sq ft apartment (one of those in the fourplex), and moved in. Their hope was that the remaining 3 apartments would be used for ministry. Over the years many struggling people have lived for free, or subsidized by Blaine and Glenna. These various tenants have heard the gospel and seen it lived out in and through this faithful couple. They have been valued, listened to, prayed for, fatherly counseled, helped with finances, car troubles, relationships, drug abuse, mental illness, and more. All the messes that come with peoples broken lives, does not deter Blaine. His ability to love, extend mercy when needed, have incredible patience and perseverance with people, is evidence of The Spirit working incredible grace through him. People recognize it and respond to it. He prays with people and the problems that they are facing in life, giving Christ an opportunity to reveal Himself. He is a true shepherd. And he lives experiencing God move powerfully and strategically in the lives of people.

Let me tell you a couple stories.

Blaine gets his hair cut about every 4 weeks. He has one hairdresser that he purposely chooses to use, and has built a friendship with her over the years. One day, she was obviously sad and even started crying into his hair as she was cutting it. Blaine asked what was going on, and soon she was sharing with him about her daughter. Her daughter had been alienated from her for a long time and the longing to know she was okay was overwhelming her that day. Blaine said; "God knows where she is and He understands you want to know also. He understands your love for her." He said; "Let's pray and ask God to show you she is okay".
Blaine prayed while she cut, and as she was finishing up, a commotion in the doorway drew their attention. The very daughter they were just talking about, and Blaine had prayed for, came walking in through the door. The mother, awestruck said; "you won't believe who just walked in the door!", and ran to greet her daughter.

Want another?

After many months of coming alongside this young man, Shaun called Blaine to receive Christ. He then wanted to be baptized. Blaine encouraged him to invite someone to support him in his baptism and to be a witness to it. Antsy to be baptized, Shaun moved quickly and found someone who volunteered an apartment building pool. This offer however, quickly was withdrawn when the building host saw some rough looking, and not all sober, people outside the doors of the apartment waiting to get in for the baptism. Shaun had invited 18 friends from his old life to be his witnesses and they were eager to see Shaun get baptized, even though they didn't have a clue why.
Not allowed in building, they were all standing together on the sidewalk, and one of the invited guests said; "I know someone who manages another building and we can go over there!" It was a call for "party on!" and they all quickly left for the new destination. Blaine, a bit concerned with this new direction of events began to pray; "What is going on Lord with all this, and what do you want me to see? "
As they arrived at the new apartment pool, these street guys, who Blaine describes as "a little rough and rude" took over the pool, kicking out previous users making it ready for their friend Shaun and his baptism. As Blaine entered the pool and looked around at those who Shaun had invited to be his witness's, God answered Blaine's earlier question; " these are my sons that have not received me yet". They listened to Shaun's testimony to Christ in his life and watched him be baptized into a new life. They even toasted to it! Now, that was a baptism!

One more story.....

Blaine and his daughter Shera, were sitting in a coffee shop with some of her friends who had gathered together that evening to hang out. In a short time, the conversation turned to issues related to faith, Jesus and the existence of God. Blaine and Shera found themselves in the midst of answering questions and discussing issues that the girls brought up. One girl said "my parents don't know this Jesus, and I wish my sister would know Him." Blaine replied; " we have authority and can pray with assurance and He will show Himself to your sister. Why don't you ask Him right now to reach your sister? " The girl prayed a simple request and at that moment the sister herself walked into the coffee shop. This is the reality of the God we serve, He waits for us to ask Him to get involved!

I think Blaine is living in the reality of his faith, and that God Himself wants eagerly to respond to our requests that others would know Him!

Blaine and Glenna have started many simple churches over the years.
One of their simple churches was with a group of developmentally disabled adults, and they would both say it was the most precious of fellowships.
Blaine begins LTG's (Life Transformation Groups, cmaresources.org) regularly with guys he leads to Christ. He isn't the hub of the wheel however, and quickly has them forming their own groups.
He works with a Recovery Ministry leading a group of pre and new Christians into wholeness and life in Christ. He has recently joined with a local guy who functions in evangelism and is bringing the needed discipleship aspect to that ministry, getting the new Christians into simple fellowships for their growth and maturing.

All this, and he still manages to work a full time job on the side, and have valve replacement surgery on his heart! God has given him a stronger heart physically to keep up with his spiritual heart! What a man, what a friend, what an inspiration! Go Blaine go! May your impact increase!

'But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always.
1 Samuel 2:34-36