27 August 2008

Pragmatism - No Excuse!

Jesus worked very closely with His disciples for only a few years. During that time, He said very little about the look of their future ministries and He gave them very little in the way of specific theological detail. What He did provide was a goal.

For example, Jesus made a few comments on divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19) which left the disciples bewildered. Their conclusion was, why bother to get married at all. Obviously, they, along with many others since then, missed His meaning. We still fight over that one.

The fact is, there were many points of theology which Jesus did not attempt to address in great detail. But, the one thing Jesus did do was give the disciples a target. After His resurrection and before His ascension (a period of forty days), on more than one occasion, He made His expectations very clear. In brief, He said…

As the Father sent Me (to remit the sins of others), I am sending you to do the same. (John 20:21-23

Go and make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19)

Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.(Mark

Be witnesses to me everywhere including the uttermost. (Acts 1:8)

These statements are concise, to the point and focus only on one thing, the end result. Jesus gave the first disciples, and us, a very clear objective. The scope of our work is the entire world and the ultimate goal is fruit (souls being saved). Everything we do, even discipleship, is predicated on this outcome.

Any Christian at the start of their walk with Jesus can know exactly what is expected of them. They are to win others to Christ in large numbers (John 15:5 & 8). Some people argue against this idea but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. The rationale for limiting your activity and having miniscule results is not complimentary. People who think this way are: small minded, bigoted, self-righteous, fearful, incapable, confused, uninformed, etc., and usually become stodgy, stiff, wooden, dull, boring and irrelevant. Unfortunately, those who bear no fruit resort to finding fault with those who do.

One argument often used against success is “pragmatism.” If someone is getting a large number of people saved, the automatic assumption is, they must be doing something wrong. Results are ignored and methods are over analyzed. The unfruitful person, not the Bible, becomes the standard by which all others, particularly those bearing fruit, must be judged.

The “unfruitful” also use “success rate” as a smoke screen. If a program has a large number of professions they question how many of them are genuine. Well, I would rather have twenty-five percent of a large crop than one hundred percent of no crop at all. Twenty-five good professions out of one hundred are better than even one out of only two. No method has a hundred percent success rate.

Anyone who fabricates a spiritual reason to justify very little or no fruit misrepresents the Bible and will still be embarrassed when they get to heaven. Methods don’t go to heaven. Only souls do. If the method you use doesn’t bear fruit, it is your responsibility to keep changing until you find one that does.

The interesting thing about the target statements of Jesus is the complete lack of any strategic content. The outcome is in view not the methodology. Jesus does not tell us how to reach the goal. He apparently assumes we have enough sense to figure out what works and what doesn’t and the initiative to get on the with the job. Jesus wants us to make the gospel known to every person and how we get that done is not an issue.

No, I am not suggesting we do anything immoral to evangelize the world, although, interestingly enough, I know of people who, even though immorally engaged, have witnessed to and won people to Christ. Go figure!

What I am saying is, that apart from immoral methods, evangelism is pretty much an “anything goes” project. Any method you can imagine, you can use. You can be silly, unusual, very different, non-traditional (culturally relevant), entertaining or whatever, but above all you must be effective. Businesses that are ineffective don’t stay in business and churches should be subject to the same rule, although I have known some to die and never know it.

Believe it or not, It’s OK to be shallow. In fact, you must be. Salvation is not complex. The issues are not that difficult to understand. The world is swimming on the surface so don’t fish on the bottom. We are trying to win the lost not impress demagogues. We must meet prospects where they are and give them what they can handle.

If your method works, it is right. If your method doesn’t work, it is wrong. God and the angels in heaven rejoice every time a soul is saved regardless the methodologies used, even if the professors grumble.

So, get off your pompous posterior and evangelize your community. If possible, join hands with others doing the same. And, since God is not the author of confusion, strategize a little to encourage efficiency.

If at first you don’t succeed keep trying new methods until you do but, please, don’t gravitate to the withdrawn, isolated, holy huddles in which fruitless participants pat each other on the back because they would never stoop to using “ungodly” methods of evangelism. Find the fish and use any method you can to catch them. ThinkAboutIt

21 August 2008

AIM Is Shooting The Gap

Recently I was introduced to a missions organization that has had an unusual focus for almost twenty years. They disciple believers by encouraging them to work with the poorest of the poor in various places around the world. Discipleship programs, of course, are not unusual (actually a dime a dozen) but developing disciples through ministries to the desperate is.

AIM (Adventures In Missions) uses short term missions as opposed to the "lifer" approach and so far they have taken more than 65,000 people to the mission field for a period of one year or longer. The interesting thing is, they started this approach before it became the latest trend. That is to say, they aren't newbies. They have been focusing on desperate communities for a long time and have managed to leverage ministry to the destitute for discipleship gains. Gaps which were ignored for a long time have become the vision at AIM.

I perused their web site and found them to be very well organized and their experience has given them a lot of insight in this area of ministry. You can read about them here http://www.adventures.org/

I actually discovered AIM by accident. A young lady, Bethany Lynch, who attends one of my supporting churches, West Park Baptist, has signed on with AIM for a nine month mission trip to South Africa. You can guess why I was interested. I met Bethany's parent when I was at West Park recently and her dad proudly told me about her plans to minister in South Africa. Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet Bethany while I was there (large church - mission conference chaos - you know the drill) but she did make contact through email and I was very interested to learn about her interest in South Africa and AIM. I actually checked out her blog and the AIM web site.

Now, this post isn't just another human interest story. I am writing because it is crunch time for Bethany. She is 18 days away from the point at which she needs to have 60% of her support raised. AIM is a "by faith" organization. They provide the training and the opportunity but each participant/disciple must raise their own support.

The program works like this. The first 60% of the support and air fare must be raised as a lump sum before a first time missionary starts the program. The final 40% is raised as commitments to monthly support. And the program is regulated by schedule. You must be ready to start when the program starts or you don't get to start.

At this point Bethany has her air fare and about half of the first 60% in the bank. She also has commitments for most of her monthly support. But, she needs $2,055 to reach the 60% goal by September 8.

I was amazed at the amount. We're talking nine months of living expenses, ministry expenses and air fare. I am sure her accommodation will be sparse at best (yikes, that hurts)! But, she is willing (anxious) to go and there are people who need what she is offering. This is an opporuntiy to get a lot done with a small investment.

Here is the question: Can you help? No, better yet, will you help? This is a good cause, backed up by a good church, run by a good organization and well founded in the Bible. Needy people will be helped, good people will grow and you have the opportunity to help make that happen. It doesn't get any easier.

To read Bethany's story and donate online go here http://bethanylynch.myadventures.org/?filename=financial-update.

I have already made a donation and will probably do more. In fact, Bethany has posted some of the materials she will need for ministry which we can supply right here in South Africa. We look forward to doing just that.

The good thing is, this is so easy. You don't even have to get off your duff. Just click on over to Bethany's site and make it happen.

Go well and LOL from this side. ThinkAboutIt

19 August 2008

Church: Building, People or Team?

“Church” as defined in the Bible is not a complex organization. The leadership are few (elders and deacons), its purposes are defined very broadly (preach the gospel, disciple believers, minister to the poor) and the administrative processes are abbreviated (whatever you agree to on earth, God agrees to in heaven). Under these general guidelines many different “versions” of church have developed none of which represent the New Testament pattern exactly. I wouldn’t accuse any particular “church” of being completely wrong but it might be fair to suggest that we have all missed the point to some degree.

If we are going to get “church” right we must consider carefully the words and actions of Jesus. He introduced the idea so He sets all the precedents. Understanding “church” from His perspective should be our primary objective. So, the question is, what did Jesus say and do?

Jesus actually taught that a church doesn’t require more than two or three people to be operational. That means “numbers” is not a limiting factor. It can grow to any size and has authority to begin functioning even if it has only two members.

Jesus, of course, exemplified what He taught. The church He started began very small. His group ministered to thousands regularly but the recognized number of members was only thirteen, including Himself. Other believers accompanied Jesus occasionally but they were never named as a part of the core group. When Jesus wasn’t around, the “occasional members” were on their own.

Following the resurrection and before the Day of Pentecost the group had grown to approximately 120 people. Within days, however, beginning on the Day of Pentecost, that number began to increase exponentially.

Persecution arose within a year of Jesus’ ascension which precipitated the geographical spread of the Gospel and many churches were established throughout nearby regions even among Gentiles. His church started small, grew enormously and spread widely.

As far as we know there were no buildings associated with the church during these early years. Jesus bought no land and built no buildings. The first few generations of Christians met in homes or places commonly used for public meetings. But, in spite of this fact, the “church” was fully active and very effective. The church was first known for being mobile not stationary. They were fluid and in a constant state of flux. This is how Jesus ran His ministry and His successors followed suit.

At some point all that changed. Church authority structures were developed (canonized) and became obsessively restrictive. Buildings (cathedrals) sprung up and became central, also restrictive. These things strangled the church that Jesus started. In-fighting and power struggles were the result.

After many centuries, however, (since the dark ages or before) we finally figured out that “church” is more the people and not primarily a building but I’m not sure we have gotten back to where Jesus was yet. Jesus and the people He ministered with had a rare relationship. He and His disciples were never loosely arranged.

I believe Jesus managed His church start-up very differently to the way we do ours. He wasn’t anxious to increase His membership. He took His time before choosing the first group of twelve and following their selection, He worked primarily with these men. He taught them ministry by example and then sent them to minister on their own. They gained practical experience dealing with high pressure situations, all of which were fruitful.

There is no indication that Jesus maintained a regular schedule of theology classes. Jesus focused more on relationships and practical experience rather than theological minutiae. When Jesus took the time to do some teaching or answer questions the disciples had no idea what He was talking about and Jesus spent very little time trying to rectify that. When He did try to explain, they still missed the theology of it. They were constantly whispering their confusion to each other behind His back.

The strange thing is, at the end of three-plus years of ministry the disciples were still missing large amounts of technical information. Most of the New Testament hadn’t been written yet and the individual who wrote the largest portion, Paul, didn’t become prominent for many years. So, what did Jesus teach these guys? What was He training them to do? How much “theology” did they really absorb?

Well, I am certain He didn’t give them a “Ten Steps To Getting Started Right” pamphlet.

They apparently got very little eschatology until the end of Jesus’ ministry (Matt. 24-25) and what they got left them confused.

He let them know that they were always vulnerable to the influence of Satan no matter how close to God they were or clever they became (Matt 16).

Other things Jesus taught went right over their heads and stayed there for years to come, e.g., Gentiles can and should be saved.

Jesus spent a great deal of time actually testing their commitment and messing with their thoughts. Good theology would have been a waste on these men until they first realized how wrong their thinking was.

And, in the final moments of His ministry Jesus made it very clear that one of His primary goals was to teach them that ministry is done best when the ministers actually love one another. How wussy is that? That almost seems like anti-theology and the truth is, none of these men qualified as theological experts when Jesus ascended into heaven. Apparently it isn’t the most important issue. So what was Jesus trying to do with these men?

Truth is, we aren’t given a lot of the detail of the private or public teachings of Jesus and some of the teachings we did receive are still the focal point of many arguments, as to what Jesus meant and how it applies (e.g., Kingdom theology).

So what did the disciples take away from the ministry of Jesus? My opinion? They learned the importance of team and vision.

They probably fussed and fought a bit while ministering with Jesus but they stayed together.

They failed in front of each other regularly (how embarrassing!) and by that, they learned acceptance and humility.

They jockeyed for position and sometimes wanted the last word and through that, they learned deference and developed the ability to recognize the importance of every position.

They competed for the approval of Jesus but in the end they learned to trust and rely on each other. They never seemed to get the theology right even when Jesus painted a picture in living color. But, when everything looked bleak they banded together, even when they were wrong, because that’s all they had left.

Jesus developed a group who were captured by vision not spiritual trivialities. Vision transcends individual preferences and leverages personality friction into productive energy. Engaging the vision diminishes personal differences.

That is to say, the beginning stage in developing the first church was the framing of a team with a vision; not a crowd, not a gathering, not a class room and not a place.

Before the first disciples managed ministry they learned to interact and talk through their differences. This proved to be critical later on when they had to settle theological questions not answered specifically by Jesus, e.g., circumcision, Acts 15.

Therefore, the most important first step in building a church is establishing a team, with a common vision, who will work and lead together, trusting each other enough to agree to disagree and get on with the task. Team members share the same vision and care about each other. Splitting theological hairs is not a function of team.

That’s why we don’t need more than two or three to function as a church. Teams don’t need to be big to be teams. The smaller the team, to begin with, the easier it is to formulate a vision.

That’s why Jesus started with only twelve.

That’s why the New Testament uses very little space to articulate our goal (preach the gospel to every creature) and a great deal of time encouraging us to “love and defer to each other” (the whole New Testament).

That’s why Billy Graham and three other significant people could form a team that would last fifty years and impact an entire world.

What we are called to do is symbolically referred to as “moving mountains” and only a well-formed team can do that. Individuals can become prominent. Only teams make a difference.

The “team” concept is not usually emphasized in church gatherings, or theology books, because a very important point is missed, Jesus also gave Himself for the church (team). Next time you observe the Lord’s Supper make sure you include a team emphasis. Jesus gave Himself for the individual sinner so each one could become a team player. When you say the word “church” think “team” (synergy, 1 Cor. 3:9) and remember that church is a strategy as well as a sanctuary. ThinkAboutIt

10 August 2008

GO? To Church

When talking about church, words like "attendance," "worship" and "go" have been misused. They give the wrong impression. Church should never be thought of only as a place to "go" and “attendance” should never be the primary description of your relationship to a church.

We attend theatres and we do so to be entertained. It is a place to shut off briefly and let someone else do the thinking. But church is not a place of entertainment and attending is never an appropriate way to worship God. The occasional break should never be identified with church.

People who only “go” to church or “attend” church are missing the point and churches that encourage this are sending the wrong message. The disciples never attended anything. On the contrary they were constantly moving. They probably walked hundreds of kilometers during their time with Jesus.

On the very odd occasion when the disciples could sit and listen to Jesus they rarely got His meaning without further diligent work. Church "attendance" for them was more like school with loads of homework requiring careful study and the work was done on the run. They went home infrequently.

Actually, Jesus focused more on curious unbelievers than the disciples. He often taught in common places where anyone could hear. Even non-disciples didn’t have to go anywhere to attend the meetings of Jesus. He was always making His way to the public.

For the disciples, of course, this meant hard work. Every time Jesus opened His mouth, went anywhere or did anything the disciples were under great pressure. They were always called upon to serve rather than be served. Their infrequent group devotions probably included a hymn but they were likely too tired to clap. They learned more by doing, than sitting and listening. Their acts of worship were usually expressed while moving from one place to another. Church for Jesus and the disciples was nothing like the traditional church today. There was nothing conventional here.

On one occasion, Jesus entertained a crowd in Peter’s home. The house was so full there was no room left for anyone to get in by the normal method (the door). In response, one determined group got in by breaking through the roof. The Bible doesn’t record the reaction of the disciples but I am sure Peter’s wife made a few comments about the mess once the crowd was gone.

“Attendance” is not a word we could accurately use to describe any worship experience by the disciples. They were rarely in one spot, they were constantly surrounded by crowds (they had little privacy) and their leader, Jesus, seemed to put them under pressure. They couldn't even take a holiday without being hounded by needy people.

That doesn’t describe what happens today. The clothes we wear to church are more appropriate for a fashion show than ministry and the places we “attend” church are inaccessible and uninviting to curious unbelievers.

If your “worship” experience hasn’t been too fulfilling recently maybe it involves too much “attendance” and not enough serving. If you need a break, by all means, take a holiday. If you want to make a difference, engage church and make it engaging, don’t attend it. ThinkAboutIt

05 August 2008

Missing The Point Of Truth

Christians have “truth” but they often miss the point entirely. It’s like the guy who drives a petrol hogging, smog belching SUV but uses recycled-paper checks to pay the bill. You don’t have to be ecologically minded to see the contradiction. It appeases Green philosophies in one way and abuses them in another. It is like putting water in a bucket that has a large hole in the bottom. What’s the point?

Christians are guilty of this faulty logic also. We love the truth, or at least we give that idea lip surface often and very loudly, but the question is, which truth do you love and better yet, why do you love it? What’s your purpose? What’s the point?

Is the “truth” you love a tool or a weapon?

Does your management of truth enable diverse Christian groups to work together on common projects or does it turn these groups against each other?

Does the way you love truth bridge the gap between God and the people who don’t know Him or does it further alienate the relationship?

Do you worship God or do you worship the thoughts you entertain about Him?

“Truth” is important but it is never the point and the variations are limitless. There are as many different versions as there are groups to promote them. Consider the following partial list of possibilities:

  • Pre-millennialism, a-millennialism or post-millennialism. In reality, there are even more versions to choose from today and probably more yet to be developed.
  • Pre-trib, mid-trib or post-trib rapture. Obviously, for some, no tribulation or rapture at all.
  • Calvinism or Arminianism (or something in-between).
  • Holy Spirit baptism simultaneous with salvation or subsequent to salvation, accompanied with tongues or not, including an infusion of power or not. Maybe an indwelling and not a baptism at all.
  • Healing on demand, only sometimes or no healing at all.
  • Church is local (visible), universal (invisible) or both, or replaced with kingdom concepts altogether.
  • Divorce never sanctioned (remarriage never allowed), sanctioned sometimes (remarriage may or may not be allowed) or dealt with graciously and kindly when it happens.
  • Tithing or no tithing (in which case you give more).

And many other ideas have been canonized stipulating what you can or cannot wear, what you can or cannot eat (or drink), where you can or cannot go, words you can or cannot say, how you act in church (quiet or loud, responsive readings or impulsive responses, kneeling or standing, head up or bowed, etc.).

To be a part of any particular group you must comply with THEIR particular way of truth and loyal compliance with one way often involves an explicit denial of every other way.

In the process, friction is generated and conflict escalates…between brothers. Whatever the point is, we have missed it entirely.

Here is a truth for you; there are many very good Christians representing every variation of the issues mentioned (not nominal Christians, good Christians). They love the Lord and His Word as much as any other Christian. They are not enemies, heretics, apostates or infidels. They differ, yes, but they still qualify as Christian brothers and sisters. They are family.

In my younger days, I did not see it this way. I was determined to articulate arguments not only for what I believed was THE truth but against everything else. I did what I thought was a passable job on a couple of issues but instead of clearing the air it was like pouring fuel on the fire.

In this post, I am purposely not mentioning any particulars of my belief system because once I do, every person of a different opinion may become alienated from the discussion, but not too worry. I’m not advocating a doctrinal vacuum. I am suggesting that we agree to disagree on some issues that we might work well together on others. I do believe some things very definitely and suggest you should also but not at the expense of the main point.

Our fascination with “doctrine” has created a kind of darkness which Jesus warned against. He said we must have a single focus. Instead, all the issues over which we argue have blurred our vision. It has blinded us to the main point.

The more right we think we are, the more belligerent we become. Issues are forced which don’t really count and people get hurt in the process. Fewer people are reached, humility is down played, consideration and respect for others is lost and ministry becomes a holy huddle rather than a real outreach to others.

According to history, this trend is not new. For ages Christians have been contending with each other (sometimes killing each other) over doctrinal differences. Instead of seeing the historical conflict for what it was, missing the point, we institutionalized it. We embrace the skirmish and teach conflict. In the process, we miss the point. And we are always surprised and flustered when non-Christians point this out.

We don’t easily get it but, fortunately, Jesus made THE point several times during His ministry. He said it different ways, managed to draw it out of others and New Testament writers repeated it after Jesus’ ascension. What is it??? Consider the following:

  1. You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself…
  2. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you…
  3. A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another…
  4. Love one another with a pure heart fervently…
  5. Love your enemies…
  6. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer...

Any one of these statements alone makes the point. All of them together are condemning for anyone who misses it. You should never be ashamed of what you believe but be sure you don’t sincerely miss the point in the process.

Peter mentioned a list of eight things we should add to our faith. The last two on the list are “brotherly kindness” and “love” both of which are more relational than academic.

Here is the fact: Truth enables you to serve, care about and work with others better. It emphasizes the relationship and downplays the difference. If that isn’t the case you might be missing the point. ThinkAboutIt

By the way, Dark-Side Christianity feeds on the conflict. Bright-Side Christianity finds a way to emphasize the main point and avoid the conflict.