5 Ways To Cultivate Spiritual Conversations

21 11 2017

*This is adapted from the book God Space by Doug Pollock, which I highly recommend!

spiritualconversationsIt should be shocking to us, as followers of Christ, how few Christians are actively sharing their faith. We are commanded by our Master and Commander, Jesus, to make disciples, yet how many of us have made a disciple recently? When was the last time you even had a spiritual conversation and planted a seed with someone who is lost? For that matter, how many lost people do you know and consider friends?

These are difficult questions because at their root they expose us as disobedient children. It might even be said that this chronic disobedience could be an indicator that we are not a follower of Jesus after all. When there is a blatant disregard for the command of Jesus, it might be safe to assume that he is not our Commander.

I have come to realize, though, that there are many believers who simply and truly do not understand how to share the good news. Gone are the days of personal evangelism training in churches, not that these were that effective. The majority of them were geared towards getting a Christian to cold call a total stranger and share the complete gospel with them in one sitting! Very few people desire to do that or are good at that, and there is not a lot scripture that indicates the apostles or Jesus went around knocking on doors and sharing a set of memorized questions. This is why most of these trainings faded over the course of a few months.

I believe there are, also, many believers who cannot even express the gospel in a coherent form or share an effective personal testimony.

Aside from all of these things, there is even a lack of ability to start and facilitate a simple spiritual conversation. I think it would amaze believers if they could just get a spiritual conversation going how the Holy Spirit would jump in and help them know what to say (this is scriptural). Many believers will go an entire day, week, or even month without talking to any lost person, much less engage a lost person in a spiritual topic. My goal is to give you some tips on how you can get a spiritual conversation started with a lost person. There is no memorizing here, just a simple art form that anyone can learn and God can use to great effect.

5 Ways To Cultivate Spiritual Conversations

Praying
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but how many times do you pray before you head into the gym or enter a restaurant that God would give you the opportunity to speak with someone that needs to hear the gospel? In your personal prayer time, do you spend more time praying for yourself and sick people than lost people? Obviously, praying for God to intervene and provide you with opportunities is hugely important, but secondarily it helps us to be more intentional. If you pray that God would help you to have a spiritual conversation, you are going to be more on the lookout for that conversation.

Noticing
This is all about being intentional in every circumstance. When a waitress comes to take your order, do you simply order your meal or do you notice her name and maybe even her countenance? When going through the line at the grocery store, do you notice that the cashier might be down? When talking to co-workers that you have known for years, are you really noticing what they are saying? Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” You may think you know someone, but take the time to intentionally notice them from a spiritual point of view. When you notice something, ask about it. Draw out those deep waters. You never know how God might use you to change someone’s life from simply taking the time to notice them.

Serving
This is something that anyone can do but involves a little planning beforehand. Plus, this can include a million things, like mowing your neighbor’s lawn, giving a friend their favorite candy bar, buying a stranger’s lunch, taking a plate of cookies to your neighbors, etc. The key here is waiting for them to pop the magic question… Why? When someone asks you why you are serving them, this gives you permission to jump into a spiritual conversation. You can simply say, “I love Jesus, and I wanted to show you that Jesus loves you in a practical way,” or “I’m a follower of Jesus, and I simply want to be kind in small ways as he has been kind to me.” Anything like this can get a conversation going.

Listening
If you read the gospels, you find that Jesus asked a lot of questions. By asking questions, he made people face the hard truth about their lives and talk it out for themselves rather than just give them a simple answer. If there is anything that Christians need to learn today, it’s how to ask good questions and just be quiet and listen. Listening is certainly a lost art form. Our tendency seems to be talking and then only hearing what we want to hear. When having a spiritual conversation with someone who is far from God we must be willing let them have their say and not get offended. We need to listen with compassion and be able to see through the barbs that are only intended to get a rise out of us. When we don’t respond negatively, we become a safe person – someone that they can trust. This keeps the door open for more conversations and eventually the sharing of the gospel.

Wondering
This is a fantastic way to engage people in spiritual conversations without being threatening at all. It involves asking a “wondering” question based on what you have been hearing. So the first step in wondering is good listening. When you hear something that sparks your curiosity, wonder about it. For example, you and a co-worker are talking about the latest political news, and they make a statement about Planned Parenthood. You could wonder by saying, “I wonder if there is a supreme being in the universe that created us, what he would think about abortion?” Do you see how this is much less threatening than just simply stating your view and walking off mad? It opens up the topic to more dialogue but gently shifts it to spiritual matters. By wondering with them, you have also become a sojourner with them, not an antagonist.

Conclusion

I hope you can see that these 5 simple things are not difficult to do to get into spiritual conversations that could possibly lead to the salvation of one who is lost. The one thing that is going to trip most people up is when we don’t intentionally do any of these things, and they just get relegated to more Christian stuff that we know but don’t practice. We have to make ourselves begin to practice these things. It’s just like anything else where we have to make ourselves do the right things at first, but eventually they come naturally to us.





Big Backpacks

5 07 2017

bigbackpacks

One of the important things that needs to concern us with regards to short-term missions is the perception that we give to those we are ministering. Most people just naturally tend towards ethnocentricity, so it is easy for one to see the faults of and make fun of the stereotypes of other cultures while completely ignoring one’s own. As believers, we need to be acutely aware of our own culture’s shortcomings and stereotypes in order to be a better witness of the gospel.

One of the stereotypes that many American mission teams live up to all too often is that we are loud and obnoxious in a sarcastic, insider-joking way. We served as missionaries in a country that saw a lot of tourists come through, and it was very interesting to hear from the locals their different stereotypes for each country. Every once in a while, we would head to the big city to eat at a touristy restaurant, and my wife and I would jokingly try to guess the nationalities of the different groups that came through based upon their behavior. It was surprisingly easy. With this in mind, I try to remind all of my short-term teams to not be loud and laugh together as a group leaving our national friends out. I, also, had to learn that not very many nationalities understand sarcasm. There is not even a word in Swahili for sarcasm making it very difficult for one like me that has the spiritual gift of sarcasm. While in East Africa, I would make what I thought was the funniest joke ever and nobody would laugh because it was sarcastic. I finally figured out that they love jokes that we would consider silly or corny.

All over the world, especially in developing countries, there is a perception that Americans are filthy rich. Considering the finances of people in developing countries, we do have a lot of money. While in Tanzania, I regularly had in my wallet the average working man’s yearly salary, but what many Tanzania’s did not understand is that I spent that amount every month on just gas for my vehicle to get to their villages. There is a difference between having money and being filthy rich. Many nationals of developing countries have the perception that all Americans are Bill Gates rich. That perception is simply a reality, but it is a reality that can do harm to the gospel. There are many people that might “pray to receive Christ” simply because of what they might get in material blessings from the American missionary. Because of this very real possibility, our short-term teams need to be extremely careful in how we handle finances and material possessions while on the field.

5 Simple Things Short-Term Mission Team Members Can Do To Better Handle Finances And Material Possessions While On The Field…

  1. Lose the Big Backpacks – Most of us can vividly picture the short-term team walking into the dusty village in their Chacos, carrying their Nalgene water bottle, and lugging a backpack full of everything. Most of these backpacks contain more food in one of them than the entire village. In the backpack, including snacks, are your Bible, devotional book, journal, camera, extra water bottles, sunscreen, headphones, every cable imaginable, an entire medicine cabinet, passport, 23 packets of gum, GoPro video camera, etc. The vast majority of these things are never needed. In every village that I have ever been to I have always found bottled water and plenty to eat. I usually bring my phone that has a camera and my Bible on it, and I carry my passport in a zippered pocket in a plastic baggie to keep my sweat off of it. Instead of passing out my overly processed food as the wealthy benefactor, I eat the food that they give me and not just a small mouthful as a token. We need to think about the perception that we are giving to people with our backpacks full of wealth. In Matthew 10:10 Jesus said, “Don’t take a traveling bag for the road…” This, of course, is not law for us, but it might be a good principle.
  2. Only One Camera – Choose the best photographer in your group, and only let them take the big camera. There will be times where individuals will get to know someone and want to take a picture together with their phone, and this is completely appropriate. Most people now, even in the remotest villages, will reciprocate with their own smart phone camera! What I am talking about, though, is the photographic documenting of the trip. If three or four people walk into the front yard of someone’s home with their big cameras and just start taking pictures of everything, including their children, this can be highly offensive. Only allow one person to do this and only after they have received permission. Most times we do not even think about the roles being reversed. What if someone walked into your home and started immediately taking pictures of the crosses on your wall or the Bible on your shelf or your messy kitchen or your children?
  3. Generous Church Giving – Many short-term mission teams get the life-changing opportunity to experience a local church service. Inevitably, the time for offering comes around, and every head awkwardly turns towards the leader wondering what to do. Of course, by that time it is too late. I always try to remember to tell my team members to give. My general rule of thumb is $10-$20. In most cases this is a generous gift for the church, but not too much. I always ask each team member to pray about their gift, and if God impresses them to give more, they are welcome to do so.
  4. Extra Gifts – It is not uncommon for two things to happen during a mission trip: 1. a team member gets asked by a national for a financial gift and 2. a team member feels the need to give financially to a national. In Tanzania it is culturally appropriate to ask someone else for money. If I was ever in dire straights, as an American, I would find it difficult to even ask my best friend or family for money! Therefore, when someone in Tanzania asked me for money, at first it was difficult to not get offended. I had to learn that it is also culturally alright to say no when someone asked me. The difficulty comes when a compassionate short-term team member sees a great need that they could easily “fix” with a few bucks. This has great danger, though. We could meet that need, but what about the next one? And the next? Creating dependency is a very real possibility and detrimental to the long-term health of not only the individual but the society as a whole. If a team member is asked for a financial gift or feels the need to give one unsolicited, I would suggest that team member to first pray about it seeking the leadership of the Holy Spirit before immediately giving them the gift. They should then consult with the team leader and/or the long-term missionary and a trustworthy national partner, if available. Also, I always have my team members bring small gifts, like devotional books, t-shirts, bracelets, etc. to give to our translators or others who have rendered us some kind of service. I think these are better than cash gifts.
  5. Promises – While in Zambia one time, I met two young men in the market. I was able to share the gospel with them, and we began to talk about life in general. As I was preparing to leave, through the translator, I told them that they ought to come to America with me. What I meant by that statement was that I really liked those two guys. What they heard was a promise that I would take them to America with me. They literally began packing their things on the spot! This taught me that our words hold great weight with others. When we come as believers from America to another country, for whatever reasons, we come with authority in the eyes of many nationals. If we even hint that we are going to help them, they expect it and are hurt when we do not follow through.
  6. Souvenirs – Buying souvenirs is something that every team does and should do. We just should not do it excessively in front of the nationals that we are working with. When with nationals, I keep a small amount of money in my front pocket to purchase things like small souvenirs or other things. This way I am not pulling out a large stack of bills every time to buy a bottle of water. This would cause a bad perception and is potentially a safety issue. On every trip, I usually plan one time on the tail end to go somewhere the team can purchase all of their souvenirs by ourselves.




8 Ways To Mission-Minded Kids

26 06 2017

mission-mindedkids

If our purpose is to make disciples of all nations, our children’s purpose is the same. As parents our first disciples are our children, and it is our responsibility to teach them about our purpose as believers on the planet. All too often, though, we teach them the opposite through our actions. Every year birthday parties become more extravagant, gifts get more expensive, sports and activities take the place of church attendance, and our children learn that the world revolves around them. In order to help our children become mission-minded, we must be intentional in teaching them. Here are 8 ways to help get you there…

  1. Go on a mission trip. This may seem obvious, but your children need to see that you are serious about missions. They need to see you sacrifice vacation time and finances to go and make a difference. This sets an example for them. Also, it is not always possible, but try to go on a family mission trip. Every year my family goes together on a family mission trip to an Indian Reservation in Wyoming, and it is the best thing! We get to minister together, and my boys get to see my wife and I share the good news with others.
  2. Host missionaries in your home. Get to know missionaries and invite them to your home for dinner. Let your kids be around them and hear their stories. Let your children get to know the missionary’s children. They can even become pen pals or email pals. This will help your children become aware of missions because it is directly affecting someone they have grown to care about.
  3. Attend mission events. I know many churches host some kind of mission celebration at least once per year. Every time our church has a missionary visit us, we host a special lunch or dinner that we invite the whole church to. Be sure and take your kids to hear the missionary’s presentation, plus you get a free meal! If at all possible take your children to a missionary appointment service. These are hosted by our sending organization periodically throughout the year, plus now they are even live-streaming them. If your church does nothing like this, find a church that does or start it in your church! You only get one shot with your kids. Don’t take them to a church that does nothing with missions.
  4. Pray for mission teams that have been sent out. As your church sends teams out, be sure and pray for them with your children. This reminds them that they are apart of a church that sends, and it teaches them the importance and power of prayer.
  5. Learn about and pray for unreached people groups. Go to the Joshua Project and pick out an unreached people group or pick a group that your church is partnered with. Help your children learn all about the group and begin to regularly pray for them. Another great resource is Operation World.
  6. Support missions. Let your children see you give towards missions and missionaries. Encourage them to give out of their own resources. At our church, we provide a multitude of ways to support missions by giving towards people going, purchasing items for missionaries, buying diapers for our local pregnancy center, etc. Participate in as many of these things as you can, and do not hide it from your children. Support also includes encouragement. Have your children make cards and encouraging notes to send to missionaries.
  7. Encourage your children to read mission biographies. Expose your children to the great Christian men and women of our past, and it may inspire them to become the same. A great resource for this is YWAM’s Christian Heroes: Then and Now Series.
  8. Have your children take Perspectives. This class is life-changing! If it is available in your area, you need to take it yourself and then have your kids take it. This class would not be good for small children, but both of my older boys took the class when they were 16 and did well. This class is well worth the investment in time and money.




Christian Tourism

19 06 2017

christian_tourism

Every year, thousands of Christians go on “mission trips” to exotic locations all over the world. They love to come back touting big numbers of those that responded to a call to salvation, show off pictures of them loving on a kid in front of a mud hut, and bragging about the weird food they ate. The vast majority of these “mission teams” go to places that are already reached; that is, they have an indigenous church capable of making disciples of every person in the people group without the need for cross-cultural witnesses. For example, a number of years ago I flew to Honduras to go and work with a wonderful orphanage that our church has been partnered with for many years. The plane was full of mission teams! I could tell because everyone had team shirts on. According to the Joshua Project there is one people group in Honduras that is considered unreached, and that is a group of 1600 Muslim Turks. Now, I will clarify that our church continues to partner with the orphanage in Honduras, but it is our only partnership of its kind that is specifically not reaching an unreached people group.

What Is Missions?

We really need to understand what missions is in order to understand what a mission trip is and to differentiate it from Christian tourism. Missions is birthed out of Jesus’ commissioning statements, most popularly out of Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus said that we are to go and make disciples of all ethne (people groups). Later we see the apostles, most notably Paul, flesh this out by going to people groups that had never heard the gospel and establishing indigenous, reproducing churches among them. Once the church was established, he would move on to the next people group knowing and trusting that the church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was capable of reaching their own people. This is missions, pure and simple. If we do anything other than that, it may be good, but it is not missions. Caring for orphans is good and Biblical, but it is not strictly or technically missions. Going to a people group that is reached and doing VBS, sharing your testimony door-to-door, encouraging the existing church, discipling pastors, etc. is a lot of things good and Biblical, including ministry, evangelism, and discipleship, but not strictly missions.

Categorizing Our Trips

Every believer and every church ought to take time and evaluate what partnerships and trips they participate in by categorizing them by purpose. For instance, our trip to Honduras to work with the orphanage is called a mission trip, but in my mind, as a mission pastor, I know that this is a “ministry trip.” I might go to Kenya to train pastors as a mission trip, but I categorize that in my mind as a “discipleship trip.” This is an important exercise to work through because the priority should always be missions. Yes, other things are important, but the most critical thing is to make disciples of unreached people groups. If I only led my church to work with orphans, I would be leading my church to do good ministry but not missions. If I only went on one trip per year to train pastors in Kenya, I would still need to ask how I am making missions a priority in my life.

At this point, many people that are passionate about a particular ministry get upset because of the challenge that their ministry is not the critical priority. I am personally passionate about orphan and foster care. I have led our church to continue our work at and support of the orphanage in Honduras. We support foster care in our area and celebrate it publicly. We have an adoption fund at our church to help members offset the cost of adoptions. My family has personally adopted an orphan! I am passionate about this ministry, but I understand it is not the most important thing on planet earth. Getting the gospel to people groups that have no access to the gospel and seeing indigenous, reproducing churches planted among them is God’s priority, Jesus’ final command to us, and should be my burning desire.

The reason that I categorize what I do personally and what we do as a church is to make sure that my and our church’s priorities match up to God’s. As a church we certainly participate in orphan care, disaster relief, training pastors, etc. but these things come second to the mission of God.

The Tricky Part

You may be already thinking this, but can these good things like pastor training, disaster relief, or construction projects be one and the same with missions? The answer, of course, is yes. The key is long-term strategy. If the goal is indigenous, reproducing churches among unreached people groups, there are thousands of good, strategic ways to get there. A key thing to remember about long-term strategy, though, is that it should be generated from the field. This means that a cross-cultural missionary or a trustworthy national partner that has spent the time to research the people, learn the language and culture, and understands good missiology has developed the strategy. Problems come when well-intentioned churches and/or short-term teams dictate the strategy.

With all of this in mind, if I am leading a short-term team to do missions, I want know that whatever we do it is moving the cross-cultural missionary further down the road toward an indigenous, reproducing church. If the long-term, cross-cultural missionary or national partner determines that it would help them to have a team put a new roof on a church, I will bring a construction team. I should, as a caring Christian and mission pastor, question any strategy for accountability reasons, but in the end it is the call of those that will be there in the long run.

When determining mission trips versus just tourism or good works trips, the first thing that I am looking for is a long-term strategy to get to an indigenous, reproducing church. If a trip is not a part of that strategy, then it is not a mission trip.

Encouragement

If we can increase the longevity of our missionaries on the field, then we can increase the work to get to indigenous, reproducing churches. Another often neglected form of mission trips is “encouragement trips.” I certainly categorize these as mission trips! As stated before, to reach unreached people groups we have to have cross-cultural missionaries. The job of a missionary is difficult in the best of circumstances. The turnover rate is huge. These are people that are the vanguard of the greatest fight in history, and the front lines always have the highest casualty rates.

If we believe that we need these cross-cultural missionaries, we need to be willing to support them. One of the greatest ways that we can support our missionaries is to go visit them. These encouragement mission trips are difficult for churches that like to dictate the strategy themselves or like to boast about big results, because most of these trips do not have visible, short-term fruit. Churches that are able to do these types of trips are churches that know how to take the long-term, more healthy approach of making disciples.

Partnerships

The long-term, more healthy approach to making disciples as missions happens within partnerships, not one-shot trips to an exotic locale. Many churches participate in 3-5 year partnerships, but there have been very few unreached people groups reached within that time frame. As a matter of fact, statistics show that the vast majority of missionaries to pioneer areas do not even see their first converts until after seven years!

I have been a mission pastor long enough to know that interest in a mission partnership lasts about 3-5 years. That length of time is about the amount of time that it takes to get everyone interested in that locale the opportunity to go. Once interest in the partnership wanes, it is time to move on to the next opportunity. This is Christian tourism! The purpose of the partnership is not reaching the unreached people group or supporting the missionaries. It is getting your congregation interested enough to go, and everything else is second. This is the consumerism that we must be fighting in our churches, but instead we buy into it and call it missions.

Our church does not do 3-5 year partnerships. All of our partnerships are open-ended and evaluated continually. We have one partnership with an unreached people group that has gone for more than 15 years and multiple long-term missionaries. Most of our 16 partnerships are going on 7 years now. It is difficult to maintain interest and get people on trips, but that is not the primary focus. The priority is to see an unreached people group redeemed.

Conclusion

We, both corporately as a church and personally, need to look hard at our motives for going where we are going and why we are going. Long-term, open-ended partnerships with indigenous, reproducing churches among unreached people groups as the end goal with strategy dictated from the field is the ideal. Anything less than that is simply Christian tourism at best and could potentially do long-term harm to future mission efforts. Of course, God can use a random short-term trip to an exotic location, but that gives us no excuse to not work towards the best.





8 Ways To Encourage Your Missionaries

23 05 2017

encouragement2

The problems and struggles that missionaries and church planters face are always amplified on the field. It is just plain difficult to live and minister in a different culture and language. Add to that cooking from scratch, dealing with outages of electricity and water, homeschooling, and no Peter Pan extra crunchy peanut butter, and you have a recipe for disaster just waiting to happen. Unfortunately that is not all, though. We have to understand that pioneer missionaries are the troops on the front lines. They are advancing into enemy territory, and our enemy is not just going to hand it over to them. He plays dirty and will do anything to thwart the expansion of the Kingdom of God. With this in mind, our home bases need to do a better job of supporting those that have given up so much to reach the unreached.

I have a saying that I use all of the time at our church: “If we can increase the longevity of our missionaries on the field, we can increase the work.” There is only so much a short-term team can do. It is essential that we have cross-cultural, long-term missionaries on the field. The longer they stay, the more effective they are. Our enemy knows this, so he does everything he can do to get our missionaries off the field. There are a number of things that our churches can do to help prevent this. The most important is prayer, but the second is very important as well. We must be an encouragement to our missionaries. Typically, we forget to do both. Someone moves out of the home base, and it is so easy to forget. Here are some things that you can do to be an encouragement to your missionaries…

  1. Read and respond to their updates – If you don’t get updates, get signed up today. Find an email address and send them a note that you want to be added to their update list. Once you receive their update, actually open it up and “prayer read” it (kind of like prayer walking). But don’t stop there. Respond back to it, so they know you read it. Most every missionary works extremely hard to put together their update, and many of them use some kind of email service that gives them the stats. It is always very discouraging to look at the stats and see that only 40% of your emails were even opened. It only takes a few minutes to read them. Find a praise report or a prayer request and write the missionary back about that specific thing so they know you read it.
  2. Video chat – Make an appointment with your missionary to video chat with them. Most missionaries have the capabilities to do this through Skype, Facebook, or FaceTime. Just ask them questions and talk. Ask about their work. Ask them how the family is doing. Ask if they have any prayer requests. Just before getting off the video chat with them, pray for them right there. This is a great way to involve your whole family as well. Involve your children in the video chat. You might even prepare with your children some questions that they could ask beforehand.
  3. Send real mail or, even better, a package – Find out your missionary’s physical address and send them some real mail. You might even have your small group all write notes of encouragement and send it to them. Another thing you can do is send a small package, like a small padded envelope. It is not very expensive to send these, and they usually don’t have to go through customs to get these. You could send a DVD of a new movie, some packets of seasoning like chili, tacos, or ranch dressing, or even the small Velvetta packages will fit! If you send anything bigger than this, be sure and ask the missionary first. I served in a place where it just wasn’t worth it to receive a bigger box.
  4. Send them updates about you – Email them about how you are doing personally and how your church is doing. Missionaries deal with loneliness, and they get out of touch very quickly. You need to be careful about forwarding them church newsletters if they work in a secure location, but a simple, personal email will work wonders. Let them know about new music that is personally ministering to you and purchase them an iTunes credit so they can get it, too. Let them know how you are praying for them and how God is speaking to you in general.
  5. Send them a financial gift – You might be supporting them financially as a church planter or missionary, which is a HUGE blessing, but don’t forget smaller, extra gifts throughout the year. When we served overseas, we wanted to get our kids gifts for Christmas just like everyone else, but the toys overseas are triple the price or more than in the United States. Send your missionaries a “Christmas Bonus.” You might send them a little extra for an anniversary or birthday or just for fun as a blessing. iTunes gift cards or credits are always appreciated.
  6. Ask them how you can pray for them personally – Many people want to hear how they can pray for a missionary’s work but neglect the missionary themselves. Periodically email your missionary and ask how you can personally pray for them. Missionaries are not immune to periods of spiritual struggle and doubt. When they send you a personal prayer request, obviously, pray, but also write them back a prayer. This helps them to know that you really are praying for them, and it might just be the thing they needed to hear to get them through the spiritual struggle.
  7. Remember their birthdays – Don’t forget birthdays! Facebook is great for this. Write something personal on their Facebook wall or, better yet, mail them a card to get in time for their birthday. This is especially important for the missionary children. Children here in the United States can have a party with all their friends at the swimming pool, the trampoline park, the arcade, the theme park, etc. This is not always the case for children living overseas where their friends live far away. Just like we try to make our kid’s birthdays special, we could be a huge encouragement by helping our missionaries make their children’s birthdays special. Ask if you can send them anything or how you can help.
  8. Go visit them – So many times we only think of mission trips in terms of what kind of ministry we are going to perform, but have you ever thought of just going to love on your missionaries? We do this at our church all the time. It took our congregation time to understand the importance and value of this, but it has become a huge blessing to our church to be able to send a team with the only purpose of being an encouragement to our missionaries. You have to be able to understand that your short-term trip might have little impact with regards to reaching an unreached people group, but going to boost your missionaries’ spirits might be just the ticket to keep them on the field longer and see exponential fruit. I have another saying at our church for our mission teams going out: “Our first priority is to come under the strategy of the church planter or missionary. Our second, and very close to the first, priority is to encourage our missionaries.”

We need to start defining our success for our mission ministry and trips differently than just “souls won.” I have heard of many short-term mission trips that reported they saw hundreds saved, but they left with no long-term strategy to continue the work. Our mandate is not to save souls, but to make disciples. Disciple-making happens within long-term relationships, which on the field might be only provided by the cross-cultural missionary throughout the first or second generation of believers. This is why it is imperative to keep our missionaries on the field! We, personally and corporately as a church, can help keep missionaries on the field by the simple act of encouragement.





Multiplication

16 05 2017

multiplication

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Exponential Conference as a guest of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. This was an outstanding conference that focused on teaching how to plant a Level 5 church or move your church into a Level 5 church. Let me explain…

Most of you know that the majority of churches in the US are either plateaued or declining. Level 1 represents a church that is declining, and Level 2 a plateaued church. Level 3 is a church that is adding members. Most churches are trying to go from a Level 1 to a Level 3. One problem with this is that declining churches tend to continue to decline. Another problem is that the rate at which Level 3 churches add members is too slow to keep up with the population growth rate.

The techniques used by a Level 3 church are widely known, but are only actually successful in a small percentage of churches. Most Addition Churches have a dynamic preacher and an excellent Sunday worship experience, and its members are constantly encouraged to invite their friends, family, and co-workers to the service. The reason this only works in a small proportion of churches is because most churches cannot pull off the best worship service in town and they don’t have the best preacher. The other common addition techniques used are big programs, productions, or events. These are shown to have minimal to no results, and they are contingent upon a big budget if done correctly. If you find yourself in a Level 1-3 Church, you will find yourself spending the vast majority of your time talking about Sunday mornings and the next big events.

A Level 4 Church is a Reproducing Church. Once a church beats the odds and becomes an Addition Church, they begin to talk about multiple services, or they begin to talk about multiple campuses, which is a common trend right now. They, also, might talk about church planting. These are all positive things as multiple venues, new campuses, and new churches all reach new people. The problem is still the same, though. We are using addition, instead of multiplication, and addition will never be enough to complete the Great Commission.

The mistake that is made is in thinking that we are to build the church, but that is not the case! Author, Neil Cole, said that we are called to make disciples; it’s Jesus’ job to build His church. This is a complete paradigm shift from what is taught and modeled. Author, Alan Hirsch, explains that what gets you to a Level 3 church will never get you to a Level 5 church. A Level 5 church is a Multiplying Church. It is more of a movement of churches. As a matter of fact, missionaries around the world in places like East Asia and South Asia describe a “church planting movement” that looks nothing like our typical churches in the West but which are exploding faster than anyone can keep up (see Garrison, Church Planting Movements). A Multiplying Church is described as a movement that has third or fourth generation churches that know nothing of the parent church.

In order for us to complete the Great Commission as commanded by Jesus, we have to start thinking multiplication and trusting that making disciples is the strategy.





Business For Missions

9 05 2017

businessformissions

Here’s how it works… We are told that we ought to give 10% of our income to the church. That fraction of our income goes towards many things to make sure the church is operating, mostly towards ministries directed to the spiritual growth of its members. Depending on the church, a small percentage of that pot of money goes towards missions in some form or fashion. Usually about once or twice per year, the church takes up a one-time offering that goes towards missions preceded by tear-jerking videos to get us to give more. This is how the church in general has operated for quite some time. I just do not find this model of church the most God-glorifying or the most Biblical or adequate to complete the Great Commission.

Our tithe (10%) to the church is based upon an Old Testament principle. There is certainly nothing wrong with giving away a portion of your income, and an argument can be made that this is a Biblical principle. However, Jesus never commanded the tithe. Jesus always asked for more, specifically everything. He asks us to give our whole lives for the mission, not a token amount. In talking about money, the least that Jesus ever seemed to be satisfied with was when Zacchaeus said he would give half of his money to the poor and pay back anyone he cheated four times over (Luke 19:1-10). Most of the time, Jesus asked for everything when someone wanted to follow Him.

All across the world our churches are full of Godly people that are wise business people, savvy investors, and risk-taking entrepreneurs. What we teach and ask of these people is to simply give 10% of their income to the church. The rest of the money that they earn is theirs to spend as they please. Understand that I am not suggesting that God is calling all of these people to give every last penny to the church. What I am suggesting is that God is calling them to leverage their lives, gifts, and talents to be the most effective for completing the Great Commission. If that means they give all of their money away, then so be it. But what if, however, they are given the opportunity within the church to use their talents and gifts to make money for the mission of the church. Instead of a one-time gift of all their finances, they create significant income streams for the express purpose of financing the work of missions now and into the future. We allow this for all sorts of people in our churches. If you have the gift of teaching, you are signed up to teach! If you are gifted with children, we have a spot for you! Why not tent-makers (entrepreneurs)?

This idea of churches creating income streams to support missions is not without precedent. There is a church nearby who started a popular coffee shop in order to fund their orphanage in another country. There is a church who started a thrift store to supplement their mission budget. There is a church that started a bakery to provide local jobs to former prostitutes and exotic dancers and provide funds for their mission endeavors. The examples go on and on, but these examples are generally what we see: small-scale businesses making a small impact. I am not saying that these smaller impacts are not significant. I am suggesting, though, that we use these as catalysts to think and dream bigger. What is keeping a church from bringing those gifted in business together to start a large, multi-million dollar company to support missions? The difference between the two is not that one is Biblical and the other not. It is simply a matter of scale.

A former leader of our denomination said correctly that for whatever reason God has tied finishing the Great Commission with finances. There is still a great need for cross-cultural missionaries, Bible translations, discipleship material, etc. All of these things cost money. The solution that is always presented to our churches is that we need to give more donations. This will just not provide the amounts that we need to finish the Great Commission at the rate at which we are going. We must dare to dream bigger!








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