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.





The Race – Part 1

10 05 2017

therace01Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrew 12:1-2

 The very first word of this scripture, therefore, is hugely important. It means that in light of the previous passage and because of the previous passage, now do this. So whenever we see this word, it should sound an alarm for us to look at what was written before, so that what we are about to read is understood in the proper context. In regards to this particular therefore, it refers back to Hebrews 11. This is a chapter that many people have nicknamed the “Hall of Fame of Faith.” Beginning with Abel, it lists many individuals and included the multitude of unnamed people who kept their faith even through the worst hardships, torture, and persecution.

Our passage of scripture in Hebrews 12:1, referring back to all those listed in Hebrews 11, says that all of the faithful make up a large cloud of witnesses that surround us.

Not too long ago, I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Fittest On Earth.” This documentary followed some of the greatest athletes as they competed in the 2015 International CrossFit Games. On the second day of the games, they competed in a workout called “Murph.” This starts with a 1-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and then ends with another 1-mile run all of this done with a weighted vest on. It happened to be very hot that morning of the competition, and most of the athletes were really struggling to even finish. They showed these competitors exhausted, taking ice baths, and some were even passed out. Although this was an extremely difficult workout, the day was just beginning! Following this workout, they were to do another very difficult workout called a “Snatch Speed Ladder.” This is basically throwing a bunch of progressively heavy barbells over your head in a controlled fashion. As the athletes waited to enter the field, you could see the trepidation on their faces, but something changed as they entered the playing field. The stands surrounding the field were completely packed with crazy, cheering fans! Of course the athletes were still tired, but the encouragement from the stands allowed them to pull from some deep reserves to do some incredibly difficult lifts.

This is what the author of Hebrews is talking about. Those faithful that went before us are sitting in the stands cheering us on to do incredibly difficult or even impossible things for God. Now, I am not sure if this means that those people are with us in spirit or if they can physically see us. On my good days I like to think that they can gaze from where they are and see us, but I have bad days, too, where I would just rather nobody sees.

The point, though, is we should be encouraged knowing that when we remain faithful we are just the latest of generations of faithful that have gone before us. In Hannah Hurnard’s famous allegorical book, “Hind’s Feet On High Places,” the main character named Much Afraid is led down into a desert of suffering. In the midst of that suffering she is encouraged when she sees a long line of people as far as the eye could see beginning with Abraham, and she is invited to join hands with the last in line making her a part of the faithful sufferers.

Because of knowing the fact that others have successfully gone before us and they now surround us with their encouragement, throw off every hindrance and sin, and run!





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!





Go, Unless It’s Dangerous

8 05 2017

dangerous

In Revelation 22:18, we are warned not to add anything to the scriptures, but many Christians, by their actions, have added a parenthetical statement to the Great Commission. We will go and make disciples of all nations, if it is not dangerous.

Every year our church sends 300+ people on mission trips all over the world. One of our longest-running partnerships is with a fantastic orphanage in Honduras, and the perception of this particular trip is that it is perfectly safe. We also send people to countries in Central and South Asia where persecution of believers is happening, and these countries always strike more fear with our people. The funny thing is that out of all the countries we go to, Honduras is only one of two countries that have a specific State Department warning against traveling there. The reason Honduras is perceived as safe is because it does not make the nightly news. The truth is that Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and kidnapping of Westerners increases every year. Crime like this does not make the headlines. Terrorism is the popular news item of the day, and by its nature terrorism affects a very small amount of people in order to scare the masses. For many Christians, the terrorists have won. Before we took our very first trip to a country in Central Asia, Osama Bin Ladin was killed. Many people called the church telling us that we should cancel the trip. The country we were going to was not even near where this occurred. For many Christians, terrorists and fear are the determining factors on whether or not to follow the commands of Jesus.

It always surprises me that parents will worry to death about sending their students on an international trip to a very safe location, but they will not hesitate to go on a family vacation to a large city in the US. Some of the most dangerous cities in the world are found within our borders and are major tourist destinations. As a matter of fact, some of the international places we go to have lower rates of crime in the entire country than some individual cities in the US.

The point is that there is inherent risk in traveling anywhere. Going and making disciples of all people groups is inherently risky and could be dangerous. This, however, does not negate the command of Jesus. In the very same breath (one verse later in Matthew 28:20) Jesus gave us the promise of His presence. In the comfort of that Presence, there is no space for fear! Knowing that Jesus was with them, even through the most dangerous circumstances, the disciples and millions of known and unknown followers of Jesus after them charged the front lines without regard for their own safety so that the vast numbers of lost might hear of the grace of Jesus Christ. The question is simply, will we fearfully stay in disobedience or courageously go as light piercing the dark?





Persecution in America

6 10 2015

persecutionMy eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:20

In this passage of scripture, Paul is writing from prison. He has been imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. His prayer is simply that no matter what happens, Christ would be glorified, whether he lives through this persecution or he is killed. Death is a reality that he is facing as he writes this letter.

In recent years, there have been numerous Christians talking and writing about increased persecution of Christians in America. Certainly there have been instances where Christian people or businesses have been targeted expressly because they hold a Biblical worldview, but the vast majority of these do not end up in prison or dead. We have all been following the news about the mass shooting that happened in a small college in Oregon. It has been reported that the gunman was targeting Christians. There have been in the recent past other such shootings with similar stories of Christians being targeted and killed, but, not to minimize these tragedies, these events are not the norm and are usually carried out by mentally unstable people. In America today there is no widespread, systematic persecution of Christians going on where the end result is imprisonment, death, or banishment.

To say that we, as American believers, are persecuted is an insult to the many Christians that face hatred, discrimination, death, torture and imprisonment in other parts of the world simply because they have chosen to follow Jesus. Instead of crying foul at the media, sharing alarmist articles on social media, and wishing for the good ole’ days, we should be taking advantage of the unprecedented freedom that we have to share the gospel not just in our country, but in most places on the planet. The fact of the matter is that I could go out on our streets right now, share the gospel with someone, and see them become a Jesus-follower, and neither of us is going to face prison, torture, or death. If it ever comes to that, then we can start calling it persecution.

In the end, though, persecution does not matter, because all that matters is that God receives the glory. If I live in a country where persecution is the norm, then by my imprisonment, torture, and death I should see that God is glorified. If I live in America where I can share openly and freely, then by my life I should see that God is glorified.

May Paul’s prayer be our prayer! We need to quit worrying about this fallen world. God will take care of that. It should be no surprise that this country is going the direction it is going, yet we act shocked when a sinful people actually sin. We have been called to see that God receives all glory, and by His plan we are to do that by making disciples of all people groups. Paul could have easily languished in prison feeling sorry for himself. Instead he boldly witnessed so much that it could be said that the entire Imperial Roman Guard knew that he was imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. God, please, give us that same expectation and hope!





Local Missions Challenge

2 10 2015

localmissions

I have recently been taking people in our church through a mental exercise that seems simple at first, but eventually really challenges our assumptions about missions, especially local missions. I will start out explaining to the group that we have all been called to move overseas to work with an unreached tribe. I then ask them to begin listing all of the things that we need to do to reach that tribe for Christ. This is very simple as we list things such as church planter training, language and culture acquisition, moving there, building relationships with people, sharing the gospel, etc. It seems that many people understand the concept of missions when we are talking about a foreign place or even simply moving to another town. The trick is when I turn the conversation into how do we go about doing missions locally where we live. Minds begin to blow up at this point.

We have been trained that missions is really done by a specially called and trained minority of Christians that move somewhere to do it full-time. When asked about what we can do locally to reach people, we usually think of one-shot good deeds, like feeding the homeless. Missions is easy if all we have to do is go to a particular place one Saturday morning and hand out some food, but is that really missions? We have already seen what missions looks like when a missionary moves to another country. We understand that! So, the question is… Why is it so hard to transfer our strategy for reaching an unreached tribe to reaching the homeless that live in our home town? I think the answer is that we do not see ourselves as missionaries. It is easier to go do a good deed on Saturday morning, feel good about ourselves, and make it back in time for the good football games.

I believe that we all need to shift our thinking towards the fact that Jesus’ commands were not for a spiritually elite, but were for all to obey. We must learn to see ourselves as missionaries where we live. The goal of any missionary is to see a reproducing, indigenous church. The goal should be the same for a believer working with the homeless in their home town. We need to ask greater questions than just… How do I get someone’s belly full for a day? We need to be asking questions such as… How do we most effectively share the gospel with the homeless? How do we make them disciples? We need to apply the same strategies used in reaching an unreached tribe to reach the homeless, such as… getting trained, learning the culture and language, moving there, building relationships, sharing the gospel, etc.

The realization that I am a missionary changes everything. It changes how I view my work or vocation. It changes how I interact with my neighbors. If I truly am a missionary, God has sent me into the neighborhood in which I currently live. The easy part is that you already know the culture and language. That takes foreign missionaries years to acquire. Maybe you just need some training, and you definitely need to introduce some intentionality into your missionary living. As a missionary, you can no longer just let your kids sign up and play soccer. You now must understand that in God’s sovereignty He has placed your child on that particular team, because He wants you around those particular parents in order for you to be His ambassador of reconciliation. You must also train your children in the Lord by teaching them that God has placed them as a missionary on that team. I hope you see how powerful this change or shift in perception is. I believe that if just a small fraction of believers would understand and implement this lifestyle, it would change our city.





The End

28 09 2015

theendAnd this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14 ESV

Last night, many of you went out to see the lunar eclipse take place. In our area, it was a beautiful night to do so. My family had to pick me up late at the airport, and on the way home we stopped in a big, dark parking lot to enjoy the view. It is always funny how events like this get Christians stirred up about end time prophecy. Many church-goers love to talk and debate about when the end will come and what it will be like. I saw multiple shares on Facebook this last week concerning these topics. Pastors love to preach through the book of Revelation, because it gets people to come to church. The problem with most talking and preaching on this subject is that it is pure speculation. I remember when I was in high school that we had a guest preacher come and talk about how Jesus was going to return in 1996. He had all kinds of Biblical “proof.”

I am all for reading the book of Revelation! John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote that we are blessed if we read it (Revelation 1:3), but we have to be careful when interpreting the meaning of John’s apocalyptic language. I believe that Jesus gave us this book to give us hope, not information about how things are going to exactly play out.

The funny thing is that when talking about end time prophecy, most people do not talk about the most definitive statement on Jesus’ return ever. Plus, this statement came from Jesus himself. In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples have come to him and have asked him the same question that we want to know: When will the end take place? Jesus proceeds to tell them about things to watch out for, including wars, famines, earthquakes, and false teachers. Jesus then says that at some point the gospel will be preached all over the world as a witness to every ethnic group. When enough people from every ethnic group on earth receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Jesus says very plainly, “…and then the end will come.” The end of the age is not contingent upon a lunar eclipse or a certain country invading another or the increase of evil. These are signs that the end is coming, but the end itself will only take place when the Great Commission is completed. This is further confirmed in Revelation 7:9 when John looks and sees a multitude from every ethnic group worshipping the Lamb.

The exciting part about all of this is that we have never been so close. With a concerted effort the Church could possibly get missionaries to every ethnic group within a short time span. That effort is underway but needs more help and finances. As Christians, if we truly long for the return of Jesus, we would be doing all we can to fulfill the Great Commission. How awesome would it be to be apart of the generation that got to usher in the return of Jesus!

I believe that God has given our generation the ability and the potential to finish His task of getting the gospel to every ethnic group, but it will take each of us as individuals to come under His Lordship and follow Him with utter abandon to the uttermost parts of the world. Let events like last night’s lunar eclipse or the world news spur us on to get the gospel to unreached people groups, because it is only then that the end will come.








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