Why ‘Christian Accountability’ Fails to Make Disciples.

letting-go-2‘The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote that the word he detested most was ‘interference.’ “Interference occurs when someone sticks his nose in your business. However, that’s precisely what discipleship is all about. If you want to grow in a meaningful way, you not only must tolerate another person’s intimate knowledge of you, you must also willingly invite that person into your life. Even more startling, you’ll grow to love and depend on the “interference.” *

If you’re like me, this quote might tweak you just a bit. In part, because genuine privacy is becoming elusive, and in part if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t like to be told what to do.  Accountability is touted as the key to effective discipleship, but I have to wonder if that’s true because accountability partners and groups don’t seem to be making any more disciples than those without.

Have you ever heard this?

 “I teach, you watch.  I teach, you help.  You do, I help.  You do, I watch.”  

It’s the last part that, I think, that speaks most to genuine accountability.  While there is, in my opinion, a sliding scale of accountability in the progression above and perhaps even a lot of overlap, one segment generally leads to another. At what point in the discipling process does one move from the assumption that you have the right to ‘teach’ another (interference), to letting them go and doing likewise within their spheres of influence?

Jesus said to “teach them to obey all things I have commanded you,”

(Matthew 28:20)  

He didn’t say “and stick around to make sure they do them.” 

 

Let me share my experiences of accountability.  When I’ve had “accountability partners,” they have usually been a like minded people who, for the most part, have a genuine desire to see me grow in the Lord.  We would get together over a meal or coffee, exchange platitudes, and get to the purpose of our meeting, the confession of our sins and struggles to one another.  The assumption is that this brief time of transparency and openness will motivate us to “do better” next week.  We would pray, read scripture, and encourage one another.  The next week however, and the weeks after, I began to notice that the same struggles and the same sins were being confessed over and over again.  My ‘accountability partners’ had become my handicappers.  While they didn’t outrightly condone my sins and struggles, they rarely called me out on them either.  We were like folks who go to confessional, get our sins absolved, and continue on the same track as before.  Instead of accountability, we were creating an environment of excusability. As Jonathan Dodson once said,

“One surefire way to ruin your accountability relationship is by making it ‘a circle of cheap confession’ by which you obtain cheap peace for your troubled conscience.”

Have you experienced this?

Some dear friends of mine and well respected ministry colleagues have developed a system called Life Transformation Groups.”  The activities of these very small groups focus on  scripture reading/discussion, prayer, and accountability.  At each gathering, A set of very probing questions is asked by others so that a mutual assessment can be taken on how well we are following Christ.  I have seen these groups used in such a way to impact entire communities.

Accountability can also take on a more institutional form where entire churches or communities monitor the behavior of others and “enforce” compliance.  While this may appear outwardly effective, I think this tends towards creating religious adherents and not disciples of Jesus.  What do you think?

Overall, I think the idea of accountability is captured well by the author of Hebrews when he says; “

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25).

If only accountability were more like this instead of some religious performance to assuage our consciences.  Being considerate, spurring others on toward love and good deeds, ‘meeting together,’ encouraging one another, and preparing one another for what lies ahead is hard and messy work. It is virtually impossible to ‘avoid conflict’ and advance in accountability simultaneously. The Body of Christ, by nature, is interconnected, and we have a duty build one another up.

Finally, and really the driving point behind this post, I’d like to suggest that true accountability should be measured more by the ones we are serving rather than how well the ones ‘leading’ us gauge our obedience.

What other biblical texts speak to you about accountability? 

 I have seen the concept of accountability or “accountability partners” function well, and I have seen it be a detriment to discipleship.  I have some ideas as to why sometimes accountability is fruitful and why sometimes it is not, but I wanted to ask you, the reader, a few questions:

  • What, in your opinion, is a biblical definition of accountability?  Which biblical references would you use to support it?
  • Why do think accountability works in some cases and not in others?
  • Are we, biblically speaking, to be accountable to one another?

  

*Bill Hull. The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (Kindle Locations 182-185). Kindle Edition

 

Avoiding the Guilt of Non-Discipleship by Ignoring Those Who Do… In Honor of Kevin

kevin“Now, I’m not saying this to seek pity. I actually noticed something else I think is much more significant than being left out.”

These were some of the last words sent to me by my friend Kevin who passed yesterday. Allow me to give a little context and change some names so as not to offend.

“This morning there was a party for my buddy Frank at our prayer house and homeless center because he’s leaving to go to another state. Some of the people who speak at center throughout the week were there, which includes various local pastors, retired pastors, outreach pastors, worship leaders etc. In addition, there were a few other pastors and organizations who support the center financially. Now, John was the leader of one of those organizations. I have known him for over ten years, we took over The center together in 2009 and I have faithfully served the homeless there from the very beginning when it was just me and him. We were there longer than anyone else in the room. Interestingly enough, John called every pastor and every other person who frequently speaks at the center up to the front, individually by name, to pray over Frank and his wife and send them out, with the exception of one person. Me. I know he couldn’t have missed seeing me either, because I was standing right next to his wife, who was one of the first people he called up.

Now, I’m not saying this to seek pity. I actually noticed something else I think is much more significant than being left out.

In addition to not being invited to pray over Frank and send him out with the cool kids club, not a one of them approached me to even say ‘HI’, with the exception of John. But it wasn’t just that. All of these pastors, worship leaders, etc, shook each other’s hands, patted each other on the back and conversed with each other, but not a one of them associated with any of the several homeless people that were there. And, none of the homeless people approached any of them either. On the flip side of that, I was approached by and had conversations with several of the homeless in attendance. At one point, me, Frank, and about four homeless people were standing around talking and I pointed out to Frank what I was observing among the pastors in the room. I told him, “I’m going to really miss you, bro. You and I have a much different perspective on serving the less fortunate in the community. I’m really concerned about who they will get to replace you.” He told me, “I’ve been concerned about that as well. We’ve been doing this for over six years and we are on the same page. I’m not sure you’re going to be able to continue doing this with just anyone.”

What I came to realize is that I don’t fit in AT ALL with the cool kid’s table and they obviously don’t even want me there among them. However, I fit in fine among the disenfranchised and marginalized whom I feel called to serve. All in all, I think I’m alright with that. After all, they are the reason I go down to the center and do what I do anyway. My heart is to serve and disciple the less fortunate in my community, not to seek recognition and accolades from pastors and church leaders in the area. Now, with Frank leaving, I’m just hoping someone doesn’t come along and screw that all up.”

This was Kevin. One of the few ‘prophetic voices’ I respected and a solid friend. When I say ‘prophetic,’ I don’t mean he ran around and got folks riled up with talk of Blood Moons or such nonsense, no. Kevin spoke it as he saw it and ‘called things out’ with a Barnabas-like attitude of consolation (Acts 4:36). Best part, he was always in the mix actually doing the stuff of discipleship even when the mix didn’t want him there.

The scenario played out above is nothing new. I am sure you have seen it, or likely participated in this sort polite insidious excommunication.  I have been guilty of it and have also been on the receiving end. When I initially read this, my heart was broken for Kevin. But, I love the way he repackaged it and wrapped it in hope. That’s what he did all the time. In the face of cancer, with pain, in his relationships with others, and even with me. His quiet persistent faith was evident all the time. The dude did discipleship artfully.

In my years of what I would call ‘Intense Discipleship,’ I too have been rejected, ignored, outcast, and accused of teaching wrong doctrine. My methods have been questioned, and I’ve been called ‘rogue.’ Things is, Kevin and I and another Friend (Gibby) have been chatting via WhatsApp every day for almost two years. We’ve been accountable to each other, we’ve confessed to one another, and we’ve encouraged each other through some very difficult situations.

When I think about how those who are actually Making Disciples are treated by the non-discipling purveyors of Discipleship, it stings a bit. When I think about Kevin’s potential and how that potential might have been limited by guilty pretenders of discipleship, I get angry, sad, and want to strike back.

Kevin wouldn’t want it that way though. He’d cleverly crack a few jokes with a prophetic edge to them, and then grace his way towards more Christlike options.

If you’re one of the ‘pastors’ mentioned above, shame on you. If you’re one of the homeless, then remember Kevin’s words and the actions he backed them up with.

And Kevin… You are now at the coolest table ever. Peace Bro!

The Benjamin Button Church Fallacy

xoxt99tbugrowqbdviocvqogto1There’s a tendency to hold that the early church must have been the most accurate in its doctrines.

That tendency is often matched by the desire to force a pet contemporary theology into the early church framework. I see a couple of problems here, but I’ll ask these question first:

Is the church’s understanding of the truth drifting farther and farther over time, or is it honing in ever closer?

Wasn’t the ‘early church’ in its infancy in the first century? Aren’t infants to mature?

God gave gifts to men so that we could ‘ALL reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:13) It seems to me that there is a God-ordained progression unto maturity for both individuals in Christ during their life-spans and for the Church of Christ as a whole over its life-span.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” said that his short story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain’s to the effect that it was a pity that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end.”

Can the church afford to commit the Benjamin Button Fallacy by imposing our ‘old’ established doctrines on the infant church?  And before you accuse me of some heresy,  I don’t believe the truth of the scripture ever changes, but I do believe that maturity in Christ supplements it.

What say you?

Just for conversation sake consider this question:

Can we know God more intimately than the Apostles did? 

Disembodied Discipleship

imagesDiscipleship demands that Christians reduce the distance between themselves and others and follow the living Jesus of the Gospel narratives into costly solidarity with those whom society oppresses and neglects, with “the outcasts, the suspects … the reviled.

To create a safe distance between yourselves and those you intend to ‘disciple’ is to disembody yourself from them. Jesus, The Pre-Incarnate Logos, ‘became flesh’ (John 1:14) to engage humanity as fully human. We likewise, our ideas, doctrines, theologies, world views, and yes… even our politics, are to become the kind of human that Jesus was. We put flesh to our words.

In discipleship, there is no ‘safe distance.’ Of course, if you’re not discipling others, this is moot.

How can you close the gap between yourself and those you intend to disciple?

God Will Judge America if ‘THAT’ Candidate Wins the Election.

liberty-lightning“God will not hold us guiltless [if THAT Candidate is elected],”

“God will judge America for failing to support ‘THAT’ candidate who will “get us back to the biblical values that founded our nation, a nation that was founded for God.”

“God is using ‘THAT’ candidate to prepare America for Christ’s return.”

If we don’t elect ‘THAT’ candidate, God will punish America.”

Yes, these are all real quotes from influential Christian personalities. I suppose you can figure out which candidates are which in these quotes, but I will not be mentioning any names.  Let me say right off the bat, I believe there is a lot of arrogance in these sorts of quotes. As if the right person in the oval office can correct a nation’s moral compass when less than 3% of believers in that nation said they are actively ‘discipling the nations.’ (Matthew 28:18-20)

While I strongly believe that believers ought to be salt & light in the political process, I also believe that America’s Christians have been sold a bill of goods. In the spiritual realm there’s only the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of his God’s dear Son. ‘Battle Ground States’ are not located geographically, but spiritually. (Colossians 1:13)

If you’re reading this and you believe God will judge or punish America if ‘THAT’ candidate wins, then I ask;

“What biblical basis do you have for saying that?”

 

Are You Unruly?

515400-503292-rape-dna-image“We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) NASB

I don’t know about you, but it bristles me to have the word ‘unruly’ tossed at me or others who are not ‘disorderly’ ‘unruleable’ ‘disruptive’ or ‘amenable to discipline or control.’ Granted, I may be that person who, based on the assumptions of others, who “doesn’t follow the rules,” but overall I think accusations like those come from the sort that like to be ‘ruled over’ or those in leadership ‘positions’ who feel they are entitled to the obedience of the ones they ‘rule’ over. I get it, I really do. There are personalities that thrive on order, repetition, and the like, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but I’m not one of those people.

I think the NASB translation of the Greek in this particular verse is unfortunate. (I know, of course I do) ‘Unruly’ (unruleable) is a heavily weighted word that, when combined with the urging to admonish those who are unruly, often results is harsh and uninformed judgment.

Let’s unpack the word a bit…

From HELPS Word Studies: ‘Unruly’ – 813 átaktos (an adjective derived from 1 /A “not” and 5021 /tássō, “draw up, arrange”) – properly, out-of-line (“without order,” M. Vincent); (figuratively) out of God’s appointed (proper) order; unruly, refusing to observe God’s guidelines (live in faith). Accordingly, faith (4102 /pístis) and 813 (átaktos) are directly associated (see 1 Tim 5:12-14).

I very much like and appreciate the words “refusing to observe God’s guidelines (live in faith).” in this summary of the definition. I also believe that if that’s being ‘unruly,’ then I would agree. If however, someone, particularly a believer, is not following the form or substance of rule by or from men, then we owe it to ourselves and others to further examine our own lives before any admonishment.

By the way, ‘admonishment’ is also too strong of a word here and it assumes that another has the right to warn, castigate, call to obedience, etc., when the very right itself has not been earned by example or scriptural precedent. Just because one follows the rules of men or a system does not, and I repeat DOES NOT mean that they should warn others who don’t appear to be.

Besides, that’s not what the word means anyway. To admonish another means to:

  1. place the mind, i.e. reasoning with someone by warning (admonishing) them.
  2. appeal to the mind by supplying spiritual content
  3. exert POSITIVE pressure on someone’s logic or reasoning
  4. urge others to choose God’s best.

This is not done via an erroneously crafted hierarchical system or through structured leadership which takes lordship over people. Jesus expressly forbade that kind of leadership. (Matthew 20:25) (Mark 10:42) (Luke 22:25) and via Peter (1 Peter 5:3) No, this is done by being a positive reasonable influence and example. I long to see more of that.

You’ve heard the old adage that Christianity is not about rules, it’s about relationship, but the cliche does little active good and is, unfortunately, often quoted by those who have more regard for the rules of people rather than God. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been on receiving end of the kind of admonishment, ridicule, and marginalization that comes with being a creative and different sort of Christian.

Now, I’ll also admit that my tendency is to write off most ‘church’ rules as religious fabrications of men, but Jesus did say to Make Disciples of all nations and to teach them to obey (not ‘how to obey’) all of his commandments. So, this is where those, like me, who take pleasure in bending and breaking rules need to pause and think about what or whom we are ‘rebelling’ against. Being a rebel is fashionable and often lauded by others. Being disobedient to God has no honor or glory.

Take a look at how many possible interpretations there are for the beginning of this verse.

I like the Aramaic version in Plain English which says “correct wrongdoers” (not admonish right doers who do things differently). Also, there is still quite a bit of ambiguity which needs a little fleshing out, but I’ll leave you to it.

What do you think is the best way to relay the import of the beginning of this verse today?

Lastly, let us not forget that there is a succession of events in this verse. Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, and be patient with everyone in the process. I believe that if ‘admonishment’ is not followed, or better yet, enveloped by those other things, then it is not from God.

Are you unruly?

How would you deal with those who are?

How would you respond to those who say that you are unruly?

 

 

 

The Bad News of The Gospel

bad_newsLately, I’ve been initiating gospel conversations with Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  When circumstances permit, and are prudent, I like to ‘field test’ different approaches to relay the gospel to see if perhaps one is more effective than then others.  By ‘effective,’ I mean resulting in the making of a disciple.  No, there are no sinner’s prayers, altar calls, manipulative conversion tactics, bait and switch schemes, or high pressure conviction ploys, just some good ole gospel preaching.  In fact, a longer, more loving, relationship based and robust gospel has been highly effective in bringing people to a knowledge of the truth.

I’ve had lots of discussions with with folks over the years about how they think evangelism is to be done, and have written about it extensively.  One idea keeps resurfacing.  It’s the idea that we’ve got to convince people of the ‘bad news’ before we get to the ‘good news.’  This is usually manifested if showing people that they’ve transgressed the Law of God, are guilty, and are in Jeopardy of spending eternity… well… in not such a good place.

A friend of mine who was a missionary in Uganda for over 20 years said;

“When an “evangelist” gives the audience the choice between the horror of hell or the bliss of heaven, and between a life of abundance and wealth or an existence of trouble and at best survival by show of hands or otherwise, it invariably and unanimously will opt for heaven and abundance. Such is the natural inclination of man.” [1]

He goes on to say that;

“Any evangelist whose expressed objective is to “get his audience to heaven” or who holds out the prospect of proverbial “pot of gold at the end of a Gospel rainbow,” in whatever terminology it is couched, must immediately be viewed with deep suspicion.” [1]

He’s one of the most Godly men I’ve met, and I took those things to heart.  Yes, there’s some pretty bad news out there for those who have rejected or rebelled against God.  No, I don’t want to minimize the gravity of their situation or sugar coat the problem.    But, I still see way too many conversion hunters and very few disciple makers.  In a book I’ve been reading lately, the author says:

“Some people like to start their presentation of the gospel with a happy thought, such as, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” This was not Paul’s method. When he preached to the Gentiles , he always started by teaching that God is the creator (e.g. Acts 14: 15 and 17: 24, Romans 1: 19,20). Next he talked about mankind’s rebellion against God, that is, instead of worshiping our Creator we worshiped the things that he created. Next Paul talked about the judgment of God against those who rebel against God. Only after this bad news did Paul begin to tell the good news of what God has done to reconcile us rebels to himself through a mediator , Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[2]

Whether or not Paul “always” started in a particular way, I’ll leave up to you.  But there seems to be a pattern in the New Testament that approaches the author’s outline:

1.  God

2.  Man’s rebellion against God and it’s consequences. (Bad News)

3.  Jesus (Good News)

So, I suppose I’ll Just throw it out there.  Do we really have to start with the bad news of the gospel before we get to the good news?  

 

[1]  Prof. Dr. Henry Krabbendam Vorlesung am 15. Juni 2002 in Bonn, Sueffertstr. 7 (Christl. Gemeinschaft), 9.00-17.00 Uhr

[2] Crowley, JD (2014-02-23). Commentary on Romans for Cambodia and Asia (ASEAN Bible Commentary Series) (Kindle Locations 340-345). Fount of Wisdom Publishing House, Phnom Penh. Kindle Edition.

And When the Gentiles Heard The Gospel… WHAT GOSPEL???

rose-colored-glasses-dan-holmAnd when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.  And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” (Acts 13:48,49)

Before getting into the point of this blog, I think it’s important to unpack these 2 verses a bit.

I’d like to do that by making some statements and asking some questions:

  1.  The Gentiles had, most likely by word of mouth heard something different, something they had not heard before, and did not have a context for. Why was the ‘whole city’ gathered at the synagogue? I can only assume that they (the gentiles) had heard previous Sabbath gathering messages and encouraged other gentiles to come and listen. I am very curious to know what gentiles were doing at the synagogue anyway? (If you have an idea, leave it in the comment section)
  2. The gospel was understood by the Jews, but rejected. Makes me wonder how the gospel message changed when the audience switched from mixed crowds to those comprised mostly of gentiles.
  3. ‘Word’ or ‘Logos’ in this passage seems to be synonymous with ‘Gospel.’
  4. They ‘believed’ the message. How did those delivering the message know that ‘they believed?’

If you have a comment to any of these, please use the comment section below.

When we look at how the Gospel was presented to a specifically Jewish audience vs. how it was presented to mixed audiences or specifically gentile audiences, we see ‘different versions’ of it. Perhaps ‘different versions’ isn’t quite the most accurate way to say that. What I believe we see, as the gospel is communicated to various groups in various ways under various circumstances, is the ‘filling in’ of holes, the correction of false assumptions, and the outright rebuke of counter or false gospels.

In the verses above, the immediate context in verses 14-41 is critical.

14 Moving on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of exhortation for the people, speak it.”

16 So Paul stood up, gestured with his hand and said, “Men of Israel, and you Gentiles who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay as foreigners in the country of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 For a period of about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, (Deuteronomy 7:1) he gave his people their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about four hundred fifty years. After this he gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing him, God raised up David their king. He testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do.’ 23 From the descendants of this man God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised. 24 Before Jesus arrived, John had proclaimed a baptism for repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 But while John was completing his mission, he said repeatedly, ‘What do you think I am? I am not he. But look, one is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet!’

26 Brothers, descendants of Abraham’s family, and those Gentiles among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 27 For the people who live in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him, and they fulfilled the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath by condemning him. 28 Though they found no basis for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had accomplished everything that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 33 that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’ (Psalm 2:7) 34 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ (Isaiah 55:3) 35 Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’ (Psalm 16:10) 36 For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, 37 but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay. 38 Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you. 40 Watch out, then, that what is spoken about by the prophets does not happen to you: 41 ‘Look, you scoffers; be amazed and perish! For I am doing a work in your days, a work you would never believe, even if someone tells you.’” (Habakkuk 1:5)

One thing that has been tough to pin down is an example of a gospel communication event in the New Testament that was targeted towards a purely Gentile audience.  There are very few of us who know anything other than presenting the gospel to purely gentiles audiences.

But, is our gospel too Gentile-ish?

Much of the criticism of today’s evangelism centers around it being too salvation focused.  Scot McKnight calls those who have placed an overemphasis on the salvation aspect of the Gospel “Soterians.”  Scot’s basic premise is that the plan of salvation is not the principle message of the Gospel.  He says in his book The King Jesus Gospel,

“We have succumbed to the Plan of Salvation gospel, in a reduced soterian form, as the one and only gospel.”*

Exactly how much of the Gospel is needed for a person to receive Christ?

Scot also says;

The Plan of Salvation flows out of the Story of Israel/Bible and the Story of Jesus. The Bible’s Story from Israel to Jesus is the saving Story. Just as we dare not diminish the importance of this Story if we wish to grasp the gospel, so also with the saving effects of the story. But equating the Plan of Salvation with either the Story of Israel or the Story of Jesus distorts the gospel and at times even ruins the Story.**

I have seen hundreds, yes hundreds… of story ruiners. Likewise I have seen many instances where the shortest and most poignant Gospel presentations have had life changing results. I remember sharing the Gospel with a woman who knew nothing of the Gospel moments before her death. Her last words spoken with severe injuries and collapsed lung were “Jesus save me, Jesus save me, Jesus save me.”  I still think about it, and recognize that it was a unique situation. Does it justify the use of quick and dirty gospel delivery systems? No, but it doesn’t necessarily negate them either.

I also remember ‘canvasing’ a community with the Gospel where 6 of the people spoken to were killed the next day in a bus accident. Situations like these tend to redefine ‘urgency’ as commonly understood amongst those who go on mission trips, street ministers, and the like.  Ultimately, and while ‘the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation’ (Romans 1:16), these methods can be arrogant, insincere, and shoddy attempts at self-glory. Further, it tends to make you want to be the one who harvests, seals the deal, or ;beings it home.’

What ever happened to just planting seeds?

In almost every case where the Gospel is presented in the NT, we find either Jews, Non-Jewish Gentile proselytes, or those gentiles that have at least a basic understanding, ‘an open door context’ if you will, by which they can begin to understand the Gospel message.  In my years on the mission field, I have encountered numerous people who have had no prior knowledge of God, Jesus, or His Gospel.  In dealing with those folks I have learned that overarching concepts of grace and peace, the character and nature of God, and inner convictions are much more effective than recounting the entire story of Israel and her development as ‘The people of God.’

I’d like to propose that in most of our contexts today, in dealing with people who have never really heard the Gospel, the story of Israel, Old Testament history lessons, doctrinal development, or other complex historical backdrops are unnecessary.  I know I have seen people come to faith with no mention of Israel or anything that predated Christ’s coming, living, dying, and resurrection.

Does it mean that providing that context is always unnecessary? No. I’d be overstepping and end up contradicting the point I’d like to make after all of this. Namely, that the Gospel is fluid and expansive.  The message doesn’t change, it envelops. The gospel consistently and persistently presented over time prevails. (Acts 6:7, Acts 12:24, Acts 13:12, Acts 19:10, Acts 19:20, Isaiah 55:11)

Our task as ones who would seek to share the good news with others is to be well lived in it; but even an inexperienced and choppy relaying of it, as long as it holds true to God’s revelation, is effective because “it is the power of God unto salvation.” Yes, even a bumbling idiot can communicate the gospel and get results because it is not our power that brings others to faith. It’s God’s. That doesn’t, however, excuse us to be ill-prepared or over reliant on form. Methodology never saved anyone. The messenger and His message do.

If you want to learn a method, learn 20.  Never allow yourself to be driven by your script as opposed to being moved by the Spirit. Don’t insist that others listen until you’re done talking, or think that life interruptions are ‘attacks of the devil.’ Be disposed to say “I don’t know,” and return again to eat together and talk further.  If you’re on a mission trip, realize and embrace the idea that God doesn’t have to work within your itinerary to bring someone to Himself.

Can’t we just get them the rest of the story after they get saved?

There might be some merit to that idea, but when ‘getting them saved’ as opposed to making them disciples becomes the primary goal, you get all sorts of weirdness and very little steadfastness.

I suppose there are two extremes here. The first is to so shorten the Gospel message that it inoculates people against further openness, breeds error, or creates false converts, and the second is that it is made so complex that it requires a bible degree to share it, postpones a soul in need, and might well jeopardize someone’s eternal state. (Another blog post)

I’d appreciate your thoughts on any of the questions I asked in this post or related matters in the comment section.

*McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (p. 145). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

**McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (p. 37). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

When Another Missionary Comes to Town

14139438_289805561387976_800815856_oIf you’re a missionary who’s ‘staked out your claim,’ what do you do when another missionary comes to town? I’m being mostly sarcastic with that question. I say ‘mostly,’ but long-term missionaries can appreciate the seriousness of it. If you’re a missionary and have been working in a particular region or community for some time, you can appreciate the concerns that arise when other missionaries ‘invade your space.’

First off, I do not believe that missionary can, or should, ‘stake out claims on territories,’ and secondly, it’s not YOUR space. Finally, I’ve found that these sorts of issues tend to resolve themselves. That said, the reactions on ‘both sides of the fence,’ can cause unnecessary friction or a very beautiful cooperation of efforts.

If you’re a missionary who is looking to work where others are already working, or a missionary on the ground who has other missionaries looking to work where you are, it can be a potentially threatening situation.

What does the bible  have to say about this?

Paul the Apostle said; “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20)

But he also said;

“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” (1 Corinthians 3:10)

In the first case, Paul is expressing his personal preference and not some hard rule. In the second case, he is acknowledging that others will come and build on his foundation.

Before you assume that you are a ‘master builder’ and have control over how and when foundation building proceeds, you should check your motives. On the other hand, if another is coming to build on your foundation while you’re still building it, then care should be taken. It’s an incredibly sensitive situation.  From personal experience, there has only been a few times where I have been visited and consulted by other missionaries who wanted to work where I am working. The more prevalent scenario is people coming without care or concern about the bridges that I have built or am building in the local communities and cultures. There is little respect for an independent and denominationally unattached missionary. There is an assumption that regardless of whose already there, their agenda is better and their methods more effective. It’s painfully simple. It’s not that folks just aren’t doing their homework, it’s that they don’t care to. Again, that’s not everyone, but it sure seems to be a pervasive trend.

Short-term mission teams are notorious for unwinding years of missionary work in 7 to 10 days. Again, not all, and in my case only a few, but when teams from a hundred churches come to a town where there is only one resident missionary, it seems a bit odd that they wouldn’t at least try to understand his or her work and the challenges in the area. Sometimes folks come to do a ‘vision trip’ and completely disregard those who are already working on the ground or simply fail to do good due diligence. Sometimes it’s just prideful arrogance that says; “Well, there’s no one from our denomination working there, so it’s unreached,” or “this foundation is faulty,” and “we’re here to fix it.” By the way, doing ‘mission work’ without concern as to what’s already going on is not just carelessness, it’s cult-like.

Before it sounds as if I am complaining, I’m not. As a missionary, I have gone to ‘check out’ other regions etc., and have always looked to see who’s working there (if anyone), how they would feel if I came to work with them for a short time, how they would feel if I were to work in the same region/area as them, and so on. I seek to fellowship with them if possible, meet the people they are working with, and see if I can help. Many times it’s just not a good fit. Other times, after a mutually respectful conversation, it’s just not prudent.

Whether you like to admit it or not, when another missionary or missionaries come to town, there’s a hurdle to get over.

Much of the time, personal contentment and satisfaction reign over the corporate ‘one anothers,’ and community.

I believe there’s a better way.

I’ll develop some of those thoughts in part II of this article, but for now, let me just ask you:

If you are a missionary, short or long-term, what do you believe is the proper and biblical way to approach situations like these?

I’d greatly appreciate your input in the comment section.

Which of These 10 Types of Missionaries Are You?

Bowling-alley-clipart-3-bowling-clip-art-images-free-for-2-2There are lots of different kinds of missionaries.  The wonderfully diverse nature of God and His infinitely creative design move people to mission with Him in peculiar ways unto the reconciliation of all things.  (Colossians 1:20)

This is not hard science and is not for the purposes of peg holing people into a role, but to inspire thought and to ask yourself; “What kind of missionary am I?” Let’s proceed…

1.  The Paul-Type Missionary – The Paul-type Missionary is a modern-day missionary sent by the Lord with a passion to establish families of disciples which gather in a way that is indigenously suited to them, and where leadership emerges organically. He or She has a passion which burns within until that particular passion or segment of mission is thought to be fulfilled. (2 Timothy 4:7)  His overseer-ship is not captured by his own efforts, but confirmed by the church body at large(Galatians 1: 18-22). The Lord brings other gifted people alongside this missionary to fill in what is lacking in his gifts so the task can be fulfilled. Paul was called by God to make disciple making people among the Gentiles (1 Timothy 1: 1-4; Titus 1).

2.  The Peter-Type Missionary – The Peter-Type Missionary seems to be a modern-day missionary who is called to minister within existing institutions, systems, orthodoxies, denominations, and conventional structures expressed in varying degrees of liturgy and worship. Their focus, I think, is directed towards those who have not yet embraced the missionary call of all believers. These missionaries are often challenged and exhorted for propagating a disconnected form and artifact instead of genuine discipleship, but we must allow them, like Peter primarily dedicated to the Jews, to make course corrections from within. I also think that too many have placed themselves in this category for fear of ministering ‘outside of the box.’

3.  The Timothy-Type Missionary – The Timothy-Type Missionaries are apprentices of existing disciple makers who receives their commission from their mentors and from God.  He or she often works towards the visionary missionary goal of those who are already in motion.  This type of missionary often assumes a role ‘under’ the leadership of another.  The sphere of ministry is usually, but not always encapsulated within the larger sphere of missionary workers that have ‘gone before.’  These types of missionaries are often pastoral or working with pastors.

4.  The Titus-Type Missionary – The Titus type Missionary is a missionary whose scope is regional.  (Titus 1:5)  They often demonstrate ‘problem solving’ skills in a loosely connected but dynamic network of existing churches.  They don’t usurp authority, but are known for wisdom and are recognized and encouraged by the region in which they serve.

5.  The James-Type Missionary – The James-type Missionary is a missionary who has God-given spiritual authority in a city or a local area. Sometimes this type of missionary can look  like a mega-church pastor. James was appointed by God to serve the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15). He had missionary/apostolic authority in the city of Jerusalem. Whenever apostles or church leaders came to Jerusalem, they met with James and the elders (Acts 12: 17; 21: 18).

6.  The Apollos-Type Missionary – The Apollos Type Missionary is characteristically a teaching missionary. (Acts 18: 24-28; 1 Cor. 4: 6,9). Apollos had been given missionary authority for the ministry of teaching the Scriptures by other missionaries. There are diverse Apollos-type missionaries in the Body of Christ today just as there are many types of teaching.

7.  The Luke-Type Missionary – The Luke Type Missionary is a missionary to the ‘market place.’ Luke served on Paul’s team of missionaries.  The Luke-Type missionary is gifted to work in business, media, art, education, and dare I say, politics.  Not everyone is a Luke-Type Missionary and neither is everyone called to be. The bi-vocational designation is often insufficient. They thens towards multi-vocation.

8.  The Barnabas-Type Missionary – The Barnabas-type Missionary is a modern-day networker and one who enjoys being a spiritual parent and an encourager amongst siblings.  For example, when many in the early Church were afraid of Saul due to his background of persecuting believers in Christ, Barnabas saw potential in him. When Barnabas noticed a great need for an apostolic teacher in Antioch, he invited Saul to serve with the Antioch church. And it was here that Barnabas and Saul were sent out as apostles to start new churches in other regions. When the time was right (see Acts 13: 13), Barnabas was willing to allow Saul to lead the missionary team. He was a true spiritual father.

9.  The Silas-Type Missionary – The Silas-Type Missionary assists or serves ground breaking missionaries. For example, Silas seemed to be a key assistant to Paul. When Barnabas decided not to accompany Paul on his second missionary journey, Silas was chosen to go along with Paul as his assistant and companion (Acts 15: 40). Both Silas and Timothy served with Paul on his missionary team and are often mentioned in Scripture together (Acts 17: 14-15; 18: 5; 2 Cor. 1: 19). Yet, Silas is always mentioned first. In First Peter 5: 12 , Paul refers to Silas as a faithful brother who has helped him.

10.  The John-Type of Missionary – The John Type of Missionary is one who can be characterized as a missionary of love. The greatest emphasis in the life of the apostle John was love. This type of nurturing missionary has great influence in the Body of Christ, but may not fit into one of the other apostolic roles spelled out in this list. However, they are committed to unity in the Body of Christ and they have an ability to cross denominational lines due to their God-given apostolic gifting.

Not every missionary can be categorized into one of the types above.  I suppose, if we worked together, we could collectively come up with many more types of missionaries.  Also, these ‘types’ of missionaries cannot exist independently of each other, and it is crucial that we do not become judgmental or overly critical of other types of missionaries.  I’ll confess that I have done that more often than I should.

Jesus is the archetypal missionary, all other types are derived from Him. (John 20:21)

Through God’s manifold nature and the way He chooses people from every tribe, nation, and tongue to communicate His Gospel to creation, we become the unified threads in His purposeful and conciliatory tapestry.

What other kinds of missionaries are there?  

What type are you?

Use the comment section at your leisure.

*This bulk of this post is adapted from Pierce, Chuck; Kreider, Larry; Stearns, Robert (2011-07-28). Return to Authentic Christianity: An In-depth look at 12 Vital Issues Facing Today's Church (Chapter 11)