Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Greetings from West Africa

Continue to be in prayer for how our churches will invest in God's call to the Nations and our willingness to walk this path. - Cindy Wiles

. . .All over the world this gospel is producing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. - Colossians 1:6

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nurturing Your Church into A Sending People!

Part 1

- Mike Fritscher, Pastor

Cottonwood is a rural church in north Texas. It stands on a 21 mile stretch on Hwy 6 between the towns of Dublin and Hico. That stretch of highway boasts of about two homes per mile! When JonAnne and I first drove up on the place in 1984 we couldn’t even see the building because of the growth of trees and brush around the fence lines. Even today the parking lot is more of a pasture than anything and the buildings are small and nothing special. The cemetery next to the church and the smell of dairy cows is a continual reminder that this city boy from New Orleans is still in the middle of nowhere! But the God who does extraordinary things is not limited to what some would deem as an insignificant place in the middle of nowhere.

As a seminary student in the mid 80s, I came to pastor and preach to the thirty or so men and women who gathered here on Sundays and Wednesdays. With 18 months remaining of seminary I just knew that I would soon be gone to pursue the life long dream of suburban ministry in major metropolitan areas of the country. But with graduation completed and the look for what was next, God said “stay” and I died to boyhood dreams of a significant ministry in the city. After all, what kind of significant impact could a small church have in the middle of rural Texas? A place where the attendance was never over thirty except for the yearly homecoming? In exchange I asked God for two things. That God would satisfy us with His presence and that this small church called Cottonwood would love one another! God answered those prayers!

Sometime in 1989 we began to ask God, “Lord what could You do through a small rural church?" With attendance hovering at 40, we also began to ask that God would bring hungry families who wanted to move on in their Christian life. I began to preach a message that spoke of God’s desire to conform us into the image of Christ and a pursuit of the glory of God in our lives. This life would simply reflect God’s glory as we sought to love God with everything we were and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The body began to grow, as broken, hurting people with a hunger for the things of the kingdom began to come!

In 1998 God began to do a work that would bring God’s glory and His mission front and center in the life of Cottonwood. I had lost interest in “missions” years before after an unpleasant trip overseas, so the extent of Cottonwood’s missions was a yearly offering to an organization that would “send” the missionaries for us. Through a series of events I invited Mike Stroope to come and share with our body on what God was doing in the nations. That winter Sunday in 1999 Cottonwood responded to the message of pursuing God’s glory to the ends of the earth. Mike’s challenge was simple: “If you will pursue God’s glory to the ends of the earth God will fill up everything in between!” An hour and a half of discussion and prayer ended with a resounding “yes” from the 150 gathered that evening.

Within a few months our hearts were turned toward a country in SE Asia with the distinct belief that there was an unreached people group with Cottonwood’s name on it. Two trips later we adopted an unreached people group in Southeast Asia and began sending our folks on short term trips. Within the year Cottonwood sent three couples to live amongst this group of 1.4 million who had never heard the name Jesus!

Now, eight years later we have sent 125 of our people on short term trips to SE Asia. We have one couple and one single living there with one family and a couple of singles preparing to go. We have seen a church growth movement amongst these people in which several thousand people have come to the Lord and now meet in several hundred underground churches. We have adopted the Tarahumara of Mexico, an isolated and unreached people group of 80,000 people spread across a canyon system that boasts of three eco systems and villages that one can only get to by foot. We have sent 100 of our people during the last six months to feed 900 families corn, potatoes and beans who were effected by a recent drought and famine conditions. We are preparing to send a team to this region that will spend their lives reaching this group for Christ. With the adoption of the island of Zanzibar, a beginning work in Botswana Africa and continued work amongst the Navajo of Arizona we have truly become a sending community, having sent over 400 people to these various areas!

Just last week I sat and prayed with 12 young men and women who are called to pursue God’s glory to the ends of the earth. This year, the Lord willing, we will send three families and two singles to the various works Cottonwood has adopted. There are nearly 30 people in our body who have sensed a call to the nations. With this call on our lives as a church, our people are increasingly seeing themselves as a sent people! Whether it is across the pasture, state line, border or ocean we are truly becoming a sending community! Two weeks ago we had seven nations represented in our Sunday morning service: Peoples from Taiwan, Mexico, Mainland China, Liberia, Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya! God is truly filling up everything in between.

Next time we will speak more specifically to how we nurture our church into becoming a “Sending Community”.

“Missions is none of our business”

by Mike Stroope

Concern about local church involvement in missions usually centers on the church’s ability to do missions with excellence and to affect strategic progress for the gospel. I recently heard a church leader remark, “Missions is none of our business. Let’s leave it to the professionals who can do a much better job.” What is behind such a statement?

The attitude of many in church and mission circles is that progress is the goal and excellence is the means. In other words, if we are progressing, it is because we are people of excellence. If we have excellence, we will see progress. One follows and builds on the other. Thus, progress and excellence become the standard and measurement for what we do.

The idea of progress permeates our society. In school, we are taught that progress is the aim of every aspect of life. From television, we hear that we should not be satisfied with our toothpaste, our current automobile, or our financial investments but progress to that which is better. New books appear weekly to give us formula and inspiration on how best to achieve progress through excellence. Hordes of consultants and management gurus point us to the latest technique, church growth principle, or inspiring slogan that will propel us to levels of excellence. And from church and mission leaders, we are informed that bigger facilities, greater numbers, and larger results are signs of success.

The message is that we can do better, accomplish more, and be more satisfied. We are meant to climb, increase, and improve. If progress is not our experience, then the problem is a lack of excellence. If we are not progressing, then something is wrong with us.

We need to acknowledge that constant improvement and innovation are not necessary for a better life, a deeper truth, or the mission of God. And we must recognize that an obsession with excellence is evidence of our reliance on self and organization. Progress and excellence are tenets of a worldview that places the ascent of humankind at the center of the universe and our ability to produce at the helm.

Is this kind of progress what God needs or desires? Does “my utmost for his highest” actually mean my highest effort, my highest achievement?

Surely laziness, waste, fraud, and passivity should not characterize our lives, and yet, the route to God’s purpose may not be upward, straight, or without pain. His way may be a descent or exile, imprisonment or death.

The ‘excellence and progress worldview’ misleads us at two points. First, it does not take seriously our fallen nature. No matter how much we improve or increase our capacities, we are still selfish, fallen men and women. Our best efforts miss the mark. It is only by the Spirit’s transformation and power that we do any good work.

Second, it tends to point to us— our ability, our effort. Numbers and results that can be credited to our excellence create pride and cause us to claim what does not belong to us. Most talk about numbers and results is thinly veiled bragging and boasting to others. Glory belongs to God alone.

The legacy of the humiliated and imprisoned John the Baptist is not the numbers he baptized or the ministry he built. Rather, his satisfaction and personal identity rest in Jesus and not in an illusive idea about ability and progress. John simply declares, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The expansion of the early church was via “uneducated and untrained” men and women (Acts 4:13). Without a doubt, the miraculous witness to the ends of earth was by power of the Holy Spirit, not the professionals.

If the local church operates on the basis of what is most efficient or what will produce the greatest results, then it should by no means do missions. The task is far beyond our best efforts. No amount of creative or strategic thinking can bring Hindus and Muslims to Jesus Christ. If, on the other hand, the local church submits itself to the mission of God, it will witness the increasing power of God in and through its frail, broken, and common members. It is through God’s mission that it knows real power, true purpose. In the end, missions is none of our business; it is God’s business.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Fruits and Roots of a Missional Church

Serving as leader of Global Ministries for two local churches over the past 8 years, I have been asked many times to describe the process of leading a church to embrace the world for Christ. Often, pastors and church leaders desire to lead their church to missionality, but feel they have no idea how to get there. I began giving great thought to this process a couple of years ago while preparing to speak at a West African Summit for the International Mission Board. My assigned topic was Mobilizing My Church. I was forced at that point to analyze the maturity process my churches had gone through to get to a point of being missional. I hope to share a bit of that process with you in the next few publications of the GCPN Communiqué.

Learning is always about process. I, personally, am not a fan of process. Rather, I would prefer to leap to expert proficiency without going through the tedious journey that would qualify me to be there.
I remember being taught to snow ski by a “good friend” who felt that because of my natural athletic abilities, the best place for me to learn to ski was at the top of the mountain. I cannot describe to you the fear that paralyzed me as I stood at the top of that mountain, tracing the turns, trees, and drop- offs that prevented me from safety, warmth and hot chocolate that I knew lay somewhere beneath the peril of that icy pinnacle. Terrorized, I shouted at her in anger, “I cannot believe you have done this to me!” She replied with an un-repentant voice, “The only way to conquer a mountain is to take it a piece at a time. Just get to that first big Pine.”

So that is where we will begin in our exploration of this process -by getting to the first big Pine. But it is important to remember that spiritual journeys are not aimless wanderings. We are not nomads. We are pilgrims. The goals of our journey are determined by the Lord Himself and will always serve to glorify Him.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus portrays the product of our faith journeys as fruit. He compares good fruit to bad fruit. He talks about the pruning processes necessary to produce good fruit. He encourages us to remain in the vine that cause us to produce the only fruit that counts. With his image in mind, let us consider the goals (fruits) of the missional journey for our churches.

I believe there are three primary fruits that Christ is seeking through His Commission to the church: saved souls, mature disciples and reproducing churches. Each of these fruits produces an orchard of its own. If these are the primary goals of the missional church, it would behoove us to explore the qualities of a tree that would bear such fruit. In the months that follow, we will explore the development of a healthy trunk from which the branches of sending can extend. What a variety of branches can be produced from one healthy trunk!

With that tree image in your mind, perhaps the GCPN logo will begin to have meaning for you. I encourage you with the words Paul used to encourage the brothers in Christ at Colosse:

. . .All over the world this gospel is producing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. - Colossians 1:6

- Cindy Wiles

GCPN - Global Learning Laboratory

Equipping cross-cultural Kingdom citizens - Stan Parks

What would it look like if the whole church was sharing the whole gospel with the whole world? Christ-followers from every walk of life would be living out the gospel through our words and actions with those at our doorstep all the way to the ends of the earth. The Great Commission of discipling every ethne (people group) would be a driving force for teachers, businesspeople, humanitarian workers, students, and so on to use their spheres of influence for sharing the Gospel – both in our own cultures and cross-culturally.

God is moving in awesome ways but as the world has changed and new generations emerge, our Christian community has struggled to keep up with changes both inside the church and in the world. At a time of unprecedented opportunities, more and more people are finding it harder to express their calling through the modern “mission establishment.” It is crucial that we find roles for these people in the missions movement or we risk disenfranchising and/or disillusioning many people from being a full part of our mission effort.

While there are many, many changes, there are several key trends that we must more effectively address.

  • More and more Christians want to be involved in fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission, and their ways of expressing this calling are increasingly varied. It is crucial that we extend training for those who will be expressing their calling through business, humanitarian, teaching, medical and other roles, whether they are self-supporting, partially supported or fully supported by mission funds.

  • Many local churches are feeling compelled to fulfill their responsibility to be at the frontline of world missions. These churches want to send out incarnational witnesses to the ends of the earth, but also have a growing interest in how every member can be a part of the church’s mission expression locally and globally.

  • More and more communities in the world are hostile toward and/or suspicious of the presence of missionaries. There is a growing desire and need for authentic expressions of Christ-followers in regions and countries where traditional mission activity is not possible.

  • The world is an increasingly interconnected place, with more and more international visitors and immigrants in our country, so we are relating to an increasingly varied ethnic community. This makes it more and more important that we learn how to live out the gospel cross-culturally as we do our part in fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission to disciple all peoples (ethne).

  • For the first time in history, there are strong Christian communities on every continent. And while Christianity has been a mainly Western religion in recent centuries, today 60% of Christians live outside the West. Creating true cross-cultural mission partnerships is a difficult but crucial need.

When somebody expresses a calling / desire / interest in moving into a cross-cultural lifestyle, how can they be equipped? Traditionally, this person has been advised to attend seminary. Yet often seminary is seen as too long a commitment and is frequently not being focused on cross-cultural realities. A growing trend is to see people “just go” and dive into a cross-cultural and often cross-national living situation. Yet, for most people, this is a foolish underestimation of how difficult it is to incarnate the gospel in a culture different from our own.

Global Learning Laboratory is one attempt to address these critical issues. We are part of an emerging movement sewing new wineskins to equip cross-cultural Kingdom citizens.

Global Learning Laboratory Principles:

  • We will seek to truly prioritize prayer as we ask the Lord of the Harvest to equip us and thrust us and others into the Harvest.

  • The power and guidance of the Holy Spirit is our only hope for effectiveness.

  • God’s Word will be our standard for faith and practice.
    In a supplementary way, we will also learn from historical and missiological insights into the dynamics of cross-cultural missions.

  • The training will be done in community, as community; therefore, learning communities will do life together, pray together, and learn together in the context of our churches.

  • We will together focus on spiritual disciplines and character issues as God shapes our lives.

  • We will partner together as GCPN co-laboring churches to help train our people and strategically impact a lost world both locally and globally.

  • We will collaborate strategically with Great Commission Christians around the world.

  • We will focus on flexible, limited group times to allow those working in full or part-time jobs to participate as full members of the group. Much of the learning will be self-guided.

  • We will seek a mutually reinforcing cycle of learning and doing. We will focus on world-class learning about cross-cultural Kingdom issues and dynamics. We will seek to be involved in cross- cultural living situations at the same time. Our learning will be enhanced by putting into practice what we learn and our doing will be enhanced by the insights we are learning.

  • The equipping will be in two segments. An initial segment as a member of the sending church will allow for deep community and integration of head and heart. A second segment (which could vary in length from months to years) will be an internship in the culture to which this person feels called, working under the guidance of leaders with a similar DNA.

  • Since authenticity is a key need, we will commit ourselves to helping those being equipped find viable for-profit and non-profit opportunities as they move into the second stage of equipping and implementation.

  • We offer no human guarantees – this is primarily an exercise of faith and God is our only guarantee.

  • Our overarching goal is obedience to Christ and the establishment of Jesus’ ecclesia wherever we go. Our goal is indigenous, contextualized communities that are led by insiders. These faith communities, naturally reproductive not only in their own culture but as a part of the global Christian community, are essential in cross-cultural gospel pioneering.