Thursday, March 22, 2007

Living in a New Era

Do you ever feel that you've somehow fallen into a fast stream and are being swept along toward some great end that you cannot envision nor attempt to control? Or perhaps you have caught the crest of the Spirit’s wave and ridden it to a golden shore? You open your e-mail and find connections you never dreamed of and would have never known to seek out on your own that enable you to accomplish God’s will as He has revealed it to you? I don’t know about you, but I love seasons in which I am running to keep up with God – seasons in which He is apparently working, arranging, aligning and enabling so that his children have the joy of being participants in His accomplished will.

I pinch myself every now and then to see if it’s real. Yes, my church, FBC Arlington, will be sending out its first missionary in June and there is a line assembling behind her, preparing to come out the chute into the unreached world soon. In God’s time.

Cottonwood is faithfully preparing to send yet two more missionary units out this summer and God is assembling a force of front-line people from that church who will go out in God’s time. I laughed in the GCPN Board of Directors meeting last month when Mike Fritcher said, “The only numerical goal I have is the number of missionaries I want to see come out of my church!”

First Baptist Plano has landed right in the middle of God’s will! They have been surprised by joy to discover the people group God has chosen for them to work among. Jerry Carlisle shared his sense that God has some amazing challenges in store for his church as they join him in sharing Christ’s love with this people.

We are living in a new era. It is a season of the reclamation of the commission task and the re-marriage of the local and sent church. It is challenging. It requires faith. It is work. But it’s of God. And God has never asked His church to do anything He didn’t enable her to do. I am praying for each of you to experience God’s power and presence as you lead your church in obedience to His call.

Press On!
Cindy Wiles,
Executive Director

Essential Roots for the Missional Body of Believers

As part of our series, Essential Roots for the Missional Body of Believers, we will focus on the essential role of authentic worship. The following article has been submitted by Barry Rock, Associate Pastor of Music and Worship at First Baptist Church of Arlington, Texas.

How does real worship in a local Body of Christ help to lay a foundation for leading that Body to share the Gospel at home and abroad? In searching my own soul, I found there a vast number of answers and questions pertaining to this central issue. I have chosen six words that seem to help me in my understanding. I hope they serve to spur you to think about the role of worship in your own life and church.

1. Focus
At its core, worship is an act of focus. It is a conscious decision to set aside the noise of the world and to concentrate upon the majesty of the Creator. In that act of willful-focus we may uncover a multitude of things. Among them: our own inadequacy, the transcendent love of a Savior, the reframing of our ambitions, the power that only God can provide, clarity of thought, overwhelming awe and appropriate fearfulness. At the end of it all, however, is the undeniable knowledge that the aim of life is not seeking our pleasure but God’s. Our chief aim is to please Him. All else fades when we truly find those moments of self- abandoned worship. In that God-focus, we find that we cannot live without Him and, by extension; neither can or should anyone else.

2. Appreciation
Worship causes us to appreciate who God is and what He has done. It causes us to look beyond ourselves and appreciate the uniqueness of those around us, realizing that Christ made them who they are. Often, churches that find their worship to be divisive have never explored this issue. As humans, we are prone to think first about our own needs, desires, tastes and abilities. It is difficult to push past that wall. Our tendency, unfortunately, is to filter God’s message through those proclivities. That can lead us to believe that whatever deviates from our own particular views of worship, its meaning and forms, is not true worship and is to be held suspect or even disdained. True worship is of the heart. God sees into the being of the worshiper—something I cannot do. God-focused worship leads us to appreciate the truth in each individual believer. As we learn to appreciate the beauty of the worship of others on our pew, we are one step closer to realizing the diversity of world-Christians, their needs and expressions of faith. We are also one step farther from provincialism and selfishness.

3. Unity
Authentic worship is an act of unification. Real worship ALWAYS draws the members of the Body closer together. That it is not to deny discipline, discussion and disagreement, but, in its essence, worship is unity. The protons and neutrons of the local church rotate relentlessly about the nucleus of worshiping God. In that unity, we are asked not so much to give up our personal tastes, likes and dislikes and opinions, as to subjugate them to the greater good: the realization that we ought to learn appreciation for the gifts and needs of those who sit next to us. Real worship pushes us beneath the superficial and asks us to sense as God senses. In that unity we celebrate and support the variety of tasks necessary to expand and keep healthy the Kingdom. We, hands, ears, feet and mouths, truly become one glorious Body. I believe that the unity found in worship heightens our desire to draw others into that Body. When we know His love and the acceptance of fellow believers, we ache that others may know this same love and acceptance.

4. Heart
The more time we spend with God the more His heart becomes our own. Just like children become reflections of their parents, so we become reflections of our heavenly Father. In worship, we ask God to reveal Himself. When He does, we are changed. A part of me wants to say “forever changed.” I omitted that. I do believe that in salvation there are parts of us that are changed once and for all. But, self- awareness causes me to realize there are many things within my own heart that need to be re-examined and revisited. We must die to ourselves daily. A one-time worship experience is not what we need. Rather, we need regular times of private and corporate worship when God can show His power and grace anew. Our hearts are infinitely adjustable and, as that great hymn states, “prone to wander.” Disciplined lives of worship result in hearts with God- perspective. Our hearts before His throne begin to comprehend the world around us apart from our own selfishness and need. He “tunes our hearts” to sing His praise. Our hearts, touched by His love, grace and mercy, long to sing into the hearts of others who have not heard. The psalmist said, “Change my heart, O God.” That is exactly the result of authentic worship.

5. Story
A part of our corporate worship is the retelling of the story of salvation. By the perpetuation of those stories of faith, we proclaim to all who He is and what He means to us. We are instructed to tell our children, share with others, proclaim the good news, carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth—we are instructed to tell, retell and keep on telling the message of salvation. As we do that in worship, we see people won to Christ in our midst. We also stoke the fire in the hearts of believers to be missionaries at home and around the world. Who among us hasn’t been moved by the testimony of another as they reveal God’s power to save in their own lives? Our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, our nation, our world, need to hear THE Story. In our worship we find and share power in a corporate celebration of who God is and what He has done.

6. Foundation
The health of a local church is in direct proportion to the health of its worship. The health of mission efforts at home and abroad is in direct proportion to the health of local churches. The syllogism is clear: healthy worship is fundamental to thriving missions. I am certainly no missiologist, but my simple understanding is that the local church is God’s ordained instrument for carrying His message into the world. We are instructed to join together as believers. In that joining we share resources, gifts and strength. We find the health that comes from a group vision and not a “Lone Ranger” approach to ministry. Growing healthy, worship-focused local churches is indispensable to spreading the Gospel of Christ.

Any worship leader, asked to write on this subject, could have chosen from a multitude of formats and issues; mine barely scratch the surface. In my years in church and education, I have come to believe that a worthy discussion or debate is just the introduction to a struggle. I hope that these few thoughts cause you to “struggle.” Our world is in need. From the family members who share our homes, to people in the most remote parts of our world, each one was created to hear the Good News. Each one is an object of God’s longing and affection. My hope is that the worship in our churches will make us more like God and consequently allow others to see Him in us as we carry His love around the globe.

Barry Rock
Associate Pastor of Music and Worship
First Baptist Church of Arlington, Texas

Who is Defining the Priorities of Our Church’s Mission Efforts?

The following article, submitted by Stan Parks, International Connector for WorldConneX, challenges pastors and missions leaders to break free from good mission endeavors to seek out God’s mission endeavors. It challenges us to question who is defining the priorities of our church’s mission efforts.

If we seek to reach the world according to our own priorities then we are doomed to frustration and failure. The Lord desires obedience not sacrifice, so as disciples of Christ we must consider God’s priorities and shape our efforts to be in sync with His will. Based upon the Gospel message and the Commission of Jesus, I believe there are three priorities we should consider:

Priority 1: God’s Glory -- God and His Glory is both the beginning and end of missions.

Missions was birthed in His heart because He is a Missionary God reaching out to a lost humanity. The end of missions is the worship of God as is well shown in Revelation 7:9- 10 “After this I looked, and there was an enormous crowd---no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They called out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!" In our efforts to obey God’s Commission to us, it is crucial that we prioritize God’s glory. We need to avoid pursuing human-sized goals with human-strength plans but earnestly and continually pray that the Holy Spirit will empower us to be vessels for God’s glory.

Priority 2: Growing the Body of Christ -- The church is the goal of missions.

The goal of missions is to see the Body of Christ birthed and expanded within a people, tribe, nation, language, and/or place. Ministry that does not see local churches birthed is often valuable, but until these church “communities of faith” are established and extended, the goal of missions has not been reached. However, this goal is not an end in itself or the church becomes guilty of breaking the first commandment. The newly established church must be encouraged and taught that it is their mandate to reach out within their own group and beyond to the entire world. However, when we speak of growing the Body of Christ, we do not just mean numbers of converts and churches started. We must ask God to grow the church not just in quantity but also in quality. It is not enough to start churches if those churches are selfish and powerless. We must ask God to use us to start churches that are being continually transformed by God and in turn serving God in transforming their communities and nations.

Priority 3: Extending God’s Kingdom -- The unreached must be our priority in missions.

Is it right that some hear the gospel twice when others have never heard it once? Or some hear it 10 times, 100 times, 1000 times, even 10,000 times when some have never heard it one single time? Evangelism is sharing the good news, while missions is sharing the good news where it is news. There can be no question that while we are called to many good efforts, our priority in world missions today must be those living beyond the gospel. God does not wish that anybody should perish but that everybody would repent (2 Peter 3:9). Approximately 27% of the world’s population has no access to the gospel and just as tragically 39.5% of the world’s population are members of ethne without a culture-impacting indigenous church. If reaching the world is the charge Jesus gave us as His disciples, then we cannot defend the vast sums of money and time spent on ourselves while we pray and go and spend so little to reach those most in need of the gospel. This is not to say that we should only focus on the unreached, because no church can be truly concerned about the unreached without being concerned about the lost around them. But as a worldwide church we find it much easier to prioritize ourselves and those around us at the expense of those with the greatest need for the gospel.

So if your church is seeking to obey Jesus’ mission commission by worshipping and glorifying Him in your words and deeds, a key priority should be helping reach out and start churches among unreached cities, nations, peoples and groups that will in turn bring glory to God by their transformed lives and transforming service to their communities and their resulting efforts to bring the good news to other cities, nations, peoples and groups.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nurturing Your Church into a Sending Community

The Fruits and Roots of a Missional Church: Essential Roots (Part 2) - Cindy Wiles

We had no idea what we were doing. I had been challenged by my spiritual mentor, a 30-year missionary and church mobilizer with the IMB, to lead my church beyond its boundaries to become an engaging church. All I really understood of that challenge was that God wanted my church to move beyond partnership with missionaries to begin working independently among an unengaged segment of a people group. The term unengaged is used to define a people group that does not have an indigenous church or any missionary personnel working among it.

My church sent out its first scout team in the fall of 2005 to locate Fulani villages in an unexplored area of SW Niger. Although we had been working among the Fulani of West Africa for several years, we had never attempted to enter an unengaged area without the assistance of missionary personnel. With GPS in hand and a local translator at their side, our two scouts set out on foot for a course destination 40 miles away. They were in search of scattered villages of nomadic Fulani people. More specifically, what they really hoped to find was a man of peace.

His name was Amadou, a young man who gathered with others to listen to a story from God’s Word. At the end of the story, Chad Hullender said, “We have told you a couple of stories we know. Do you have any stories to tell us?”

“Can you tell me how to follow the Jesus Way?” the young man asked.

“What?” Chad reacted with surprise. Just a couple of brief stories from God’s Word and the door so easily swung open? So this is where our story of engagement began. A year-and-a-half later, we are continuing our work in Amadou’s home, the village of Sounga, Niger. Through medical/dental clinics, sharing Biblical stories, spending time in relationship- building, sending in indigenous believers and simply loving Fulani people in the name of Jesus we have seen our first person choose to follow Jesus. The brother of the Koranic teacher has chosen the path to life.

I have just returned from Sounga in January. As our team was preparing to depart the village, the chief’s oldest adult son came to us. He said, “You care about us. You have held and kissed our children even when they are sick and dirty. You have brought us medicine. And you have taught us about Isa [Jesus]. How would we have ever known about Isa if you had not come here to teach us? You must continue to teach us so that we can learn and then teach others.”

We remind ourselves daily that we are seeking three fruits in Sounga: saved souls, mature disciples and a reproducing indigenous church. Every action we take must somehow lead us toward this end.

How did we get to Sounga? The same way we have gotten to Mission Arlington, Russia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, Indonesia, New Orleans, Congo, GCPN, Texas prisons, the gay community and West Africa. It all started with some basic roots that are deeply embedded in the Foundation of our church. I have come to view these roots as the essentials for a missional body of believers:

  • Authentic Worship – the primary motivation for a missional body of believers is to see God glorified. Worship that glorifies God is worship that pleases God. It is worship in spirit and truth. When God is the recipient and sole audience of our worship, personal preferences about style and genre play no part. God desires authentic worship of many kinds. Only He can determine what is pleasing. He sees the heart. Missional people are worshiping people.

  • Biblical Foundation – God’s Word is a story about a loving God who desires relationship with all people. It is the story of a God who would go to the most divine extreme to bring man back into relationship with Him. It’s a story about God seeking man and it teaches believers to seek man as well. An understanding of the God who gave his Word is essential for a missional people.

  • World Awareness – Just how lost does the world have to be in order for God’s people to be bothered by that fact? In order to for us to be motivated to reach a lost world, we have to understand the measure of that lostness. In order to effectively relate to that world, we have to understand its realities. A missional church spends time and energy studying the world.

  • Covenant Obedience – The Old Covenant and the New Covenant are based upon a commission. In God’s call to Abram (which He further clarified to Moses) the Covenant is about all nations being blessed through a royal priesthood and holy nation. Jesus’ Commission to the New Covenant people is to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I [Jesus] have commanded. Missional churches embrace the responsibilities of the covenant.

  • A Commitment to the Greatest Commandments – Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest of the commandments?” His reply . . . "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” A church committed to living-out these commandments is a church that will be missional by nature.
The next five issues of the Communiqué will be devoted to further exploration of these essential roots. You will hear words from pastors and missional servants who have lived and led their churches to establish this root system. The community would love to hear from you as well. Please share with all of us the truths you have learned in leading your church to be a missional people.