A Swift and Radical Change

In one of the neighborhoods in the city, two missionaries were doing door to door evangelism, knocking on doors to present the gospel using the “Wordless Book.” They knocked on the door insistently, but no one would open. When they were about to leave, a woman about 40 years old leaned out of a small window.  They told her why they were there. Even though the weather was not cold, the woman was wearing a coat; she seemed nervous and concerned, and she was walking from one place to another. She told the missionaries she couldn’t receive them because she was waiting for her therapy session with her psychologist. The missionaries asked for ten minutes to share a Bible story, and so she let them.  At the end, they guided her to accept Christ as her Savior.


During the prayer, the woman broke down weeping. She told the missionaries that when they prayed she started sweating, feeling really hot and restless at the same time. After giving her some advice, they left, promising her that they would return the next day to give her a discipleship lesson. When they came back, she shared with the missionaries how she had wanted to cancel the appointment with them.  Unable to contact them, though, she began to think that it might be important – even exciting – to receive them again.

At the end of the discipleship lesson, once again the missionaries prayed for her.  But this time the Holy Spirit started to minister to her in a beautiful way, performing a miracle of change in her life. When the missionaries returned for the third time, they were astonished: the woman’s appearance had changed, she looked healthy, and her house was cleaned and organized. She shared that for ten years she had dealt with depression and anxiety; in fact, for the past eight years she hadn’t been able to leave her house. She told them that she kept a lot of resentment in her heart against people that had hurt her, and she had even thought about ending her life to stop the suffering. But on that day, when the missionaries talked to her about Jesus and then prayed for her, she felt a strange heat that invaded her body, and it felt like someone had removed a weight from above. She started to feel joy and shared the news with her parents and brothers whom were disconcerted when listening to her.

After reading the Bible, the missionaries prayed for her once again. This time the woman started crying, asking for God’s healing for her life. By the fourth visit the woman was beaming, and she told them that for the first time in eight years she was able to leave the house and go with her husband to the main square of the city. She told them she was amazed by the joy she felt without medication, any therapy sessions, or even consulting with her psychiatrist at all (who, by the way, had never showed up for the appointment).

The missionaries were joyful to see this swift and radical change. When they were about to pray for her, she asked them to wait.  She ran to the house next door to call her parents, husband and brothers so they could also be a part of the prayer. Her family came and told the missionaries that they couldn’t explain what they were seeing in her life. They said they were religious people, members of the main church in town, but they were amazed by the change in her. They asked the missionaries to pray for them, too, and for other family members. The missionaries prayed for everyone and promised them to continue sharing with them about Jesus. The missionaries are members of a local Nazarene Church, and before this encounter, they had never shared their faith with anyone who did not know Jesus.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

This information has been provided by Rev. Manuel Molina, and comes from one of many “Project Paul” church planting trips in the north of Mexico.


Four Quotes from Billy Graham that I Can’t Get Away From

By Scott Armstrong

In the three weeks since Billy Graham died at the age of 99, I have been reflecting on his life and his legacy.  Four of his quotes have stuck with me and I would like to offer them to you here.


  1. “Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”

Almost any scholar would categorize Rev. Graham as a “Reformed” theologian and preacher, so some of us as Wesleyans may be surprised that he preached and wrote often on sanctification.  Although he stopped short of understanding entire sanctification the way John Wesley defined it, Graham knew that the legions of new believers who came forward at his revivals needed to continue on to be “made righteous” in holiness.  How was this “progressive sanctification” to take place? Graham consistently referred to the two-fold practice of abiding daily in Christ and obeying his Word.

In his book, The Holy Spirit, Graham beautifully puts it this way, “We are as much sanctified as we are possessed by the Holy Spirit.  It is never a question of how much you and I have of the Spirit, but how much He has of us.”

  1. “Many people are willing to have Jesus as part of their lives – as long as it doesn’t cost them anything. They may even profess faith in Jesus and join a church.  But Jesus to them is almost like an insurance policy – something they obtain and then forget about until they die.  What keeps you from being His disciple?”

In a short reflection on Matthew 8:21-22, Billy Graham penned those words.  He knew Jesus to be clear: absolutely nothing should stand in the way of being His disciple.  In an echo to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, he calls out anyone who would use Christ and Christianity as a commodity: something that makes us comfortable in our eternal destiny while demanding nothing of us in our daily lives.  No!  Discipleship requires discipline, and, indeed, is best known as a cross we carry to our own death along the way.

  1. “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”

Interestingly enough, this quote may be his most famous.  It is cited in an endless number of “Quick Quotes” websites and came to have wide appeal when it appeared for the first time in his article, “A Time for Moral Courage”, in Reader’s Digest in July 1964.  Rev. Graham later would admit that the times had changed dramatically in the decades since he wrote those words, but that the need for character was still the same.  In fact, he always believed the problem of sin and the essence of the gospel remained the same, even when culture and current events evolved with astonishing speed.  Who would have the valor to live a life of integrity and speak the truth in love to this hurting world? His own life was the answer to that question, even as it invited us to respond – and live – likewise.

  1. “The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.”

Let’s end on this one, for it speaks deeply of mission and evangelism.  May the heart and life of Billy Graham be multiplied thousands of times over in a present-day army of Christ-followers passionately demonstrating God’s love to a broken world!


Obedience: The Authority of a Servant Leader

By Gustavo Crocker

Since our childhood, we are predisposed to believe that authority and command are the hallmarks of good leaders. We grow up valuing a leader’s ability to command and control. We learn to reward decisiveness and assertiveness, and we celebrate leaders who stick to their plans and agendas. Exercising authority and direction, we have been told, defines a good leader.

God’s ways, however, are not humanity’s ways. Every time God called someone to lead His people, the first qualification that He demanded was not a person’s skills, charisma, or even ability to lead and to command followership. No! Quite the contrary. Throughout Scripture we find that obedience is the primary qualification for service and leadership.

Obedience is the enabler of the authority of a servant leader.


When God affirmed the priesthood and royalty (authority) of the people of Israel, His affirmation was conditional to their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant that they had entered. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (from Exodus 19:5-6 NIV).

Jesus Himself chose to be obedient to the Father as a way to model the essence of servanthood. The same Lord who said “all authority is given to me” is the One who, on the eve of His sacrifice on the cross, told the Father, “not my will but yours.” The Apostle Paul writes about such an authority-enabling obedience in his letter to the Philippians:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who… humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (from Philippians 2:5-9 NIV).

Further, John reminds us that just as love is the most sublime manifestation of Christ in us, such love is demonstrated as we walk in obedience to His commands (2 John 1:6). In other words, Christlike leadership that is reflected in our love for Him and for others is enabled by our obedience to Him.

Leadership is preceded by followership. To be servant leaders we must first be obedient followers.

I remember the story of one of my closest friends in the mission field. He tells me of his calling to be a missionary while he was serving as a youth pastor in his home church in the U.S. For years he had been training to be a local pastor and he had attended seminary to fulfill that very purpose, but being a missionary was not part of his plans or training. Being a missionary did not make any sense.

He went to his childhood Sunday school teacher and told her of his dilemma: He didn’t understand why God had prepared him to be a pastor while He was now calling him to be a missionary. Her answer set my friend straight: “God doesn’t demand our understanding; He demands our obedience.”

And on he went. This friend became one of the best missionaries I have met — all because of his obedience.
Obedience enables us for the long journey to lead others by serving them.

Ten Observations on the Church of the Nazarene 2017 Global Statistics

By Scott Armstrong

General Secretary David P. Wilson and Nazarene Research Services recently released the annual Church of the Nazarene statistical reports for 2017. These detailed reports documenting the missional activities of the denomination on a global scale show growth for the Church of the Nazarene over the statistical year, as well as continued growth over the past decade.

“We have seen some significant increases in several areas and we’re grateful for the leadership of the Spirit and the hard work of God’s people around the world,” Wilson said.

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Next week I will share my observations on the Mesoamerica Region specifically.  However, for now let’s focus on our denomination at large.  Here are my initial observations:

  1. The denomination is growing and has steadily grown during the past 10 years. In 2007, 20,958 churches were reported, and in 2017, 30,875 were reported.  Total membership has risen from around 1.73 million to more than 2.55 million in that same time.  Plus, in no year did we see a decline in membership worldwide in the last decade. This is encouraging growth – nearly 50% growth in only 10 years!
  2. We are not receiving as many new Nazarenes as we were ten years ago. Although our membership is steadily increasing, the number of new Nazarenes joining the church per year has declined 14% (from around 170,045 to 146,577).  In addition, every one of the previous four years (2014-2017) has produced fewer new Nazarenes than any of the first four years of this report (2007-2011).  Could this be attributed to a lack of evangelism? Is there less emphasis in some contexts placed on membership, and more on attendance?
  3. Every region has shown significant growth except one: the USA and Canada. It is common to hear some evangelical leaders proclaim that “the Church is dying” in the USA and Canada.  I would not go that far, especially since we presumably call ourselves Wesleyan optimists.  Saying the Church is dying means at some point (soon?) it will be dead.  How can a passionate Christ-follower throw out that maxim as a truth, without factoring in that the Church has proven itself to be historically adaptable and resilient? Nevertheless, an honest look at our current reality is mandatory.  In ten years the membership of our denomination has decreased in these two nations by -3.5%? It’s jarring. Pastors and leaders in the USA and Canada must change their methods drastically if they do not want to become an afterthought in the American and Canadian cultural landscape.
  4. The region with the most Nazarenes is now Africa, followed by USA/Canada and Mesoamerica. This is a seismic shift.  In only one decade, African Nazarene membership has nearly doubled, from 364,698 to 674,414.  Put another way, one in every four Nazarenes worldwide is from Africa.  It is significant to note that two of our six General Superintendents are from that continent.  I fully expect that our leadership on all levels will continue to greater reflect the momentous reality of the growing African Church.
  5. Some of the places deemed most difficult or even hostile to the Christian faith are growing: Eurasia and Asia-Pacific. Remember also that many of our brothers and sisters from what we call “Creative Access Countries” in these regions cannot be reported officially due to governmental restrictions and persecution.
  6. Total Church membership has increased in the last decade by 816,602 (47%), while attendance at weekly worship services has increased by 288,799 (24%). What the USA and Canada have seen for many years now could possibly be occurring in other regions: the average church member is attending worship services less frequently than a generation ago.
  7. Membership in Nazarene Youth International has increased only 7% in 10 years. This concerns me, especially since I have seen greater ineffectiveness in many of our local churches recently with regards to their youth ministries.  All of our churches want youth to come and be a part (or so we say).  However, are we willing to have them lead and – gasp! – change our methods and strategies when the standard operating procedure has proven stagnant? We must be more creative, and we must intentionally invest our time, resources, and love into children and youth.
  8. With drastically more members and churches globally, we see that giving has actually decreased by -8% in the last decade. This has to be attributed to the majority of giving coming from the one region that is not growing: USA/Canada.  There is a misunderstanding in many of our churches regarding the World Evangelism Fund (WEF) and why it is important.  I have recently had conversations with local and district leaders from three different regions that all have expressed confusion regarding this “pillar” of our denominational missions’ system.  This leads us to #9…
  9. WEF giving is far from universal. Bright and colorful on the first page of the report, the facts are stunning, if not sickening.  Only 26.8% of global congregations gave the full 5.5% of WEF last year (almost all from USA/Canada).  29% of our churches did not give a single cent or peso or rand to WEF.  How can this be?!  We have to do better than this as Nazarenes.  I realize that there are many great methods to give missionally to a variety of excellent organizations.  It could be that many people are just choosing to do that, right? Well, diving deeper, it appears that globally our maturing financially has not kept up with our growing evangelistically.  Sure, the Gross National Product (GNP) of Nicaragua or Nepal is way lower than that of the USA.  But our current model of churches multiplying around the world while neglecting to give to the primary denominational missions sending fund is unsustainable.  As the General Superintendents have been fond of saying in the past five years, “We do not seek equal amounts of giving; we seek equal sacrifice.”
  10. Discipleship attendance is up 60% in 10 years. This is significant and remarkable.  I recall how in the last decade our Global Church has placed much emphasis on holistic discipleship – ie. not just Sunday School being the only way to disciple.  I have seen much more creativity in reaching and teaching children, youth, and adults through small groups, Sunday School, and even – as in our local church’s case in Dominican Republic – Houses of Prayer.  May this renewed focus on discipleship be a calling card of Nazarene congregations in the coming decade as well.

There are undoubtedly many nuances and other points to be gleaned from these statistics.  What did I miss? What jumps out at you, or what of my observations encourages or alarms you the most?


Comparison is Stealing Your Joy – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

As ministry leaders, the perfection impulse already looms large—resisting the desire to look, preach, lead, and think like other successful people is vital, but also quite difficult. Here are five practical tips for combating comparison in your life and ministry:

  1. Raise your awareness.

Fighting comparison requires having a clear picture of its presence in your life. For many of us, comparing ourselves to others is so second nature as to be practically invisible. Pay attention to your inner dialogue as you go through your routine for a couple of days and keep a simple tally of how often you compare yourself to someone else, whether it’s in person or online. The challenge is even catching yourself doing it! In the season of “perfect” holiday parties, gifts, meals, and experiences, the siren call of comparison is everywhere: “I could never,” “I will never,” “If only I had,” “If I were more,” “If I could do.” Become conscious of your brain’s litany of comparisons and take note of it. You might be surprised by the number of these messages your brain is regularly entertaining!

  1. Take a break from social media.

Fasting from social media requires some honest self-evaluation. You know how much time you spend on social media, and only you know how it affects you. For some of us, a cold turkey fast might be unrealistic, which sets you up for quick failure. Instead, limit yourself to only checking social media at certain times of the day—preferably not first thing in the morning or last thing before going to bed. Replace your phone checking habit with something else if it proves too tempting—read a book or an interesting article, or listen to a song. For many of us, checking our phones has become muscle memory, so this is going to take serious effort. Don’t let that stop you!

  1. Ask for positive reinforcement.

Sit down with someone you are close to, and ask him or her to talk to you about your strengths. This might sound like an odd request, but most of us can very easily list off our weaknesses yet stumble when it comes to listing our strengths. Ask a friend, spouse, or family member to sit down and do this with you, and return the favor—chances are they need to hear it, too. Record their words, or take notes—seriously! This will be a great reminder during times when your focus may be on all the ways you believe you are coming up short. Come back to your list when you find yourself in a comparison rut.

  1. Rethink your perceived weaknesses.

Consider Paul’s reflections: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:8–9). The idea of perfection we keep in our minds might be causing us to perceive individual character traits as weaknesses, or fail to see where God can use our actual weaknesses.


For example, I am a processing thinker, and frequently need time to think things through before I respond. During a meeting, I am usually not the most verbal person when discussing a topic, but will reliably have a very well-considered verdict an hour or two later. In the past, I have considered my “slow” brain to be a flaw, and envied the people in the room who could immediately respond. Over time, however, I came to see that a strong team has both kinds of thinkers, and dearly needs people who will think through things from all angles—not just give first impressions. After meetings, I now send emails beginning with, “After giving this some thought,” and I provide additional points the group may not have considered, which generate further productive conversation. God can use your “less than ideal” to make your teams stronger.

  1. Consider the whole body.

Regularly take some time to meditate on the body of Christ and your place in it. Print out a copy of 1 Corinthians 12. Read through it a couple of times, highlighting verses and phrases that speak to you. Write those verses on a notecard, placing it somewhere you will see it often. I have written verses 18 and 19 out—“God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?”—and stuck it on the mirror in my room as a reminder.

Kringel tells of a time God spoke to her about not leaning on others in her life. “It’s called the body of Christ and the family of God for a reason. If I would have created you so you didn’t need the gifts that other people have, then I would have put them all in you. But I didn’t, I dispersed them. So in order for you to be all that I called you to be, you have to utilize the gifts of everybody else.” God made us to need each other. If we had all the gifts we wanted, we wouldn’t need anyone!

Ultimately, each of these tips should help us toward the biggest antidote to comparison, which is simply resting in Christ. After Peter asked, “Lord, what about him?” with a nod to John, Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). The temptations and opportunities to compare ourselves are everywhere and constant—and still Jesus says to us, “What is that to you? Follow me!”

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Comparison is Stealing Your Joy – Part 1 of 2

By Amanda Fowler

There are so many cautionary tales in the Bible about comparison—beginning with the very beginning. The serpent in the garden suggests to Eve that she compare herself to God. If only she will eat fruit from this one tree, it tells her, she could be like God in her knowledge of good and evil. The stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Saul and David, and so many more illustrate the extremes of what can happen when people compare themselves to others, falling prey to jealousy and envy. Even the disciples were not immune, jockeying for positions at Jesus’ right and left hand. And Peter’s last recorded words to Jesus in the Gospel of John are, “Lord, what about him?” after hearing an unsettling word about his own future.


Of course, all of the comparisons we read about in Scripture happened in real time. Imagine if King Saul had been able to scroll through David’s Instagram feed—each perfectly staged, tagged, and filtered photo more infuriating than the last. Think of Peter wondering why John posted so many selfies with Jesus, all hash-tagged #beloveddisciple. Envision Martha glancing between the vivid, mouth-watering image at the top of a pinned Pinterest recipe and the not-so-picturesque dish she was about to serve her honored guest.

The internet and social media are wonderful in many respects, connecting us in unparalleled ways. But studies have shown we are growing less content with our own lives as we consume a near constant stream of images, status updates, articles, recipes, party decor suggestions, how-to videos, and self-improvement tips from others. Comparison is one of the signature elements of our fallen humanity—social media didn’t create the problem, but it has certainly amplified its power.

Beyond the visual, relational, and material information in our social media feeds, the most dangerous forms of comparison happen when we look at the gifts of others with longing—and on our own gifts with disdain. This kind of comparison is most insidious, as it takes the beautiful image of the body of Christ, with all its diversity, and turns it into a discontented mass of people, each wishing they were like someone else.

I spoke to Pastor Maria Kringel, who serves and leads at Life Church in Roscoe, Illinois alongside her pastor husband, about the presence of comparison in the roles she plays. A mother of four and a health coach, Kringel acknowledges her fight against comparison is an ongoing journey she will probably always face. Yet, she recently found new strength to push back by refusing to let the idea of perfection rule her. “I finally broke through and got to a point where I don’t care. There’s always a voice saying, what would this person do? How would they handle this situation? Well, who cares? I don’t live for their approval anyway, and if I try to be like them, I don’t get to be me. It shuts down who God made me to be.” Of social media’s role in persisting comparison, Kringel says, “It steals so much. It’s such a strong pull. You think in your head that all these people have it perfectly together, but in truth they really don’t—you’re only seeing the highlights.”

One way Kringel decided to fight against this as a church leader is to intentionally be more authentic, both from the pulpit and in her social media posts. Rather than only posting the positive and perfect, for example, she writes honestly of a hard day with her son Isaiah, who has cerebral palsy. She finds not just acceptance from congregants, but also gratitude. “People are so hungry for real authenticity. In ministry, they can’t identify with a lot of us because we have this image of perfection.”

*This article will continue in the next post.

Mission Briefing: ‘Missionary’

By Howard Culbertson

People today use the word “missionary” in at least four ways:

– As a description for all Christians;

– As a label for people doing any kind of ministry anywhere;

– As a specialized category for anyone with cross-cultural ministry experience, whether that be long-term or for only a few days;

— As a title for those specifically called and gifted for long-term cross-cultural ministry.

So, which option is better? And, is there a reason to prefer one option over another?

I favor the last option. To me, that usage fits best with how believers are described in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. Those three passages compare the Church to a living organism.  Like a flesh-and-blood body, Christ’s Church is composed of many different members, each of whom has an important role to play for the organism.

Noting that a body could not function if it were made up only of eyes or ears, Paul wrote that the Church will likewise be dysfunctional if all believers try to do the same job. In this regard, Paul asked some rhetorical questions: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?”  Paul obviously expected a “no” to those three questions asked in 1 Corinthians 12.

At_SKC_0.jpgTo be sure, the word “missionary” is not found in that passage. One reason is that “missionary” is rooted in Latin, a language that only came to be widely used years and years after New Testament times. Notwithstanding, Paul’s metaphor of a body is very relevant to how we use “missionary.” Beginning with Paul and Barnabas, the Church has recognized that God calls and equips specific people to give their lives crossing geographic, cultural, and language divides in order to foster church-planting movements, people such as Milly and Agnes Ibanda and their family (left), who recently were sent out from the church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to serve in Madagascar. Those go-ers are the people for whom the word “missionary” was coined in the 1600s.

Broadening the meaning of “missionary” from its original usage is done with good intentions. However, I do not sense it has infused lukewarm believers with urgency and a sense of purpose. On the other hand, staying with the original narrow usage of “missionary” does aid the Church by:

– Reminding us of the need to be intentional about taking the church to “where it is not yet” (as opposed to having people to say, “We’re doing all God expects of us if we are ‘missionaries’ in our own neighborhoods”).

– Embracing the image of the church as a body made up of members with different functions, one of which is following a divine call to take the Gospel across cultural, language and geographic boundaries to “where the church is not yet.”

– Recognizing that God doesn’t expect everyone to pack their bags and grab an international flight. Some will be “go-ers.” Others will be their “senders.” That represents the meaning of the word “missionary” as it was originally coined.

Postscript: Reserving the title “missionary” for those doing a specific kind of ministry rather than applying it more broadly does not excuse any believer from being passionately involved through prayer, giving, mobilizing or going in BOTH near-neighbor outreach AND ends-of-the-earth evangelism.

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine