Christ-Centered Discipleship

A few months ago, Dr. Rubén Fernández published in the Didache theological resource website an essay on discipleship within the context of the Mesoamerica Region.  I found it to be a bold, insightful rebuke of our current Church leadership and methodology (I include myself in that distinction).  Below I have provided an extract of this article that I hope you’ll find challenging.  The entire document is here.

We need a greater commitment to the life of holiness. As disciples of Christ we need to fight against the desires of the flesh that want to impose themselves on those of the Spirit. Desires that lead us to accommodate ourselves, to avoid situations or confrontations that may cause us harm, to believe that we have the right to ‘enjoy life’ by turning a blind eye to sin and the suffering that surrounds us.

We must practice a biblical and Christ-centered discipleship that mobilizes the Church to serve the world.

Today, for many Christians (both Roman Catholic and Evangelical), the cross is simply an element that is part of their dress code or a sort of protective amulet for their house or vehicle. Jesus died for our sins. That’s true. But it is also equally true that Jesus died because he confronted the corruption of power. The ministry of Jesus, was really transformative, countercultural and revolutionary and, therefore, highly dangerous.

Biblical and Christ-centered discipleship should shake the church out of its comfort zone and out of its ‘heavenly spirituality’ and lead the church to serve people by transforming their communities.

Young people are waiting for a militant, dissenting, reactive church. We are losing the new generations that reject a church interested in keeping things as they are.

How much do we teach people what it would be like to take up the cross today? To be radical will involve denouncing violence, defending those who are attacked unjustly, taking the side of the weakest, children, the elderly, the unprotected, etc.

cross-symbol-christian-faith-faith-161104.jpeg

What is the price that a person pays for condemning these things? They will not have more money or win friends. More likely, they will probably be ‘in the sight’ of the Central American gangs, drug cartels or human trafficking in Mexico, corrupt police, purchased judges or unscrupulous politicians almost everywhere. If we put ourselves in the place of those brothers and sisters who have been victimized and others who live under threat to their families, it seems difficult to believe that our ‘prophetic voice’ could deal with those issues.

John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” How can we mobilize each Nazarene to carry their cross with dignity, so that they may respond to their personal call and become actively involved in the transformation of that place in the world where God has sent them to serve?

My observation in Mesoamerica is that the leadership of the evangelical church in general terms is of a conformist type. What we do well is preserve the status quo. We do not develop true discipleship on the road to the cross. We do not carry out real transformational leadership, like that of Jesus; we only put bandages on the wounds (and not that that’s wrong, but is it enough?). There are some of the countries in our region, such as in Central America, where the percentage of evangelicals is high and growing, but with a tiny impact on the change of society.

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered in cold blood at mass in 1980, said in a homily a year before his death: “A sermon that does not point to sin is not a gospel sermon…When the Church hears the weeping of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that nourish and perpetuate the misery from which the cry comes.”

How do we Nazarenes see the involvement of our church members in political careers? What message are we communicating to our members about the value of investing life in professions related to service and public administration?

How can we change the paradigm that still exists in many churches that the only way to serve God is through the pastoral profession or intra-ecclesial leadership?

How can we change from being trainers of church leaders to being trainers of leaders for our present context and reality?

***Dr. Rubén Fernández is Rector of the Seminario Nazareno de las Américas (SENDAS) in San José, Costa Rica.

A Plea to not Join the Jaded: Resisting the Soul-Withering Cynicism in Ministry

By Scott Armstrong

I was a rookie missionary, new to the field and eager to change the world.  I was chatting with a missionary colleague who had served for nearly a decade about a delicate conflict in the Church both on the field and back home.  At one point I expressed optimism that all would soon work out.  She rolled her eyes and shook her head in an all-knowing manner: “Wait a couple years.  You’ll be just as jaded as the rest of us.”

What!? This happened years ago, and I still remember it vividly.  Were ministry and missions going to gradually become a steady slog through dashed hopes and increasing distrust of leadership? This is not what I signed up for – let alone what I felt called to!

I recently heard Matt Chandler at one of the Exponential Church Planting and Multiplication Conferences.  He shared a story about taking his seven-year-old daughter to a Disney Fairies show.  She was so excited that she dressed up in a fairy costume.  Her dad had bought great tickets and her face beamed as they made their way down to the first row.

asientos-del-teatro_2208160.jpg

However, from that particular section of the auditorium, Matt realized that they could see backstage where all of the fairies were putting on costumes and where the stage manager was signaling to all the actors when they would enter and exit. Props were being readied and then moved on stage.

Matt’s daughter began to give her attention more to what was happening backstage than to the amazing production right in front of her.  At one point she leaned over to her daddy and said, “Those aren’t the real fairies.  Those are just people dressed up like them.”

There was no more awe in her voice.  She had lost the magic.

Doesn’t this happen to us as we go through life, and ministry specifically? If we have been around for more than a few years, we have seen a lot of guck in the church, and it is not relegated to the average layperson.  Through experience (and some of our own selfishness and poor decisions, too) we see backstage and start to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly in leadership.  We start to use phrases like: “labor of love” and “plugging away” to describe our daily work. The thrill is definitely gone!

We cannot be naïve – there is a lot of life and ministry that is difficult and tiring. This news should not catch any of us off guard.

At the same time, the peek backstage does not have to take the magic of ministry away. Part of maturing in service to Christ and his people should not mean that we eventually by default become jaded!

So how do we resist this slow creep of cynicism? In my next post I will offer some important suggestions that have helped me personally with keeping spiritual fervor and not becoming jaded in ministry.

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

Pray for the City

IMG_0411.JPG

Did you know today is the last day of our 40 Days of Prayer for the cities of Mesoamerica? In Genesis, we start every year by dedicating ourselves in intercession for the urban populations in our region.  We have prayed that God would give us his vision for the city.  We have prayed that God would raise up missionaries for the city.  We have prayed that God would use us to transform our cities!  It is happening, too.  He is changing our cities in Mexico and Martinique, Honduras and Haiti, Grenada and Guatemala.  And as we have prayed for others, God has begun a transformation in us as well!

I hope you have joined us in this journey.  If you have not, or did not even know about it, why not challenge yourself or your church to dedicate 40 days to prayer? We even have resources to help you! 

Two years ago, Gary and Naomi Faucett, our Genesis Member Care Facilitators (that big title basically means they love our missionaries bigtime!), provided a much-needed retreat for our missionaries ministering in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  Eunice Zaragoza, Freivy López, and Merit Córdova gazed out from the fifth story of their hotel on the sprawling city below them. Freivy began to introduce Gary to all of the neighborhoods of San Pedro Sula:

“Gary, that section of the city is so dangerous.  We’re not supposed to go there at night.  But we still do anyway because we have started a cell group there.”

“Over there is known as the center of gang activity.  But there are kids there, too.  We play in the park with them every Saturday.”

“Hey, most of the drugs that pass through Honduras come through that barrio over there.  But see that apartment? That’s where we have started to see a lot of youth come to know the Lord.  God’s really up to something in that place.”

Gary elbowed Freivy and half-joked, “Sounds like San Pedro Sula is pretty unsafe, brother.  Are you gonna be alright?!”

Freivy nodded.  “Definitely.  But I love this city.”

Do you love your city? Do you love the high-risk places, or just the comfortable ones? When was the last time you truly prayed for your city?

Now it’s a tradition.  In every retreat, we find a room where we can look out on the city.  And we pray.  The photo up top is of the Global Mission Coordinators in New York this last October praying for that great metropolis, but also for all of our cities.  The photo you see below is of the Guadalajara team praying over their city with over 6 million inhabitants.

Are you committed? Will you join us in praying for the city? It’s not over after 40 days.  Find a rooftop somewhere or a fifth-story window and take a picture of your family or church praying.

The city has gotten into us; it’s now under our skin.  It is hectic and noisy and oftentimes dangerous.

And like Freivy, we love it.

“Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.” (Jer. 29:7 NET)

GDL pray for the city.png

Project Paul Changing the Border

In the Global Mission Regional Office, we recently received the annual report from the “Border Initiative” ministry in Mexico, and we are praising the Lord for the results! We’d love to share some highlights of that report, written by the coordinator, Rev. Manuel Molina.

The northern border of Mexico has a population of 24,800,000 people in 8 states, where there are 148 churches and missions made up of 6,600 Nazarenes. In light of that reality, the Border Initiative seeks to plant new churches in the cities and towns with no Nazarene presence, along with reactivating the churches that have closed and equipping the local leadership of the existent church.

26233476_255314685004420_8546033622955382988_o.jpg

The main strategy that is being implemented in order to achieve these goals is Project Paul, a program that has been used in the south of Mexico for 10 years.  During a period of three weeks, Project Paul focuses on planting new congregations by using evangelism and discipleship tools. This strategy is now being implemented in the north of the country, producing excellent results in 2017:

  • Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. May 27-June 18 – 439 new believers
  • Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. July 15-August 6 – 438 new believers
  • Monclova y Ciudad Frontera, Coahuila. October 4-22 – 56 new believers
  • Zona Carbonifera, Coahuila. October 10-31 – 227 new believers
  • Comarca Lagunera. November 25-December 17 – 372 new believers

26734441_259100131292542_6158746761421672712_n.jpg

Statistics of the five projects:

  • Missionaries involved: 120
  • Churches involved: 30
  • New missions started: 23
  • Churches “restarted”: 4
  • Church planters and leaders equipped: 23
  • New believers: 1,534

24991548_244058836130005_935888699619656700_n.jpg

God is definitely doing something BIG on the border! May God continue to bless this initiative and the Project Paul strategy. Remember that you can be a part of this too, by praying for the new believers, the new missions and the reactivated churches!

22308789_223565561512666_531881651678953103_n.jpg

Also, may God continue to call more and more people to engage in this church planting movement! If you are interested or would like to participate in Project Paul this year, visit the Facebook page of Border Initiative or contact Freivy Lopez (freivy.lopez@gmail.com).  They have a Project Paul scheduled for each month in 2018 – so there are plenty of opportunities for you to be involved!

22448621_223565608179328_5233813726112145848_n.jpg

I Learned to Listen to His Voice

I am Marvin Ac, I received Jesus Christ in 2008, after leaders of the church shared with me the Good News. I was baptized as a witness of my new life in Christ and by a public statement of my new faith in Jesus.

I was one of the first to receive a diploma in Youth Ministry offered by the Church of the Nazarene in 2010. It was during this time I received the tools necessary to encourage me to have a more effective ministry and provided me the understanding and need to go into all the nations and make Christ-like disciples.

21743270_1403600909676864_1427308628900893585_n.jpg

To accomplish this, I made the decision to serve as a volunteer missionary with the Genesis Initiative in Veracruz, Mexico from 2014 – 2016. This was a wonderful experience where I saw the glory of God manifested in my life and in the lives of others when they recognized Him as their Lord and Savior. It was during this time, I recognized that I was not only would give, but  receive as well. Genesis helped me to rely completely on God in all areas of my life.

23380017_1448211615215793_2546143860160897879_n.jpg

While with Genesis, I also learned to listen to His voice and to understand more of His faithfulness. I learned to see His presence glow on the faces of those who praised and sought Him in prayer. I can say with certainty today, that being a part of Genesis was the most important decision I’ve made in my life. I will never regret having the opportunity to serve and be a blessing to the people in Veracruz.

21751732_1403602869676668_3737327622293359187_n.jpg

The Lord took what I learned from Genesis and led me to where I am today, serving as missionary pastor in Mission “La Loma.” This is a mission we’ve started from what was once just a concept. We currently have a children’s ministry and a small group of adult teachers and leaders.

The king proclaims the Lord’s decree: “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your Father. Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession. Psalm 2:7-8

“Enlarge your house; build an addition. Spread out your home, and spare no expense! For you will soon be bursting at the seams. Your descendants will occupy other nations and resettle the ruined cities. Isaiah 54:2-3

Trickle-Down Evangelism

By Jeff Christopherson

Are disciples becoming disciple-makers?

Does trickle-down evangelism work? If we feed the disciple enough, will he or she become a powerhouse warrior for the Kingdom of God?

sequia-mexico.jpg

Here’s the version you’re most likely to hear: “We have to focus on our people. So many of them are immature and in desperate need of spiritual instruction. If we prioritize the growth and maturity of our people then that will have a trickle-down impact on their passion and ability to live on mission and share the gospel.” And so we design our churches for growth, consciously or unconsciously, through this filter.

This rationale at first seems prudent, but far too often the stated goal never comes to fruition. Rather than passionate, mobilized, mature believers, the church’s efforts end up fostering an inwardly-focused people who are increasingly isolated from the world they are commissioned to reach. Instead of a kingdom warrior, our trickle-down efforts seem only to muster an isolated, insulated, and evangelistically impotent churchman.

In reality, the longer it takes for new disciples to become disciple-makers, the more unlikely it is they will prioritize this work. Over time, the gravitational pull of their new relationships in the church will extract them from their relationships with others who are far from God and his church. The stronger the signal that church sends of ‘come and see’ over ‘go and tell,’ the less likely personal evangelism will ever take place. What’s worse, the more the pastor is observed as a ‘teller’ rather than ‘doer,’ the less likely the flock will be personally engaged in the work of evangelism.

So the trickle-down evangelism theory suffers from two fatal flaws: it creates a busy leadership that in their busyness become largely evangelistically unengaged; and, in our unending efforts to ‘equip,’ we have unintentionally isolated the mission force from the mission field.

New Believers and Evangelism

That’s why it’s vital that we create structures to unleash new believers into the harvest immediately after conversion. Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds believers that all those who have been reconciled to God through Christ have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16–21). This work isn’t for those who have crossed a certain threshold of sanctification; it is a mission given to all those who’ve trusted in Jesus for their salvation. “God saves and sends” isn’t a trite cliché; rather, it is the two-fold pattern God uses throughout Scripture and history to foster his missionary work in the world.

The temporal link between saving and sending maximizes the potential evangelistic impact and builds life rhythms that foster evangelistic intentionality throughout the new believer’s maturation process.

First, those who have recently come to faith are far more likely to live, learn, work, and play with those who are far from God and his church. Their previous patterns of life were likely infused with those in need of seeing and hearing the gospel. Not only are they in relationship with the lost, but these relationships are the prime context to model the transformation that the gospel brings.

Who better to notice the change of thought and practice that follows conversion than those friends who have seen the fruit of unrighteousness that once defined a person’s life? Since the relational bridge to these relationships is already in place, it is wise to immediately leverage them for the sake of the gospel.

Second, this level of evangelistic intentionality creates rhythms that should define the life of anyone seeking to walk faithfully with Christ. The malaise and apathy toward evangelism that far too often characterizes God’s church is likely attributable to the fact that many new believers internalized their church’s priorities which failed to engage them in evangelism early in their Christian walks.

As a result, in order for evangelistic fervor to mark God’s church once again, they must unlearn all sorts of habits that seem to imply that evangelism is an arbitrary add-on to an otherwise sufficient Christian life. Linking saving and sending allows the church to build healthy practices from the outset, rather than expecting healthy rhythms to mystically emerge after long contradictory patterns have already been forged.

This mindset need not imply that it’s unnecessary to equip and train believers to maturity. What’s at issue isn’t this laudable goal, but the pursuit of discipleship in a way that is disconnected from the work of evangelism. We can’t expect that an extracted disciple’s growth in maturity will trickle-down to a waiting harvest no matter the quality and quantity of the sacred buffet that we offer.

After all, if disciple-making is the assignment that Jesus gave his church, then evangelism really isn’t finished until the evangelized find themselves as evangelists and disciplers.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today