Slogans that Awakened the Church: Intensely Missionary

By Howard Culbertson

“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” –Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia.

Henry_Martyn.jpgKnow anyone who views world missions support involvement as being only for those who happen to be really passionate about it? I know people who think that way.

“It’s their thing,” they dismissively say.

If Henry Martyn were still around, he would object. “It is not just their thing,” he would protest, “It is Christ’s thing and it must therefore be a ‘thing’ of every Christ follower.”

Martyn, early 19th century missionary to India ad Persia, saw world evangelism as a central passion of God’s heart. That means, said Martyn, that the more Christ-like we become, the more we will share Christ’s passion for world evangelism.

Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5 call us to “think the way Christ Jesus thought” (Easy to Read Version). Although that exhortation occurs in a passage about Christ’s humility, it appertains to every other context. Being Christ-like to the point of thinking like Christ includes embracing His desire that all the world hear the Good News.

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Pastors sometimes lament that those in their congregation supporting world mission are often the senior citizens. Where that is true –and sometimes it is– it may be because those older people who support world evangelism have walked with Christ over a number of years.  With the passage of time, as they have grown closer to Him, they have become “intensely missionary.” Because Jesus Christ is passionate about world evangelism, it should not surprise us when older, mature believers become passionate about it, too.

So, global passion in those older “saints” validates Henry Martyn’s words: “The nearer we get to [Christ], the more intensely missionary we become.”  On the other hand, Martyn’s statement does not limit mission passion to those who have been believers for decades. He is simply stating something that is clearly a Biblical message: If we get our hearts in tune with Christ’s heart, we will become passionate about proclaiming in all the world the Good News that God has come in Christ Jesus to redeem fallen human beings.

This article was originally published at: nazarene.org

 

Keeping Your Church Young

By Dan Reiland

Churches age and churches die. But intentional leadership can make that divine journey significantly longer and much more spiritually productive. There are several things you can do to help keep your church young, alive and vibrant even though the chronological aging process continues.

This post isn’t about an ecclesiastical fountain of youth. However, I believe “aging” can pivot to “maturing” by making a few key decisions and commitments towards keeping your church young.

1) Choose young leaders.

Mature staff are extremely valuable on your team. Their experience is needed for successful ministry. However, the absence of young leaders, lots of young leaders, is a decision to allow your church to age unnecessarily.

Some churches don’t like to use young leaders. It’s messy. Young leaders lack experience, I know. But young leaders will keep things alive and fun. Young leaders are also full of energy and great ideas; they help you stay relevant with current culture and vision for the future.

Leadership development for your leaders, and especially for your young leaders is essential. 

2) Place a premium on children’s ministry.

When I say premium, I mean choose great leaders, invest significant time and energy, and be as generous as possible with the budget. Without this you are absolutely capping your ability to reach your community.

Please don’t confuse relevant ministry to children with childcare. They aren’t the same. In order to reach kids you need to keep up with the world they live in. That world is fast-paced and built around technology. When you add to that mix loving adult leaders who truly care about children, you create a winning program that the kids will love.

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3) Design your Sunday morning service with a relevant feel.

What is and isn’t young and relevant is subjective. But the big issues are clear. First, choose your music wisely. If you are still singing and playing the stuff we did in the 90’s, it’s time to freshen up what you do.

Second, involve young leaders on the platform. The young musicians and singers will lead you to younger music and a younger vibe overall.  Again, this attracts young people to your church!  If you are thinking, “What about the older people, don’t they matter?” Of course they do. I am one, and I can still make a difference. But we should be more mature. We know that this is not about us, the mission is to reach the lost, and if you reach the next gen, other generations will follow.

Last, make sure all the components of the service reflect a young culture. As you think about humor, video, illustrations, art and especially technology, think young.

Again, if you focus on a younger crowd, the older generations with join in. If you lean toward older, the young will leave.

4) Invest in the next generation.

Raise up and train young leaders, invest in student ministries, and champion the call to vocational ministry among your young adults. Communicate that you believe in the next generation! They are the future!

The vision of the church must capture the young people, and at the same time be compelling enough that older generations get excited about the vision in such a way that they will invest both time and resources. Let’s face it, middle-aged and older generations have no trouble loving and believing in kids; just watch a grandparent with their grandchildren!

This article was originally published at: DanReiland.com

Urban Evangelization – Part 2 of 2

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

We must be a continual presence in our city.

Jeremiah continues his prophecy and tells the Israelites to involve their children in marriage ceremonies and to increase in number. We are talking about generational impact in the city – our evangelism must produce transformation and change that will be seen for generations in the city.

In order to impact generations through our evangelistic methods, we must embrace a posture of challenging the broken social systems of our day. We must begin to know the young people that are being courted by the gangs in our neighborhoods, the children that are being forced into human trafficking, the broken families that seek healing in alcohol and drugs.We have to get our hands dirty. Urban evangelism is not easy – it’s heartbreaking. When we begin to see the people that NEED the good news of Jesus, we begin to respond to those environments differently.

Recently I spoke with some urban church planters that are in an area that is filled with apartment buildings. They told me about the building that they felt the most comfortable in – the building where the neighborhood gang is in charge of who’s coming in and out!  At first, they were nervous every time they thought about going into that building.  But because they are now known by the neighbors as “good people who are serving God”, the gang extends their “protection” over them. I smile to think about the day when we hear that the gang members have given their lives over to Christ, and they start to see generational and societal changes in their lives. 

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We must pray for our city.

Perhaps the most blatant instruction we can take from Jeremiah is: seek the peace of the city and pray for her prosperity

Praying for the city is one of the most important parts of urban evangelism. The spiritual forces at work in the city are battling every day, and we engage in spiritual warfare when we step into its realms. We must pray and truly long for the SHALOM, the holistic well-being, of our city. And to pray effectively, we must deeply know our city. We need to know her rhythms, her hurts, and her people.

God is already at work in the city, and prayer is our connection to Him and His work.  When we engage in the prayer of peace for the city, God begins to guide our path to the daily encounters that He wants us to have, and He replaces fear with love. Then and there, in the supposedly mundane and secular, God uses us to evangelize: to bring His good news to the people of our city.

Evangelism in the city is not about the latest and greatest technique (we wish it were that easy!). Urban evangelism is based on creating strategic and intentional relationships. And quite simply, that takes time. If you are called to urban evangelism, you are called to a long-term vision. Consider moving into a neighborhood where you see God already at work. Spend time with people in their places of work and times of entertainment. Get to know the people that are involved in systemic sin and befriend them. Above all, pray for peace in your city. Trust that your city is on God’s heart and that He desires to use your daily testimony and interactions to bring peace to your city.

Urban Evangelization – Part 1 of 2

By Scott and Emily Armstrong

The city has it all, doesn’t it? Schools and universities, hospitals and doctor’s offices, theatres and shopping malls – the list goes on and on! With more employment opportunities and access to health care and education, it’s obvious why people want to live in the city. Global statistics tell us that the Mesoamerica Region is already URBAN.  Over 80% of our people live in a heavily-populated city, and many of these people are unchurched.

You might be thinking that city evangelization is no different than in the suburbs or rural areas, but you’d be wrong. How do we make Christlike disciples of people that live a fast-paced life and don’t have time for Jesus? How do we create relationship and gain the trust of someone that works 7 days a week? What does hope look like in the midst of substance abuse, gangs and poverty?

First things first: God has a plan for the city.  You have to believe that truth if you ever want to be a successful urban evangelist. Oftentimes when we think about the city, we think about the problems found there – everything from traffic jams to air pollution to stressful schedules to gangs.  However, we must begin seeing the city as God sees it: a place of influence where righteousness and peace can be obtained.  Imagine with me for a minute the vision revealed to us in Revelation 7:9-10,

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

That’s the CITY of ZION that we are reading about!  God’s infinite story goes on forever IN A CITY.  We will gather together with every nation, tribe, and language and praise God forever! Isn’t it interesting how our cities are already becoming the home to so many cultures at the same time?  Could we even imagine that maybe, just maybe, God is already giving us an opportunity to experience a glimpse of heaven on earth right in the heart of our cities?

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Jeremiah 29:4-7 is another passage that speaks to us about God and His desire to use His people to impact the city:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”

This passage offers us three principles we must keep in mind when we evangelize the city:

We must live in our city to love our city.

We must be a continual presence in our city.

We must pray for our city.

We must live in our city to love our city.

Jeremiah bluntly tells the exiles of Jerusalem (city dwellers by the way!) to “build houses and settle down…”  He didn’t say to enjoy a short respite there or to view it as a temporary tourist destination. He told them to settle down there. 

I recently sat in a workshop listening to urban church planters tell of their experiences and one of them said, “If you are commuting to the city, it means you work there, not that you care for the neighborhood.”  What he was saying was that the city is a hurry up, come-and-go environment for so many people that are only there for 10 hours during a workday. But the people that LIVE in the city? They are always there!  The decisions that are made in local government affect their personal lives, the school systems mold their children, and the lack of public transportation there affects their employment capabilities.

How are you going to care about all of the dynamics of the city if you don’t live there? Often times we see evangelism as a task to accomplish, but this model will not work in the city.  If you are only coming into the city to evangelize every once in a while, the neighbors will begin to see your evangelism as WORK and not as love.  And every neighborhood is different: a single city can be home to hundreds of different communities that all have their own culture and opportunities.  Thus, it’s so important to live where you are evangelizing, because it’s the normal everyday interactions that speak loudest.

Because life moves at such a fast pace, our relationships in the city are typically built around economic activities.  We purchase our groceries every few days, and we go to the same supermarket and get to know the local employees. We go to a sporting event and meet fellow fans that hold similar interests.  We enjoy the community of a local mall and come into contact with others that are enjoying free entertainment as well.  Our interactions with people are numerous every day, but turning it into an intentional meeting is key to evangelism in the city.  One contact – or even a dozen contacts – does not necessarily make a lasting relationship.  We must live in the city, allowing us to live life with our neighbors as well, which then opens up the door to deeper spiritual conversations and continual evangelism through our daily testimony.

*This article will continue in the next post.

Real Life Church in Quito, Ecuador

Some of our friends and colleagues in ministry have planted a new church in the heart of Quito, Ecuador. A few weeks ago they described their initial months and their strategies and philosophy in an article published by Ardeo Global. What do you notice about their approach? Can you see this working in your city?

Greetings from Quito, Ecuador! Our team has recently begun our church planting work here with our first church service in September, 2018. The name of our church, Iglesia Real Life, reflects our mission to show how the message of the gospel and the love of Jesus Christ provide real life solutions to real life problems. I think that is the goal of every church, but our focus can get clouded with church logistics and we can begin to focus on the upkeep of a physical church building and its programs. Our team is looking at church planting from a different philosophy. We’ve studied Jesus’ ministry and found that most of His time was spent ministering to non-religious people outside of religious buildings. Our goal is to break free from non-biblical traditions in order to focus on what really matters: loving on people as Jesus did.

So what does that look like? Most noticeably, we don’t meet in a church building. We want our area of influence to be unrestricted by the geographical location of our church, we want to be free of distraction from the work and resources required to maintain a church building, and we want to be welcoming to people who would never feel comfortable entering a church. Our goal is to eventually have various teaching points throughout the whole city so that every new person we meet can attend a worship service and Bible study near where they live.

Currently, we’re meeting at a really neat place near the commercial center of Quito. It’s a food court with a central area for concerts and other events. It also has a playground and separate area where the kids can meet, and the owner is letting us hold our events there for free! So far we’ve had one church service there, and we did our best to make it really feel like a celebration. We had upbeat music and balloons and confetti poppers. At the end of the service, Pastor Josué closed with a prayer but didn’t close his eyes, so people were a little surprised when they realized he was praying. But why not talk to God as though He were standing in the room with us, since we know He is? In the big things and the small things, we want moments like that in our church. We want to get to the root of why we do things and challenge people’s ideas of what the church is. We simply want to be the hands and feet of Christ, loving and serving the people of Quito unconditionally.

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How exactly are we going to serve and meet the needs of the people here? Well, first we have to learn what their needs are, and to do that we have to start by just getting to know them.  Quito is the capital of Ecuador and in many ways is very modern. There is a large downtown area filled with businesses and people living a metropolitan lifestyle. So far we’ve found that many of the issues of people here are pretty similar to those of people in the US: marriages need help, teens need guidance on what to do with their lives, and it’s difficult for families to spend quality time together amidst the many demands of everyday life. However, Ecuador is also a country with a developing economy where many people face underemployment and struggle to simply provide for their families. Problems with drugs and teenage pregnancies are increasing, crime makes it dangerous to be outside after dark, and Venezuelan refugees here face blatant racism every day.

When we first started planning our outreach strategies, we expected that we would be reaching the people in the modern, business-focused, post-Christian part of Quito, and based on the location of our first teaching point we definitely will have opportunities to minister to them. However, in our day-to-day interactions we’ve met people from all walks of life with various needs, both spiritual and physical.

The need for hope and love is universal and does not discriminate across socioeconomic differences, and neither will we in our efforts to reach anyone who is ready to hear of the immense love that God has for them, whether that looks like hosting a marriage seminar or paying for someone to see a medical specialist that they couldn’t afford on their own. Our daily challenge is to stay flexible and open to where and to whom God is leading us.

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This article was originally published at Ardeo Global.

Waiting on the World to Change – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the previous article.

To everything, there is a season (turn, turn, turn)

Human beings are “time-bound” creatures by Divine design. We naturally tend to organize our lives around rhythms that play out in time. Depending upon our vocation, different seasons bring different expectations and demands.

I come from a line of farmers on one side of my family and pastors on the other. I have observed that with pastors and farmers alike, the changing seasons determined much of the way we lived our lives.

Accountants have to deal with the tax season. Politicians and civil servants have election cycles. The semesters and breaks of the school year measure time for students and teachers. And sometimes our recreation, rather than our vocation, determines which seasons matter most: when we get to hunt or fish, which sports we get to follow, whether we’re able to get out the boat or the motorcycle or the snow skis.

Growing up as a pastor’s kid in the Church of the Nazarene, I didn’t rigorously follow the Christian year; but without fail, we did observe Advent. Every year, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving we would enter a sanctuary decorated for Christmas: trees and garland alongside nativities and the wreath of Advent candles, the popular traditions intermingled with the sacred. For each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, we lit the candles, usually punctuated by readings from Old Testament prophecy, and we sang songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

Sometimes we would lose the plot a bit, and sing “Away in a Manger” or “We Three Kings of Orient Are” during Advent. It’s hard to resist the urge to fast-forward to the climax of Christmas Day, just as it’s difficult during Holy Week to dwell in the despair of Good Friday and Holy Saturday when we know “Sunday’s coming!”

But Advent is about waiting.

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Patience and hope are oft-neglected virtues in our day and age, but this is precisely what Advent seeks to cultivate in us: patient, hopeful anticipation that our God is trustworthy and does not make empty promises.

Looking forward while looking back

During Advent, not only do we anticipate an event that has already taken place—Jesus’ first coming—but we also look forward to and anticipate His second coming! The next time you sing “Joy to the World,” pay attention to the explicit references to Christmas. Guess what? You won’t find any! Isaac Watts’ hymn actually looks forward to Christ’s second coming, made clear in the third stanza (which, ironically, is the verse most often omitted): “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

The reign of Christ over heaven and earth is inaugurated in His nativity, to be sure, but “Joy to the World” is a vision of its future fulfillment, the reversal of the Fall, and the restoration of all creation.

This Advent, as we prepare to welcome the God who comes to us, I wish us all a “Happy New Year,” and invite us to begin a journey through God’s salvation history as told through the rhythms of the Christian calendar. In so doing, we join with countless Christians across space and time who have ordered their lives and their worship according to this pattern, all to the glory of God.

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

Waiting on the World to Change – Part 1 of 2

By Brannon Hancock

The season of Advent—a word that means arrival—is the season of waiting.

“We can hardly stand the wait! / Please Christmas, don’t be late.” Most of you can hear the song in your head immediately, can’t you? Those squeaky, aggravating chipmunk voices singing the Christmas song we all love to hate. The song is a trite (and annoyingly persistent!) example of secular culture’s approach to Christmas commercialism. But for Christians with eyes to see and ears to hear, it may serve as a reminder that the season of Advent—a word that means arrival—is precisely a season of waiting, of anticipation, and of preparation for the Big Day, the day after which nothing was ever the same.

Our culture practices this anticipation, even while entirely missing the point. The Christmas decorations hit store shelves immediately after Halloween (and seemingly earlier each year). The radio stations start their Christmas programming as soon as Thanksgiving passes. School children begin rehearsing “holiday songs” for their end-of-semester programs. Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales call forth the early shoppers, and the coupons and sales continue even up until Christmas Eve for procrastinators.

If you have children or have ever been around a couple preparing to welcome a child into the world, you’ve experienced this. We receive the big news. Then, we wait. We begin to prepare. We paint the walls and decorate the nursery, and excitement builds. We buy a crib and assemble it. And we wait. We read parenting books with titles like What to Expect When You’re Expecting…and we wait. Those last few weeks seem to last forever. Alas, we wait. Imagine what Mary and Joseph must have felt!

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Time keeps on slippin’…into the future

Advent must be considered in the context of the Christian calendar in order to be fully appreciated. The Christian calendar, also called the liturgical calendar or the Christian year, is a pattern through which the Church narrates the story of the God who was in Christ. While some churches have followed this pattern for centuries, many evangelical congregations are just beginning to (re)discover and embrace the Christian calendar, and have found it enriching to their worship and discipleship. It is simply one more way we can “tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”

The Christian calendar isn’t prescribed in the Bible, and it wasn’t handed down by Divine fiat with the command that we slavishly submit to it. But it is biblical, and it was handed down through the Church we call “one, holy, universal, and apostolic,” which, sourced by the Spirit, gave us our Bible.

Scripture reveals that God gave time as a good gift. According to the creation account in Genesis 1, on the fourth day, God declares: “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years….”

Time has a purpose, and that purpose has to do with how we worship and how we observe sacred time.

In Scripture, we find ample evidence of the appropriateness of holy days, religious feasts, fasts, rituals, and rhythms, particularly in the worship of the people of Israel. However, on a larger scale, we see that the story told through the Christian calendar is the Bible’s story—the story of God’s saving work down through the ages.

The Christian calendar is one way the Church has sought to “tell time” as God’s time. For Christians, January 1 is not a significant day; it is simply the eighth day of Christmas! Four Sundays before Christmas, the first Sunday of Advent, is actually “New Year’s Day” for the Church. We then journey through Christmas and Epiphany before entering the season of Lent. During Lent, we join Jesus on His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness in preparation for His years of earthly ministry. We seek to draw closer to God by purifying and simplifying our lives, repenting of our sins, and preparing our hearts to experience the events of Holy Week. 

The days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday can take us on a roller-coaster of emotions as we walk through Jesus’ final days: the Last Supper, Gethsemane, His arrest and crucifixion, His entombment, and finally His resurrection on Easter morning. From there, we careen on toward Christ’s Ascension to the Father (40 days after Easter), and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (50 days after Easter), followed by the lengthy season known as Ordinary Time, during which we focus on how God has worked in the life and mission of the Church.

*This article will continue on the next post.