Thursday, July 26, 2012

Delegation and leadership.

Sharing apple pie is hard too.
"Why is delegation one of the hardest tasks in leadership?" This was a question asked by Dr. Howard Hendricks to his Dynamics of Leadership class at Dallas Theological Seminary while discussing the book of Nehemiah. I found Dr. Hendricks' lectures on leadership available for free on iTunes U and I highly recommend them to anyone involved in Christian ministry!

Dr. Hendricks further emphasized his original question by asking "Why is it so hard to give it away to somebody else?" 

Well what do you think? Why is delegation such a sticky area for so many people involved in ministry? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

IT'S A TRAP! Discipleship and consumer Christianity.

Sunday morning many of us attended churches filled with multitudes people and listened to one person talk for about an hour. Many probably also visited a movie theater this past weekend for three hours watching the premier of the Dark Knight Rises. As I was sitting in a church here in South Korea yesterday I couldn't help but think that there was something lacking in this model of Christianity. It has become a production--even I recognized how I have fallen into the trap of becoming a consumer of Christianity.

Being equipped to make disciples?
Unfortunately it becomes easy to start treating church as just another form of entertainment--watching the Dark Knight Rises doesn't make any demands on one's life--and for too many Christians neither does attending church. I started to think--what if we had all gathered together to worship the Triune God, be mutually encouraged, held accountable and then to be challenged and equipped to go back out into the world as disciples of Christ--what would it look like?

I believe it would look a lot more like a team-meeting than a lecture. Near the end of the first (real) Star Wars film, a leader directs a group of pilot's attention to a projection screen and points out the weakness in the defenses of the Death Star. These pilots have the leadership, training and team-work necessary to carry out their mission, they're given strategic information, and they are encouraged and sent out to save the galaxy from the evil Empire--ultimately though, it will be dependence on a higher power that gives them victory. This I believe is a more biblical picture of how we are called to gather together as believers. 

Fiction: no technical difficulties with the projector.

We need to avoid the trap of falling into consumer Christianity! For the first time a few days ago I realized that the Great Commission given in Matthew 28:18-20 was cyclical. "And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”" (ESV)

Jesus begins by saying, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." Simply put, "I am your King!" The Great Commission isn't a suggestion, it is a command. As a disciple of Jesus, being obedient to the Great Commission is not optional--the Great Commission isn't just for a hand full of select 'called' Christians who are gifted in evangelism and have apostolic gifts--it is a commission given to every disciple of Jesus!

What is the commission? Go! Go and make disciples. Get out of your comfort zone. Don't expect people to come to you and want to talk about Jesus. Intentionally follow the Holy Spirit to the people He wants you to meet! Ask God to show you the people He wants you to witness to. Make disciples! Don't simply ask people to give mental assent to a list of truths about God, extol God's glory and invite people to repent of their sins, worship Jesus and become obedient to Him! Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit--observe the ordinances (sacraments) and instruct them in good theology!

Here is the icing on the cake, "Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you." We're not called to fill up churches with passive observers, consumers of Christianity--we are called to reproduce disciples. The key word here is observe (obey). We, along with those we call to Christ are not simply called to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word. (James 1:22) This is where it becomes cyclical and starts to develop into multiplication! 

When we obey the Great Commission to make disciples, we teach those disciples to obey the Great Commission to make disciples, who then teach their disciples to obey the Great Commission to make disciples and so on--this is the true picture of biblical discipleship and multiplication. 

I recently started to read a book entitled Training for Trainers: A Discipleship Re-Revolution. This book actually makes the case that we need to move beyond the word disciple--because in the English language it has the connotation of passive learner. Instead the missionaries in this book advocate the use of the word trainer instead of disciple--because the original understanding of discipleship in Jesus' time had the goal of reproducing the teacher, not just the teaching. I am only three chapters into the book--and it is having to share my attention with the other book I just started on Global Church Planting and a few other things I'm reading--but it is already having a profound influence on the way I am seeing the church. 

The Great Commission finishes with Jesus saying, "I am with you always." We are not in this alone--it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that this mission is going to be accomplished. May the Spirit of God be with you!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Students, Missions and Church Planting Movements

I still have several posts on fruitfulness in the works--but I thought I would take a short discursion into another topic that I have been thinking a lot about lately which is vitally linked with fruitfulness.

Earlier this week I purchased a book entitled Global Church Planting--this book makes the case that church planting is the most effective way to reach people with the Gospel. It seems like the Lord is really keeping my attention focused on church planting as I have already been reading through Garrison's Church Planting Movements (free pdf) booklet--and this month's issue of Mission Frontiers is completely devoted to church planting.

Two of the most common elements in the rapid multiplication of churches are (1) raising up leaders and (2) employing reproducible methods.

Frankly, we are not developing enough leaders to get the job of world evangelism done, and this is in part due to the church structures and models that we choose to employ. The key to the leadership issue is a radical-rethinking of the priesthood of all believers. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The 'priesthood of all believers' is not simply a quaint notion, or a polemic against Rome, it means that every believer is called to be a leader and a disciple-maker in the area to which God has placed them--and few churches are intentional about training their disciples to become disciple-makers. 

Church planting is also too often associated with buildings and paid-full-time ministers--this kind of church planting is not reproducible without extensive funding and theological training. In these churches the vast majority of people are expected to financially contribute towards the church, but not directly participate in the mission of the church to make disciples. The paradigm needs to change: the key is in turning passive spectators into active participants.

Last night I was sitting outside of a convenience store in front of Kangwon National University reading about church planting on my Kindle while waiting for a couple of friends to pick me up for a bible study with some KNU students--and as I watched students streaming out of the front gate of the campus a convergence of sorts happened.

Intervarsity at NYU; beautiful picture!
I had studied in the past about how many Student Movements had lead to mission sending and church planting--but I had never done much thinking upon why that was the case. Then it struck me like a bolt of lightening and I wrote down this sentence: "Student movements bear fruit because they release gifts and talents for the Kingdom by equipping and training Saints.

I remember when I was a brand new Christian in high school--there was a bible study being led on campus by one of the seniors. The group was started by students, led by students, taught by students--in fact it was even doing a good job of reaching out to students. But what it was also doing effectively was equipping these high school students to do ministry; it gave them a place to develop their different gifts for ministry and then release them for the Kingdom.

This pattern is similar among many university and college student groups--they often create a safe environment in which people can develop and exercise gifts of leadership, ministry and evangelism. It is no wonder that many of the best leaders in Evangelical circles come from campus ministry backgrounds.

Student groups are reproducible, especially if they are student led and student propagated--they generally do not require salaries for staff members (although there are some incredible missionaries who work among students with organizations like CRU, Intervarsity and Navigators), they don't need to spend money on buildings or maintenance, they tend not to be encumbered by strict traditions, liturgies, leadership structures, committees, etc.--this frees them up to do the work of making disciples, which they quickly equip and empower to make even more disciples.

It is no wonder that oftentimes student groups become ineffective when they lose this flexibility. Student groups then are a model for effective church planting. Pastors and church leaders could stand to learn a lot from fruitful student movements. If we want to see church planting movements and people movements begin in the developed world, we need to learn from and partner with successful student movements. This brings to mind a story from history that I will most likely give a full blog-post treatment to in the future:

Student movements are effective incubators for missions.
In the late nineteenth century a hand full of Japanese students were led to faith in Christ at a newly founded college in Hokkaido by a short-term missionary. The missionary returned to the States after eight months but left the young men with a charge, "Boys, be ambitious for Christ!" These young men, led the rest of their student body to the Lord and then went on to become some of the greatest leaders in the fields of education, politics, medicine, economics and religion in the Meiji period.

Sometimes the best thing a missionary can do is get out of the way--and student movements are effective incubators for missions and church planting because they provide an environment in which leaders can be developed without the encumbrance of stifling structures or dependencies. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Multiply! Three types of biblical fruitfulness.

So what? What does fruitfulness have to do with me and my walk with Christ? The short answer: everything.

After establishing a preliminary foundation for the study of fruitfulness in the scriptures in the last blog post, it is important to note that there are several different types or categories of fruitfulness commonly referred to in the bible.

Maybe the Easter Bunny isn't so bad after all?
The first category of biblical fruitfulness is reproductive fruitfulness--God created a world in which living organisms reproduce and multiply. Fruitfulness is a matter of life and death. Every complex organism, whether an ant, a tree, a bird or a person reproduces through some form of sexual reproduction (don't worry, its just wikipedia). God created sexual reproduction--and it was good. Then he went and made it a command--he commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, and to help the rest of creation to be fruitful. As noted in the last blog post, this was for the purpose of filling the earth with His image bearers.

As hard as it is to believe, man has actually rebelled against this general revelation command of God on countless occasions. Cain's murder of Abel was rebellion against God's command to multiply and fill the earth with image bearers. The sin of Babel was the desire not to be scattered--rebellion against God's command to fill the earth. Paul in the book of Romans even points to the sin of homosexuality as the result of the fall and the subsequent idolatry--a type of sin that defiantly rejects God's created order. (Romans 1:18-32).

This is also one of the reasons why bareness is seen as such a shameful thing in the Old Testament--and also one reason why barren women having children is so significant to the redemption narrative. Sarah gave birth to Isaac in old age, Rachel pleaded with Jacob for a child, saying, "Give me children, or I'll die!" (Gen 30:1), Hannah wept and made a vow before the Lord, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leapt for joy.

The second category of biblical fruitfulness is discipleship fruitfulness. In the last post we saw how the commission given to Adam was echoed in the Great Commission given by Jesus to the church. Christians are called to be fruitful by making disciples, that is, calling others to put their faith in Jesus Christ and live according to his teachings.

The vine is a symbol commonly associated with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament--vines and vineyards are meant to bear fruit: grapes. In John the Baptists' famous sermon, he commands the Pharisees and Sadducees to  'Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." He then goes on to say, "And do not presume to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 3:8-10)

This prophetic word against the people of Israel also is a beachhead into the understanding of discipleship fruitfulness. John links being fruitful with being a true child of Abraham. Paul will develop this further with his discussion of the olive tree (Romans 11:16-24). He also picks up the theme of Abraham's faith in Galatians and says, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (Galatians 3:7-9)

The latter passage is exciting in that it says that God preached the Gospel to Abraham through his blessing and promises in Genesis 12:1-3... who has ever heard a Gospel sermon preached from Genesis 12:1-3?! It is the Gospel in that the Gentiles would be saved by faith in God! That the true offspring of Abraham, his offspring (fruit) by faith would include the Nations! (Do you see how I did that)!

Therefore, those that put their faith in Jesus and believe the Gospel are the true children of Abraham and recipients of the promise to Abraham. "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:27-29 Emphasis mine)

Fruitfulness in in spite of barrenness.
Philip and the Ethiopian. Acts 8:26-40
Therefore, the second category of biblical fruitfulness is linked to discipleship--when we are faithful in witnesses to Jesus and people put their faith in His name, we are bearing fruit for the Gospel! "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth." (Colossians 1:3-6)

I hinted at the third category of biblical fruitfulness in my last blog post. The third type of biblical fruitfulness is the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Simply put, the third kind of biblical fruitfulness is sanctification. Sanctification, being made holy, is the work that the Holy Spirit does in those that have faith in Jesus in order to make them more Christlike.

This brings us full circle--because sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit restores the marred image of God that was the purpose of the first kind of fruitfulness. In fact, there are not three kinds of biblical fruitfulness--only one: imagio dei, the image of God.

The first kind of biblical fruitfulness, the one linked with sexual reproduction would have been sufficient had Adam and Eve not fallen into sin. However Jesus had to come and redeem fallen humanity--and faith in Him, the second type of biblical fruitfulness becomes the avenue through which God restores His image in us through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the third kind of biblical fruitfulness. Ultimately we will be given glorified resurrection bodies in which we perfectly reflect the image of Christ. Therefore fruitfulness has to do with our justification, sanctification and eventual glorification as they all relate to the image of God being restored in us.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:1-5

In my next blog post I hope to draw out some practical applications from these truths.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Multiply! Meditations on the theme of fruitfulness.

Recently I was appointed as a missionary to Japan with Converge Worldwide. The motto of Converge Worldwide is Multiplying Transformational Churches. I wholeheartedly agree with this motto, and I pray that God will use me to catalyze a healthy church planting movement in Japan.

Multiplication is actually a theme that is very common in the scripture. And it is a theme I will explore in my blog posts for the foreseeable future. Another word that is synonymous with multiplication in the scriptures is fruitfulness. While studying missions at Wheaton College I did a lot of thinking about fruitfulness; I hope to share some of the insights the Lord has given me into fruitfulness as part of these blog posts.

flickr user plumandjello
The first foundational verse in understanding the theme of fruitfulness and multiplication in the bible is in Genesis 1:27-28, "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. ”" (emphasis mine). 

God's first commission to mankind was to be fruitful and increase in number (multiply). However, this passage is in context of them being image-bearers--mankind was commissioned to fill the earth with image-bearers of God. Dr. Gregory Beale in his book, The Temple and the of Church's Mission, makes a compelling case that the command to fill the earth and subdue it is actually a command to expand the boundaries of the garden and fill it with image bearers (the garden being a prototype of the temple).

the Duggars, being faithful to Genesis 1 fruitfulness
Now for the mind blowing part! The great commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is a restatement of the original commission given to Adam and Eve in the garden. "Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”" (emphasis mine) Greg Beale does a much better job at drawing out the similarities in the biblical languages, but the themes alone should make the case for their parallelism.

The original commission was given to pre-fall Adam and Eve--they were to fill the earth with image-bearers and expand the boundaries of the garden, taming the wilderness and expanding the proto-temple. As Christians, we bear the image of Christ, the Son of God, who is the last-and-perfect-Adam, the perfect image-bearer of the Father. The great commission to go and make disciples of all nations mirrors the original commission in its emphasis on going (filling) and making disciples (being fruitful) by making image-bearers for Christ among all the nations of the world.

Subduing, or taming, is what we pray for whenever we pray the prayer that the Lord taught us, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt 6:9-10) Worldwide the disciples of Christ are being built together into a temple, the true kingdom of God--it isn't an earthly kingdom, or a temporal theocracy.

Fruitfulness in the New Testament context means disciple-making--it is unequivocally linked to mission. In order to be faithful to the command given to Adam in Genesis and given to the church by Jesus, we must reproduce image-bearers for God among all nations. In doing this we are expanding the boundaries of the garden/temple (or the borders of the Kingdom of God). Thankfully the Father has sent the Holy Spirit to do this work through us--because apart from the Holy Spirit it would be an impossible task. The fruits of the Spirit will have to wait for a future blog post on fruitfulness.