Utica, New York. That’s not a city that has a cool ring to it. Tell people you are going to Utica and watch the look on their faces. Why would anyone want to make disciples and plant churches there? Two reason: unreached people groups and least-reached area.
The world is a big place with seven billion people–including over two billion who have never heard the gospel and 3000 people groups among whom there is so intentional church planting strategy.
So, where do we begin? With the Great Commission, of course. We are told to go into all the world. The wise church planter goes to build on a foundation that has not been established (Rom 15:20). Therefore, without a specific word from the Lord about a particular people or place, we prioritize according to those with the greatest need for the gospel and in the least-reached areas (I spend more time addressing this HERE and HERE.). In such areas, few evangelicals are preaching the gospel and access to the good news is limited. Given these two realities, the greatest needs are outside of North America. Period.
However, I recognize that most people reading this blog are serving within the United States. The principle applies to us as well. Who are the unreached people groups living in the least-reached places? While there are many such examples, today I want to draw your attention to Utica.
Here is an article on the growing refugee population in Utica. Note the unreached people groups listed here. Yes, while we are looking for creative ways to reach them in other lands–often with great difficulty–they are living in Utica. Utica! Unreached peoples in the United States–now, let’s couple this reality with a least-reached place.
A few months ago, I published the free ebook Unreached Peoples, Least Reached Places: An Untold Story of Lostness in America. HERE is a link to the pdf. On page 21, I noted that the Utica-Rome, NY metro area is only 4% evangelical. This is a community that is 96% lost–a least-reached area in the United States.
Most church planting efforts in North America are taking place among reached people groups–even in least-reached areas. Such is not the way of the Kingdom steward. If you are looking for a place to send a church planting team from your church, consider Utica. And once you do, go to the unreached people groups living there.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
Some people are anti-structures. They think it is cool to be against “the man,” but all for movement.
However, there is no movement without structures. Structures are necessary for health and multiplication. It was true in the first century; it is true today.
But, not all structures will do. Some hinder the dissemination of the gospel and the multiplication of disciples, churches, and leaders.
Some people work for movement, but only if it will happen within their parameters–even if those structures fall into the hindrance category.
And when the desired outcome does not occur…they tweak.
The tweaking of structures–a revision here, some change there–might not result in sufficient posture in preparation for a movement of the Sovereign Spirit.
If 5, 10, 15 years of tweaking have not been sufficient, then wise Kingdom citizens stop tweaking and start asking: Do our structures hinder the multiplication of disciples, churches, and leaders?
If the answer is yes, then more tweaking is generally not the appropriate response.
How long have you been tweaking? Is it time to start asking?
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
We reproduce what we know. And, we know what is modeled before us.
If such is the case, then what happens when what we know is not accomplishing what needs to be done? We end up repeating ourselves, doing the same things with a slightly different variation, expecting new results to occur.
Such is not the way of the wise kingdom steward. The kingdom ethic demands more from us.
Whenever something systemically new comes along, it is initially viewed as inferior to the norm. It is not what is expected according to our structures. It often does not fit within our known models. It does not produce the expected results.
But, if we reproduce what we know, and we know that what is modeled before us is not working, then maybe it is time for something systemically different.
I am in Wake Forest, North Carolina this week at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary teaching a doctoral seminar on contemporary issues facing the Church. So, I’ve been a little slack in my blogging this week. In fact, I’m taking a break from grading papers to write this brief post.
I recently preached a message from Joshua 23 to my church family and wanted to share this teaching with you. In this post, you will find links to the video, podcast, and small group resources related to this message.
It is my prayer that this time in the Word would be a blessing to you. Joshua 23 draws our attention to the fact that God is a promise-keeping God. This is a great truth; it is a pillow on which we can rest our weary heads as we journey through this broken world!
I now have to put on my professor’s hat and return to the world of stacks of papers and red ink pens. Fun! Fun!
The missiology necessary to advance the gospel in a post-Christianized context is not the same as the missiology that brought us to a Christianized context. Certainly, this does not mean a complete overhaul, but rather a building upon that which has gone before.
Some things must change while we return to an apostolic paradigm. However, one challenge is that we lack the vision for such an approach in view of a mature Church in the United States and Canada. And lacking this vision, we often fail to change that which truly must shift. We end up failing to ask the right questions.
A post-Christianized context is unlike a context where there is little to no gospel presence. A well-established Church exists with well-developed structures, organizations, and traditions. Yet, the multiplication of disciples, churches, and leaders requires an apostolic model. As it stands (and this coming from a pastor), we are attempting to reach a context with pastoral approaches when missionary activity is required.
Even when we attempt such apostolic labors, we define them in pastoral terms and attempt to execute them through pastoral paradigms. This is not wise. For example, look at how we define church planting in North America, and compare that with the New Testament.
What got us here is not sufficient for where we need to go. The wise Kingdom steward recognizes this and adjusts accordingly.
But that adjustment is difficult. It’s easier to stick with the missiology of the moment.
In our desire to see results happen in the Kingdom, we are often too thrilled to have the Gideons lead us. We are many times satisfied with Samsons.
If he can defeat such an army with 300, then we want him as our leader! He needs to be on our team, lead our organization, pastor our church!
This man is able to rip open a lion with his hands and bust up a 1000 with a jawbone. We need him to lead our team! What a track record. He can get ‘er done!
And in our desire for such dynamic leaders, we lock arms with them willing to overlook:
“And Gideon made an ephod….And all Israel whored after it” (Judges 8:27, ESV)
“Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her” (Judges 16:1, ESV).
No leader is perfect. All are sinners. However, as long as we can have forty years of rest from the Midianites and twenty years of protection from the Philistines, we are often willing to compromise a great deal.
Are you too glad for Gideons and too satisfied with Samsons?
Such is not the way of the wise Kingdom citizen.
Liberal theological traditions have moved away from a satanology of the devil being an actual being to simply a personification of evil. Among Episcopal Church leaders, for example, the discussion of evil in the world is commonplace; a conversation about the devil is a rarity.
One of the headlines making news this week about The Church of England is related to the use of devil language. Gone are the days when parents are asked to take a vow at their children’s baptism “to reject the devil and all rebellion against God.” The name of the devil has been deleted and replaced with “to turn away from sin” and “reject evil.”
On the surface, this appears to be a good thing. As followers of Jesus, we should daily turn away from sin and reject evil. However, as noted in Matthew Bell’s article, “The Church of England doesn’t want You to Worry about the Devil,” such a shift likely represents a theological shift, moving away from the devil as a supernatural being to a representation of evil in general.
Years ago, and using the KJV language of substituting “devils” for “demons,” C. S. Lewis wisely wrote: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors” (The Screwtape Letters, 15). What can be said about demons is equally applicable to the devil as well.
The problem with deleting the devil from our theology is that we also delete what the Bible teaches about the devil. Certainly, Church history has created numerous satanic caricatures: pitchforks, red dress, cloven hoof, etc. And though these unbiblical traditions have made him out to look more like a nasty clown, such is no excuse for discarding the biblical teaching on Satan.
Many biblical passages address Satan as a literal being. For starters, we only have to check out Genesis and Revelation, Job and Zechariah, and the Gospels to learn that the devil is much more than a representation of evil in the world. Jesus met and spoke with him (Luke 4:1-4) and clearly identifies him as one capable of being cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18). Paul was not shy in noting that Satan disguises himself as one who is attractive (2 Cor 11:14).
Yes, delete the ridiculous Church traditions–they’re satanic in and of themselves.
Yes, delete the notion that the devil is only a literary device used for oral learners in an age gone by.
Don’t delete the devil. That is what he would want you to do.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
It was tragic that the building was destroyed. “What are you and the church going to do now,” the reporter asks the pastor. “We will carry on. The church is the people, not the building.”
The atmosphere of the meeting was solemn, but joyful. “Our agency does not have the money to send more people. So, let’s consider sending tent makers.”
“I’m needing some wisdom on this serious matter. I need to spend some quality time with the Lord–maybe even fast.”
“He is getting very old, even had a stroke six months ago. I need to share the gospel with him.”
“Retirement begins next year. I think I will consider taking the gospel to other nations, now that I have time.”
It is troubling that we often become more biblical when the difficult realities of life occur, our possessions are removed, and the comfort is gone. We get theologically serious.
What would happen if we allowed biblical doctrine to guide our lives each day, everyday?
Let’s stop using theology as our last resort.
“Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments” (Psa 119:66, ESV).
The following is the second-part of a two-part series I started last week.
As a fourth generation Baptist of the Southern Tribe, I’m all about cooperation–cooperation with those of my Tribe and cooperation with like-minded evangelicals (a.k.a. Great Commission Christians) of other Tribes. Such cooperation is with other churches and with parachurch organizations. It is biblical. It provides synergy. The wise Kingdom steward recognizes that making disciples of all nations is too much for one church to accomplish.
However, among some North American evangelicals (including some within my Tribe), cooperation has inadvertently resulted in cases of codependency. Some parachurch organizations that originally were established to foster cooperation for Kingdom advancement, overtime have fostered a welfare mentality among churches.
We can’t go to the field because the agency did not approve us.
We can’t go to the field because the agency did not have the money to send us.
I wonder what the early Moravians would think about this.
We can’t call him as our pastor. He doesn’t have a seminary degree.
I wonder what the Methodist and Baptist churches on the American frontier would think about this.
We can’t reach the 3000 unengaged-unreached because we don’t have any partners near them.
We can’t reach that people; they don’t have the Bible in their language.
We often can’t because of the definitions we subscribe to. He who holds the definitions, writes the story and controls the movement.
As I questioned in a previous post, if any agency/institution creates a definition of effective ministry that is outside of the present or future grasp of the local church, then is such a definition healthy?
If the church agrees to such a definition, then does that make such a definition healthy? If the local church is bypassed, then is that a wise plan?
To agree to the definition, is to agree to the story.
To agree to a story that is not about cooperation, but codependency, is not a good thing.
Some of the greatest Kingdom advancements have come through the work of parachurch ministries. For these, and those organizations laboring with the local church in mind, I am grateful and look forward to what is to come.
However, no ministry should be done to keep the local church from her responsibilities–even if she agrees to abdicate those responsibilities to the parachurch.
An option for wise parachurch organizations is to work themselves out of their present jobs and into a new ones. Such is good missiology. They should not be designed to perpetuate their present existence until Jesus returns.
They should be designed to empower, partner with, edify, and exhort the local church to the task to which she is called. They should not be islands unto themselves. They should help her, which involves helping her come along on a journey whereby a day is planned to hand her the baton.
Related to this option is that such organizations should be evolving on a continual basis. What they do today is not what they should be doing tomorrow. As the church develops, and the context changes, the parachurch ministry morphs to tackle other matters for the sake of the Kingdom.
Two hundred years of Protestant missionary history have revealed related problems when Western missionaries entered Majority World areas. Though there was cooperation in mind in the beginning, through paternalism, a codependency was often created. We have learned our lessons “over there” in cross-cultural contexts, but we have created variations on similar themes “over here” among our own. Cooperation, not codependency–”partnership in the gospel” (Phil 1:5), not paternalism is the need.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
If the cultural revolutions of our age are unprecedented, then we should not be surprised that what is needed is a systemic missiological shift. Not a theological shift from “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, ESV), but a return to a more apostolic approach for local and global disciple making, while ministering in areas of the Western world where a mature Church exists.
When I wrote Pressure Points, I felt led to include a chapter on the West as a Mission Field. This is one global issue that will shape the face of the Church for the rest of our lives. Political, religious, ethnic, demographic, and cultural shifts have brought about such a change. Certain parts of the Western world are feeling these revolutions differently than others. Though the United States used to be several years behind Western Europe in this transition, we are quickly catching up.
More of what we have been doing when it comes to disciple making and church planting is not sufficient. More theological training like what we (in the West) have been doing for five centuries is not sufficient. To continue our present course, even in light of what most Americans are calling cutting edge training and church planting, is not sufficient. Over the past thirty years, even the most progressive evangelical disciple making and church planting paradigms are slight variations on the status quo. A systemic shift is needed with our structures, organizations, training, and missionary practices.
To remain on the present path is like preparing for nuclear war by teaching your troops how to sharpen arrows for their bows.
Are bows and arrows still needed? Yes, for short-range combat that is likely to occur in any war. But if we are putting most of our convictions, resources, and energies into stockpiling arrowheads and rawhide strings, then we will be surprised.
Revolutions happen, and sometimes they happen quickly. Evangelicals are the utmost conservatives when it comes to philosophical and methodological change.
The war has started. And the enemy is not using bows and arrows.
Note: I recognize that this post is an interruption to my two-part series started yesterday. However, I felt strongly compelled to write this and post it today, rather that wait.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)