It is difficult for us to believe this–that less can be more. Society hypers and supersizes everything. We’ve always been told that bigger is better. Go big or go home! If it is not over-the-top, then why bother?
We swim in a sea of gluttony.
There is an out-of-this-world economy to live by. Its policy manual reminds us:
- You see that widow there dropping in those two copper coins? Yeah, she put in more than the others (Luke 21:3).
- You mean to tell us that it is not like a sequoia, or an oak, or even a pine, but a mustard seed! (Matt 13:31).
- This is amazing! How can these uneducated commoners be doing what they do? All they know is what that false teacher taught them! (Acts 4:13).
- I would like to write a book about the men who planted the Church in Antioch. What an amazing Church! What were their names again? (Acts 11:20).
- Not many of you were…not many of you were…not many of you were (1 Cor 1:26-28).
Yes, sometimes less is more.
Do you really?
That’s what these guys say.
Understanding context is important to our labors. Peoples are shaped and defined by cultures. While biblical prescriptions are ultimate, contextualization is crucial to what we do.
When the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14), God contextualized Himself as never before among a fallen people. This missionary God revealed Himself full of grace and truth in a shockingly clear manner.
Though we’ll never be able to contextualize our efforts as perfect as the Son (Gal 4:4), contextualization should guide our efforts as best as possible. By God’s grace, the Church should strive to make sure the only stumbling block is the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:23).
Not our cultural expectations.
Not our traditions.
Not our preferences.
Until Jesus returns, we will need to continue our conversations about contextualization matters. Why? Because contextualization matters!
As long as there are unengaged-unreached peoples, migration, globalization, urbanization, rural communities, living world religions, different languages, and the rise and passing of generations, we are to be about the business of understanding how best to make disciples and teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded (Matt 28:19-20). I address how to understand a people in Discovering Church Planting and Developing a Strategy for Missions. Until you can check out those resources, teach your people to understand the following about those they serve:
Where do they live? How does their geography influence their lives?
What do I know about their demographics?
What do they believe (and practice) about spiritual matters?
What do I know about their history?
What do I know about their culture (in general)?
How well do I know their language?
What are their political views (including views from birth country if they’ve recently migrated)?
Now that you know. Roll on!
Ongota is one of the world’s rarest languages. Only twelve people speak it. I doubt you will ever need to learn it.
But if you needed to for gospel advancement, would you? Would you truly put out the effort and make the sacrifice–for only twelve people?
Last October, Mark Zuckerburg addressed an audience at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He spoke for thirty minutes and answered questions–in Mandarin. He’s been studying it for four years, and admitted that his language level is “really terrible.” He said he wanted to learn the language because his wife is from a Chinese family. Some folks said such learning also involved a marketing strategy.
Watch a couple of minutes of his talk here. See the response of the audience when a foreigner speaks their language in a “terrible” fashion. Yes, I’m sure some of the reaction had to do with his reputation and the setting. However, much is communicated when we attempt to communicate in someone’s heart language.
If Zuckerburg can get to where he is in four years with his motivation, what will you do to learn the language of the people to whom you are called? What are you willing to put off and put out to speak to their hearts?
But I’m staying here, in this English-speaking country.
Great! There are at least 360 unreached people groups in the United States, 180 in Canada, 73 in the United Kingdom, 43 in Australia, and 21 in New Zealand (Strangers Next Door). Pick one. Just one.
Connect with them. At least learn some greetings. A few sentences.
Yes, they need to learn English. But, wow! What does it reveal to them about your love and care, and the Jesus you serve, when they hear you speak to their hearts?
How far are we willing to go to learn Ongota?
Zuckerburg says he did it for his family.
For whom are we willing to learn it? For the One Who revealed His Word in our heart language?
Two of the most powerful words in the universe. We can use them to strike fear in people’s hearts. We can paralyze thousands–maybe millions.
These two words have hindered the advancement of the gospel numerous times over the centuries.
What if we do this and something unpleasant happens?
What if we do this and that occurs?
Though these two words only have the power to conjure up unknown monsters in our imaginations, we certainly believe those creatures exist in reality. Though we know nothing about them, we know they are scary–they just have to be. So…we stop in our tracks.
No movement. No expansion. No multiplication.
What if our church makes such sacrifices for the gospel and that happens to us?
What if we go to the unengaged unreached peoples and that happens to us?
What if I try this and that does not work?
Let’s stop practicing the sorcery that conjures this beast.
Yes, but what if God takes us into the valley of the shadow of death and a real monster shows up? You know He has before!
Yes. He may. He sent the seventy-two to the wolves (Luke 10:3). But real monsters are different from imaginary monsters. Imaginary monsters are omnipotent.
If for some reason a monster does show up as the Spirit leads, He will be with you. He created Behemoth (Job 40:15) and Leviathan (Psalm 104:26). He is bigger than any monster. He is our Good Shepherd. He keeps us from fear and provides comfort (Psalm 23:4). He loves us.
What if we believed this? What if we used what if differently?
We know the Spirit is leading us in this direction. What if we do this and God does that!
As a late Gen Xer, my formative years were the late 70s through the early 90s. Yes, I owned parachute pants, a TRS-80 computer, and carried a ghetto blaster on my shoulder. Atari, Commodore 64, and Nintendo were kings when it came to home video games. Michael Jordan was the man on the court.
Some of you remember this Gatorade commercial from 92. Oh, if “I could be like Mike!” Everyone wanted to be him.
Yes, you can learn from his playing style, attitude, and leadership skills. But you can’t be like him. I can’t be like him. He is unique.
Though society may say that we can be like him:
Sometimes I dream.
That he is me.
Got to see that’s how I dream to be….If I could be like Mike.
We know such is impossible. Such is designed to sell salt water with electrolytes.
We know this about the world.
However, even in the Kingdom, we often misplace our focus and start having distracting dreams.
Oh, if I could just teach like him, then everything would be okay.
Wow, I wish I could be like her. That would clarify the matter.
I want his ministry! If I just had his opportunities, then I could make an impact for the Kingdom!
We misplace our focus and lose our faithfulness. We look at others and covet.
Don’t misunderstand. Heroes are not bad, even in the Kingdom. They are good as they point to The Hero (see Heb 11). We should respect, honor, and admire individual saints for what the Spirit is doing through them. There is much wisdom in looking to other believers for examples regarding life and doctrine (1 Tim 4:12). Scripture is filled with words and passages exhorting us to find a model to imitate (2 Thes 3:7,9; Heb 13:7). We should even be willing to tell one another to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1, ESV). Yet, this is completely different when we begin to covet the opportunities, abilities, and ministries of others.
While I do not think Peter had an issue of covetousness, he did have a misplaced focus:
When Peter saw Him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:21-22, ESV).
Don’t be concerned about what others have–and what you think you lack for Kingdom impact.
Our supposed inadequacies are God’s opportunities.
Be who God has called you to be. You are wonderfully, fearfully-made, unique, and placed in the Body in such a way that brings the most delight to your Father. Be original.
Observe others. Learn from others. Follow Jesus. Yes, He has a plan for your hero in reaching the four billion, but what is that to you? You are not him or her.
He has a plan for you in reaching the four billion, too. Stop trying to be like Mike. Don’t worry about John. Follow Him with what He has given to you!
We all want 10 more minutes, that extra magical time that perfects our labor.
We need to stop asking for 10 more. Let’s make due with what we have and move.
Just 10 more and I’ll have the best sermon, project, paper, etc.
Talk and thought are important, but there is a time for those things to cease. Time to execute. Time to ship. Time to fish.
No more conversations. Meetings. Planning sessions.
Time to act.
Sometimes the 10 minute request is a manifestation of slothfulness.
Stop hitting the snooze button. Get out of bed. The 4 billion remain.
I want to point you to a resource. Salty Believer Unscripted is a podcast hosted by Bryan Catherman, addressing matters related to theology, preaching, mission, and leadership. Check it out. There are a ton of helpful interviews posted on this site. You may subscribe via iTunes or feedburner for you non-iTunes folk.
Last month, I had the blessing of spending time in conversation with Bryan, Jared Jenkins of Entrusted with the Gospel, Benjamin Pierce, and Brett Ricely. We recorded two podcasts on what has been going on at The Church at Brook Hills, church planting, leading a church to be on mission, Roland Allen, blogging, advice to those considering church planting, and some of my books–including information I’ve never shared in public related to two writing projects in 2015.
The recordings are not scheduled to post at iTunes until next month. However, you may check them out now:
These guys are very gracious and kind. They have a heart for Kingdom work and sharing what they have with others. Check them out!
Open Doors just released the 2015 list of countries in the world where it is the most difficult to follow Jesus. Christianity Today .com also released a related article at the same time. Here’s who made the top ten:
1. North Korea
These are the realities in our world. The wise Kingdom steward understands both God’s world and God’s Word. So, how does the New Testament teach us to be on mission in a context of violence?
Several years ago I presented a paper (later published by William Carey Library in Missions in the Context of Violence) to the Evangelical Missiological Society on this topic. Though there is no simple New Testament response to persecution in every situation, the Scriptures offer at least three acceptable practices: flight, avoidance, and engagement.
Check out the paper and share it with others. I pray that it will be helpful to you as we live and serve in a world that continues to persecute the prophets, wise men, and scribes (Matt 23:34).
Let’s definitely pray for our brothers and sisters who live as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt 10:16). May they know that even persecution shall not separate them from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35). And while we all cry out with those under the altar, “‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'” (Rev 6:10, ESV), we remember that the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise, but wishes that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:8-10).
Nevertheless, our hearts resound with “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20, ESV).
We live in a skeptical day.
What does he want? She has another agenda.
Desire is not bad. Neither is agenda.
However, such question and thought sometimes come from hearts of mistrust. Why? Such hearts have experienced contempt before. They’ve been burned by their leaders, and have learned from it.
I’ll do this for you (It is my obligation.); but, I don’t trust you.
I don’t trust you because I’ve seen you in action. I don’t trust you because there are a wealth of verses in Proverbs that tell me I shouldn’t.
You can get people to do things for you because of your title, your authority, your signature on their pay checks. That will win the sprint for you.
As a Kingdom leader, you are called to a higher standard. The rulers of the Gentiles are overlords (Mark 10:42). The Kingdom Ethic governs the way you serve others on your team.
As an overlord, you can get people to help you win the sprint. However, you’re called to a marathon–and trust will get you across the finish line, not resentful and reluctant submission to an overlord.
People will give you their trust. But, if you become an overlord and violate that trust, it is difficult to receive it again.
What kind of leader are you? Don’t find satisfaction in how high people jump when you say “jump”.
Name the moonwalker who trained Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon.
Name the transatlantic pilot who trained Charles Lindbergh to fly across the Atlantic.
Name the president of the United States who trained George Washington to be president.
Your role as a teacher is not to bring your people up to your level of expertise (or worse, bring them up to just below your level). Your role as a teacher is to equip others (Eph 4:11-12) to go beyond where you are–to accomplish even greater things (Jesus’ desire is helpful here, see John 14:12).
Too many people will tell you, “You can’t teach that. You are not experienced enough.”
Others will say, “Become the expert. Get some stories. Then lead others.”
Or, worse, “Go do it yourself. Then teach others to do it like you did” (which means clone yourself).
Such comments reflect mentalities of those who fail to understand the power of teaching. Such people usually want to keep others below themselves, or just at their level. They do not see others running faster and farther for the Kingdom.
Experience is very important. There is no substitute for experience. However, no one is omni-experienced. The 4 billion remain–you got enough experience for that?
Teach what you know. Lead with what you have. You don’t have to be Armstrong, Lindbergh, or Washington. And that’s okay. Be their teacher and release them to conquer for the Kingdom.