Hope Springs International

Lasting Change One Village at a Time

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Mission Movements

I closed the last article in this series with a lot of questions. How do we do what they did and fulfill the Great Commission that Christ gave us? The gospel is spreading in many areas of our world and thousands upon thousands are coming to Christ. There is growth despite persecution in Asia, Africa, and South America. In fact, 70 percent of the world’s Bible-believing Christians now live in these areas.

Growth in these areas of our world is the result of movements. Movements grow like wildfire on a grassing plain. They are like a small snowball that rolls and gains size and momentum as was it rolls. I believe that movements are God’s way of reaching entire people groups. But the church in the US is not structured to become a movement. My friend Matt Dabbs recently addressed this issue in the following article.

A Few Reasons We Don’t See Movements in the United States

by Matt Dabbs

It seems God is moving all over the world through massively expanding organic networks of everyday people making disciples who make disciples who plant churches.

Why aren’t we seeing this as much in the U.S.?

First, we don’t see them because we aren’t looking for them. We aren’t turning over the stones with our ears to the ground looking for them. They are happening and are probably near where you live – you would just never know it. There are house churches all over the country but how would you know they exist since they don’t have a sign or building?

Second, God moves fastest among the humble and we have a pride problem in the United States. Experts in disciple making movements say the people who are hardest to train and most resistant are people who have been in ministry the longest. There are too many habits that have to be broken and paradigms that have to be shifted and most can’t do it. Movements are taking place among people who are desperate for God. We aren’t there yet.

Third, we haven’t given over control of our churches and our lives to God 100%. We like to maintain and exert control and this runs counter to the movement of God. It is only when we give it all over to God and plead with him for him to run the show and we follow his lead that movements can happen. We aren’t there yet.

Fourth, the movement of God runs counter to how we set up church. By church I mean institutional, established church as we see in the United States.

Church was set up to be stable and predictable…movements are not.

Church was set up to be top-down leadership. Movements are bottom up.

Church was set up to be run by professionals. Movements are energized and driven by lay people.

Church was set up to not upset the insiders. Movements mobilize the insiders for mission.

Church was set up to keep leadership in the hands of the few and keep them local. Movements multiply leaders and give them away readily.

Church values slow. Movements value fast.

Church is expensive. Movements are cheap.

Church is programmatic. Movements are mission focused.

The way we set up church creates inherent barriers to movement that were completely foreign to church in the New Testament. And so much of the drama revolves around the brick and mortar. If we can divest ourselves of our investment in the buildings and refocus on people, we would be more apt to be movements rather than feeling so stuck.

God is willing and ready to move. I am not so sure we are.”

I am challenged, how about you? When Constantine lifted the persecution and made Christianity popular, the simple Ecclesia or assembly, became Church a building. A hierarchy of leadership establishes a formal structure, and the message went from being simply about a resurrected savior to keeping all the rules established by the leadership’s interpretation of scripture. That first movement did not have scripture. All they had was the wonderful story of a resurrected Savior that had died for the whole world, and He said go tell it to every human being you meet.

Oversimplification? Probably, but I think you get the message. It will take a total paradigm shift. If a movement develops in the US, I don’t think it will come from the existing church model, but outside of it. I would not be so arrogant as to say I have the solution, but I do have some suggestions. We will do that next time.

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Do you care to know?

“One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they seldom visit them. Hence it is that . . . one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it – and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.”John Wesley (d. 1791)

I know this to be personally true. Although not rich by standards in the US, I remember so very well my first visit to Ghana, West Africa in 1969. A young preacher 24 years old experiencing the poverty of a developing nation gave me a reality check. I was rich by anybody’s standards compared to what I saw and experienced on that trip. There have been many trips since then, and the contrast is a constant reminder of how very blessed (rich) I am.

Through the years leading small and large group trips to Ghana, Nigeria, and Chad, I have observed many people as they experience poverty on a level they have never seen before. They speak of shock: “I can’t believe people live like this”; “I never had any idea”; “They have so little, but they are so happy.” Pictures and videos struggle to share the reality of poverty they portray, but there is something about seeing third-world poverty firsthand that changes you forever.

There is yet another reality we often miss. It is the reality of spiritual poverty. It is as ugly and compelling as physical poverty because it has eternal consequences. While the cause of Christ is growing in many areas of our world, there are still more than 3 billion people who live with no access to or knowledge of Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers.

It is easy for us to focus on our needs and wants at the expense of seeing the opportunity to bring real lasting change to others both physically and spiritually. It is easy to forget the reason God blesses us with so much. It is not so we can build bigger barns (homes), bank accounts and investments focused on our security at the expense of the security of others whose lives we have been given the means to change. Jesus said that the security of our treasures is not found here but in the bank of heaven. God’s blessings to us have a purpose not only to bless us but others as well.

There are two kinds of poverty in our world. Poverty with safety nets like social security, welfare, and social services. Then there is poverty without any of those things. Add to this the lack of clean water and available health care. Poverty in the US is a first-world problem, the other a third-world problem without any kind of safety net.

Wesley’s quote may seem harsh, but sometimes we need to face the harsh realities. We are all stewards of what God has blessed us with. We are therefore accountable for all that God has blessed us with. Think for a moment about the parables of Jesus. Think about the challenges issued by Jesus to the wealthy. Think as well about the judgment scene in Matthew 25.

What does this have to do with missions and the Great Commission? Everything, because it has to do with our life’s focus. It has to do with fulfilling our God-given purpose and mission. Our mission is from God. It is funded by God through us. What we have been freely given we freely give to others. In Matthew 10:5ff, Jesus commissioned those early disciples with these words, “Freely you have received; freely give.”

Our physical and spiritual situation is an important part of the solution. But what are the “mechanics” of the solution? If it was accomplished in the first century, how does that apply to us? We are literally 2000 years removed from that time. Is it duplicatable? Is there a better way? We will seek to find answers next time.

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How are we doing?

I closed the last article in this series with a question: How are we doing? Jesus gave the great commission more than 2000 years ago. Every generation inherits the responsibility of carrying that commission to their world. It is like a relay race and the 21st Century now has the baton. So, I ask again, how are we doing?

In the 1980’s, statisticians reported that the worldwide church of Jesus Christ was for the first time since the first century predominately non-Western. In other words, the majority of Christ-followers live in the Southern and Eastern Hemispheres. Today Christianity is now primarily a non-white, non-Western, non-wealthy religion. In fact, Africa will be the most Christian continent on earth by 2025.

A part of the reason for this is we have been focused on making converts, and not disciples. The result, as unpleasant as it may be to admit, is described pointedly in the book “Western Christians in Global Mission” by Paul Borthwick, where he writes, ”Our greatest problem here [in the USA] is that the church is miles wide and inches deep.” He continues, “Obedience to the Great Commission suffers because nominal Christians, who have been momentarily ‘converted’ do not grow in integrity or character or biblical knowledge or Christian living. These superficial decisions are not necessarily integrated into the way they live, treat their spouse, operate in their community, or participate in business and politics. We need disciples.”

Over the last few years, I have watched the church turn from a world view to an inward focus. In fact, I was told by someone I deeply respect that a minister from a large mega-church speaking at a conference encouraged all church leaders to bring their missionaries home and put that money toward their own congregation and city. He saw this as the solution to survival. What tragic advice!

This kind of emphasis takes our focus off our own responsibility to join the rest of the world in carrying out the Great Commission. We are the wealthiest nation with the greatest financial resource available. Another quote from Paul Borthwick from the book mentioned above states: “Most of us in North America are living on an island of affluence in the sea of poverty. We fail to realize this because we think that everyone else around us is more affluent. So, we often think of ourselves as ‘poor,’ failing to remember our relative position in this globalized world.”

This kind of thinking and inward-turning is causing some countries to think of the USA as a mission field and in need of missionaries to come to our aid. The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria has already planted 500 churches across North America.

Ok if that is the problem, now what is the solution? We will tackle that one in the next article.