Mission

Reflections and Updates on my Costa Rica/Panama Trip

I'm back. Our team of 31 spent ten days (Dec 27 - Jan 5) in Central America, beginning in Costa Rica and ending in Panama. Our primary purpose was to support the work God is doing through our missionary partners, Marvin and Vielka Cabrera. It was an extremely fruitful trip, and I was highly encouraged by our church's important partnership with the Cabreras. You can read more about the background in my pre-trip updates, found here. The team did well overall - we had some illness, one hospital visit for a broken arm and some sore bodies from all the hard work, but the team was flexible and grew in maturity and grace together.

As I return, I have a few reflections and updates to share. I write these reflections for a few purposes. One, to share them with you, because many of you have prayed for our team, supported our work financially or are simply interested in what went on in Costa Rica and Panama. Second, writing my reflections is helpful for me to process my experiences. I write for me as much as I do for you. Third, I hope you and I can learn something together. Whether it is an immediate application or possibly a lesson that comes in reading this a year or more in the future, the documentation of my reflections may serve a purpose entirely unknown to me at this time. So, here are six updates and reflections on my missions trip to Costa Rica and Panama.

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I am grateful for our partnership with the Cabreras

Prior to this trip, I only had a few brief interactions with Marvin and Vielka, but after spending a week with them, I am even more grateful for our partnership with them. They are hospitable, hard-working, patient, kind and joyful people who love Jesus and want to help others know and love Jesus as well. They are highly committed to their work, and it is a privilege for our church to partner with them.

Short-term missions is done best when it occurs in partnership with local, long-term missionaries. I would go so far as to say that unless this is the case, it probably should not be done at all. Over the past three years, we have sent teams of 26, 27 and 31 on three different trips to support God's work in partnership with the Cabreras. That requires a significant amount of resources - time, people, energy, finances, etc. People might question whether this is a good use of those resources. A valid question, which requires an honest answer.

I feel confident in saying yes - it is absolutely worth our resources. If it were not for our partnership with the Cabreras and the work God is doing through them, I would be far less sure. In partnering with the Cabreras, we are working with high-quality people, who remain on the field, and are engaged in work that aligns with our own mission and vision. I am grateful for them and excited for the future.

The need for Biblical Literacy and Leadership Development

The Ngäbe (Guaymi) are considered a "reached" people group, in the sense that there is an established and indigenously led church that exists among the Ngäbe. There are still needs and we are excited to partner with Marvin to help meet those needs. While there is an established church, there are still many who do not know Jesus as savior, and we are excited about seeing more and more hear the gospel message and respond in worship.

Marvin helps to mentor six different pastors who are leading Ngäbe churches, many of which have no place to meet. Homes are too small to host gatherings, so they often meet outside wherever they can find some shelter under trees. One way we can help is to assist in funding and building structures that can be used as a gathering place for local churches.

In conversation with Marvin and other missionaries working with the Ngäbe, there is also a need for ongoing discipleship, Biblical literacy and leadership development. In George Patterson's article, The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches, he lists four simple things anyone can do to promote the multiplication and growth of disciples and local churches.

  1. Know and love the people you disciple.

  2. Mobilize your disciples to immediately edify those they are discipling

  3. Teach and practice obedience to Jesus' basic commands in love, before and above all else

  4. Build loving, edifying accountability relationships between disciples and churches in order to reproduce churches.

This is a great summary of what is needed. An increasing understanding of the Bible and obedience to its commands, while reproducing loving and intentional disciples who can help to reproduce loving and intentional churches. In many ways, the needs of the Ngäbe (Guaymi) church are simple, and quite similar to what is needed among our churches in the United States as well.

It's hard to be away from my family

Without question, the most challenging aspect of the trip for me was being away from my family. Leaving Megan home for ten days with three children four and under is not something I want to do lightly. I do not regret going on the the trip, and I am grateful for Megan's sacrifice to help make it happen, but it was hard - for them and for me. I love my family dearly, and have long been committed to being a present and intentional husband and father. I have seen or heard about too many pastors who sacrifice their family on the altar of ministry, and wind up with wives and children who grow to resent the local church.

Megan and I spoke with the kids often about the importance of daddy's trip. We told them that I was not "leaving them," they were "sending me." We prayed together with the kids on the last night I was home, helping them to see the importance of the work.

The communication was difficult, because the wifi was very poor at the location our team was lodging. Megan and I did our best to communicate, but it was hard to be away and have little opportunity to communicate. As I return, I am thankful for God's goodness toward my family while I was away. Overall, things went well at home. I am also thankful for our community - there were many family and friends who helped make things a little easier on Megan.

Getting to know other team members was invaluable

I loved the many conversations I had with team members throughout the trip. Whether over a meal, on the trail hauling blocks, sipping a ginger ale at the end of the night or playing a card game, it was invaluable to connect with other team members. As a pastor, I struggle with the challenge it is to not know everyone in our congregation in a deep way. I recognize it is not possible to know everyone well, and it is not the job to which I am called. I am called to equip the body, so we can all know and care for one another, because it isn't possible for any single person to know and care for everyone well. But it doesn't change my desire to know our congregation better. This trip was a great chance to deepen those relationships. 

As a small bonus, we also had two young men from Cities Church join us. Our church is in conversations and prayer about the possibility of two churches becoming one. As we look at the possibility of "marriage" with Cities Church, it was great to spend extra time with two of their young leaders. 

Shared experience, especially when it is in service to God's mission, plays an extremely important role in deepening relationships. I was able to do that with all sorts of different team members. As I reflect on my trip, this is one of the many great aspects I had the joy of experiencing.

It felt good to use my body to do hard work

My daily work is not physical. Whether I am reading, writing, meeting with someone, doing administrative work or planning for future ministry opportunities, I spend most of that time sitting. It felt amazing to use my body to do hard physical work. I grew up doing physical labor, and our bodies were made to be used, so I was grateful for the chance to get sore for the glory of God.

Don't get me wrong - it was exhausting. Hauling cinder blocks 1/4 of a mile through mountainous hiking trails was not easy. It took a toll on my body. I was blistered, tired, scraped, bruised and sore from the work. Each day, our team would end our work and be exhausted. It was not easy, but it felt so good!

Excited for the future

I left Panama excited for the future of our partnership with Marvin and Vielka. There is so much opportunity to continue serving God's mission together with the Cabreras. There many possibilities, but I wanted to mention a few specific ways I am excited to continue partnering.

First, there are multiple locations that still need a building for their church to meet. We are not at a loss for work projects that would be meaningful and help support the churches Marvin is mentoring. There is opportunity near where Marvin lives in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica. There is also opportunity near the area we spent time working in Panama. Prayer and discernment is needed for our church's leadership as we continue to plan intentional short-term trips to partner with God's work in Costa Rica and Panama.

Second, Marvin and Vielka are great to partner with. I am excited about the future, because I am excited about continuing to work with the Cabreras. Who knows what God might be kind enough to do through this partnership. I pray He continues to exceed our expecations with what He can do.

Third, last year's team helped construct a dorm building, so that Ngäbe kids in Costa Rica could live there and have access to schools. Currently, children need to travel multiple hours, by foot, just to make it to school. During the rainy season, this journey is often impossible to make. Because of the challenge that exists in getting to school, many end their education early in life. The dorm building would help up to eight kids live there and get an education, while being cared for by Christian dorm parents. There is a need for funds to be raised in order to make this vision become reality. Pray with me about how you, our church and I might be able to help support the hopes Marvin has for this dorm building

Want to hear more?

Maybe this short update peaked your interest? If so, send me an email and I would love to talk with you more - whether it be over coffee, email, lunch, phone, or whatever we can figure out.

A short lull on the blog - here's why

Costa Rica / Panama Update

I will be taking a short break from blogging - just a few weeks - because I am heading to Costa Rica on December 27th with a team of 31. First Baptist Church has a beautiful partnership with our Sister-Church in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica and I am helping to lead aspects of the trip. If you want to read more about our trip, please check out my Costa Rica / Panama Updates.

Additional Reading

In the meantime, I want to encourage you to read about the three primary categories that inform my writing on jeremyadelman.net. At the bottom of each page, there are three suggested articles to read. This should give you plenty to read for awhile.

Free E-Book

Finally, if you haven't already gotten my e-book, I want to encourage you to download it today. It is short (only about 15 pages), but it is designed to help kickstart your Bible reading. With the new year coming, people are usually motivated to read their Bibles more. This small resource can help. Click on the image below to download the book.

There is a Person Behind that Question

When we are open with those around us about our love for Jesus, we are bound to end up in conversations about faith. At times we might be responding to antagonistic barbs, other times it might be someone who is genuinely interested or we might find ourselves explaining our commitment to someone who is skeptical about Jesus. Whether the conversation excites us or scares us, whether it is with someone who is impolite or gracious, we need to recognize there is more to their questions than simply the words.

It can be easy to get into a debate, utilizing all the apologetic arguments we have accumulated over the years and forget there is a person behind the question. It's like continually treating the symptoms of recurring stomach pain, but never taking the time to figure out the root cause. When we are only focused on winning the argument, we only treat the symptom. In order to deal with the root, we must get to know the person behind the question. Jesus did not come to simply win apologetic arguments, he came to love and save people - real, living and breathing people.

Answer the question

I am not suggesting you do not need to answer their questions, though. It is not enough to only answer the question but we do still need to give an answer. The first step to answering their question is to make sure you have understood what they are asking. Have you actually listened to their objection? Or do you assume you know what they meant and launch into your reply? Take the time to clarify what they are asking through the use of reflective listening skills, repeating their question back to them, ensuring you have a clear understanding so you can respond to their actual question.

Then provide a coherent and thoughtful answer. There are a ton of great resources out there to help answer objections to faith. I have really enjoyed Timothy Keller's book, The Reason for God, which is a very helpful read. He has also written a newer book that serves as a prequel of sorts to his first book. I have not read the newest book, Making Sense of God, but I have seen some great reviews. Keller's books are only a couple examples and there are more great ways you can learn how to provide quality answers to their questions.

In the end, don't make something up. If you don't know the answer, then admit you don't know, and then do the hard work to find an answer and follow-up later.

Answer the person

As you engage in the conversation, don't forget there is a person behind the question. You are not simply answering an intellectual appeal, you are answering a person. Every question has a context because every person has a context. No question is asked in a vacuum. Each person brings with them different experiences, fears, hopes, dreams, doubts, hurts and more. We must remember that when we are answering a question, we are actually answering a person.

It is not uncommon that the question they asked is not the true question they want to be answered. Their question is like stomach pain, it is felt and it is surfacy, but it is only a symptom. There is a deeper root that is holding them back from following Jesus. Take the time to ask them some questions and drill down into what are their true objections. These are often deeply personal and unknown to the person asking the question, so be gentle and kind. The goal is not to expose them, it is to introduce them to your savior.

As you begin to answer the person and not only the question, you can find ways to show them how Jesus is the true answer to their deepest pain and fear. Consider how you can provide a Christocentric answer that captures their heart and not a stale answer that, while true, is not beautiful in the least. It can be easy to win an argument even while failing to help them see how the gospel answers their deepest needs. You can give a true answer that actually clouds the gospel rather than illuminates. This can happen when we answer a question, but forget that there is a person behind the question.

Sharing our Faith is like Picking Apples

We hosted some of our missionaries in town recently, and one of them shared an analogy with me and the missions committee. He explained that sharing our faith is a lot like picking apples. When you go apple picking and find an apple that looks tasty, a great way to know if it is ready is by turning the apple slightly. As you turn the apple in your hand, if it easily falls off the tree then it is ripe and ready to be take home. But if you twist the apple and it stays firmly attached to the tree, then you leave it for someone else to enjoy later.

Sharing our faith is a bit like picking apples. God calls us to be faithful to share the message of the gospel, but we are not responsible for the response. It is our job to communicate the good news, not to force someone into conversion. We won't always know if they are ready to respond, so we try, and wait to see. If they are not ready, we don't beat ourselves up, or them, we move on with our days and share it with the next person too.

Like the watchman

The prophet Ezekiel was given the responsibility from God to be like the watchman on the tower. It was said that the watchman's job and was to warn the city's inhabitants about the impending danger that he saw coming. If anyone heard the warning but did not heed the trumpet, it was no longer the watchman's responsibility. It was on them for not listening. But if the watchman failed to give the warning, then they held responsibility for those in the city (Ezekiel 33).

We are meant to be like watchmen to our world. We have the words of life, and we know the impending doom that comes to those who fail to trust in Jesus. It is our job to sound the trumpet, to share the message of salvation. If anyone hears our warning and does not heed the message, it is not our responsibility. But as followers of Jesus, we do bear the responsibility to communicate the good news.

Be my witnesses

Following the resurrection, Jesus exhorted his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We cannot control the response of those around us, but we can be witnesses to the message of the Scriptures and the new life Jesus has created in us. We cannot know whether the apple will be ripe, but we are called to twist the apple none the less. We cannot know whether the hearer will heed our message, but like watchmen, we are called to send out the warning all the same.

Our job is to be faithful; Jesus does the rest

In all this, our job is to be faithful. We are called to be faithful messengers of the good news, witnesses to the coming Kingdom. We are called to communicate the gospel, and leave the rest up to Jesus. We see this happen in Acts. Paul faithfully communicates the gospel repeatedly throughout the book. In Acts 16 we see a story of Paul in Philippi, witnessing to the good news. It says that "One who heard us was a woman named Lydia... The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14)." Paul was faithful, and God opened Lydia's heart.

We don't now which apples are ripe. We are just called to give them a twist. Our job is to be faithful, and then we let Jesus take care of the rest. Be faithful today. Twist some apples.

What is Missing in Most of our Discipleship?

We cannot disciple people en mass. It simply doesn't work. It might appear to work, but it doesn't consistently produce the maturity and multiplication necessary for sustainable Kingdom impact. We cannot get an auditorium full of people to experience ongoing transformation without intentional relationships as well. You cannot disciple people without knowing them.

Jesus often drew a crowd and the masses were enthralled with him, but he chose only twelve to be his closest companions. He preached to the masses and fed the multitudes, but he chose only twelve to be his apostles. Jesus healed the sick and loved the unlovable, but he entrusted the stewardship of his message to only twelve. Jesus' example shows us that even if we can draw a crowd, we cannot ignore the necessity of intentionally investing in a few strategic relationships.

Mass discipleship is appealing. It feels like a quicker pathway and in the short-term, it probably is. If we can fine tune our systems and environment on Sunday mornings, we can draw a crowd. And that isn't such a bad thing, but it becomes a problem if we pursue it at the expense of the discipleship that happens through intentional relationships. As we saw with Jesus, there are many in the crowds who loved to simply be part of the crowd. But when the pressure of life came, they happily deserted the celebrity they followed to join the new trend.

We need to get into relationships

We like to drift toward isolation rather than relationship. Our preference is to remain hidden, not needing to reveal the deepest parts of us, because it is scary to be vulnerable. Exposing our fears, sins and struggles with requires intentionality with others, because it is more natural to stay hidden than it is to step into the light. It can be easy to hide in the crowd - often it's the easiest place to hide.

We all need to take on the responsibility of investing in our relationships with others. Don't wait for someone else to invite you out to lunch or ask you if you need prayer. Don't wait for someone else to suggest going to a baseball game or meeting to study the Bible. Feel the weight of that responsibility and find ways to initiate and invest in disciple-making relationships.

This is for everyone

No matter your stage of life or maturity as a Christian, this is for you. Whether you are discipling others in the role of a mentor, or you initiate a relationship of mutual discipleship with a peer, or whether you seek out an older and more mature believer to invest in you and your growth, discipleship requires relational investment. And no matter where you are in your own life, you can initiate this sort of relationship.

Church leaders must also consider this dynamic as we create systems and structures in our congregations. Have we given enough thought to how our models and programs are helping our people to invest in relationships? It can be easy to develop strategies and systems to reach the masses, with the hope that it will accelerate growth. But there is no shortcut to developing mature Christians, and it will always require life-on-life, getting into the weeds, laughing, crying, transparent and sacrificial relationships. Are your church structures helping to facilitate this sort of relational investment in your people?

It's about multiplication

Jesus was not necessarily concerned with the crowds of his day, but he did have a disciple-making movement in mind. He was most particularly concerned with his closest twelve, because he knew they would multiply into a massive movement of people. What started as twelve is now a worldwide movement of billions.

The vision is that our relationships would lead to the multiplication of many more disciples. This strategy won't fill stadiums, and it won't lead to your own celebrity status, but it will have an immeasurable impact on the Kingdom.

There are men who have invested in me over the years, who were once upon a time invested in by others. Their work has lead toward my own growth and re-investment into other men, who are now scattered around the world. The men whom I have invested in are now doing the same for others. It truly is immeasurable, because it would be impossible to know the full impact of those relational networks.

It's never too late to start

Whether you are an individual and you are thinking about your own life, or whether you are a church leader and you are thinking about your congregation's systems and structures, it is never too late to start. You may feel like the 35-year old who has saved no money, and you have lost out on many years of the powerful effect of compound interest. It is never too late to start. Better to begin now than at age 55.

Like a 401k, discipleship through relational investment, leading to multiplication, also takes advantage of the powerful principle of compound interest. It isn't about your ability to fill pews on the following Sunday, but about the ongoing discipleship possibilities in the decades to come. You may have missed out on some of your past opportunities to invest in discipleship like this, but it is not too late to start. Better now than never.

How Can You Be Involved in Missions? [6 Ways Video Series]

There is a small people group a northeastern province of Cambodia known as the Broa people. A family from the Midwest lives among them, with the goal of teaching them about Jesus and helping to establish a sustainable church with indigenous leadership. Across the world, on the campus of the University of Minnesota, there is a small ministry dedicated to reaching out to the Chinese students who have come to the United States to study. And in Iowa, a small church has dedicated itself to a new vision regarding missions and have chosen to partner with a young couple who are committed to work among an unreached people group in Papua New Guinea.

These are all true stories, and all ways for a person to engage in missions. We often hear about missions, whether it be an announcement from the missions committee, a prayer request in the bulletin, a missionary in town for a visit or a request for financial support. It can feel intimidating and overwhelming at times, because missions can feel big and distant and far removed from our daily lives. That is why I am thankful for the video series, 6 Ways to Reach God's World. If you have been wondering about how you can be involved in missions, then this video series is perfect for you.

Who made the video series?

The video series was created by OMF International, in partnership with The Traveling Team and Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. All three are organizations that are doing really good work and whom I really appreciate. OMF (Overseas Mission Fellowship) was originally known as China Inland Mission and is committed to helping missionaries get to the field and serve among unreached people groups. The Traveling Team is a mobilizing ministry that travels to campuses and works with ministries like Cru, to help inform college students about world missions. And Perspectives is a 15-week course, created by the US Center for World Missions. There is no better way to learn about missions than taking this course.

Three organizations, all of whom are serving God faithfully to help God's people engage in God's mission to see the gospel spread to every tribe, tongue and nation.

What are the 6 Ways to Reach?

The video series is designed around 6 Ways that people can be involved in missions. There is an intro video, which I have included below. And there six more videos, one for each way. Each video is about five or six minutes long, and you can download study guides at the bottom of the page. Watch them on your own, or watch them with a small group of people, and use the study guides to help you reflect on the content and prompt discussion.

Briefly, here are the six ways:

Learn

Learning means that we invest time and energy into gaining a better understanding of world missions. This might mean, for example, taking the Perspectives course or reading a biography of a missionary.

Pray

Praying for missions is an easy way to get involved. Whether it is praying for an unreached people group, for a missionary or for the persecuted church, we can always pray.

Go

Going is one of the more commonly known ways of being involved with missions. For some, this means taking part in a short-term missions trip, or for others God may call them to long-term missions work.

Send

Sending is a crucial way for us to be involved in missions. For every missionary on the field, there is a whole team of people who help to send them. Whether through financial giving or intentional care, sending is a great way to be involved.

Welcome

Welcoming is an often overlooked way to be involved. God is bringing the nations to us in the form of international students, immigrants and refugees. Sometimes they come from countries we cannot access, or locations we do not feel called to go. But we can be hospitable to the sojourner who is now among us. We can lovingly welcome them here and share the gospel with them along the way.

Mobilize

Mobilizing means that you help to get others involved. Through mobilizing, you have the ability to multiply your efforts by getting more people trained, knowledgeable, praying and sent. Among the other ways to be involved, I feel called to be a mobilizer.

Here is a short video that summarizes each of these six ways, and if you want to watch all of the videos, you can click here:

My recommended next steps

This may feel somewhat overwhelming. Before you read this post, you may have felt like you barely knew how to be involved. Now, you might feel like there are way too many ways, and you can not decide where to begin. Allow me to suggest two next steps for you.. By all means, you can choose different next steps, but here are a couple to consider.

Pray for the nations

Begin to pray for unreached people groups on a regular basis. You can start by visiting Joshuaproject.net. It is a great resource, with profiles about nearly every people group in the world. It shares about their primary religion, progress of the gospel and ways you can pray for them. They have a tab that says "pray" along the top, and that is a great place to start. They also have an app that you can download here. If you have a smartphone, download the app and begin praying for the nations today.

Take the Perspectives Course

Perspectives on the World Christian Movement is a 15-week, college level course that is designed to teach you about the Biblical, Historical, Cultural and Strategic perspectives on missions. Taking the course does require a fair amount of work, so you need to be prepared. But if you are able and willing to make the investment, it will be a significant help in your understanding of God's global mission to reach the nations. Look for a course near you, and sign up to take it this fall.

Our role is participation

One final reminder is that that our role in God's mission is participation. I wrote an entire post on this, which you can read here. But briefly, it is important to remember that it is not our job to save the whole world. When you begin reading about unreached people groups, you may feel overwhelmed. When you think about the billions of people who have not heard the gospel, the task will feel daunting. But we must remember that it is not our job alone to complete. This is God's mission, and one which He will complete. We have the privilege of participating. God does not need us, but he has invited us to be part of spreading a passion for His glory to the ends of the earth. Pray and consider how God is calling you to participate this week

What are unreached people groups anyway?

Have you heard your pastor or a missions leader reference the term "unreached people groups?" If so, it might be a confusing term. In fact, much of what we call "missions" might be confusing for many of you. I do not consider myself an expert on all things missions, but I do want to help you understand what "unreached people groups" are a bit more.

At First Baptist Church, we just had the privilege of hosting many of our missionaries for our Missions Weekend. It was amazing to have so many missionaries in Minneapolis at the same time. Through the weekend, and through conversations with people at my church, I was reminded that not everyone knows what a people group is, let alone an unreached one.

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Make disciples of All Nations

At the end of Jesus' earthly ministry, he gave his disciples some final instruction that is often termed The Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-20 reads like this:

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.”

When Jesus says, "make disciples of all nations," what does he mean? Specifically, what are "nations?" Does Jesus mean the 206 sovereign nation-states that are currently recognized by the United Nations? No, I do not believe that is what he meant.

The original Greek for "all nations" is panta ta ethne. What is the meaning of ethne? I believe that the meaning of ethne (nations) is similar to what we understand a people group to be today. You could maybe say that Jesus' command was to "make disciples of all people groups." Far more could be said to explain this, but I will leave it there for now. 

What is a people group?

A definition for a people group that I find helpful is the product of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization gathering in 1982. It says that "for evangelization purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance." A people group is a group of people that share similar culture, ethnicity, language, caste, etc. Because they have so many characteristics in common, it is easy for the gospel to be shared from person to person, family to family and village to village. But when the gospel runs into a barrier of understanding or acceptance, then you see a line that separates one people group from another.

Barriers of understanding or acceptance are things like language. As someone who only speaks English, it is difficult for me to ask for simple directions, much less share the gospel with someone who only speaks French. This would be a barrier of understanding. Another example would be if someone from one ethnic group who has a sordid past with another ethnic group tries to share the gospel, even if they know the same language and might understand the message, their ethnic histories are a barrier for acceptance.

It doesn't mean these barriers of understanding or acceptance are impossible to overcome, but they are just more challenging and help us to distinguish between different people groups.

Why do people groups matter?

This matters, because we believe that the primary call from Jesus in the Gospels (Mt 24:14, Mt 28:18-20) to make disciples of all nations is to make disciples of all people groups. And there are still many people groups that have no sustainable gospel witness among them. Which means that unless someone crosses a barrier of knowledge or acceptance, they will have little to no change to hear about the life saving message of Jesus. They will live and die without ever having heard about Jesus and having the opportunity to give praise and worship to God.

Depending which characteristics you use, there are about 16,400 people groups in the world. Of those 16,400 people groups, 6,600 of them remain unreached. The number of unreached people's is shrinking, but there is still much work to be done. So, we pray as Jesus taught us, asking that the Lord of the harvest will send laborers into his harvest (Mt 9:38).

When you hear people talk about unreached people groups, it is very important. And it is worth your time to listen and ask yourself how you can contribute to the mission.

Additional Resources

JoshuaProject.net

This is a great website to help you understand people groups more. They have great resources and articles that help to explain these concepts. They also have profiles of all the known people groups in the world, so you can read about them and pray for them.

Perspectives on The World Christian Movement

The Perspectives course is led by the U.S. Center for World Missions and is a 15 week course, designed to teach you about the Biblical, historical, cultural and strategic perspectives on missions. Throughout the 15 weeks, you will have 15 different instructors who are primarily pastors, professors and missionaries. Find a course in your area and consider investing the time to learn more about missions.

David Platt's address at the 2013 TGC National Conference

This is an hour long plenary by David Platt about why the Great Commission is Great. It would be well worth your time to hear his instruction about this important topic.

Do you Know your Neighbors?

Meeting a New neighbor

Earlier this week, I was grilling in the driveway when someone walked by in our alleyway. His name was Andrew (name changed, for his privacy) and he had a dog with him named Milo. He said something about the food smelling good and I responded that hopefully it tastes good. Then, I thought to myself, I am about to write a post about knowing our neighbors, am I really going to let this guy walk by without engaging him more?

So, I introduced myself and walked out the alleyway to shake his hand. After a brief 3-5 minute conversation, he told me where he lived, that he had moved from Atlanta this past fall to work as an engineer for Polaris, and a few other details of his life. My phone alarm went off, indicating that I needed to flip my chicken, so I went back to the grill and he continued his walk. It was a short interaction, but a great introduction.

As we seek to be men and women who multiply our faith into others in our community, we will need to be intentional about getting to know them. Multiplying our faith requires intentionality in relationships.

Knowing our neighbors is important

I have written elsewhere about the importance of our Relational Sphere of Influence (RSI), which I define as the people I have a relationship with as a result of my natural rhythms of life, including my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, fellow parents, hair stylist, convenience store clerk, etc.

Our RSI is one of the primary avenues through which we can share the gospel. Are you investing in yours and taking advantage of the most natural pathways to relationship? Your neighbors are one of the easiest ways to get to know others; are you engaging with your neighbors?

It doesn't need to be complicated. It can literally begin with just a short 3-5 minute conversation. Then you can begin praying for them regularly and watch intentionally for other pathways to develop a relationship.

If I were to ask you to list the names of 10 neighbors, could you do it?

Multiplying our faith requires intentionality in relationships.

Missional Activity: Knowing your neighbors

Regardless how you answered the question about knowing 10 neighbors, here is an activity to get you started. And in the interest of full disclosure, I did this activity in preparation for this post - and I could not quite get to 10 neighbors. SO... I am writing this as much for you as for me. We all need to continue to find ways to invest in our relationships with our neighbors. And if you are married, it would be great to do this activity with your spouse.

Step 1: Create a diagram to give you a visual representation of your neighborhood or condo/apartment building 

Step 2: Write down the names of 10 neighbors and put them in the appropriate place on your diagram

Note: A “neighbor” for the purpose of this activity would be a whole family unit. So it might be more accurate to think of it as 10 households.

Step 3: Write some observable facts you know about each neighbor

For example: Where are they from? How long have they been in the neighborhood? Occupations? Hobbies? 

Step 4: Write down some “beneath the surface” information you know about them.

For example: Have they struggled with addictions in the past? Have they recently had a family member die? Have they always dreamed of owning their own business? Are there particular things they often complain about? What are their hopes and fears?

Step 5: Write down what you know about their faith.

For example: Have you had conversations about faith? What do you know about their own experience of faith? Did they grow up in church? Are they apathetic to faith? Curious about faith?

Pray, Wait and Watch

Pray: Once you have written down the names, begin to regularly pray for each of them (Tip: using the PrayerMate app can help). Pray for opportunities to care for them, love them and share the gospel with them. You cannot love your neighbors well on your own, you needs God's power and energy working through you and working in their lives.

Wait: Be patient as you wait for God to work. It might be tomorrow, it might be next week, or might not be until next year. Don't rush things by your own power, let God do the work.

Watch: Be intentional in your relationships and watch for open doors. Pray for strength to walk through them when they present themselves. Whether it is simply walking to the end of the alleyway to meet someone new, or inviting them over for a burger and beer the next time you see them. Watch with an expectant heart and jump on the opportunities when they come.

The "3-minute Rule" could have a Major Impact on Your Church

Welcome your Guests Well

There is a contemporary discussion happening between missional vs. attractional churches. I believe it is a false dichotomy to pit them against one another, because it is not necessary to chose between them. That being said, I see more danger in the longterm impact for the church when we drift heavily toward the attractional models to the neglect of the missional ones.

Today, I am going to argue for a practice that is motivated by both attractional and missional mindedness. And it has to do with welcoming our guests well on Sundays. When someone, especially someone who is unchurched or dechurched, crosses the many barriers there are between them and a local church gathering, we should honor that step and do our best to help them feel welcomed and loved in our community.

If someone is a guest on a Sunday, it means they have come to you (attractional), but you taking the initiative to welcome them and get to know them requires you to take a step toward them (missional). And it is a much easier step for you than befriending someone new outside the doors of your church. Welcoming guests on Sundays is critical. What is one way you can do that better?

You can institute the 3-minute rule.

What is the 3-minute Rule?

The 3-minute rule is really quite simple and it is based on the idea that within the first three minutes after the Sunday morning service ends, nearly all your guests have either been engaged in conversation or have left the building. They won't hang around, sitting alone, with no one to talk with them. Sadly, most church goers first action after the service ends is to find their best friends and catch up with them. When churches practice the 3-minute rule, they intentionally find the people they don't know first and engage them in conversation. Your friends will probably still be there when you finish meeting someone new, so meet the guests first and then catch up with your friends.

Some Tips for Welcoming Guests

Ask about them

The easiest thing you can do is just get to know them. Ask them questions about themselves. Who are they? Are they married? Kids? Jobs? School? Small talk does not come easily to everyone, so I will not assume that everyone is inherently good at this, but do your best to just keep asking questions and genuinely listen to their answers.

"How long have you been coming here?"

Whenever I encourage people to meet someone new after the service, I often hear that they are afraid they will introduce themselves to someone who isn't new. First of all, that isn't a problem. If you are part of the church, and they are part of the church, then it is not a problem for you to meet one another.

Just don't ask the awkward question, "are you new?" After you have introduced yourself, then simply ask, "How long have you been coming here?" This is more open-ended and allows for people to say they are new, or that they have been there for months or even years.

What is your background with faith and church?

Depending on how well the conversation is going, you may feel comfortable to feel out where they are at in their own faith journey. Instead of asking, "Are you a Christian?" You could simply ask them to share what their background is with faith and/or church. Another question you could ask is, "What made you decide to check out our church today?" Allow them to answer your question, listen to their answer, and ask follow up questions that are applicable.

Welcoming guests well on a Sunday is a culture you create, not a program to be planned.

Know your church’s follow-up plan

Get to know your church's plan for following up with new guests. Every church should have one. Just ask a pastor or staff member what yours is, and if there isn't one, then your question might prompt an important discussion. At First Baptist Church, we want people to fill out a Communication Card, get a free gift from our Welcome Center and then attend our next Guest Lunch and/or Starting Point class. Those are baseline next steps. Each of them allows us to continue following up with them, helping them to eventually engage with our Community Groups and Serve Teams, so they can grow into a mature disciple of Jesus as part of our community.

Try to find them next Sunday

Once you have met them on a Sunday, remember their name and look for them the next week. Studies have shown that if someone does not form a genuine relationship with someone at the church (that isn't a pastor or staff) within the first six months, they will probably look for a new church. SO, look for them the next week and try to say hello. You just might the genuine relationship they form at your church.

Its a culture you create not a program to be planned

This is not something that can be planned. It cannot be done through a program or forced onto people. It needs to become part of the culture, the ethos, of your church. And it begins with you! The tipping point to change the culture of a community or organization is not that high. If you can get 10-20% of your people committed to intentionally welcoming guests, the culture will change rapidly. Be one of the people who helps to enact that change and engage someone you don't know in conversation this coming Sunday.

Your Turn: If you take the initiative to meet someone new next Sunday, stop back and let us know how it went.

Following Jesus Means... We Fish for Something New

I have begun a series on the multiple uses of the word follow (akoloutheo) in the gospels. The word is used in multiple ways, but one of the primary uses is to describe someone who commits to following Jesus as his disciple. We can learn a lot about what it means to follow Jesus by examining the different instances when follow (akoloutheo) is uses.

Posts in the series:

We have been given a new job

Following Jesus means that we fish for something new. No longer are we fully occupied by our current or former professions, but we invest our energy into a new task. In the midst of Jesus calling his first disciples, he makes a statement that has become well known and often repeated. Jesus tells his first disciples, "Follow (deute opiso)  me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt 5:19, see also Mk 1:17 and Lk 5:10)." It says in the following verse "Immediately, they left their nets and followed (akoloutheo) him (Mt 5:20)."

Note: For the integrity of this study (of the word follow), it is important to note that the Greek work that is translated as follow in verse 19 is different than the Greek work translated as follow in verse 20. Although, the usage is similar in the two passages, and does not prohibit us from extracting the lesson that followers of Jesus have been made into "fishers of men."

When you follow Jesus, you have been called to also help others become his disciples. The initial call to his disciples is at the beginning of his ministry, but Jesus gives a similar call at the end of his ministry. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... (Mt 28:18-19a)." Without a doubt, part of what it means to follow Jesus is to help others follow him too.

Without a doubt, part of what it means to follow Jesus is to help others follow him too.

Fishing for men

I grew up in a family that loves to fish. My grandfather fishes, my mother fishes, my father fishes and they have made it a point to teach my brothers and me how to fish. Fishing is currently not a regular part of my life, but I enjoy getting the opportunity to fish when it does happen. I recall many times when my dad would be up late re-spooling our fishing pools, getting his tackle box organized or taking care of other miscellaneous tasks in preparation for a fishing trip. In this way, fishing is intentional. It is not passive. You cannot just show up on the shoreline of a lake with no preparation, knowledge or tools and hope to catch anything.

Jesus says that as his followers, we are now called to prepare and invest in the task of calling others to follow him. Do you think about this on a regular basis? How have you invested in Jesus' call to invite others to follow him?

What can we learn from the fishing analogy?

Jesus uses the concept of fishing to communicate the new and glorious task his disciples would be called to as his followers. While the analogy is not comprehensive, we can learn a few things about fishing for men when we think about fishing for fish.

1. We Must be Prepared

Fishing requires preparation. We need to get the right tools, know what sort of fish are common in the body of water, know how to tie a fishing line, etc. You cannot just show up and expect fish to jump into your boat.

Trying to share the good news of Jesus requires a certain degree of preparation as well. You might say, no it doesn't - you need only to know Jesus yourself and then the Holy Spirit will do the rest. While that may be true to some degree, the Bible also advocates that we are "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)." As we grow in our own faith, and desire to be increasingly more effective at sharing the gospel, we should be prepared.

Being prepared means that we know something about the worldview those around us - know their basic assumptions, their questions and their idols. Being prepared also means that we have answers for those questions. If someone has questions about whether we can trust the Bible, are we ready to give an answer? We do not have to know all the answers, but we should try to be as prepared as we reasonably can.

2. We Must Be Patient

Fishing also requires patience. I have been on the lake with nothing in the bucket one day, and catching my limit on another. You cannot always predict when the fish will bite, it requires patience. I personally like to go fishing when I know that I can catch fish. Others say that, "A bad day fishing is better than a good day working." Maybe you agree...

Patience is also required when we "fish for men." It can take time for barriers to break down, questions to be answered, wounds to mend and for people to come to faith in Jesus. You cannot always predict who will respond to the gospel, and we need to be patient when we invite others to follow Jesus. Don't give up though. Love people well, share the good news and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.

3. We Must Be Proactive

You cannot sit at home and expect fish to wonder up to your door. If you are going to catch fish, you need to go to the lake, get in a boat and put your line in the water.

Sharing the gospel also requires us to be proactive. We need to get into relationships with people that don't know Jesus. If you spend all your time with people that already follow him, you will never have the opportunity to invite new people into a relationship with Jesus. Not only that, if you never speak about your own relationship with Jesus to the people you already know, it will also be difficult to invite them into a relationship with him. Be proactive in the task of sharing Jesus with others.

What is your next step?

As a follower of Jesus, you are called to "fish for men." You do not have to be Mr. Evangelism. That is not what I am saying, nor is it what Jesus says. Just take a step toward a life of multiplication. It can even be small, but take a step. Before you leave your computer or phone, take a moment to write down one step you will take to be a more proactive fisher of men. And share it in the comments for others to read.

Facebook doesn't have to be evil: How Christians can (and should) use social media

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/WBWKY1FQ2I

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/WBWKY1FQ2I

Social media: good or bad?

With the explosion of social media over the last decade, it has caused appropriate angst in Christians. We see the way Facebook has caused addictive behaviors and undermined relationships. As a result of social media on mobile devices, husbands and wives commonly say to one another, "Would you please put down your phone?!?!" I was waiting in line at my bank a few months ago and 11 out of the 12 people waiting with me pulled out their phones - likely to check something on social media. Just two days ago, I brought my kids to the park and saw four other kids playing on the playground while their mother sat in her car on her phone.

As I throw daggers at these unsuspecting people, I need to confess that I also reach for my phone far too often. When I am at home, I need to set my phone on the counter far away from me, or out of habit, I will pull it out of my pocket to check Facebook or some other app.

Social media (and mobile phones in general) do not need to be seen as evil or destructive. Like many of the things in this world, often very good things, social media can become a consuming idol if we are not careful. I believe there are some principles that can guide a Christians use of social media which are consistent with a Biblically grounded vision of life.

How Christians can (and should) use social media

Create boundaries

It is essential that Christians set appropriate boundaries in many areas of life and social media is no exception. The boundaries you set should be appropriate for you and your relationship to social media. If you sense an extreme attachment, then you may need to create more boundaries. This could mean setting your phone on the counter when you get home from work and leaving it there for the night. It might mean you delete the app from your phone all together. You need to decide what is right for you. The important thing is that you are proactive and set the necessary boundaries. If you are passive in your relationship to social media, it will eventually creep into your life in unhealthy ways and you will soon be confronted with the reality that you have made it into an idol.

Be selfless and generous

Social media is a great way to be selfless. It is so often framed as a medium that promotes selfishness, but I don't believe it has to be that way. Our friends, family and loved ones are often sharing different moments from their lives. Their child may have just taken their first steps, they might be celebrating an anniversary or maybe they got to enjoy a local sporting event. Social media gives us an opportunity to encourage and affirm our friends through likes and comments. We can acknowledge them and be generous in our affirmation.

Celebrate

As we are generous with others, we also have the opportunity to celebrate events in our own lives and the lives of those around us. My wife and I recently had a reveal party to find out the gender of our newest baby. It was a very meaningful time for our growing family (we found out it was a boy!) and it was fun to celebrate with the friends and family that gathered with us. Through Instragram, Twitter and Facebook, we were able to share that moment with hundreds of people who were not able to be there, but got to find out right along with us. Not every moment in our lives needs to be shared via social media, there are some that we should intentionally keep private. But some of our moments do get to be shared and celebrated with the large community that social media creates.

Conduct yourselves well

It is incredible to see how people act on social media - especially some who claim to follow Jesus. For some reason, computer mediated communication (ie. email, social media, blogs) gives people the impression that they can be mean and nasty. Some people are just mean in general, but others are only through social media. If you follow Jesus, then the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) governs your actions on social media just as much as when you engage with someone in person. Before you post that comment, ask yourself - Is this Loving? Is this Joyful? Is this Peaceable? Is this Patient? Is this Kind? Is this Good? Is this Faithful? Is this Gentle? Is this Self-controlled? If you cannot answer yes, don't hit enter.

Add value to others lives

Through social media we are able to add value to others lives through the things we share. When you read an article or blog that was helpful, you can share it with others. If you bought a product that you enjoyed, you can let others know where to buy one too. You can share quotes or Bible verses that may encourage others. Every time you share something on social media, you have the opportunity to add value to the lives of others. Do you consider that when you engage in social media?

Platform

Social media has given many authors, bloggers, speakers, designers, etc. a platform to share their message with the world. If you have a message worth sharing, then social media is an opportunity to get it into the world. Anyone who follows Jesus has a very important message to share with the world, and we can be creative in the way we do that through social media.

You don't see everything about another person's life

People often share only the good things in life. Remember that when you scroll through your newsfeed. In fact, there is sort of an unwritten expectation that we will not fill one another's newsfeed with constant complaining. We don't often hear about the bad or hard stuff, and Facebook isn't always the best medium to share it anyway. SO, remember that you don't see everything about another person's life. Don't think your life sucks because you are not perpetually living a "social media share worthy" moment. Not every moment in your life will feel like it is worthy of a share because no one has an every moment is worthy of a share type of life. Even though you might feel like they do, they don't. Be careful of this trap and guard your heart.

Life is not about you

Your life isn't really about you anyway. It is first and foremost about God. It is about the glory and fame of His name. After that, Jesus calls us to serve others and says that the way to true greatness in the Kingdom of God is through service (Mark 10:42-45). Don't get too caught up in how many friends you have or how many likes you get, because it has never really been about you. You are not the center of the world, but sometimes social media can make you feel like you are.

Social media does not give us our worth and value, because that comes from Jesus.

Remember that your worth and value is not in notifications

We can sometimes equate our worth and value with the size of the number inside that little red dot next to the Facebook app on our phone. Our worth and value does not come from how many friends we have, how many shares we get or how many likes we accumulate. As followers of Jesus, our worth and identity is found in him. Jesus has given us new life (Eph 2:5), he has made us children of God (Eph 1:5), he has made us righteous (2 Cor 5:21), he has made us a light to the world (Matthew 5:14) and he has redeemed us from the curses (Gal 3:13). Through Jesus, we are more loved than we ever thought possible and in him we find our worth and our value. It can be easy to forget that and search for it in other places. Social media does not give us our worth and value, because that comes from Jesus. A Christian who uses social media well reminds themselves of this often.

Question: In the comments below, let me know your experience with social media and how you have sought to engage in it well as a Christian?

4 ways to think differently about what it means to "be the church"

Do you "fit"?

Do you ever wonder if you "fit" in church? I recently read an article about a young man who faithfully served his church for many years but eventually got burnt out and disillusioned. He wondered if the corporate church was the right place for him. And he is not alone in that sentiment. As a result, there are many people who are disengaged from their local church, others who jump from church to church hoping to find something different, and still others who leave the church all together.

There are many reasons that contribute to people making those choices. It isn't helpful to point the finger and blame any single entity. Individual people sometimes make bad choices because of poor motivations. People can also be disillusioned by a church culture that doesn't always resemble much of the vision God put forward in the Scriptures.

I am suggesting that one way we can help people engage in our church communities is to begin to think differently about what it means to "be the church."

photo cred: www.pixabay.com

photo cred: www.pixabay.com

4 ways to think differently about what it means to "be the church"

1. The church is people, not events or buildings

I think that most Christians get this - at least on an intellectual level. If our most faithful members were pressed to define what "the church" is in Biblical terms, most would give an answer that had something to do with people. But unfortunately that is not how we always function or use language. We often think of church as events or programs. We "go to church" on Sunday mornings. Or we think of it as a building or location. When I am scheduling a mid-week lunch meeting, sometimes people meet me "at church."

If we freed our church family to think of themselves primarily as a community of people sent to their city as Jesus' representatives in the world, how would that change what it means to "be the church." As I type this on my patio at home on a Monday afternoon, I am no less a part of my church family than when I was sitting in my office earlier today. When my community group members are in class or at work today, they were just as much a part of our church as when they are sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. And I don't just mean that they are part of the church as one of its identified members. When they are engaging their coworkers, classmates or neighbors, they are actually doing the work of the church as much as they are when they serve as Connections Team members on Sunday morning.

The church is people. Not events or buildings. Therefore, the work of the church is being done by those very people each and every day as they engage in their different spheres of influence. It is being done each and every day, not just when they come to participate in a program or event.

The church is people. Not events or buildings.

2. The church goes, it doesn't just wait for people to come

The local church is the locally gathered "sent ones" of God. We are called to go, not just wait. This means that to "be the church" in our city requires us to function outside the walls or programs of our church. We engage in our neighborhoods and communities in order to build relationships, seek the good of those around us and bring the message of Jesus with us.

We do organize events, ministries and programs that are oriented around normal meeting times. These are important for the life of a local church. For example, a Sunday morning gathering is part of the normal rhythm of most churches. It is an important time for the church to gather, study God's word, sing songs of praise and engage with one another. And people who are exploring faith may join us on Sundays to learn more about Jesus.

But the mission of the church is not complete just through our gatherings. God has called us to go. That means we go as individuals, families and smaller groups. This cannot be an organized event by church staff or leadership. Each member is empowered to carry the message of Jesus into their own neighborhoods and communities. This means that every member of the church plays a pivotal role in what it means to "be the church." Have we empowered everyone to carry that responsibility? Have we called everyone to the glorious task of going each week to their own spheres as Christ's "sent ones?" I think people would have a greater sense of purpose in their lives if they saw themselves as doing the work of the church in every part of their lives.

3. Serving the church includes loving our neighbors, not just volunteering in a church organized ministry

At First Baptist Church, we have been growing a wonderful and fruitful partnership with a ministry called In Love, Word and Deed (ILWD). I am so grateful to God for the way that we have worked together to serve the homeless of downtown Minneapolis. We regularly invite our church members to participate in this ministry. We also recently organized a number of opportunities for our church to serve together during #FBCServes.

While it is important for us to provide opportunities for our church to serve our local neighborhood, and while it is necessary for us to corporately serve our neighborhood as an expression of what it means to follow Jesus, it is not the only way to serve the church.

It is necessary for every member to know that their intentional work to love their neighbors is a way that they serve the mission of the church. Our church family serves each time one of our members serves by intentionally loving their own neighbors.

Your own church might be organizing opportunities for you to corporately serve together. You should find ways to engage in those opportunities, but you should also know that loving your neighbors well is no less important.

4. The mission of the church is God's glory, not our own fame

Ultimately, it isn't about us. It isn't about any individual person. It isn't about any individual family or group. It isn't about any one single church or association of churches. It is about God. We are seeking to make worshipers of God, so that He might receive all the glory and credit and fame.

This is worth all our time and talents. We are not trying to build up any single church or person. We do however want more and more people to enter into a life-saving relationship with Jesus and then live in worship to our great God.

A week dedicated to serving

FBC Serves

I am writing this post to give thanks to God for the great work that was done through the wonderful people of First Baptist Church last week. We had an entire week dedicated to loving our neighbors and we saw God do some amazing things. By the time last Sunday rolled around I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, but my spirit was full.

Our Family Ministries Pastor had a vision to spend a week serving our neighbors. This vision birthed what became known as #FBCServes. During the week our church family filled nearly 150 volunteer spots while serving hundreds of people in various ways. We served families waiting for the Torchlight parade, helped to beautify the local Loring Park rose garden, helped to feed and clothed over 200 homeless and much more. It was a privilege to see our church family rally together for our week of service and may God be honored and glorified through our work.

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16)."

I am writing this to give thanks to God for his good work. It is not to make a name for myself or our church. It is not to pat ourselves on the back as if we have it all figured out. It is to celebrate the good work that God did in and through our community and give all the praise and recognition to Him.

Why do we Serve?

It is consistent with our love for Jesus

It is impossible to claim to love Jesus and not lovingly serve our neighbors. A clear call from Jesus to his followers is that we would engage in acts of love that meet real and tangible needs in the life of those around us. We are called to serve people around us. To humble ourselves and seek the good of others. Jesus told his disciples that the greatest in the Kingdom would be those who serve (Mk. 10: 42-45). Elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that it is impossible to claim a love for God if we do not also love our neighbors (1 John 4:19-21). God has redeemed us so that we would be zealous to do good works, which God has prepared for us (Titus 2:14, Eph 2:10).

It brings glory to God

God calls us to love others well as a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. I would not want to minimize the importance of God's call to simply love others well. But that is not the only reason engage in acts of service. It also provides a great testimony to the God we love. The Bible talks about our good works serving as a way to bring glory to God (1 Peter 3:12, Mt 5:16). This provides a credible testimony to others and gives an opportunity to share the gospel.

Highlights for the week

Over the week, we had the opportunity to serve in many different ways. Here is a recap of all the things that God did through our community during FBC Serves.

Torchlight Tailgate

We kicked off our serve week by hosting our annual Torchlight Tailgate. This event is geared toward serving the hundreds of people who sit near our church along the parade route, which runs along Hennepin Ave. We had over 50 volunteers help to provide inflatables, face painting, crafts, juggling entertainment, sleight of hand entertainment, popcorn and 480 hot dogs. Between adults and children we had well over 500 people come through our parking lot that night. It was amazing to watch all the volunteers rally together to put on this event.

Baking treats for our Neighbors

On Thursday night we had 20 people join us to make brownies, cookies and other baked goods for our neighboring offices. There were also others who brought some treats they had made at home. Through all those efforts we were able to package up 20 gift boxes that were filled with baked goods.

Passing out treats to our neighbors

On Friday morning, a team of people took those 20 gift boxes to some of our neighboring offices. We were able to bless some of the hard working people who are located in offices near us. It was a joy to wish them all a happy Friday and give them all some delicious treats. The reception we got was fantastic!

Weeding the Loring Park Rose Garden

Another team of people worked with some organizers form Loring Park to help clear the large Rose Garden on the corner of Hennepin and Oak Grove. We had hoped for a few more volunteers for this, but the ones who came worked very hard on a hot day. It was a great way to bless our local community by helping to care for that important community space.

Community Fun Day with Local Aeon Apartments

On Friday afternoon, two teams of people went to two different affordable housing apartment buildings near the church. We provided some community activities including bingo, games and crafts to help build relationships and support the community development of those apartments. We also made some bagged meals and cleaned some of the community spaces. The residents were very thankful and it was great to spend time with some of our neighboring residents.

Homeless outreach with In Love, Word and Deed

We hosted one of our regular Saturday outreaches with In Love, Word and Deed (ILWD). We have loved our partnership with this amazing ministry and it was great to include an ILWD Saturday Outreach as part of #FBCServes. We gave away 200 chili dogs, 200 bagged meals, a significant amount of clothes and as much prayer as people wanted to receive. As always, our partnership with ILWD was an amazing opportunity to have a tangible expression of God's love for people.

Making Blankets for Children's Hospital and hearing from a missionary

On Sunday morning, we coordinated an opportunity to hear from one of our missionaries, Gary and Pat Olander who works with Cru City in Phoenix and we also made tie blankets for the Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. We had about 40 people come from all different generations. We had the youngest to the oldest all working together to make 10 different blankets for the Children's Hospital.

Let this be a catalyst

Our FBC Serves week was meant to be a way for us to have a concentrated effort toward serving our community in tangible ways. We saw many people volunteer from the church and I am amazed at what God did during that week.

But...

Let this be a catalyst. Let it be a beginning, not an end. Our FBC Serves week was not a period at the end of a sentence. It was more like the first word of a beautifully composed prose. Our prayer is that this would awaken an even deeper desire in our church family to love people through serving. May God be glorified in our efforts to love our neighbors well.

As you finish reading this, please ask yourself how you can get involved. Are there ways that you can love those around you? Are there ways you can partner with us at FBC or with your own church community to engage in a tangible expression of God's love, so that he would be glorified and that more and more people would worship Him.

The glorious endeavor of work

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/BF24DAFE14

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/BF24DAFE14

Work is a gift from God

It is an unfortunate but common misunderstanding for Christians to feel that their job or work is secondary in comparison to that of a pastor or missionary. Either implicitly or explicitly, the message has been communicated that working a "normal job" is just a hindrance to doing "actual ministry." I am not entirely sure where this idea has come from. I would guess you could trace its development throughout history, but I am not going to attempt that in this post.

My goal is to present a framework that shows the beauty of our work and God's design for us to work. I was reminded of this recently while reading the book Middlemarch. This classic book by George Eliot is one of those books that commonly finds itself in a list of the top 100 novels everyone should read. Especially lists that are created by the Brits.

Within the book there is a simple yet profound character named Caleb Garth. Caleb is a man who cares a great deal about doing good work that requires some manual labor. He calls this "business." After being offered the honorable task of managing two different estates, he was reflecting on the privilege it would be to engage in this new business. Caleb was often unconcerned with money, because the work itself was worth doing. His wife on the other hand, appropriately concerned about the necessary income required to pay for food, shelter and other necessities, encouraged him to request a fair wage for this new work.

In the following passage, Caleb reflected on the new work he had been offered. There is a great reverence in his words for the work itself. As I read it this past week, it reminded me of the great value there is the glorious task of work:

"'No, no; but it's a fine thing to come to a man when he's seen into the nature of business; to have a chance of getting a bit of the country into good fettle, a they say, and putting men into the right way with their farming, and getting a bit of good contriving and solid building done - that those who are living and those who come after will be better for. I'd sooner have it than a fortune. I hold it the most honorable work that is.' Here Caleb laid down his letters, thrust his fingers between the buttons of his waistcoat, and sat upright, but presently proceeded with some awe in his voice and moving his head slowly aside - 'It's a great gift of God, Susan.'"

- Middlemarch, by George Eliot

I love the way Caleb ends this paragraph. He views the work itself, not just the income it would provide, as a great gift from God. While Caleb is not an intellectual character, he might have most pure and accurate understanding of work you could find in all of literature.

God created work from the beginning

The task of work is something God created us to do. Before the fall, before things were tarnished by sin, God instituted work. Here is what it says in the early part of Genesis:

"then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil... The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:7-9;15 ESV)"

Before the fall, God put the man in the garden to work it and keep it. We have been called to cultivate God's creation from the very beginning. Work has always been part of what it means to be God's people. Our work itself is part of what God has created us for. That is good news. Your work is not meaningless. It is not simply a way to earn a paycheck. It is not a waste of time or something you must endure until you can do "real ministry." Our work is an important element in the framework of how God created us to function.

The fall tainted our understanding of work and has made it more of a burden than God originally intended (Genesis 3:17-19). The good news of gospel of Jesus is that not only are we made righteous, but our work is also being redeemed. We have the privilege of helping to renew God's purpose in our own sphere of work.

The task of work is something God created us to do.

You have been called to your work

The root of the English word vocation (another word for career or occupation) comes from the Latin verb voca, which means "to call." This suggests that the notion of your work being something you have been called to do is not only a Biblical concept but also one that has been present at different points throughout history. The speech given by Caleb Garth in Middlemarch also points to work being something more than simply a way to generate an income - it is a God given gift to be able to work.

Do you feel called to your work? If your primary vocation is as a stay at home mother, do you feel called to that role? Do you feel called to the glorious task of raising little disciples of Jesus? If your vocation is in the area of Human Resources, do you feel called to provide support to the employees of your company? Do you feel called to help provide fair and equitable conditions for the men and women who work for your employer? If your primary vocation is as a landscaper, do you feel called to the work of beautifying the grounds of a building or home? Whatever your current vocation, do you feel called to it? If not, maybe you need to change your perspective on the work you have been called to do. Or maybe you need to find a way to change your work so that it has greater alignment with the vocation you believe God has called you.

Regardless of whether your current profession is a perfect fit, you have still been called by God to steward your current work well while you are there. Paul gave the following exhortation to the church in Colossae, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)." Our work brings glory to God in the way that we conduct ourselves and also in the quality of the work itself. Our work is a context to verbally share the good news of Jesus and also represent the good news of Jesus through our work itself.

One day, when God makes all things right in the world, I fully believe that we will still work. Our vocations will be perfected, and we will have a greater sense of purpose in our work. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and gave the task of work before the fall. We were created for work and when God renews his creation and sets things right again I see no reason to think it will go away. We will continue to work and you and I have the privilege of helping to bring God's Kingdom to bear in our sphere of work even now.

4 Ways You can Help to Welcome Guests at Church on Sundays

Our guests are important

Each weekend in America, somewhere between 60 - 120 million people will attend some sort of church gathering. Among those who enter the doors of our church buildings, a small portion of them will be first-time guests. Are you prepared to welcome your guests and help them become engaged members of your church community, so that they will ultimately grow into mature disciples of Jesus?

Fewer and fewer Americans have an affinity for faith. The 60 - 120 million who will attend a church gathering make up only about 20-40 % of our entire country's population. The affinity for faith that people have changes as you move from region to region, but overall there are less and less people who will seek out your church on Sunday morning. Therefore, we cannot wait for them to come to us. We need to go to them. Church leaders will need to focus their energy in helping to train and equip their members to see themselves as representatives of Christ in their workplaces, neighborhoods and schools.

Even though we need to shift our mentality to think more missionally, that doesn't mean we should give up on our Sunday gatherings as a place where people can come and be reached. Sunday morning is still a time that people recognize as the time when churches gather. If the average American was asked when people attend church, they would likely answer Sunday morning. People who are searching for faith are still inclined to find a church service they might want to attend.

My church is located in an area of Minneapolis that has a lower than average connection to faith. Within a half mile of our church building, there are about 21,000 people. The overwhelming majority of whom are young urban professionals. The population block that makes us 70% of our neighbors only makes up about 3% of our country's entire population. Our average neighbor is not looking for a church, and as a result, our church community is considering our current ministry models to ask ourselves how we can be more effective at reaching them. We cannot expect them to come to us. That doesn't change the fact that we still have an average of 3-5 new guests each Sunday, most of whom live within walking distance of our church building.

Bottom line, even while the culture shifts around us and affinity for faith decreases, we still have new guests join us nearly every Sunday. Being intentional to welcome those guests and reach them is important. They have already crossed one of the most difficult barriers to engaging in faith. Be ready to welcome them, get them connected with your community and disciple them into maturity as a follower of Jesus.

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/RO6SYEWM4S

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/RO6SYEWM4S

4 ways you can be involved in welcoming guests

1. Everyone should feel responsible

Do you feel responsible to welcome guests on Sundays? You should. There might be a ministry at your church that organizes volunteers to help greet people. It can be easy to assume that those ministry volunteers have got it covered and therefore you shouldn't need to feel responsible. But this could not be further from the truth. Being greeted by someone who is supposed to greet you is not nearly as welcoming as having a friendly conversation with someone who is simply interested in getting to know you. Having volunteers committed to welcoming our guests is important, but it should not be a substitute from having a culture of everyone feeling responsible to welcome our guests.

When I was helping to plant a church in Fargo, ND, we intentionally resisted the urge to create a team of volunteers to greet. We did not want to give our current members an excuse to not welcome our guests. Because there was no assigned group to welcome people, everyone in our church felt responsible to be part of welcoming our guests.

If you are a ministry leader, help your congregation create a culture where everyone feels responsible to welcome your guests. Whether you are a ministry leader or not, you should feel personally responsible to welcome your guests. Try it this week. When you gather together this weekend, look for someone you don't know and introduce yourself. You can start with these two question:

Hello, my name is ____________. What is your name? (wait for their answer)

I don't believe we have met before, how long have you been coming to ________________ Church?

From there, you can just get to know them.

Do you feel responsible to welcome guests on Sundays? You should.

2. Don't just welcome, follow-up later

This is extremely important. Don't just welcome the new people, make a habit of following up again later. I recently read that if someone does not develop a meaningful relationship with someone from the church community (that isn't a pastor) within the first six months, they will probably not stick around. And can we blame them? Having meaningful community is central to what it means to be the church. We talk about community and say that it is a value we have, so if someone cannot develop community with anyone in the first six months, they are probably not coming back.

You can do this in a variety of ways. Invite them out to lunch after church with you and some friends. You could also ask for their email address or phone number and then follow-up with them later that week. Or you could just look for them the following week and make it a point to say hello (and remember their name).

3. Know how guests can get involved

Be aware of your church's opportunities for new people. At First Baptist Church, we have a gift bag for all of our new guests. If your church has something like that, be aware of it and direct the new people to where they can get their free gift. We also have a guest lunch every 5-6 weeks and a Starting Point class. Beyond that, we have a goal of getting people connected to one of our Community Groups and help them join one of our Serve Teams. Be aware of what opportunities exist in your church and help connect your guests to those opportunities. And maybe you are part of a Community Group yourself. If so, invite them to join yours and help them connect with a small community who are seeking to grow as followers of Jesus.

4. Join the welcome team at your church

If you really love to greet and welcome people, then consider volunteering to be part of your church's welcome team. Ours is called the Connections Team, and the mission of that team is to help our guests feel welcomed and loved. Find your church's team, and ask how you can help!

I intentionally listed this one fourth, because the best way to welcome our guests is to create a culture in which everyone feels responsible to be a welcoming presence. But that doesn't preclude the need for welcome teams, so consider joining the one at your church.

In summary, here are four ways you can help to welcome your guests on Sundays:

  1. Everyone should feel responsible (including you)
  2. Don't just welcome, follow-up later
  3. Know how guests can get involved
  4. Join the welcome team at your church

I want to hear from you

In the comments section below:

1. Tell us about a time that you helped to welcome someone to your church and were able to see them eventually get involved

Or

2. Tell us about a time that you felt welcomed when you first visited a new church.

What if your role in God's mission was to simply participate?

Helping our Father

Our part in the mission of God is more like that of a toddler helping his father with a project than it is like an employee who has been delegated a task from his boss. I have already discussed the lessons I have learned from being a father, but I have again received an acute picture from my relationship with son. This time it is about how we engage in God's mission. We recently got a new table and chairs for my wife on her birthday. She had been asking for a new table for many years, and we were finally able to pull the trigger and get a new set (thank you Becker Furniture World for having a 50% off sale - plus an additional 10% - although is it really much of a sale if nearly everything in your store is nearly always on sale...? I digress.)

It was one of those table and chair sets that needs to be assembled. I actually really enjoy putting things together, so I don't mind the work. The time, mess and chaos it creates is the real challenge in our home. When my son Liam sees me start pulling out parts, hardware and tools, he always says, "can I help!?!?" I often indulge him, and it is a joy for me to have my little boy helping me put things together. But let's be honest - the task would be easier to accomplish if he wasn't helping. During the course of assembling the table, chairs and bench we had a few incidents that sidetracked my progress. At one point Liam was breaking the styrofoam in half and small white pieces began floating through the air, which I later had to clean up before our 15 month old tried to eat them. He was trying to help me get a ratchet wrench and opened the case the wrong way, causing the attachments to spill all over our train table. And at another point, he dropped a nut down the air vent. He proclaimed, "uh oh!" We were able to retrieve it, so all was not lost.

We eventually got all the pieces of furniture assembled. When we were done, all the tools were back in their correct place and the room was cleaned from all the styrofoam pieces and other garbage. We got the job done. Liam loved helping me, and I enjoyed having him by my side. This is a small picture of what it is like for us to be part of God's mission, like a small boy helping his father with a project. God could accomplish the task better on his own, but he invites us to be part of the mission. We may at times create more challenges than we solve, but God will see us through. In the end, God will accomplish his mission. He will get the job done.

photo cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/14X0U0OBZS

photo cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/14X0U0OBZS

The task can be daunting

The entire scope of God's mission is far beyond anything that you or I could do on our own. It is intimidating to think about. Renewing all of creation. Drawing rebellious souls into a reconciled relationship with their creator. Eliminating poverty, addiction and oppression. Having a meaningful impact on even one other person can be a daunting task. When your friend approaches you about contemplating suicide or a married couple comes to you at the point when divorce seems like their only option. These alone can feel like more than we can handle. What about the larger systemic problems in our society? Poverty and racism that seem to creep into every city and societal sphere that we can imagine. What about the global mission of seeing people from every tribe, tongue and nation coming to faith in Jesus? Did you know that about 1/3 of the worlds population lives in a location where they have little to no access to the gospel? They will not hear unless someone crosses a culture and goes to them.

Within a half mile of First Baptist Church (where I am a pastor), there are approximately 20,000 people. Many of whom are not engaged in their faith or do not know Jesus at all. Within Minneapolis there are 400,000 people. The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area has about 3 million people. There are 5.5 million people in Minnesota. 316 million in the United States and about 7 billion in the entire world. When helping one person can feel daunting, the population of the whole world is an absolute impossibility to consider helping.

That is a lot of people. And there are a lot of problems to solve in the world. The task of God's global mission is overwhelming to consider. How can we have an impact on such a massive undertaking with the limited years we have on earth? It might feel a bit like setting the box of table and chairs down in the middle of our living room and telling Liam to put it all together. He would never be able to finish the task. Fortunately, that is not how it went. I was there with him. Liam got to tighten a few bolts along the way, but I was the chief actor in the task of assembling the table and chairs. This is the way it works with God's mission. He is accomplishing the task. But we get to be part. We get to tighten a few bolts along the way.

God ensures the mission will be accomplished

We know the outcome at the end of time. God finishes the task. He accomplishes his mission. The book of Revelation ends with a picture of a renewed creation and a beautiful city. It says that there would be "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! (Rev. 7:9-10)" This is the picture at the end of time. People from all tribes and tongues and nations singing praises to our God.

One day, there will be a new heaven, a new earth and a holy city. God will "wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev 21:4)." We can be sure of the eventual outcome. God's mission will be accomplished. He will make sure of that.

We know the outcome at the end of time. God finishes the task. He accomplishes his mission.

Mission as Participation

We get to be part of this great mission. We get to play our small part, knowing and trusting that God will ultimately accomplish the task. Even if we mess up and "drop a bolt into the air vent," God will ensure that his mission is accomplished, but we get to tighten a few bolts here and there. God may allow us the privilege of seeing our friends and family begin a relationship with Jesus. We might have the opportunity to be part of seeing change come to someone's life, or to an entire neighborhood, or even a whole city.

Our role is simply to participate. To be involved in our small way. We need not feel as though it all rests on us, because it doesn't. God is calling us to simply be part of the mission. We get to work with our Father on the greatest mission the world has know. When we see his work happening and cry out, "Can I help?!?!?" His answer is "Yes. Yes my dear child, you can help."

If we chose to not engage in God' mission, it is not to the detriment of his mission, it is to the detriment of our lives. He will finish the task. He will ensure its final completion. If we do not join him, we will get to the end our lives and see that we have missed out. We have missed out on the joy of joining our Father in his great mission. Let's not miss out.

How will you respond?

How is God calling you to respond today? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Ask God how you can be involved? You might need to simply get engaged in the mission. Even in a small way.

2. Renew your confidence in God's ability to finish his mission. You may feel overwhelmed or burnt out. Trust in God's strength, not your own. Remember that your role is to simply fulfill the role God has called you to. The rest is up to him.

3. Invite others to participate. Maybe you are engaged in the mission and trusting that God will accomplish it. But are their people around you who are mission out? Invite them to join the mission along with you.

I would love to hear from you. Comment below on how God is inviting you to respond today.


The 5 ways Christians are called by God

Called by God

The staff team at First Baptist Church have been reading J. Oswald Sanders' classic book Spiritual Leadership together. We are only a couple chapters into the book so far, but I have personally enjoyed the book to this point. The most recent chapter discussed the need for leaders in the church who represent a Biblical vision of leadership. Sanders wrote, "If the world is to hear the church's voice today, leaders are needed who are authoritative, spiritual, and sacrificial (pg. 18 of the 2007 edition)."

Overall, the chapter was about the need for leaders who are prepared to serve God's people in God's ways. While it was not the main thrust of the chapter, there was also a sense of God calling these leaders forth. Moses, Gideon and David were all called by God to lead his people. They were not perfect and they had their flaws, but God used them in mighty ways.

This got me thinking, how are Christians called by God? Is there more than one type of call that a Christian might experience?

I began to think about my own life. I was first called by God in a chair at a youth conference in Steubenville, OH. The speaker shared the story of redemption as revealed through Scripture. He explained that God had created the world and loved his creation, but something had gone wrong. Sin had entered the world and broken the relationship that God had with his people. Because of our sin, God had to remedy the situation on our behalf through the person and work of Jesus. The speaker invited us to respond to the call of God and follow Jesus with our lives. It was there in Ohio that God gave me new life. It was there that God called me to be one of his followers.

I also received a very distinct call during my sophomore year in college. I had gone to North Dakota State University (Go Bison!) to be an architect, but God had other plans. While I sat in an auditorium, God called me into full-time vocational ministry. I didn't know how it would all work itself out, but I knew that God had invited me to a life of ministry. It would take ten more years before I was actually in a full-time vocational ministry position... Sometimes it requires patience to wait for God's timing. I was not always patient, but God remained faithful.

These are just two ways that I was personally called by God. But are there more ways that Christians might be called by God? I believe there are. I have come up with five different ways that Christians are called. I do not claim to have produced a complete and comprehensive list, but these may cause you to reflect more on the ways God has called you as a follower of Jesus.

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The 5 ways Christians are called by God

1. Called to follow Jesus

Our first and most important call is to follow Jesus. There is no more significant call we can receive than to follow Jesus. On the sea of Galilee Jesus called his first disciples to follow him. He said to Simon and Andrew, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt. 4:19)." If you follow Jesus, you have received that call. You may not remember it as a particular moment in time, but somewhere along your journey God called you. He woke you up from an eternal slumber. You went from death to life. Through Jesus, God "delivered us from the present evil age (Gal 1:4)." We often limit the notion of a "call" to just those who work in vocational ministry. But for anyone who follows Jesus, we have the most basic and most important call in common. The call to follow Jesus.

2. Called to be his witnesses

The moment you heeded the call to follow Jesus, you were also called to be his witness. Jesus told his first disciples, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)." As followers of Jesus, we are called to be his witnesses in the world. It doesn't matter our profession, income level, marital status, age, race or any other factor. If we follow Jesus, we are called to be his witnesses. They go hand in hand. In the middle of Jesus' high priestly prayer he says that he has sent his followers into the world in the same way that God had sent Jesus into the world (Jn 17:18). We are all the sent ones of Jesus. The word "sent" here is the greek work apostello, which is where we get the word apostle. This doesn't mean that we are all "capital-A" Apostles. It doesn't even mean that we have all received the apostolic spiritual gifts. What it does mean, is that no matter who you are you are Jesus' sent one. You are called to be his witness in the world. You are called to represent him in word and deed through compassionate ministry and the clear communication of the gospel.

The moment you heeded the call to follow Jesus, you were also called to be his witness.

3. Called to church leadership

A third way that you might be called by God is to invest in your local church as a leader. There are varying degrees of investment you can make as a leader, and therefore varying degrees of call. We see this notion of call represented in Paul's letter to Timothy. Paul wrote about overseers (elders/bishops), "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task (1 Tim 3:1)." The thrust of this verse is that a man will have aspirations of fulfilling this important role within the local church. I am suggesting that this aspiration comes as a result of God's call upon a man who desires that noble task. When we extrapolate this general principle, we can conclude that God may also be calling you to invest your time and talent into the local church by helping to lead a Community Group or other ministry team.

This call does not necessitate you make a change to vocational ministry. In fact, for the vast majority of people who feel called to local church leadership, it will mean the exact opposite. Many will pursue other professions or careers, while also helping to lead their local church. I have a particular friend in mind who feels a very distinct call to local church leadership, but not as a profession. He serves as an administrator in a public school and has a clear sense of call to that role. He also serves as an elder at a local church in Fargo, and provides fantastic leadership to a growing church plant. In my conversations with him, it was apparent that he has a clear sense of call to local church leadership while also serving as a school administrator.

God might be calling you to local church leadership, but it doesn't necessarily require you to change professions. Where might God be calling you to serve?

4. Called to your vocation

When I first began to write this post, this fourth call was going to be titled - "called to vocational ministry." But in fact, everyone is called to their vocation. Not just pastors or missionaries. When did God call you to your vocation? Do you feel a sense of call to your vocation? Martin Luther did some great work in this area to challenge Christians to view their own work as a vocation to which God has called you. If you are a lawyer, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on our justice system. If you are a teacher, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on our education system. If you are in a skilled trade, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on the craftsmanship of our world. Consider your own vocation. How has God called you there, and how can you see God using your work to bring glory to His name?

5. Called to a specific vocational ministry

When the third and fourth calls intersect, you might be called into ministry as a vocation. This may work itself out with you entering pastoral ministry, going overseas as a missionary or working on a college campus for a para-church ministry. In my own experience, it took ten years from when I first received a call to vocational ministry and actually entering into a full-time role. The call to a particular ministry will involve much prayer, discernment, counsel and the leading of God's spirit. This will also involve the clarity of others to help confirm that call. This process can take weeks, months or sometimes even years. But when God calls you, and you find your specific role, it is an awesome privilege. Do not take lightly the unique call to lead God's people into a vibrant faith in God.

How have you felt God's call upon your life?

I would love to hear your stories about how you experienced God's call. How where you called to follow Jesus? How have you seen God's call to be his witness work itself out in your life? Have you been called to church leadership? Include your own stories in the comments below.

Are you known by what you are for? Or what you are against?

What are you known for?

My perception of the things I read and the things I hear, is that Christians are often characterized by what we are against, rather than what we are for. I do not believe it is an entirely fair assessment, but it doesn't change the fact that we can often be perceived as people who are against others. Against others beliefs, against others lifestyles, against others... [fill in the blank].

What if we were known by what we are for?

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

If I were to ask you what defines you as a Christian, how would you answer? If you had to consider what distinguishes you, as a Christian, from the general population, how would you answer? My assumption is that one of the reasons others often perceive Christians by what we are against, is because we personally define ourselves by what we are against. Frankly, that is not a very compelling vision. I am not motivated or inspired by opposing things, but on the other hand I am inspired by the things God affirms in the Scriptures.

I want to be known by what I am for. I want to be known for my love. I want to be known for my grace. I want to be known for my patience. I want people to know that I am for Jesus. The things I want to most define me are the things that I affirm, because the Scriptures affirm them as well.

Should we oppose nothing?

It is a common tendency for us humans to swing the pendulum too far in one direction or another. Lest we assume that in order to be known by what we are for that we need to remove all objections, this is a false dichotomy. There are plenty of things we should oppose. There are plenty of things we should stand against.

When events occur like what happened in Charleston last week, Christians should cry with a united voice that it was an evil act which goes against all that God desires for his creation. We ought to be passionately opposed to the racially motivated murder of innocent people.

We stand against hate and oppression and murder.

There are many acts that we as Christians ought to oppose. There are many behaviors that go against the heart of God in the world.

And it goes beyond just actions and behavior. There are also doctrines that tarnish the gospel of Jesus and are not consistent with the Scriptures. We should fight for truth and thought that is in line with Scripture, and this means we must oppose things.

These are just a couple examples of ways that we are called to stand in opposition to false doctrine and evil behavior. There is far more that can be said about this, but that is not the thrust of this post. My goal is to say that the church of Jesus Christ would be well served to consider what we are for. This little aside is to communicate that it doesn't mean we should not oppose anything, but let's not let our opposition be the thing that primarily defines us.

I want to be known by what I am for. I want to be known for my love.

What should I be for?

There are many things that the Scriptures heartily affirm, and that we as Christian should be known for. 

Our love for Jesus

First, and most important, we should be known for our love of Jesus. He is the defining figure of our faith. He is the crux of human history. He is God with us. He is the greatest servant-leader to have ever walked on earth, and he remains the savior of the world. Jesus Christ is our great hope, and we should be known by our love for him. Every other thing we ought to be known for flows out of our love for Jesus.

Our love for one another

We should be known by our love for one another. Jesus said that by our love for one another, we will be known as his disciples (Jn 13:35). Unfortunately, we are often known more for the way we quarrel and fight amongst ourselves than the way we love one another. And I don't even mean across denominations and churches - we have fighting, quarreling and dissension within local congregations on a regular basis. We should be known by our radical love for one another.

Our love for our neighbor

When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he answers, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Mt 22:37-40)." Jesus pairs our love for God and our love for our neighbors together in explanation of what is the greatest commandment. Are we known for our profound love for our neighbors?

Our love for our enemy

Jesus calls us to not only love one another, and not only love our neighbors, but also to love our enemy. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:43-44)." Are we known for the grace and love that we show to those who persecute us? Are we known for the kindness we show to our enemies, even when they are unkind to us? Our natural desire is to retaliate, to spew hatred when it has been flung at us. This is not the way of Christ. He calls us to sacrificial love for our enemies, even when they are not loving toward us. Are we known for our humility and love, even toward those who are enemies to the gospel?

The fruit of the spirit

The final thing I will mention that ought to define us is the fruit of the spirit. In Galatians, Paul describes the works of the flesh as qualities that stand in opposition to the fruit of the spirit. He is calling the Galatian church away from things that once defined them. He is calling them away from gratifying the desires of the flesh, because they are opposed to the things of the spirit. Here is an example of how we might be defined by things we are against. Paul is calling them to leave behind the works of the flesh, because they are inconsistent with the fruit of the spirit. The works of the flesh include: "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21)."

Paul speaks out against these things, because he has something better in mind for the church in Galatia. God has something better in mind for the church in Galatia. Paul calls them to the fruit of the spirit, which are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)."

Are you known for your love?

Are you known for your joy?

Are you known for your peace?

Are you known for your patience?

Are you known for your kindness?

Are you known for your goodness?

Are you known for your faithfulness?

Are you known for your gentleness?

Are you known for your self-control?

If we are known for something as the church, wouldn't it be great if these are the things that come to mind? Wouldn't it be great if we were first known for our love. Our love for Jesus. Our love for one another. Our love for our neighbors. Our love for our enemies. Wouldn't it be great if we were known for your joy. For our peace. For our patience, our kindness, our goodness, our faithfulness, our gentleness and our self-control.

How is God calling you to bring new definition to yourself today? It begins with our love of Jesus. Let's start there. And then, lets consider what other ways God is inviting us to be known by what what we are for, before we are known by what we are against.

Are we on mission? Or do we just like to talk about it?

This is for me too

Earlier this week I wrote a post about whether the church can be both missional and attractional at the same time. While reflecting on the article and the comments I received, I was personally convicted of my own life. I began to ask myself if I was personally living a missional life? Am I actually on mission in my life? Or do I just like to talk about it?

I could be overly hard on myself. That is not the goal. I am not trying to beat myself up. I am not trying to guilt myself into a new set of legalistic requirements. I am simply asking myself whether I would be a good example of how I am encouraging us all to live.

I am sure I could come up with excuses about why I am not missional enough. I could talk about how busy I am or how my natural life rhythms don't bring me into relationship with many people outside the church. I am inclined to want to excuse myself from living on mission.

As I thought about my recent post and my continual invitation for our church community to be more intentional to reach and love their own neighbors, co-workers, families and friends, I was convicted about the common practice of talking about things more than actually doing them. It is easy to create theories or strategies, but it is harder to actually implement them.

This post is for me. It is for you too. I am sure that I am not the only want to thinks that living missionally is a good idea. I am not the only one who nods their head in affirmation when we read or hear someone talk about loving their neighbor in a radical way. I am also probably not the only one who fails to actually do it on a regular and ongoing basis. And certainly not at the level we would all want.

So, this post is for you. But is is also for me.

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

What do I mean by mission?

Allow me to briefly explain what I mean by living on mission. Jesus invites his followers to be his witnesses in the world (Acts 1:8). We have the privilege of being the tangible expression of God's love for the world. This includes both ministries of mercy and ministries of proclamation. We do this first with those who are in our Relational Sphere of Influence (RSI). Our RSI can be defined as the people we have a relationship with as a result of our natural rhythms of life, including family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, fellow parents, hair stylist, convenience store clerk, etc. We also engage in ministries of mercy and proclamation to people who we may not have an ongoing relationship with through larger events or new relationships.

Ministries of mercy are when we intentionally and generously meet the tangible needs of others. This might mean that we shovel our neighbors driveway or mow their lawn because they are not able to do it themselves. It might mean we volunteer at a ministry to the homeless in our community. It may mean that we help someone through a difficult time after the loss of a loved one. It may also mean that we help a family get back on their feet after a fire burns down their house. The opportunities to engage in ministries of mercy are nearly endless. 

"Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify your God on the day of visitation." - 1 Peter 3:12

"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." - Matthew 25:40

Ministries of proclamation are when we intentionally share the good news of Jesus with others. The gospel means good news. The message of Jesus is not advice to be followed, it is news to be shared. The God of the universe has made a way for people to know Him and as his followers we get to invite more and more people to follow Him too. This happens when we share about Jesus with our neighbors, family or friends. This happens when we are able to share about what God is teaching us and how we are growing. This happens when we get to point others to Jesus as the only true hope for life.

The message of Jesus is not advice to be followed, it is news to be shared.

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feed of those who preach the good news.'" - Romans 10:14-15

Barriers to Mission

I feel confident in saying that most people who follow Jesus would also say that they want to be a part of his mission in the world. Unfortunately, we run into some barriers that keep us from being on mission. As I considered my own life and the life of people in our church, here are some of the barriers I thought of:

We are not being changed

It all starts with the change God wants to bring to our life. Mission is not a guilt ridden and dutiful task. It comes as an overflow of a life that is being transformed by a God who loves to renew people. It will be tempting to respond by trying to bring your own change to your own life. That doesn't work. God is the one who changes people. That means you start with knowing Him, not trying to change yourself. Create rhythms and habits in your life that cultivate an ever growing love for Jesus. As your love for Jesus grows, you will more naturally want to tell others about him and you will more naturally want to live in obedience to God's Word.

It starts with being changed yourself. It must come as an overflow. It needs to ooze out of us because we just cannot contain it. Think about a product you recently purchased or restaurant you ate at that you absolutely loved. Chances are you told some people about it, because it was so good that you felt compelled to tell others. You didn't have to make a conscious effort to tell them. You didn't think to yourself, "okay, I am going to try really hard to tell someone about how wonderful this new iPhone is." You just told them, because you were that excited about it.

If we are captivated by Jesus. If he is transforming our life. We will naturally want to tell people about him.

Are you being changed?

We are too busy

This is something I tell myself often. I have a wife, two children, a home to care for and a job to do. We have friends and family we want to see. We have bedtimes and cleaning that we need to complete. The list goes on and on. When most of us say we are busy, I think that we genuinely are quite busy. We have a lot of things that fill our time and our days.

That means we need to be very thoughtful about how we chose to spend our time. If you are too busy to spend your time loving people who are far from Jesus, then something needs to change. If you are too busy to tangibly meet the needs of others as an expression of God's love, then something needs to change. What changes need to be made in your life to create opportunities for mission? How can you more naturally integrate opportunities for mission into your rhythm of life?

For others, it might be the case that you are not that busy at all. For you, busyness is just an excuse, and you are being too selfish with your time.

We have a small view of God

Do we value God enough to invite others to worship him. Is God worth worshiping? I hope we answer with a hearty yes! John Piper wrote that "missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man." We are after worshipers for God, because He is worthy of not only our worship but the worship of the people in our lives. Do we have a large enough view of God that would motivate us to invite others to worship Him? Do we see God as someone worth calling other to worship?

We forget who changes lives

God changes lives, not us. We sometimes don't want to be on mission because we are afraid it will be too hard. Or we don't think there is any chance that the person sitting across from us would ever follow Jesus. We forget that God can draw anyone to Himself. God saves people, not us. We fail to pray, because we forget where the power resides to change lives. It doesn't depend on you. Trust in God's ability to change a life, and invite others to follow him.

We care about people too much

We do not want others to think poorly of us, so we restrain ourselves from talking about our love for Jesus. We care too much about the opinion of others, so we neglect to do anything that might be seen in a negative light. We do not remember where our true identity, value and significance is found. We forget that it is found in Jesus.

We don't care about people enough

On the other hand, sometimes we just don't care about people enough. You have the words of life, but sometimes we care more about ourselves than we do about them, so we just don't say anything. Even Penn Jillette, a self-avowed atheist has recognized that it is unloving for us to not share about the love of Jesus with others. If we have the words of life, why would we not want to share it with the people that we love the most?

Take a practical step this week

Here are two practical ways you can begin to be on mission this week. These are not radical steps, but a place to start. These are not an ending point, they are a beginning. I am committed to take these steps with you.

What are you learning?

One practical way you can begin to be more thoughtful about mission is to simply share what you are learning with others. You can start by asking yourself each morning, "What is one thing that God has been teaching me this past week?" Then ask yourself if there is someone in your life that you could share it with? And finally, take the imitative to actually share it with someone that day. These three simple steps will open the door to a myriad of conversations with others about Jesus.

Who can you bless?

Another practical way to begin engaging in God's mission is to ask yourself "is there someone in my life that I can be a blessing for today?" Then ask yourself what you can do to be a blessing. Finally, actually follow through and do it.

Would love to hear from you

I would love to hear your thoughts. Please provide them in the comments below. Also, if you take a step toward mission this week, please let us know about it.

Missional vs Attractional - must we choose?

I felt called into ministry while sitting in Askanase Auditorium on the campus of North Dakota State University. I was a Sophomore attending my Architecture class when God made it clear that I was not going to be an architect, but rather enter into full-time vocational ministry. I did not know how it would all work, but I knew I felt called.

As a result, I have spent a lot of time investing in various expressions of ministry over the past 10-15 years. One question that has been circulating in my mind is how the church relates to those outside of its community. Two common models that have been pitted against one another are the attractional and missional models of ministry. When I think about attractional, I think about big mega-churches like Willow Creek Community Church, North Point Community Church, or Eagle Brook Church. These churches have mastered the ability to create a Sunday morning worship environment which draws people from all around their cities. The missional model emphasizes the need for the people of a local church to carry the message of the gospel into their communities. You might think of one as more of a centripetal (attractional) force and the other as a centrifugal (missional) force. You might think of one as a more attractive force and the other as an expansive force.

Must we choose between a missional or attractional model? Can a local church be effective at both?

This is a question that has been nagging at me.

One will always gain more focus

There are some who would argue that you cannot successfully maintain both models. If we were to survey nearly any church leader about the merits of both attractional and missional models of church, they would likely say they want both to exist in their church community. They may even say they are actively striving for both to coexist in their church community. But some would argue that you cannot actually do it well. My perception is that they would say the attractional model will ultimately win out. Churches will eventually emphasize their programs and events, communicating to their congregation that their primary role is to invite people to church functions. This will undermine the missional spirit, which seeks to remind people that they are the church (not programs, buildings or paid staff) and are therefore called to be the church in their community.

Here is a great little video that explains the missional church. It has been created to emphasize the need for a missional church, with little to no favorable mention of the attractional model. It is definitely worth watching:

 

Do we see both in the Bible?

When I read the Scriptures, I see both attractional and missional elements coexisting. I see them coexist in the nation of Israel, in the life of Jesus and also in the early church.

The Nation of Israel

Missional - There are fewer examples of this in the Old Testament, although I think it has less to do with God's desire for Israel to be a centripetal force than it does with Israel's inability to consistently act in accordance with God's desires. God initially tells Abraham that he would be a great nation, and his descendants would be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3). God also calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim repentance (Jonah 1:1-2).

Attractional - People came from surrounding nations to seek the wisdom and blessing of God through Israel's leaders and prophets. The Queen of Sheba comes to seek the wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13). Also, Naaman the commander of the army of the king of Syria comes to Israel to find Elisha so that he could be healed from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14).

In the Life of Jesus

Missional - The most significant example in the life of Jesus is simply that he came. Jesus came in human form. God did not require us to find our way to Him ourselves, He made a way through Jesus. We also see Jesus send out the twelve apostles (Mk 6:7-13), the seventy-two disciples (Lk 10:1-12) and ultimately all of his disciples through the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20

Attractional - Jesus was an attractive figure. Crowds followed him wherever he went, and when they did he often taught them and healed them. When Jesus tried to get away with his disciples to rest, he was followed by a great crowd and ended up preaching and teaching and feeding the five thousand (Mk 6:30-44). You can page through the gospels and find numerous occasions in which a crowd has surrounded Jesus.

In the Life of the Early Church

Missional - Paul is a great example of a missional life. He said that he wanted to preach where the gospel had not yet been named (Rm 15:20). He went on many missionary journeys and was always proactive to share the good news of Jesus. As the early church spread, there are multiple examples of the gospel spreading through people carrying the message while going on their way.

Attractional - The early church was also extremely attractive. In Acts 2:42-47, the fellowship of believers is described in a way that is compelling. I don't know who wouldn't want to be part of that type of community. And it says that "the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:27)." There was something attractive about the church community, and people wanted to be part of it.

So then, is it possible to have both?

I am still an advocate for both models to coexist in a local church community. Our communities must be attractive. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be part of a local community that isn't attractive. This does not mean that we need to sell out to the attractional model, or that we should communicate in such a way that programs and events become the pulse of our church community. But our communities should be welcoming and accessible to people. We need to be conscious and aware, so that we can reduce the barriers that exist for those outside of our community to engage with our church. We should have a great team of people who greet our guests on Sundays. We should have small groups that become a point of access for others to engage with our fellowship. We should strive to be a church community that is attractive to others.

It cannot end there. Everyone in our church community must start seeing themselves as the church in their community. Our local churches are not buildings or programs or paid staff. Our local churches are the people themselves, who have decided to commit to our church and claim it as their own. We need to train, equip and encourage everyone in our church to carry the message and blessing of the gospel to their own little spheres of influence. Each of our church members gets the privilege of being the church in their workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and anywhere their lives inhabit. This is a message that we need to communicate clearly and consistently.

The question still lingers for me though. Can we actually have both? If we pursue both, will we inevitably sell out to the attractional model? In order to be missional, do we need to sell out to that model instead? I am resisting the need to chose. I want to chose both.

Let me know your thoughts?

What do you think? Can we have both? Or do we need to chose? I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.