I have had the opportunity to travel to Central Asia the last few years to help several Christians in their efforts to reach the unreached. It has been a great blessing to be a part of. I realize there are many different situations, but having been a part of at least seven or eight short term mission trips, here are a few things I think every faithful short term team would want you to know, if you are either a missionary on the field, or a local church inviting us to come help you in your work:
- We are so thankful for you! You are likely a part of the few who felt the burden to not stay, but rather to go. That means you likely sacrificed in ways most of us never will, all for the sake of the gospel. Thank you for being on the front lines of the Great Commission!
- We do not want to be a burden. We are only coming because we think we can help you. We would not come unless you invite us. So please do not invite us simply because you think that is what you are supposed to do. If you are having to create work for us, do not invite us. If you have more work than you can handle, that is exactly why we hope to come.
- We are willing to lead or follow during the trip. Just be clear about what you want. As a local church, we have our sights set on preaching the gospel to unbelievers, discipling believers, and organizing local churches. We are happy to lead in that. But since you are on the field in a context that is foreign to us, we are happy to follow you. Let’s just communicate clearly.
- We are willing to pay for as much as we need to. Let’s simply communicate clearly about that as well
- We do not want to sightsee. Please do not feel like you have to show us around. We are there to work, not play.
- At the same time, we are not there to work 24-7. We will benefit from as much rest as is normal for the Christian life.
- We are a local church. You are likely a missionary without normal church life, or a young church who needs help growing ecclesiologically. One of the goals in missions should be to establish healthy local churches. That means by God’s grace we have something to offer you missiologically. Please do not be offended if we try to offer it. We are simply trying to do our job, and trying to help you do yours.
I cannot stress to you how thankful we are for you, and how much we love praying for you. I look forward to discovering how God used all our efforts together to grow the Church
We just had our second annual church retreat/camp. We were blessed to be able to bring a speaker from my former church for the second straight year. Pastor Ryan Fullerton brought great teaching on building a culture of evangelism. A few reflections:
- I pray every single one of our members have these words ringing in their ears in every relationship with non-Christians: connect-God-man-Christ-response
- I pray for every single one of our children to be saved, and that we have a culture that says, “I welcome advice in parenting”
- Preaching the gospel to yourself is how you will persevere in this life, and we cannot expect to be effectively evangelistic if we are not rejoicing in our own salvation
- Ryan Fullerton is still my favorite preacher in the world
Listen to his Sunday sermon here
Last week I got to spend time with my old church, Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. If you have not heard of Ryan Fullerton, you need to add him to your podcast list. He is an anointed preacher. And I mean Lloyd-Jones-type anointed.
But Ryan is just one of 14 pastors at Immanuel. They have led that church toward greater and greater health and vitality over the years. They continue to grow, and continue to be a great blessing to me many years after leaving there.
They started the Immanuel Network a few years ago, and this year was the first year we had an open conference, where about 100 of us gathered for a conference on what gospel-loving church life looks like. The Immanuel Network is a partnership of like-minded churches and leaders around the world, who all were sent out by Immanuel Baptist at some point in time. Including Immanuel, there are currently 5 partnering churches in the network (KBC is one of them). There are also 10 partnering individual ministry/church leaders spread around North America. There are also 8 or 9 missionaries spread out around the world. Everyone in the Network is Reformed and Baptistic. This past year there were 7 churches planted around the world through this network!
KBC is a Southern Baptist church. We are also affiliated with The Gospel Coalition. But I am probably most excited to be a part of the Immanuel Network. One simple reason: I can trust EVERYTHING that happens in our network will be faithful. We are not the only faithful network out there, but in God’s providence this is the actual network He has placed me in, with brothers and sisters around the world I actually know personally and love. And I am so thrilled that over time my own church will get to know them and pray for them, and be prayed for by them more and more.
For more info on the Network: http://www.immanuelnetwork.org
She’s a godly woman. This is her story:
But there is a problem. (And I mean no disrespect to Ms. Stutzman. She’s a godly woman. I just think we ALL can learn how to be more faithful witnesses in this world, even learn from the unintentional errors of others.)
In a later interview she was asked if she had a problem with homosexuality, and she said ‘no.’ Of course, what she meant is that she will love people no matter what. Praise God!
But here is the problem with her answer as I understand her situation: She was very Christ-like toward her friends who practice homosexuality for about 10 years, and the moment they asked her to make flowers for their so-called wedding, she was also Christ-like in refusing to celebrate a sinful practice with them, BUT, their reaction was all likely made worse by the fact that she did not give them a clear enough vibe for those 10 years that she had a problem with their sin (let me be clear there is a ton more wrong done to her than she did wrong; I am just trying to learn from this how to be a better evangelist).
We all understand her struggle. None of us want to single out any one sin. None of us want to be hated by our friends. We understand. I understand. She will be blessed for her obedience to Christ.
But, all our non-Christian friends, as well as our Christian brothers and sisters, should know that we have a problem with their sin. We should have a problem with their sin, and with our own sin. Because God has a problem with our sin. The wrath of God comes because of these very things! Christ was slain because of sin!
What kind of “friend” are we being if we can “love” for 10 years, and not call someone to repentance? It is not enough to tell people that we are Christians. That is a good step toward evangelism, no doubt. But with all the confusion about what is and is not a Christian anymore, and with all the disagreements about what Christians believe, maybe one of the best things we can say nowadays (and one of the best ways to get an evangelistic conversation going), if anyone asks us “do you have a problem with homosexuality?” we should say, “of course I do.”
A couple months ago there was a bit of an internet firestorm because of John Piper’s views on Christians arming themselves with guns. You can read that post here. As always happens, many other pastors and bloggers chimed in, seemingly mostly trying to refute Piper. Tim Challies had a good round up here.
If I could summarize in one sentence Piper’s views: Christians should be so radically Christ-centered that we will pause for the sake of the gospel in the face of radical violence, even at the cost of our lives or the lives of loved ones.
If I could summarize the pushback against Piper in one sentence: Christians should be so radically other-centered that we will not pause to protect the lives of loved ones in the face of radical violence, even at the cost of our lives.
Something like that. I offer three points of (hopefully) contribution:
- How a Christian cannot praise Piper for his disagreement with Jerry Falwell, Jr. I have no idea. Piper was attacking the mindset that says “Christians need to teach terrorists a lesson with guns!” Give me a break! Of course John Piper is right in that! And I believe every critiquer agreed with him in that, but I just do not think enough emphasis was given to that agreement. One writer says Fallwell’s comment about teaching terrorists a lesson is “unnecessarily provocative.” No sir. That is flat out un-Christian.
- Some argued that in the U.S. individuals who carry weapons are a legitimate extension of the government using the sword (Romans 13.4). I almost fell for that reasoning. But is it legitimate to equate the “right to bear arms” with “he does not bear the sword in vain”? If anything, the right to bear arms in the U.S. gives many people the ability for stronger self-defense (if I could put it bluntly). But Romans 13 is not addressing the issue of self-defense. Romans 13 is about God meting out earthly justice through the government. And John Piper is right to draw a line between the civil magistrate and regular citizens. Romans 13 makes no sense if you do not draw a clear line between those two entities (i.e., citizens are called to submit to the government).
- The most heated reaction came because it seems John Piper would not automatically know what to do in a case where, perhaps, his wife was being attacked. Most made the case that the only Christian option is to “protect your wife, John!” First of all, how can you not see where Piper comes from? I might conclude that I disagree with him, but I see where he is coming from. It seems most Christians’ application of “turn the other cheek” is to never turn the other cheek. Secondly, I think everyone is missing something there (in my humble opinion). What should we do when another human being is being harmed? The answer, I believe, is to protect life. It may even be necessary to use force. But that is not a distinctly Christian thing to do. That is a distinctly human thing to do. Protect the image of God. As Christians, we should do that by faith in Christ, in the power of the Spirit, and in hopes that perpetrator and victim come to Christ through our preaching.
Several years ago Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert co-wrote a great book on the Great Commission, arguing that the mission of the church is the Great Commission– the making of disciples in all nations. Anything a church spends its time and resources on is secondary to that mission.
Surprisingly, to me, there was a lot of pushback and debate surrounding the thesis of that book. A lot of the debate had to do with things like whether or not caring for the poor and loving thy neighbor was a part of the Great Commission. DeYoung and Gilbert argued that though loving your neighbor is a distinctly Christian thing to do, it is not distinctly Great Commission. They distinguished between the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The argument from the other side goes something like this: “The church must care for the poor in order to fulfill the Great Commission. When you lead someone to Christ, don’t you teach them that one of the things followers of Christ do is care for the poor? Therefore, caring for the poor is the Great Commission, just as preaching the gospel is the Great Commission.”
There actually is something compelling to this line of reasoning. Christ’s followers should not just preach Christ, but live like Christ. If we preach Christ and him crucified, but live like Christ has not been raised, then our mission efforts will be weakened.
However, we must distinguish between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. There is an eternal difference between, “Repent and believe in Jesus” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Once you say, “love your neighbor” is the mission of the church, all of a sudden it gets hard to decide what the best way the church should spend her money. Do we spend it on missions or on being a good steward of our building? What’s the difference? All of a sudden it gets hard to decide how to use your property (if you have one). All of a sudden it gets harder to see the difference between a Christian church and a Christian hospital. All of a sudden it gets hard to see the difference between “Trust in Christ” and “Do good works.” If you do not guard that distinction passionately, it will not necessarily lead you to liberalism, but it might with the people you influence.
I will be the first to say I am thankful for missionaries who feel “called” to a certain people group. Our church has chosen currently to go to one specific people group to reach in Asia. I get it. Some of it is practical: none of us have time to reach every people group in the world, so we should focus our efforts in order to be more effective. Praise God. That is how every nation that has been reached with the gospel has been reached with the gospel.
Now to balance that out, let’s be careful:
- sometimes “I feel called” is just an excuse to make a decision that might not be supported by the leaders of your church
- “I have a heart for” this people group is not God’s heart, who has a heart for all nations
- “I have a heart for” this people group sounds unloving toward anyone who is not in that people group
And let’ s just all agree that these are terrible:
- “I have a heart for the city”- as if people in the suburbs and rural areas don’t matter
- “I have a heart for young people” (or old people or young families or singles or bikers or surfers, or you name it)- imagine how that sounds to anyone who might visit your church who is not in that group that you “have a heart” for.
The church is meant to display God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph 3.9-10), and one of the main ways she does that is through her diversity, being a people made of Jew and Gentile, young and old, men and women, singles and families, and when possible, people of every color. The best way to pursue this is to NOT focus on any one particular people, but to focus on proclaiming the one Christ who bought all of them.