Sunday, December 6, 2009

Vision, Part 1

This weekend we attended a retreat for church planters in the Chicagoland area. In a word, it was AWESOME. I want to share with you some of the things we discussed, because I feel like it will give you a better idea of what God is leading us to do here.

One of the most profound ideas we discussed is that Jesus did not command us to plant churches. If you think about it, the term "church planting" itself is almost an anomaly. Because what is the church anyway? The word "church" is only used in the gospels 3 times (and 2 of those times are within the same sentence). It is used more often as the rest of the New Testament unfolds, but is mainly used to describe the body of Christ . . . the PEOPLE. Not a place. Not a building.

What our Lord did command us to do is make disciples. A disciple is a basically a follower. Someone who believes Jesus' doctrine/teachings and infiltrates those teachings into his/her life by imitating Jesus' example. Jesus even exemplified how to make disciples. There's no question that Jesus taught in the temple at times, preached to large crowds, and ministered to people in various ways. He loved everyone, and He truly is the Good Shepherd. But let's think about what set the disciples apart. In the gospels there are many references to the small group of 12 men that Jesus chose to be His disciples. He spent time with them . . . significant, intimate time. He poured His life into them. He served them. He taught them very specific and intentional truths. And He equipped them to teach others how to be Christ followers (disciples). This is what we are to do.

Unfortunately, in today's American "church culture" there isn't much disciple-making going on. When most people think about starting a new church, they begin by finding a building to meet in and focus most of their planning around the Sunday morning service. They set a “launch date” and then seek to attract a large number of people to attend. Of course the hopes are that most of the people who come will keep on coming, and then small groups or Sunday School classes can begin forming, as well as other ministries (like “discipleship training”). This is how most churches have been started. But many people are realizing that this approach is actually backwards, perhaps. The focus should be on making disciples first, and the other, larger things can come afterwards. And if you’ll notice, most churches’ strategies to reach people revolve around getting those people to come to them. To borrow our retreat speaker’s illustration, it’s almost as if the salt of the earth has formed itself into a big salt block, and just sits still in one place, waiting for someone to come and take a taste. However, this is not the spirit of a “sent” or “on mission” church that wants to fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus told us to GO and make disciples. And this is the spirit in which we desire to be “church planters.”

If we go out into the world around us and truly make disciples, then we believe that “church” will just happen. I realize that to some people that might sound a bit flaky, or even crazy. And I’m not saying that we’ll never have any kind of organized Bible study or worship service. But that’s not necessarily how we’re going to START. We want to start by following Jesus’ example of disciple-making. We are seeking people to build relationships with, with the goal of discipling them, so that they in turn can disciple others. We want to pour our lives into serving others in the name of Jesus and for the sake of His Kingdom.

So what will that look like? What does the nitty gritty of disciple-making look like? For us, we hope it will happen through several different forums. First and foremost, we hope to reach out and develop relationships with the people in our immediate neighborhood. We must look around and ask ourselves, “What would it look like if God moved into the neighborhood? If we are His hands and feet, what can we do to touch others’ lives?” If we seek God’s guidance, the Holy Spirit will show us where the needs are. He will lead us to the people who need Him. Perhaps even to people with whom He’s already dealing. The Lord may lead us to meet someone’s physical needs, or to be a friend to someone. And that is where it can begin. We must get our saltiness off the salt block and sprinkle it around!

In future blogs I will share some of our other ideas for making disciples. For now, I will leave you with this thought . . . as “church planters” and ambassadors for Christ in this world, we must crucify our tendency to obsess about perfecting a Bible study or church service, strengthening our leadership skills, and attracting large numbers of people. Rather, we must renew our obsession with Christ, our first love. We must be obsessed with the things that Christ exemplified: servantship and love.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ignorance and Prejudice

Recently I have had the honor of getting to know some teenagers whose families are refugees from Burma and some of the surrounding areas. They are a part of the Karen people group. In their home land, they have experienced years of violent and deadly persecution. All of the kids speak Karen as their primary language, and have been learning English since moving to the United States. But they attend public schools right alongside the Americans. It's hard to imagine how hard it must be for them to fit in. Not only do they look different than many of the students, but they also talk differently, and have many other cultural differences to deal with.

But they are resilient and strong. It was amazing to watch a group of about 8 of them last night, learning the sign language to the song "Jesus Loves Me." Not only could they sing the entire song in English (not to mention Karen), but they quickly learned all of the signs and could perform both tasks simultaneously within 20 minutes. It was beautiful. And I think I have awakened something good within them... they were all so excited to learn it, and many of them were even asking me how to sign other words.

Afterwards, I stayed to listen to their weekly Bible study. They are going through Genesis and were discussing the fall of man. One young teenage girl, who I'll call "M," shared with the group that she struggles with anger a lot of the time. Digging deeper, we discovered that she is angry because she and some of her family members are being bullied by the American kids at school. Some of the Americans make fun of them because they are still learning English, and call them stupid. She said that some kids would even use profanity. "M" didn't want to talk to her parents or teachers about it, because she didn't see how it would help. It broke my heart to hear her talk. But I was so glad that she was opening up about it, amidst a group of believers. Please pray for "M," her cousin "S," and the other Karen kids who are unfortunately enduring another form of persecution in their new home. But praise the Lord that these kids have a safe, nurturing place where they can talk and be encouraged.

The kids last night sang "Jesus Loves Me," but I mention now another childhood song that we all need to be reminded of:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world