God is great for cross-cultural missionaries

Here is the third part of my course preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here are parts one and two.)

God is great

What are the worries you have about doing mission in another culture?

The refrain we kept repeating when I visited missionaries in the Middle-East was: ‘fallen world, sovereign God.’

This world is full of broken people. It is full of people who are sad, needy, insecure; people who misuse their power; people desperate to prove themselves; people who are fearful. And that is just your team! Seriously, co-workers are often the main cause of grief on the mission field – perhaps because our expectations are higher.

You may be wondering, ‘Will I be able to adapt? Will it get easier? Will I find friends?’ Do not panic. It will come. You are not failing. You are normal. You are a frail, finite human being.

This world is fallen. It is a mess. It is full of corruption and injustice. It is full of lost people who desperately need a Saviour.

And you cannot mend it. You are not sovereign and you are not infinite. If you try to fix everything then you will burn out or break down.

You can only do so much. It is not just that there are some things you can not do. You cannot do all the things you could do! In other words, there will be many things you could fix, but you will lack the time or energy or emotional strength to address them. And that means there will be many things that are left undone; many suffering people unhelped; many lost people who do not hear the gospel.

That can be difficult to live with. The danger is that it will drive you to over work, over stress, over worry. Or you will push those emotions onto other people – making them feel guilty that they are not doing enough.

But I have good news for you. God is great. He is sovereign. He is in control. He is the great mission strategist. He will bring people into the lives of those he plans to save. You can trust him with the big picture. You are called to be faithful with the task which he gives to you and have faith in his sovereign control of the big picture.

Consider this: Jesus said, ‘I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4) Jesus could say that he had completed the task. Yet many people were left unhealed, many did not hear his proclamation, many were not fed. But he had completed the task that God had assigned to him.

Give up any notion of being a super-hero or a super-missionary. You are allowed to be mediocre! Forget your missionary hagiographies. This is not what you are called to be. You are called to be faithful, not fruitful. Keep telling your heart that God is great. He is in control.

Indeed if you try to be a super-hero then you will distort the message. ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7) The message of the cross is proclaimed by weak people (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).

What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is great?

One danger is that you feel the pressure to say something so when you do it comes out in a burst of pent up frustration. This leads to unhealthy or destructive speech. Being free from the need to change other people or be in control allows you to speak freely and faithfully, entrusting the outcome to God. This creates healthy speech. Be slow to speak.

Your initial focus is on learning the language. Do not have any bigger ambitions than this. Take a day at a time. Have small expectations for each day. Be patient. Be content with slow living. God will use you as he chooses if you are faithful to him.

God is also in control of the situation back home. You can trust our great God for those you have left behind.

ð            Rewrite Psalm 27, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original

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Missional as identity

Mission as identity

For many people mission has become an event. We have guest services. Evangelistic courses. Street preaching. Youth programmes. There’s nothing wrong with these things. But mission is more than a slot into our schedules. It is an identity and a lifestyle. Mission is about living all of life, ordinary life, with gospel intentionality.

Missional communities

We are called to be missional communities – not lone evangelists. The life of the covenant community is to be a light to the nations. ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:35) Our love for one another reveals our gospel identity. The world will know that Jesus is the Son of God sent by God to be Saviour of the world through the community life of believers (John 17:20-23). This does not primarily mean inviting people to meetings. It is about shared life into which other people are welcomed.

Scattered communities of light

Imagine a globe in darkness with one point of light. That was Israel in the Old Testament, one point of light in a dark world, drawing the nations to God. And New Testament believers are still be communities of light, drawing people to God. We still draw people in towards the centre. But the centre is no longer one geographic location in Palestine, but a hundred, thousand communities of light scattered across the globe. We are not be like a lighthouse, occasionally sending a beam of light across the city. We are to be communities of light and hope and love in a dark and broken world at street level, on the street corner.
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Community as identity

The church is not a building you enter. Nor is it a meeting your attend. It is not what you do on a Sunday. To be a Christian is to be part of God’s people and to express that in your life through belonging to a local Christian community.

Our belonging

We belong to one another (Romans 12:5). If a car belongs to me then I am responsible for it and I decide how it should be used. If a person belongs to me them I am responsible for them and I am involved in their decisions.

Our home
Peter says Christians are ‘foreigners’ = ‘without home’ in the world (1 Peter 2:11). But we are being built into an alternative ‘home’ (2:5).

Our family

Families eat together, play together, cry together, laugh together, raise child together provide for one another. Families argue and fight, but they do not stop being families and they don’t join other families because they have different tastes in music or reading. With family you can take off your shoes and put your feet on the sofa. They provide identity and a place of belonging.

Family is one of the most common New Testament images for the church. So try re-reading the paragraph above, substituting the word ‘church’ for ‘family’…

Our community

The New Testament word for community is used to describe sharing lives (1 Thessalonians 2:8), sharing property (Acts 4:32), sharing in the gospel (Philippians 1:5; Philemon 6) and sharing in Christ’s suffering and glory (2 Corinthians 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:13). Helping poor Christians is an act of ‘community’ (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 9:13). Christians are people who share their lives with one another.

Our joy

How would you answer this question? ‘For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes?’ Paul says to the church in Thessalonica, ‘Is it not you?’ (1 Thessalonians 2:19)

Implication #1: ‘We’ not ‘I’
We need to say not ‘I am planning to …’ or ‘this is my ministry’, but ‘we are planning to …’ and ‘this is our ministry’. We need to say not ‘you need to … or ‘the church doesn’t meet my needs’, but ‘we need to …’ and ‘why don’t we do this’.

The rhythms of a missional church: #5 sabbath

We in the Edge Network have adopted five rhythms in an attempt to encapsulate what it means to live our values. Each month for the past few months someone has been designated a ‘rhythm champion’ to encourage people to think about and practice the rhythm of the month. Here are the notes I produced to support this.

5. sabbath

the challenge

Each week we aspire to spend time in rest, praise, play, partying and creativity.

links to our identities and values

Identities * Because God is our Father, we are the family of God. Our heavenly Father graciously accepts us and cares for us … * Because Jesus is our Saviour, we are the heirs of God. Jesus has set us free from the condemnation our rebellion deserves through his death in our place. We have received the promise of a glorious inheritance … * Because the Holy Spirit is God’s empowering presence, we are the temple of God … people set apart for God.

Values * 1. The priority of the gospel: We are committed to filling ordinary life with gospel intentionality … We will not let Christian activity be just one part of our lives. * 4. Sharing our lives as extended family: We are committed to sharing our lives in Christian community, caring for one another … * 5. Inclusive communities … We want to … be communities of grace …

biblical foundations

‘Sabbath’ is the Hebrew word for ‘rest’. God rested on the seventh day of creation. And God invites us to reflect his creativity – to be people who enjoy art, culture and play. He also invites us to share his eternal rest. Human beings are designed to live with a pattern of work and rest within each week. In the Old Testament Israel were promised rest from their enemies if they would trust God’s protection. We often overwork because we feel the need to prove ourselves or we fear other people or we do not trust God’s fatherly care. So Jesus invites us to come to him and find rest (Matthew 11:28-30). We find rest when we no longer feel the need to prove ourselves and when we trust God for our future. So resting, praising, playing and partying give glory to God because they express our confidence in his grace and care. They are also important for creating human community. We praise by God with our lips (praising him in prayer and song for his greatness and goodness to us) and we praise God with our lives (serving him, praising him to others and resting in his grace) (Hebrews 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:9-12).

Bible stories

Genesis 1:1-2:3 – God creates and God rests. * 2 Chronicles 20 – the Israelites send a choir out to battle because they are confident God will save them. * Proverbs 8:30-31 – ‘Wisdom’ rejoices (literally ‘plays’) in God’s presence. * Matthew 11:28-12:14 – Jesus recreates on the Sabbath. * Hebrews 3:7-4:11 – a generation of Israelites did not enjoy rest because they did not trust God.

putting it into practice
*    Throw a party.
*    Arrange a street party or a community party.
*    Spend an evening learning new praise songs.
*    Encourage people to write a song, paint a picture, bake a cake, learn a story, make some cards …
*    Organise a treasure hunt (in which teams answer clues that take them to different locations) or a photo hunt (in which teams take photos of a team member doing specific things like shaking hands with a postman or standing in a stream or wearing a borrowed hat).
*    Organise an evening of creativity – a talent show, a poetry reading, an art installation, a craft evening, a karaoke night, a storytelling session, a play reading through, a sing-along musical DVD
*    Organise a trip to a theatre, museum, art gallery or concert.
*    Have an ‘icon of the week’ with a picture or poem or music that illustrates the teaching theme.
*    Organise a board games night.
*    Organise a walk or picnic in the countryside.
*    Decorate the meal table with seasonal flowers and leaves.
*    Ask someone to put together a movie to illustrate the Bible teaching or lead people in worship.

The rhythms of a missional church: #3 eat

We in the Edge Network have adopted five rhythms in an attempt to encapsulate what it means to live our values. Each month for the past few months someone has been designated a ‘rhythm champion’ to encourage people to think about and practice the rhythm of the month. Here are the notes I produced to support this.

3. eat

the challenge

Each week we aspire to eat or have a drink with people outside our immediate family at least three times, offering friendship and community.

links to our identities and values

Identities * We are the family of God. Our heavenly Father graciously accepts us and cares for us. We are united as brothers and sisters. * We are the servants of God. We follow Christ’s example of sacrificial love, finding freedom and joy in serving God and others.

Values * 1. The priority of the gospel: We are committed to filling ordinary life with gospel intentionality, pastoring one another with the gospel and sharing the gospel with unbelievers. * 2. Mission through community: We are committed to communicating the gospel message in the context of a gospel community. As we build relationships with people and share the gospel message, we want to introduce them to Christian community. We want people to experience church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter. * 3. Home as the primary location of church … We are committed to homes as a context for all or most of church life with home shaping the ethos of church. * 4. Sharing our lives as extended family: We are committed to sharing our lives in Christian community, caring for one another … We will not … view church simply as a meeting you attend. * 5. Inclusive communities: We are committed to welcoming broken people … We want to offer a sense of belonging, and be communities of grace in which people can be open and vulnerable …

biblical foundations

In all cultures eating is a powerful sign of community, welcome and belonging. It goes beyond charity for it is something we do with people rather than for them. What matters is not the quality of the food, but the expression of friendship; ‘family’ meals rather than formal dinner parties. Meals are a great context to enact grace, community and mission. The Old Testament reflects a strong tradition of hospitality. The Son of Man (= Jesus) came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34). The ‘Son of Man’ is the One who receives all authority in Daniel 7. When he comes, he comes eating with sinners. And Jesus was not half-hearted about eating and drinking with people because he’s accused of being ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ = someone who eats and drinks too much. His eating and drinking demonstrate that he is ‘a friend of sinners’. Jesus eats with sinners as a powerful expression of God’s grace and his new community (Luke 5:27-32). The Lord’s Supper is the meal Jesus gave us to remember his death and look forward to his return (Luke 22). The new creation is described as a great banquet (Isaiah 25:6-8; Luke 14; Revelation 19:9). So our meals can be a foretaste of the future.

Bible stories

Genesis 18 – Abraham entertains three strangers and finds himself hosting God (see Hebrews 13:2). * Ruth 1-4 – a Gentile widow receives hospitality and welcome among God’s people. * Luke 5:27-32; 7:34-50 – Jesus eats with sinners. * John 6 – Jesus feeds 5,000 and describes himself as the bread of life. * Luke 14 – Jesus calls us to invite the poor to our parties because God invites us to his party. * Luke 19:1-10 – Zacchaeus is transformed when he shares a meal with Jesus. * Luke 22 – the death of Jesus is symbolized in a meal. * Luke 24 – the Risen Christ is known in breaking bread.

putting it into practice

*    The films Babette’s Feast and Chocolat show how meals embody grace in contrast to legalism.
*    Have a ‘recipe of the week’ – cheap, easy, one-pot recipes that provide for large numbers.
*    Challenge people to have a drink (a coffee or beer) with one believer and one unbeliever.
*    Challenge people to show hospitality to someone who can’t return it (see Luke 14:12-14).
*    Discuss together the relational dynamics that take place over a meal table.
*    It’s often difficult for single people to entertain families, but they could take pudding round later in the evening.
*    ‘Dine out’ by dining in with take away, candles and a bottle of wine.
*    Have a world food night with contributions from different countries.

The rhythms of a missional church: #2 listen

We in the Edge Network have adopted five rhythms in an attempt to encapsulate what it means to live our values. Each month for the past few months someone has been designated a ‘rhythm champion’ to encourage people to think about and practice the rhythm of the month. Here are the notes I produced to support this.

2. listen

the challenge

Each week we aspire to listen to God, looking for him to guide us through his word and Spirit. And we listen to people around us to understand their stories and the story of our culture.

links to our identities and values

Identities * Because Jesus is our Prophet, we are the light of God. God has illuminated us through Jesus … * Because the Holy Spirit is God’s empowering presence, we are the temple of God … the home in which God lives.

Values * Listening to God * 9. Everyone exercising gospel ministry … We shape activities around gospel opportunities, and the gifts and passions of church members … * 10. Shaped by the Bible: We want our lives and our life together to be formed and shaped by the Bible’s story of redemption … We will not act on the basis of tradition, habit or pragmatism without reflection on the Bible … * Listening to people around us * 5. Inclusive communities … We are committed to … making church accessible to unbelievers. We want to offer a sense of belonging, and be communities of grace in which people can be open and vulnerable. * 6. Working for city renewal … We celebrate the diversity of cultures in our local contexts while recognising the need for gospel renewal.

biblical foundations

God is not silent. God has spoken. Jesus is the Word of God, sent by God into the world to reveal God to us. The Spirit of God inspired the word of God (the Bible) so it is our reliable guide to God’s character, plans and will. God speaks. God continues to speak through his word and Spirit. We listen. We read and study God’s word to discover his will. In the Bible ‘listening’ involves paying attention and acting on what we hear. It’s a hermeneutical stance. We hear God as God’s Spirit makes God’s word clear, moves us as the Bible is read or taught, gives us a special concern for a situation, provides insight into an issue or prompts us to action. The Spirit works in all believers so we can all hear God speaking. The church is the community of the Holy Spirit: God speaks to, and through, the Christian community. We have other ‘voices’ in our lives (the world around us, our own desires) so we need to bring our impressions to the church community. * We listen to people around us to express love for people, and understand their stories, hurts, hopes and culture. We want to learn from others, value what is good, challenge what is wrong, know how to present the gospel in a relevant way. We often take control of conversations by talking; listening is letting others be in control. People sometimes say, ‘You’re not listening to me.’ It shows how we can hear information without really paying attention.

Bible stories

Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 4 – God speaks to his people. * 1 Samuel 3 – God speaks to Samuel.
John 14 – God speaks through Jesus. * Acts 10 – God guides Peter, speaks to Cornelius and spends Cornelius a Bible teacher. * Acts 13:1-3 – the Holy Spirit sends out missionaries.* Acts 16:6-10 and 19:9-11 – God guides and comforts Paul.

putting it into practice

*    Invite people to talk about how God has been speaking to them during the past week.
*    Conclude a Bible study by asking people what God has been saying to them and to us as a community.
*    Challenge people to read the Bible regularly using The Edge Network weekly reading scheme.
*    Encourage people to read the Bible as an act of prayer, asking that God would speak to them.
*    Create space in meetings for people to talk about what God has been putting in their hearts.
*    Tell stories of the local neighbourhood or local people.
*    Let the ‘listen’ rhythm shape your other rhythms by asking God:
– Who should I bless this week and how?
– Who should I eat with this week?
– Who should I speak to this week?
– What should I pray about this week?
– Who should I rest and play with this week?

The rhythms of a missional church: #1 bless

We in the Edge Network have adopted five rhythms in an attempt to encapsulate what it means to live our values. Each month for the past few months someone has been designated a ‘rhythm champion’ to encourage people to think about and practice the rhythm of the month. Here are the notes I produced to support this.

1. bless

the challenge

Each week we aspire to bless others in our Christian community and local neighbourhood in word, action or gift at least three times.

links to our identities and values

Identities * We are the family of God … united as brothers and sisters. * We are the light of God … we witness to Jesus’ liberating truth through our words and actions. * We are the servants of God. We follow Christ’s example of sacrificial love, finding freedom and joy in serving God and others.

Values * 1. The priority of the gospel: We are committed to filling ordinary life with gospel intentionality, pastoring one another with the gospel and sharing the gospel with unbelievers. We challenge one another to be sacrificial, servant-hearted … * 4. Sharing our lives as extended family: We are committed to sharing our lives in Christian community, caring for one another … * 6. Working for city renewal: We are committed to working for neighbourhood and city renewal – redressing injustice, pursuing reconciliation and welcoming the marginalized … We encourage one another to glorify God and serve others through the workplace, business, community projects, government and artistic endeavour.

biblical foundations

Blessing a person means doing them good or bringing them joy. Blessing God means praising him. Genesis 12:1-3. God promises to bless the offspring of Abraham. God blesses us through the story of salvation, making us his people and promising a new creation (Ephesians 1:3). God also promises to bless all nations through the offspring of Abraham. We who have received blessing from God are to bless other people. We have been saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 2:9-12). Jesus says to those who are blessed by God: ‘Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.’ (Matthew 5:1-16) We even bless those who make life difficult for us (Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Peter 3:9).

Bible stories

Genesis 12 – God promises to bless the nations through Abram (= Abraham), but Abram brings a curse on Egypt. * Genesis 39-41 – Joseph blesses his owner, his jailor, Pharaoh and all Egypt. * Ruth 1-4 – a foreign widow blesses her mother-in-law and finds blessing among God’s people. * 2 Kings 5 – an Israelite slave girl blesses an enemy army commander. * Jeremiah 29 – Jeremiah writes a letter to Jewish exiles in Babylon, telling them to bless the city. * Mark 1:29-45; 6:30-44 – Jesus has compassion on those in need. * Acts 9:36-41 – Peter raises a woman from the dead who was much loved for the kind things she did for others.

putting it into practice

* Ask people to think of some of the ways in which they have been blessed by God. Ask them to think of ways in which they have been blessed by other people.

* Ask people to think of some of the ways in which they could bless one another. Their family and friends. Their neighbourhood.

* Ask people to think of ways they as individuals could bless other people. Ask people to think of ways we as a community could bless other people.

* Identify a social issue or project that the church community can get involved in together.

* Ask people to think of ways we can bless in word? In action? In gift?

* Give everyone £1 which they must use to bless someone else. (See Matthew 25:14-30.)

* Show the movie Pay It Forward or an extract from it. Set a ‘pay it forward’ challenge.

* Get people to draw from a hat a need in the community or the name of a person which they must try to do something about in the coming week. (E.g. help on old person, improve the environment, bless another ethnic group.)

A ‘BE’ church

I’ve just got back from a church planting conference in Hungary with ReachGlobal, the mission arm of the Evangelical Free Church of America. I did a presentation on household church (I’ll put my outline in a future post) and then did an evening of Q&A with those who were interested. Steve and I presented over two days at a ReachGlobal event three years ago and it was encouraging to have many people come up to me to say that their ministry had been transformed by that time.

The title of this post comes from an interesting observation made to me on the last day. One of the missionaries commented that during the evening Q&A people had kept asking me ‘DO’ questions and I had kept giving ‘BE’ answers. In other words, they would ask how to ‘DO’ something and I would reply in terms of what we need to ‘BE’. For example, they might ask how do you ‘DO’ evangelism and I reply along the lines of needing to ‘BE’ a community centred on the mission that involves people in its shared life. Or they might ask how we ‘DO children and I would talk about the importance of ‘BEing’ a community in which they feel like they belong.

This observation helped my understand why a lot of my interactions with people go the way they do. It explains why Steve and I thought we were being very practical in Total Church, but some people say they wish it had been more practical. They are after formulae, steps, processes, actions. They want to know what to ‘DO’. But that’s not what you find in the New Testament. It’s not a question of ‘DOing’ the right things. It’s a question of ‘BEing’ the right things – it’s a question of identity. So the role of a leader is to set a culture not create a programme.

In my next post I want to make a related observation. Not only do we need to be (there’s that word again) a ‘BE’ church; we also need to be a ‘BESPOKE’ church.

Evangelizing by talking about the Trinity

I have been asked if I could contribute an evangelistic article on the Trinity to a new UCCF website. Unfortunately I didn’t have anything prepared and no time to prepare anything in the near future. But I did have some thoughts on how I might do it …

I would start with the way human beings and societies polarise between repressive conformity and fragmentation. I would then suggest that the Trinity provides some clues as to how we might live together and relate well.

I would back up and talk about how the first Christians encountered Jesus: a man who seemed to be God and a God who seemed to be distinct from God. The solution? One God in three persons.

But what makes the three persons distinct from one another? Christian tradition came to see that the three persons are defined by their relationship with each other. The Father is a Father because he has a Son and so on.

Human beings are made in the image of the triune God. So our personhood is also defined by relationships. The matrix of relationships of which I am part (the husband of Helen, the father of Katie and Hannah, a member of TCH Abbey, a child of God) are unique to me. They make me unique. But they also mean I am defined not in isolation, but in relationship. We don’t ‘find ourselves’ or ‘express our individuality’ by separating ourselves from relationships or highlighting our difference. We find ourselves in relationship. Ultimately we find true identity and personhood through a relationship with the relational God.

It’s mainly a reworking of material from my book, Delighting the Trinity, mostly from a chapter that I’ve posted online here: The Trinity and Humanity (an extract from Tim Chester, Delighting in the Trinity, Monarch, 2005)

There’s also a chapter in the book on the Trinity and mission.