Saturday, February 22, 2014

The One Thing That Hinders My Mission Is The Church!

Recently a missionary friend confided to me that the only thing that was keeping him and his wife from reaching the lost and doing what they felt God had called them to do was the church!  This couple had recently retired and moved across the ocean to minister in an area of the world where the Gospel had once been vibrant but now had become dark and spiritually void. 

They had partnered with a small evangelical church which had invited them to be missionaries in their community to reach the lost. They didn't come with a plan or agenda, they were coming with open hands curious to see what God had in store for them.  Within a few days, God had flung the doors wide open and given them wonderful opportunities.  They were meeting people, building relationships with the lost. God had provided a place to live that included a ministry downtown and several great opportunities to make an impact for Christ in this community. 
However, the one stumbling block to their ministry seemed to be the church in which they had partnered.  Instead of helping, the church began to control and say "no" to almost every idea they had for ministry.  They either could not do something because of "doctrinal" issues or "methods" that were contrary to the church's teaching or tradition.
In the mist of God's miracles and this incredible energy and excitement for sharing the Gospel, there was this wet blanket being thrown over them by the church.  It was taking the wind out of their sails and discouraging them at every turn. Here in this incredibly dark region of the world with so many people living without Christ, the leaders of this small church were debating doctrine and arguing over what method they should be using to reach the lost.  It's like a group in a life boat in a sea of drowning people arguing over which type of life-saving device they should use.  

It breaks my heart to hear anyone say that the one thing that stands in the way of being the church is the church itself!  And yet unfortunately many churches that desire to be salt and light to their neighbors morph into institutions that impede the efforts to reach the lost.  They are extinguishers of the gospel fire, instead of the lighter fluid. 

Liz Wiseman writes in her wonderful book Multipliers that many leaders can become accidental diminishers.  Here is a link to the chart of the different types of leaders who unintentionally shutdown the productivity of those they lead. view chart.  Similarly, pastors and leaders of the churches become diminishers also when they get caught up in doctrinal squabbles.  They can also shut down creativity by limiting the ways they do ministry.  

These are just two of the ways the church acts as a deterrent rather than a catalyst for ministry. What might be some other ways you can think of that the church may be accidental diminishers, deterring what they are trying to accomplish?

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to understand the New Testament and first century church better

Depiction of early church painted on a church in Romania

I recently had the fortune to read Frank Viola's book, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament.  Wow! This book has really helped me understand the bigger picture of just what it took for this new faith to grow and how it all fit together.

In The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, Frank Viola takes all the New Testament books and puts them in their proper chronological order, detailing the missionary journeys of Paul and how the early churches began.  We get a first-hand "you are there" narrative, traveling with Paul on his journeys and feeling Paul's disappointments and his victories. 

Here are some of my takeaways from the book, other than the big picture:
  • At one point I had to put the book down and just contemplate the complexities and dysfunction of the early churches. You think you have problems in your church! So many churches struggled with false doctrine and battles over control. That's what Paul's letters were all about, but reading this book helped me see just how important Paul and Peter were to keeping the church from totally self-destructing. 
  • Paul's commitment, determination and laser focus to do what God called him to do is incredible! In spite of beatings, stoning, imprisonment and threat of death in almost every city and town he visited, in spite of reports of deep rooted problems and conflict in churches he had started, he kept going and kept leaving a group of believers behind in each local who would become the church.
  • The end of the book describes how each of the disciples was martyred for their faith. I was numb after reading because I had gotten to know them better. It was as if you are watching the closing credits of a movie about individuals and you see how each turned out, the rest of the story. Well the rest of the story of the disciples is not pretty. They died horrendous deaths for their faith. 
I would encourage everyone to get the book and read it. Viola adds great footnotes at the end of the chapter which let you know where in the scripture he is referencing along with insightful bits of information that make the story of the first century church come alive. I had the Kindle version and read the book on my iPad and used my iPhone to read the footnotes at the end of the chapter as I came to them on my iPad.  I'm sure it will inspire any church planter to overcome obstacles and to press on and make disciples.

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Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by w...