It bothered Paul to do mission work where others have already been doing it. Should it bother you?

I have many missionary friends throughout the world. In some places there are those who partner with missionaries of other organizations for the sake of the Good News. Then there are those who seek out unity among other missionaries, but the sentiment is not reciprocated. This guest post comes out of that experience and through the reading of the Apostle Paul’s writings. The author has asked to remain anonymous. Read, contemplate, wrestle and offer your thoughts. I think “church planters” might find this relevant. Blessings.

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It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. (Romans 15:20)

Speaking as a missionary of nearly a dozen years in multiple cultural contexts, this verse has often come to mind. To say that missionaries are “territorial” would be an understatement. I’ve been there, I know. Want to get another missionary riled up? Just show up in an area where they’re already working without consulting him or her or without inviting them to participate and sit back and watch the fireworks. This usually does not happen with long-term missionaries who live in, and are always present members of, the communities in which they’re ministering; but is a notorious practice of short-term missionaries who pay no mind to Paul’s urging. Are those fireworks justified? Probably not. When missionary emotions fly high in these sorts of “disputes,” it’s usually because of pride. Again, I’ve been there, and I know. 

But pride, mixed with elevated emotions, rarely makes for good biblical interpretation and application. So, let’s step away from the emotions of this issue and decide how best to employ Paul’s counsel.

I suppose the first thing that we need to do is decide whether or not Paul’s apparent personal preference is a “rule” for all of us. If not a rule, then is it a principle that we should respect? If not a principle, then is it a guide? If not a guide, then is it a suggestion? If not a suggestion, then should we just chalk it up as another of Paul’s quirky sayings and dismiss it entirely?

The second thing we need to do is to check our motives. What good reason would anyone have to work contrary to or apart from a person who is already working with a specific people group or groups? What if that person’s “doctrine” is slightly different from yours? What if we believe that the person/missionary/minister/pastor is sinning or has “fallen from grace?” What if the person already working in the area that you want to work in is of another denomination, no denomination, another church, or holds to some non-essential that just rubs you the wrong way? While we’re talking about “church,” we might as well apply all of these points there as well. We’ve so conflated territory and overlaying foundations that the unity of the body has become next to impossible.

What if none of that matters at all? What if you just don’t care who’s working where? What if you simply want to work in the area where the servant is already working because that’s what YOU WANT TO DO? 

Many of the same sorts of questions could be asked of the person/missionary/minister/pastor as well. What GOOD REASON do you have for not wanting others to work the harvest in your area if the mission is not as effective as it can be by you being there alone? What are the possible negative consequences of others working in your calling area? Are you prideful? Are you simply pissing on your fire hydrants to keep others away? Are you worried about your support drying up because someone might like the way others do mission in your area better than the way you’re doing it?

Let’s get back to Paul

We have to remember that Paul’s “area” was practically the entire Gentile world, and that it rarely, if ever, worked out well when someone else or another group came and tried to work where he had already laid a foundation. We also have to remember that Paul himself made disciples who followed-in (not followed-up) after him and continued the same teachings and discipleship. Those that did come in after Paul who tried to lay ‘another’ foundation over Paul’s work were almost always up to no good.

I think that for the most part, Paul’s desire to not preach where others were, and not to attempt to lay his foundation over another’s, was a point of honor and not one of rivalry. Also, there was practically no disparity amongst the Apostles in teaching. Even if one of the other Apostles got “in” somewhere before Paul, I am sure Paul would rest in the idea that the Gospel was delivered well. Today, we have denominational, philosophical, and ideological differences of such difference that we even if “Christ was at the center,” we’d all be talking about different things. Further, I think that when others sought to lay a foundation over Paul’s, it was exactly the opposite, namely, rivalry, selfish ambition, and a twisted mental and spiritual anti-biblical attitude to “win” some sick game.

I think we’d all admit that putting one’s harvest sickle into another’s field and thus claiming credit for the work or glory for the “achievements” that follow is ungodly. This attitude goes way beyond laying foundations on top of another’s, and borders on hostile occupation and flag planting. There is nothing admirable about invasions. 

I’d like to know what you think. If you’re a long-term missionary, I’d like to ask,  “How you feel when others come into your area of calling and seek to lay a foundation over yours?” How would you counsel someone who blatantly has no Romans 15:20 respect for you or the people you minster to? How have you dealt with these sorts of situations? How would you prevent these possible divisions in the body before they happen? How have you managed your own hurt feelings because of such actions?

For the rest of you, a few questions:

1.  How should we see Paul’s words in Romans 15:20? Rule? Principle? Guide? Suggestion? Quirky Drivel? What?

2.  What, in your opinion would be some solidly biblical reasons for ignoring Paul’s counsel in Romans 15:20? 

3.  What is the best way, if a conflict should arise, to resolve the offense or error between first foundation layers and second attempters?

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spiritual mentoring or discipleship

Here is what I believe about mentoring or discipling someone in the ways of Jesus Christ and his kingdom. The life of following and becoming like Jesus Christ is an organic and ever evolving relational process. If we aren’t changing because of the Spirit’s work I have to question if we are truly being moved by the Spirit. Mentoring others can never be JesusWashingFeet2about our own agenda. It can never be about making assumptions of others where they are spiritually. Nor can we assume that it’s a failure because someone has taken a different road than ours.

We can’t worry about the disciples becoming what or who “we” want them to become. Rather, it’s about the disciple discovering and growing in their calling or gifting as revealed by God through His Spirit. Sure, the wisdom and guidance we offer is of great value. Yet, it’s quite possible that in the end we may not like what they become because of our own leanings, but they have to own it…not us.

Like I said earlier, this is an organic thing. Because following Jesus is a constant movement forward the disciple must live a life journeying to discover their way in Him. We must walk along side others with the intent to love, encourage, admonish and restore. However, we cannot control or lord over others.

“The useless men are those who never change with the years.” – J.M. Barrie

What one must hope is those whom we disciple will take to heart and live out the good news of God’s kingdom through their calling. May the Spirit unfold the kingdom in their daily context and spiritual community. May they become the little Jesus their world needs. May we do the same and become the change our world needs.

Feature image by Emma Yarlett

Inserted image by Jyoti Sahi Art Ashram

 

movements

Spiritual Movements

When it comes to spiritual movements, or more specifically, Jesus movements, they will only get so far because of the humans leading them. Yes, we tend to get in the way.

Almost every spiritual movement I’ve witnessed in my lifetime was led by people with strong personalities who meant well, but in the end those personalities became the identity of the movement instead of the identity of the Holy Spirit through an organism of people. Movements of the Church, especially in the West, have not only been identified by strong personalities, but also the need for cultural relevance and social justice.

Are cultural relevance and social justice important? Of course, but they cannot be the end game. If we’re talking about a movement toward relevance then understand that the Holy Spirit moves in any and all cultures. If we look and discern carefully we will see the Holy Spirit is evident in all aspects of society. Unfortunately for us, we don’t always recognize the fingerprint of God. Instead we create our own movement. We call down fire from Heaven to prove God’s presence, when all God wants is for us to seek first His kingdom and all His righteousness and be that presence. He desires that we would love Him and others as we love ourselves. It’s not complicated, but it’s not easy either. It is definitely most fulfilling and humbling.

The Rabbit Trail

This will be a bit off course, but I think it will make the point. This rabbit trail leads us to the idea of “going to church” or “being in church.” Since the movement of the Dones has gained traction I have seen many articles, 140 character posts and even private emails sent to me about the need to “go back to church.” The problem with most, if not all of those communiques is they rarely address any attempt to understand the what and why of being done. Instead, there is a sense of manipulative language claiming the Dones are wrong for leaving the church. What most people still don’t understand is the Dones, like myself, have not left the “Church,” but rather the machine of the institution. It’s the reality of our lives that a call to “return to church” won’t work. At least not with me. Not right now.

Then there is the question of obedience to “the assembly” of the believers. Well, it always baffles me when verses or passages are tossed out without fully understanding the context of the author’s thought. For me, since leaving the institutional gatherings, it’s been a wonderful journey of revelation and transformation. I have some incredible brothers and sisters in my life who continually challenge me to look deeper into the heart of God. Because of that they have caused me to move and live into my context with good news.

My point here is this: Movement is a risky thing. Following Jesus Christ is a risky thing. Being led by the Holy Spirit is a risky thing. Being people of the good news of God’s kingdom is a risky thing.

Why? Because those things don’t come to us naturally or in beautifully wrapped books with clear instructions as to where we should go and how it’s going to be safe and filled with colorful rainbows. They’re risky because the life of Jesus is counterculture to the world in which we live. In reality movement is the risk one takes in disengaging from, but also challenging the powers of the day…political, governmental and religious institutions.

I say this often and probably in everyone of my posts:

May we be about the making of disciples who follow Jesus Christ and the unfolding of the kingdom of God with every step of our lives. May we help others see the reign of God here and now. May we embrace our ministry of reconciliation so others might find redemption. May we live a life of risk and total abandon to Jesus Christ. May we move…

as long as we…

“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Not too long ago I was asked how much longer it would be for Christendom’s deconstruction to come to an end and do some reconstruction.
Honestly, I don’t get the sense that deconstruction is even close to completion. There are a lot of layers to peel back and toss into the garbage. The claws of Christendom are still gripping the political landscape, while also being consumed with consumerism, nationalism and patriotism.
I was also asked if the Church would go through another Reformation. I have an issue with the term “reformation” because it gives the idea that the only thing the “old thinking” needs is a little reforming as though nothing is wrong with its parts. It’s like putting new wine in old wineskins. Boom! A big mess.
Off the Cuff Thoughts:
As long as we keep focusing the idea of church planting on replicating the big churches that planted them, or if we claim the need to be culturally relevant, then I believe very little will change. We don’t need more of the same when it’s not working transformation at the deepest levels of peoples lives.
As long as we ignore the call to make disciples like Jesus did, the Church will be about the church and not about the unfolding of God’s kingdom here and now. We need to focus less on making converts and instead, truly give ourselves to the making of disciples who follow Jesus the Christ.
As long as we see people as sinners first and not as God’s own creation we will stifle grace, hope and love. We must end the notion that the Bible is some sort of moralistic and legalistic document meant to control and manipulate others. Through the Holy Spirit the scriptures can offer hope from a King who is worthy of our praise.
As long as we push aside Ephesians 4:11 and don’t understand the gifts for the church are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, we will continue to have pastor-led, hierarchical churches with complete dependence on one voice. It’s like saying the church is only made up of the mouth and the ears. Yet, the Church must function as a body. Oh, and Jesus is the head…not the pastor, senior pastor, senior executive pastor, etc.
As long as we continue to claim that the Bible tells us women are second class to men we will remain half-hearted as a Church in our pursuit for the wholeness of God. Women were vital to the life Jesus lived and to his revelation to the disciples. I’m not sure the Church is the Church if we don’t have women apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Their voice and ministry are not any less valuable than that of a man’s, if not more so on occasions where we’ve missed hearing God.
As long as we embrace the Bible as one of the Trinity we will remain unmoved and unchanged by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus released the Holy Spirit he introduced the world to a true revelation of God unto all of humanity for the reconciliation and redemption of all Creation.
As long as we give ourselves over to political parties and leanings at the cost of the Good News being the thing that drives us and by which we filter life, then we must consider if we should be called “Christian” or Christ-like. Every area of our lives must be saturated by the good news of God’s kingdom and by the movement of the Holy Spirit.
As long as we keep putting new wine into old wineskins they will continue to burst. I won’t cry over spilled milk, but spilled wine is another thing. The metaphor is too valuable to miss here.
As long as we embrace fear and not love we are already defeated. Like U2 sang, “How long to sing this song?”
You finish this thought:  As long as we…

forgotten passages

A friend of mine, who is a pastor, sent me the following post. He is a bit hesitant to post it under his name because of the backlash he will likely receive from those in his denomination and church. I offered my blog for him to have a voice. He gave me permission to publish because he believes it should be said…as do I. So, I ask you to pray that God would give him the courage and boldness to publicly speak what the Spirit is speaking into his heart. For now, here is what he believes needs to be said…

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Dear American Christians,

Let’s stop for a second and just listen to ourselves! If you do, you will begin to hear us believe, teach, and confess, in America, Christians are entitled to certain rights and privileges, more so than others.

Is that even true? Can we back that up with any scripture in the Bible? It is almost like we believe that we are better than others, that we deserve certain rights and comforts in America, and that America is supposed to be our own personal kingdom of heaven on earth.

It would seem that if anyone believes, teaches, or confesses otherwise, they are unAmerican, should not be permitted in this country, or should leave our country immediately.

Now, we would never say these things. We would never admit to these things publicly. (I believe it may be because we have become so indoctrinated to the fact that we can’t even see it ourselves.) However, the rest of society can see it. They hear it anytime we open our mouths. They see it in the way that we live out our belief and how we treat others.

It is like we have forgotten passages like…

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.'” John 18:36

All of John 14, 15, & 16

“But Jesus called them to him and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18

Guys, it is time to repent. To turn from our selfishness, to turn from our perceived privilege, to turn from the notion that America was given to Christians by God and we own it, and to confess that we have neither loved God or our neighbor. It is time to remember that our identity is in Christ, not in the country we live in or the political affiliation that we claim.

We have forgotten that, as Christians, we are called to walk out the words of Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Look, you and I both know that, though we have been saved by faith through Christ, we still struggle with sin. Honestly, the way we have been living is more in line with our old way of life, before Christ, than in the new life that we have in Christ. Remember, and hear once again, that you have been forgiven and set free from your old way of life through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, that is not who you are any longer. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” It’s not because we have earned it or deserved it, but because of His great love for you and me.

It is truly a privilege to live in America. Yet, living in America as a Christian does not give you or I any special privilege. Why? Because the constitution gives equal rights to all citizens of our country. Besides, don’t we believe that we are just strangers and aliens here? Aren’t we citizens of heaven through Christ? Peter did write in 1 Peter 2:11-12, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

So, why has God put us here? We are here to be His agents of reconciliation, to be His witness to the world. I believe that it’s time to realize that we are the cause of more division than reconciliation; and that we have been a really crappy witness to the love, forgiveness, mercy, and new life we have received through Christ.

May God, through His Word, continually convict us of our sins; may he constantly remind us that He desperately loves us and completely forgives us; may he continually teach us what it looks like to follow him; may He strengthen us in faith through His Word and Sacrament; may He continually pour out His grace, mercy, and peace on us; and may He lead us, and give us strength, to do the same with others around us, whether they believe what we do or not.

With Love,