Understanding My Role

In my opinion, one of the most challenging parts of starting new work is to understand how to align your day-to-day work with the goal that you are trying to achieve. You know that you want to see a certain outcome, but finding the right path toward that goal can be pretty difficult when you are, yourself, developing that path in the moment.

In my past, I’ve worked within organizations where I was hired to do a particular job. I saw a job posting, applied and got the job, and then went on to perform the role that I was hired to do. In the job that I’m thinking of, I was hired to be a salesperson. The company hired me to do that job, told me how they wanted to have the job done and what my goals were, and so that is what I did. My success in that role generally depended on my effort and my effectiveness in finding the right people who needed my product and explaining to them how my product could meet their needs.

In another role, I worked within an organization but was told that my job was to build an organization that would meet the objectives that I was given. I can remember that early in the organization’s development, we had some success in selling products, but I was asked about the progress that we had made specifically for the objectives that I had been given. At that point in our growth, I had to say “not yet”, in the sense that we hadn’t yet made any progress toward those goals. Despite our success in sales, we weren’t yet making progress toward the real objective. My job was to build an organization that would meet certain objectives, but I hadn’t done that yet.

At that point, realizing that I had not aligned my role, and that of the few people working for me, in the direction of the objectives, I made several changes. Those changes aligned us toward accomplishing the objectives and my role, and those of my co-workers, was now pointing in the direction of the success of those objectives.

In our work now, I’ve realized a few things that I believe have become pretty important to the success of what we are doing.

First, we don’t have anyone defining our specific objectives for us. We have to come up with those objectives ourselves, and the way that we state them makes a significant difference in how we should expect to operate within the context of our work.

Second, once we know those objectives, we then need to think clearly about what my individual role is in reaching them. Similar to the example above, you might find that you are having success, but that success may not be toward the objective that you hope to achieve. You may have good news to report to others, but if that good news is not taking you in the direction of the accomplishment of your objective, you have probably either not defined your objective correctly, or you are not fulfilling the role properly, taking appropriate actions to lead to the goal.

OK, so let’s stop speaking abstractly, and instead get specifically to the situation at hand. In our case, here are our objectives as I see them:

  1. See a discipleship and church planting movement
  2. That is led indigenously by the people that we are here to reach
  3. That will reach a minimum of four generations

What do each of those mean? Let’s break these down a little so that we understand what we mean:

1. See a discipleship and church planting movement. This means that we are setting out to see multiple disciples and multiple churches planted. We are not trying to make one group of disciples or one church that revolves around us, but instead a group of disciples that will go on to make disciples themselves.

2. That is led indigenously by the people that we are here to reach. We believe that God has called us to the unreached, and with the immigration that has come from Africa and the Middle East to Italy, we focus specifically on those who come from unreached people groups. To accomplish this objective, we may strategically partner with those who come from a reached people group in order to connect and reach unreached peoples, but throughout our work, we are focusing on unreached peoples. In the end, the network should be led by, and be reaching, people from the unreached people groups.

3. That will reach a minimum of four generations. This means that, if I am Generation 0, then I need to disciple someone (Generation 1) who will disciple someone else (Generation 2) who will disciple someone else (Generation 3), etc. We want to see this happen to at least four different generations, reaching those from the unreached, and starting communities of believers, creating generations of churches along the way.

People that study movements like what we are talking about here have helped us understand that our role is probably quite different than what we would have originally imagined. I think that when we originally landed, we thought that we would be the primary people who are sharing the Gospel, discipling, and starting the churches.

However, what we have learned is that the movement work needs to be indigenous from the beginning. The people that you are trying to reach should be leading or helping to lead from the start.

This makes a significant difference in how we understand our role. If someone else should be leading from the start, what should we be doing? We are primarily developing partnerships and working together with our partners. This is frequently called an Insider – Outsider partnership, meaning that the Insider is a person that comes from the culture or people group that you are trying to reach, and the Outsider is the person that is coming in from outside of that culture.

What could we, as the Outsiders, bring to the partnership?

First, we can help bring vision. It could be a vision to reach an entire city or an entire group of people. We can look into the scriptures together with our partners to see how God desires to reach all people, everywhere. We could also, for example, see how this actually happened in the Bible, read about what Jesus taught about making disciples, and learn how the Apostle Paul planted churches. We can ask questions to think together with our partners what it would take to reach these people and begin to develop a vision together to do it, making disciples and

Next, we can also help with discipleship processes and tools that can be reproduced from one person to the next. All of these, of course, are confirmed or changed within the context of the partnership for the purpose of reaching the people group, but this is another area that an Outsider may be able to help.

And finally, we can be an encouragement to our partners. We can encourage them in our words, affirming their work. We can encourage them by being a blessing to them or their families. We can work alongside of them to both model and coach what we are trying to do together. All of these things can be a significant encouragement to our partners.

So does all of this mean that we don’t share the Gospel, or we don’t disciple others to faith? Yes, we definitely do this, but it is important to consider the amount of time that we spend doing this on our own versus finding others to partner with to help them to make disciples and plant churches. In doing this, we can align our activities to have a role that will achieve the goals that we are trying to accomplish.

Good Listens – April 11 2020

I’ve been enjoying various podcasts recently. Here are a few that I would recommend based on some of my recent listening:

How Do I Know if the Holy Spirit is Within Me? – Desiring God

Stronger in the Fire with Chris and Rebekah – Antioch Resiliency

Radical Effects of the Resurrection – Desiring God

The Opioid Tragedy, Part 1 – Freakonomics

Soup is Soup – The Daily

Changing Your Church Culture – The CDM Podcast

Rapid Growth?

As I was growing up, I was a competitive swimmer. From the time that I was 10 until 18, I swam as part of several clubs and school teams.

At Eastern High School, the school that I went to from my earliest days, there was a poster that hung on the wall. It was a picture of Greg Louganis, a competitive diver who was making a name for himself for several reasons around that time. His greatest platform was that he was simply a great diver, winning gold medals at two Olympics, in 1984 and 1988, in multiple events.

The poster on the wall, while I can’t remember exactly what it said, essentially talked about Greg’s “Overnight Success”. It went something like:

After 20 years, they called him an overnight success.

The point of the poster was that, if you think that you will have success quickly, in whatever you do, think again. If you want to have the kind of success that Greg has had, it will take long-term commitment. It will take work to improve yourself and your techniques. Work that must be sustained for years and decades. And then success may come your way.

I thought of that poster this week when I read this article by Elliot Clark on the Gospel Coalition’s website. The article is actually a critique of the type of work that we do. He speaks of some who are placing expectations on others to grow rapidly in their discipleship work, creating “overnight success” in their missional work. In response, I had three thoughts I wanted to share.

First, I wanted to say that I generally agree. As you hopefully see from my thoughts above, I don’t really believe much in overnight success. Not because it is terrible if it would happen, but instead that it just typically doesn’t work that way. Like the example of Greg Louganis, the norm is that you work for a long time, doing the right things over a sustained period, and then you might see success. There are no guarantees in life, but generally speaking, if your goals are worth working for, they are worth working a long time to achieve.

Second, I do believe that quick, exponential growth is certainly possible in our line of work, but it would come as a result of having multiple people doing the work. In disciple-making, a multiplying effect would come if there are people who are multiplying the work. It only makes sense that if you have 1 person who makes another disciple, you now only have 2 disciples. Even though you’ve grown by 100%, it still doesn’t look like much to others looking in from the outside.

But after that, you have 2 that will make 4, and 4 that make 8, and 8 that make 16, and so on. And after some time, you see the multiplying effect that you’re looking for. If you were to just start to know these people after they hit this stride of the multiplying effect, and if you weren’t careful to think deeply about the history of how the group arrived at this place where you have now found them, you might start telling a story of an “overnight success” with rapid growth, one who should be formulaically copied because of the speed of their success, meanwhile having forgotten all of the time and effort required from the beginning.

Third, I think it would be much more helpful if Elliot were to speak more specifically. Instead of throwing a blanket over an entire group of people and their work, thus making it sound like everyone who does this kind of work thinks this way, I believe it would be better to call people out directly. Anyone can write a criticism that sweeps across multiple people, but it takes someone who actually cares more deeply to dive into the issue with individuals and effect change.

In my opinion, throwing blanket criticisms can have some pretty divisive effects. Even if it is not Elliot’s intention, the results can be – and I can experientially confirm this to be the case – that people will believe that anyone who is working to do disciple-making work and using similar terminology to what he is criticizing, believe just as he suggests.

So, because I have personally heard these types of criticisms before where it has been suggested that I advocate speed of evangelism and conversion with a superficial layer of learning instead of a depth of discipleship, I’d like to be clarify how I see this issue:

  1. We must sow the Gospel broadly across multiple people.
  2. Those that respond, we must teach to follow Christ. This takes study, experience, time, correction, repentance, and many other steps.
  3. Part of following Christ is teaching these followers to teach others. I see no need to wait a long time for someone to share and teach others what they have learned, but instead, as a disciple receives something from God, they should pass it along to another.
  4. This will likely go on in small numbers for quite some time. However, after a while, you will have multiple people who are doing this together – walking in Christ together, making disciples together – and this will begin to produce a multiplying effect.
  5. As a result, you will likely initially go slow, working closely with smaller numbers of people at first, but after a while, looking at the group as a whole, you will see that a group will become much larger and it will appear to be growing quickly. This will be due to the fact that there are multiple people going through this discipleship process at the same time, not because the process itself necessarily suggests that you must move quickly.

The Work Goes On

This week, living under quarantine in Italy, we had a meeting with our leader’s team over Skype. We read the book of Philemon where the Apostle Paul sends a letter to Philemon, asking him to welcome back Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

It is a great story of Paul’s attempt to reconcile these two men, although the reason that we read the story was to highlight for the men that are leading the discipleship work here that Paul did this while he was in prison.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul told them to imitate him as he imitated Christ, so I asked the guys to think about what we can learn from Paul and how we can imitate him. Paul was doing this work from prison, and while we are not exactly in prison, we are quarantined in our homes here in Italy.

Here were six things that the team pulled out of the passage that we can learn from Paul:

  1. We can be of use to others in any situation.
  2. We should strive for unity, standing up for unity amongst our brothers in Christ.
  3. We should be bold, as Paul was boldly stepping into this situation between Philemon and Onesimus, yet do all of these things in love.
  4. We see that Paul was evangelizing and seeing people come to Christ, even while in prison.
  5. He is bringing people together, discipling them, and encouraging them, even while he himself is in prison.
  6. Paul knows that he has spiritual authority, and suggests it, but he is gentle in his approach, knowing that he is entering a very difficult and challenging situation.

At the end of the meeting, we each made a commitment to take action from one of these points…something that we can do this week in view of following Paul’s example. How can we continue to make disciples, even while under quarantine?

Jesus Came Not to Give Bread but to Be Bread

For whatever reason, I frequently wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning. Not wanting to actually get up, but instead continue to rest and sleep, I will put a headphone in one of my ears, listen for a minute to whatever podcast is next in line on Spotify, and head back to sleep. Often, it will play through several podcasts and I find that I frequently will wake up to John Piper preaching because I have subscribed to some of the podcasts that his Desiring God website puts out.

This morning, I woke up to the start of a talk that Piper gave, I believe in 2009, at Angola prison in Louisiana to many of the inmates there. Given that I have a little extra margin time due to being quarantined at home here in Sicily, I thought that I would both watch the video in whole and share it here as the message is beautiful.

Piper says Jesus teaches that we should not look to him for what he can give us, in this case the bread, but instead for the preciousness of who he is. I hope you enjoy and will eat of Christ as Jesus calls us to do.

Original article on Desiring God Website: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/jesus-came-not-to-give-bread-but-to-be-bread

Baptism in the Name of Jesus

I have recently had some conversations with some friends within our discipleship network about baptism. A video, in fact, was sent to me with a teaching on why we should baptize in the name of Jesus instead of in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as Jesus says in Matthew 28:19.

I hope to represent the discussion well, and I write this primarily to help myself think this through as I tend to do best when I can organize the ideas coming to me and then organize my ideas as well.

So, let’s start with an outline of the teaching that was sent to me.

Looking at Matthew 28, we see that Jesus is returning to heaven to be with the Father and he is giving his final instructions to his disciples. He says:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

However, later, in the book of Acts, we see that the apostles baptize in the name of Jesus. Here are some examples:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38

When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 8:15-16

“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Acts 10:47-48

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 19:5

The assertion here, then, is that the apostles did not baptize as Jesus told them, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but instead in the name of Jesus.

So why, according to my friends who are teaching this, would the apostles do this?

The first justification is that they believe that Jesus gave them additional revelation and instruction through the Holy Spirit. In the book of John, we can see that Jesus tells his disciples this:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

John 16:12-15

So in this scripture, we see that Jesus says that he has more to say to them and that the Holy Spirit will guide them in the truth. As a result, my friends say that baptizing in the name of Jesus – as we see in the four scriptures above – is one of those things that Jesus teaches the apostles through the Holy Spirit.

Another scripture that they point to is in Colossians where Paul admonishes the Colossian church:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

Clearly, baptizing someone is something that we would do in deed, so this also would fall into the category of being done in the name of Jesus.

I’ve asked whether or not they consider this to be a contradiction between what Jesus said and what they are saying is the practice of the apostles to baptize in the name of Jesus. They say No, there is no contradiction. Here are the points to explain why:

First, they say that we know that when Jesus says to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we aren’t actually “saying their names”. We know the name of the son – Jesus – but otherwise the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ.

In terms of the “name of the Father”, they point to John 17:26 where they say that, in the Greek, Jesus says that he has revealed the Father’s name to the people, not only that he has made the Father known to the people as it is translated in English in the NIV.

Second, they say, we know that the name of Jesus is the only name that saves, so why is there a need to say another “name”?

Finally, they point out that when the Holy Spirit came, the disciples, now as the apostles, would have understood that the name Yeshua means Yah saves, so if we say that we’re baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then by baptizing in the name of Jesus creates no contradiction.

Framing the issue

OK, so now we’re asking… what do we think about this? From my perspective, I’m thinking about a few different components to this question:

First, theologically, is there a problem here? Is this interpretation creating a contradiction within the scripture, or is it possible that the method being used here is flawed?

Second, the goal of our work is to make disciples that make disciples. Therefore, it is clear that what is taught is, by definition, intended to be passed down and practiced. We are teaching one to teach another to teach another, etc., over multiple generations. If we endorse a practice that is not good in one way, we would expect to see this practice handed down from one generation to the next.

Third, in our Christian world where we are known for division, I think that it is important to fight for unity. If that is the goal, then, what are the criteria that we should use to be certain that, if we are to divide, we are doing it based on very good reasons that address the core of our faith, not on a secondary issue that shouldn’t be significant enough to ultimately regret making a decision for division.

Theological discussion

Theologically speaking, here are a few thoughts that I’ve had regarding baptizing in the name of Jesus.

First, I acknowledge that, at the least, the book of Acts says that the apostles call for new believers to be baptized in the name of Jesus. The question that I have, then, is whether or not that necessarily means that they are doing something different than what Jesus had directly told them to do. To make a couple of examples, could it be that they were drawing a couple of possible distinctions here? Here are two possibilities that I can think of:

One option might be that they are drawing a distinction between the baptism of John the Baptist, the other popular baptism happening at that same time done as a sign of repentance before God, and a baptism in the name of Jesus. In that case, maybe they would call for people to be baptized in the name of Jesus but yet, at the point of actually baptizing someone, they do as Jesus commanded and baptize “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.

A second possibility that I have seen in the commentaries is that the apostles, when saying that people should be baptized in the name of Jesus, are drawing a distinction for the Jewish people. For them, and for any others who are already part of monotheistic faiths, to be called to be baptized in the name of Jesus would be a distinguishing factor from what they have known previously. Belief in the ability to come to God through Jesus distinguishes the new believer from their previous faith of some other ways to connect to God, whether through sacrifices, good deeds, or otherwise.

So as I’ve thought about this, I’ve sort of (I think – I’m not sure, yet…) convinced myself that, if I were to go to a baptism today, and the person baptizing said to the one being baptized, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ!” and then dunked them in the water, I might think – Hmm… that seems different than what I understand, but… OK…

But it is the next part of the discussion where I sense some concern welling up within myself and a sense of potential danger. When my friends pointed to John 16:12-15, it seems to me to be a problem. As a refresher, it says:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

John 16:12-15

Here are a couple of reasons why this concerns me:

First, Jesus says that he has much more to say than his disciples can now bear. To me, this suggests that there are things that he will explain to them that he hasn’t explained to them previously, things he hasn’t spoken about. An example of this might be how the church should function and how leadership might work amongst them as they form their community. These will be important issues for them in the future as they lead others, but the specifics of these issues haven’t been addressed to date from Jesus, at least as far as we know. So this might be something that the Holy Spirit would speak to them about and could be something more than they could bear.

And second, the invocation of this verse, saying that the Holy Spirit spoke to the disciples, telling them to do something different than what Jesus had told them to do previously seems pretty difficult to swallow from my perspective. Why would Jesus tell the disciples to do one thing only to have the Holy Spirit tell them something different just a few days later?

As a result, this is where I have a concern because if we are willing to make an interpretation here that Jesus would say one thing and then subsequently say, without any direct evidence, that the Holy Spirit told the apostles something different, that leaves a lot of the scripture up in the air. It is a “slippery slope”, as they say, because if you can interpret one scripture in this way, you could do the same with others.

It seems to me that, instead of saying that there is a “new revelation” we should be considering some other explanation for the difference between what Jesus said and what we see the disciples saying within the book of Acts. Is it possible that one of the explanations above, or potentially yet another explanation, could be the reason for the difference?

How we practice

Now, moving on to the issue of how we practice… Within our network of disciples and disciple-makers, I think that there are a few things that we should keep in mind:

First, we should assume that there will be theological differences and differences in practice between us and the people that we are working with. We should both be prepared for this and prepared for how we can distinguish between issues that are at the “core” of both our theology and our practice and those that are not. In this case, we need to confirm, theologically, how close to the core these issues are, and for what reasons.

Second, because the very nature of our work is to create generations of disciples (disciples making disciples), we need to be sure that we are OK with the passing down of a particular type of teaching.

Beyond that, what are the points that we want to make sure are taught in a particular way. For example, our second lesson within the Commands of Christ specifically teaches a way of baptizing, and that in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Are we OK with someone leading others in a way that is different from others that we are teaching?

It seems that changes are likely to happen in other contexts as well, especially as we think about the use of specific disciple-making tools as we are likely to run into various types of tools that individuals will use. I suppose this, then, probably ultimately connects back to our theological views. Are we OK with what would be not only a change in the practice but also the theological perspective?

Fighting for Unity

In the last point around fighting for unity, I think that we need to seriously consider what it means to fight for unity among us as believers. Below are some questions to ask ourselves that I have been considering for this question, and potentially for other things that will likely come up in the future:

  • Is Jesus being exalted and held up as our King and Savior if we do this?
  • Is God being glorified if we do this?
  • Are we certain that we are hearing from the Holy Spirit if we do this?
  • Can we maintain a core connection to our faith while continuing to work together without sacrificing what we believe is correct biblically?
  • Are we continuing to speak the same ministry “language” and staying true to our vision of seeing a movement go forward if we do this?

I think that, if we can answer Yes to these questions, we should probably have good reason to continue to maintain unity amongst us.

But I’m not an evangelist…

Well, I’m not really a very good one either, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The title of this post is a sentiment that I’ve heard from time to time over the last several years. I’ve heard it expressed in a few different ways, but several people have told me something that goes like this:

You don’t understand… Not everyone is like you and can do the things that you do. We aren’t all evangelists.

Or they might possibly connect the discussion to spiritual gifting:

You know, I just don’t have the gift of evangelism, so sharing with others isn’t what I do.

Or finally, suggesting the same about others:

God doesn’t give the same gifts to everyone, so we can’t suggest that everyone should be able to share with others in the same way that you do.

These concerns – really, objections – typically come up with Christians that I’ve spoken with as we’ve discussed that being a disciple of Jesus means making a disciple of Jesus. In fact, based on this experience, I would even dare to say that some reading this post will likely say that I raise this issue because I have a gifting of evangelism and am sensitized to this, thinking that everyone should go and constantly evangelize others (I’ve heard that one too! 😉).

But please hear me when I say that this is not who I am. Yes, I do go to evangelize. I do walk up to people on the streets, start a conversation and ultimately share my testimony, the Gospel, or both with them. And there are times that I walk away from those conversations having truly enjoyed how it went.

But I promise you that each time that I do, it is a matter of decision. I’ve scheduled that time because I know that I need to specifically set aside the time to go, or I won’t go. I’ve put together the things that I need for that time and walked out the door, obligating myself to go and do it…because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

Instead, for me, the truth is something quite different. I have needed to learn from others the importance of going, how to share, and what to do as a next step after I have completed the initial steps of connecting and sharing the Gospel. And it is this process that I have been through that I believe the scriptures speak of and teach us.

Just before returning to heaven, Jesus told his disciples that they would speak for him locally and beyond. He said:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1:8

So we see that Jesus intended for us to share with others, yet I wonder where the confusion comes from about whether or not we are called to share with others, to be evangelists. Personally, I think that it is related to a fear of rejection for our faith. We think that by sharing with others we will no longer be in relationship with those that know what we truly believe. And it is possible that this is true, that we might be rejected.

But I think that the most difficult part is that we might use the listing of the spiritual gifts that are intended to build up the church as an excuse why we shouldn’t do one of those things because that is currently not one of the areas where we are strong.

Let’s take a look at what that scripture says:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

We can see clearly here that there is a reason that Christ gave these gifts. Of course, it should be the case that those with these gifts are exercising them regularly, but that actually isn’t what Paul says here. Instead, he says that it is to equip the people to serve!

If we are to follow the plans and commands of Jesus, I believe it means that we need to bring forward those who have each of the gifts and allow them to teach so that the body will be equipped. Some of that teaching may not look like what we are used to in our churches, but I believe that it is very important if we truly desire to see the body of Christ around us built up into maturity and the fullness of Christ.