• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Considering the STRATUS-Sphere

There is a new online global database which is worth a look.  It’s called STRATUS. Simply click on the word and the hyperlink will take you to the site.

As you consider the STRATUS-Sphere, you will quickly realize that among the top 30 locations [where access to the Gospel is limited and where spiritual investment is most needed] are two locations where we are committed, as a mission, to working in the future.

What the STRATUS-Sphere did for me is to re-ignite a heart commitment to pray for these two locations. Prayer is a guiding principle for us, that’s a given, but prayer is also our main access to the Father who opens doors and hearts that we could not open.

The STRATUS-Sphere also caused me to ask myself: what can I practically do to help put a team of workers on the ground among these two people groups?  I don’t have an answer to that question just yet, but it will be one of my prayer points in the coming weeks.  You might want to reflect on a similar question: What can you practically do to help put a team of workers on the ground?

The STRATUS-Sphere also caused me to wonder why I am not praying more often for the other locations which are in the top 30 locations in need of Gospel witness.  More about that later.

Might we not PRAY BIG for the peoples of these different countries where Gospel witness is so limited, that the light of Christ might shine among them?

Read outside your comfort zone

On the recommendation of a coach, I picked up a book on listening prayer.  It’s not a book that I would have necessarily selected on my own, but since someone I respect suggested it to me, I thought I would give it a read.

Just mentioning the topic may have already evoked positive or negative responses in your heart. And that’s perfectly normal as most of us prefer to read in our ‘comfort zone’.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It is beneficial to our faith to deepen our roots in the main biblical or theological framework that we know, and which allows us to know and experience Christ and His love more deeply.

However, we need the challenge to re-examine once and awhile our framework in order to discern if there are not other ways or means (the “means of grace” as the Reformers described it) by which we can grow more in love with Christ.  And which might lead to more fruitfulness in our spiritual journey and ministry with Christ.

The act of ‘listening prayer’ is not natural to me, but I am learning new elements through this book that are helping me to re-align my prayer life with God’s will and direction.

Now, I’m talking only about a book at this point.  However, this could also apply to a discussion, a podcast or some other means of being challenged to think more deeply about the biblical and theological framework that drives our life and ministry.

Paul rightly said to the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica: “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)

By the way, I will also be asking a WT colleague to read and discuss the book with me.  Another way to grow: by learning together with another, what the Lord might be wanting to teach me, to teach us.

A heart of compassion

His name was Carl.  He entered the presence of his Saviour last weekend.  His name probably won’t mean much to most of you, but he taught me a great deal about a deep understanding and commitment to the Word, a faithful and consistent walk with Christ, and a constant need to have one’s heart refreshed in the Gospel.

I had heard a lot about Carl in my early days of training for pastoral ministry.  My first significant encounter with Carl was when I passed my theology exam to be licensed and ordained in our denomination.  For those unfamiliar with this process, it’s a means by which a group of churches identifies and affirms those called to pastoral ministry in terms of their theology, life and practice.

Carl was the kind of person who made the proverbial “knees shake” when you walked into a room for a discussion with him.  The theology exam was basically three (3) hours face to face with Carl.  What I learned during that afternoon exam was that explaining the Bible to others was not something you could do from a quick and cursory study.  It took time, energy, perseverance, dialogue with others, and prayer.  It wasn’t biblical understanding just for the sake of being able to explain some intricate biblical text.  It was understanding that would lead to change and transformation in one’s heart and life.

That is what I saw even more as I began to spend time with Carl over the next number of years.  All that he knew about God and the Bible actually worked its way out in his life. Even though I was no longer living in the US, I remember how often he would agree to meet me at an airport or at a coffee shop to listen and share his thoughts, insights and prayers.  The more I listened, the more I began to see the amazing connection between the God of which he spoke, and the life he sought to live.

However, I think the greatest gift that Carl gave me was his regular honest confession of his daily need of the Gospel.  The message that “God is for us” (Romans 8:31-39) was the reminder and refreshment that he sought. 

One summer, I was asked to speak at the opening night of Missions Week for our denomination.  Most of the pastors in our denomination would be present in the audience.  I remember watching many of them file in and take seats in the front rows of the auditorium. I wondered how I could possibly speak in front of such a group of erudite and seasoned pastors.  My message was on the Gospel and its impact on my life in recent days. “If the Gospel was not good news for me again, how could it be good news for those around me who did not know Christ.”  At one point, I turned and looked over at Carl who was sitting in those first few rows.  Tears were streaming down his face and I thought to myself: “I must have said something that wasn’t theological well put.” When I asked him afterwards why he was crying at that particular moment, his reply took me by surprise: “David, the message of the amazing love and grace of Christ for me was just the message that I needed to hear again tonight.  I could not keep back the tears of joy.” 

There it was. The man who had made my “knees shake” during a theology exam, gave me the gift of a life solidly founded on the Word, a willingness to invest in others, and a heart so sensitive to his need of the Gospel that the tears flowed when he heard the ‘old, old story’ once more of Jesus and His love.

Global Leader Gathering Recap

Earlier this month, we held Global Leader Gatherings to assess our current ministry progress and discuss global ministry priorities for the coming year.  These meetings were held virtually, and as a result were able to invite a number of others to join in our discussions. We are grateful for all of those who took the time to participate, make presentations and join in discussion together.

Let me highlight four main “take-aways” from this time. [If you would like more information and detail, I would encourage you to connect directly with your Area Director.]

First take-away: the WT Ministry Framework is “one of the best things we have going in WT”.  This was the thought that one of the participants shared.  The Framework summarizes well, and in one graphic, who we are and what we do.  Pat (WT Asia) led us through a “WT Framework Assessment” where we considered how we could use the Framework to assess ministry progress, our relationships, our team culture, and even how we might use the Framework to mobilise others to cross cultural ministry.

Second take-away: our critical areas for growth are setting priorities and mobilisation.  It is never easy to prioritise, but without prioritization our efforts will become greatly dispersed and have limited fruit.  Time was spent identifying our global ministry priorities for the coming years.  “500 in 5” was the mobilisation challenge we launched several years ago to respond to our people resource needs for several new global ministry projects.  Our goal was clearly not reached.  The question we were left with (and which we will be asking many of you in the coming days) was: What could we do together in the future to discover the people resources we need to launch these new global ministry projects?

Third take-away: life-long learning is more than just a nice sounding phrase.  We spent the final day of our Global Leader Gatherings in two different workshops.  One on design thinking and the other on situational leadership.  Each of us needs regular retooling in ministry skills and further growth in character. If you would like more information on either of these workshops, contact myself, your AD or one of the people from your Area that participated in these meetings.  We would be happy to share with you the material presented.

Fourth take-away: we have an incredible group of people working with us.  I was amazed by the quality of the presentations, the depth of the discussions, and the gospel attitude of wanting to serve the larger community in any way one could. 

Scott, Jeanne, Sam, Meagan, Tom, Chris, Dan, Ryan … and I know there were many other ‘new faces’ … thank youThank you for participating and serving your team, your Area and the larger WT Global community in this way.

A huge thanks to many of you who prayed with us during these days!

The ministry of incarnational living

Recently, I listed these four (4) possible applications for an incarnational lifestyle for us as cross-cultural workers.

  • We invest significant time in understanding the local culture in which we live and work at mastering the heart language of the people we serve.
  • Disciples and communities are trained to critically contextualize the gospel in a way that preserves the integrity of the gospel as it engages one’s local context.
  • We are not satisfied until we see the gospel multiplied by disciples making disciples, and communities multiplying themselves in other communities.
  • We are not the centre nor the ultimate motor of all this work.

Then I read the following in the prayer update of our one of our fellow WT workers and smiled at the thought that they mentioned, in some way or another, the four (4) possible applications above … as well as one or two others.  We do learn from one another!

Here is what they wrote:

The ministry of language learning?  Moving to the city has allowed us to use language a lot – which means we have a lot of embarrassing moments and some great stories!

But amidst our studies we are recognizing that there is ministry even in language learning. Crossing cultures means you enter into a world where you can barely communicate basic needs at times – much less navigate cultural cues. The things that give us confidence, identity, importance, or even just predictable stability are thrown out the window.

Anyone who has ever attempted to live in a context not their own can relate. Yet God is using the very stretching, awkward journey of learning language and culture to prepare our hearts and minds for the ministry ahead. The language skills and cultural understanding that we gain in this season will have a profound impact on how we serve others in the future.

But just as significant is the emptying (Phil 2) that we are experiencing in the process. Only when we are empty can Christ flow through us; only when we are weak is His strength perfected in us (2 Cor 12:7-10).”

What do we long for?

In our work as cross-cultural church planters, we are committed to being “incarnational”.  This is one of our guiding principles as World Team workers, and can be found in the WT Ministry Framework.

We describe what it means to be incarnational in this way: “As cross-cultural workers, we intentionally surrender our rights to our home culture, language, and ways and embrace those of the host culture. By this, we seek to model Christ, who emptied himself of the privileges and powers of divinity, taking on human form, in order to carry out his mission.”

How does this biblical principle, exemplified by Jesus Christ, work itself out in our daily life and ministry?  What is its relevance and impact?

There are at least four (4) applications of an incarnational lifestyle for us as cross-cultural workers.

  • We invest significant time in understanding the local culture in which we live and work at mastering the heart language of the people we serve.
  • Disciples and communities are trained to critically contextualize the gospel in a way that preserves the integrity of the gospel as it engages one’s local context.
  • We are not satisfied until we see the gospel multiplied by disciples making disciples, and communities multiplying themselves in other communities.
  • We are not the centre nor the ultimate motor of all this work.

In my recent reading, I ran across this quote: “… missionaries tend to be self-sufficient. It’s hard for the to be needy.  But not to receive from others make them look superior.”   The writer was speaking of a specific group of missionaries, but I think it applies to all of us in general.  None of the applications above could take root in our lives if we are not dependent on God for His grace and strength to learn one more phrase today in Tagalog, Khmer, Spanish or Portuguese.  None of the applications above could produce any fruit if we are not dependent on those we serve to carry the work of the gospel forward in their culture and context.

So, which one of the four applications is the hardest for you?  What small step might you take today to begin to work that application into your life and ministry this week?