• 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!

There is a vision and there is a plan

Vocabulary.  How we say or express things is important. Important not just for clarity, but also for helping us to focus on what we are called to do and how we are called to carry out that calling.  If we mix up the “how” with the “what”, we risk missing the mark of the right motivation and purpose of our good efforts.

There is a vision and there is a plan.  A vision is that dream, that larger purpose that gets you out of bed every morning.  A plan tells you how to carry out that vision in that context or situation your find yourself.  To put it in other words, it puts ‘feet’ to the vision.  A vision inspires, a plan actions.

A difficulty arises, as we said, when the vision and plan are made synonymous with one another; when they are used to mean more or less the same thing.

Two things happen when plans and vision are confused.  First, we begin to think that we can make this project, this work, this vision happen. Self-sufficiency can easily rear its head and distract us from the Author, the Driver of His glory being declared to the nations.  Nehemiah is a classic example of one whose heart was first captured by the vision, from which flowed a plan (Nehemiah 1 -2)

Second, we may think that a plan can be applied anywhere; that the vision can be worked out in the same way in Singapore as it was in Melbourne.  A cursory reading of the book of Acts will help us see that God’s vision, God’s Gospel proclamation was explained, demonstrated and carried out in different ways, in different contexts and cultures.

World Team has a vision. It is clear and pushes us to rely solely on God to see it happen. World Team has numerous plans, innovative plans to carry out the vision.  May God drive the vision deeper and deeper into our hearts, and may the fruit be actionable plans carried out by His Spirit’s work in us to declare His glory to the nations and see communities of believers raised up and multiplied!

The Gospel & Grandstanding

It’s a story that many are familiar with, but it always seems so out of place in the context of this particular biblical narrative.  In Mark 9, we read about the transfiguration and the healing of the boy with an unclean spirit.  After these events, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection, but the disciples are unable to grasp the meaning: “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” (9:32)

This is a pivotal moment in the recounting of the life and ministry of Jesus. However, following right on the heels of this, we discover that the disciples have been arguing about “who was the greatest” (9:34).  In modern day speak, we might title this section of Mark’s Gospel: Grandstanding

Grandstanding or self-aggrandizement is choosing to make oneself the centre: the centre of the conversation, the centre of activity, and the centre of the applause given by others. 

Honestly, I don’t think the disciples (nor us for that matter) consciously and deliberately sought to put themselves in the centre.  But they did. And we do. And the fact is, we often enjoy being the centre. 

The Gospel displaces grandstanding from the heart.  The Gospel pushes one to be other-oriented rather than self-oriented; dependent on Him rather than independent, relying strictly on oneself. 

The Gospel will move us to put Christ more deliberately before others than ourselves.

Here’s the question though: what would happen, if we were to walk away from the ministry in which we are engaged at this momentWould others take up the charge?

If it all depends on us, then we are at the centre, and we are, in some way or another, people’s Savior rather than Jesus.

Talking to a fellow church planter while attending a conference on CPM in Switzerland, he shared that he had begun a new work in Eastern Europe.  He had seen a number of people come to Christ and these new disciples wanted to meet as a ‘community of believers’.  They agreed to a time for their first meeting. When the day came for the meeting, the church planter deliberately chose not to show up for the meeting.  Now I don’t know what you think, but I was a bit taken aback by his approach.  However, what happened was that the group waited, and when the church planter didn’t show up, they started the study and worship time.  And the group continued on without the church planter.

Again, I’m sure we could find fault with elements of this approach. What I learned was that this church planter understood the Gospel message of humility and tried to find ways to not to be at the centre of this work.  What he ended up demonstrating was that the group was first and foremost dependent on God, not on him.

It’s not about us; it’s all about God

Most of us were excited when we joined our first church planting team; excited to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Whatever form that church planting team took (translation, mercy ministry or small group outreach), we quickly recognized the benefit of being part of a team that was more than just one (1) person engaged in the work.

However, at some point, the team or a team member called us to account for the work that we had or had not been doing.  It may not have been something major, but our reaction made the proverbial ‘molehill into a mountain’.  To put it in other words, we took it personally.  Someone else was taking us to task; our work was being put into question. 

In that moment, we made the conscious choice to centre the work in which we were engaged around ourselves.  It was more about us in the end than it was about God’s purposes in this world.

I would argue that many of us easily slip into this mindset and way of thinking. And in many respects, it’s a natural reflex. However, the Scriptures are clear that the work that God has called us to is His work: “I will build My church”.  We don’t read that text as “David, Paul, Laura or Heidi will build God’s church”.  And yet, by our actions and reactions, we often say that very thing.

The mission, the vision that God has called us to as a community beats or trumps all!

When you find yourself reacting to the feedback or criticisms of others by defending yourself and putting yourself at the centre of what God is doing in the world, step back and take a deep breath.  And remember, or ask someone else to remind you, that the work is first and foremost about Him and His vision, His project for this world.

That’s why we need the larger community. That’s why we work in teams.

Just to be clear

In his landmark book, Good to Great, Jim Collins wrote that if there was one thing you are passionate about and you can be best at, then you should do just that one thing.  We know from the Scriptures that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30).  That is what we are to be “best at”.  But there is an interesting verse in 1 Samuel 14:7 when Jonathan asks his armour bearer for the two of them to go up alone against the garrison of the Philistines.  Listen to the armour bearer’s response: “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”  That sounds like a passionate commitment to a godly cause.

Just to be clear: we as World Team workers are passionate about seeing people come into relationship with Christ and experiencing the community of God’s people. And then sharing this same passion with others.

In mission jargon, we would say that we are passionate about church planting, or multiplicational church planting.  However, that can sometimes sound overly technical, dry, or even passion-less.  Re-discovering the passion of church planting can come by saying in other ways what drives us to love God more and what gets us out of bed in the morning.

World Team workers build healthy relationships with others.  As trust is established, they engage others in conversations about spiritual matters.  As interest arises, WT workers offer the opportunity to discover the message of the Bible together.  If interest wanes, WT workers remain strong and consistent friends.  However, as the message of the Bible draws people to Christ, they are equipped by WT workers to grow in their walk with Christ and to do the same with others.  These new believers come together in community and learn together what it will look like for them to be a witness for Christ where they live and work. And then whole process starts over again.

The exciting part is this passion is worked out in a variety of ways in World Team.  Yet it is all focused on the same end point: a living, vibrant community of believers that is growing, multiplying itself out to three, four and five generations of new believers.

That is God’s passion for the world.  May we say like that armour bearer: “Behold, I am with you heart and soul.

Calling to His mission

Os Guinness in his book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, writes this: “Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”

That is a mouthful to say the least. However, I believe Os Guinness was putting his finger on something that is central to a focused life and a life where one finishes well.

In terms of a “focused life”, Os Guinness puts our eyes and heart back on the centre of all that there is: God.  Oftentimes, we as cross-cultural workers try to fit our lives into the world in which we now find ourselves living, rather than allowing ourselves to be adapted, molded to the new context in which God has placed us.  Os Guinness puts it this way: “The truth is not that God is finding us a place for our gifts, but that God has created us and our gifts for a place of his choosing – and we will only be ourselves when we are finally there.”  I love final phrase: “we will only be ourselves when we are finally there.”. In effect, Guinness is reminding us that all the joys and struggles of a calling to cross-cultural church planting are part of God’s means to grow us up into Him; to grow us in holiness.

But Guinness also points to calling as a life where one finishes well.  Oftentimes a life that does not finish well is one of forgetfulness and loss of gratitude for all that God has done in our lives.  Doing a personal ministry timeline is one way of seeing how God has worked in our lives over months and years. Calling is first and foremost a calling to Him, to belong to Him. This we must never forget, for it will lead to a parched soul and a complaining heart. 

Calling is a central piece in the narrative of our journey with God. We are where we are because of His call upon our life.  And it’s the One who called us who will keep us where He has placed us to serve Him!

Preparing for the Resurrection

Easter is the celebration of the amazing news that: “He is risen!” 

In the history of the Church, Easter was an event for which one prepared weeks in advance.  Unfortunately, this time of Lent (the 40 days prior to Easter) has become known primarily as a time to ‘give up something’.  So, my encouragement to you is to use this next week as a time to prepare well to hear again the good news that “He is risen!”

We know that the Gospel is not a series of statements to which we adhere but is the power of salvation (Romans 1) that transforms a hope-less life into one with the firm assurance that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of Christ.

And Easter is the culminating event in the year of all those daily reminders of the price He paid to redeem us and the natural outpouring of our life in service to Him for His gift of grace in saving us. 

So how might we prepare to hear again those incredible words: “He is risen”? There are many helpful Lenten devotionals (see the recent Wellness Wednesday) which would guide you in your preparation.  However, I want to emphasize an element which is sometimes lost in our preparation: community.  Preparing for Easter is both an individual and community activity.  However, when we forget the community aspect, we deprive ourselves of the depth of insight and support that comes from sharing in this preparation for Easter together. This could be in one’s, small group, team, family or local community of believers.

One of the Church Fathers, in his Lenten devotional, wrote: “The Christian, I say, sees all that, and confessing to himself his impossibility to free himself in his own strength from the venom of sin, and to acquire by his own means a virtue so pure and so perfect, he falls in lowliness of heart before the throne of God’s grace and exclaims: Lord and Master of my life, keep from me a spirit of idleness, of listlessness, of ambition, and of idle talking. But grant me, Thy servant, a spirit of temperance, of humility, of patience and of love!”  It is interesting to note that each of the elements he mentions for confession or growth is community related.  In other words, the activity becomes an area of struggle or growth because it involves his/her engagement with others. 

Practically, what might this look like?  Here are a few recommendations.  Feel free to share others by sending a note to me and I’ll post those ideas as a blog post.

  • Share an insight you gained in your recent Lenten devotional or Bible reading with another.  Tell him/her how that insight is helping prepare your heart for the celebration of Easter.
  • Read out loud with others one of the many texts surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 27:32-56; 28:1-10).
  • Take the time to reflect with another on one of the many works of art which depict the resurrection or the events following.  Talk to one another about what this particular work of art tells you about Christ and His resurrection.