• 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!

Why I am not the centre

Why am I not the centre?  It’s because of people like Manu.centre of attention

Last night, we were participating in the bi-weekly small group from our local church.  My wife & I were actually part of the original ‘launch team’ that got this group started.  Our team prayed for several months about ‘launching’ this group, we then began the group, and it has morphed through several phases.  We are now meeting regularly; with about ten people participating each time.

So who is leading the group?  Well, it wasn’t me last night.  It was Manu.  Manu is a young guy with good skills.  He does a good job in preparing the meeting/study and is open to feedback.  He’s the future of our group, of our local church.

I’m not the centre because we (you and I in each of our ministries) want to ‘release people into ministry’.  So, at a given moment, the ‘spotlight’ has to go off of us and on to someone else.  Someone else has to be ‘equipped’ and ‘released’.  The struggle is that many times we think the person to replace us has to be ‘on the same level as Jesus’ to be able to do the work we do.  So, not being the centre is as much about ‘releasing’ another’ as it is about ‘giving away’ what we love doing.

The amazing piece is that there is such joy when you watch another move into ministry and take your input to heart.  I have watched Manu grow in his ability to lead our meetings and that is such a joy.

The amazing piece is that God gives us multiple opportunities to ‘reach, invest, equip and release others into ministry’.  However, I do have to ‘release’ others if I want to be able to start all over again.

If you are stuck at the ‘releasing’ phase, why not ask someone to come alongside and help you give away what needs to be given away, so that you can begin again.

Nationals do it better

Some of us remember this statement from many years ago.  However, it has lost none of its relevance and importance to the work of multiplying disciples and communities of believers.

Nationals do it better” is meant to focus our eyes on the ‘end’ as well as the process of ministry. prayerart0508_01

The ‘end’ to which cross cultural ministry is directed is a movement of multiplication across a people group. The most fruitful or effective way for this to happen is when national believers take responsibility for the ministry.  One researcher noted that no long term church planting movement has ever been launched or carried out by expat workers.  If that is the case, then more effort needs to be made in investing in others.

Investing in others, particularly nationals, runs into a number of potential hindrances.

First, the hindrance of short term fruit versus long term fruit.  The work of ‘investing in’ others is long term.  You will not see the fruit or results of working to help others grow in Christ in a short period of time. This is why we often prefer to do the ministry ourselves.  Fruit comes more quickly, but may not be the long term fruit needed to see a ministry multiply in the long term.

Second, the hindrance of a limited view of the Spirit’s work in the lives of others.  How many times have we thought our efforts wasted when no discernible fruit was seen in the lives of those we discipled?  Yet, at a much later point that effort finally yielded more fruit than we thought possible. Our efforts were not in vain (1 Corinthians 15), the Spirit applied the truths of Scripture at His appointed time, and we learned that these national believers did a better job of sharing those same truths with others.

Finally, the hindrance of wrongly attributed glory.  We can be unaware of how often the ministry centres on us.  If we listen to our conversations (or read our prayer letters), it is uncanny how often we talk about ‘my ministry’ or ‘the church I am leading’ or ‘the small group I started’.  The glory is being attributed to the wrong person. God seeks for ‘all the saints’ to be participating and ministering in this temple He calls the Church. The glory goes to him as we give away the ministry to those we serve.

Nationals do it better” means we look long term, we trust the Spirit, and we decide that “whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.”  (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Handing off the baton

It is a simple statement that gets lost in the larger context of one of Paul’s letter where hehanding-the-baton writes: “and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith.” (1 Thessalonians 3:2).  This is the same Timothy who was earlier called Paul’s ‘beloved and faithful child in the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:17).  This Timothy, Paul’s fellow coworker, is now sent to minister to the church at Thessalonica.

Paul had ‘handed off the baton’ to Timothy.

What that process looked like is not completely clear or written down.  We can see different parts of the process as we read about Paul’s journeys and study his letters to churches.  We can observe that there was a beginning when Paul identified Timothy for development, there was time spent with him in training, and there was a time when he was sent out on his own.

What does all that mean for you and me?  For one, it raises a simple question: where am I, where are you in the ‘passing on the baton’ process?  Are you in the process of training someone?  Or have you not yet taken the first step of identifying someone or some people in whom to invest?

Secondly, this work should take us back again to our Central Ministry Focus: “reach, invest in, and equip others to release them into ministry”.  The Central Ministry Focus is not a one day webinar we host.  It’s a journey of training where we work with others to develop them and release them into ministry.

Another way to put it, that I often heard from a New Zealand brother, was: who is your Timothy?

Are you kidding?

We are a discussion oriented mission ‘culture’. In other words, we enjoy talking, discussing, and debating topics that relate to our global ministries. Sometimes our discussions can keep us from actually implementing outcomes of the topic under discussion.

The World Team Ministry Framework is a tool to help us review who we are and what we do. Our mission, guiding principles, central ministry focus and organizational culture provide talking points which should give way to concrete applications (and changes) in our work and ministry.

Take for example the element of ‘facilitation’ under our guiding principles.  The descriptor for this element reads:

Facilitative ministry is a mindset regarding one’s role, function, and end result.  It means to support and assist others so that they are able to do the ministry. Facilitation includes drawing out the gifts, talents, experiences and desires of others, and encouraging them to do ministry.  Multiplication is inherent in facilitation because the end result is that others perform the work of disciple making and church planting as well.”

We can certainly talk about the benefits of facilitation; the relationship between facilitation and pioneer work; or the picture of a facilitative approach to ministry. Nevertheless, the struggle will be to answer and apply our answers to this question: what will a facilitative approach look like for me in ministry today?

It could mean at least two things today. For one that I learn to deliberately say ‘no’ to a ministry are you kiddingopportunity in order to allow another to take up that opportunity, and be ready to provide feedback and support.  For another that I regularly ask the question: who could do this ministry task?  What training would they need?

You might be saying at this moment: “Are you kidding? I have enough trouble just trying to do ministry, let alone giving time to training another.”  Here’s where the real work of the WT Ministry Framework begins.  It’s more than just a means for good discussion. It’s meant to be an assessment tool which causes us to better align our work, and change, if needed, our current ways of doing ministry.

What got you here …

Several years ago, Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book that was a New York Times bestseller.  The title was simply: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  The thrust of Goldsmith’s argument was that when people move from one level of responsibility to another, they need to learn a new set of skills. Most people, however, falter under new responsibilities because they try to ‘super-size’  the skills and talents from their previous level or role at the next level. Any new level calls for different abilities and aptitudes, most of which will need to be added to one’s toolkit.what got you here

Flux and change are part of a cross cultural worker’s normal life.  Teammates arrive; teammates move on to another ministry. One role and responsibility gives way to another in the task of discipling and building communities.  Our job descriptions are best described as fluid.

This is why we need to consider the application of Goldsmith’s advice to our lives and ministries; advice which is no different than the apostle Paul when he wrote: “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)  Call it lifelong learning or ‘ongoing adult ed’, all of us should strive to grow more in our character and our competency.  Setting a ‘growth step’ for this year and enlisting the help of another, will help to add a needed new tool to one’s CP toolkit.

However, our work doesn’t stop there.  Now think of the others who are arriving to join in ministry with us. How can we facilitate their development, their ongoing learning?  What are the tools, skills, aptitudes in which we can train them?  Don’t assume that ‘what got them here in missions will get them there where they need to be in church planting’.

All of us are lifelong learners.  Those who have been on the journey a little longer should become facilitators of lifelong learning for those joining in cross cultural work and ministry.

Why?

It’s been almost two week since the events of November 13th here in Paris.  Many of you are aware of the tragedies that took place.  Many of you have been much in prayer for the people of France since that time.  In the first few hours and days afterwards, one question was often on the lips of people: why?we are paris

The question can come in a variety of forms, but it can be reduced most times to that one simple word: why? The question is not unknown to the biblical writers (read Habakkuk), but my effort here is not to try and tease out reasonable answers to a difficult and complex question.  Rather, I want to focus on how we ‘serve’ others in such times; how to create a safe context, a Gospel context, for those around us to be able ‘get things off their chest’, so to speak, and grapple with the conflicting feelings of their heart.

Several ideas come quickly to mind …

First, tell yourself every 30 seconds into any conversation: “It’s not about me!” Whether we might agree with the following statement or not, most of us enjoy talking about ourselves.  Most of us enjoy talking about ourselves (our pains, our joys, or our struggles) more than we do in listening to others.  However, to facilitate others in addressing the pain and fear they may feel, we cannot be the center; especially if want others to ‘wrestle’ with God.

Next, have 3-4 questions always ready at hand; questions that are not the usual ‘yes-no’ questions, but which guide the other person into more self-reflection.  Good questions don’t just come to mind.  Reflective questions that need to be answered by more than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’, take time to formulate.  So, work a few questions prior to any conversation. Bounce them off others for their input.

Next, don’t argue in the place of God.  Gently push people to bring their anger, their resentment, and their pain to God.  He is big enough to handle all that anyone can throw at Him.  Our role is to ensure that people know that God will listen and is sensitive to their call, not necessarily to try and answer all the questions people ask.

Finally, don’t be afraid of silence.  Talking with colleagues recently, they said that sometimes when you ask a person a reflective question, you just need to “leave it there.”  In other words, don’t answer for them, let them grapple with the issue.

Self forgetfulness is never easy. It is hard, very hard to put others needs above our own.  Yet, Jesus will continue to work that into our hearts by the Gospel as we step out and seek to ‘serve others’ in the ways suggested above.

Learning to align

Several years ago, Tim A. wrote a blog post with the title: “The Nine Critical Shifts that must take place in missions today”.  It is well worth a read. shift

The first shift that he mentioned was: “Moving from being primarily doers to being primarily equippers of national workers.” Facilitation is one of the core guiding principles of World Team.  However, words on a page do not always translate well into specific changes in our practices by default.  Three changes, at least, ought to happen in our day to day approach to ministry for us to better align ourselves with facilitation.

First, change our often used vocabulary.  I hear myself and many of us say with a sense of overwhelm: “I’m just so busy. There are so many things I need to get done.”  Moving towards facilitation, I would hope to hear myself and others start saying: “To whom could I give this task? Who has capacity to take on this job?

Next, find our joy not in being platformed, but in platforming others.  It is understandable that our calling to cross cultural ministry often pushes us to centre stage. However, the overwhelming assurance that our calling depends entirely on God should create a deeper humility in our hearts.  We should move more quickly to putting the interests of others above our own (Philippians 2:3) and look to platform them into ministry.

Finally, operate from the principle that less truly is more.  Letting others discover the truths of the Scriptures and their application has more lasting fruit in the life of another.  Facilitating drives us to open ‘spaces’ where people can take limited but solid content shared and work out its impact on their lives, on their own and in small groups.  Maybe that three day training could be shared in two hours with the rest of the time given over to personal and small group discussion and application?

Actually, when we move from being primarily doers to equippers, a movement and the multiplication of disciples is more likely to be nurtured to life.