• 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!

Team or community?

What is a team?  And what is a community? 

To put it in as simple terms as I can, a team is a group formed around a task and a community is a group committed to life together as the people of God.  In our World Team Global network, we can easily confuse these two, mixing them so closely that they create misunderstanding and ministry stagnation.

Much of the confusion arises from false expectations that we may each bring to a team or a community.false expectations

One false expectation is that one’s team will automatically be his/her community.  This may or may not be the case.  One’s community might be best found outside of one’s team.  It’s a discussion we should not shy away from; one that would probably help our teams process and discern what community would look like for each member.  It would give us insight as to what kind of community would serve to best enhance each one’s ministry growth.

However, when one ‘demands’ that his/her team be the needed community, and when that ‘need’ is not met by the team, a good deal of heartburn can occur; frustration that derails a team from its primary mission.

A second false expectation is that we will only find true community with people from one’s same culture.  As cross cultural workers, we have chosen, following God’s call, to ‘adopt’ another people and culture.  Yes, it’s not easy to make the transition.  And yes, it’s not easy to worship and to ‘live in community’ in another language that is not one’s own heart language.  However, the richness of His grace is so much sweeter when one enters into and engages in community across another culture.  One’s heart can learn to worship in another heart language.

A final false expectation is that team and community are places where we will ‘feel good’ all the time; it will be like a ‘family’.  Both team and community, according to the Scriptures, call for robust and honest dialogue and can at times pass by moments of tension.  However, a good team and a good community know how to work through conflict and tension; just as a good family does.


Community and the Gospel

In his groundbreaking book on the history of revivals, Richard Lovelace makes this insightful comment: “Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude. In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation.”

gospelcommunityIn our World Team Global circles, we are used to hearing the phrase: “preaching the Gospel to yourself every day”.  By that we mean to say our hold on the Gospel is tenuous and our hearts need to be reminded of the deep love of Christ each and every day in order for us to live out of the Gospel.

However, when we say that we must ‘preach the Gospel to ourselves every day’, I think we often read that reminder as an individual effort.  Whereas, the Scriptures appear to place this act of remembering in a community context.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty year in the wilderness that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart.”  (Deuteronomy 8:2)

And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.””  (1 Corinthians 11:24)

We can easily miss this truth as our English translations of the Bible do not distinguish between an individual ‘you’ and a collective ‘you’; something that many other languages have embedded in their structure and grammar.

The Bible underscores the critical importance of the community in preaching the Gospel to our hearts. Others are part and parcel of the process by which the Gospel is driven deeper and deeper into our hearts.

So if community is that important in the remembering process, then we need to go looking for that kind of community where we live and minister.

Yet we hesitate from seeking that kind of community.  I know I don’t, and I know you don’t like it when others try to ‘speak into our lives’; when the community seeks to be part of our growth process.  Oftentimes people just do not do a very good job of ‘speaking the truth in love’.  Yet, there is always some element in the words of others that can cause growth in our understanding and application of the Gospel.  Living out the Gospel in community and living in community through the Gospel is not an event, but a process whereby we learn to discern God’s voice to us through others.

I need to preach the Gospel to myself regularly.  I also need to call on others to speak the Gospel to me out of our community bond in Christ.

Gotta go all the way

go all the wayOkay, I know that’s not proper English (neither British nor American).  However, my point is simply that learning to talk with others in a language that is not our heart language is a work of perseverance in order to get to the objective of sharing our faith with others in a cross cultural context.

Perseverance calls for several actions or heart attitudes that are not natural to our hearts.

For one, the work of perseverance pushes you to always keep the endpoint in mind.  We should not be satisfied with ‘almost there’.  90% is still 10% short, we could say.  The problem here is that we are good at talking ourselves into accepting ‘half-way’ work.   Other concerns begin to weigh in on us. The main concern in cross cultural life, we believe, is to ‘get out into ministry’.

For another, the work of perseverance presses on the humility quotient.  Coming from ministry experience in our own cultural context, we can feel ‘child-like’ in cross cultural life and ministry when we recognize that it takes a whole lot longer to talk, to get a sentence out then it does in our own culture and language.  Perseverance drives us see our need for grace even in language learning and cultural acquisition.

Finally, the work of perseverance can highlight (regularly) our weaknesses. The problem for me (and most of us) is that I don’t always see the benefits of this ‘highlighting’.  However, the psalmist saw this benefit (Psalm 139:23-24) and maybe his prayer should become our prayer.

It is true that at the 30 kilometer mark in a marathon, one ‘hits the wall’.  The temptation to quit is so strong when one ‘hits that wall’ that it’s hard to resist.  When I ran the Paris marathon, one of my teammates here in France stepped on the course at the 30 kilometer mark and ran with me for two kilometers.  The words of encouragement that teammate shared were just what I needed to ‘go all the way’ to the end of the marathon at 42 kilometers.

Perseverance is hard work, but it is a community work.  Struggling in language and culture?  Tempted to ‘call it quits’ before the language acquisition finish line?  Feeling discouraged at not being able to express yourself like you would want?  Call on a friend. Call on a group of friends.  Call on the community to help because we ‘gotta go all the way’ to learning the language and culture of those God has called us to serve.

Do you understand me?

Happy Reformation Day (one day late)!

Today is Reformation Day on many of our calendars.  One of the crucial elements that the Reformation ushered in was the opportunity for ordinary people to read and understand the Word of God in their own language.  People who had to ‘hear’ the Word through another who served as their translator, could now take the Word in their own hands and speak it out loud in sounds and words that would cause their own hearts to be warmed.

What the Reformers did was, in part, to give validity to the necessity and value of Bible translation.  Even more than that, though, the work of the Reformers created a paradigm shift in the then known world of Christianity.  Cultural understanding and contextual application would become vital to the spread of the Christian faith.

language learningWe as workers in God’s mission must give the time and energy necessary to understand another’s world (language, culture, worldview and context) in order to ‘put the Bible in their hands’ for them to discover, learn and apply for themselves in their culture and context.

The possible pitfalls or detours along this road of working to understand another (and his/her culture) are numerous.  Here are a few that come quickly to mind:

  • Global comprehension is adequate”: in other words, as long as I understand the gist of the conversation, I’ll be okay. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always worked for me when it comes to handyman projects. I need to know each step, each detail along the way.  Otherwise, I might find myself with water spewing all over the kitchen floor rather than the faucet correctly attached to the pipes.
  • They are happy I’m trying”: and the truth is, that many times people from another culture are happy you are trying. However, they also long for you to go farther in your abilities the longer you live among them.  The main reason being, so that you will be able to better understand their hearts and struggles.
  • It’s all about ministry”: our vision together is to see multiplying disciples and communities of believers among the unreached. It is about ministry.  However, here’s the rub with cross cultural ministry. It’s not only about what God is doing through us, but it is equally as much about what God is doing in us.  It’s often the ongoing cultural learning piece where God does a lot of work on our hearts.  Short circuiting the work of cultural learning may get you into ministry ‘faster’, but it might deprive you of Holy Spirit heart work that might provide greater foundation to one’s ongoing cross cultural ministry.

What’s great about our community is that there are many who have ‘walked this road before us’ and created ways and processes to help learn well how to ‘understand others’.  I’m sure that many of them would be open to sharing their ideas with other teams.

In the midst of all this work of cultural understanding stands Jesus; constantly calling us back to Himself so that we might have the strength, the grace and the courage to press in order to bring the Gospel to others.

Do you see Jesus for who he really is?

throw-yourself-cliff-jumpI listen to a lot of messages and sermons.  Sometimes in the midst of all the teaching that you and I receive (or give), we can miss the essential, the very heart of the Christian faith.  And that is Jesus.

One of my colleagues here had sent me awhile back an email with a link to a message given by one of my former lecturers (or professors in American English).  You know how it goes?  You get so many articles and links to read or listen to that you ‘backburner’ or file them for a later time.

Well, yesterday I pulled out that email again and started listening to this message by Sinclair Ferguson: 38 Years Waiting – God’s Word Fulfilled – There is a Hope.

The message of the Gospel for both non-believers and believers rang out clearly.  It reminded me again of how much I need Jesus every day.  In the story in John, chapter 5, everyone was missing the centre?  They were missing Jesus.  They were not really seeing Jesus for who He really is.

I would encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to this message, and as Sinclair challenges us, to ‘throw ourselves in’, into the arms of Christ once again.

Praying in a gospel centred way

Prayer is essential.  As I shared in the last post: “No man or woman can progress in grace if he forsakes prayer.”  We could enlarge that statement to read: “No team or group of workers can progress in grace in ministry to others if they forsake prayer.”

A perennial question that arises is: how should we pray for one another?  We could pray the ‘one another’ commands as a team.  We could pray the promises that God has given in His Word to sustain and encourage us.  We could pray for the perseverance to stay faithful in ministry together.  All of these prayer points are ones you and I have prayed many times for one another.

Gospel-Centered-Discipleship-Jonathan-Dodson-SomaThen another thought came to mind.  How should we pray for one another in a ‘gospel centred way’?  Prayer is one of our guiding principles, and the Gospel is the ultimate guiding principle from which the others flow.  So, what would it ‘look like’ to pray in a way that drives us back to the Gospel and our dependence upon Him?

Take a practical example.  During our World Team Day of Prayer, we might find this prayer point among others: Pray for our team to remain united together around the common vision of multiplying disciples and communities of believers.  During our concert of prayer together, one of our team members might add: Yes Lord, search our hearts and show us how often we create disunity among us because of our willingness to put our own self above others.  Remind us that the Son of God came not to be served, but to serve and that His sacrifice frees us from self-love to be other-centred.  May our hearts be warmed by that grace again today so that we might grow in unity and have the gospel power to be able to see the vision of our team worked out. 

I can so often fall into the trap of thinking I can ‘do’ all that is expected of me as a worker.  That is why the challenge to pray in a ‘gospel centred way’ would help myself, and I expect many others, to keep my eyes upon the One who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

Feel free to share examples of how you might pray a prayer point in a gospel centred way.

Just pray

just-prayThere are many good resources on prayer.  One was the focus of our WT Global community study a few years ago, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller.  However, in the end, all of these resources bring us back to the same conclusion: we just need to pray.

We would all agree that we can spend more time sharing prayer points than actually praying for those requests.

Preachers, pastors, theologians and writers of long ago remind us of the importance and necessity of prayer with words that could have been written in our day:

No man or woman can progress in grace if he forsakes prayer.”

If you may have everything by asking in His name, and nothing without asking,

I beg you to see how absolutely vital prayer is.”

Prayer and praise are the oars by which a man may row his boat into

the deep waters of the knowledge of Christ.”

So, what should we do?

First, we should not hassle one another because of our common tendency to talk more than to pray.  We all fall into the same trap, particularly because a prayer point is a way to share our heartfelt need.  Second, we should lift up Christ before one another more and more.  What that simply means is we need to point one another to the Hearer of our prayers, rather than to the prayers in themselves.  It’s Christ we are ultimately after: to know Him more deeply.  Finally, we just should call one another to prayer by those simple words: “Let’s pray”.  Entering into conversation with our God & Father does not mean that our ‘sharing’ is over with.  We can share further needs and praises in prayer because, in the end, it is He. who listens to our heart groanings, to whom all our hopes are directed.