Characteristics

He who holds the creation in his hand . . .

From the birthplace of our faith, a hauntingly beautiful Christmas carol from Eastern Christian traditions of the Feast of the Nativity. Byzantine free chant in Arabic (Antiochian Orthodox) from a recording featuring both Melkite Catholic and Antiochean Orthodox chanters.

HT: Andrew Bolt

Seven themes of fruitfulness

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In March 2007, a group of 300 practitioners met for five days in Southeast Asia to discuss what the Spirit is doing as they seek to facilitate communities of Jesus-followers among Muslims.

A list of the findings:

1. Sharing the Hope within: Fluency

2. Engaging Hearts and Minds: Storying

3. Exemplary Lifestyle: Reputation

4. Redemptive Bonds of Trust: Social Networks

5. Getting the Word Out: Scripture Use

6. Faith, Community, Leadership: Intentional Reproduction

7. A Holy Sacrifice: Prayer

This study is essential reading, regardless of your ministry focus group.

Thanks to the International Journal of Frontier Missions for publishing the results and to Dave Lawton for giving me the heads up.

Surprised by Acts

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I've been in the book of Acts lately and there have been some surprises—those “ah ha” moments when you see something for the first time that was always there. Here’s a few . . .

Acts is the second half of one story. Luke wrote his Gospel to tell the story of what Jesus began to do and teach. He wrote Acts to tell the story of what Jesus continued to do through his disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is alive. He is on centre stage.

Acts is built around six summary statements that tell of the progress of the word of God. The word of God is an unstoppable force. It grows, it multiplies, it spreads. What does that look like?—new disciples and new churches in new places.

Here’s a relief, Acts teaches that this mission is not about us. Jesus didn’t bequeath his principles and ideals to his followers and leave them to carry out the task. If that is all he had done, Peter and Andrew would have spent the rest of their lives building up a prosperous fishing business in Galilee. The Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit means we don’t inherit the ministry of Jesus, he continues his ministry through us.

God is on the move, and so are his people. The story of Acts is the story of the missionary expansion of the Christian faith. When the disciples settle down the Spirit intervenes to move them on.

Peter was enjoying a snooze before lunch when God intervenes to send him to the Gentiles. They receive the gospel, the Spirit falls and Peter leaves after just a few days. How "incarnational" is that? Who is going to take responsibility for the new church and the spread of the gospel in Caesarea? Probably Cornelius and the other new believers. At least he knew New Testament Greek, even if the New Testament hadn’t been written.

Here's a verse from Acts to claim: "Through many tribulations you will enter the kingdom of God.” Acts is full of trouble—defeat, persecution, suffering, disunity, martyrdom, danger, imprisonment. Yet somehow the word of God continues to grow and multiply. There’s a cycle—the word spreads, there’s trouble, then God uses the trouble to spread his word even further. Then there’s more trouble.

In Acts God calls the shots. He raises Jesus from the dead. He sends his Spirit into the church. He closes and opens doors for the advancement of the gospel. He allows James and Stephen to die and he sends an angel to release Peter from jail. He drops Saul into the dust on the Damascus road. We are left in no doubt—God is at work. Despite all the obstacles, nothing can stop the relentless spread of the gospel.

Acts never ends. Acts begins with Jesus promise and command to his disciples, “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.”

The story ends with Paul preaching in Rome, but Rome is not the end. Luke’s readers would have thought it ridiculous to view the center of the empire as the “ends of the earth.”

The second half of the book is all about Paul. Yet Luke doesn't bother to tell us what happens to Paul in the end. That's because it's not about Paul, its about God's mission through Paul and others. So Luke ends chapter 28 with: "To be continued". The word will continue to spread to the ends of the earth through God’s people empowered by the Holy Spirit. That's where we come in.

The greatest surprise of all is how far removed from the book of Acts is our understanding and practice of making disciples, planting churches, the spreading of the gospel, and advancing the kingdom of God. I guess that’s why Luke wrote Acts.

Want to learn more?

Interview with Jay (6)

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Jay: We have white-hot faith, commitment to a cause, contagious relationships and rapid mobilization. Your fifth one was adaptive methods; speak to that one a little bit.

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Steve: The heart of the Christian faith never changes and movements are very rigorous in that conservative side of the faith of saying there are some things that will always be true about the Christian faith.

Dynamic movements, while they are very conservative when it comes to the cause, they’re radical in their methods. In other words, they won’t change the message or the heart of the message, but different contexts in different situations, they adapt how that message is communicated or what the structure and the form of the church or the mission agency looks like or how we do evangelism.

They are willing to change everything about themselves to get the job done, except the heart and core of the message. They say, If the internet is going to make an impact we’ll do that; if it’s the printing press puts the scriptures in everyone’s hands, we’ll use it.

Movements pick up on what’s working and are continually changing their methods, but never changing their message.

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Jay: Are there some of these characteristics that tend to resonate or do all five tend to just have the same sort of impact?

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Steve: My personal bias is white-hot faith. But if I took a step back from how I’m wired, I’d say it’s important to hold the five in creative tension. If your bias is white-hot faith you may need to be a bit more intentional about some of the others. Like baking a cake, you’ve got to have the ingredients in the right balance in order to pull it off.

Interview with Jay (5)

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Jay: Let’s go on to your fourth characteristic — rapid mobilization.

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Steve: This is a simple concept — everybody has a job to do. Movements don’t abolish the clergy, they abolish the laity. They ordain everyone for ministry.

You see it in Jesus’ ministry. Even before the woman at the well has come to a full understanding of who he is, she’s off telling her town and village about this man who has told her all about her life and bringing them to see Jesus. Right from the first steps of Christian discipleship people are mobilized for ministry and there are no artificial or non-Biblical barriers to entry.

The US frontier was won by the Baptists and the Methodists because they mobilized young men on horseback (this was especially the Methodists) as circuit riders; as preachers. Francis Asbury in the US, and before him John Wesley in the Britain were criticized for releasing ordinary people to spread the gospel and to lead groups of believers. Wesley would not apologize for it. He felt that these common ordinary people were ministers of the gospel.

So movements just don’t create those artificial barriers that keep people out of ministry; that professionalizes ministry. The problem isn’t the clergy, the problem is clericalism; which is the concept that somehow there’s a class of people who do ministry and everybody else is on the sidelines. It’s all hands on deck if you’re in a movement.

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Jay: What’s the balance between rapid mobilization and empowering young believers and the whole process of discipleship and leadership development? How rapid should mobilization be?

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Steve: The reason for the rapid mobilization is that movements create learning opportunities in what we call leadership farms.

An example I could think of this is how young players are developed in Australian Rules Football. From a young age they are learning pieces of the game and putting those pieces together and step-by-step they’re growing in how to play football.

It’s the same for movements, they put everybody to work, but then the best movements, and Wesley was great at doing this, create supportive environments where as people are doing, they are learning. And so Wesley’s circuit riders, may have started out uneducated but they didn’t stay that way. They were continually reading, they were educating others, they were even selling educational literature to the common people and raising the level of everybody’s education and learning.

The key balance is, you throw people in the deep end and then you build supportive environments and relationships around them so they continue to learn as they go.

Roland Allen wrote about rapid mobilization almost a century ago. George Patterson was a great practitioner of this in Honduras. It is essential that people learn by doing and have mentors, that their learning is field and life driven. Its not just the fact I have to pass an assignment, that I need to study this book of scripture, its because I need to teach it next week to a new band of disciples and so help me understand this piece of scripture so I can go and teach it and then let’s debrief how it went. So that’s the model, it’s not an either/or it’s a both/and.