I continue to worship with Stones River. They also insisted I continue to serve as one of the six shepherds (“elders” sounds old and within our fellowship these groups tend to focus too much on things deacons should do and no one focuses on spiritual leadership, so we decided a name change might remind us and the members of our family that we are attempting to have a different focus). While I gather with Stones River, when I am in town, I travel a fair amount internationally and domestically. These are the times when it is hard staying in the loop, but I have a deep trust of the other men with whom I serve. Nine out of the next ten weeks I will miss our Sunday gathering, but I will be able to participate in the Monday evening shepherds meetings.
Starting next Sunday, I will be driving about forty miles to do some training at another church. Some of their folks have opened a non-profit coffee shop as an intentional outreach. The business was deliberately organized as a fund-raising mechanism for water projects in third-world nations. The name is appropriately, The Well.
Recently, they launched three Sunday evening worship experiences that happen in one side of the coffee house. They have met eight people who have expressed some interest in further spiritual discussions. But how do these caring Christians conduct these conversations in ways that are non-manipulative and hold the greatest hope of bearing spiritual fruit. They hope Discovery Groups will be helpful.
Tuesday I mentioned that it has never been easier to go to the nations than it is right now. Business creates a climate where it is possible to travel to untold parts of our planet. On my flight from Dallas to Tokyo I sat next to a man who works in the health industry. His company is developing a portable lab for doing all kinds of specialized blood tests—one you can carry in your pants pocket! Needless to say, this resource will be incredibly valuable! But the best thing is he is a believer and he was traveling with two other men from the church where he is involved. These two focus on international missions.
This guy’s business travels will likely give him access the other two men cannot go. There will be places in the Middle East that will be strongly interested in this medical device, once the FDA approval is completed. Wherever this man goes he will be a kingdom representative! The possibilities are endless.
Sadly, this man was jealous of the other two guys being able to spend all their time focused on “spiritual” matters. What can be more spiritual than providing doctors with instant information about cancer markers or heart enzymes? Here is a man who needs to learn how to catalyze Disciple Making Movements and use the access his business will grant him for kingdom advances. I am excited to think about following up with him when I return home. What a beautiful opportunity to swap business cards! When I told him why I was traveling he said, “It is exciting to hear of so many things that God is doing in our world!” Yes, it is!
Imagine God has called you to minister to widows and orphans who live in a slum area of a third-world country. You could pour yourself into fund-raising in order to build a feeding center. It will be on the outskirts of the slum since you can purchase acreage there (with some government stipulations of a local board of directors, since foreigners cannot actually own land post-colonialism). You raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for the land, structure, wall and gate so you can protect the donor’s investments and the staff you will need. Oh, yes, there is also some money left for the first food you will give to the people you want to bless.
Yes, more people than you could have anticipated are willing to come for the beans and rice you give at lunch. Yes, they are willing to sit through the mandatory Bible study that precedes the meal. You know you are keeping some of these single moms from giving up their children as orphans because now they have at least one meal every day. You also know they are hearing from Scriptures and God’s Word will not come back void.
Have you really helped? Have you trained local people that “through this kind of hard work we must help the weak,” per Paul’s counsel?
Next week I will return to this issue of discipling givers. But today I want to explore the matter of turning work over to the people among whom missionaries work. This has long been a troublesome topic. The team that worked in Kenya is but a microcosm of missions history.
Before we consider what has happened, let me share that my friend, and mentor, David Watson takes an extreme position on this matter. He counsels that you never start anything without a local partner, so you are raising up a leader to keep it going from day one. Since they are involved in leadership with you, it is never yours to turn over. Wrapping your brain around that counter-intuitive approach will “field dress” many of the Western pioneer mission strategies. We have to turn it over, because we do too much to begin with. We hold on too long because we want to make sure the local people will be able to do it our way when they are in control.
For some of us, that last word is the bottom line! C-O-N-T-R-O-L is the point of many struggles.
We wonder why so many Western boards have such struggles with local boards. We wonder why local leadership systems are stacked against foreign ownership. Maybe there are examples where we find ourselves in control battles because our controlling nature attracts local controllers!
I like David’s idea. But I have to confess it is a hard goal. It makes the front end very slow. It precludes our American efficiency model. It keeps us from rushing and making something happen by our drivenness, resources and/or ingenuity. But it may also save us from ourselves. Maybe we would not be seen as the brash, know-it-all Americans. Maybe we would be saved from witnessing the dead, empty carcasses of ministry ideas that were too foreign to work where we might attempt to force them to work. Maybe God will raise up locals who can be bridges into their communities.
Every teacher is selective! It does not matter whether you are using an inductive or deductive approach, you choose what will be taught and the order in which it is taught. Acknowledging this reality is significant. While it will not change it, you may become less accidental in how you exercise selectivity.
When I shared the critique of the Kenyan leader I was not wanting to be critical of the mission team–at all! I rejoice in what God has done through them. I rejoice in their willingness to be vulnerable. I rejoice that this subject was raised.
I, too, have encouraged missions organizations to carefully consider the importance of giving in the earliest stages of discipleship. As you might have noted in one of my replies to a comment made on my last blog, I believe God’s giving nature is one of his core character traits. John 3:16 is pretty specific when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Answer the question, “What do you learn about God?” based on this verse and you observe He is an extreme giver!
While I was not present when the referenced rebuke took place, the statement prompts me to believe these Kenyan churches struggle with a lack of needed financial resources which arise from a lack of giving. The problem with waiting to teach on giving is it does not become easier with time, it may actually become more difficult.
Acts 20:17-35 has long been the text that has most significantly challenged my thinking on giving. Here Paul meets with the leaders of the church of Ephesus and reviews their history and pulls back the curtains on some prophetic insights believers have been receiving regarding his near future. Paul is about to face “prison and hardships,” according to the Holy Spirit. With the potential that this may be his last time ever with this group, he warns them to be on their guard against those who will seek “to draw away disciples after them[selves].” By contrast, he reminds them of his lifestyle.
“I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
Do we deprive people of the greater blessing when we fail to facilitate their discovery of the grace of giving? Are we as intentional in our behavior and explaining the purpose behind it as Paul was?
DMM counter-intuitives—“Small for-profit projects often yield much higher long-term access and goodwill than free services.” Paul worked as a tentmaker in Ephesus.
When disciple makers go to new villages or urban areas they expect to be asked the question, “Why are you here?” Without a legitimate answer, they will be watched with great suspicion or will be driven out of the community. Residents of that region will be justifiably suspicious of people without a visible means of supporting themselves hanging around.
An excellent reason to be in a new community is to engage in a for-profit business. Providing needed products and/or services is a quick way to earn a hearing for the gospel. Business also gives disciples excellent opportunities to demonstrate kingdom values.
Access to resistant nations is one of the great challenges for bringing the gospel to the least-reached people groups. Here we can learn from Paul’s three-year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19 & 20). Do not overlook the role of his tent making (recognize that it is likely he sold as many sails for ships as he did tents for caravans). It was their shared trade that brought him together with Pricilla and Aquila—a couple with whom he accomplished much. He reminds the Ephesian elders that he supported himself and his mission team through his business. He also points out that his example modeled for them the importance of hard work (Acts 20:33-35).
Missionaries have often used compassion ministries to gain access to people in communities. But such an approach is viewed with great mistrust in the most resistant nations. Beyond this suspicion, there are ongoing struggles with unintentionally generating destructive dependencies that prove damaging to local economies. A small for-profit business can provide excellent opportunities to locate Persons of Peace among customers, vendors and/or government officials encountered through the normal interactions of set-up and operation.
I know a shop owner in West Africa who supports seven disciple makers. He also brings those with business acumen in to work with him for three months and trains them in reproducing this tactic. Muslim people in the region help support the spread of the gospel through this small enterprise.
We need thousands of creative entrepreneurs to envision business models that will generate reasons to live in new regions. We need these opportunities for believers to demonstrate kingdom values through their work. We need disciple makers who will use their employment as their format for conspicuous spirituality. Christian community development should be a long-range goal for making disciples in new regions.