The New Face of Missions

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The face of missions is changing. It has to. If all we were doing was the sum total of all God wanted done, the job would be finished and we’d be at a wedding feast.

Missions has become “professionalized”. I know. I’ve been and still am a missionary professionally. And that isn’t changing. But the problem with professionalizing anything is it can take what once was considered the calling of all and relegate it to a relative few, the experts with the degrees. For brain surgeons, professionalization is fabulous. But for missionaries, not so much.

Professional missionaries alone will NEVER get the job done of reaching the world.  It doesn’t matter how trained or smart or even anointed we are.  God never intended missions, or ministry for that matter, to be left to a handful of experts.

If you love Jesus, YOU are a missionary every bit as much as I am.

The issue isn’t IF you are missionary, it is WHERE you are a missionary.  And that location can change seasonally as you follow Jesus.

One of the many things I miss about working in South Sudan was that my kids got it.  They believed they were just as much a missionary as any of us. And they were right. They might have been even a little bit more passionate than some of us.  We adults had to break up fights about who was going to get to go pray for the sick at the hospital.

The harvest field isn’t going to uproot itself en masse and walk into our meeting places of worship. That’s why in Africa we loaded a flat bed truck with speakers and music and our kids and leaders and went into the literal markets of village areas. In the midst of tarps teetering on sticks and ropes, we prayed for the sick and shared the love of Jesus in ways those who gathered could relate to and understand.

Missions here in the west is NO different. Missions is about taking the reality of Jesus we know from our meeting place with Him OUT into our marketplaces. Missions is a bridge from the meeting place to the marketplace all of us who love Jesus are called to cross every single day.

Missions isn’t about invasion. We don’t go to rule over culture or take over the market.  Missions is about incarnation, where the very reality of Jesus made real in us, then through us, draws those with hearts open to receive. We show up… filled up (with Jesus) ready to be spilled out (as His love-offerings on the world around us).

So what skill, idea, business, vocation, training has God put in your hand, that when stewarded with wisdom and excellence, might open doors to genuinely serve your community as Jesus Himself is made real in you? 

THAT, beloved IS the essence of missions. 

The harvest will only be fully reached when the church as a whole, both in the USA and abroad, is empowered to lay hold of the truth: Missions has a new face today… yours.


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The Myth of Full-Time Ministry

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I’m just going to come right out and say it.  Full-time ministry is a myth.

I learned that on the hot dusty back roads of the world’s newest nation where, if ministry were simply a job description, I would have never lasted 7 minutes let alone 7 years.

You see, if there are full-time ministers that implies there are also part-time ministers.  And then there are other folks who are the “ministered to” who leave the ministry stuff up to the professionals.  You know the ones who have a degree and an office.

A few years back I was speaking at a regional meeting in Florida and I said to the packed conference room as I took the mic, “I’m just curious, how many of you are in fill-time ministry?”  A very tentative few hands went up at the front of the room, mostly from the organizers of the event.

So I asked again, “So how many of you are in full-time ministry?”  A few more hands raised at half-mast.  You know the level you can quickly scratch your ear if you want to retract your disclosure.  Finally I asked again, “Let me rephrase that question.  How many of you love Jesus?” Every hand in the place shot up.  Point made.

I’m feeling particularly bold about this today so here’s the deal.  There is no such thing as part-time or full-time ministry. This is a paradigm that is subversive to the Gospel itself.  And it isn’t just in the West.  It is prevalent in missions too.

Some of the greatest challenges I’ve encountered on the missions field came from mostly well-meaning missionaries who had a full-time ministry mentality.  In other words, when they were done for the day. They were usually done. The problem with that was they were still on the mission field and everyone around them still saw them as a missionary.

When I speak at churches about missions, many people tend to think of missions as their volunteer time, a trip they take, an event they plan, or for a few special saints {ahem}… a career path.

I am going to be blunt. We are never going to reach the nations, let alone our own, with that point of view.  There is a fundamental paradigm shift that has to happen.  Missions is not merely a job description or a program or an annual trip. 

Missions is a lifestyle and the calling of every believer.  Period.

Yes, some people are called to be vocational missionaries or ministers.  Meaning, being a missionary is their occupation and the church supports them to do that financially.  But that doesn’t mean that missions is relegated to something we read about in their monthly updates.

Beloved, if you love Jesus, you (yes, YOU) are a missionary.  If you love Jesus, you are in ministry.  The question isn’t if you are in ministry, it is where you are in ministry.

Jesus and I have been having some extra heart-to-hearts this week as I have been in bed sick for much of it.  In the middle of the retreat I was leading Saturday, I got hit with acute colitis and wound up in the hospital by Saturday night.  Allergic reactions to meds, a secondary infection, and a cold soon followed.  The enemy needs to learn attacking my health is a bad idea.  I just pray more.

Missions is not an invasion mentality, it is an incarnational reality.  It is where we carry the very life of Jesus out with us wherever we go.

So go knowing, YOU dear reader ARE a missionary.  If anyone asks, “Sooooo how many full-time ministers do we have in the house tonight?”  Hold your hand high.

Because you are not just in full-time ministry, you are in 24/7/365 (24 hours day, seven days a week, 365 days a year) ministry.  Because missions isn’t just a job description, it is a lifestyle.


Monday I have a super special announcement coming.  Be on the lookout.  😉

Are We To Be Missionaries or Mountaineers?

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I’m sitting here tonight wondering if I should really tell the whole wide virally-prone internet what I think on this subject.  I might step on toes.  I might offend some of you.  I really don’t like doing either.  So let me just preface this post with saying some of you may completely disagree with me.  And that is OK.

There is a teaching popular in certain streams about “seven mountains of cultural influence.”  These mountains refer to different social spheres like business, education, family, the arts, etc.  Because I am a missionary at heart, engaging culture, or more accurately the people who are a part of it, is something near and dear to my heart.  So I was pretty excited about the whole cultural mountain shebang when I first heard some of the basics quite a few years ago.

I totally resonate with the idea of God calling us out of the meeting place to minister in market place… that is completely Biblical. Here I am, send me Jesus!

But what I am talking about here is not that at all.

I am talking about an insidious, sneaky, tangential teaching that can easily mimic the heart and nature of true missions. Ok, here we go.

I recently heard teaching on the seven mountains of culture that stated the following {and yes this is a direct quote}: “Those 7 mountains of influence are so powerful that he who occupies the top of those mountains can literally shape the agenda that forms nations.”

I replayed the segment a few times to make sure I had heard correctly.

Basically the thinking goes something like this: Say you are called to education. Well in order to be influential in that “mountain” you need to work super hard to get to the top so you can be in charge and set the agenda that will bring God’s Kingdom in the mountain of education.

Does God care about education, about what children are learning?  Of course He does. Because He cares about children and parents and teachers and administrators. Does He call folks to go serve in the mission field of education to demonstrate His character and love and power right where they are at? Absolutely.

Ministry is about serving in love and keeping our eyes on the King, not controlling the show.  Does God set people in high places of leadership? For sure He does.  But not because they were trying to climb a mountain to be an influencer and become king of the cultural hill.

God’s Kingdom is not about dominating as monarchs, it is about infiltrating as missionaries.

Let’s look at this from a missions point of view.  If I had gone in to South Sudan mandating people just do as I say and follow my protocols because I knew better and those ideas were “kingdom”, none of what I saw happen would have. I would have wound up building my own kingdom not God’s.

I didn’t go to South Sudan to be in charge. I went in to love like Jesus, be faithful and do prayerfully only what I saw my Father doing. Was culture transformed? Heavens yes. Education, government, economy, social justice all were impacted.  Not by me being an influencer making policy decisions on the top of the mountain range. But by our family keeping our eyes on Jesus and His Kingdom.

Making more policy doesn’t change people’s hearts.  Only a love encounter with Jesus can do that. Trying to manipulate, “influence” and even legislate what we believe to be God’s will on the earth, squeezing fatally flawed man-made structures into a religious mold comes perilously close to witchcraft (spiritual manipulation even in Jesus name that is rooted in our own strength and understanding rather than what God is actually doing).

God’s Kingdom is not a subculture. We are a counter culture where low is high and the highest place of all is the lowest place of service.  They tried to make Jesus a king and He ran the other direction to hide.  Satan offered Jesus the mountain top kingdoms of this world and Jesus rebuked him.  If kingdom influence is determined by cultural power and esteem, Jesus was an epic failure.  His own culture crucified Him.  His greatest platform was realized in a death sentence on the cross.

Jesus Himself said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation {careful scrutiny and visual evidence}; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within, among and inside you.”

So maybe, just maybe, His Kingdom needs more missionaries and fewer mountaineers.

When God’s Kingdom Comes In a Manger

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The world was looking for a liberating, conquering king.  He came as a helpless infant born to a teenage mom delivered in a barn and placed in a feed trough.  Is it any wonder with that kind of beginning that His Kingdom looks so very different than we often think it should?

I love nativity scenes. They remind me of so many beautiful aspects of His coming. To seek Him in unexpected places, in the muck and mire of ordinary, messy life.  How His Kingdom is upside down and inside out where low is high and the King of Kings bent down to take the lowest place as servant of all.

I really, REALLY love nativity scenes that look like they might take place in the middle east. Hint: baby Jesus was probably not a blonde. Another thing strikes me almost every year about this time: How often we make God over in our image and try to measure His Kingdom according to our standards.

Beloved, even if born from great intentions, that just doesn’t work.

It is so easy to make celebrity a measuring stick of God’s favor and turn platform size into a barometer of our success. When nothing could be farther from the truth. Jesus is, in the words of a dear friend, counterintuitive. {You’d be really blessed reading her recent post about God’s unexpected Kingdom on her blog marydemuth.com.}

We can get so frantic about being “successful” we just might succeed at the wrong things. Since I’ve been back in the West, the recent rise of certain reality series, like the franchise “Preachers of ___”, utterly befuddles and breaks my heart. I saddens me deeply to see leaders so profoundly miss the point of God’s Kingdom, of His best gift Who came wrapped in feed trough so long ago.  It’s like forgetting about the manger and once more seeking a human king to follow. If we seek a human king we will get a human kingdom.

Beloved, our bank account is not the measure of God’s love for us or His faithfulness or His seal of approval.  Our life challenges are not a cosmic declaration that we have too little faith to get them fixed. {I wonder if we realize when we say our faith is not strong enough to get God to do what we want Him to, we risk falling into spiritual manipulation. Which is, ahem, also known as witchcraft. Strong statement. I know. It is one thing to stand in faith trusting Jesus for His best.  It is another when we proceed to tell Him how we think His best should be delivered.}

Rest assured, if a mustard seed can move a mountain, then the amount of faith we have or don’t have is not the issue. We simply cannot measure faith by external results.

Sometimes God rescues us out of situations, but sometimes He walks with us through them.  Please hear me. I am not saying He causes sickness or tragedy.  But when tough times come because we live in a tough, fallen world longing for redemption, we have a choice. We can seek first His Kingdom and trust we will find His treasure hidden in stable mangers or we can get mad because there is no room in the inn. 

There are ways God wants to meet with us in our brokenness, in our challenges, in our struggles that we would totally miss out on if we were not facing the situations before us.  Again I’m not saying He created them or sent them, but I am saying He has a plan to overwhelmingly redeem them.  Jesus, what do You want to be for me here that You could not be for me any other place?  When we find His answer, we too will find ourselves kneeling in Bethlehem with all the other seekers of His Kingdom worshiping the King of Kings Who loves to be found in the places we least expect.

And the womb of our hearts will stretch to prepare Him even greater room. Selah.

 

A Cry From the Desert

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I am convinced. The present day church is in need of another counter-cultural movement birthed in the desert places.

We are standing at the threshold of another reformation and again there are structural doors that cry out for truth born in love to be nailed to them.

Have you ever heard the phrase “desert season” or “spiritual wilderness”? What comes to mind?  People half dead, delirious from dehydration being somehow punished for their sins?  Unfortunately, that is the picture I see painted many times in sermons or messages.

Biblically, deserts were not places of lack and misery. Quite the opposite! The wilderness is a place where we can come to know the wilds of God’s love for us in a way no other place could teach us.   Deserts are places of raw intimacy with Jesus where our comfort-zones are shattered and our props and pretense are stripped away, where reformers are born and nations are shaped.

The desert is the place where God becomes our everything and the platforms of men only find meaning inside of Him. I have walked long with the desert fathers of old, the early church leaders and the Celtic saints.  Their writings gave me my first language for understanding my own journey with Jesus.

The desert fathers and mothers were radical lovers of Jesus who escaped the Constantinean reforms of 313 AD that imposed a political empire on the church that still informs the way we do things millennia later.  Instead, the desert fathers built a community that was a counter-cultural stance against the power structures taking over the fabric of their faith.

They embraced an ebb and flow of solitude and togetherness which brought them closer to the Father and to one another. Yes some of them took asceticism to the extreme and I am certainly not advocating that.  But for most, it was not about self abasement; it was about finding sanity and freedom from a politicized church system run a muck.  And in turn their desert journeys inspired other generations, especially the Celtic Christians a few centuries later.

There is a story about the meeting of two desert monks.  A younger monk sought out an older monk and recited all of his spiritual disciplines. He came with the question in his heart, “What else can I do?”  The older monk lifted his hands towards heaven and his fingers become like lamps of fire. He replied, “If you will, you can become all flame.

Desert journeys are truly about that. About becoming all flame.

Desert seasons are not miserable seasons of God withdrawing or being absent. Far from it. They are seasons of Him presencing, presenting Himself differently in order to draw us deeper into more of Who He is. Deserts are places of burning bushes and miracles of provision. They are the places we are wooed and spoken tenderly to, given back our vineyards, where we lay our head upon the rock and wake to meet angels.  Deserts are where the valley of dejection becomes a door of Hope.  They are the places we come up out of leaning on Him Who is the Lover of our souls.

Yes there are times God seems a bit far, His hand a bit slow for our liking.  But He really isn’t. Ever far or slow.

Over the last few months I’ve touched on some trends and teachings I’ve encountered which I find concerning. I’ve been prayerfully considering where I sense Jesus leading in it all, not wanting to react but only to respond to Him.

We want the love that discerns His best in all things, right?  I’m not saying I have it all figured out and I may well disagree with myself in years to come so you certainly are free to disagree with me. But there is a fire in my bones to share with you some of the things on my heart in the coming weeks and months.

I haven’t been all that sure what to call this series.  Then it hit me.  It is a cry from the desert places to return to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus. #desertcryseries

So sweet friend, may you run to the desert knowing burning bushes of commissioning, deep wells of compassion and holy encounters where you are named and you meet God face to face are waiting for you there.  It is from this place reformers are being shaped to prepare the way once again for the Lord.

I’ll leave you with a prayer scribbled in the corner of one of my Africa journals.