Friday, 28 August 2009

Building Missionary Churches 6 - Apostolic ministries

We must continue to start new churches all over the country, with bands of believers reaching out to local communities. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us; mission has to be lived out on the ground and must be ‘owned’ by individuals. I was struck recently by what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1 v 5 “We lived among you for your sake”.

We also need our apostolic ministry and our mission to have an international aspect to it.I am sure many of us will have known significant leaders who have left large established churches to go with their families to work in a church plant with a relatively small number of believers, both within the UK and to other countries. This needs to happen again and again.

To build mission-focused communities we must make space for the gift of the evangelist to shape our church life. Lex Loizides has helped me so much on this. On a recent visit he made to King’s, we had planned a gospel healing meeting: I suggested 45 minutes worship and then about 30 minutes preach and response. Lex laughed at me and said graciously, “Let’s do it this way - 20 minutes worship, testimony, words of knowledge, pray for the sick, preach the gospel, make an appeal, pray for the sick again.” With all my desire to see gospel breakthrough, I had planned a meeting for believers!!!

The Frontedge weekend is an excellent example of intentional equipping of churches to be more mission focused and effective. We ran another such event in May 2009, with evangelists placed in 35 local churches, preaching the gospel and praying for the sick. Over 7,000 people attended the Sunday guest services, including at least 470 guests. 138 people responded to the gospel appeals – not including known re-commitments. Such events see the lost saved, the sick healed, the church encouraged and the tone set for the future!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Building Missionary Churches 5 - What's required

To build mission-focused communities requires continued focused leadership in the local church. If we are to have integrity in our challenge to the role of para-church organisations, then we must continue to take a close look at ourselves to ensure that we are practising what we preach. Local churches have a tendency to drift towards a pastoral mode, taking their agenda from believers, rather than the lost.

During the last ten years of leading a local church based in South East London, we have transitioned the church to ensure that mission is the primary drive in all we do. As a consequence, to our delight, we are seeing increasing numbers of people saved, and while I would love to report that we are seeing people saved and added daily, we can say that we are beginning to see people saved and added every week.

To build mission-focused communities we need to continue to grow in our understanding of apostolic ministry. I heartily commend Dave Devenish’s book What on Earth is the Church for? - a must read. He brilliantly illustrates apostolic ministry on page 71, as not being a static serving of churches, but something where churches are caught up on mission together.

I love the passage in Romans 15: 23-24 when Paul says, “Since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and have you assist me on my journey there.” Already planning his next apostolic journey, Paul boldly suggests to a church he has never visited before that they should help him to get to Spain. We need to release and support those with clear apostolic gifting to help our churches to be pulled into the regions beyond our local reach. Our attitude should not be, “How can we be served?” but rather, “How can we serve?”

Friday, 14 August 2009

Building Missionary Churches 4 - Don't settle for second best!

I agree with Howard Snyder in his paper to the Lausanne Congress when he said, “The Church is the only divinely-appointed means for spreading the gospel... further, evangelism makes little sense, divorced from the fact of the Christian community… The evangelistic call intends to call persons to the body of Christ - the community of believers, with Jesus Christ as its essential and sovereign head.”

Let’s not settle for second best. Let’s build mission focused churches, joined in heart to apostolic ministry so that together we can reach the nations.

While I sympathise with para-church leaders, or even the recent ‘emerging church’ leaders, in their desire to reach our generation and present Christ in a relevant way, and while I understand their frustration with the lack of mission effectiveness in church life, I have difficulty with their solution to the problem. I once attended a meeting with a number of senior leaders in the nation to discuss the ‘emerging church’ phenomenon. To my dismay, while I sympathised with their analysis of church life in our country, I found the suggested solution frightening - it seemed to be based more on being culturally sensitive, than on rediscovering New Testament Christianity.

Let’s get to the root of the problem and build mission focused communities, rather than trying to build an alternative structure, which perpetuates the issue.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Building Missionary Churches 3 - Consequences and Costs

Those who make it through into discipleship see the model presented in the local church: if you are serious about mission, you leave this place and join a para-church group, and so the cycle continues. Many times the new believer never makes it into church life, as their allegiance is to the mission organisation through which they were saved. University Christian Unions can be another example of such a separation. Students enjoy CU at university but if they become disconnected from local church life, when university ends they drift and may be lost to the church.

If we continue to operate outside a biblical model we do not address the core issue, which is - how do we make local churches mission focused?

Christian giving is a case in point. Too often the local church is deprived of financial resources necessary to fulfil its God given vision, not because Christians are not generous but because of an imbalance in their giving. According to David Barrett (International Bulletin of Missionary Research - January 05) at the time of his survey, 38% of all Christian worldwide giving went to the local church, and 62% to para-church organisations. While this imbalance continues we should not be surprised to find this has adversely affected church life.

I am aware that organisations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators do specialist work that a local church cannot do; my concern is more to do with what I see as part of normal church life. While many of our heroes of the faith like Hudson Taylor established what we now call para-church organisations, my point is simple - is this a biblical model? We must work to restore the church to its God-given purpose.