Two weeks ago we began a new small group in our home. This group is designed for high school seniors, college students and young adults.
We meet each Sunday night at 8pm and normally wrap up around 10pm. A good number of the group will be heading back to college this week, but so far we have had around twenty each week.
SO, WHY ARE WE HOSTING A SMALL GROUP?
It's pretty simple. I believe in the value of small groups. I believe in it so much that for years I have been telling people in our church that in order to be healthy and grow as a disciple, it is important to be connected in a small group. It is here that friendships and community develop and personal, as well as corporate spiritual growth can occur. It is also through the small group that we believe living missionally can best be done.
But. . .I wasn't in a small group. I haven't been in one for years.
I just excused it due to the fact I am the pastor of the church. Most of our groups meet on Sunday morning and as it happens, I am preaching during the time that groups meet. So, I had a built in reason (excuse) for not being in a group.
Or so I thought, but then again, God doesn't give much credence to excuses, even if they seem to be valid.
NEW SMALL GROUPS CANNOT BE LIMITED TO THE CHURCH CAMPUS
Throughout my ministry I have been a "Sunday School junkie." I love Sunday School and have believed it in for years. I still believe in the concept and strategy surrounding it. However, it is clear that times have changed and to limit small group connectivity to Sunday mornings on the campus of the church building is short-sighted. We no longer call these groups "Sunday School" for a number of reasons. They're small groups. That's intentional. Not only are the groups not limited to Sundays (even though ours is Sunday evening) but they are intended to remain "small."
WE ARE "STORYING" THE BIBLE
I'm also a curriculum guy. What is being studied matters. There are so many bad "Bible studies" out there that border on heretical teaching. Therefore, we must ensure that which is being taught in a group sponsored by the church is solid. Just because a book is sold at the Christian bookstore does not mean it's good.
We are using material that many of our missionaries and church planters are using globally. We are "storying" the Bible. You can view the material guidelines here. This works great with those who do not have a church background. Though most of our group members do have a church background, we are discovering the value of storying and have stripped away the "Sunday School answers" pretty well.
HOW SMALL IS A SMALL GROUP?
Our group is already at maximum size, but the numbers will dwindle once the spring semester at college begins next week. As we seek to increase the number of groups in our community, modeled after this one, each group will be limited to twenty members.
HOW CAN YOU LIMIT A GROUP TO 20 MEMBERS?
We can limit the group because we set the rules. It's pretty simple. Now, if "number 21" shows up, we're not turning him away, but we are strategically and intentionally seeking to keep the group size to twenty. By limiting the size of the group, we better ensure that people will not fall through the cracks and relationships have a better chance to develop. Our group already is seeing some growth beyond the group time. This size group also eliminates the potential of the attender who doesn't participate or engage. That happens all too often in traditional small groups (i.e. Sunday School classes.)
GROUPS WITH A GOAL
Our group began with some pretty clear ground rules.
WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL GROUPS ON SUNDAY MORNING (SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSES)
We're not abandoning the Sunday morning model, but I want it to be clear, Sunday morning groups are not our only option and may not be the primary model in the future.
We are not stopping Sunday morning groups. (I just wanted to make that clear for those who are active in a Sunday morning group and somehow hear, or read, things I'm not saying.)
WHY CREATE A GROUP FOR STUDENTS & YOUNG SINGLES?
There are a few reasons we have intentionally targeted these people for our initial group:
IF YOU CAN'T PLANT A GROUP, YOU CAN'T PLANT A CHURCH
I heard a church planting catalyst state that fact a few years ago. I believe there is truth to that statement and since church planting is one our church's "Big 3" we must do more than just encourage people to step out and plant churches. We must train those called out to do that which God has set before them. These groups are designed to grow the Kingdom of God. I anticipate many going through these home groups, leading their own groups and eventually being called to plant churches globally. We're tired of just saying "Amen" to the idea of planting churches. We're positioning ourselves to train the next generation of planters.
Every Wednesday morning a group of men from our church, other churches and one of our local junior high schools meets with young boys for a one hour mentoring club. This club is voluntary and our church, along with others, rents the room each week for our gatherings. (I put this in the post to remind everyone that we're legal.)
Each week we meet together and hear one of the leaders share a story about an individual who exemplifies the traits of a mature, godly man. This year we have been covering some of the men in Scripture. These men, even with their faults, were favored by God and called to join Him in the greater story. Throughout the semester, we have discussed Adam, Abraham, Moses, Samson and David. Today, we looked at the biblical account of the birth of Christ. Timely, huh?
Even though we are located in northeast Florida, in a predominantly evangelical and somewhat conservative county, with churches all throughout the region, I was reminded today of something that I knew, but often forget.
MANY HAVE BEEN VACCINATED WITH JESUS CHRIST
Most of us have had vaccinations in the past, so we're familiar with these. But, just in case you haven't had one recently or don't remember screaming as a toddler when the doctor stuck you with that multi-pronged needle thing, here is a brief definition of a vaccine:
Vaccines create immunity that protects you from an infection without causing the suffering of the disease itself. Sometimes vaccines are called immunizations, needles or shots.
Here's how vaccines work:
OK, so while not an exact comparison, it seems that many Americans, especially those in the fast growing demographic of "nones" have a faith that, well, isn't really faith. It's as if they 've been vaccinated with just enough Jesus and church to not totally embarrass themselves when spiritual discussions begin, but do not know Christ personally nor participate in church services regularly. In other words, they are "Christian" by culture's standards only and not truly followers of Christ.
OUR TEENAGERS ARE OUR MISSION FIELD
One of the greatest mission fields of lostness in our community today gathers daily in our junior highs and high schools.
Sitting in a room with dozens of junior high boys is always exciting. You really never know what will happen. That's part of the adventure, I guess. These are some great young men and the stresses that come with junior high come flooding back to my mind. These are formidable years.
Today, as we discussed the Christmas story, I did my best to begin at a base level. Here's what I realized not too long ago with this group - a typical "Sunday School" type session will not suffice. There are too many presuppositions that come when many Bible stories are presented.
While most of these boys own Bibles, not all do. Those who do own one, according to what I have observed, very few read it. . .ever.
This was evidenced by what they knew about the Christmas story. Yet, their account of the Christmas story was pretty much in line even with many I know who do attend church regularly and know Christ personally.
Contrary to popular belief, the wise men weren't there at the birth, there were no pigs in the barn, it probably wasn't a barn at all, there was no innkeeper (at least not mentioned in Scripture), the Little Drummer Boy wasn't there (who would play a drum around a sleeping, newborn baby?) and G.I. Joseph wasn't Jesus' father. Okay, these boys didn't really think Jesus' earthly father was G.I. Joseph, but that's what I heard from the crowd when I asked them to identify the characters in the traditional Nativity. I drew a picture of the Nativity scene as they described it, but Joseph standing behind the baby Jesus with a machine gun in his arms just didn't look right, so I erased the gun.
We cleared up the story and talked about the Old Testament promises of a Savior. That took some time as well since most do not understand the difference between the Old and New Testaments. We discussed how God always comes through on His promises and used Simeon as an example of such.
These young men have, for the most part, borrowed a faith from parents or grandparents. Some are hearing these stories for the very first time. Some are hearing them more clearly than in the past. It's exciting to see their eyes wide open as they hear how God has sent His Son on such an amazing rescue operation.
So, we have stopped teaching the sessions like it's a lecture and they're studying for tests. These are stories. Great stories that are a part of a greater Story. These stories matter and story attracts interest. Who doesn't love an egaging story?
We don't have to make the story of the Gospel exciting. It is already exciting, by its nature. However, we have to be diligent in how we present these stories. They aren't boring. They aren't just history.
WE MUST LIVE AS MISSIONARIES
Making disciples is our commission, but we are having to break through walls of religiosity and borrowed Christianity in our culture now. As missionaries and ambassadors of Christ, we are to love people with an urgency and live lives that express His glory and goodness. Seek Him. Tell them.
We will continue to send missionaries and church planters throughout the world. We must do so. However, at the same time, we need to see the mission field in our own community. Not only must we see it. . . we must engage it.
It's been said that life is a journey, and the older I get the more I understand that truth. Over the past few years, God has been leading me and our church to be more intentional and strategic when it comes to expanding the Kingdom of God through church planting. This is interesting because. . . well, I'm not a church planter. I've never had that designation.
I answered God's call into ministry over twenty-three years ago. My calling, at the time, was clearly to work with students in the venue of the local church. Being a typical, Baptist church kid, missions was something we gave money to. . .not something we did. I went to seminary and served as the part-time youth minister at my home church of about 120. It was a learning experience, and I'm not too sure I really did the church much good. I was literally two years older than my seniors. Not much "wisdom of the ages" to offer.
I completed seminary and was called here to First Baptist Church of Orange Park - an established church with a history of strong student ministry. I was content. I believed I would be serving as the Student Pastor here for decades. Well, it's been decades (two in December) but God had other plans for me. Eight years ago I was called to be the Lead Pastor here at First. It felt just like those first few months as youth minister back in Texas. I was in over my head. I think most everyone knew it, too.
Still, God had a plan.
He solidly confirmed some strategic moves for us as a church. This resulted in a clarity of mission. We were drawn to engage in orphan care, church planting and global missions. These became our "Big 3."
Why church planting?
I had no experience in planting. I had never been a part of a plant. I had no idea why I was being led this way. I wasn't being led to plant a church. Rather, God was confirming my calling and our church's role as advocates for planters and eventually, to be a "planting, or multiplying, church."
This strategy didn't fit well into the "church as usual" mode where many established fellowships land. Still, I was never very good at status quo anyway.
In the Fall of 2010, I received a phone call from a church planter in Tucson, Arizona. This call was literally "out of the blue." This planter, Chase Delperdang, was told by an Arizona Baptist leader that Florida Baptist churches were strong missionally and would be good partners in planting. So, apparently, he randomly picked our church and number and called me. We talked and it became evident that we were to partner to reach the people of a city far away from Orange Park, in a state I had never been, where our church had absolutely NO connection.
Our partnership began with a monthly donation and communication with Chase.
So, now I'm involved in church planting, even if just barely.
The following summer our Southern Baptist Convention was being held in Phoenix. God was clearly telling me to go to the convention and take some time to drive to Tucson to see Chase and the Legacy Church plant. One of our church members, a member of our worship band heard me talking about it and said, "Hey, I'll go with you."
"I've never been to Arizona. I'd like to go."
So, at the next business meeting, the church voted Neil Jimenez and I to be messengers to the SBC and we planned our trip to Phoenix.
It was at that convention the North American Mission Board, under the new leadership of Kevin Ezell, revealed the "SEND>>NORTH AMERICA" strategy to reach the cities of our nation and Canada.
There are many reasons why city-reaching is vital and it became clear that day that we would be actively involved in this.
The years went by and Neil became my traveling partner on vision trips and mission engagement visits. We traveled to Portland twice and to Toronto.
Rather than go through the details of each trip and how God was working in me and especially Neil and his wife Kaytee, click here to read Kaytee's blog about this journey.
Seriously. Go read her blog before you continue mine. Otherwise, it won't make sense.
So, as you have read. . .
Neil and Kaytee Jimenez are going to be moving to Toronto.
We saw this coming for months, but God's timing is perfect and we continue to praise Him for how He is working this out.
Here's something that God did last summer in regards to this move. I was asked by the SEND>>Toronto team to travel to Dallas for the SEND>>NORTH AMERICA Conference. There were breakout sessions scheduled and they wanted me to give a brief statement to pastors of established churches regarding the need and reasoning for partnering with Toronto church planters.
As I stood before the group, I spoke of the great need in the city and said some things that only a pastor can say to other pastors. I was clear, concise and challenging. Then, I said this, "We as Baptists are all about missions. We'll come to conferences and 'Amen' the messages. We'll collect offerings and send them to the mission boards. We'll even get together teams of church members for short-term trips. However, until we come to the place where we're willing to send our best leaders into the field as church planters, for life, we are not really fully engaged in the mission."
WHAT? Where did that come from?
I left thinking maybe I had been too harsh. What about those small churches who cannot send people out? (Which, by the way, is a lie. Any size church can do this. That's the joy of cooperative missions. Still, that came to mind.) What about us? What about First Orange Park? We're engaged. I've been asked to serve as the JAX-TORONTO liaison for our network. We were sending money. We had partnered with a planter there, just like we did with Chase from Arizona. We were fully engaged. Right?
Neil and Kaytee Jimenez are incredible leaders here at First. Neil is a deacon, small group leader, committee chairman, worship team member and an incredible behind the scenes servant. Not to mention, he's my mission trip traveling partner.
Kaytee grew up here in this church. She was in my youth group. I've known her for twenty years. I've seen her grow up, get married. I even recorded their wedding (though I forgot to turn on the microphone - sorry about that.) I have seen God bless her and Neil with two wonderful boys. She serves on our staff. She's our Missional Expressions and Orphan Care Coordinator. She's a small group leader. She's a children's choir and drama director.
These are two of our best (I know that embarrasses them, but it's true.)
So, in God's divine wisdom, it is becoming clear how He has been at work in this part of our story. Coming to First all those years ago so I could serve as Student Pastor. Having the privilege of discipling and watching the spiriritual growth of students into godly leaders (Kaytee and a host of others who are serving full-time in ministry as well as in the local church as leaders, deacons, etc. is overwhelming. God alone gets the glory.) The phone call from Chase. The trip to Phoenix. The connection with church planters throughout the nation. Our partnership in Portland, Oregon. Our partnership in Toronto.
God is up to something BIG.
And. . .He's invited us into it.
That shakes me to my core.
Pray for Neil, Kaytee, Eli and Owen as they continue along this journey. Most likely, they'll be in Toronto next summer.
What does this mean for our church? Well, we are now a "Multiplying Church" as far as NAMB is concerned. As far as I'm concerned, following God's lead, the Jimenez's are just the first to step into this area of church planting. I believe we will be sending more families into the field. We will support them through our regular Cooperative Program gifts as well as other gifts along the way.
Remember that "3 Day Weekend Missionary" concept I blogged about previously? Hmmm. Seems things are falling into place for that as well.
Yes, it's a journey. Not easy. Not always drawn out like a map, but always planned by the Father. May we continue to be obedient to hear and obey. May we continue to "send" and "go."
On Monday evening at Fruit Cove Baptist Church, hundreds from Jacksonville Baptist churches gathered together for our annual celebration. What a celebration it was as we formally affirmed our covenant partnership with church planters in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, welcomed 20 new churches into our network, celebrated Jesus through worship in different languages and cultures and heard a powerful message from Dr. Fred Luter, President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The evening was full. The Holy Spirit was moving and as we move to better engage the Greater Jacksonville Area with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we expressed a collective "AMEN" to what God is already doing.
An Associational Meeting? Seriously?!?
However, as I sat in the congregation, worshipping with brothers and sisters in Christ, celebrating Jesus and being challenged by the Word, it hit me that I was experiencing something that just doesn't happen in many Southern Baptist venues. We were at an associational meeting. Seriously! An associational meeting!
For those who are not Southern Baptist, this may not connect, but let me try to paint this clearly. Baptist associations are voluntary networks of local Baptist churches, cooperating for Kingdom work in a region. These are often centered around a city, or a designated rural area. In fact, associations are older networks than state conventions.
As a church, we are heavily invested in the networking partnerships of our association. We truly believe we are stronger together than alone. We believe God affirms this and desires that we, as churches, live out the "one anothers" of Scripture throughout our city, region and beyond.
Now, why was this annual gathering such a big deal? Well. . .it's because in many of our local networks throughout the SBC. . .uh. . .well. . .there's just not much happening. In some cases the associations have shut down. As with some churches, there are examples of assocations in existence simply to sustain a work begun decades earlier and basically, they are dying a slow death. It's not due to lack of desire. There are great churches with godly pastors and members throughout our nation, but in some areas, the work of the association has been left behind. Consequently, we have associations struggling to pay their Directors of Mission, mortgages on office space and other bills all while seeking to discover their need or relevance in this age.
What Makes Jacksonville Different?
While we were celebrating together the growth of the Kingdom through revitalization, peer coaching, network relationships, multi-cultural movements, international orphan care, and church planting in our city and internationally, I was reminded that this collective work is just not happening in most places.
Why is the work here thriving? (BTW - we've not arrived. Don't hear what I'm not saying. There's much work to be done. We've barely scratched the surface.)
Leadership is key. Dr. Rick Wheeler, Hal Haller, Jeff Litton, Dr. Walter Bennett and the support staff of the JBA have been very strategic in their tenure to move the JBA from an organization that seeks to sustain its existence to a conduit for increased Kingdom work. We celebrated last Monday all that God is doing. . .and we didn't celebrate mediocrity.
Our God is great!
The renewal and refocus of our network to Engage the city, Equip the saints and Expand the Kingdom has opened our eyes to work God was already doing. This is a big story and our churches are realizing it.
It's Not About the Association
A few years ago there was great concern about our network. We were seeking new leadership following the retirement of Dr. Ron Rowe (who, by the way, was an excellent leader for the network during his tenure.) There were questions about relevancy and purpose. Some were very concerned about ensuring the survival of the association.
The concern about association survival was natural, but was wrong. I looked, there's nothing in the Bible about the survival of the Baptist association. However, there is much about proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples and expanding the Kingdom.
Our leadership team knew we were on the cusp of a new chapter of Kingdom work in our city. Groundwork had been lain years prior, but it was time for a new step of faith. Working to ensure the survival of the network was not the answer. How many churches become so inwardly focused, cutting programming and staff just to keep the doors open, not realizing they died decades prior?
The focus was to be and is God and the growth of His Kingdom.
Is that what makes Jacksonville different? Perhaps. If so, it's a sad testimony of the state of many of our networks. You see, it's clear that God is at work in this city. In fact, He's at work throughout the world. He is not slumbering. We've prayed for an awakening in our city. I believe it is happening. It's not about the JBA. It's not about First Baptist Church of Orange Park. It's all about God!
The work of God isn't really happening at the events, though we encountered Him on Monday in a very real way. Monday's event was simply a time of celebration (oh, I know the common practice now is to put the word "celebration" on a meeting to try to trick people into thinking it will be exciting, but in this case there was no "bait and switch." This was truth in advertising.)
Dr. Luter's words reminded me of a very simple, yet profound truth. We're in a battle. This is war. We have an enemy and we have been called to "fight the good fight." We've not been called to "dance the good dance" or "meet the good meeting." Together, in Christ, we have victory!
Engage Jax and the GJA (Greater Jacksonville Area - yeah, I borrowed that acronym from Toronto)!
The Time Is Short
As Pastor S (one of our network pastors from the Middle East) told me when I was trying to convince him to take a break and rest every now and then, "They are dying and going to hell. I cannot rest. I must tell them about Jesus!"
I am currently in Toronto with a team of 18 from the Jacksonville area. We have pastors and ministry leaders from numerous churches in our city here seeking ways to partner and support church planters and the church planting effort.
There is much to consider and as our church (First Baptist Church) moves forward in this journey, we must be very strategic in this process. We are partnering with Mike Hauser and Starting Point Church. Starting Point is located in Burlington, Ontario (a suburb in the GTA - Greater Toronto Area.) While we have already been working together with gifting of resources and prayer, there is much more that can be done.
There is one way brought to my attention today in our strategy session that seems to be such an easy fit. We identify three "P"s to offer our church planting partners (Prayer, People and Provision). While these seem easy, they are not. But. . .who said anything would be easy. We must do the hard things.
The first "P" (Prayer) seems easy enough, but even in that strategy, we are going to up the ante. Through Google Maps and some other online options, we are going to begin praying for streets, areas, homeowners, businesses and business owners in the area of Starting Point Church. More on this to come in a later posting.
The third "P" (Provision) is simply an acronymical way to say "Money." We will be sending funds, as we have done for other planters, throughout the year. Again, more details to come.
That leaves the second "P" (People). The option I heard today leads directly to this. We have been looking at church calendars and school calendars the last few weeks and, just like every year, there are numerous "three day weekends." These weekends are either holiday weekends like Labor Day and Memorial Day, or simply school holidays or in-service days for teachers.
It is on these three-day weekends, that we often see an attendance dip on Sunday mornings.
Here's the strategy. If a couple or even a small group would commit to come to Burlington, Ontario on these three-day weekends to serve and minister in Starting Point, we would begin to see some incredible things take place not only here in Canada, but in Orange Park. Mission trips have traditionally been very expensive and time consuming. While we still offer the one or two-week long options, the three-day weekend mission excursion to Canada becomes a very real, cost-effective, mission trip.
I envision it this way: an individual or couple could fly up to Buffalo, NY, rent a car, drive by Niagara Falls and then over the border to Burlington all before noon on a Friday or Saturday. A hotel room would be needed, so that would have to be done. Then, they could connect with Mike Hauser or others in the church for some fellowship or maybe offer to watch their kids so Mike and his wife could have a "date night." Of course, Saturdays would be a time to set up for Sunday worship. Volunteering to serve on Sunday in the ministry of the church could be so very beneficial.
A return trip on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning then completes the weekend.
This is all very raw at this point, but can you imagine couples taking their three-day weekend to go on a very-short term mission excursion to Canada, serving with the church planter we are sponsoring as a sending church? The mission is done, the church in Burlington is blessed, a church planter and family are blessed, First Baptist Church of Orange Park is blessed, the couple is blessed and best of all -Kingdom work is accomplished.
All to the glory of God.
Still thinking about this, but begin praying. Let's reclaim these three-day weekends. The needs are too great and the fields truly are white unto harvest.
Every member of the church must be on mission. This is another way to be so.
My son, Daniel, spent the month of July serving at the Cabaret Baptist Children's Home in Haiti as a summer missionary. He served under the leadership of Ryan Rouse, the Executive Director of the Children's Home. He arrived back in Orange Park on July 29.
This was a challenging mission trip in many ways. It is apparent to my wife and I that God has a special story for Daniel, as He does for our daughter, Ashley. Of course, as parents we desire this, but this is more than just typical parental wishing. Our belief in a bigger story encompasses all that we do as a family. I'm not saying we are constantly focused. We're not. We lose sight of the bigger picture at times, but we always come back to reality (the true "reality," not the "matrix") and remember God's promises. God has shown us that He has much in store for us. This is not a prosperity gospel statement. In fact, I'm convinced the bigger story has nothing to do with earthly riches or gold-plated stage pieces at the church. This story is His story and it's big!
When we picked up Daniel from the airport, we welcomed him with two of his most steadfast friends. It was a small welcoming party, but significant. These two young ladies have stood by Daniel through some very difficult times. He arrived late, but immediately told me that I had to give him four minutes when we arrived back at the house. He had a video he wanted to share. (It's embedded at the bottom of this post, but read the rest before watching, please.)
In the meantime, as we journeyed back to the house, I could sense the excitement in his voice as he shared about his month-long adventure in Haiti. It was good to hear him share, knowing how difficult it was for him to begin the journey.
In this video, Daniel narrates with perhaps the most understated comment of the year. . ."After a pretty tough year in my life. . ."
I talked with him briefly about this last night. Though he knows it was tough, I don't believe he fully grasps the depths of despair and pain this last year has wrought. In truth, the past twelve months have been the most stress-filled, difficult and painful my wife, children and I have ever experienced. "Pretty tough" just doesn't quite paint the full picture.
As the clip continues, he speaks of the reasoning for going to Haiti. There were two main reasons for this trip.
One had to do with the work needed in Haiti. We send teams regularly to serve. This is a key element of our global mission strategy as a church. Our missionaries, Ryan and Stacie, had just relocated and needed some help getting settled and coordinating the work.
The second reason was perhaps the most vital. God impressed upon me earlier in the year that "Daniel is living in a small story and I have a bigger one awaiting." It became clear that for him to remain in our community throughout the summer with little more than days spent sleeping until noon, afternoons at the pool and evenings working and trying to find things to do with his friends, his story would sink even lower into the realms of insignificance. There was also the spectre of relational sin and temptation that he had been fighting for months that still lingered. In other words, he had to get away. It was sometime in the spring when I told Daniel, "Your story stinks. You need a bigger one."
Daniel states in the clip "I wasn't too excited about this, but I had no say." Again, it appears he has the gift of understatement here. He is right. He had no say. We didn't vote on this one. (Even if we had, he would have lost 2 to 1.) When we took him to the airport at the beginning of July, he was visibly upset. As he and I were at the ticket booth, checking his bags, he told me, "Don't you ever do this to me again." He then said, "I can't believe you're doing this to me." Yeah, that was a fun moment.
After going through TSA screening and heading to his gate, his mother, sister and I headed home. While we were driving home, he was texting us, pleading for us to to come back and get him. With tears rolling down my wife's face, I said to her, "We can't. This is a God story in the making."
After a fun day of cancelled flights, rescheduled flights and questions about whether he'd ever get out of Miami, he finally landed in Haiti. Things were great, or so we thought. He was in Haiti. This was not some random place to send him. He had been before and loved it. He has a big heart and it beats for the children in the orphanage.
Then, on Monday evening, just hours after his arrival, I get a slew of text messages. Things like...
We received similar messages each evening during the first week.
Still, we stood firm. There was a story in the making.
Days passed. Weeks passed. Life continued here in Orange Park. My wife spent some time in Arkansas with her family. My daughter, Ashley and I spent ten days in Wales on mission with the Celtic Languages Teams. Daniel had finally come to grips that he wasn't coming home early. It was good. God had given us a month of peace, with no distractions. We were able to see and hear Him.
The month-long mission ended. Daniel came home on July 29th. I knew it would be difficult. It would be difficult for him to come back to the "old story." It would be difficult for us to start over with a clean slate. Yet, that was our plan. We were trusting God.
It's funny. As Daniel was in the Miami airport, he called me. Not one hour after his landing, some of the elements of the "old story" appeared. As we were talking, Daniel said, "I can't believe this! I haven't been back in the States for one hour and it starts again."
"Yes, that's how the Enemy works." I explained.
This is a battle.
It's been a week. It has not been easy. There have been good moments. There have been challenging ones. There is a visible change in Daniel. He seems more focused at times, but like me, he loses that clarity often. It's difficult. He bounces between the little story and the BIG one. In other words, he lives in Romans 7:15-20 all too often (and he's not the only one.)
It's the "matrix" I guess. The world is ruled by the Enemy and we easily fall into his traps.
It's funny, as we watched Daniel's video, he expressed a desire to show others what God is doing. Then, it hit me - He thinks people will be inspired to serve in Haiti by what is in this clip. While that is true to a degree, it is clear that he doesn't fully understand the deeper story the video clip expresses.
Daniel is the mission!
Over the past few months, there have been literally hundreds (no exaggeration here) of Christ-followers praying for Daniel. There's an army of prayer warriors on the front line for him. I have had friends from other states and countries call me just to pray with me for my son. There have been prayer gatherings at the church, with students and adults, deacons, deacons wives, etc. focused on Daniel's heart. It is evident that God is up to something here. God is writing a bigger story. What blows my mind is that He has invited Daniel into His story to play a role specifically reserved for him. (BTW - I believe that is the case for all of us.)
As Daniel shows this video montage to others, there is a cautious optimism that arises. The voice of this young man speaking biblical truth clearly and concisely gives listeners an opportunity to see God at work.
Sorry Daniel, most of the people we know and love who will watch the clip will not focus on the "Haiti story." They're going to rejoice in the "Daniel story" that is becoming a "God story."
You're back in the matrix now. This is not going to be easy. It is evident that the Enemy has a foothold, but it's slipping. You cannot hide. No fig leaves here. Step boldly into His story. Focus. See. Hear.
Oh, and just in case you didn't hear it the first two million plus times, your mother and I love you dearly and believe you have what it takes to be holy, and a man of God.
You're a change in the making!
At the SEND>>North America Conference today in Dallas, I was asked to share briefly with pastors and ministy leaders considering partnering and planting in Toronto. The Toronto gathering attracted a good number of church leaders. The Toronto team shared the vision for their city briefly and then planters and advocates shared a little of their passion, vision and partnership reasoning.
To close out our meeting, I was asked to speak to pastors directly regarding partnering and planting. As a pastor of an established church (i.e. an old church with much tradition) I was to share basics and challenge pastors to lead their congregations beyond just agreeing that church planting was biblical and a good idea, but into doing something about it.
I shared about the "3 P's" needed from sponsoring and advocate churches. These are. . .
Every church can offer these three things, but there is another subject that must be covered. The default mode for most churches is to build leadership teams, equip saints and make disciples. . .who will stay at the local church and serve. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but over time, the local church can fall into the trap of being "hoarders." While hoarding may make for an interesting reality show for some (not me,) it is deadly when it comes to Kingdom growth.
Over the last few years, God has shown me that we have a choice as a church. We can be a launching pad or a landing pad. A launching pad, much like the ones at Cape Canaveral, are designed to get an object out of orbit, for work to be done elsewhere.
This is the role of the local church as well as related to leaders.
For the church, could it be that God is calling us to gather the best, high-capacity leaders and disciples of Christ within our church fellowship for the purpose of sending them out to serve? What we most often do is hoard the very best within the walls. The local church will have wonderful ministries and, honestly, some of those leaders are called to stay and serve. However, there are many who are simply called to serve for a short amount of time in the home church, only to be sent out into the fields.
I'm reminded of Christ's statement about the "fields being white unto harvest" and the "workers being few." Too often the workers are gathering in the barn talking about how great it would be if someone would go harvest the field while no one steps outside to do the work. Talk is cheap.
My question is simply this, "What if God is preparing leaders within the local church so they may be launched into ministry elsewhere?" Does that sound like a Kingdom-focus to you?
It is my contention that this is our calling.
It's one thing to say "We support church planters."
It's another to say "We're sending our own to plant or to help plant."
That is our calling. It's a challenging step. Yet, it is the only corrrect one.
Is your church a launching pad or landing pad?
In the opening moments of the film "Saving Private Ryan" the tagline was. . .
"In the Last Great Invasion of the Last Great War, The Greatest Danger for Eight Men was Saving... One. The Mission is a Man."
As we have been meeting with Christ-followers in Wales, the inevitable discussion of century old revivalists such as Evan Roberts and Christmas Evans occurs.
The 19th Century saw Christmas Evans the one eyed preacher of Anglesey, John Elias, Thomas Charles and hundreds more – Heroes who under God transformed and changed a whole nation into one of the most Christian countries in the world by the end of the Century – so much so that the little nation became known as ‘The Land of Revival’ – Land of Song.
A century ago Wales experienced the last National Religious Revival, a revival that brought in an extra 100,000 new converts according to the estimates of the time, and a movement that quickly spread to the 4 corners of the World. Yet that great move of the Spirit had very small beginnings. Beginnings that didn’t always involve the great preachers of the day – erudite and educated as they were, but instead included, for instance a young teenager from New Quay, Cardigan – Florrie Evans – who in a youth meeting in February 1904 declared publicly that she loved the Lord Jesus with all her heart. With these words the Spirit seemed to fall on the meeting and the fire quickly spread to other young people in the Cardiganshire area.
In September of the same year, an Evangelist Seth Joshua was addressing a Convention which included young people at Blaenanerch just 5 miles north of Cardigan. Seth himself had been praying for years that God would raise up a young man from the pits to revive the churches – little did he know that on Thursday September 29th 1904 his prayer was to be answered in a life changing experience for one 26 year old student, Evan Roberts.
Evan Roberts was born in 1878 in the small town of Loughor in Glamorgan, just 7 miles away from Swansea. For years Evan had been a faithful member of Moriah Calvinistic Methodist church at Loughor, he was a Sunday School Superintendent, a consciencious reader of the main theological works of his day, and more than that he had been praying for revival for over 11 years. Having been converted as a young teenager, he continued to pray regularly that God would visit again the nation in Revival Power. Determined to do his part, he felt compelled to go into the Calvinistic Methodist Ministry and on September 13th 1904 he became a pupil of the Newcastle Emlyn Grammar School to prepare for Trefecca Theological College.
It was only 2½ weeks after arriving that he found himself at Blaenanerch – and at a crossroads in his spiritual experience. A spiritual experience which would lead him back to the young people of his own church Moriah Loughor where he shared his experience and encouraged them to be open to God’s Spirit. Within two weeks the Welsh Revival was national news and before long, Evan Roberts and his brother Dan and his best friend Sidney were travelling the country conducting Revival Meetings and they were meetings with a difference. Meetings which broke the conventional and bi-passed the traditional – often the ministers just sat down unable to preach or even to understand what storm had arrived in their usually sedate temples.
The revival impacted the entire globe and for at least two years was covered extensively by the media. (Read more here.) Wales is now far from being ninety percent Christian, as it was following this revival movement. The team serving here and Christ-followers in this nation are praying for another movement of the Spirit of God.
It's been said that once a nation or people has entered into post-Christendom, it never returns. Of course, just because something has been said by humans, doesn't necessarily make it so. Consequently, many are praying for another revival among the Welsh people.
Some of the seniors living in Wales will tell you the revival never ended. They will share that it stays active within their hearts. Yet, the fact remains that churches and chapels that were once filled with people, now are empty for the most part, if not closed down completely.
As we have been serving here, a thought continues to come to my mind, "Is there another Evan Roberts here?"
I believe there is.
Just as in "Saving Private Ryan," the mission is a man.
Christ-followers here are speaking of the sense of being on the edge of another movement of God. Who will God use? We don't know, but we are praying for this person.
Could it be that one of the young people in the city where we are staying is that person? Could it be that Daniel, Jordan, Kim, Cameron, Diane, or another teenager is being prepared now for God's great story?
I believe so.
The "Land of Revival" is going to experience a rebirth.
There are many spiritual strongholds here.
There is a sense of "We've tried Christianity and it didn't work" by the people.
This is a spiritual battle here. In fact, it's a war. In this "great invasion, the mission is a man" just as in "Saving Private Ryan." Join me as God raises up this man (or woman) whom He will use as a catalyst for revival in this land. God is not finished with this part of the story.
Currently, I am a part of a team of six spending a week in Northern Wales for the purpose of prayerwalking and narrative mapping. We are just one team of many who have come throughout the summer. Each team is led by the summer staff (who, by the way, are an incredible team of college students from throughout the States) as a part of a multi-year strategy to see this community and nation come back to Christ.
Wales is known as the "land of revival" but that tag is more historic than descriptive nowadays. A nation that one hundred years ago was ninety percent Christian is now less than five percent.
What is Narrative Mapping?
The purpose of narrative mapping is not about marking an "X" on the map where you have discovered key sites. Narrative mapping is a process of recounting and telling stories and insights gathered through intentional conversations with people. In our case, the mapping is taking place in this northern Wales city as we walk the streets, step into storefronts, drink coffee at the open air markets and intentionally engage people.
Some may struggle with seeing the validity of such work on a mission trip. This is due, most likely, to the fact that most mission trips over the years have involved construction projects, children's activities, medical help, crusades and mass evangelism events. These are all valid expressions of missions as well.
Perhaps the reason many had difficulty with narrative mapping is due to the fact that there's no where on the "mission trip scorecard" of the past to put one's grade. An entire team may spend a week in a city and never see anyone come to Christ. The enemy then uses that as an accusation and attack. Nevertheless, the importance of this step of mission is not diminished. In a sense, narrative mapping is "pre-evangelism."
In a land such as Wales where most of the residents see church as nothing but a symbol of corruption or at best, a good place for children and senior adults, traditional mission trips fall flat on their faces. How do we know this? Because recent history has proven it to be true.
Another reason narrative mapping may be so challenging is that the mission team members learn straightaway (just thought I'd throw that British term in there for you. . .it means "immediately") that the type of mapping being done here could, and should, be done at home as well.
Yesterday, my daughter Ashley and I were joined by Jamieon, one of the summer staff here, for our narrative mapping assignment. I looked to Jamieon and told him "I need to go by that barber we passed earlier and get a haircut." Why? Because I needed a haircut, but also because I felt that sitting in a barber chair for 20 minutes or so would put me in a place to converse with the barber about the city, spiritual things and beliefs.
We made our way to the "Snip & Clip" and I sat down in the barber chair and began conversing with Christy. Christy is English, from Kent, but has been in Wales for a few years. She knows the Welsh language and loves it. In fact, she really doesn't like the English (though she's English) and would prefer to be Welsh. This is interesting. This is a very, very proud Welsh city and to see how this pride has spread, even among some of the English transplants, is amazing.
Due to my accent, Christy asked if we were on holiday. We talked about that a bit and then she said, "You're from a church group, aren't you?" This caught us all by surprise. It's not a secret, but it's not something we ever say immediately straightaway. I asked why she'd ask such a thing. She said that Mormons and Witnesses (i.e. Jehovah's Witnesses) come to the city all the time. She just figured we must be one of those groups. I clarified we were not of those groups, but were with a church back home and that we were Christians. She asked what kind, so I said Baptist.
The conversation went well. She openly talked about her beliefs. They were not surprising. They echoed what we had previously learned, but there was a hint of hope in this. She, unlike many, stated she believed in heaven and hell, in God and Jesus and thought the church was good. She just could never attend because she felt that would make her a hypocrite.
She, like many, has bought into the lie that there is no absolute truth. She stated that things today are so different from when the Bible was written and therefore, much of what is in the book would be different if it were written today. Even Jesus, she said, would allow things that he previously would not.
It was an interesting discussion and I asked if she had ever heard the phrase "The more things change, the more they stay the same," alluding to the fact that the heart of man has not changed and that we still need a Savior.
It caused her pause, but that was it.
We talked a little more. It was light-hearted. She has a fun personality. Then, she was done.
Jamieon decided to get a haircut as well, though he was a little bit concerned. He kindly asked Christy "Have you ever cut hair like mine?" We all laughed because what he was really saying was "Have you ever cut a black man's hair before?"
He climbed into the chair and now it was his turn to talk with her.
We paid for our haircuts and left, knowing just a little more about the heart of the people of this city. This information was shared in our debriefing time last night.
Today, we enter another area of the city. Prayerwalking in the morning hours. Narrative mapping after lunch. Missional encounters in the evening. Seems simple, but it is not. The intentionality is challenging. It is so easy to lose focus.
Yet, the long-term strategy is clear. Nothing will occur here apart from God's Spirit. We stand as His ambassadors, listening to His voice, speaking His truth, loving people. We see every encounter as divinely appointed. Every conversation is tinged with the spiritual. This is the mission.
And. . .it should not be relegated to one week on a "mission trip."
When you're getting your haircut, talking to the cashier at the grocery store, speaking to the barista making your coffee, etc. are you being missionally intentional?