What We Need from IMB President David Platt & What He Needs From Us

Earlier today word spread that David Platt was to be the next President of the International Mission Board. Apparently, word was out via social media prior to the trustees vote. Seems like we're good at "Secret Church" but not so good at secret votes.

Nonetheless, the trustees did vote today and the IMB has since publicly announced that Dr. David Platt will be the next President. This announcement has pushed Platt to the top of the trending list on Twitter as people throughout SBC life and evangelicalism are talking about it.

However, it should be noted that Homer Simpson remains on the top of the trending list of Facebook. I'm not sure what this represents or means, but thought I'd share it.

Platt's appointment has been praised by many and yet, some show concern.

This would be the case regardless who was chosen.

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I have met Platt once (though I doubt he would remember the meeting) at the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago. When he first was called to serve as pastor at The Church at Brook Hills, it caught my attention due to the fact a former staff member at my church was serving there at the time. Brook Hills was a church in transition when Platt was called. His personality, style and not to mention, his age, were dramatically different than the previous leadership's. 

Encouragement From David Platt

He has family in my community and a few years ago his niece attended one of our local schools where a friend teaches. This teacher was reading one of David's books at the time and had it on her desk when the young girl said "That's my uncle." It wasn't long before I received a gift. David and his wife had sent my wife and I a copy of his book, autographed and a personal note to Tracy, my wife, encouraging her as a pastor's wife.

I'm not sure David and his wife, Heather, will ever truly know what that small gift meant. I thanked them with a note, but it truly was needed at the time and very encouraging.

Radical

Over the years, Platt has become more known through his speaking ministry and his books, Radical, Follow Me and others, as well as Secret Church - an annual gathering that began in his church. He became a voice for a younger generation of pastors. His youthful appearance belies a deep wisdom and walk with the Lord. Though his reformed theological bent causes unease among some, he remains strong in his convictions. Therefore, Baptists and believers, reformed and not, show great respect and honor for Platt and his love of God and His Gospel. There is no doubt that he is a man of God with a deep heart for the lost.

It was over a year ago I heard someone say "David Platt should be the next President of the IMB." When I heard it, I laughed it off, thinking that was so far outside the realm of possibility, it would never happen.

Then today's announcement came.

What We Need from David Platt

Stepping into a denominational role such as this is a daunting task. David is only 36 years old and the organization is much older, with many overt and covert rules and expectations, I'm sure. 

As a pastor of an SBC church, this is what we need from President Platt:

  • Clarity. A strong voice for the work of global missions.
  • Effectiveness. Keep us focused on reaching the unreached, unengaged. Help ensure we work to lead nationals to lead local churches.
  • Funding. This is perhaps the biggest challenge. The best "crowd-sourcing" for missions in our history is the Cooperative Program. Whether CP remains under that name or not, the effectiveness of serving together for the sake of the Gospel is evident. Churches aren't giving to CP as they used to do. Lead out to ensure that the funding needed remains. . . and grows. Personally, I believe in the Cooperative Program, so I'd suggest starting there.
  • Connectedness. Speak to pastors, as a pastor. I do not know any pastors in the SBC who wish to see missionaries come home from the field or be defunded. However, I do know many who are living daily under financial pressure and who may be working with old models that no longer suffice. As you have done for me, encourage pastors. . .as a pastor, as one who understands and help create handles for the pastors to grab hold of as they lead their churches to engage the lost globally.
  • Efficiency. I don't pretend to know what this entails, but we all know that over time, organizations drift toward bureaucy. People matter. That is a given. However, the funds given to international missions by local churches (and little old ladies gathering in WMU circles) are expected to be used to further the Kingdom of God and engage the world. We understand that funds are needed to keep things in Richmond working, but do your best to ensure that we are good stewards of all that is given. (Please note - I am not saying that previous leadership did anything other than that. It's just a statement of what is needed today, and every day from leadership.)
  • Focus. There are many areas globally where our missionaries are serving. Some are able to serve openly. Others have to be more covert. There are men and women committed to the Gospel and God's mission of reaching the world. Some are in areas where the fields are ripe. Others are serving in post-Christian areas where the work is tedious and for those seeking immediate gratification and high numbers of salvations regularly, often are overlooked. Stay focused on the big picture, but seek to keep missionaries where they are called, to the people where relationships are formed and being formed. Do not forsake the "post-Christian" areas (i.e. Europe) for the sake of others. We need work in all areas. Though we've never seen a resurgence of revival in post-Christian cultures, we are seeing sparks of a fire. Let's not forsake any.
  • Integrity. The President, the IMB staff, and missionaries throughout the world are to be men and women of integrity. Holy. Set apart. Again, I do not post this as a response to something done wrongly in the past. This is just a reminder that "so goes the shepherd, so go the sheep." Be above reproach in all areas. I believe the Enemy seeks to take out pastors, especially those with great influence. David has experienced this, I'm sure, and now in this new position, the attacks will undoubtedly increase. That leads to the next section.

What David Needs From Us

Whether or not a Southern Baptist approves of Platt's selection as President of the IMB is now irrelevant. He is our President. I, for one, am glad that he is.

Beyond tweets and postings and news updates, there are a number of things David Platt needs from us as Southern Baptists, and me as a brother in Christ:

  • Prayer. This is not a passive option, but active. David, Heather and their children, need our prayers. We are commanded to pray for our leaders in the nation, but I believe we must also pray for those who serve in denominational leadership. This man of God and his family have been in the Enemy's cross-hairs for years, and that has just intensified today. The members of a local church can be demanding and unforgiving. It takes a toll on a family. How much more will the pressures inherant to this new role be upon the Platts. Pray for David and Heather's marriage to remain strong. Pray for their children to be strong and eventually dangerous Christ-followers.
  • Encouragment. When I received a note and a book from David years ago, it was like a balm of encouragement during a challenging time. I'm sure he receives many notes, messages and gifts, but rest assured, they are powerful and meaningful. For those with the opportunity to meet and speak with David, encourage him. For those who will not get that opportunity, send a note of encouragement to him via the IMB. Be a "Barnabas." Don't presume someone else will.
  • Openness. There's no doubt Platt will make some decisions and lead the IMB into areas that others may question. There may be some new opportunities revealed that will help engage the world even better. Be open to new ideas and opportunities. Not everything new will work. Not everything new is good, but the opportunity to try new things as God reveals them should be given to Platt and his team of leaders.
  • Celebration. Have you noticed how many people under 40 are tweeting and retweeting this announcement? It's an amazing thing that best not be ignored. While the attendance at the annual SBC is getting older and greyer, the vast crowd that has been attending NAMB's Send North America events is young. David Platt comes from this demographic. He has been used by God and will be used by God to reach and connect with a generation that has often been ignored, simply out of not knowing how to connect. Celebrate that God is revitalizing the church in North America and the world. For those like me who are realizing that being the "young pastor" in town is now a designation for someone else, this is encouraging. 
  • Accountability. Platt needs accountability, just like every pastor, every Christ-follower, needs accountability. Some will be used by God to lovingly keep David accountable. The key word there is "lovingly." That means, not thorugh a blog, such as this, or with negative undertones, but in love, being effective as a friend and brother. Encouragement and accountability are related closely.
  • Financial Support. Churches must not cut CP or Lottie Moon giving simply because they do not (or their pastors do not) approve of the vote for David Platt. Some may actually start giving more due to his selection. I understand that. Regardless, the IMB (and NAMB, too) need financial support from Southern Baptists to continue to do the Kingdom work they have been tasked. Give generously, not because or in spite of who is president, but for the global work we are cooperatively doing for the Kingdom.

One More Thing

We should pray for our sister church, The Church at Brook Hills. While they are no doubt excited that David Platt is going to be leading the International Misison Board, they will be going through the tedious and long process of seeking God's will for the next man to lead them as pastor. 


Lauren's Summer Mission In Wales

This summer, one of our students, Lauren Barbaro, served on mission with The Celtic Languages Team in Caernarfon, Wales.

I asked Lauren to share about The CeLT and the mission she served. She recently shared her story with one of our small groups. Here is the transcript of that interview testimony.

Tell us about the town where you served.

Caernarfon is in the northern part of Wales. There is about 9,600 people that live in Caernarfon. It is a little bigger than Orange Park but it can feel like a small town sometimes. The town has the highest percentage of Welsh speakers living there. I loved the scenery around Caernarfon. In the town centre, you had an old castle (which Caernarfon is known for) and churches that were absolutely beautiful. As you went further outside town, you could see the beautiful green countryside with the mountains in the background.

What were the house and the family like where you stayed? 

The house where I stayed is smaller than the typical house in America. It was a two story house. The bedrooms and the only bathroom were upstairs. Downstairs was the kitchen and living room. There was no dryer and dishwasher in my house. This is common for most houses in Wales.

My hosts, Dave and Jenny, were very nice and we got to know them very well. They are only a couple of years older than me so it was nice to live with people around my same age. It was very easy to get to know them and live with them. They would even include us and take us to Jenny’s parents’ house for dinner sometimes.

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Kelly (left) & Lauren (right) at the church where Good News Club was hosted.

Were the people in the town friendly?

The people in the town were very friendly. A lot of times, people would hear us talking and then they would ask where we are from. Once they knew we were from America, they would ask us questions and let us know that they could help us if needed. Also, our supervisor Tracey would coordinate meals with different church members. So, we would go to their houses and have a meal while getting to know them. I definitely left there with many friends which made it tough to say goodbye.

We know you served in a Pentecostal church in Wales. How different was that for you, since your home church here is Baptist? 

Serving in a Pentecostal church was a little different than what I’m used to here at First.  The truth is these brothers and sisters love the Lord and, like me, are seeking to see God glorified and His Kingdom increase. It was a joy serving alongside them.

I was able to understand the services since they were in English. It was difficult at times to understand all that was being done during the services at times, only because it was different than the way I was raised.

In what types of activities did you participate, as far as ministry?

We played football (soccer) with children in all of the schools in Caernarfon about three days each week. This was in conjunction with the Good News Club - the Bible-based outreach hosted by the church.

On Tuesday afternoons we visited the children who come to the Good News Club, to give them their visiting sheets. The visiting sheets would include the day's Bible story and verse, as well as the activities we would be doing. We would visit anywhere between 80-90 children each Tuesday.

On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, we helped run the Good News Club. The club takes place on Wednesdays at the church in Caernarfon. Approximately ninety children participate. On Thursdays the Club took place in a village about 15 minutes outside of town. We would have anywhere from four to ten children.  The Club would meet on Fridays in another village. This one was about 45 minutes outside of Caernarfon. There were approximately 10-20 children in this meeting. The Clubs would be the same for all three days.

Thursday nights after Good News Club, we went straight to the youth (teenagers) club meeting called “The Bridge.” We would visit these youth at the same time we would visit the children. We gave the youth leaflets that told them where we were meeting and what we were doing. Most of the time, we went to the leisure center (basically a community recreation center) and played football (soccer) with them and talked to them about Jesus.

Did it seem strange “teaching” football (soccer) to children who have grown up with that sport? 

It did seem strange teaching some children football (soccer) because most of them have grown up with it their whole life. We would tailor our lessons depending on the ability level of the children. We always tried to play games and do some practices based on the skill we wanted to teach them (i.e. passing, dribbling). If the group was really talented, we would play a longer match than with a group that needed more basic training.

The children listened to us well for the most part. There were some children that did not want us there, not because we were American, but because we are girls. In Wales, girls are not taught football in school. So, in a sense, we had to prove to those children that we knew what we were talking about and that we are good. Those children who resented us at first, were happy we were there in the end.

WelshflagShare about the “Bible Clubs.” What was involved with talking about the Bible with children who have no real background in Christianity and biblical teaching?

The children who come to the Bible clubs come from two groups. Most are not Christians. Some are the only Christians in their families. Because of this, we ensure our teaching of the Bible stories and verses are practical for them. When telling the Bible stories, we usually acted it out for them so they would be more engaged in the process. For example, one week we talked about the concept of “perseverance.” We talked about a story from the Bible and a verse that referenced this concept. We would then present different object lessons about the concept. One of the object lessons about perseverance was a professional athlete who never gave up even though he was injured numerous times. After we told this lesson, we would always bring it back to the Bible and Jesus. We would say that perseverance means never to give up and that Jesus never gives up on us. We emphasized that He was willing to go through so much, including dying on the cross, because He loves us. We told them that if they choose to follow Him, they must never give up on Him, even when the going gets rough because He will never do that to us.

What else can you tell us about your experiences there that made a real impression on you?

The one thing that made a real impression on me was the school assemblies. The second to last week there, we had a basketball team from a church in the States with us so we went into most of the primary schools presenting an assembly in the beginning of their day. These assemblies are religious ones. We would start off with a kid’s song (since most of the kids were from the clubs). After this, we did a sketch about making good choices and the consequences of making a bad choice. Then we talked about how for each of the adults, the greatest choice we ever made was accepting Christ and told them how they could accept Him as well. This made a big impact on me because we don’t do this here in America. In the US, a Christian organization can’t go into the schools and talk about God like this. In Wales, they welcome this. The headmasters (principals) ask if we can come in and do religious assembles. There is even a point in a student’s school life where they have to take a religious class. It was a little strange at first doing the assemblies because of the fact that we cannot do it in America but I loved going into the schools and spreading the Gospel. It's even more odd, since the vast majority (over 90%) of the Welsh people and others in the United Kingdom, are not believers and do not even believe in the existence of God.

Would you ever want to go back and serve there again?

I would absolutely love to go back to Wales and serve again. I told my family that it was going to be hard coming back home because I loved it there and due to the relationships I formed there. It was hard leaving the friends I made. While I was there, God opened a potential door for me. Tracey, my supervisor, said that when I get done with school that I could come back and do an internship. This internship would be for ten months (September-July) and I would help work/run the kids club. I could build on the relationships that I have already made and also spread the Gospel to more people.

Lastly, I just want to say thank you for all of your prayers and your financial support. It meant the world to me before I left and even while I was there. This trip was challenging with everything we were doing but God has definitely changed my life in more ways than one.  It would not have been possible without you, so thank you!!

 

 


Portland (AKA "Rose City," "Rip City," "Bridge City," "Stumptown") is a Growing "Send City"

It has been three years since I received a Tweet from Wes Hughes about partnering with church planters in Portland, Oregon. Wes serves the Northwest Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board in this region as a missionary and church planting leader.  

Whitestag2576I had never met Wes prior to this Tweet and had never been to Portland. In fact, to be honest, Portland wasn't even a location on my radar as far as ministry. . .or anything else, for that matter.

What did I know about Portland? Not much. I knew they had an NBA team (and as of this writing, fans of the Trail Blazers are wondering where this team that beat the Spurs last night has been the past week.) I knew it's geographical location. I knew "The Goonies" was filmed here. That was it.

I have since learned that Portland is a beautiful city with one of the most diverse populations in the nation. It may be considered the polar opposite of what some would label the "conservative Bible belt" area of culture. It is also a city with many nicknames and identities: Stumptown, Rose City, Bridge City, PDX, Rip City (for Blazers fans), etc. If you want a glimpse into the unique culture of Portland, check out an episode or two of "Portlandia." It actually gives pretty good insight.

Over the last few years, my love for the Rose City has grown, and it has become clear that our church is to be strategically partnered and engaged in this city. We have taken a few trips to the city over the years  and have been able to meet with and bless church planters in this city and surrounding area with financial gifts at times as well.

This week I am here with our Associate Student Minister, Austin Libal, for a Send>>Portland Vision Trip. The city coordinator invited us to come for this trip. It is the first event of its kind here.

Much has changed over the past three years as God is growing this team of planters and networking churches. Clay Holcomb, a friend and planter in the region, is now the Send City Coordinator. Some planters we connected with previously are still doing a great work in ministry, but are no longer in the network as God has led them elsewhere. Others remain in the city, and a good number of potential planters are finishing up their assessments with intention of relocating here. It is clear that God is working in Portland and it is exciting to see how this is being unveiled. 

Our desire is to partner with a planter or church planting candidate for the next three years. This partnership, not unlike our connections with Mike Hauser in Toronto, will keep us intentionally connected as we offer prayer, people and provision. Pray for us this week as we seek to make this connection.

As our church (First Orange Park) continue to step into the role as a sending church, we may have people moving to the northwest in a few years, to plant and serve in this Send City.


Nhial's Story - From Sudan to Jacksonville

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Yesterday, as part 2 of our Engage Series concluded in small groups and in the worship time, we welcomed Nhial Kou as our special guest. Nhial is from a country that didn't exist when he was forced to leave. As a Christian in Sudan, his life was at risk. He shared how his family, all Christians, were forced to resist the Islamic government and its fighters and how many escaped (i.e "Lost Boys") and became refugees throughout the world. 

10177874_888670004489617_1551834160946164124_nHe now has family members in Australia, Canada, Uganda and elsewhere in the United States.

It was 1999 when he and his family were told while staying as refugees from Sudan in Cairo, Eqypt, that they would be relocated to the United States.

The excitement of coming to the nation that he knew represented freedom, liberty and opportunity (not to mention care and concern as he stated, "USA was printed on the food items dropped by helicopters for us while we hid in the jungles of our native land.") soon turned to fear as he worried about how he would transition in this land where he did not know the language, the culture or how to provide for his wife and child.

His stories of learning how to use vending machines and discovering the existence of differing time zones are funny, but eye-opening as to what many of us would take for granted.

After a six hour stay in JFK Airport in New York, they boarded a plane to Jacksonville.

With tears in his eyes, Nhial shared of what he saw while walking toward the exit of Jacksonville International Airport. There was a group standing there with balloons and American flags with a banner that read "Welcome Home!"

"Who are these people?" he asked. 

It was a group from a local church. Christians who had been praying for Nhial and his family, just as his pastor back in Sudan had told him. The church was welcoming Nhial. This was now home.

As we talked about what it means to live missionally and to be the church, rather than just attend the church, Nhial's story shines brightly. The church, praying and going and receiving. . .in the name of Jesus Christ, is a powerful entity. 

May we not miss simple opportunities to share the love of Christ with those around us, regardless their skin color, culture, economic status, etc. 

And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." Mark 15:16 (ESV)

Our ministry partner in Jacksonville in this are of refugee ministry is World Relief. This is the ministry that works with the US State Department when refugees are sent to our city. Nhial now works for this ministry that first helped him make Jacksonville a home. 

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Click here for more info on World Relief Jacksonville.


To Be a Sending Church, We Must Send Our Best: Neil & Kaytee Are Moving to Canada

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."

"What? Why?"

"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.

Neil and KayteeHere'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?

Not yet.

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." 

 


7 CHURCHES: Ephesus - "You've Lost Your Passion"

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On Wednesday nights this summer, I am leading our church through a teaching series on the seven churches referenced in the first few chapters of Revelation. God planted churches in urban areas. Some historians believe that upwards of 60 percent of residents in major Roman cities were believers as the movement of Christ grew. The percentage of believers in the rural areas was less than ten percent.

7-Churches-1-webI find this interesting. The strategies of church planting and small group expansion we are speaking of today echo that which took place in the first century:

  • Urban focused
  • Various meeting places
  • Various meeting times
  • Kingdom focused

You don't see churches in the New Testament smaller than cities.

As we read and study about these city churches, the question comes to mind - "If Jesus were to send a letter to our church commending that which we're doing well, but also condemning that which we're missing, which letter would we most likely receive?"

Ephesus was a great church. They were a church full of workers. They were diligent. They loved truth and called out those who taught falsely. They served. They gave. They endured. Jesus commended all this.

Then, he said this. . .

Revelation 2:4-7(ESV)
4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 
5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 
6Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 
7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Could it be that this letter could be sent to churches we all know and love?


The Problem with Mission Teams

A team of five from our church is preparing to travel to Portland next week to work with church planters in the city. In preparation for this, we are reading through the book Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. This book is hot off the presses and is causing quite a stir (in a good way.) It was written by members of The Upstream Collective.

One of the authors is Caleb Crider. Caleb serves in Portland and we will be meeting with him next week. About a year ago, Neil Jimenez and I met with Caleb and others in the Portland area to discuss what urban planting and contextualization looks like. I asked the pointed question to Caleb, "So, when a church sends a mission team, do you find it difficult to keep them busy or keep them focused on assisting in the work already begun?" This led to an interesting conversation centered around the fallacy many churches step into when developing and sending short term mission teams.

WorldTravelIt was something I had feared was the case, but thought I'd check with one of the guys in the trenches. I have since had this discussion with missionaries overseas and other planters in larger, urban settings in our nation and beyond. The stories are similar. While the desire to have church groups come help is strong and very positive, the reality is that often the teams are not really prepared. The great danger is in having a team serving for a week to ten days and actually push back the Kingdom framework that has already been put in place. No church desires to do that. 

In Tradecraft, Crider shares this. . .

In had been a church planter in Western Europe for about six years when I began to realize just how great the divide was between churches and God's mission. Throughout the year, groups from various churches in the States would come to assist us in our ministry. For them, this was a "mission trip," but for us, it was real life. We wanted to treat them as peers - a bit of fellowship, some mutual encouragement, and then go out and engage people in gospel conversations. But for the most part, the well-meaning participants on these trips were missiologically illiterate. They were incapable of participating in international mission in any meaningful way.

One Monday morning, we sent a group of American Christian college students to hang out at the local university to learn all they could about the spiritual climate on campus. We prayed together, divided the group into pairs, and sent them on their way. Of the six teams, two had trouble navigating the metro system and never found the campus. Two teams played frisbee on the soccer field, not speaking to a single student the entire time. One team quickly put together a "survey" and approached random students to ask them spiritual questions. Because what little response they received was quite negative, this team was discouraged. None of the teams came back with any meaningful spiritual insight about national college students.

These groups were good at doing what they were told. On previous trips, they had all painted fences, handed out blankets, and played games with children. For the duration of their ten-day stay, group members were perfectly happy to sleep on the floor, walk great distances, and feel generally out of place in this "foreign" environment. But when it came to the reasons for doing these things, the whys of mission, most of them had no idea beyond some vague concept of "reaching people" and a performance-based sense of duty.

So when we asked these volunteers to go out and incarnate the gospel, they were at a loss as to what, exactly, that might mean and how, practically, to do that. They had no understanding of urban living, social tribes or persons of peace. They had no experience gathering pertinent geographical, social, or spiritual information that might assist in church planting efforts. They were unfamiliar with the unchanging gospel, and fearful of culture. Worst of all, few had any sense of why they were participating in such a trip in the first place. Without basic missionary tradecraft, a Christian is incapable of moving beyond volunteerism into partnership in mission.

While pretty blunt and to the point, and to some potentially offensive, I must say that Crider echoes what I have heard numerous times. Don't get me wrong, there are many short term trips where the group attending truly doesn't understand the missiological impact of what is to be done, and in spite of that God has used them. In fact, God has often called participants into full-time service as pastors and missionaries as a result of such trips.

There are times when such trips could be avoided. I don't propose churches stop sending teams. I believe in the short term mission trip, strongly. (I am leading one next week, you know.)

What should be done? 

What is the fix?

First of all, communication with the missionary, pastor or planter on the field is a non-negotiable. The team arriving should see their mission as not only to the community, but to the missionary on the field. Encouragement is always needed. Prayer is vital - and not just a token "bless those folks" prayer offered every so often. Sincere, strategic prayer is required. The Enemy does not want the Kingdom of God expanded. Therefore, he will do whatever he can (though limited) to disrupt or push forward his kingdom. So, we'd better pray.

The church must step up when it relates to missiologically preparing teams. Otherwise, we will end up with transplanted team members doing good deeds, but not pushing forward God's Kingdom. 

We need to also understand that an improperly prepared team could conceivably undo work the planter/missionary has put in place. It's one thing to be ineffective. It's another to be destructive.

Understanding the identity of the missionary (i.e. all Christ followers are missionaries) is key. Mission is not something we do. It's who we are. 

I am excited as I read, think and pray through this. It's evident that God is doing a great work. He's been at work, is at work and will continue to work on a Story that expands His Kingdom. How incredible it is that He invites us along on the journey. Let's play our role well.


It Was Like Looking Into the Future

My trip to Wales last month was a wonderful experience. I had first visited Wales as a youth pastor in 2002. We took a group of teenagers to the southern Wales city, Carmarthen, to help with a sports camp hosted at the university.

This time my journey was for another reason and took me to North Wales, primarily in the city of Caernarfen. Partnering with a group of five from the States, plus a friend from Wales, we set about engaging the people in the community and visiting different towns and villages throughout the region in order to better understand the culture.

Wales is a beautiful country, but seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. While those in Great Britain understand the uniqueness of Wales as a country, including the prominence of the Welsh language and the strong nationalistic beliefs that many have, I discovered that many of my friends back here in the States falsely believe that Wales is part of England.

Welsh churchApparently, this is very common. The Welsh people were quick to let me know that Wales is not part of England. They are very proud of their country and rightly so.

I knew that Wales was not part of England, but came away with a better understanding of the great pride the Welsh have in their national heritage.

There is so much about Wales that could be written here, but I wish to focus on one area that drew my attention, and according to my friend in country is what many from the States notice.

One hundred years ago, the majority of the Welsh speakers in Wales (Cymry Cymraeg) were considered evangelical and born again. At least 90 percent were actively attending church regularly. In the early 20th century, a revival swept Wales. Pastors such as Evan Roberts were on the forefront of this movement of God's Spirit.

Edwin J. Orr writes of this movement in his book The Flaming Tongue (Moody Press, 1973)

The movement kept the churches of Wales filled for many years to come, seats being places in the aisles in Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea for twenty years or so, for example. Meanwhile, the Awakening swept the rest of Britain, Scandinavia, parts of Europe, North America, the mission fields of India and the Orient, Africa and Latin America.

Christian pastors and ministers were being used by God years prior to the revival, throughout all of Wales. Christmas Evans is one such pastor whose influence among evangelicals is still revered among many today.

While the history of the church is strong and there remain many church buildings (called chapels unless affiliated with the Church in Wales, the Anglican Church in Wales) in the country, the sad reality is that many of these facilities are mostly empty each weekend and a good number are either up for sale or have been sold and converted for other uses. I saw a number that were for sale, one that had been turned into a restaurant/pub and one that had been converted to a children's play area (kind of a Chuck E. Cheese's, Welsh-style.)

What is interesting is that when most American believers visit Wales and see this, they are immediately affected. A sense of sadness becomes apparent. Questions as to how this could have happened are asked.

Then, the fact that now, in 2011, it is estimated that approximately 1 percent of the Welsh attend church regularly and would be considered evangelical and born again. That's right, in just under one hundred years, the percentage of evangelical, born again church (chapel) attenders has gone from over 90 to 1.

DSCN0989While the Spirit of God is still at work globally, it appears the people of Wales and other post-Christian cultures (most of Western Europe, for example) are now disenchanted with Christianity and do not see the value in attending church or holding onto a personal faith. Consequently, many do not know Jesus Christ personally.

After speaking with a number of people in the community I noticed some themes that do not sound foreign to what I hear in the States. We all know that latest statistics show a growing disenchantment with "organized" religion and denominatins. In fact, a recent survey by LifeWay Research shows that even in the deep South, the home-base for the Southern Baptist Convention, that 40 percent have a highly unfavorable view of the SBC.

I shared this statistic with people in my church and the shock on their faces was evident.

My friend in Wales told me that many who visit from the United States have very similar feelings as I was having. I told him, "This is like looking into the future for the US. We are going down the very same path that led Wales from 90 percent to 1 percent in just one century."

If nothing else, this should wake us up as believers here in the States. To rest on our laurels and believe we are doing well enough will result, not just in the closure of church buildings (which in some cases may be a blessing rather than a curse) but the continued evacuation of the younger generations from a faith in Jesus Christ.

The encouraging this is that we know God is not finished with His people. While it may seem He is not at work as in the past, the fact that a remnant remains is encouraging. I believe that God will bring renewal to the people of Wales. Wouldn't that be just like Him? To use a people group that many in the world do not even know about (the Cymry Cymraeg) to spark a renewal among the culture.

I also believe that God is showing evangelicals here in America what  could be in store for us. My opinion is that a renewal among believers here is needed as well. I do not equate a spiritual renewal with a traditional "revival" week of meetings. There's more to write about what all this means, but at this point, watch the clip about the Welsh here. Think and pray for the Welsh people. Ask God what we can learn from this as well.

 

The Celt - Wales (Long Version) from David Tarkington on Vimeo.


The Revolutionary Power of Forgiveness

 01 Right Choices & the Power of Forg

 "Forgiveness is not saying that what you (the offender) did is OK?" - Renee Napier

Napier smallridgeWe hosted Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge once again last night. Our desire was to provide an opportunity for even more people to hear the message covering the warnings of driving under the influence and more importantly, the power of true forgiveness. 

If you haven't already, take the time to read yesterday's post that shares more detail about Renee and Eric's story. 

The presentation was spot on last night as well. Unfortunately, we did not have time for Q & A as we did on Tuesday. During the Q & A time, some really deep questions were asked and other tidbits about their journey were shared. Some of the questions, as I remember them were:

To Eric:

  • "What are your plans after you get out of prison?" (Eric): I have been taking A/C tech classes while in prison and hope to be able to find a job in this area, or whatever else God has planned for me. I remember what my mom always said "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans," so I try not to plan too far out.
  • "What about your girlfriend and her daughter that you mentioned? Are you still in touch? Will you get back together when you get out?" (Eric): Well, she is married now. It's OK, though. It's a reminder to all of us that one bad choice can result in losing so many things.
  • "What about your friend Mike who almost stopped you that night?" (Eric): When I went to trial, Mike was brought up as a witness. The lawyer asked him, while pointing at me, "Do you know this man?" Mike said, "Yes, he's my friend Eric." I was suprised and pleased. He still considered me a friend. Then, he asked Mike if he knew the two young ladies in the car that were killed (Meagan and Lisa,) and Mike said "Yes, I've known them for years. They're like little sisters to me." This was horrible. Mike knew all of us involved. I know he carries a burden of wondering if he could have stopped me that night. It's something he's carried with him and probably will continue to. I saw him a couple of years ago when we started this journey of telling our story. I told him that he was not to blame at all. I told him that it was all on me, that I made the decision, that I drove the car. Still, he hurts.
  • Have you forgiven yourself? (Eric): That's really hard. There are times I struggle with this. I know God has forgiven me. I know Renee and her family has forgiven me. Forgiving myself is hard.

To Renee:

  • "What about Lisa's family?" (Renee:) Lisa's family has forgiven Eric as well. This was hard for me, for them, for my children. Each had to come to this on their own. 
  • "Has your story been put in book form?" (Renee:) Not completely, but it is featured in a new book by Matthew West and Angela Thomas called The Story of Your Life. This is a compilation of over fifty stories submitted to Matthew over a year ago. He chose our story and featured it as one of the devotionals. My disclaimer is that I mentioned my son in the submitted story, but for some reason that sentence was edited out. I contacted my son immediately and showed him the original submission. He laughed about it and said, "Mom, that's the story of my life." He's a great man. 
  • "Have you been able to travel outside the state of Florida together?" (Renee:) No, that's not allowed. In fact, it's pretty miraculous that we're able to do this. (Eric:) Florida has a policy of never allowing offenders and offendees to be together, so this is unique.
  • "You seem really close to Eric?" (Renee:) I love him like a son. In fact, when we finish talking on the phone, we always end with "I love you." 

There were more questions, but these are the ones that come to mind right now. I wish I had recorded the Q & A. 

Regardless, I hope you can get a more complete picture of this story through this posting. Renee and Eric are speaking at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs this morning and then at Oakleaf High School on Friday. Pray for them as they wind down this three-week tour. They will be on the road again soon. They may be able to come back to Clay County or the Jacksonville area next Spring. If so, we will be involved as much as we can.

Never forget - forgiveness is powerful and freeing.

Forgive-bible-quotes

"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." - Lewis B. Smedes

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. - Ephesians 4:32 ESV

 

 

 

I want to offer a special thank you to Sheriff Rick Beseler and the Clay County Sheriff's Office for bringing Renee and Eric to our county and for allowing us the opportunity to partner with them.


Time to Bring Back the PPV!

I was on Facebook today and an old friend's chat box popped up. We reminisced for a few minutes and began talking about our evening of cruising through the community in the PPV.

What? You don't know what a PPV is?

Well, it's not "Pay Per View."

It's possibly one of the greatest inventions of the 1970s and was billed as an answer to the oil crisis.

My friend had one in storage in another city and finally had it moved to Fort Worth.

That's right - the PPV is the "People Powered Vehicle."

PPV It's pedal powered and sits two people. Manufactured by EVI of Sterling Heights, Michigan, it sold for less than $400.The advertisement here states that it's perfect for couples and has comfortable contoured seats. In reality, it's a two-seat tricycle with plastic seats. . .and we weren't a couple.

We rode it once. It was late at night and we were riding throughout his neighborhood. Then, we heard a buzzing sound. We had run into a mosquito-spraying truck from the city and now, our pedaling had to increase as we held our breath so as not to inhale too much of the bug spray.

My son is 15 and I'm thinking maybe I need to search eBay and find him a PPV for his first vehicle. I think it's time for the PPV to come back. It's "green" and affordable. It also forces you to make friends, because pedaling alone is not easy.

Oh, by the way, after that one ride in the PPV, the ancient chain broke. Never again did I get to experience the fun of the PPV. :-(