Archive for April, 2006

From Phoenix to the Barrio

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Ryan Mathis
Ryan Mathis is from Phoenix, Arizona. He’s 23.

He spent last year in Pretoria, South Africa as a NieuCommunities participant. That experience in missional living and spiritual formation was a great foundation for what he believes God wants to do with his life. This year, he began an apprenticeship with CRM’s InnerCHANGE team in the barrios of Caracas where he is committed to a life of incarnational service among the poor of Latin America.

Ryan is a example of where missional rhetoric has been turned into missional reality. May God’s presence and blessing rest on Ryan and may his life be an example of Isaiah 58:10-12

“...and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday.”

CRM Venezuela

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

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CRM has had people living and ministering in Venezuela for 13 years. I was together with them yesterday in Caracas.

This team has faithfully and effectively served the church throughout this nation during those years and is now going through a major leadership transition to national leadership. Leonel and Melissa Portillo (far right) will assume responsibility for the team in June and Randy and Doralicia Gonzales (far left) will be moving to Costa Rica to open CRM’s work in Central America.

I wish I could clone this team. The quality of their work and the depth of their contribution to the Christian movement in this part of Latin America has been excellent. And their dynamic as a team – loving and respecting each other and working together harmoniously – has been an exemplary model.

CoNext

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

We made a decision in CRM over a decade ago that we would not evolve into a multi-national corporation, rather we would embrace a global ministry model that was an internaitional partnership of national CRM entities, relating to one another on a relational, fraternal basis. We call that international partnership, CRM CoNext ...which represents going “together into the future.”

Each year, the leadership of these national CRM entities get together and this was our gathering at the end of 2005 in England. Five nations were represented:

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From L to R: Randy Gonzales – Venezuela, Bobby Booze – Hungary, my admin assistant – US, Steve Addison – Australia, Tom Middleton, my ministry assistant – US, Sam Metcalf – US, and Ian Hamilton, UK.

Participation in CoNext requires CRM ministry that is moving toward the inclusion of nationals on on our staff, nationals in leadership, and nationals being sent as missionaries. These five nations are on that track to varying degrees.

In September 2006, we will probably add to this number folks from Africa and Korea. Today CRM staff live and minister in 23 nations. In the next decade, we hope to see that expand to over 50 countries with at least 20 of those as CoNext partners.

We believe missiologist Ralph Winter got it right when he wrote:

“It is astonishing that most Protestant missionaries … have been blind to the significance of the very structure within which they have worked. In this blindness, they have merely planted churches and have not effectively concerned themselves to make sure that the kind of mission structure within which they operate also be set up on the field.”

CoNext is CRM’s response to this issue and we believe has huge advantages. We beleive such partnership:

1. Leads to less dependence
2. Allows for more effective contextualization
3. Has an exponential potential for multiplying
4. Keeps our emphasis on relational interdependence transcending organizational ties.

Ministry in a Barrio

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

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The majority of Caracas lives in the barrios that ring the central valley where the business and middle-class is concentrated. Interestingly very little missionary activity occurs in these barrios, at least not by non-Venezuelans.

This means that the CRM InnerCHANGE team are the first, and for many the only, non-Latino people that these residents have ever personally encountered. The team is multi-cultural with North Americans, a German, and one Chinese American.

Such a presence is not easy. And it’s risky. We’ve had several staff held-up in the past several weeks, one at gun-point. But the redemptive effect of their presence is exponentially more powerful than any itinerant workers who drive-in and drive-out.

Right now, the team is focusing on three separate communities within this sprawling barrio where house churches, formed along familial lines, have emerged. As the team told us, the keys to sustainability and the multiplication of a movement are based on such authentic, vibrant groupings of believers taking deep root and appropriate leadership emerging.

And as in any such context, the Gospel of the Kingdom is a far greater, holistic message than personal salvation. The Good News ultimately applies to every aspect of life, which in the barrios of Caracas. has widespread implications.

From a Barrio in Caracas

Monday, April 24th, 2006

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InnerCHANGE is CRM’s Order Among the Poor. I have the privilege of spending today with the InnerCHANGE team (pictured here) who live and minister in one of largest and poorest barrios in Caracas.

I see again the power of lives invested incarnationally. There is no substitute for being, in word and deed, the presence of Christ.

More on Barna’s “Revolution”

Friday, April 21st, 2006

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George Barna’s book, Revolution, is a good read. The pluses are:

1. It is going to grandly irritate those who are blindly clinging to the deck chairs on the Christendom Titanic.
2. As always, his stats and research are the best and very illuminating. He backs up what most intuitive observers of the church scene in the West have been feeling and saying for many years.
3. Because he is a researcher and not just a polemicist, he will be hard to argue with.
4. It’s a tight, concise, no-holds-bared volume. He pulls no punches.

Two critiques and a question:

1. Throughout the book, I believe he uses the term “church” in too limited a manner. Barna uses it almost exclusively to describe the institutional, traditional form that he so effectively dismantles. The ecclesiology and the definitions that he appears to embrace are too narrow. The language and the way he so hesitantly uses the term “church” sows confusion as to biblical realities.

“Alternative Faith Communities” are church. “Cells” are church. “Spiritual Mini-Movements” are church. “Family Faith” expressions are church. The term “church” is not exclusively owned by the traditional, institutional, attractional, congregational form historically dominant in the West. Let’s get beyond it. (more…)

Barna on the Local Church

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

“...if we place all our hope in the local church, it is a misplaced hope. Many well-intentioned pastors promote this perspective by proclaiming, ‘The local church is the hope of the world.’ Like most advertising slogans, this notion is emotionally appealing The trouble is, the sentiment is not biblical. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the hope of the world. The local church is one mechanism that can be instrumental in brining us closer to Him and helping us to be more like Him. But, as the research data clearly show, churches are not doing the job. If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope.” – George Barna in Revolution, pg. 36.

Definitely worth a read.  More tomorrow.

Revolution

Healthy Community

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

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Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a classic on what authentic Christian community is all about. No volume that I know of captures it better.

However, in the pursuit of the ideal there is much that can take place in personal and group relationships that is unhealthy. At times, the stuff that passes for “community” may actually be enmeshment, enablement, and dysfunctionality.

So how do I know if the community to which I am committed is healthy? Where do I find environments that nurture healty emotional and spiritual relationships? Some questions:

1. Does the context use me or develop me?
2. Can authority be questioned?
3. Is conflict resolved or repressed?
4. Is it an inclusive or exclusive environment?
5. Is an inordinate amount of time required to maintain the community as opposed to ministry outside?
6. What is accomplisihed other than “presence” in the greater society?
7. Is it easy to leave?
8. When we are in over our head with relational pathology, are qualified pros available and accessed, ie, counselors, pshychiatrists, therapists, and spiritual directors?
9. Is leadership accountable?
10. Is diversity embraced or is uniformity enforced?

CRM Korea

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

Korea Konnextion
Tong and Jane Park give leadership to CRM Korea. They are pictured here with Patty and me along with Jean Gill, CRM-Japan at the far right.

We are grateful to the Parks and handful of other visionary Korean leaders – from a variety of denominational backgrounds – who are pioneering CRM in South Korea. We are looking forward to the time when Koreans will serve with CRM not only on the Korean peninsula but in other nations having been sent from Korea. We also desire CRM-US to be a sending entity for Korean Americans who want to follow God’s leading to live and minister cross-culturally.

While the story of the Christian movement in Korea in the last half of the 20th century is remarkable, disturbing signs are beginning to appear in the Korean Church. Overall, Christianity has plateaued and stalled in Korea in the past decade. There are significant problems with the younger generation as their involvement with traditional Christianity and the faith of their parents wanes. Even in a highly homogeneous society such as Korea, forces of globalization, post-modernity, and secularization are having an inevitable impact. Also materialism and unprecedented affluence are taking a toil.

Korea has the potential for making one of the greatest contributions to the worldwide Christian movement of any nation as we move into the 21st century. It is yet to be seen whether Korean Christianity can carpe diem.

The Two Structures of God’ Redemptive Mission

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

Sodality-Winter On Two StructuresA seminal article in understanding apostolic, missionary structures is Ralph Winter’s The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission (downloadable at left). While more an historical treatment than a theological one, Winter clearly describes this missiological reality in the Christian movement, how God has always worked through two basic forms of “church” to accomplish his purposes.

I remember the first time I read this. The lights finally went on! I was not some misfit. I wasn’t an aberration in ministry.  Just because I was not gifted or called to be in a pastoral role in the church in its local form, I still had an equally valid calling to ministry through God’s church in missionary form. My gifts and experience clearly indicated a “sodalic” calling. And people with sodalic, apostolic callings must have apostolic structures if those callings are to be adequately fulfilled.

The Cross

Saturday, April 15th, 2006

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Wherever one goes around the world, this simple symbol stands as a beacon:

o Ornately carved over a Coptic church in Cairo;
o Illuminated on a hillside overlooking a California freeway;
o sitting on a small alter in an apartment where a Chinese house church meets;
o Held high leading an Anglican processional;
o Around the neck of a missionary as she cares for those suffering and dying in a slum;
o Atop the glistening gold onion dome of a Russian Orthodox church;
o As two sticks tied together stuck in the ground under a tree in the African bush;
o Adorning row upon row of symmetrical graves overlooking the beaches of Normandy

No other symbol in human experience is as widespread and has evoked such emotion, power and allegiance. The remembrance of the cross and what happened upon it – liturgically and in memorial – has been the focal point of worship for the Christian movement in very epoch and in every culture into which the movement has spread.

While the cross is all of this, is is also nothing apart from an empty tomb. Without the resurrection, the cross becomes a minor footnote in Jewish history lost among all the cruelty and tragedy of the Roman occupation of Palestine. But with the historical reality of the resurrected Christ, the cross represents “...the power of God for salvation to all who believe.”   Therefore …

“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
til all the world adores His sacred name.”

Good Friday

Friday, April 14th, 2006

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“But when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

The cross stands as the apex of human history. All of reality in our universe is defined and has ultimate meeting because of what happened on that hillside outside of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

o The cross is the supreme act of sacrifice.
o It is the visible definition and incarnation of love.
o It is where the legal, forensic act takes place whereby the justice of a holy God—which is the essence of His very nature that cannot be denied or ignored—is satisfied.
o The cross is where all the supernatural forces of evil, reveling in false triumph, are defeated. Is is where God in human flesh dies.
o The cross is where an incomprehensible, unexplainable cleavage in the indivisible Trinity occurs.
o The cross breaks the power of sin and death.
o As an instrument of death, it is a gruesome, horrible, excruciating way for any person to die—the epitome of torture.
o It is where all that is broken is made right.
o The cross gives meaning to all suffering and puts it into eternal perspective.
o It is where the curse on creation—psychologically, sociologically, and ecologically – is lifted.
o The cross is a beacon of hope for all who are hurting.
o It is the final arbitrator of right and wrong and the consummate definer of morality.
o The cross is where the Kingdom of God and His rule over all are sealed.
o And it is where eternity is opened for those who are bought and redeemed by the death of Jesus.

***********************

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
til all the world adore His sacred Name.

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
as thou hast promised, draw the world to thee.
Let every race and every language tell
of him who save our souls from death and hell

For thy blest Cross which doth for all atone
creation’s praises rise before thy throne.
So shall our son of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified for the victory.

Refrains from “Lift High the Cross” by George William Kitchen, 1887
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Matthias Grunewald, 1470-1528, a German, was one of the greatest painters of his age and his crucifixion, one of his most outstanding masterpieces.

Difficult People

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

Scream
Lesson #3 is about difficult people. Letting a personnel problem fester makes it more difficult to deal with in the long run. I have been burned more often by being negligent in confronting hard issues with people than by plowing ahead an dealing forthrightly with the unpleasant.

In my experience, dealing with people problems is perhaps the most demanding and emotionally draining aspect of leading others if we are intent on leading as a servant leader. This of course, may depend upon gifts and maturity. However in every facet of leadership, at every level, I see this to be true. People problems take a toil by:

Diverting energy away form the creative, visionizing aspects of a leader’s mission;

Making leaders gun-shy and crippling their willingness to take future risks;

Producing an interesting paralysis in decision-making, somewhat unique to “Christian” communities which are not supposed to have such problems. It becomes much more difficult to deal with people for the same type of incompetence or non-performance that would never be tolerated in others forms of work. Spirituality can become an excuse for enabling destructive behavior.


    Tough Decisions

    Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

    More on leadership lessons:

    Decisions

    #2 – Leadership involves tough decisions particularly when it affects the lives, families careers, and futures of other people. Tough decisions can be faced three ways:

    a) Avoid it.  Don’t do anything and sidestep the tough stuff;
    b) Make the decisions but do not carry them out well …the process is poor.
    c) Make and execute decisions with expedience, skill, and with a sensitivity and care that reflects a genuine love and compassion for all involved.

    Integrity in leadership means doing the right thing regardless of the consequences, the criticism or the pain.

    Criticism

    Monday, April 10th, 2006

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    Attempting to exercise godly, genuine servant leadership is never easy.

    Last night in reviewing some old journal notes, I came across a list circa 1992 of “Leadership Lessons.” In retrospect what struck me was 1) How accurate these thoughts were in light of almost 15 additional years of experience and 2) How much emotional energy and even pain has been expended over that period in light of these realities. Regardless, they are still worthy of consideration.

    #1. Criticism is tough. Although it comes with the turf for anyone in leadership, it is still painful. It hurts. Obviously, it can be justified but it is most difficult when it is not.

    I found I have two responses to the unjust: a) anger, bitterness and resentment or 2) allowing the criticism to mold character.

    The choice is mine.

    Two Cultures …

    Sunday, April 9th, 2006

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    “There is a fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There’s the quicker-growing, economically vibrant …morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation …and there’s the small town, nuclear-family, religiously-oriented, white-centric other America, [with] ...its diminishing cultural and economic force …[T]wo nations …” – Michael Wolff, New York, 2/26/01, pg. 19.

    This is reality. And the clock is not turning back. The challenge to the Christian movement is how to be in word and deed the presence of Christ in the culture Wolff describes as the future. Good missiology tells us:

    1) The new won’t be influenced by imposing cultural norms from the old.
    2) The old, like nearby cultures the world over, will only be marginally effective, if at all, in influencing the new.
    3) The new requires fresh, indigenous expressions of authentic biblical reality.
    4) These new expressions, if they are effective, will probably not be recognized as stereotypical “church” by both the secularists of the new or the religionists of the old.
    5) These new expressions will require missionaries, in the classic sense, who can cross language, cultural, and in some cases, socio-economic barriers to incarnate the gospel of Jesus in a holistic way and stimulate the emergence of these new expressions.
    6) Not every follower of Jesus is a missionary, i.e., not everyone has the skills, gifts or calling to do this.
    7) Missionaries need missionary structures if they are to be effective.

    8)Missionary structures are not the same as followers of Jesus gathered in these new expressions for community, mission, and nurture (i.e., local churches in the truly biblical sense).
    9) Therefore to have a sustainable movement in the new, both the church in its local form and the church and its missionary form must be present and play interdependent roles.

    How Not to Grow People Who Can Lead …

    Saturday, April 8th, 2006

    Handcuffs

    “In my own denomination, theological education has become a part of a bureaucratic system that does not allow the emergence of indigenous leadership from the congregations. We deliberately break that pattern. You can’t be ordained in the congregation where you grew up, discovered your gifts, and move into ministry. This is one of the biggest difference compared to …churches which are seedbeds of leadership development.”

    – Roberta Hestenes, former President, Eastern College.

    Education and Leadership …part 3

    Friday, April 7th, 2006

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    Can relational empowerment and transformation happen in a formal educational setting? Certainly. But that’s not what the system is designed for. Let’s be honest. Antiseptic classrooms are not exactly relational hot houses.

    So if I am not going to find all I need to be developed in such institutional settings, where do I find such relationships where life, and not just knowledge, is transferred? In my experience, three places:

    a. Healthy expressions of the church in its local form (with the emphasis on “healthy” and with an understanding that the “form” can be tremendously diverse)
    b. Vibrant apostolic expressions of the church in its missionary form
    c. Divine contacts, ie., mentors and individuals God brings into my life for just such a purpose.

    The kicker sometimes is whether these relationships are healthy. Unfortunately, transformation can be good or bad. And there are far too many group environments as well as individual relationships, even with good intentions, that are unhealthy and damaging. The relational dysfunctionality out there from enmeshed and spiritually abusive relationships inflicts a lot of pain.

    Education and Leadership …part 2

    Thursday, April 6th, 2006

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    I would regret anyone reading my previous post and concluding I was anti-scholarship or anti-intellectual. Rather, I want to be realistic about what role academic pursuits in an institutional setting play in the life of one serious about following Jesus and particularly those who will emerge as leaders.

    “The Academy” does have a place and a definite contribution to make. I am grateful for what it has given to me. But the problem is when we expect it to do something in a life that it is poorly designed to do.

    Just because someone has a seminary degree proves little when it comes to leadership. The degree may only mean that I am smart enough to do the work and rich enough to pay the bill.

    The Western educational model when embraced, as Winter says “uncritically”, has always been conflicted in its relationship to the Christian movement. Does it exist to produce leaders and labor for the movement or does it exist to produce scholars? These are not the same.

    Formal Education and Leadership

    Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

    Education

    “The most extensive, pervasive strategic error in the Christian tradition lies squarely in our coveted and generously supported, but unquestioned, concept of years of “schooling” as the way for leaders to develop and be trained ….In this country and abroad, every church movement which has come to depend solely upon residential school products for its ministry is dying.” – Ralph Winter in “Mission Frontiers”, March-April 2003

    The fact is, information rarely transforms lives. Relationships do.

    While accurate information about God is certainly necessary, it’s relating to God in a deep and personal way that actually produces substantive change. And if I want to see genuine transformation in the lives of others, it’s most effective through the power of a relationship, not through the passing on of facts or concepts regardless of how true they may be.

    Truth becomes most powerful when it is embodied in a person and made manifest in a relationship. It’s called the incarnation.

    The blocs …

    Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

    There are numerous ways that we can look at the world and the challenge it presents to the Christian movement.

    One of the more common ways to divvy up the pie has been to view the world through ethnic lenses …through the grid of “people groups.” This of course is consistent with the “ta ethne” of Matthew 28 and is an incredibly useful means of evaluating the task remaining to those who name the name of Jesus and take seriously his imperative to disciple the nations.

    Another helpful perspective is to look at the world through socio-economic levels. We do this often in InnerCHANGE, CRM’s order among the poor, as we grapple with engaging that portion of a population in any given context which is “poor” and even “desperately poor.” This also is a profoundly biblical means of viewing people since God’s concern for the poor throughout the whole of scripture is a theme that is commonly overlooked and minimized.

    And there are other lenses through which we can take a close look at the challenge such as urban vs. rural or developed vs. developing world, etc …

    But there is another way that gives us perspective to view the world through what I would call “belief blocs.” When we parse up the global scene in this manner, the whole of humankind can be broken into three major camps:

    1.)The Religious Bloc

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    The religioius bloc is the largest of the three and it is primarily composed of those adherents to the major non-Christian world religions: Islam, Hinduism, traditional Chinese religions and Buddhism:  Islam with 1.3 billion followers, Hinduism with 870 million;  Chinese relgions with 405 million; and Buddhism with 379 million.  All told, these blocs make up 40-50% of the world’s peoples.

    2.)The Secular Bloc
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    This is the bloc that is getting increasingly astute attention and analysis in the West as Christianity rapidly continues its disestablishment from western culture and as the cultural phenomena of “Christendom” passes into history. We find the secular bloc primarily in the post-industrial, increasingly post-modern West, although there are also significant pockets of this bloc evident in the booming urban centers of the developing world which are inevitably influenced by the dynamics of globalization.

    It would be a mistake to view all secularized peoples through the grid of the postmodern which is actually a subset of the secular. While the shift in the West from modernity to post-modernity is titanic in its nature and implications, there are huge percentages of secular peoples who cannot be lumped together with those whose worldviews are decidedly postmodern. This includes large numbers of nominal Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants who are decidedly secular but have not navigated the jump to post-modernity and may not for several generations.

    3.)The Animist Bloc
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    A large percentage of the world remains in what anthropologists refer to as animism, that form of belief that melds the natural world into the spiritual and is expressed in a dizzying array of folk religions.

    Unfortunately, this is the bloc that has defined missionary efforts in the popular mind throughout the West and has been hard to shake. Jungles, pith helmets, tribal groups, etc., are still the images that have shaped the popular understanding of the missionary task when in fact, the secular and the religious blocs are by far the majority of the world’s peoples.

    So what does this mean? A few thoughts and observations:

    1. Missionary efforts to advance the Christian movement must be tailored very differently for each of these blocs. Conversely, the training necessary for those who minister within and to these three blocs is quite different. One size does not fit all.

    2. The religious bloc has historically presented the most stubborn obstacles to the advance Christianity. Most missiologists agree that the key to future success within these blocs lies in effective contextualization although the ongoing debate about what that means and how far one goes in such a process is robust.

    3. While the reality of the postmodern world in the secular bloc is a macro trend, it is mistake to superimpose that phenomenon onto the other two blocs when in fact, most of those in the religious bloc and the animist bloc have never even entered the modern world.

    4. People may be in separate belief blocs and yet share many other cultural characteristics. While belief and worldview are seminal components of culture, they are not the only elements.

    5. These blocs are not geographically determined. In fact, one can go into any major world-class city and find peoples from all three blocs living side-by-side and sociologically intertwined. While they may be physically near-neighbors, they may have great gulfs separating their belief systems.

    6. All three of these blocs should be legitimate foci of missional effort, both from the local church expressions of the Christian movement that may be co-existent and/or near and from the apostolic expressions of the movement which are called of God and designed specifically for the crossing of cultural, socio-economic, and belief system barriers to represent the good news of Jesus.