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Posts Tagged ‘Let’s Start Talking Ministry’

Honestly, the first time I was asked to do a short-term mission trip, I agreed only because I could not figure out a good enough reason to say no. I was in college, so I even called my parents because I felt sure that they would want me to come home in the summer . . . but, in fact, their answer was, “You need to do what you think God wants you to do.”  I finally committed with my heart and not just my head—and I’ve never stopped. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

So here are a few tips about making the decision the first time, and I say the first time because I do believe that if you go once and do something meaningful, you will continue to find ways to go.

  1. Don’t expect all of your motives to be spiritual. I think many people do not hear the call of God because they love to travel, love to experience new things, love to meet new people. Who do you think gave you these desires? For what possible reason could He have done this? Instead of viewing these as personal or selfish desires, recognize their intended use and go!
  2. In two weeks or less, you can change the focus of your life!Especially if you are at one of those critical points in life, where you are trying to decide what you are really doing that is meaningful?  People who are now unemployed, who fear unemployment, who are nearing retirement, who are into retirement and finding it boring, who are disabled from physical work, who are unhappy in their profession with just punching a clock—a short-term mission project can give you brand new glasses to see your life with.
  3. You will never have more fun! Time spent doing the will of God—all day long—will beat fishing, skiing, cruising, touring, hunting—because it is everything you enjoy about these activities wrapped up into the same package, but framed with an eternal purpose.  When you show someone how to pray, or tell them who Jesus is for the first time, or hear them trusting you with the burdens of their heart because you care about them; when you see the light of understanding go on in their eyes, when you see your new friend baptized—and the huge smile on their face . . . it is so much more than a great round of golf.
  4. “Can you afford it” is really the wrong question. The fact is that a two-week mission trip will probably be much less expensive than a two-week vacation.  However, your investment in a short-term mission trip will come back to you for the rest of your life—and afterwards. Can you afford not to go?  (I’m going to write about raising funds shortly, so watch for those tips too.)
  5. Age doesn’t matter very much!Eighty-year-olds have gone with LST on missions. Eight-year-olds with their parents have also gone. In many cultures, age is revered.  Years ago, a man said to one of our older workers, “I’ve never met a Christian with gray hair.” His comment was the result of too many American Christians thinking that short-term missions were just a youth group or college student activity.  A friend of ours in her 70s just lost her husband this year, but she took her grief and her loneliness to eastern Europe to fulfill a mission call. Now  she exchanges the grief with the joy of pouring her life out for Christ and the loneliness with all the people God brings to her.  Her new life and joy is palpable.
  6. Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid!Fear is our enemy. God spoke these words to His people over and over again in scripture. Count them up if you don’t believe me—then do something to overcome your fears.
  7. Don’t procrastinate. Do it soon! Why should you wait? Does it sound like any of the excuses given for not coming to the Great Banquet? (business, relatives, obligations) Don’t surrender your seat at the table because of just couldn’t decide to do it.

 

I’m not particularly proud of the story of my first decision to go, but I did learn something that stuck with me. Whatever your reasons for not going are, if you will simply set them aside and go, your life will be changed because you are right in the middle of the will of God. I know that is true.

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The biggest hindrance to Christian youth and college students participating in short-term missions is their parents. I really hate to say that but after thirty years of recruiting college students for summer mission projects, I know this to be true.

Here are a few thoughts for Moms and Dads to think about to help them be more comfortable with what their young people want to do for God.

1. If your goal for your child is that he/she holds on to—even grows in—the faith you have tried to share with them, you need to let them go when they feel called. A great study done by a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University may be all I need to cite:  His study of 25,000 young people in churches of Christ showed that a “summer mission experience” was the top factor correlating with those students who continued in their faith after high school.

2. Before you ask your child to be “sensible” and …….(you fill in the blank with summer school, job, visit Grandma, internship, etc), you should ask yourself what message you are sending about the place of the kingdom in his/her life. Young people tend to “walk by faith” a little more naturally than we adults who have learned what the worst case scenarios are and who try to cover ourselves with insurance against such.

3. Check to see if you are afraid for yourself or are you afraid for your child. Some parents have not traveled much, never been out of the country, never had a passport (even if you are governor of Alaska!). No wonder you are a bit anxious about releasing your student to go to China or Africa or ………  Millions of Americans go overseas every year—for much less important reasons that sharing their faith.   “Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid.” We have to teach our children Christian bravery.

4. You don’t want to teach your children fear of random violence! One year we had a grandmother who offered to pay her granddaughter to stay safely in Oklahoma.  While the daughter was safely in Germany, the Edmond post office massacre occurred near her “safe” home in Oklahoma.  Unless we want to be crippled by fear, we cannot be live our lives afraid of random violence.

 

5. The best response to your child is to say YES–and to go with them! There is no better activity for Mom and/or Dad than to share some special time serving with your young person in serving the Lord.  Yes, you can do that any weekend at home, but to really step out on faith together, going somewhere very different, meeting people that are very different, but doing the most important task in the world together—there is nothing like it!

Sherrylee and I sometimes wondered if we were ruining our children by taking them with us each summer to do Let’s Start Talking—from early children through their teen years.  I guess I better let them tell you what it has meant to them. . . . but I know that God used it for good, and they are all people of strong faith.  Isn’t that what you want for your children?

 

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I have been directly involved in organizing short-term missions (STM) since I was a freshman in college—45 years ago.  Since 1980, Sherrylee and I have sent over 6000 American Christians on thousands of short-term mission projects in sixty-five different countries through the Let’s Start Talking Ministry.

We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of short-term missions, but we have always believed that if done well, they were of great value.  For the next few days, I’ll give you some of the things we have learned over the years to help you do short-term missions better.

First, to the church leaders who are asked to send and to support short-term missions, here are a few suggestions for distinguishing the more worthy from the less worthy:

1. Who will be benefited by this short-term mission effort? Some of the possibilities are the Worker, the sending church, the hosting church, and the unchurched/unbelievers that are touched by the work.  Is the work intended to just be a good experience for the Americans going and the encouragement it gives to the local congregation sending them? If so, don’t describe it as mission work. It is edification.  If it is for the hosting church, then it is church nurturing, not missions. If it is for the unchurched/unbelievers, then it is evangelism.  All of these are worthy goals, so decide which you want to support.

2. Does the host really want these people to come? I attended a meeting of local evangelists in a foreign country a while back and the common complaint from all of them was how they felt required to host short-term groups who wanted to come work with them—regardless of whether the group would actually benefit their work—because the group was from a church that supported their work.   It was often assumed that every mission site would love to have a group of 30 people appear on their doorstep, but for many obvious reasons, that is not always the case.  Make sure a real invitation from the site has been issued before you go/send.

3. What’s the purpose and how will it be accomplished? Make sure that the activities match the purpose.  If the purpose is to share the Gospel with people, establishing an obvious way to contact people who do not believe is critical. Then, how will the workers begin a conversation with them? There is room for a variety of purposes, but the activities must match the purpose.

4. What’s the plan for the time on site? The very nature of short-term missions means that good use of the time is critical. Showing up to “do whatever the missionary wants” is simply a way to shift all the responsibility on the local people to do all the thinking and preparation.

5. Have the workers prepared to go? Let’s Start Talking provides all workers with a minimum of 20 hours of preparation. Our college students receive more like 50 hours for their mission projects. There are good resources out there for individuals and groups to use in preparation.  Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the expertise of short-term mission leaders with lots of experience.

6. Is the cost appropriate? I do not believe at all in the “most bang for the buck” model of missions—but we will talk about that later.  But I also know that spending $3000/person for a five-day short-term mission project when two of the days are mostly getting to and from the site does not appear on the surface to be a wise use of that money.  Church leaders should weigh the costs against all of the outcomes, then make a prayerfully informed decision.

Next, I’ll offer a few tips for those trying to decide about a short-term mission trip—or not!

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Let’s Start Talking approaches churches on almost a daily basis, asking for a few minutes at one of their assemblies to present to that church’s members opportunities  to be involved in short-term missions.  We do not ask for money, we do not ask for any long-term commitments, nor do we ask for anything that would detract from that church’s current mission efforts.   We do not need the sermon time. Class time, time before or after a service, even Wednesday night would be wonderful!

Why is it so hard to get an opportunity to tell the Body of Christ about specific requests from mission churches who are asking for help in telling the story of Jesus to their neighbors?

One of the most common reasons we hear when churches say that now is not a good time is that their mission work/mission committee is not functioning or is in disarray and they don’t know what they are doing, so let them get their act together and they will get back to LST.  I can’t remember when we have ever been called back at a later date by a church that had pulled themselves together.

In the previous post, we talked about questions that a strong church with a good mission program—at least in their own eyes—might ask in order to be sure they were not deceiving themselves, being satisfied with a mediocre mission effort when they desire and are capable of a great mission effort.

Now I’d like to talk with those church leaders/members in smaller churches, with either no real mission program or one in disarray as described above!  Let’s ask some hard questions and see where the answers lead us!

1.       Why is your church small?  Myriad reasons come to mind as to why a church might be small, some perfectly healthy and other reasons very unhealthy.  Some healthier reasons might include being a new church plant, being in an unchurched area where growth is slow. Unhealthy reasons might include because you are the only right ones, or you like to do things one way—your way.  I do challenge you to list ten reasons why your congregation is small—then evaluate those reasons for health.

2.      How are you trying to grow?  And holding Sunday services does not count.

3.       To what part of the Great Commission are you devoting your available resources?  Sherrylee and I met with a church recently in a resort area that often has no more than five members present, yet they rent a church building for Sundays and pray mostly for Christian tourists to attend. After the service the 4-5 members all went out to eat together, without inviting any of us guests to go with them.  Does this picture feel wrong to you?

4.       What could you do that would increase your “strength”? Could you merge with another church? I was in a small Texas town of about 1500 people recently that had four churches of Christ listed in the phone book. I believe we went to the largest with a membership of about 150. I wonder how long it has been since anyone made overtures about merging with any of the other congregations?   My only solace was that the Baptist had 17 churches in the same phonebook.  Human frailty is not denominational.

5.       What opportunities do you have because you are small that a large church might not have? What if the whole church supported that one young person or the just-retired couple to prepare for missions!  You don’t have anyone?—then why don’t you adopt a new Christian who has a strong desire to serve abroad, but no church home.  Find them through one of the Christian university mission departments.

I’ve worshipped in many small churches all over the world.  Small is not the same as weak.  The fact that eighty percent of American churches of Christ have fewer than a hundred members is often quoted as an excuse, but I keep hearing the words of the Messenger to the little church in Asia Minor, which he described as having just a “little strength.”  To this church he says, “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut!” (Revelation 3:8)

Rethinking your mission efforts may start—for large or for small churches—with rethinking who you are and why you exist at all.  I do believe that when you know why it is worth all the time and effort to be church together, you will have a much better perspective for pursuing the mission of every church!

 

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Today is Sherrylee’s birthday. I won’t tell you which one, but she would!  All I will say is that she was barely 19 when we married which will be 40 years ago in April!

In the last three posts, I’ve spent a little time talking about people who I’ve learned from through recent experience, so surely you are expecting me to tell you about Sherrylee!

First of all, to answer the most frequent of all questions: she likes her unusual name and uses the full thing in any formal situation, whether written or orally. Now her family calls her Sherry, so that’s what I usually call her too, unless I’m introducing her to other people.  She’s fine with both, but I just thought I’d get that question out of the way!

I actually woke up this morning thinking about how to tell you what I’ve learned from Sherry. As in any marriage, most of what you learn is so intrinsic to your personalities that it is hard to separate out into simple categories, but the more I thought about it, the one thing that recurs most often in what I have learned from Sherry, the one word that seemed to be a part of every descriptive phrase that occurred to me, that word was PASSION.

I grew up in a family that was all about subduing emotions and keeping passion under control. If you got too loud or too rowdy or too opinionated or too enthusiastic, you might . . . . surface! Or somebody might misunderstand you, or you might upset someone, or you might do something that was out of bounds.  You might sin! In retrospect, I would say there was a good bit of fear of some kind that ruled all of our emotions and/or actions. I’m not talking about paranoia; I’m just talking about “self-control.”

Her fearlessness was part of what attracted me to Sherrylee!  I was a senior at Harding and she was a junior in high school the first time we met. I was five years older at a time in life when that could be pretty intimidating to some people—but not to Sherrylee. She was not intimidated in the least! She was not afraid.  I’ll never forget the day in Scranton, PA on Campaigns Northeast when she arrived a little late to the team devotional. I was sitting on the front row of the church building by myself. We had just barely begun to know that we liked each other, and she marched down to the front of the building in front of the whole group to sit with me—as if we belonged together! You could hear the gasps literally—but I loved it—and her!

Sherrylee has taught me how to be passionate about people! Just a couple of days ago, we were walking back to our hotel in New Orleans about 10:30 at night when we walked past this young man in a mardi gras costume who was obviously very drunk. He was cursing into his phone very loudly and trying to tell someone where to pick him up off the streets—without success.  We walked about 20 feet past him, when Sherrylee turned to me and said “We need to help that guy!” So we turned around and went back—which we do fairly often nowadays. I walked up and asked if we could help him—that’s the way I am. Sherrylee came right behind me, said, “Let me have your phone and I’ll tell them where you are.” She took his phone, talked to his mother, and gave her directions to pick up her son.  I love Sherry for being so sensitive and yet so bold about helping others. I’m trying to learn more from her.

Sherrylee has taught me to be passionate in marriage! No, this won’t be X-rated because I’m not talking any more about sex than I am about our daily life together.  I think I could have been the kind of husband that loved his wife, but neglected her in ministry. From Day One of our marriage, Sherry has fought that tendency in me. She has passionately pursued me; she passionately pursued ministry with me! And I know that much of her motivation for doing so was so that we did not lose the passionate love with which we began our marriage!  I love her for that!

Sherrylee has taught me to be more passionate about God! When we were first married, I may have had a slight edge on her since I had majored in Bible and had four years of studying the Bible with people and two years of campus ministry, BUT I knew when I married Sherrylee that she had a great mind, an unlimited intellectual curiosity, and a deep and passionate love of God.

She is the one now who reads the N.T. Wright tomes! She is the one who still raises the deepest questions at the dinner table.  In fact, it is a standing tradition among our grown children to bet on how long we will be at table before Mom raises a deep theological question that she has been thinking about!

Sherrylee has taught me about passionate people who love God. She often raises her hands in praise; she often tears up with passion during worship. She prays earnestly—and often. She claps—loudly—and with extra rhythms! She wants to be in the front of the church, in the middle of the worship, talking afterwards to as many people as possible!

I have had so much to learn! And still do. She still teaches me daily not to be afraid, to forget about myself, and to let my deeper feelings show.

Happy birthday, Sherrylee! You have filled my life—and the lives of many, many people–with passion that is clearly the reflection of God’s passionate love for you.

 

 

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Did you hear the broadcast from Egypt on Sunday that told of Coptic Christians conducting mass in Tahrir Square?  What caught my attention was the report that Muslims surrounded the Christians in order to protect them while they worshipped. (Reuters, February 6 2011).

This action follows many reports of Egyptian Christians protecting Muslim men in the same square as they prayed last Friday. Coptic Christians make up approximately ten percent of the population of Egypt, perhaps the largest Christian community in the Arab world. (For background information, you might want to read this article from Foreign Policy.)

Have you heard about the big controversy among some Christians over whether Christian churches should rent church space to Muslims to conduct their prayer services. What do you think your church would do?

Recently, Christianity Today has featured several articles that raised questions about the relationship between Islam and Christianity as well as between Muslims and Christians.

Why We Opened Our Church to Muslims | A response to “Muslims in Evangelical Churches.” (January 27, 2011)

Muslims in Evangelical Churches | Does loving your neighbor mean opening your doors to false worship? (January 3, 2011)

From Informant to Informer | The “son of Hamas” senses God in his life before coming to Christ. (June 8, 2010)

Dispute in Dearborn | Small ministry creates big waves at Arab festival. (August 18, 2010)

Out of Context | Debate over ‘Camel method’ probes limits of Muslim-focused evangelism. (March 31, 2010)

How Muslims See Christianity | Many Muslims don’t understand Christianity—especially the idea of salvation by grace through faith. (March 1, 2000)

The above list appears in a lengthy article discussing the use of the phrase “Son of God” in Bible translations used in Muslim countries. It is an excellent discussion of the difficulties inherent in cross-cultural evangelism (Christianity Today, February 4, 2011).

 

If you are having trouble even reading the word Muslim without thinking terrorist, then I think you are a pretty normal American Christian.  Unfortunately, I think the dominate word in that last phrase is American, not Christian. But it is very difficult for many of us to separate the flag from the cross, isn’t it!

I am encouraged that in the middle of the political tumult, Christians in Egypt have acted like Christians to those who sometimes even persecute them.  I’m equally thrilled to see Muslims responding favorably to the Christians.

It begins to sound like the early chapters of Acts, you know those verses that describe the good that the first followers of Jesus did among the people who had killed Jesus (2:47) and the “good favor” that ensued from the entire community.

We and LST have been involved in faith-sharing work with Muslims for many years now. Our first experiences were in western Europe–which is struggling with a mushrooming Muslim population. Then later we began work in places that were secular politically though Muslim culturally, both in Asia and Africa.   I have no personal experience in the fundamentalist Arab Muslim countries, but I do know people who have worked there.

So I have many more questions than I have answers, but I am more and more convicted that not only is vilification of Muslim people wrong, but that either intentionally or indifferently ignoring them is equally ungodly.

I am convicted—as you are, I believe—that God so loved the Muslim world as well as the Christian world that He sent His only Son to die for the whole world!  Isn’t that what you believe too?

So how does that change anything for you today?

 

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Clint Loveness, a friend and Let’s Start Talking participant has created a great story video that speaks about young people, video games, and missions. You probably want to share this with your teens and grandteens!  It’s just over four minutes, so click below and enjoy it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJGuAInoOlk

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