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Posts Tagged ‘missional’

Missional is one of those fuzzy buzz words that one hears at large church gatherings. You think you know what it means, but maybe you don’t—and you can’t ask anyone because everyone else knows what it means except you!

Simple definitions leave a lot of us asking questions, so here is my attempt to give you concrete pegs on which to hang your understanding of missional .

A missional church is

  1. Where YOU show up, not God. A missional church is joining God in His work, not inviting God to be a part of your work!
  2. Where the members know that the Great Commission says GO, not COME!
  3. Where all of the members are missionaries, not just those out of the country.
  4. Where mission contributions are not special contributions.
  5. Where what happens out of the building is equally important—if not more important—than what happens in the building.
  6. Where “going to worship” happens every day, not just on Sundays.
  7. Where church leaders meet to pray for new work, not just to manage and control old work.
  8. Where members know their neighbors.
  9. Where the community would be diminished if the church closed its doors.
  10. Where no borders are recognized except those of the Kingdom of God.
  11. Where members expect to meet new people at church!
  12. Where members expect to have unbelievers at church!
  13. Where the church is God’s church, not “our” church.
  14. Where its children grow up wanting and encouraged to be missionaries.
  15. Where benevolence and evangelism are the same thing.
  16. Where there is no difference between my life and church life, my time and God’s time, or my money and God’s money.
  17. Where members are not afraid of being in the world because they see it as their mission field.
  18. Where members are motivated by love and gratitude.
  19. Where members extend grace and mercy, speaking the truth in love.

I feel like there ought to be a #20! What if I leave that open for you to fill in. Leave a comment and share with us what you understand a missional church to be!

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The person who desires to become a full-time missionary supported by churches of Christ has an extraordinarily difficult mountain to climb—unduly difficult—before they will ever reach the mission field. Many never attempt to climb the mountain, and others fall off the mountain in the attempt.

 The current support/oversight paradigm among churches of Christ discourages both potential and existing missionaries. The results are too few long-term missionaries which means less mission work and fewer souls hearing the story of Jesus—none of which can possibly be pleasing to God!

I want to challenge us to rethink the oversight-support model for long-term mission work from churches of Christ and look together at a different model of oversight/support that will lead, I believe, to more missionaries who stay longer and can reach more people more effectively.

Let’s first work our way through the whole process of becoming a missionary as it generally happens among churches of Christ.

First Decisions

 When someone is motivated to become a missionary, he/she/they usually will go through a series of decisive steps before they actually can begin their work.  The basis for all of these decisions is usually the point of first inspiration.

  • If they were inspired by a short-term mission experience, then they want to return to the field they first experienced and work in a similar manner to the missionaries with whom they have worked.
  • If they were inspired by a teacher/mentor, they will make their choice based on the teacher/mentor’s experiences.
  • If they were inspired by a challenge or a public presentation, they will look for an expert (mission professor, missionary, preacher, mission organization.) to help them proceed.
  • Decisions about the field of work are most often driven first by inspiration, followed usually by short-term mission experience in a field or a short survey trip. The experiences and information gained are then supplemented with interviews with current and past missionaries to whom the potential worker might have access.
  • Decisions about the type of work are more difficult.  
  1. First plans are often very broad plans, such as church planting, strengthen the local church, campus ministry, even community outreach.
  2. Some plans are method specific; for example, potential missionaries might decide to start house churches, or do children’s work, or do media-based evangelism.
  3. First plans made by mission teams are often very personality and role specific. For example, the team might have one couple that likes children, so they will plan to do children’s work, while another team member wants to preach, so they will plan for public preaching. Overall their plans still tend to be broad.
  • Decisions about means and types of preparation depend mostly on those advising the future missionary.
  1. Undergraduates/graduate students at Christian universities may begin by taking general mission courses and seeking contact with mentors in mission study groups.
  2. Some desiring to do mission work may seek out higher level mission training, for example, through ACU Summer Mission Seminar, SIBI Advanced Mission Training.
  3. A few parachurch ministries offer mission training.  Continent of Great Cities and Missions Resource Network come to mind right away.
  4. Other people will look for short-term internships on the desired field, if possible, with a current missionary.
  5. Many will work with American churches—often required by sponsoring congregations– and learn to work with and evangelize through an American model.And there are those who will go with little or no specialized training other than their own life/church experiences. This is especially true of those who are a bit older when they decide to become missionaries.

If you haven’t already, go back through this first section and notice the following:

  • All initiative and initial actions come from the person desiring to become a missionary, who is most often untrained, inexperienced, perhaps not completely educated, but highly motivated.
  • While capable professors, mentors, and friends are available for guiding potential missionaries, the number of options for fields, types of work, and for training are enormous. In my experience, most go along a path of inspiration and least resistance rather than a strategic path.

And this is the easy part! Next, I want to lay out the ways we in churches of Christ have typically supported and overseen foreign mission work—and why it is an unsuccessful paradigm.

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Our children all married well–wonderful, thoughtful Christian spouses. Today I want to introduce you to Amber Rogers Woodward, Ben’s wife. She is a dental hygienist, a mother of three, and much more. She has a great blog about her family mostly, but a couple of days ago, she posted the following vignettes from her life that blew me away.

I had just been at a conference where the word missional was used thousands of times, often in an attempt to define it. Here, I thought, is what missional looks like in the real world. Missional is a Christian woman, listening at the right time, naturally talking about her faith at the right moment, a woman who is in tune with what God is doing and does not live in the false dichotomy of a life in the church building and another out.

I have to share this with you–with her permission, of course. I believe you will be inspired as I was.

Every day I have patients that AMAZE me with their stories of faith, struggles, fear, and joy.  I know I say this every time…but I never quite get use to the fact that I have such a unique job position that drops me into people’s lives, literally face-to-face:), to be a sound board for each of them. Hearing my patients stories  over the last 10 years has truly changed my life in SO many ways!  So every so often  I like to write a few of them down…to remember…and to share with whoever is reading this:).

Mr. J.  and I were talking about the fact that he use to smoke, how he quit 2 years ago, and how he managed to quit.  He was kind of ho-humming around about how he quit…I kept pressing  him saying, “I’ve heard it’s really difficult to quit…you just quit…no medication or anything?”  Finally he began to tell me his story.  He started by saying, “Let me preface this story by the fact that I am not all that spiritual…I believe in God…but I don’t really go to church anywhere…I’m a really good person…but just really haven’t had the time to look into church stuff.  So I had tried to quit smoking numerous times in my life…I tried everything…hypnosis…medication…cold-turkey…none of it had worked.  One day I literally decided that I could never do this on my own.  I got down on my knees one night before bed and I prayed to God to take this desire away from me…that I was giving up total control…and I needed His help.  When I stood up, I can’t explain it, but I knew I would NEVER touch a cigarette again.  I just felt different.”   I was telling him how great that story was and how neat it is that God chose that particular way to show Himself to him…when he tells me, “I know that God has WAY more important things to do in the world than care about my desire to quit smoking, yet I can’t explain it, that is exactly what happened!” Of course that led to a great discussion on how God cares about every little desire of your heart because he LOVES YOU!!!”     I smiled all the way home thinking about how Awesome God is to show that big burly man that he cares about every little desire…if you surrender it to His Will!

This next patient, 60 yo female,  I had not seen before.  She doesn’t come in all that regularly.  I had seen in her chart that her husband had died about 6 months ago.  While I was cleaning her teeth we were talking about her husband, life, etc.  I had seen on her chart that she had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and  so I asked her if she was sleeping with a machine to help at night.  She was telling me that it was uncomfortable and noisy and that ever since her husband had died she had not worn it.  So we kept talking, I was encouraging her to wear it, and I told her about my dad having had it and that he passed away at the age of 40!  I got up to go get some x-rays and as I was sitting back down to finish cleaning her teeth she looked at me with big tears in her eyes and said, “I think you are an angel that God sent to me today to tell me your story of your dad.  I’ll be honest I have stopped wearing it, because I want to die, and I feel like that would be the easiest way to go…just go to sleep one night and not wake up!  Because of our conversation today I promise you that I will never go another night without wearing it!”   I really do not even have words to describe how I felt…we talked a little while longer…she left…and I was in AWE of the conversation we had just had!  WOW!!

This next patient I had seen a few times before and I knew that her daughter was expecting twins any day.  So she came in to get her teeth cleaned and I was asking her about the babies.  She told me that about 4 months prior they had discovered in an ultrasound a large mass on one of the babies tailbone…and that they were told that it meant she would be born with spina bifida.  Her daughter had delivered the babies a couple of weeks prior and discovered that the mass was only a cyst…it was removed…and she is perfectly healthy now.  She was talking about how they had been praying for the mildest form of spina bifida to be the outcome.  What she said next was such a good reminder for me…she said, “I can’t believe that we didn’t have enough FAITH to pray that there would be NO spina bifida…we just believed the doctors…they said they were 99% sure!”  This was such a good reminder for me to have enough faith to be BOLD in my prayer life…that ANYTHING is possible with God!

See more of Amber’s posts at her blog site. You can get to it in the Blog list in the right column on this page.

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Our  seven year-old granddaughter Anna was dressed for Sunday a little early last week, so she sat down with her Bible and started reading Psalms.  Then I heard her start singing Psalm 1, just making up a melody as she went. It was actually pretty good. When finished with Psalm 1, she went on to Psalm 2 and so forth until her sister got ready and we could leave.

We got into the car to drive to church and Anna was still singing. I noticed then that she stopped, flipped the pages in her Bible, then burst out into “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine.”

I didn’t slam on the brakes, but I did look over and see that she had opened her Bible and was beginning with Chapter One to sing the Song of Solomon. Yikes!  I said, “Anna, what are you singing?” She stopped and said, Well, I’ve never read the Song of Solomon before, but if he wrote a song, it must be beautiful, so I wanted to sing it!”

No matter how precocious she is, I did not think her ready for the fawns and gazelles, so I diverted her attention from the Song of Songs—only temporarily, I’m sure.

Sherrylee and I will not have much to leave to our kids when we are gone, but we will leave with all of them our love for reading. Our parents gave it to us as a special gift—and we are both very grateful.  Both Sherrylee and I were the kind of kids who would check out ten books at a time—the weekly limit—from the Bookmobile that came through the neighborhood during our childhood summers.  I don’t read that many anymore, but I did just get a Kindle for my birthday.

When we were taking our younger children to Europe each summer, one of the most pleasant pre-departure tasks we had as parents was to find and pack enough books for the 8-10 week trip. We often took a whole suitcase full of nothing but books for the family—back before the airlines charged for extra luggage.  We would buy them at the half-price book stores, or we would check them out of the local library.  We may still have some lost book fines to pay in Edmond—don’t anybody check, please!

Now Philip and Emily both got into reading pretty easily, but Benjamin was more of an outdoors kid, so he didn’t really want to slow down long enough to read much. We worried a little about his reading—not his skills, but his love for reading, whether or not he would develop it.  The summer before third grade though, however, was the breakthrough. Before he had only been reading the simplest little books to satisfy his teachers at school, but that summer, I remember walking up to the attic room in Hannover, Germany, where we were housed and finding Ben totally absorbed in Lord of the Rings!  He read the whole book—and has continued to be a great reader to this day.

Rarely do our grandkids come for anything that Mimi (Sherrylee) doesn’t pull out a book or two to read to anyone who will listen to her!  But what does this have to do with raising children to have hearts for the mission of God??  I think you know, but let me just remind you.

  • Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path!(Ps. 119:105) If children grow up loving to read, they will also learn to love to read the Word. With the Word in their hearts, they will have a lamp for their feet and a clear path in front of them.  Don’t you want that for your children?
  • How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.(Ps. 119:9) Purity of heart is part of knowing and fulfilling the mission of God. Purity of heart is not an accident. Purity is a result of the Word in the heart of your child, and at some point, what they read will become more important than what you tell them.
  • Then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word.(Ps. 119:42) The taunts of children and/or teens are devastatingly damaging to the desires of our children. Reading gives them both the shield they need and the trust they need to win those battles.
  • Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. (Ps. 143:8) Confidence! Self-confidence is what we are tempted to desire for our children, but much better is God-confidence and they will only get that from knowing Him and how He has dealt with His creation throughout history. Past experience is what builds confidence.  Reading is a way to gather all those rich experiences and make them our own.

Our grandkids are just like yours or your own children: some like to read, some would rather watch movies, some only want to play outside, others are struggling to learn to read—just normal kids like yours. But their grandparents are praying that they will be children, then teens, then adults who love to read. Their grandparents are giving them books, reading to them, and reading in front of them.  IT’S VERY IMPORTANT!

Over and over again, Jesus raises the question during his ministry:  Haven’t you read . . . ? Just look up the word read in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and be amazed at how often Jesus assumes that people should have known God’s will because it had been written for them.

I think he was saying, you are going to live in the heart of God’s Will so much more easily if you love to read . . . His Word!

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I love baseball! I started in Little League when I was 10 years-old and by the time I was eleven, I had found my position. I was a pitcher. I threw hard and could get the ball over the plate—all you need to dominate when you are eleven!

One Wednesday night when I was eleven, I was having a great night. After four innings of our five-innings game, the other team had no hits. I had pretty much struck out every batter.  But it was 7:15 and church started at 7:30.

My mom and dad gave me the choice of staying or leaving, but there was no doubt what they thought the right decision was, so we left the game and went to church.  No regrets, not really any big deal. In my family, it was just the right thing to do.

Now, I know that we have discovered that Wednesday nights don’t count—so it may be difficult to even relate to family values that were so different, but it is not about Wednesday nights. It’s about an 11-year kid learning that what he is doing is not the most important thing in the world.

That was 1958. Let me show you how that translated into the Woodward family of 1987. Ben, our middle son, loves everything sports, but especially baseball.  By the time he was eleven, he had played several seasons of Little League—or parts of several seasons.  You see, when Ben was four years old, Sherrylee and I started taking our family to Europe each summer for Let’s Start Talking mission projects.

I would usually go with the students about mid-May and Sherrylee would stay home with the kids until school was out about June 1.  Little league baseball season usually started about the first of May and went until the end of June.  This meant that Ben was only around for a couple of weeks of practice and a 3-4 games at the most–every summer.

We always registered Ben for Little League. We always paid the fee for the whole season and we paid for the uniform. We got the bat and the glove that he needed, and we made sure that he got to every practice and every game—BUT, Ben knew that baseball and his activities were not at the center of our familiy’s summer activities.

We did not ignore Ben’s needs. No matter where we were in Europe, we bought a daily newspaper for him so he could study the box scores and follow his baseball teams.  Every year, we asked friends who had Armed Forces Network television to tape the All-Star Game for us, and then whenever we passed through their city, we would all sit down and watch the All-Star game with Ben.

I don’t remember Ben ever complaining. I don’t know if he knew what he was learning.  He knew we loved him, but he knew that he was not at the center of our family’s universe.

I could have told you about purchasing dumbbells in Germany and taking them around wherever we went so that Philip could lift weights after he started playing prep football. We didn’t stay home.

We did all kinds of things for our kids while we were traveling every summer, knowing that we wanted them to love what we were doing. We went to theme parks, we put all three of them in German church camp, and one summer we even arranged for Philip to go to soccer camp in the Netherlands—where he was the only “foreigner.”  But we did not stay home!

For most kids, I would not advise preaching the “seek ye first the kingdom of God” sermon to make this point. That’s a sermon for parents.  For kids, it suffices to learn from the decisions their parents make that the world—especially the world of their family—does not center on them! They are important—but not the center.

Then, of course, the big question becomes what is the center of your family’s universe? If you want to make sure that your children grow a heart for the mission of God, then make sure they see you making decisions that clearly make the mission of God the center of your family’s world!

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For over thirty years, Sherrylee and I  have been dealing with parents who thought that their student’s desire to do an LST summer mission trip was at best just a one-time fling, and at worst, a frivolous, extravagant indication of their child’s immaturity.

A large number of our summer workers have come home wanting to change their majors from Accounting to International Business, or from Computer Science to Ministry—just exactly what their parents were afraid of!

Do you really want your child to grow up to be a missionary? Here are the obvious reasons why parents do not encourage this desire in their children.

  • No money in it.  In fact, you become dependent on the charity of others.
  • Not a success-oriented career.
  • No upward mobility.
  • Takes you away from the family. And what about the grandkids knowing the grandparents?
  • Makes you misfits! Everyone knows that missionaries don’t really fit into mainstream America after returning home.
  • Bad for your children. They grow up not speaking English, not playing baseball, and maybe even vegetarians.
  • It’s not safe. Stay home and live in Oklahoma City or Dallas or Los Angeles or New York City, where you’ll be safe.

I love the Old Testament story of Hannah, who can’t have children, so she prays—so hard that the observing priest thinks she is drunk.  Then she does something pretty preposterous: she vows to God that if given a son, she will “give him to the Lord all the days of his life”(1 Samuel 1:11).

If she hadn’t been quite so rash with her vows, she would have realized that she was giving away what she so desperately wanted—but I don’t think she saw it all that way!  When Samuel was very young, his mother took him to the priest and gave him into the ministry.  I’m sure there was pain in the moment, but the first words out of her mouth are:

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. . . . There is none holy like the Lord…there is no rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:1ff)

Hannah visits her young son each year, bringing him new clothes to wear. Samuel served the priest Eli humbly for many years until one day the Lord called his name! Yes, that is what happens when we raise children to be servants of God.  They are called–and not to that which we may have planned for them.  Samuel does not become high priest. Samuel does not become king over Israel. Samuel does not become commanding general of the armies of Israel.  Scripture says,

And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:19-20).

Here’s what I glean from this story that will help you have a child with a heart for God’s mission:

  • Recognize that your child is a gift from God, that he/she belongs to God, and that if God had not answered your prayers, you would have nothing!
  • Having recognized that your children belong to God, don’t hold on to them as if they are yours. Give them back to His service at a very young age. I don’t know exactly what this means search for any answer about our children.
  • Teach your children to serve the Lord by placing them in the hands of those who do serve the Lord. (1 Samuel 1:11) Learning to serve is almost always the first step, not learning to lead.
  • Support your children in their service! (1 Samuel 2:19)
  • Teach your children to hear the voice of the Lord calling their name! And if you can’t do that, then bring people into their lives who can! (1 Samuel 3:1-14)

So the first step in helping your children have hearts for the mission of God is to search your own heart as a parent!  What precious item belonging to God are you trying to keep for yourself? Are your desires for your children covered in prayer by the words, “not my will, but Yours be done?”

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Sherrylee and I are going to California today to be with our daughter Emily and her wonderful family. We had to get up at 5am to catch an early flight, so I woke up even earlier, thinking about—and giving thanks to God—for the family that He has blessed us with.  Our family members—starting with the Mom and Dad—each have their own battles, but there is much, much more that keeps us thanking God for His undeserved graciousness in our lives.

One of the characteristics of our children—and their families now– that I personally take great delight in is that our grown children, now in their 30s, all love missions!  Of course, that they are all involved in various ways in Let’s Start Talking is one of the great joys of our life, but even more importantly, they each have what today is called missional hearts.  I think what that means is that they are both sensitive to and burdened by the needs of others to know Jesus and they actively do something about it.

I’d like for you to have this measure of joy when your children are grown, but I don’t have any formulas. Sherrylee and I certainly had a desire to see our children like this, but we did not have a plan to ensure it. I feel a bit like Peter: “Silver and gold I don’t have, but what I have, I will give to you!”

Over the next few days, I’d like to share with you some ideas that we have discovered in retrospect. These are lessons that God has taught us, and so we share them with you.  Don’t hold me to this outline–I often discover that some of the topics are really two or three and others are just bits and pieces–but here are some of the big ideas I want to explore with you.

  1. Do you really even want your kids to be missionaries?
  2. Teaching kids to be flexible.
  3. Teaching kids to love foreign things, not be afraid of them.
  4. Teaching kids by example and by participation.
  5. Teaching kids instead of just letting them happen.
  6. Making missions fun and meaningful for kids
  7. Teaching kids that they are not the center of God’s creation
  8. Teaching kids to love people, not just to be loved.
  9. When to let your kids do what they want to do, not what you want them to do.
  10. Giving your kids to God!

OK, that’s way too much, but maybe you get a hint of where I want to explore in the next few days.  I hope you will go with me.

P.S.      Did you know that you can subscribe to this blog and that by doing so, a link to it will come to your email whenever there is a new post. I usually create a new file for blogs that I subscribe to and have those go right into the file rather than cluttering my inbox, so that I can stop and read it when I have time to.  Click on the Subscribe button on the home page of this blog and you can do the same—if you think it will simplify your life a little

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