A few days ago I had a dream where I was in a large, dry, parched space of land in Africa sitting in a circle on the ground with a few brand-new African believers in Christ. We had gathered under the shade of a big tree.
There were a couple other “white” people in the circle making about 8 people altogether. We had just finished a time of spontaneous praise to Jesus. One of the new African believers had a beautiful look on his face, as if he was taking in the wondrous feeling that Christ brings on the inside for the first time. He smiled and said something like: “How great a feeling to know Jesus… How I long for my people to come to experience Him, etc.” He looked about the African plain with a “visionary glance”, seeming to wonder where the next fruit would come from.
I asked him something like: “How could we spread this message to more people?” Implied were the questions: “What would we do with new believers? Where would we meet, etc.?” He had a simple, blank expression on his face as he sought to come up with an answer.
I told him: “Find another tree.”
His face instantly brightened and his blank expression turned into a tremendous grin as the simplicity of meeting under a tree impacted him. I’m sure he could see thousands of small groups of people meeting under trees throughout his country worshiping the King of Kings.
I looked around at the white faces in the circle and saw confused and perplexed expressions. It was not anger but simply faces that could not comprehend “Find another tree” as an answer. They were being pulled into another paradigm of “doing church” and were not sure where the road was headed.
Then I either woke up or the dream was over.
1. By definition apostles are first on the scene and always looking to take the gospel where Christ is not known.
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation
2. Apostles lay foundations: planting and watering.
1 Cor 3: 6-11
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth… as a skilled master builder I have laid a foundation, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it.
3. Apostles are fathers (mothers).
1 Cor 4: 14-17
For you can have 10,000 instructors in Christ, but you can’t have many fathers. Now I have fathered you in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, be imitators of me. This is why I have sent to you Timothy… He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church.
4. Apostles send delegates to act in their place.
Timothy, Epaphroditus, Erastus, Tychicus, Onesimus, Titus, Epaphras, etc.
Eph 6: 21-22 (Col 4:7-9)
Tychicus, our dearly loved brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything so that you also may know how I am and what I’m doing. I am sending him to you for this very reason, to let you know how we are and to encourage your hearts.
To remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus… 1 Cor 4.17
To strengthen and encourage you concerning your faith 1 Thess 3.2
To find out about your faith 1 Thess 3.5
To set right what was left undone Titus 1.5
To appoint elders in every town Titus 1.5
So that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts. Col 4.8
5. Apostles make personal visits and write letters.
1 Thess 2: 17 -20
We greatly desired and made every effort to return and see you face to face… For who is our hope, or joy, or crown of boasting in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy!
6. Apostolic absence is necessary for growth.
Phil 2: 12
So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Throw a dart at any one of the 50 plus countries of the 10/40 Window and you will find the “poorest of the poor” and those living with the lowest standard of living on the planet. Look closer and you will find some who have had a Gospel witness for more than 100 years like Turkey (99.8% of the Turkish population is Muslim) and Saudia Arabia (100%) Now ask yourself: “How can they still remain less than 1% Christian?”
How can this be?
Or examine the lack of any real indigenous movements in large numbers anywhere in the Muslim world. I suggest to you it is because the Western missionaries reproduced what they knew – i.e. planted the whole flower pot and not just the gospel seed – in two critical areas
1. Church Structure
Typical Western church vs. Typical 10/40 Window needs
Big buildings vs. Low profile- “house church” style
Big budgets vs. Low budgets- “poorest of the poor”
Highly trained, professional clergy vs. Low entry level for leaders
(i.e. Pastor as CEO) vs. (i.e. working elders)
Lack of Holy Spirit power vs. Fear of demons and in need of healing
2. Western World View vs. Eastern World View
Western world-view (and thereby its influence on western theology) is dominated with a “guilt/innocence” paradigm, with a focal point on being “right and wrong”. This comes from the Roman/Greek world-view in which it was birthed. The gospel, therefore, that we speak around the globe has a prevailing tone of legal terms and logic: justice, sin, guilt, and redemption. The foundation of this paradigm can be seen in the early church fathers. For example:
“Tertullian [b. 160 AD] the early church father who first developed a code of systematic theology, was a lawyer steeped in Roman law. Using his understanding of law, and the need for justice, guilt, and redemption, he laid the basis for Christian systematic theology, as it would develop in the west.” Roland Muller
The Eastern world-view is dominated by a “honor/shame” paradigm, with a focal point on “protecting shame”. Christianity as it grew in the East developed differently from its Western cousins. Eastern theologians did not use “Roman law” as a vehicle for interpreting the gospel. To this day, in most Muslim countries and communities telling a lie is not wrong if your honor is held intact. The greater person is one who protects his honor than the one who tells the truth.
Unless the missionary communities wrestle with this “honor and shame vs. guilt and innocence” paradigm, I fear that 100 years from now men and women will still be lamenting the lack of success in reaching all nations for Jesus.
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,
% of the population is Muslim
In introducing this subject, I would like to suggest that Christianity may be one of the worst reproduced “products” on earth!
What I mean by that tantalizing line is that even McDonald’s knows enough to send their “Overseas Franchise Operators” through a rigorous and comprehensive training institute in the USA before ever opening a store in Phnom Pang. Yet, in the church, we often send workers with no other training than living in a western church for 3-5 years or so, plus a 1–5 month crash “discipleship course”, expecting then a near perfect reproduction on the other side of the earth in Bishkek, Krygystan!
Completely forgotten in this “Western Model” is the Apostolic pattern of producing church planters through the rigorous demands of on-the-job-training, either in the local church through tutoring and example, or through personal mentoring like Paul and Timothy traveling together as an apostolic band.
Paul certainly was not saved on Sunday and planting churches on Monday!
Likewise, Timothy was not sent alone and untested to Philippi to start a church movement in that major city! In both cases (and many more found in the NT) the clear apostolic principle is that the future missionary is paired either with a local church or an experienced church planter before venturing out to reproduce church someplace else.
‘The Foreigner’s Religion’
The big danger is that we will reproduce ourselves and by default our Christian culture overseas and that may be just exactly the opposite need for that tribe living in the hills of Thailand or in the cities of Tajikistan:
“The missionary from the West, trained in the tenets of a particular denomination, born and bred to regard its creed and polity as the ones most in accord with the Word of God, is very apt to feel that this should be repeated on the foreign field. But we must more clearly recognize the right of each autonomous body of Christians to determine certain things for itself… Perhaps this is one reason that Christianity is so often called by the Asian ‘the foreigner’s religion’, a saying which indicates an entire misconception of its real character.” (A.J. Brown The Foreign Missionary)
Amen and Amen!
Indeed, isn’t Jesus closer in skin color to the masses of millions in the 10/40 than He is to us “white-ies”? When Jesus “broke bread” with His disciples before a meal, He actually demonstrated an act that is still going on today and every day throughout the Muslim world!
Why is Christianity still considered such a foreign, exotic religion in so many countries of the world? Even countries that have had a Gospel witness for more than 100 years like Japan and Turkey? I put forward to you it is simply because the Western missionaries reproduced what they knew from their homes in far off Europe and North America.
I close with a most poignant offering from Roland Allen, who more than anyone, has stirred my heart for a return to Apostolic principles and practice:
“We have approached them as superior beings, moved by charity to impart of our wealth to destitute and perishing souls. We have used that argument at home to wring grudging and pitiful doles [offerings] for the propagation of our faith, and abroad we have adopted that attitude as missionaries of a superior religion… Approaching them in that spirit, we have desired to help them. We have been anxious to do something for them. And we have done much. We have done everything for them. We have taught them, baptized them, shepherded them… We have nursed them, fed them, doctored them…We have done everything for them, but little with them. We have done everything for them except give place to them. We have treated them as ‘dear children’, but not as ‘brethren’. (Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?)
Jesus said: “Follow Me and I will make you [plural] fishers of men.” Twelve men took up that challenge and followed Him everywhere for the next three years and changed history. It’s time we try it again…
Truthfully, if mission agencies around the world would follow the “Jesus Style” many problems in the field would never have surfaced.
Yours for the Least in the Kingdom,