Global Mission Stories (IV)  —The Challenge of France

When I first met Matt, I asked him where he thought God wanted him to serve, and he said France. That was nearly ten years ago. I believed him almost instantly, and began to pray with him for the day to come when he would move to France with his wife Katie and family to spread the gospel of Jesus, again, in one of the hardest places on earth.

Apprenticing in a small startup church in the panhandle of Florida was God’s training ground for Matt. He showed the stamina, the grit, the evangelistic heart, and the tenacity that it would take to move his young family overseas to a land that thinks it has no need of God.

We tried for several years to find official church partners in the Anglican Family who would help support them, but failed. Eventually a partnership between the French Reformed Church, a Presbyterian missionary alliance on America’s West Coast, a small handful of churches and supporters, and NAMS, was formed to send the Rileys to France. Our role may have seemed small—prayer and regular coaching—but our heart to see them succeed was great.

Placed in a small town in the heart of a terribly ravaged (by WWI) corner of France near Verdun, they dug in and served for three years. Learning the language, adjusting to the culture, and preaching the gospel of grace in Jesus. Their little family grew. There are now six Rileys where there were only four. And the fellowship of believers grew as well. Especially touching was their impact on the lives of Muslim immigrants from North Africa.

When they were asked by the French Reformed Church to pray about relocating to an area of France without any Protestant Church, Matt & Katie came to believe it was the Lord, and so they relocated their family to Brittany this past July. They are in a completely unreached section of the country, and have a charge to evangelize a sizable region and plant new churches as God opens the doors. If God gives favor, they will serve as a NAMS Base Community in time, for new church planting throughout France and Europe.

A small NAMS team will join them for three months in 2017, to assist in the early work of finding those God is calling to join them. They have already been approached to work in partnership with the Roman Catholic church and Alpha/France, and there is a sizable year-round English speaking community along the coast of Brittany that seems open to as well.

If we had fifty couples like the Rileys, we would still have more places in the world crying out for them to “come over and help us.” We pray every day for God to raise up laborers like them, to go where the fields are ripe for the harvest but the laborers are few. Will you help us? Can you pray and give a monthly amount to spread the kingdom of God in partnership with people like the Rileys? In France or elsewhere?

Global Mission Stories (IV)  —The Challenge of France

Beginning a New Anglican Work in Europe

How would NAMS begin a new church in Europe if God opened the door? Our answer to that question is really the same as it would be for any place in the world.

First, we would pray earnestly to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up the right laborers to go into the harvest. When he had revealed them, and they were clear where God was asking them to go, we would begin to pray with them and resource them until they, and we, believed the time had come for them to relocate to the field the Lord was opening (if they were not already living in that field).

What would they need to begin? Our experience has taught us this answer is varied, but we know this: the Lord needs very little beyond the heart of well-discipled servants willing to “go.” If two or three people understand the disciple-making principles of the kingdom, they know most of what is necessary to begin. They must live in the new environment as disciples are meant to live. If they can raise up a small team to go with them in the beginning, so much the better.

And once they arrive? Probably, some of them would need to be engaged in a form of gainful employment in the new place if allowed by law. If not, the wider fellowship of Christian people would have to support the initial work financially. The team would make friends with their neighbors. The believers would pray together every day, and begin to share their vision for a new community of faith with all they meet, as the Spirit gave them voice. They would organize a home meeting for prayer and teaching, and begin to invite interested people to attend. They would follow up with those who seemed interested. There would be many small gatherings to discuss the dream with those who are attracted. Most of all, they would be looking for the man or woman of peace, whom God had prepared to welcome them (c.f. Luke 10:6).

On the Lord’s Day, the team would gather for prayer and corporate worship, no matter how few they were. This would not be an advertised service, but would be for all the believers who were part of making the new start. All whom they were meeting would of course be welcome.

Some of those who began to be involved would almost certainly be Christians, who for one reason or another are being added to the new work. These people would generally need to be “retooled” as disciple-making disciples by members of the team with these gifts. Others coming would not yet be Christians, and they would need to be gently and lovingly “gospeled” until they are ready for the step of faith and baptism. They must be “born again” if they are “to enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

When the time was ripe, more public worship would be announced, and the work of building the new community up in grace and truth would continue. As God added to their number, NAMS, and those ecclesiastical authorities we were partnering with, would support and help them until they were fully self-sustaining, and ready to help the kingdom expand by sending out another team. The new church would be pregnant.

— Jon Shuler

Beginning a New Anglican Work in Europe

Territory and Authority

Yesterday I walked on pavement that was placed here before there was a Roman Empire, part of the street in the Etruscan city that preceded the conquest. It is still here, serving the community of Florence, but it is not made up of Christian stones. Christian stones are living people, as St Peter taught us long ago (I Peter 2:5). The stones in this pavement are meant to serve the people, however, as are the structures of the organized church. But what happens when the organized structures stop serving their original purpose?

God almighty commanded Moses to fashion a staff that was meant to be for the healing of his people in the wilderness. After some time the Israelites began to worship the staff in clear violation of the commandment given them about idolatry. Moses had to destroy it. Something given by God for a season and a reason had become a source of sin.

I wonder if something like that has happened with geographic boundaries for the exercise of church authority. There can be no doubt whatsoever, that organizing the church on the basis of geography was first done as a means of caring for and protecting the people of God. Sheep need shepherds, and the flock in one place must be gathered into the fold. For the people of God in one small place to be cared for by the leaders God places over them in that place made perfect sense. In time, it was “always done like this” because it seemed to work well.

But what if, over centuries, the system has broken down? What if the majority of a population no longer live in small places, but now they live in massive cities? What if the territorial prerogatives of leaders are disputed and conflicted for reasons other than the care of the flock? What if their concerns are not for missionary advance but for stability, order, control, or, even worse, prestige? These questions are not pleasant to ask, but they must be asked.

Think of Europe as a blank slate. Place a mark everywhere there is an existing church building that functions for worship. Now shade in where the people actually live today. Next give contrasting color to show the percentage of the population that worships in any of those buildings. If you can imagine this picture, it will reveal to the thoughtful student that the existing church geography of Europe is woefully inadequate to the evangelistic task. The people of Europe are almost entirely alienated physically from the existing structures of the church and its geography. To try to impose a geographic strategy on a new dawn of missionary work is a kind of madness. And of course the spiritual alienation is even more severe than the geographic.

What then can we do if we truly care about the re-evangelization of Europe? It seems clear to NAMS that only a spiritual strategy that focuses on reaching people, not staking out territory, can possibly address the challenge.

— Jon Shuler

Territory and Authority

New Anglican Churches in Europe?

We first suggested new Anglican church planting in Europe in 1991, before there was a NAMS. We were traveling in France, and the need seemed so obvious to us. But whenever we discussed it with anyone in authority in the Church of England we were met with incredulity. “Why would you plant new Anglican churches in Europe?” The question, oft repeated, should have sparked a deeper understanding, but at the time it only irritated me. The need was so clear to me, and I could not understand the question.
Now it is abundantly clear to me that it was revealing a major blind spot in much of the contemporary Anglican missionary vision. If “Anglican” simply means a peculiar type of Christian community, suited for a small group of people who “like that sort of thing,” then new churches in Europe, or anywhere else, really does not seem that important. After all, there is usually one Anglican Chaplaincy in every major European city already. But, what if that is not how God sees “Anglican?”

We are persuaded that God thinks of the community called “Anglican” as a part of the church of Jesus Christ, charged with all the same responsibilities and privileges as his beloved Bride everywhere in the world. Whatever is the calling of the Bride is the calling of the Anglicans. Whatever is not the calling, is not. The only alternative we can see to that syllogism is that the Anglicans are not part of the church of Jesus Christ. We know better, of course.

Seen in this light, the field of modern Europe calls out for new missionary endeavor from Anglicans. No effort the church can ever make is as effective, for the spread of the kingdom of God, as new church planting. If we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, then the call to share that gospel everywhere is incumbent upon us.

Does this mean we are to barge in to the fields of Europe where there are already Christian denominations and networks that have suffered in the heat of the day? Of course not. NAMS never suggests that, nor countenances it! We always try to work cooperatively with the faithful church. But we would ask these questions of church leaders: “Are you confident that you are doing all you ought for mission? Is your missionary effort in Europe adapting and growing at a pace with the changes in Europe? Would you like help from brothers and sisters who are called to this kind of new work?” NAMS stands ready to help, if asked.

But what if we are not asked to help, and the need remains so glaringly obvious to us at NAMS? At this point we have to ask ourselves: “Who is it that gives the authority for new work that makes new disciples?” Did the risen Lord Jesus give his Final Commandment to the church in conditional terms? “Go (wherever existing church authorities will let you) and there make disciples.” How ridiculous it is to even write it down!

Peter and John once confronted a similar situation: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19,20) Should our attitude be different?

— Jon Shuler

New Anglican Churches in Europe?

Buongiorno!

Cynthia and I have been in Italy now for twelve days, and I want to thank all of you who are praying for us. This trip has several components, but all of them need to be undergirded by prayer. For those who did not know we were here, let me explain.

First is Cynthia’s time of study at the Florence Academy of Art. As a professional artist, my Cynthia has dreamed of studying here for many years. We first came to Florence in 1994, and returned again in 2015. That year we agreed to embark on this five-week long journey so that she could fulfill her dream. She goes to a morning live model “Painting the Figure” class at 9:00am, and then after lunch with me she returns for a three-hour “Painting the Portrait” live model class at 2:00pm. Both classes are taught in the beautiful classic renaissance style so characteristic of Florence, and she is loving it. It is however extremely mentally and physically taxing, and we ask you to continue to uphold her in prayer.

Second is my role as house-husband. I am cooking, cleaning, shopping, and caring for Cynthia, so prayers for me too please. Especially for good health.

Third is the work I am doing for NAMS. As we draw nearer and nearer to the global transition of our leadership, I am engaged in an extended period of writing to provide resources for the NAMS community. I am spending most of each day engaged in that task, and I would ask for prayers for guidance.

Next week I will leave Florence for a brief mission journey in Europe. One of our daughters-in-law, and our oldest granddaughter will spell me at the flat. I will fly first to Belgium, for a brief meeting with the Anglican Bishop of Europe in Brussels. NAMS first helped the Anglican Diocese of Europe in 2001, and we are exploring how we might be more proactively useful for new Anglican church planting throughout this region. NAMS has helped new work in the past in Germany, France, Switzerland, Norway, Spain, and the Netherlands. We continue to believe that there remains a great work to be done throughout this vast continent, and we would like to assist if we can.

Then I will fly to Spain where we will hold a small NAMS summit to discuss and pray over two things: the general challenge presented by the massive recent immigration into Europe from the Middle East, and its church planting implications; and whether or not to establish a NAMS Base Community in Malaga, Spain, as a strategic center for our future work in Europe and North Africa. Can you take these two things in to your prayers as well? That God would grant clear wisdom and guidance to our deliberations. Also safe travel for those joining this summit from Germany, South Africa, Chile, and the USA.

Finally I would like to ask for prayers for the faithful church in Italy. The “footprint” of Christendom is everywhere here, but the living faith of Jesus Christ is weak. Those who are true believers are marginalized and generally hidden from the view of the majority. Please pray that God would raise up laborers to come in to this harvest field.

— Jon Shuler

Buongiorno!