The Holy Spirit and Missions: God’s Work or Ours?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”
(Acts 1: 8 NIV)

Several years ago, I assisted author and missionary Paul Hoff to translate some writings about on the most significant movements in church history. In researching those movements, I discovered the nature of genuine visitations of the Holy Spirit that have led to true awakenings or revivals. I found that the following characteristics are always present in such movements, and that none of them can be considered in isolation from the others:

Prayer – A church in which the Spirit of God is active always awakens to genuine prayer. It begins to feel the need for constant intimacy with God, even as it strives to align itself with the plans and purposes of its Lord. Accordingly, such a church intercedes passionately for a world that is lost and for new workers to join them in the cause. Prayer, both individual and collective, leads to a permanent habit of worship and praise, with clear results and changes in their lives.

The Word of God – The Holy Spirit, whenever He visits His church – the people of God, with power, will kindle a fire in their hearts, leading them to love the Word of God more – to meditate on it, to submit to it and to continually delve into the Scriptures for more. The Word of God is not ambiguous, and God’s people will learn to look to it for daily guidance, so that they can join the work that God Himself is already accomplishing in their midst and in the world at large.

Social action – A church that is moved by the Holy Spirit will not be complacent about the prevailing social conditions around it. It will empathize and respond to human needs out of mercy and love. Such an action will be an expression of God’s love within and through the church itself. It will involve seeking to transform society for good and to work for the justice that God wants to see established among all people.

Evangelism – When the Spirit of God visits a human community, He sees and is moved by the lost. He seeks the hearts of those who genuinely seek Him. Consequently, God’s children will be motivated by Him to share the good news of His love to those who would be lost forever without the Gospel. The believer’s passion for sharing the Good News dynamically comes alive. Everyone who comes to into their new identity as heirs of the love and mercy of our Father in Heaven is called to invite others in.

Mission – As soon as the Holy Spirit begins to move within a community, its impact will not be contained within the confines of the church or even its own community. It will start to transcend all and any barrier – geographic, social, cultural and economic. The church cannot help but send her members out to fulfill the Final Command (Matthew 28:19-20), as instructed by Jesus. They do this because they know that the Spirit Himself prays and intercedes through them, that the Presence of the Son compels them every day and to the ends of the earth, and that their obedience is pleasing to God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.

In the history of the Christian Church, every time a group of God’s children, somewhere in the world, has received a special visitation of the Holy Spirit, the effect has been strong and clear, bringing change within the church and beyond, starting with growth in the church itself.

A case in point is the Lun Bawang people of East Malaysia. They were originally head-hunters in Bornea. When such activity was banned under James Brook and British rule in the 19th Century, the Lun Bawang turn to alcohol en-mass. It was said that people of all ages in their villages were under the influence of drink at least 100 days in a year. The colonial authorities refused missionaries permission to work with them, hoping that the tribe would die out. But eventually, through missionaries from Australia, the Gospel was shared and social transformation took place through prayer and perseverance.

Today, the Lun Bawang peoples are key pillars in the Bornea Evangelical Church, the largest Protestant Church in Malaysia. Many of them are contributing to society through influential positions in business, government and the arts. The Holy Spirit brought once more, total social transformation. [1]

We can say without reservation that the Holy Spirit brought about these changes, and but also that the saints of God were used as the mediating instruments of God’s grace.

— By Revd Andres Casanueva,
Regional Team Leader NAMS Latin America

 

 

[1] Shirley Lees, Drunk Before Dawn (Sevenoaks, Kent: OMF, 1979).

 

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The Holy Spirit and Missions: God’s Work or Ours?

Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 2, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

Last week, I began to share about ‘Life at the Seams’. The seam is a line along which two pieces of fabric are sewn together in a garment or article of clothing. It can also be a metaphor for the spaces in our life whe0re plans, dreams, ideas and reality meet or are brought together, with either new forms emerging or the potential for tear and damage to occur.

Before I left South Africa with my family as a missionary for nearly 6 years, I had coffee at my favourite coffee place in Stellenbosch. There a significant conversation took place with my Bishop, Rt Revd Josel Obetia from Uganda. Last week, I shared the first two of seven important words that he shared with me. Today, I share the rest with you.

The numbered lines are what he said, with my italicized sentences as commentary.

  1. Some will be called to pastoral ministry.

The goal of new, visionary Kingdom work is to build the church. Therefore, some will be called out of communities that are at the edges of the Kingdom where new forms are being explored and innovated, and into settled pastoral ministry. We must support and encourage the move from the edge back to the center for those called to this work. At the same time there are some called to remain in the bridging places, innovating new pathways that do not yet fit into the existing structures and teaching and equipping people to cross back over the bridge spanning what will be to what is. In the body we must see, provide space for and encourage both those called to casting vision for new things and those called to shepherd God’s people where they are. Pioneering leaders must make space for settled leadership to emerge.

  1. Our place is to be the cutting edge.

While some are called to settled work, I am part of a community of pioneering Companions made to live and work on the cutting edge of the Kingdom where the future of the church is being forged in places that are often misunderstood and will not necessarily gain the traction we hope for in our lifetime. But we must take heart, because we are in good company of the many saints who have lived in these spaces in the centuries before us.

  1. Most of the work is done on your knees.

We must be leaders who understand that our deep connection to Christ through prayer is our primary and most productive task. The natural gifts of leadership often come with a bent and temptation to busyness. We must resist these carnal desires to do before we become.

We must first be leaders who find our identity and significance in Christ alone so that we enter our work envisioned and empowered by the only one who truly knows the future. We must also enter each day with the solemn awareness that we are hunted by evil. There are real forces of spiritual darkness who plan our demise and work intelligently and persistently to destroy us. Our power to resist such evil originates in the depth and constancy of our prayer life.

  1. As long as people live the Gospel.

The good news of the Gospel, the true story of the world is the first and the last thing. All of our ministry and our lives must be focused on remembering, living out and sharing the Gospel in thought, word and deed. We are free to innovate new forms and methodologies for ministry but we are never, ever to break the word of God. Jesus wants Gospel-centred disciples made.

  1. The Church is God’s instrument to reach a dying world.

As we go about the cutting edge, visionary, apostolic work we are made for and called to, we must never forget that the Church is the Bride of Christ. The Church is God’s beloved and therefore we must love her even as we co-labor with God to renew and reform her for His glory.

In this “seam season” I am grateful for a band of companions to journey with who love the Lord Jesus, one another and the Church.

Will you pray for us in NAMS – that we will remain faithful to this worthy but difficult calling? Thank you.

— Revd Gabriel Smith
NAMS Global Operations

Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 2, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 1, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

All Companions of the missionary order we call NAMS are called to life at the seams.

As an ex-Army officer, one of the most important leadership lessons I learned was to “pay attention to the seams.” The line where two pieces of fabric come together is where the garment takes its form. But it’s also where the stitches are most likely to give way and tear apart.

Similarly, the spaces between life circumstances where plans and operations come together and either align or fall apart, have the potential to shape future reality but also are the most vulnerable to chaos. Leaders must pay attention to these places in both their personal and organizational life.

I am living in a seam at the moment. One month ago our family transitioned from South Africa to South Carolina after nearly six years as missionaries with an intentional Christian community we helped found.

In the weeks before we left I had a significant conversation with my Bishop, Rt Rev Joel Obetia of Uganda. I articulated to him in an uncertain, rambling fashion, my dream for building new communities of faith that would perhaps never really fit into the traditional Christian (Anglican) system.

As Bishop Joel listened patiently but with intense focus as only the way a man unencumbered by technology or the urgency of next things can, he told me seven things that I share with you in this two-part blog, that I hope may inspire and provide fuel for conversations among NAMS Companions and those who support and love us, as we seek to work together in years to come.

The numbered lines are from Bishop Joel. The italicized sentences are my commentary.

  1. Operate as if there are no boxes.

Boxes are not inherently bad. People relate ideas to concepts that they already know. In this way we all have “boxes” that we put ideas into. The first cars were known as motor wagons because they were seen as strange new versions of the horse-drawn, wooden wagons people knew well. But when those of us called to create new things operate only in reference to models and forms that already exist we limit our creative capacity to dream and give power to things in the “box” to control and shape the future.

Those of us made to dream of, create, and live out new models of Christian community must not be confined by the boxes that hold the settled local church in our contexts. We must be free to dream of new structures and ways to engage people in this lost and dying world. In other words, pioneers must be free and freed to pioneer.

  1. A movement will be limited if it becomes the church.

The institution of the church is necessarily an ordered society, slow to change and normally resistant to new ideas. New movements led by the Spirit to renew the church must operate outside of those church structures, otherwise their impact will be limited by the formal and informal constraints of institutional Christianity.

This is not to say that people involved in the movement shouldn’t also be part of the institutional church – they should. Individual presbyters and lay leaders in missional movements should be connected in healthy relationships to others in the more settled body, but their vocational activity cannot be completely controlled by the systems and authority of the settled church, lest the new apostolic work that God has ordained be confined to what already is.

The tension between fluid movement and established structure is difficult to navigate but is necessary if either movement and church are to fulfill their God given purpose.

Part 2 next week will complete the list of 7 things my bishop spoke to me.

— Revd. Gabriel Smith
NAMS Global Operations

Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 1, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

‘Come and See’, ‘Follow me’ and ‘Go and Make’

‘By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’ (John 15:8)

At the recently concluded NAMS India Training meetings in Golpapur-on-sea, Orissa, India, the Scripture above, as well as other relevant passages were brought alive to us, as we discovered afresh the primary calling of all disciples to both abide consistently in the word of Jesus, to love the community of disciples and to bear abundant fruit in discipling others, as a result.

30 pastors, church-planters and leaders, both men and women, attended the NAMS meetings led by Pranab Kumar, NAMS South Asia Regional Team leader. He was supported by Manik Corea, NAMS GE and Joel Regmi, a pastor from Nepal associated with our work there.

Throughout the 3 days together from October 17-19, 2017, there was a renewed sense of call and equipping to continue in the mission of Jesus, to be and become disciple-making leaders seeking to plant and multiply new communities to bring transformation to their communities.

ComeSeeFollow1-oct31.17

We were blessed to have met at an economically-priced St. Vincent Roman Catholic Retreat centre in Golpapur-on-sea, which was a short 10 minute stroll to the Bay of Bengal. The facilities were simple but clean and adequate, with ample food and beverages, complete with requisite spice and curries, feeding us well for the 3 days.

Each of the three mornings began with a time of worship and a devotional sharing. We worshipped and prayed in Oriya, an Indo-aryan spoken by the majority people in the State. The talks were mostly translated from English.

The focus of our time together was squarely on how Jesus wants us to fulfill His final command that disciples be made of all nations, in the context of their work in state of Orissa. Sessions focused on the process of making disciples, planting churches and raising disciple-making leaders and how this applied to various aspects of personal, family and communal life.

For example Manik led a session on the pathway of true discipleship that can be divided into three distinct phases, each characterized by different phrases – 1) ‘come and see’ (John 1:39) is the invitational welcoming phase of sharing and communicating the Gospel to not-yet-believers, 2) ‘follow me’ (John 1:43) denotes the call to intentional discipleship, nurture and growth after Jesus as the focus and goal of all our life and 3) ‘go and make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19) – the multiplying effect of our lives on others where we help them to find and follow Jesus as new disciples.

Joel’s session on 8 principles that distinguished a biblically faithful church from a disobedient, unfruitful one was particularly well received. Citing his experience in Nepal, he showed that healthy faithful churches had a consistent emphasis on disciple-making, moved from classroom training to life training, were outward-focused and were characterized by God-dependency rather that self-sufficiency. He said, ‘we are not the manufacturers of God’s blessings but are called to be distributors of His favor to our communities.’

Each evening ended with opportunity for reflection, feedback and prayer over what God has been speaking to them during the teaching sessions.

There was also opportunity in the course of the meetings to address the growing concern about rising persecution by Hindu extremists in the land. We encouraged them to have faith and hope in the midst of the challenge of staying faithful to the witness and life of Christ in us.

From the feedback of participants, this was a wonderfully blessed and fruitful time of encouragement and equipping. Participants expressed thankfulness to NAMS Companions, friends and supporters who gave and prayed so we could be together.

May His Kingdom come in Orissa and all over the South Asia continent.

 

 

‘Come and See’, ‘Follow me’ and ‘Go and Make’

Family Discipleship — part 2 (by Sam Horowitz)

Last week we were reminded of the biblical mandate of carrying out the discipleship process within our households. But many who would agree on the necessity of doing so do not feel empowered or equipped to do it. I thought it might help to give some practical suggestions.

First, we must be continually repenting and believing the Good News of Jesus Christ, taking up his cross daily and following him. Obviously, we cannot help another strive toward Jesus if we are not doing it ourselves. But with such daily repentance we must also reconsider the kind of person we want the child or children in our lives to grow up into. What will they be like if we have been successful? Are we thinking first about their education or career? Or do we envision them becoming strong and faithful men and women of God? Having the right picture in hearts is an important first step.

Next, consider what may be some patterns (or rhythms or rituals) that may be able to help. For example, one purpose the Church has in gathering once a week for worship is to empower her members to be worshiping and living as disciples throughout the week. In the same way, it may be helpful to establish a set regular time for a family to gather and hear from the Lord and apply what they have heard to their life together. This time can be the bedrock for carrying discipleship through to the “in-between times” of life — walks to school, shopping trips, preparing meals, or even working on schoolwork. Daily prayer before school can help a child to remember Paul’s instruction to “pray always.” A weekly memory verse can help to teach a child the importance of taking the words of our Lord into our hearts. Find the patterns that work for your family.

Finally, here are some approaches that can help when you develop these practices.

  • Story: My own son is in a “tell me a story” phrase. He asks probably a dozen times a day for me to tell him a story, and most children do indeed love stories. May we not allow the entertainment companies to be the only ones taking advantage! This is an invitation to be teaching God’s overarching “Great Story” of redeeming the world as well as Jesus’ parables and other biblical stories. Take care not to turn these stories into fairy tales. When telling an Old Testament story especially, try to set that story within the context of the Gospel (we must help our children understand how David & Goliath is a Christian story, not simply a fable with an empowering the-weak-defeat-the-strong message). Parents will have to wrestle with the tensions of being honest about these stories while keeping them age-appropriate! Still, story is powerful.
  • Concreteness: Children much more readily latch onto things that can be directly sensed. Our family went through a season where at one dinner a week we would talk about a bible story and how our own family had experienced that same story. We would begin our meal by lighting a candle as I read from John 1 about the light coming into the world. That candle-lighting reinforced the identity of Jesus, and it marked out this meal and what we were doing as something special. Our young son much more easily grasps the biblical images that describe eternal life as feasts and celebrations than he does some vague abstraction of “going to heaven.” He has been to a family feast!
  • Jesus commands our faith be child-like (Matt 18:3). Do not patronize your children, but honestly consider what they contribute to these conversations. Allow their faith to inspire your own!

Many more words could be written, and there are many good resources available to parents who want to take the charge of Deuteronomy 6 more seriously. But remember that for thousands of years, parents have passed on the faith without off-the-shelf products!

Family Discipleship — part 2 (by Sam Horowitz)

Family Discipleship — part 1 (by Sam Horowitz)

We love our specialists and experts. When we have a problem, or something needs to be done, we turn to the experts. Over the last several decades, unfortunately, most American churches have taken this to an extreme when it comes to making disciples.

Several years ago, I asked a team of leaders what they would do if their neighbor knocked on their door one morning and shared that they had just become a Christian. After an uncomfortably long period of silence, one tentatively offered up that they would bring this new convert to church — so that they could begin to hear my preaching. Of course attending worship is an important part of being a disciple, but it was clear to me that the men and women in the room — all of whom had been following Jesus for twenty years or more — believed that disciple-making was best left to the experts.

This trend is even clearer when it comes to making disciples of young people. A recent survey of Christian parents revealed that the majority did not feel comfortable or capable of instructing their own children in the faith. That finding was often true, by the way, even among “core” church members and Children’s Sunday School teachers!

When the people of Israel were preparing to enter into the Promised Land, and God was instructing them on the fundamental ways of living that would enable them to keep the covenant they had entered into with him, he told them:

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

If faithful parents want to raise faithful children, we must have the same attitude. There are no shortcuts. First, the hearts and minds of moms and dads must be on Jesus and his teaching. We must be spending time with him and his words daily, and not only on Sundays. We must learn to look at, process, and interact with the world through the lens of the Bible’s story.

And then, we must be continually teaching our children the Gospel and living the Good News out by faith. The pairs “when you sit/when you walk” and “when you lie down/when you rise” are not particular opportunities to be teaching, but are Hebraisms meant to include everything in between two opposites. For most of the church history, this was the way new generations of disciples were raised. Parents shared their lives of faith with their children. The idea that we could outsource this to experts, though pervasive today, is in the grand scheme of things a novelty.

This is not to say that youth and children’s ministry “specialists” have no place in the church, or are unimportant. I write to you today as one with many years of “professional” experience in children’s and youth ministry. But these ministries must be added to daily family patterns of discipleship, in the same way that most people live healthy lives by adding occasional visits to medical professionals to daily healthy practices.

Are you sharing your life with your children (or grandchildren, or the young people of your faith community) in a way that demonstrates the effect of the Gospel in daily living? Are you taking advantage of the opportunities life presents in “all you do” to be “diligently” teaching the ways of Jesus to the young people entrusted to you?

Next week: Practical suggestions for family discipleship

Family Discipleship — part 1 (by Sam Horowitz)

The Church – in Unity and Mission (By Manik Corea)

The picture that first comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘church’ reveals a great deal. If you thought of anything other than people, you were being decidedly un-biblical. The Church is not a place we go to, but a people we are.

‘Church’ in the New Testament always means the people of God. It refers to the assembly of ordinary people blessed and made holy in Christ. It refers to everyone who belongs to and participates as a disciple of Jesus in the life and mission of a local community of faith where Jesus is obeyed and God is glorified. At the same time, it includes all Christians everywhere in the world, at once both local and global.

NAMS as a missionary order of Christians seeks, as our Rule (point 7) states, ‘to work with, and be in unity with, the faithful church throughout the world,’ that is, the ‘church that submits to Christ.’ We see ourselves as relating, through the Anglican family of churches, to the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church.’ What does this mean and why is this important?

The Apostles, taking after Jesus, taught the earliest Christians the oneness and unity of the Church existing in the local as well as catholic (i.e. universal) Church.[1]

They taught that each Christian was part of a much larger community, that the body of Christ they had been baptised into was established everywhere after the same pattern of faith and practice delivered once-for-all by the Apostles (see for example 1 Corinthians 4:17; 11:2,16; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; Jude 3).

The historic Nicene Creed expresses the biblical belief that there exists only ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ — a Church that is indivisible, sanctified and universal, founded after the teachings and tradition of the Apostles.

Through the ages, the centrality of the Gospel and Kingdom rule of Jesus Christ, the revelation of God the Father’s perfect will in the Scriptures (both Old and New) and the sustaining, purifying and guiding work of the Holy Spirit have been the common ground and centripetal forces of unity amongst many diverse parts and places of the Church.

Such a unity, a ‘unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,’ as Paul highlights in his letter to the Ephesians (4:3), is to be kept and pursued. We all are part of one body of Christ, we have all received one Holy Spirit, and we are all called to one common hope. We have only one Lord we obey, one saving faith to live by, and one baptism we have received (4:4-6).

On the other hand, one cannot truly love others while denying truth. Truth determines the tenor and common ground of our unity. Christian leaders must discipline false teaching and immorality within their churches, and distinguish themselves and their churches from those who have gone astray and are no longer faithful to Gospel truth.

We live in perilous times, when hostility towards and persecution of Christians, even in the once-Christian West, is on the rise. Even as the contagions of heresy, immorality, compromise, and open ridicule assault the faithful church in our world today, we cannot afford to neglect or abandon the mission to which God has called all His church: to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples, to seek His Kingdom and righteousness first, and to make disciples-making disciple by planting disciple-making churches.

This is our work – but it is also the work of all who belong to, pray, and work for the vitality and health of the ‘one, holy catholic and apostolic church.’ Since such a Church must of necessity follow in the Apostolic footsteps of those original ‘sent-out’ ones, we are sent too into a world lost and hopeless without Jesus and His Gospel.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:12-14;Ephesians 2:19-22, 4:4; Colossians 1:18, 3:11; 1 Peter 2:5.

The Church – in Unity and Mission (By Manik Corea)