Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Frontliners: Re-Envisioning the Role of the Local Church in International Missions

This weekend, our association will be leading the Frontliners Conference at Gethsemane Baptist Church in Glenwood, Maryland, in cooperation with the International Mission Board's Middle America/Carribean Region.

International Missions: its a subject that excites the heart of anyone who truly loves Jesus and wants to see Him more widely known among all peoples. But how can we know that our temporary, short-term efforts in another country will bear lasting fruit?

Anyone who has served in short-term efforts overseas has returned with a general sense of excitement about the trip. At the same time, I meet many mission volunteers who leave the field with lingering questions about the long-term benefit of their work. Loads of spiritual "decisions" are reached, but often, little lasting fruit is developed from such efforts. Ray Comfort states that this is a pressing issue even in stateside evangelistic efforts:

"In 1991, in the first year of the decade of harvest, a major denomination in the U.S. was able to obtain 294,000 decisions for Christ. That is, in one year, this major denomination of 11,500 churches was able to obtain 294,000 decisions for Christ. Unfortunately, they could only find 14,000 [of these converts] in fellowship, which means they couldn't account for 280,000 of their decisions."

These sorts of anemic long-term results are tragic, and even more so when such results are imported by American Christianity into another culture.

Still, the Scriptures are clear that any genuine New Testament Church will be actively involved in Evangelism and Discipleship efforts that are global in scope, meaning that the centrality of the local church in international mission efforts in absolutely essential. But how do we improve our results?

Certainly one answer to this problem is to stop the same shallow "evangelism" efforts in other countries that have left American Christianity awash in cultural Christians who think their eternity is secure because they mouthed a few prefabricated words at the front of a church building. Instead, our focus should be on seeking to obtain genuine conversions to Christ that are vindicated by spiritual growth and the multiplication of churches. Elmer Towns puts it this way:

"The Great Commission implies that church planting is the primary method to evangelize the world. To reach lost people in every culture of the world, a church must be established in every culture to communicate the Gospel and nurture those who are saved. In a simplistic observation, one of the reasons why so much foreign missions work is fruitless is because great effort is spent on winning people to Christ apart from identifying them with a New Testament church.”

Practically, this means that when local churches send volunteers, their long-term goals should stretch beyond conversions and toward the establishment and multiplication of indigenous churches.

With all this in mind, we will spend an entire day introducing folks from a number of our churches to the principles of planting indigenous, non-dependent, and reproducible churches overseas. I am convinced that this is the responsibility of each and every local church.

For those of you in the Mid-Maryland area who are interested, information on attending the conference can be found here. You will note that the "official" deadline has passed. Just remember that Baptist deadlines are more like the date we start making follow-up calls than the date we close registration. Childcare is provided as well, although we will definitely need those numbers as soon as possible.

If you would like us to host this conference at your church, and you are located in Maryland or the surrounding area, give us a call and we would be glad to work it out. If you are out of the area, but are interested in something like this, I highly encourage you to get in tough with MAC Region Personnel, or contact Ken Sorrell directly.

Oh, and did I mention where you can get more information?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Holiday Reading and Relaxation

Late last year, I read this article, which pricked my conscience regarding "working vacations" and other such oxymoronic concepts. As a result, I arranged my schedule at the end of 2007 so that the combination of holidays and remaining vacation time would give me a full two weeks to spend with my family. For 14 days I had no laptop and no cell phone. With the exception of our associational staff and the Senior Pastors of all our churches who had access to a direct line in case of emergency, I was unavailable to everyone . . .except Amy and the boys. It was a wonderful time.

So many times I hear pastors and church leaders talk about how much they work as if the sheer quantity of hours somehow said something about their work ethic. I've also chided a few of our pastors over the years for answering their cell phones while on vacation. If Jesus intentionally separated Himself from His work from time to time, we should consider His example. The total relaxation that comes from unplugging both literally and professionally, actually recharges the batteries and makes one a more efficient worker when he returns. As I write these words on the last official day of "vacation," I am pumped about hitting the office tomorrow and facing a New Year full of exciting challenges.

In addtion, I had a chance, as always, to do some substantive reading while away:

Jim Kuhn, Ronald Reagan in Private. Reagan is one of my personal models of leadership, and I try to read something biographical about his life and work at least once a year. To be honest, I've read better biographies of Reagan than this one, written by his former Executive Assistant. Generally, it wasn't very well-written, and the author makes several significant mistakes (i.e. his reference to being able to see the lights of "Emmettsville" Maryland from his room at Camp David. [The town is called Emmittsburg.]), and also seems a bit Pollyannish about Reagan. I admire Reagan, but know he wasn't perfect, so I don't need someone building the guy up for me to continue learning from the man and his leadership. But it is still worth the read, as it gives several inside glimpses of the man at a personal level that allow you to see how his personality affected his decision-making.

Reggie McNeal Get a Life Broadman and Hollman graciously sent me an advance copy of this one a couple of months ago. Honestly, this one reads a bit like the Cliffs Notes from Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life." It's a shorter, simplified approach to helping you discover why God created you. From my perspective, you can do a short daily reading with Rick over 40 days, or do a slightly longer daily read with Reggie over 5 days, and get the same result. This is a great lay-level book that also offers companion workbooks and different formats for group study. But is you are a pastor, I'd check out something different by Reggie. For my money, Practicing Greatness, released last year, is a much better and more helpful read.

Bob Logan Be Fruitful and Multiply. I read this one late last week, and after finishing, was ready to come back to work the very next day! Ed Stetzer reccomended this one to me, and it was an outstanding read, especially for churches interested in extending their influence and the reach of God's Kingdom through church planting. Several years ago I was able to attend a "Cultivating Church Multiplication Movements" training with Logan at Reformed Seminary in Orlando. This book is esentially an extrapolation of the principles of that conference, with much more "meat." 2008 will be a year of transitioning at our association, as we implement what we believe will be better ways to facilitate the multiplication of new churches through our existing congregations. I'm purchasing a copy of this book for everyone on our church planting team, and we will use its contents to help inform how we will make this transition.

I am really looking forward to this year, and believe God has some exciting things in store for our churches. I'm also looking forward to addressing more issues here, and in the coming days, will post on issues like immigration, local church involvement in international missions, and why I plan to remain a Southern Baptist. Happy New Year!