The Western World As The Mission Field

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Western Christianity is hemorrhaging!

70% of the U.S. population reports a connection with Jesus Christ, yet according to David Olson, on any given Sunday, less than 17.5% of the population actually attends an orthodox worship service.[1] Even more sobering is the reality that American churches would need to plant 2,900 new churches a year, just to keep up with the current pace of population growth (some research states 15,000).[2]

In an interview with a Liberian church planter, he revealed that God called him to come to the United States to plant churches; he’s not the only one among the diaspora missionaries from Africa.[3] With 80 to 85 percent of churches in America either plateauing or in decline,[4] there is an urgent call for church revitalization and planting. For this reason, the church must re-engage the missio Dei, the sending of God, and shift to a missional praxis. The Western world has once again become the mission field.

When relating to Western culture, I understand the ambiguity involved in such terminology; therefore, for the purpose of this article, the term “Western culture” refers to the United States of America. I hope to illustrate our culture’s need for an apostolic movement and a call for a reestablished Trinitarian mission.

First, I’ll address the historical and present reality of the Western church’s decline and imperative nature as a mission field. Second, I’ll explore a biblical and theological reflection on the Western church within culture.

Historical and Present Reality of The Western Church

We don’t need to go too far back into American history to notice that a transformation has occurred. Just one hundred years ago, back to the 1920’s, Christianity was once was so enmeshed within its culture that capitalism and faith were nearly inseparable—it was virtually improbable to receive a bank loan without church membership.[5] John D. Rockefeller, who organized the Interchurch World Mission (IWM) once proclaimed, “A Christian is a Christian no matter what church he belongs to…What nobler aim can a man have in life than to be Christlike?”[6]

Studying Rockefeller’s business practices, it would not be against popular opinion to question his biblical faith, but as many Americans, Rockefeller assumed that everyone in American society were automatically Christian. Alan Hirsch clarifies, “In the American expression, Christianity was not married to the state but is nonetheless seen to be an inextricable part of American culture and identity; until the last thirty years or so, if you were American, you were a Christian.”[7] Church membership was more about being a part of the social norms and values than it was conviction of the heart.

An interesting statistic from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) shows research concerning American churches. NAMB found that in 1900 there were twenty-eight churches for every ten thousand people; by 1950 that number declined to seventeen; by the year 2000 it declined even more to twelve, and by 2004, it was down to eleven.![8] There are no current numbers, at least that I have discovered.

As stated, Olson’s statistics display that only 17.5% of the population in North America is attending Sunday services, but Doug Murren of the Murren Group, declares that number to be too high and suggested Olson’s 2008 numbers were lagging a bit behind—his ghastly number of only 12% is staggering.[10] Furthermore, Murren’s research indicates “20% of people leave their church every year, which would require a visitor rate of at least 30% of a church’s size per year, just to grow.”[11]

The Western church is surely in decline and hemorrhaging, as the culture pulls away from Christianity. The Barna Group assesses that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice.”[12] With a population of roughly two hundred forty million Americans, one hundred seventy million of them (71%), either consider themselves as having no religious affiliation at all or Christian in name only.[13] As JR Woodward observed, “Functional Christendom has given way to a ‘spiritual,’ secular and pluralist society where a growing number view the church with suspicion and some with downright disdain.”[14] The Western world is officially a mission field and is in dire need of apostolic movement.

However, while it’s good to recognize numbers and statistics, the church should not become depressed—only motivated. As the culture shifts, the contemporary church must be reminded that it’s not in the first-century. As early church historian Michael Green notes, “They lived in a world more relativist and far more pluralist that our own.”[15] Of course, to some, like Ted Turnau, who projects in his book, Popologetics, that “each idolatrous cultural act inspires another that is darker and more deceptive,”[16] this would place humanity into a more darker culture than ever before.

It’s probably safe to say that humanity is, well, humanity, and a depraved unregenerate people will not flock to the gospel, but toward sinful tendencies. One cannot fault culture for shifting, nor for humanity in embracing relativism, new age spiritualism, or even atheism. If the church is not spreading the love of the gospel and making disciples within its community then the current culture cannot be faulted for failing to possess a Christian worldview. David Hesslegrave defines, “A worldview is formed by hearing and learning a big story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.”[17]

The church is failing to present a transformation story in Christ, filled with the Scriptures, and the application from within our current lives. Society is only doing what is expected of it, to live life according to the desires of the heart. Western culture must be a mission field engaged by a missional people with a passionate and harmonious unified church at its core. The culture has shifted from the church to the workplace—hence, the church must engage the marketplace—and engage it as a movement.

The call for an apostolic movement is vital. If as Malphurs stated, “Only five to twenty-five percent of pastors are equipped to turn around churches”[18] then only a paradigm shift in thinking will work. J.D. Payne rightly observes that the American church, which once was filled with missional church planters has developed into a pastoral missiology of “maintenance and conservation of structures and organizations.”[19] Hirsch adds to this line of thinking, “We forgot that it’s not so much that the church has a mission as that the mission has a church…missional church is apostolic church.”[20] To combat the decline of Western culture, the church must reengage its apostolic past, while communally embracing its missional future.

Biblical and Theological Reflection on The Western Church

            As Lesslie Newbigin so eloquently, yet blatantly put it, “The Christ who said, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,” also said to those same disciples, “As the Father has sent me so I send you,” and showed them the scars of his battle with the rulers of the world (John 20:20-21).[21] John’s passage reveals the Greatest Commission;[22] the missio Dei, it’s theologically steeped foundation within the Omnibenevolence of God.

To know God is to love him. Jesus told his disciples that they must love their neighbors as they love themselves; this is the second greatest commandment (Matt 22:39). When questioned as to whom was their neighbor (Luke 10:29), Jesus responded with a story pertaining to the Jews’ detested race of people, the Samaritans (Luke 10:30-35).

In connection, the story of the Good Samaritan is an applicable imperative to know and love those within our culture. Christ’s incarnation provides an example of not only understanding culture, but tabernacling within it (John 1:14). In Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, Everyday Theology he explains, “Cultural literacy—[is] the ability to understand patterns and products of everyday life—[it] is thus an integral aspect of obeying the law of love.”[23] To effectively engage Western culture, the church must not abandon the ancient faith, striving to embrace secular values to become relevant, but adhere, apply, and act within Trinitarian koinonia.

At the heart of the reconciliation of all things, whether Western culture or otherwise, is the love of the Father, explicitly sending the suffering Son, to vicariously be victorious over sin and death for humanity, “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14). The love of God cannot be disseminated from the three persons of the Trinity, nor divorced from the missio Dei, as the conceptual understanding of homoousis underlies the Christ as the same eternal substance with the Father; so to, Christ is the head of the church.

Robert Webber’s book, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World expresses the church’s role and functions within a changing culture— “Our calling is not to reinvent the Christian faith, but, in keeping with the past, to carry forward what the church has affirmed from its beginning.”[24] The church was given a mandate to make disciples while going about life (Matt 28:19), through the worship of the Father (Matt 4:10; John 4:23), obedience and submission to Christ (John 14:15), by intentionally heeding the Holy Spirit’s voice (John 14:26; Acts 1:8).

Making disciples means that the church expresses,reveals, and manifests to culture the reality of the Trinity’s nature, by the gospel of Christ. As Adam Dodds confirmed, “Jesus cannot rightly be identified without describing the triune nature of God…Although the gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ, this gospel begins with the Father sending the Son who is conceived by the Holy Spirit.”[25] Therefore, for the church to engage the Western culture with the gospel, it is to reveal God’s Omnibenevolence with the missio Trinitas. A call back to understanding that the Godhead propels and sustains the missional church community is at its core. Woodward validates, “since the church is the icon of the Trinity, true personhood is found in community.”[26]

When the Apostle Paul was called to go to Macedonia, he first made plans to go to Asia, but as Erwin McManus linked, “The entire Trinity got involved in keeping Paul from going to the wrong place.”[27] Currently, the Western church is not listening and it seems to be going to the wrong place. The church abides in Christ, having its resolve to fulfill the missio Dei, as the Imago Dei. As Christ’s body on earth, the church’s missional DNA (mDNA) exists in Jesus as Lord.[28]

Enculturation occurs when “an existent, prevailing culture influences” a church to “imbibe its accepted norms and values.”[29] By enculturation, the contemporary church has separated itself from the imago Dei. Rather than retaining its innate DNA (2 Cor. 5:17), Western Christianity has lost the power of the cross, the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, and the fear of Almighty God. The church’s enculturation has stripped it of the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit (John 16), causing, in part, the West to become the mission field.

However, all is not lost. As Jesus stated, “I will build my church, and the gates of hellshall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18b). The church, from its earliest inception, faced political, religious, and even internal opposition with councils, proconsuls, governors, kings, and tribunes, but the “powers that be,” hinder as they may attempt, could not and cannot cease a missional movement of God.[30] When the church relinquishes control of all earthly things to God and basks in his presence, it can expect an apostolic Trinitarian movement to occur.[31] During trials, tribulations, and opposition from society, the New Testament (NT) church was in the midst of an expansion explosion, and God was on the move.

The church must re-engage Western culture by relinquishing its boundaries to the missio Trinitas. Rolland Allen expresses this as the church’s primary fear, “There is always something terrifying in the feeling that we are letting loose a force which we cannot control; and when we think of spontaneous expansion in this way, instinctively we begin to be afraid.”[32] As the Apostles Paul and John declared, “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7) and respectively, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a). Therefore, in moving ahead within the cultural divide, the church must relinquish its thoughts of controlling Christ’s body. The church has all the resources, power, vision, people, and God-given authority to reach the West for Christ—may we be so emboldened to do it!

[1]David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based On a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 181.

[2]Ibid., 181.

[3]J.D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigrations, Migration, and Mission(Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2012), 151.

[4]Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.

[5]Charles Edward Harvey. 1982. “John D Rockefeller, Jr and the Interchurch World Movement of 1919-1920: a different angle of the ecumenical movement.” Church History51, no. 2: 203. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed July 7, 2015).

[6]Ibid., 200.

[7]Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: a Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 130.

[8]Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 9.

[9]Olson, The American Church in Crisis,181.

[10]Doug Murren, “De-Churching or Re-Gathering,” themurrengroup.com, March, 2015, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.themurrengroup.com/de-gathering-or-re-gathering.html.

[11]Ibid., 5.

[12]George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless:Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 16.

[13]Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches For the 21stCentury: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal, 3rdEd. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 12.

[14]JR Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 30.

[15]Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 21.

[16]Ted Turnau, Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective(Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2012), 65.

[17]David J. Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 146.

[18]Malphurs, Look Before You Lead,173.

[19]J.D. Payne, Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 24-25.

[20]Hirsch and Ferguson, On the Verge, 130-132.

[21]Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 124.

[22]Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing the West(Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 19.

[23]Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, and Michael J. Sleasman, eds. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 19.

[24]Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999), 17.

[25]Adam Dodds. “Newbigin’s Trinitarian missiology: the doctrine of the Trinity as good news for Western culture.”International Review Of Mission99, no. 390 (April 1, 2010): 17. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed July 6, 2015).

[26]Woodward, Creating A Missional Culture, 91.

[27]Erwin Raphael McManus, An Unstoppable Force Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind 2001 Publication(Loveland, CO: Group Pub. Inc., 2000), 77.

[28]Hirsch and Ferguson, On the Verge, 158.

[29]Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church, 18.

[30]Steve Walton. “What Does ‘Mission’ in Acts Mean in Relation to the ‘Powers That Be’?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society55, no. 3 (2012): 546.

[31]Grant Osborne. “Moving Forward On Our Knees: Corporate Prayer in the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society53, no. 2 (June 2010): 259.

[32]Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: and the Causes That Hinder It(Grand Rapids, MI: Wipf & Stock Pub, 1997), 13.

The Giving Tree

This is a guest post from my daughter, Kathleen Fretwell. She resides in Bilbao, Spain, and as a “millennial,” has some first-hand insight into the generation, culture, travel, and the Christian faith. I am grateful for her input and willingness to have her articles posted here, but, should you feel inclined, you can always follow her other writings or get more information at her blog, Just Trying to Blend

By Kathleen Fretwell

I had an awesome friend say to me once, “You know what?  You’re really nice. I hope later in life you get what you deserve, because you are always giving.”

Even though I am ashamed of most decisions made during the previous years of my life, and not everyone who knew me could whole-heartedly describe me as “the nice girl,” one thing is for certain … I have always given unto others.

But, I can’t help to get bogged down sometimes.

Oh, no. In no way, shape, or form am I claiming to be Mother Teresa; however, when people are in need and I can be of assistance, I do all in my power to help.  I feel a pang of guilt when I know I cannot help “better” the situation. I can not help, but to help. I give things I do not have, and I will more than likely never have enough money to be considerably rich for the sole reason being that I am constantly paying for people, with of course, money I do not have to spend.

I can’t help but to get upset when people are unlike me.  I get a harsh, hard-to-swallow feeling in my chest and something that feels like a sucker-punch to the heart—not when my efforts go unnoticed—but when they go unequaled.  I give, give, and give, but my efforts are not correspondent, and the sad reality of the world is that not all people are like me—but [more clearly] mostly not all people are like God.

I fail my emotions in thinking people are as like-minded as I am. I am disappointing only myself when I come to realize that they are not.

When I feel this way, rather than get deeply saddened and possibly turn to anger to sort out my depressive emotions, I remember these words:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

I have to remember that people were made in the image of God, but it is when I give people “God-like-qualities” that I find myself becoming most disappointed. I need to remember what lies ahead for me, and trust that good people really will, someday, be rewarded.

I thank my friend Isabelle that day, for not only giving me a compliment I will never forget, but for also setting my heart down the right path. She helps me move forward—into the right direction when I am feeling down.

People, please continue to give, even when you feel your efforts are not equivalent. Give, because there are people like me who notice your efforts, and there is a God who promises to reward our selflessness, in due time.

3 Things I learned at Exponential

Last week I attended and lead an equipping lab at the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme this year is Heromaker—based off of Dave Ferguson’s new book. At first glance one may assume that Hero-maker is only a marketing angle for book sales—to the contrary. A hero-maker is a multiplier, a reproducible disciple-maker, a mentor, coach, and/or a person who invests their time, resources, and life, to see others grow in Christian maturity. The leaders at the conference stressed that they were not the heroes, but hero-makers—desiring to see others become leaders in engaging and growing in the Christ-life.

But, let me clarify something I recently read—there’s a misconception regarding the definition of Hero-maker—as if the conference were promoting “superheroes” or creating prideful people—that’s far from the truth and even farther from what I experienced. I saw dedicated individuals humbly pouring out their time and life—selflessly. The main reason I wanted to write this article was to point out three things that I observed—and they’re all very encouraging.

Lostness

Exponential was sold out—10,000 people jam-packed into the First Baptist Church of Orlando. There were numerous Spirit-filled speakers on the main stage, not to mention the numerous breakout equipping labs. One thing that I loved, I didn’t see dry ice vapor-clouds, hear thumping music, and bump into hipsters. I networked and met with a myriad of believers, differing denominational leaders, and church planters—each demonstrating a kingdom-minded attitude.

With nearly every person that I met, there was a sense of urgency in reaching the lostness of their communities—worldwide. With each story I heard, people pouring their hearts out about the lostness within their community and desiring to see their churches engage mission. There were seriously devoted believers seeking practical ways to reach the lost.

But, another beautiful aspect concerning a conference such as Exponential—it’s not merely North America, or a specific denomination—it’s global and multi-denominational; not to mention, multi-diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. Everyone is working together for the common goal of reaching the unreached—to engage lostness. This one thing gave me confidence in the universal Church.

So many times, we hear dismal numbers of failure, church decline, and the ever increasing amount of closed doors—but Exponential was different. It was a breath of fresh air—Spirit-filled air—breathed out through the lives of the many who attended.

Disciple-making

My doctoral work was in reproducible disciple-making, explicitly for church planters to reach new converts. I studied and researched ecclesiastical history and what went wrong and what was done right. I studied and research many contemporary discipleship models. I studied and researched small groups, immersion groups, home groups, community groups, and all kinds of missional gatherings. I researched a few North American church planting organizations, too. I also studied and read nearly every book written in the last 100 years, pertaining to discipleship.

I mention that because I was excited to see what was happening at Exponential. While the organization that I’m the director, New Breed, plants churches via reproducible disciple-making, most do not—at least that was part of my doctoral findings. Needless to say, I was somewhat discouraged about the state of the current church—until I hit Exponential.

At the conference, there was a sincere ground swell of thousands of people and leaders dedicated to seeing things change—not for the sake of change, but to see Christ exalted and the church engaged in making disciple-makers. There were speakers who were championing the small church, movements, and innovation—all within the realm of re-discovering disciple-making.

Kingdom-mindedness

While I wished that I could report everything was awesome and smelled like roses—that’s not altogether the truth. I was able to see one thing that I didn’t like—namely, empire building. There are some organizations which are not team players—they’re focused on their own agendas—but, be relieved, I want to help you navigate toward kingdom-minded opportunities.

If you’re like me—a networker, mobilizer, and catalyst type, who yearns to see people grow in Christ and communities reached—then your best opportunity to collaborate is with the smaller organizations. The larger ones may not give you the time of day, nor be invested in true collaboration. It is what it is.

However, I can’t speak for every large organization—but I can say that the smaller ones are hungry for working together, sharing secrets and models, and seeing Christ magnified at any expense—even if it means sharing inside information which may be utilized and adapted by another organization.

The fact is, the smaller organizations are not in it for money—or better stated—they don’t have an overhead to payout. Most of them have passionate volunteer staff—they have a vision they believe in and are committed to see God bring it to fruition. As I stated, I’m the Director of New Breed, but when I met with Patrick O’Connell from New Thing, he was as excited to connecting as I was—even though we both serve in like capacities. I saw this of enthusiasm time and time again.

The smaller organizations seem to be more kingdom-minded because they are collaborative—working with other believers to reach the ends of the earth. Needless to say, I met some fantastic people and would encourage you, if you’re seeking collaboration and encouragement—attend of the next upcoming Exponential conference (www.exponential.org).

5 Great Reasons Why Christians Should Observe Ash Wednesday & Lent

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The Church’s Lenten season begins tomorrow. Lent is a period of 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (before Easter). Lent was designed as a time for reflection, repentance, prayer, fasting, and meditation on Scripture. It became a time when new believers prepared for baptism and joining the Church.

Some believers view Lent as a move towards works-based righteousness or ritualistic traditionalism. However, the early church fathers expressed the importance of church “seasons,” to help believers navigate life. Similar to the calendar we all use with holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and such, the liturgical (church) calendar provides seasons for believers to reflect in their Christian life.

On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the forehead as a symbol of mortality, remembrance of salvation by grace, and the dust from which man was created.

Here are five reasons why Christians should observe Lent.

#5        Reflection & Mediation on the Word of God

It’s no surprise that there’s a lack of biblical literacy within the church.

Lent devotes 40 days in recognizing the importance of the Word of God to transform the soul. Meditation on the Scripture is not Yoga or some ancient mysticism, but a deeper spiritual awareness. Studying and meditating on the Word of God assists believers in knowing God more, creating discipline, and transformation. In reality, this should be done 365 days, but it may be a good start for some.

#4        Setting Aside Time for Prayer & Fasting

These two disciplines are connected throughout redemptive history.

Placing the spirit in command of the flesh is vital. In a world where food, beverage, and technology rule the flesh, renewal is imperative. Fasting should not be seeking prosperity from God, but placing the soul under God’s control. He is Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Fasting should be joined with prayer—when pangs of hunger arrive—the believer kneels in prayer.

The basic principle: the spirit is in control of the flesh. Pray about your strongholds. Do you have a vice that “owns” you? Lent is the perfect time to begin afresh. Pray through the Psalms. Prepare your heart for remembering Christ’s sacrificial gift on the cross.

#3        Explore The Inner Self

Examining oneself is biblical—not for a better you—but for repentance. The Apostle Paul stated that we should examine ourselves prior to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28). What is nobler than examining our motives and actions in daily life—to glorify God?

Why not examine your actions, motives, and thoughts for these 40 days? Ask the Lord to reveal your heart. Is there any unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, or anger in your life? Choose Lent to release ties of bondage. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring beautiful conviction—to draw you closer with God.

#4        Reach Out to the Community

During the Lenten period, dedicate some time to giving to the needs of the poor, hungry, or homeless. Paul declared that he was asked to “remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). We should be eager to humble ourselves, serving and loving others (Phil 2:5–8).

You never know, being missional may open doors to network for Kingdom growth in your community. But, make sure you do it with a heart of joy, serving others as Christ served. Remember, Jesus washed the feet of Judas, too.

#5        Listening to God’s Voice

By far—this is the number one reason! Many believers lack quiet time with God and have no idea what His voice sounds like. The whisper in the ear while in prayer, the wondrous beauty of the Holy Spirit’s presence in walks, or the sweet surrender to His power. Why not take a vow of silence for a day?

Try a long walk instead of using the car—listen for God—take in His awesome creation (Rom. 1:20). While driving to and from work, turn down the volume and talk with God. When you get home from work leave the television and computer off. Turn off the cell phone and take the ear buds out your ears—take the time to hear the voice of the Almighty.

He loves you and desires intimate time. Choose these next 40 days to transform your spiritual journey with Christ. (Feb. 10—Mar. 26).

How Being Bi-Vocational Engages Better Disciple-Making

For the record, every follower of Christ is a disciple-maker. As well, every follower of Christ is in—quote, un-quote—ministry. None are exempt (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Cor 5:18). Even though I serve as the Director of Operations for New Breed Network, a church planting training organization, this article pertains to all those who serve within the context of church leadership.

I’m not a big fan of the term, “pastoral” ministry, as if there are hierarchal castes within the ministry of the gospel. But, I get it, and from time to time, and I will use the term. While I adhere to a plurality of elders in relation to bi-vocational leadership, I realize that some people view ministry as something only a pastor performs. However, to be biblically correct—pastors train and equip the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:12).

I mention the aspect of pastoral ministry because I believe, like many others, that the church needs to get back to its first-century roots. We (the church) need to be more focused on disciple-making then church growth (btw, disciple-making done right encompasses evangelism). However, we can’t do that if the focus is solely on pastoral ministry.

Disciple-making occurs the best when normal, everyday, relational life, becomes the Christ-life. As my good friend Peyton Jones admits, “I’d sat too long holed up in my office, locked away from the world that desperately needed Jesus, but you can’t change the world from behind a desk.”[1]

Inspired by his words, I’d like to offer two brief ways in which being bi-vocational better engages disciple-making.

  1. Corporate Cognition

Some pastors are forced to become bi-vocational—it is what it is. But, as someone who’s been bi-vocational and still is, I know the up-side is better than the down-side. A bi-vocational (bi-vo) pastor/elder/leader will become missional without even thinking because of the immersion into the environment.

No longer behind a desk or chained to the duties of traditionalism—you’re set free to engage the rest of the image-bearers on the planet. One thing I always celebrate with the church I serve—it is when they ask me to pray for their co-workers. I immediately thank them for loving like Christ and being on mission within the work place.

Corporate cognition is not about businesses, but about the reality that we’re all created for relationships. For a bi-vo leader, an awareness should exist that you are not a time clock puncher, you’re a servant of the gospel—doing all things for the glory of God—surrounded by lostness.

Bi-vocational leaders have a “leg up” in the disciple-making field because of their corporate cognition (i.e. work environment). A higher tendency to speak to unreached people already exists.

Just as the Apostle Paul served as a tent-maker, along with Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, and Silas (Acts 18), working within the community presents us with more lostness-engaging opportunity. And with more opportunity comes more ability.

  1. Cultivating Gospel Trades

Within New Breed, I have labeled (and coined) certain jobs—as “anchor trades.” Anchor trades are professions that meet a community need with the possibility of having the greatest amount of exposure to lostness. While most people don’t think about their jobs in this way—plumbers, barbers, store clerks, chimney sweeps, builders, and even IT gurus, are being utilized in this manner.

At New Breed, we look at disciple-making as a two-fold opportunity. Not only can a bi-vocational leader make disciples of Christ within their profession by meeting new converts, but he/she also has an opportunity to disciple within the trade.

Cultivating gospel trades is a term that I use to identify a profession in which a person can teach a trade, while tandemly making gospel-centered disciples. I perceive that the Apostle did this (although I have no solid proof).

For instance, if I’m hired as a wood worker and have a few helpers to build a table—while we fasten the sides of a table together, I may begin to explain how the Holy Spirit works within my life, or how the wood reminds me of the cross of Christ, bringing humanity and God together. Or perhaps, if I’m sanding down the top, I may suggest that sometimes God places people in our lives that act as our “sandpaper”—somewhat abrasive—but developing our maturity in humility. Regardless, you get the picture.

Mostly any profession can be rendered into a cultivated gospel trade. While we’re teaching the trade itself, we’re also making disciple-makers. These are merely two ways in which bi-vocational leaders better engage disciple-making.

[1] Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017)