Category Archives: LEADERSHIP

The Priority of Missions

A common trend in evangelical Christianity today is the movement toward holistic ministry. This orientation has a few noticeable characteristics:

  • The commitment to the lost and the poor are of equal standing–and may even favor the poor over the lost.
  • This theological view includes what we can do for others as “gospel” also, clouding the clarity of the gospel as being what Jesus has done for us.
  • It sees holistic social work as valid in and of itself apart from the responsibility of disciple making.

Yes–it is important that we are the face, hands, and presence of Jesus around the world. We must often meet the urgent needs in order to address the greatest need. We cannot ignore the human condition. But what a temptation we face in going with the flow of a trendy mission focus that reduces us to doing good things at the expense of the right thing. Only the church can offer the ultimate solution to mankind’s greatest problem of separation from God.

Available statistics reveal that from 2001 to 2005, giving toward relief and development increased by 73.4%, while for evangelism and discipleship is was only 2.7%, (Christopher R. Little, Discovering the Mission of God, p.492).young woman Numbers speak. I also have personally seen this well-intended trend all across the nation, expressed through some of our most respected churches. In our pursuit of being relevant and “current”, we may have strayed from the one thing Jesus has told us to do in His absence — to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

 

 

 

Physical and Spiritual Progressions

I’ve noticed that my spiritual progression often reflects my age progression. Here’s what I mean — as I grow older as an adult…

  • I tend to be more lethargic. As a young man, when evenings came, I was energized to do something fun or adventuresome. Today, I tend to be very happy to find a comfortable chair and chill.
  • I am more easily pleased. As a child, I would often look for the next adventure on a hillside, in a grove, or in an old barn hay-loft. Today, my first inclination is to say, “nah.”
  • I have become more rational. As a college student, I was the prankmeister any chance I got, simply because it was a chance to make a memory and have some fun. Today…it just doesn’t make sense to do those things any more.
  • I tend to be more sophisticated. Years ago, I didn’t care what others thought of what I did. Today, I lean towards protecting my “reputation” and making sure I don’t look too foolish in what I do.

As these realities pursue me physically and psychologically, they also influence on my spiritual condition.

  • I tend to be more lethargic by not being quite as hungry and thirsty for righteousness as I was when I was younger.
  • I am more easily pleased as I rest on where I’m at rather than where God wants to bring me.
  • I have become more rational as bold risk-taking adventures are more easily dismissed than they were in my more formative years.
  • I tend to be more sophisticated in my faith rather than living out a raw cutting edge lifestyle of pursuing Jesus no matter what I look like or what others think.

ivansusancruise2013But Jesus said, “Unless you become like children, you can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all.”

Childlike faith, enthusiasm, sense of adventure, and wholesome recklessness are still highly valued characteristics that God longs to see in us.

I want to  stay hungry and thirsty for God in ways that drive me to true righteousness rather than settling for an acceptable respectability.

I want be energized for God-honoring adventures, to live out risk-taking faith, exuberant to see God-things happen because I stepped out of my predictable routine.

No matter how old I become, I want my spiritual progress to be unhindered by the plights of lethargy, comfort, rationalization, and sophistication.

 

 

I Want that to Be Me…

The apostle Paul was a crazy man! In fact, he once told his readers that “if it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God,” 2 Corinthians 5:13. He was a man on a mission, driven to do one thing — bring the gospel to lost people. One passage in Scripture reveals Paul’s deep feelings about the urgency of this. Consider Philippians 1:12-18:

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15  Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. ESV

In the above verses, Paul is actually celebrating his imprisonment. Think of it. He has totally lost his freedom because of his obedience to Jesus. He can no-longer visit friends, check up on family, run to the Antioch Starbucks on a whim, or go play a game of horseshoes. He is imprisoned and eager to see what God will do with it. No resentment, regrets, or self-pity. Pretty cool.

This suffering and bondage he is living is bringing forth several God-honoring results, according to Paul:

  1. The gospel is advanced (v.12)
  2. The truth is reaching influential places it has never gone before (v.13)
  3. Those believers who are not imprisoned are infused with courage to be even more bold in the proclamation of the gospel (v.14)

But the final verses of this passage truly intrigue me. I’m fascinated by them because they reveal something of the passion within Paul. While confined in his scope of ministry, he gazes on at what’s happening in the world he cannot reach. In fact, it sounds a little like the church of today — the “preachers” are out there, but they’re not all so holy. It’s actually quite ugly with envy (wanting another person’s success) and rivalry (unhealthy competition) making the top of the dirty list.  In fact, many of those that are “preaching ugly” are trying to out-do Paul. They may be defaming him, talking him down, lifting themselves over him, and trying to get a bigger name than him. And there are some who are spreading the gospel for all the right reasons.

If I were Paul, I think I would be pretty ticked. I would be saying things like, “Christ is dishonored by impure motives.” “What a shame that the gospel is polluted by sinful attitudes.” “The gospel will never succeed in the disastrous mess.” Now these may all be true statements — I don’t really know — but I would sure feel better after expressing my disgust for all of those lowlifes. But Paul does nothing of the sort. He humbly reveals his unrelenting passion that the gospel be delivered to lost people.

“Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

The gospel is being delivered and that’s what matter most.

In this statement, I see Paul’s dependence upon the sovereignty of God — let Him sort it out. Let Him build His church. Let Him deal with the envious rivals. Paul simply rejoices that this truth about Jesus is being heard and the Holy Spirit can then do as He pleases with it.

As I consider this passage, I am humbled by Paul’s single-minded pursuit to see the gospel delivered to those who have not heard.

It drives him.

It makes his hardships valuable.

It propels him to press on for the glory of God.

I want that to be me…

It’s a Beautiful Thing

Herschbergers in Guadalajara 2013
Glenn and Susan Herschberger at a recent gathering in Guadalajara, Mexico.

I recently had a wonderful Skype session with a couple of our sharp missionaries in Panama City, Glenn and Susan Herschberger. We had an opportunity to catch up just a little, talk through a few tweaks we need to work on in the Home Office, threw around a few possibilities for future ministry, and just had a nice time chatting together. I love how technology brings us to close to one another even though we are thousands of miles apart.

For me, the highlight came when I asked Glenn, “What do you love most about what you’re doing in Panama?” Without a moment’s hesitation, and with a grin on his face, Glenn declared, “I love the diversity, the color. It’s the heart of God. It’s a beautiful thing.” I saw the passion of a true missionary coming through with startling clarity. When God’s heart-beat becomes our heart-beat, we’re in the bull’s-eye of God’s plan for ministry.

Scripture declares,

  Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
 All nations (ethnos, meaning race, tribe, or people group) will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”  Revelation 15:4 ESV

God longs for all the people groups of the earth to worship Him. When people of diverse cultures, races, and traditions gather to worship, a profound beauty emerges. People sacrifice personal preferences, give up traditions, grasp new ways and practices for the sake of others, live out selfless community life, and greatly honor the God who longs for all people to worship Him together.

  • This is God’s desire, not only in glory, but right here on planet earth. After all, Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
  • This is God’s desire, not only for Panama City, or other A2:5 English-speaking church plants around the world, but for your church, your city, and your community.

It’s a beautiful thing!

Reaching the Unreached in Biblical Porportions

God placed a tremendous burden on me for the unreached peoples of the world. From day one in this role, I have asked God to help Converge Worldwide International Ministries to be a vital part of reaching the unreached in the world. Much to our dismay, there are still nearly 7000 unreached people groups in the world — those that have never heard that God sent His son, Jesus, into the world to redeem us. This is staggering.

NELMSD
David Nelms, Converge Worldwide’s new Director of Global Church Multiplication

That’s why I’m totally psyched that God has partnered us up with a dynamic leader who makes my passion for the lost look pale in comparison. David Nelms has founded and led The Timothy Initiative (www.ttionline.org) for the past six years. In those six years, TTI has helped start and establish over 21,000 house churches in 34 different countries — most of those to 0.1% people groups! [That would be 99.9% non-Christian.] God has given him a beautiful, biblically aligned strategy that emphasizes education and multiplication. This ministry is bringing hundreds of thousands to faith in Christ among unreached people groups all around the world.

David Nelms has become a part of our Converge Worldwide team! He is now our Director of Global Church Multiplication. I am confident that we can be a part of helping to bring about the fulfillment of the Great Commission as we diligently pursue our opportunities to bring the gospel to lost people.

What needs to happen to see success in biblical proportions?

  1. We need financial partners to help us plant churches for these lost people. $300 will plant a house church to people who have never heard of Jesus. If you or your church wants to plant 10 churches, it only takes $3000. If you want to plant a hundred, $30,000 will do it. Think of this — $30,000 is only seed money for a U.S. church plant. You can establish 100 churches for that investment among people who desperately need Jesus. By the way, this would translate into approximately 15oo to 2000 disciples of Christ…and that’s without considering the ongoing multiplication that will take place. Talk about a wise investment! If you’re interested, shoot me an email at ivanv@convergeww.org
  2. We need prayer warriors to unleash God’s power. We cannot plant one church in our own strength. We need committed people who will bathe these initiatives in prayer. Let me know if you’re on our prayer team and we’ll keep you posted on our ongoing developments.
  3. We need trainers/missionaries who will give a year or two or three to lead regional efforts of training and oversight. Want to be on the front lines of missions? Here you go. Don’t wimp out. If God’s calling, call us at Converge Worldwide (Steve Valentine is our Director of Mobilization — 407-563-6086).

Jesus said, “This gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.” Let’s get it done.

 

A Blur

Life has been a blur the last while.

Have you ever traveled on a train? As you sit there moving at high speeds, things whisk by at alarming quickness. It all seems a blur and so little of what passes you can actually be taken in. That’s the way I’ve felt in leading our Converge missions the last while. It’s been good, but it’s also been a blur.

Preaching 2013
Preaching lakeside at our 2013 Missionary Retreat in Minnesota.

It has also been very good. Time with missionaries, connections with churches and pastors, growing and developing our team, and shaping pathways into the future have filled my days (and sometimes my nights) with good things. I embrace the great privilege it is to serve in this unique and influential role.

I am also humbled. I would always like to think that I’ve truly learned to trust in the Lord after 41 years of being his child, as well as 30 years in full-time ministry. I’ve been reminded of how far I still have to go in laying my burdens down. With a recent season of eye problems — trouble seeing, pain and hypersensitivity — I’ve been told that I have recurring blisters on my eyes due to unhealthy stress. Evidently, my physical vision is affected because my spiritual vision is blurred as well. I’m on a journey of still learning to cast the heavy burdens of ministry and life at the foot of the cross.

I get the feeling that God has me right where He wants me — in a ministry role that is bigger than I can handle. It REQUIRES me to fully depend on the Lord’s sustaining grace and Holy Spirit power to do exactly what He’s called me to do. I’m in that unique place where I cannot get by without Him. It’s do or die (so to speak). I am committed to becoming more like that apostle Paul who, in his weakness, stated, “Your grace is sufficient for me. Your power is perfected in weakness.”

Life has been a blur the last while — for more reasons than one. I’m looking to God for clarity, peace, health, and success. To God be the glory!

Risks Without God Being In It…

“But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.” Numbers 14:44-45 ESV

It was all so stupid. The obstinate Israelites had exercised their unbelief by choosing to not enter Canaan. When the people heard of God’s judgement (Numbers 14:26-35) — that they would all die in the wilderness over a 40-year period — they decided they would then enter Canaan no matter what.

  • “Obedience” that looks good is not necessarily obedience.
  • Sorrow for sin does not necessarily make us right with God.
  • Our actions will not make us right with God — only our submission and worship will.

As we can see by the above verses, their hearts were still far from God. They went forward with their plan of making things right, but they left God behind. He had already told this nation to go into the wilderness, but now they were heading into Canaan– without God!

We see that the Amalekites and Canaanites “defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.” Hormah is inside of Canaan some 60 miles south of where they crossed the Jordan River. It’s amazing, really. The wayward Israelites are so desperate to get what they want (or not get what they deserve) that they take THE risk they convinced everyone not to take only days before. And risk they did. This was a bold, daring, audacious and stupid risk. God was not with them in it. They were chased down and destroyed within the Promised Land. In this, they greatly dishonored God–again.

The Promised Land only holds blessing when we take God with us.

Only brokenness, submission, and authentic worship lived by costly obedience will ever enable us to honor God with our lives.

Public Speaking: Two Fallacies…

Now that I’m listening more on Sundays rather than preaching all the time, I’m seeing some very regular patterns that bother me. In fact, there are two fallacies I see speakers commit over and over.

  • FALLACY #1 — People want to hear what I have to say.
  • FALLACY #2 — Longer is better.

Consider fallacy #1.

If a speaker assumes people want to hear what they have to say, there is no drive to be captivating, relevant, or creative. This assumption leads a presenter to simply present material without much attention given to capturing and holding the listener’s attention throughout the presentation.

God gave me a gift–and it wasn’t public speaking. The gift God gave me was the gripping assumption that people don’t really want to hear what I have to say. Right or wrong, this has shaped my public speaking for 35 years. I am always amazed that people will give me their attention for 25 or 30 minutes (at least most people). What my “people-don’t-want-to-listen” assumption does for me, however, is that it drives me to continually capture the interest of the audience, constantly connect my teaching to real life, and make sure everyone has a little enjoyment in the process (because a little pleasure with teaching has been proven by psychologists to be the one ingredient that will make it stick).

When a preacher/teacher assumes people want to hear what I have to say, the message becomes more about me than them–or the important topic at hand. The person at the podium becomes the reason people are sitting there. “They want to hear me!” Wrong. Fallacy #1 can makes us boring–really boring and terribly ineffective.

Consider fallacy #2.

Longer may be better on very rare occasions–like if you have so much profound content that it absolutely cannot be presented in the current attention span we are allotted. Trust me, this is rarely the case. Almost never. Instead, 95% of the time, a longer presentation means that the message is less potent and not fully prepared. [And don’t assume you’re in the 5% that can preach long.] We are rarely as good as we think we are.

In my years as a pastor, as I prepared week after week to teach the Word, I always forced myself to take a 45 minute message and widdle it down to less than 30 minutes. It was a rare Sunday that I went over that time limit. The discipline of forcing myself to be brief did several things to my sermons:

    • It forced me to be sure I stay after the big idea
    • It was necessary for me to cut out “the fat”
    • It kept the message clearly moving somewhere all the time
    • It eliminated my natural tendency to “camp out” on my favorite element for too long
    • It shortened my stories and illustrations down to be really effective instead of letting me be a wordy storyteller
    • It kept my audience engaged
    • It made me prepare really well (an unprepared message is a long message)

Fallacy #2 — longer is better — is just not true. We can falsely assume that we get deeper. This is rarely the case. Instead, we are usually less effective. Regularly engaging in this false assumption will hamper people’s enthusiasm for the teaching time and may even drive people away.

So if you’re a pastor, preacher, teacher, or public speaker, take note and act accordingly. Rarely will your audience tell you the truth about these things…and usually, we preachers don’t like to hear it anyway.

Infecting Unbelief

Numbers 14:36-37a,  “And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land—the men who brought up a bad report of the land— died by plague before the Lord.” ESV

This is not the warm fuzzy verse to start your day. It’s an important one, however.

Of the 12 spies sent into Canaan, ten returned with a very negative, overly emotional report that turned the entire nation againt God. The statement above gives us a quick synopsis of what happed to those ten. First, however, understand what they did:

  • They “made all the congregation to grumble” against the Lord. The word “grumble” in Hebrew means to stop, stay permanently, to be obstinate. The verbal expression of that condition is to complain. This is important to know because the people were not just afraid or lacking some faith. They had an agressive position of stubborness. Their sinful state had positioned them to never enter Canaan. They had no intention at all of ever following hard after God.
  • They brought a “bad report about the land.” The Hebrew used here literally means to slander. It reveals that what was spoken by the spies was not a logical assessment of what they had found. This was an emotional, determined negative report trying to make the land look really bad. In fact, the idea is that, as they were giving this report, they were undermining God’s plan for their nation. “Slander” is an agressive sinful assault on a person’s character. This was an intentional report meant to bring dishonor to God.

As I consider this, I can’t help but think that the Israelites failed to care for their souls. Could it be that bitterness, anger, and rage had captured them so deeply that they were incapable of following God no matter how obvious He proved His love for them? Could it be that their distrust of God had grown so deep over the years and through the generations that they were unwilling to change their view of God?

What a powerful reminder that no matter what it takes, we must do the deep honest cleansing work that God wants and needs to work in us. We can never go where God is leading if we are not healthy in our soul.

Let me conclude with a few thoughts from this sobering passage:

  1. The stakes are high for leaders. The plague that wiped out the 10 negative spies came quickly and decisively.
  2. Negativity is more than just a view, but rather, a dangerous sin often rooted in unresolved issues that have infected the soul.
  3. Leading others away from God’s best plan is a dangerous exercise.

Infecting others with disbelief is a losing proposition.