teaching #5: questions to ask & answer

24 May

Our fifth and final teaching time brought Michael Frost back for one more message. While this one was a bit harder to take notes on (because of Q&A, audience interaction, and stories / examples), he did provide with very clear questions. These questions, he said, should be asked – and answered – by anybody serious about “becoming missional.”

Notably, Frost said that through discussions with many us this week, he had noticed that many of us have already done much of this missional application within our ministries. But, he said, our churches need to ask and answer these same questions, and we college ministers, youth ministers, and church planters may have much wisdom to offer. (He was complimentary toward especially college ministry – since that was the largest percentage of our group – in this same way throughout the week, regularly noting our missional approach to the campus and to the work we do there.)

If we are the sent-ones of God, “What kind of questions do we need to ask and answer around this notion of ‘Sent-ness’?,” Frost asked.

#1: By whom have we been sent?

We have been sent, as Frost described in an earlier message, by the sent and sending God. This is, again, the theological undergirding for his missional understanding. We don’t choose to be “missional” because we want to grow churches, and not because Jesus “barked out some order – in the Great Commission – like some Seargeant Major in the army.” Instead, we choose to be missional because God is missional.

Understanding this should make a difference in the way we go about our ministries.

#2: To whom have you been sent?

Frost related that the first missionaries to Papua New Guinea realized that there was a different tribe on each mountain. So what did they do? They had to choose one mountain, one tribe. And ultimately that tribe raised up missionaries to go to the next mountain, and so on.

“To which tribe, which mountain” are we called?

Here, he encouraged us to think in terms of “people-groups.” The people-group to whom I’m sent might be

  • Geographical
  • Socioeconomic
  • A subculture

Within this perspective, he noted that we should probably not simply ask, “To whom have I been sent?,” but “To whom have we been sent?” Though the default American model may be individualism, we need to counter that some in this area, Frost said. Our churches – or at least groups of people within those churches – are likely called to go together to reach a “people group.”

Discovering to whom we have been sent will probably not be an immediate process. We need to pray and wait.

#3: Where should I go?

If we came up with a Geographical answer when looking at Question #2, then the “where” is obvious. But if not…

Frost discussed “third places,” those places in our lives that are not home or work – but where people can fairly naturally talk about significant things and even significant differences between themselves. Sadly, some believe that these places are being lost in America. But without them – and without making use of them – Christians may lose natural ways to introduce spiritual conversations and questions.

But, he continued, we shouldn’t create these avenues by creating a fourth place in our lives. Sometimes Christians already have “third places,” where they spent time with their Christian buddies. So when wanting to hang out with non-Christians, they may try to cram one more place or activity into their lives… even though they really prefer being elsewhere. So we have to consider “doing church” within those “third places,” allowing ourselves to congregate in the very places where we can establish connections with lost people.

#4: About whom will we speak?

Announcing the Gospel means announcing Jesus.

Frost stated that he’s concerned that too many “Gospel presentations” mention Jesus for only a sliver, perhaps as “point 5 of a 10-point presentation.” But Paul’s presentations of the Gospel include Jesus in a big way, regardless of whether they happen to be long or short.

We need to announce a name and a person – Jesus – telling stories about Him, just like the early Christians did. Very few Christians, Frost said, have a bunch of parables and miracles on the tip of their tongue to share about Jesus and His amazing character and life. But we need Gospel Christians to be full of great stories, information, and sayings about Jesus, just like people often have about their political heroes, sports heroes, or other heroes.

teaching #4: what missional people do

24 May

For those tuning in to get teaching notes from our São Paulo Discovery Trip, I’m including notes this weekend (in two separate posts) from our 4th and 5th teaching sessions! And if you missed the first 3 sessions (one by Mike Lopez and two by Michael Frost), check out those teaching notes in our earlier blog posts!

To start our fourth Teaching session, Michael Frost noted that many of our testimonies from this trip seem to have tied in to one of his points for today’s message, so he figured he would start there. That piece of missional understanding is Prevenience (or “prevenient grace”), the recognition that God has gone before us, working in people’s live before we join Him there.

#1: Prevenience

Frost noticed that our team seems to have “assumed that God is already at work in the lives of people”; when we encounter them – through a Free Hug, an info card, a conversation in the college food court – we understand that we’re joining a work already in progress.

But he’s noticed that other Americans oftentimes too quickly move on to being creative and entrepreneurial in our missions efforts, because we’re good at those things, and we love coming up with solutions. But while, “Don’t just sit there; do something!” might be our American mantra, that’s not the usual M.O. of a missional Christian.

Instead, “Don’t just do something; sit there” must be our slogan, as we wait, watching, to see how we might join God’s work. “Just go to the people group to whom you’ve been sent, and sit there. Watch. What is God doing? … What does it look like for God to come to this place?,” Frost encouraged. We don’t simply look for conventional religious “signs,” but anything God might be doing among the people to whom we’ve been sent.

For instance, when we see examples of beauty and when we see examples of justice, these are two of the biggest clues that God’s reign is invading a place. For example, he recalled a time when great tragedy hit his town, when a little girl was killed. Frost watched as many from that place immediately responded with kindness and generosity and help – and those acts of beauty, he said, alerted him that God’s reign was “bleeding into” this place.

So he responded by helping organize further service, drawing together many of the town’s leaders to help a poorer area of Australia. Frost pointed out, as we in similar ways demonstrate what the ultimate reign of God will mean, we end up having opportunity after opportunity to announce God’s reign, as well. And that’s especially true if we follow the other principles (see below).

But we may also find examples of God’s prevenience in people’s own descriptions of “religious experiences” – which, he said, nearly everybody will admit to having, even if they claim not to “be religious.” Oftentimes Evangelism involves simply naming the name of the God who has already shown up in their lives (like Paul did in Acts 17).

The biggest mistake we can make is ascribing to the idea that “we bring the Kingdom.” Instead, “We don’t bring the Kingdom to the world; the Kingdom is unfurling” and we submit to what God’s already doing.

#2: Proximity.

While God is prevenient and working in people’s lives, “The thing that breaks my heart is there aren’t enough of us out there building relationship with them to be there on the spot” and help interpret their God-experiences. For instance, what if we happened to play darts weekly with a guy who has a “religious experience” he can’t explain? Then we’ll be ready and able to discuss it with him.

Jesus claimed to send his disciples into the world in the same way the Father had sent Him (John 20:21). But how was He sent?

He was sent to spend thirty years simply “in proximity” with this world, before He ministered in a public way. And His “proximity” was so natural that when He returned to His hometown preaching about God’s Kingdom, the people were surprised! In other words, they didn’t say, “I always knew there was something different about you – you were a little different, you never laughed at our jokes or spent time with us. I get it… You’re the Messiah!”

No, they were surprised – even though God incarnate had actually be living among them. Jesus practiced a kind of holiness that still fit into culture. His life reflected two things proximity requires: physical proximity (“moving into the neighborhood) and time.

Frost lives in and ministers in the place he grew up. So the city officials, he said, call him when they need the church to respond to something. Why?

Because “We know you’re not going anywhere,” they tell him. They might as well say, “You’ve hitched your star to our wagon,” to go down if they go down, and be successful if they’re successful. Other religious figures have come and gone so many times; others aren’t involved in the town in the same way. But Frost has chosen proximity to those people.

#3: Presence

While Frost spent more time on the first two principles, he did offer two more principles for what missional living looks like.

The third principle Frost mentioned as part of what missional Christians “do” is that they embody the presence of the Living God on earth. Among the people to whom we’ve been sent, we are indeed temples of God.

Among other things, this means not only esteeming the lowly, but also sometimes humbling the proud. Frost at this point provided a very interesting reading of the juxtaposed stories of Jairus and the woman who had been bleeding (from Luke 8:40-53). In that entire story, the synagogue leader Jairus is brought down like a child, forced by his circumstance to run to Jesus, a rabbi he may very well have been skeptical of previously. And the woman, on the other hand, is esteemed – in front of Jesus the well-known Rabbi, his disciples, and this synagogue leader.

Both these things – humbling the proud and esteeming the lowly – are works of God; we should ask whom these things are happening to within our ministries.

#4: Powerlessness.

We need to embrace this role, too, Frost continued. Christ – though obviously not actually powerless – divested Himself of that power and presented Himself as torn and broken and weak. We should ask ourselves what it would mean to be “empty-handed” in this place. Our God showed us that true greatness is in embracing humiliation, not avoiding it.

When we’re in denominations or contexts where we do have some “pull,” money, or other opportunities, we should be careful that we not simply throw all that weight and money around, being powerful in our missional contexts. We might even need to do things designed to bring ourselves to the level of those we’re reaching – that they might see us more as peers than as “leaders,” “teachers,” or “ministers.”

missions opportunities for college or youth, individuals or teams!

23 May

Below, you’ll find some great, urgent opportunities to share with your college or youth students, or to consider for a team from your ministry.

First, we’ve already had the chance to see great opportunities for your students or you to consider, including:

A couple of notes on those:

  • There are lots of spots available for the Journeyman program, despite recent rumors. (Sadly, those rumors led to not filling all the available spots they had last time!) So encourage your juniors, seniors, or recently graduated students to consider applying!
  • If you’re interested in the upcoming Discovery Trip, you need to let them know right away – as in, early this week.

Now for some additional (and urgent need) opportunities! (And see below for a few additional details.)

YOUTH NEEDS

Sports / Recreation Ministry: South America

A 5-day trip for individuals or teams up to 10 people. (Could possibly take larger teams, but that will increase transportation costs.) Latest arrival 12-31-2011.

High School Youth Exchange: East Asia

A 10-day trip. The latest a student or group could arrive is in May of 2012. Up to 10 people could go together.

COLLEGE NEEDS

Students Reaching Students: Middle East

Must take place pretty immediately. A 14-day trip for individuals or teams up to 6 people.

Peace Connection: Middle East

This is a 15-day experience, and the last openings for this trip are in early September, 2010. If sending a team, 4 to 12 people is a good range.

Alpine Whitewater Kayaking Evangelism: Eastern Europe

A 7-day trip that needs to be taken this summer or early fall. For individuals or teams of 2 to 7 people.

Hands for Graham Festival: East Asia

A 10-day trip for individuals or teams of 3 to 8 people. Needs to be taken this year, with the latest arrivals in mid-December, 2010.

University Ministry: South America

A 5-day trip for individual collegians or teams up to 10 people. (Could possibly take larger teams, but that will increase transportation costs.) Latest arrival is 12-31-2011.

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Of course, the IMB has all sorts of additional opportunities for you, your students, and your ministry to connect with and participate in God’s work around the world. They’re also great at helping resource you to lead your students in better understanding God’s heard for the nations.

And this could even including sending students (particularly college students, in this case) to São Paulo, to participate in the very sorts of partnerships with Zoe Church that we got to this week!

So if you want to know more about any of these trips, other opportunities, resources, speakers for a missions event, or any other missions-related things, just email studentteam at imb.org, or call 800-789-4693.

keeping up with Zoe Church & the Julians

22 May

I want to really thank all of you for joining with us in São Paulo this week! The thousands of hits we’ve received on the blog have been a phenomenal encouragement, and I’m so glad you let us share our stories, our pictures, and our learnings!

There are a few more things to be added to this blog this weekend, so be sure to check back later if you’re interested in:

  • Awesome (and rather urgent) opportunities for individual students or teams of students to participate in international mission trips
  • Teaching notes from Michael Frost’s last two messages with us

By now, most of your friends and fam are on the last legs of their journeys home – or have already arrived (like me!). But the fantastic work of Zoe Church and our missionary friends, the Julians, continues! So for those of you who – like us – have been captivated by what God’s doing through Zoe Church and the Julians, you can keep up with their story!

To join the newsletter list to get a regular email about the work in São Paulo, go here to sign up:

http://strategicnetwork.org/mailman/listinfo/julian-family

Thanks everybody! Without the support and prayers of so many of you, this trip never would have been what it was.

things to ask when we’re home

21 May

If you’re reading this because you’ve got a family member, a friend, your minister, or another loved one, you’re about to get to hear first-hand all their individual color commentary on this amazing trip!

Need a handy-dandy guide for finding out the happy details of our trip? Here are some of the fun questions you can ask:

  • So how small was your hotel room?
  • Top bunk or bottom bunk?
  • Which school did you visit each day?
  • How’s your Portuguese?
  • Did you get to sleep on the plane?
  • What are you glad you packed?
  • Anything you wish you’d packed?
  • Which Zoe members did you connect with best?
  • Which Americans did you connect with best? Any new friends?
  • Did you get to go to any of the Starbucks gatherings?
  • How was the Zoe church service?
  • Did you give out any Free Hugs?
  • What was your favorite moment?
  • What was the weirdest moment?
  • What were the biggest differences between our culture and theirs?
  • What were the funniest moments?
  • What was the coolest thing you saw?
  • Did you drink… guarana, almond juice, açai juice, other interesting juices, Fanta?
  • What was your favorite weird kind of pizza from pizza night?
  • What kinds of meat – and how much – did you eat at the churrascarria?
  • Any interesting bathroom rules?
  • Which languages did you speak to get around: Portuguese, Spanish, English, other?
  • What were some spiritual conversations you had?
  • How will God use this to shape your ministry back home?
  • How will God use this to shape you?

Thanks for the help on some of these Qs from the team!

colégio quatro: University of São Paulo

21 May

The fourth campus that we’ve had a team at this week is the enormous University of São Paulo, a public university that happily sits adjacent to the “University City” stop on the subway. Apparently USP (which local residents cutely pronounce “oo-spee”) is one of the higher ranked colleges in the world.

I also know that this campus is big, and I’m truly quite unclear how much of it I actually explored on Thursday. (I never could find a map…) It certainly isn’t as “well-kept” as the private universities I’ve visited, and it’s also undergoing plenty of construction. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a magnificent campus, and it was a joy to explore this massively important “campus tribe.” (It’s also good to remember that “beauty” is different in different places; for instance, I know that graffiti is actually a part of São Paulo culture, so the “wall decor” below is probably very welcome.)

Of course, we’ve had a team ministering there all week. But some of our teammates also had the opportunity to observe (and potentially minster at) a large party that was being assembled Thursday night. I haven’t heard yet how that went, but it was supposedly very much a college party, organized by the Communications department, which somebody here noted is indeed a department known for being a little wild.

Some of the pictures below capture a little more of my exploration, starting with the incredible clock tower and beautiful grassy area in the center (or a center) of campus. I’ve also included pics of the various dogs that roamed the campus, the art museum in the middle of campus, the tables that provided my only opportunity to buy a USP T-shirt, and the cool courtyard within the Arts classroom complex.

our experience in (more) pictures

21 May

A couple of days ago, I uploaded several pics from our trip – thanks to all of you who took a look! Here’s another batch from throughout our trip. And while a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll do my best to give a little context… in less than a thousand words, where possible.

As usual, click to see a picture full-sized.

First, a picture taken one day by Ethan Lee, showing just how PACKED the subway system can get at rush hour. A local girl told me that she knew someone whose cell phone was broken by the crush of the crowds on the subway car!