Archive for Upstream
Often, I have the opportunity to talk with people about partnership opportunities in various parts of the UK. One key link I often refer them to is a 5 minute piece that gives a quick run down on how to understand the UK. It seems this is about as simple as it gets…and no, that is not so simple.
For some time I have followed the writings and blurbs put out by Justin Long with Mission to Unreached Peoples at his blog–The Long View. I would encourage those interested in mission to unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPG) to follow Justin on the Twitters or add his site to your RSS feed. One recent piece of his is, in my opinion, worth special attention due to the weight and timing of the topic and the swarm theory applied to the SBC he put into his piece entitled “2 major challenges Southern Baptists face in getting churches to engage the unreached.” Before reading any further here, go read his piece. If that’s all you get out of this post, then still it was probably worth your time. Seeing the Southern Baptist Convention as a swarmish entity is uber helpful especially in light of the daunting task of making massive change in default behavior. (Again, let me encourage you to read Long’s piece before going any further here.)
To restate Long’s two cautions in the referenced piece:
- Can Southern Baptists change the default of SB churches as it relates to international missions?
- Will Southern Baptists cooperate with others outside of the convention in the efforts to embrace UUPGs?
The first caution is a good question that I will not pretend to answer, but I will share that the desired change in default is, I believe, highly substantive and positive. It is encouraging to see that the language and expectations imb is holding out to SB churches is changing. Over the past several years I have seen imb be more open to the idea of the church functioning as a missionary–which I would credit my friends and cohorts at The Upstream Collective to a great extent for promoting and holding out this idea of the Sending Church. In the past I have seen imb consider sending churches as those that would do non-strategic or non-critical work to free up company personnel to do the strategic roles such as engaging new peoples and areas. Now, however, with the vision that Dr. Tom Elliff–the recently elected imb president–is conveying, it is a call for all to participate. All are to play critical, strategic roles in taking the gospel to the nations. Churches are being asked to partner with imb to embrace the unengaged. To be clear here, embracing a people is for the intended purpose of leading to engagement. To do this among one people is significant and challenging. To seek to do it among 3800 at one time is one of the more lofty and complex challenges undertaken historically in missions. It must be of God if it is to succeed at any level and the activity must be scalable and largely driven by a vast number of smaller swarms (as Long points out).
Exactly what the minimum default expectation and activity looks like is being ironed out as different leaders pose and grapple with this issue. These expectations should be public soon.
On the second caution, I strongly agree that the SB swarm is more likely to be effective in the end goal of engaging the UUPGs if the effort is not exclusive. It seems helpful to remember that this commitment to reaching UPGs and ultimately UUPGs was birthed 11 years ag0 at table 71. As part of a larger group of like-minded Great Commission Christian organizations, imb accepted the challenge to take the gospel to those that do not have access to it.
If one holds to the theology that once an individual from every nation, tribe, people and language has made Christ their Lord, then Christ will return, then it would be best to admit that mission is really about the existing followers of Christ rather than those that have not heard. In other words, if evangelicals can get one person from every people to pray a prayer of salvation, then those that believe can finally get out of here sooner. Were this to be a correct eschatological view, which I question strongly, then the task is not about reaching peoples, but reaching a person from each of the peoples. However, this view does not seem consistent with the whole of Scripture for a number of reasons including that we read of Christ’s guts churning when He beheld the masses that were “like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus consistently was concerned about individuals and masses. He spent his ministry years continuing to share primarily with one people group. His passion was about seeing people become followers of the Most High God. Regarding Revelation 7:9 and eschatology, Elliff states that this is not a cause and effect relationship. Instead of a causal situation, this can be viewed as coincidental in nature. Our responsibility is obedience to take the gospel to the nations. The timing of Christ’s return is known only by God the Father.
If this is about the peoples of each people group and not about a person from each group being compelled by the Savior, then it seems that partnershipping is of increased value and importance (please allow the word for extra emphasis). SB churches, entities and imb must be in partnership for this to work to fulfill the imb vision. Even further, partnership with other like-minded churches and agencies is essential to reach the peoples among the unengaged and unreached peoples. Elliff’s responsibility and station is to seek to influence the swarm that is SB. It is my hope that through the language that he uses and the messages–both overt and meta–imb sends this week and in the coming months that other swarms beyond the SB affiliated will be influenced and encouraged to see churches, agencies and networks be about reaching both UUPGs and UPGs.
Finally on this point, I want to reiterate Long’s point that others will believe because of the unity of the believers in Christ. While the instruction is simple yet often difficult for us to live, “they will know we are Christians by our love for one another.” Partnership is essential. And based on what I am hearing, it is welcomed by imb leadership.
In addition to Long’s concerns, I will offer two aspects that I believe will be critical for the Embrace effort to be successful. One of these is timeless in missions and the second a bit more specific to this vision.
First, churches must prayerfully seek to answer the question: “To whom are we sent?” The Embrace conversation may influence this significantly, but ultimately a people should go only as the Lord directs. Whether to a UUPG, a UPG, Dearborn, MI or even a town in the U.S. Bible belt, both the individual and the church would do well to go those to whom she is sent.
Second, Embrace is a commitment to see the effort through. If the church is going to those people that the Lord has sent them to, then the Embrace effort will not be contingent on the presence of the initiating pastor or other church leader. I envision a future question for staff hires including the senior pastor to be whether or not he senses that God is leading him to be sent to the people that the church has already embraced. This is a commitment to see the task through to fulfillment. At this point, the church would do well to calibrate expectations in terms of a decade or more rather than think in years. The call to Embrace is not a call for the preservation or development of imb or for the enrichment or ease of the church. This is a call to obedience. A call to be about the Great Commission. Embrace is ultimately a call to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
*These ramblings are my own and are not the official position of any person, agency or church. Where the arguments are lucid and helpful, there is a good chance that these points are influenced by other persons. Where they are unclear or unhelpful, there is a good chance that is mine.
This was the last talk that Michael Frost gave during our recent JetSet trip to Prague and Budapest. He gives several mission catalyzing principles. Christ focused, highly practical–good stuff. If you haven’t seen this piece yet, I encourage you to carve out 40 minutes and make it happen. Probably best to watch this with someone(s) with whom you are doing life.
Following “my name is ____,” the very next sentence he shared was: “I am also a Christian on the edge.” Others shared, “I am on the fringe.” Still others did not even know how to describe their situation. I heard this repeatedly during our recent Upstream JetSet in Prague and Budapest. There was even concern that none of the “leaders” were at one of the Frost One Day events. What these on the edge were saying was that the leaders of the long-standing church were missing. We were gathered as the planters, the rebels, perhaps the misfits according to some.
Undoubtedly we worked with and took some fringe guys on the journey with us too. (And no, I am not trying to exclude myself from this group.) I heard multiple stories of metric discombobulation and concerns about missiology and ecclesiology and its outworkings. It is not uncommon for me to have conversations via various communication modes about this fringe issue–about us. But I’m not sure that makes it easier for those that are out there who feel alone and cut off.
Be encouraged, you are not alone. You have a leader. I don’t think it an accident that Christ’s first miracle recorded in the gospel of John was to turn water into wine using the ceremonial jars–all of them. Though His time had not yet come, He took the opportunity, while honoring His mama, to start conveying that things may not be as right as they seem in the religious realm. This was just the beginning of course. He still would be accused of being a drunkard and glutton. This accusation was believable by many as Jesus often spent time with those that were the unwashed eating and drinking in their homes. (e.g. Matthew, Zacchaeus, a band of Samaritans in John 4). Tragically ironic, it would be the religious leaders that crucified the Messiah who was so often on the edge.
Be encouraged, you are not alone. You have a tribe. There is a band across the globe of those that are seeking to walk as Jesus did whether that puts them in the mainstream or on the fringe. Partner with these around you and walk together. Continue to bless and encourage each other. Draw from each other’s passion, creativity, stories of triumph and stories of failure. Know that there are places and networks where these fringe are likely to gather. These networks are relationally based. Good luck climbing a social ladder here. This is about people walking together on mission in grace.
Being on the fringe is not about a fight to be won. There is not a position of leadership that needs to be sought and attained. Ours is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” Ours is to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ….” Ours is to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ours is to love deeply both the washed and the unwashed as we continue to experience the “breadth and length and height and depth” of His love.
Take courage. I am so thankful that you are who you are.
I hadn’t seen this clip in years, but it kept replaying in my mind. For some reason I heard Dreyfus’ voice when I typed the word “misfits.” Almost discarded the word, but thought it even better to include the clip here.
In talking with many national leaders and planters throughout our time on the Prague / Budapest JetSet trip, one of the most compelling stories for me and many of our trip participants was about how God had moved among the Czech people and was drawing them to himself. It was the story of Sasha Flek, but it was a parallel story of his country and a post-Christian world.
Sasha told of his journey in coming to Christ which was instrumental in many of his friends being transformed, though not in the sequencing one might expect. Later, led to translate the Bible into a contemporary version of Czech, which was completed a couple years ago, he continued to see God stirring the hearts of people throughout the country as the whole text was and is read annually at Easter in town squares throughout the country.
This brief interview gives some more insight into the Czech worldview which Flek describes as anti-clerical or anti-institutional. He gives some of his cultural exegesis in how to speak to his postmodern, post-Christian countrymen.
Unfortunately we did not get Sasha’s full story on video, but we do have the audio. It was a huge blessing and encouragement to me. I would encourage you to give it a listen if you can invest the time. Here is a link for the audio on The Upstream Collective sight. By the way, his story includes an amazing phenomenon that has started in the last several years in the Czech Republic because of the Easter holiday. Thought I would share that in case anyone is still looking for a good Easter illustration. (smile)
In our first meeting in Prague for this JetSet we began to lay a framework for helping the Sending Church begin the process of exegeting a different culture. For the central European region, this exegesis must include attention to the deep, long-lasting scars left from the Communist era. This reality translates into a number of unique issues including a pervasive lack of trust. While cognitively, this is not difficult to comprehend, information is often not enough to grasp the intensity of the issue and the resulting severity of the impact.
To aid in better understanding the events that have shaped the Czech and Hungarian people, we spent a couple hours in the House of Terror in Budapest which recounted some of the horror that came through the Nazi and Soviet occupations. To give insight into some of the unbridled evil that men inflicted on others, we shot a brief interview with some immediate responses from a couple of trip participants.
Many of the stories that came through were difficult for me personally. I may share some of that in the months ahead as it may seem helpful. But in this post in addition to pointing to the video and putting it in context, I will share a portion of the museum’s provided information in the room that chronicled what occurred during this era between the state and the church:
“Both Nazism–promoting racial war–and Communism–advocating class-war–regarded religion as their enemy. Whilst the totalitarian dictatorships persecuted and murdered their victims based on collective criteria, religion looks upon sin and practices forgiveness on the basis of individual responsibility. Both the Nazis and the Communists replaced God with their own leaders, whom they presented as infallible and omniscient. They swore allegiance to their leader, went into battle in his name, and surrounded his person with rituals befitting an idol.”
The church in Hungary was squelched during the Communist era. Several of her leaders sought to carry on to be a people of forgiveness and justice but the persecution and purges proved to take out many of the leaders. With the state so concerned about the power of this humility and others-focus that is to be characteristic of those identified with the name of Christ, the church’s response remains an example for us today. Even a post-Christian world will take notice and have to determine what to do with a church that will seek to be revolutionaries willing to return good for when evil is meted out by others and to be a voice and advocate for those that are without.
It was a glorious night at the furthest corner of a sprawling, underground restaurant / pub. In this bunker, we shared our stories, laughed with and perhaps a few times at each other, and had a couple Czech guys tell what the Lord has done and is doing in their lives. (Audio of the stories will be posting soon at the Upstream site.) If for no other reason than this night, the trip was a personal gain–an enriching time. All the while though, something dreadful was taking place. It was something none of us could see, but it was among us and impacting our lives both that night and, undoubtedly, for the rest of our trip.
Each of us as we put on whatever we deem sleeping attire (though I am not certain I wonder if Frost was wearing his white satin nightgown that he finds so inspiring), it hit us. Now woven into our clothes was “the stink”. Not only was it now part of our clothes it had been baked onto our skin and saturated our hair–not exactly a problem for all of us. Tossing the clothes aside and scrubbing well, I thought it was all over–we had conquered. That was until I repacked my stuff to head for the train this morning. Folding up a shirt it hit me again. The reek of the stink is pervasive.
So now with my shirt and jeans laden with the stink packed in a closed case with my clean clothes, I am afraid that the stink will have multiplied and nested in each fiber by the time we open our bags. I’m afraid we will be living with the stink for the rest of our time. Of course it’s not such a big deal to stink if everyone else around you does also, but then again maybe we can try to have an upcoming missional conversation in a laundromat.
In one week I’ll be in Prague, Czech Republic with some friends old and new as we JetSet there and in Budapest, Hungary. Together we will be seeking to continue on a journey to learn and live the ways of Christ as we sharpen and encourage each other along with other planters both expat and nationals. One overarching question for our time together will be the hallmark issue of The Upstream Collective–What does it look like for the church to think and act like a missionary?
Throughout our time from April 12-20 we will have as special guests Michael and Caroline Frost. As he has played such a huge role in helping to shape my missiology and ecclessiology, I am confident that they will be a blessing and challenge again to me but also to others.
I would be honored to have you follow along and participate in the conversation that will be happening both in person and online. Feel free to check in here often as Grady Bauer, myself and most likely some other special guests will be sharing their thoughts and responses as the conversation unfolds and at the UC site, the Twitterverse (#js2011) and other blogs and Facebook pages.
Finally, I want to strongly encourage you to consider not just taking this virtual trip with us, but also to consider walking through it with others you are doing life with. It will be, I believe, a very worthwhile investment of your time. I am including a video of a previous JetSet trip in which I was privileged to participate to help give you a better idea of some of what this virtual experience could be like.
Hope to see you there–virtually.
Last week The Upstream Collective launched themissionbook.com–a new resource for so much that is mission. It was my privilege to help brainstorm a bit of what this resource could be as we were throwing around ideas for the development of a piece to advance the conversation of missions. The idea we dreamed up and the tool that was born did not match up exactly, but maybe that is a good thing. As collaborators, we are so pleased with what did come out as the still-in-development product. Sure there are still some web tweaks being done to the site (I was told it was done with j-query for any tech geeks out there that care about that stuff) but most importantly it’s a place to join the conversation.
Share your one-page contribution. Comment on the voices that are out there. Feel free to share things you agree or even disagree with via Facebook or Twitter. As a tool for furthering the conversation of missions, we feel this one has all the potential to do just that and it has already started. Having you participate in the exploration and discussion could very well make it a more meaningful conversation.
This week I have the privilege of traveling with some of my favorite guys to participate in the regional RCN meetings throughout the sunny peninsula as we talk about what it can look like for the city church to think and participate globally. For those that will be at these gatherings, I look forward to meeting you. For those that will not be able to participate, I ask for your prayer for God to bless these conversations and would encourage you to learn about the city church through an interview at the Upstream site as well as at the Reproducing Churches Network site.
In Lakeland on Monday, we had a great time of prayer, encouragement, and seeking to learn and meet where possible the needs of others. This group, the start of city church as it is being expressed here in Florida at present, was one of the healthiest groups of leaders living out the New Testament that I have seen in the U.S. It was a blessing to hear some of what the church is doing regarding orphans, the homeless, those living in projects and others.
Several shared with me that God is at work in the I-4 corridor which runs across central Florida. This is evident through what was shared and consistent with the reality that some 20 plus guys were meeting together in one group meeting this month and spread out in smaller groups most other months to pray for their city. These leaders have consistently lead their respective gatherings to be in prayer every week for other churches in their community whether or not they are participating as an active part of the city church group.
It is beautiful.