Tag Archives: Church Planting and Discipleship

The importance of economics

I’m increasingly convinced economics are a key to the spiritual transformation of our region.  A few thoughts:

  • The Bible talks more about money than any other subject except love.  It talks more about money than about heaven and hell combined.
  • The indigenous people here are in bondage to a spirit of poverty.  That doesn’t just mean they’re poor.  It means they stay poor because they have very little belief they’re capable of helping themselves.  Five hundred years after the Spanish conquest, they’re still a conquered people.  They largely have a mentality that other people owe them something.  Instead of taking initiative to improve their situation, they wait for handouts from the government and from charitable groups.  It’s a spiritual bondage.
  • In many villages, 50% (or more) of working age men are in the U.S. because the villages have no economy and most jobs in towns like ours don’t pay enough.  The men stay gone for years at a time.  This is having a devastating impact on the region.  Wives are trying to support and raise families as single parents, and thousands of kids are growing up without fathers.  Very young kids are being left at home alone for hours at a time while Mom works.  In many cases, a husband starts a new family in the U.S. and never returns.
  • This area has a wealthy class of small business owners who are doing quite well, but they don’t pay their employees enough to live on.  This is a spiritual problem (James 5:1-4).
  • What economy this region does have (because it’s not in abject poverty) is a house of cards.  It is entirely dependent on outside sources, those being government handouts and money earned in the U.S., Canada, or other parts of Mexico.  When the world economy collapses, our region will take it on the chin unless it begins to utilize its own natural resources more effectively.  (This is difficult, because the government owns rights to most of the natural resources.)
  • The villages are built on agriculture, but the agriculture is not doing well.  Corn is the king crop, yet villages are buying corn grown in other places from the government at subsidized prices.  The agriculture must improve.
  • Most churches in the region gravitate strongly to a model of having paid clergy (which is perfectly biblical).  The trouble is pastors aren’t getting paid nearly enough to support a family, so they’re leaving their churches to work in the U.S. and the churches are then falling apart.  One issue here is the churches believe they can’t be obedient in giving due to their poverty – another spiritual problem.  See the example of the Macedonian churches, whose “extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4).
  • The other issue is the churches thinking their pastors should do all the work of the ministry since they’re being paid.  This is NOT biblical (Ephesians 4:11-13).  While churches are growing in obedience in giving, pastors could get more people involved in ministry and remove a huge stumbling block for the people by supporting themselves – IF they had good jobs with which to support themselves.

Those are some scattered thoughts; things that burden me as I look at our region and things that are affecting what we do.  If you’ve wondered where projects like a well drilling business fit into our church planting ministry, the above points are some of the pieces to the puzzle.

corn field

Fruitful Practices: What Does the Research Suggest?

The International Journal of Frontier Missions published an article discussing seven practices that were shown to produce fruit in church planting among Muslims.  Their information came from surveys and interviews with 300 church planters in the Muslim world, representing 34 different agencies.  They identified the seven practices by looking at what those workers who had planted the most churches were doing.  Though we are not working among Muslims, I found much of the information in the article pertinent to our ministry as well.

Here are the seven practices:

  1. Ministering in the heart language of the people, rather than in a trade language.  Having at least one team member who is highly fluent in that language.
    These were the two strongest associations with fruitfulness.  Much of the world speaks two or more languages.  This is true in our area, where the indigenous people speak their tribal languages as a first (heart) language, and their second language is the trade language (Spanish).

  2. Sharing the gospel orally through Bible stories.
    Much of the world also learn things and transmit information far more effectively orally than in written form.  Storying is something I’m trying to move into doing more of.

  3. Living out the gospel through an exemplary lifestyle adapted to the cultural values of those one is trying to reach.  Living in a way that shows obvious love and respect for their culture.
    In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says he became like whoever he was trying to reach.

  4. Using a transformational rather than an attractional model.  In other words, not trying to gather scattered people who have no prior relationship or trust with one another into a church.  Instead, working through already-existing networks of relationships.  When a person/family accepts Christ, help them then reach their family members and friends.
    Does anyone think the transformational model would result in healthier, more reproductive churches in the West, as well?

  5. Using a variety of creative means to communicate Scripture.
    Examples in the article included culturally relevant storying, radio and video dramas, oral and literate inductive studies, incorporating Scripture presentations in festivals, lifecycle celebrations, everyday use of proverbs, interactive websites, and phone texting.  What did NOT work were most of the Bible study packages from the West, which were culture bound and not relevant to local believers.

  6. Intentional reproduction.  Making spreading the gospel to other people part of new believers’ DNA from the very beginning.
    This is one of the main reasons we’re currently trying to win new believers more than we’re trying to work through existing churches.  We need new DNA in believers here, DNA that includes winning others to Christ.

  7. Fruitful workers are known as people of prayer, individually and corporately.
    Need I say more?

Current ministry plans

Right now is a bit of a regrouping time for me and the rest of our church planting team.  Last year, up through early summer, we went through a lot of turnover as many of our apprentices finished their time with our team.  The rest of the summer was largely a time of internal focus in preparation for GFM moving to the U.S.

Erin’s and my role with the team is now shifting into an actual focus on the church planting work, rather than on discipling other young church planting apprentices.  I mapped out some plans/goals for myself for the months of September through November.  I chose that time period because we’re planning on being the the U.S. for the month of December.  Here’s what I’m working on doing between now and then:

  • My top priority for September was doing anything needed to help get Grant and Jenn on their way to Atlanta.  This consumed most of the month for me.  Now I’m focusing on the following goals.
  • Network with every significant worker/leader in the region, getting to know them and what they’re doing.  I’ve made several great contacts already in recent months, including getting in touch by email with some missionaries who served here around the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  I still have a list of 8 or 10 people to meet with in the next few weeks.  I don’t want to proceed much further in ministry without a good idea of what’s happening in the region.
  • Develop a comprehensive list of written Bibles, recordings, and other ministry resources available in our region.  What languages, what translations of Spanish, where to get them, and how much they cost.  I’ve found most of the information I need already in recent weeks.  When I meet people from different villages, I want to know off the top of my head what resources are available in their languages.
  • Develop significant relationships in the hill community and the airstrip community through at least bi-weekly visits to each community.  These are very strategic places because they are made up of people from a bunch of different villages.  The primary goal of these relationships is to look for people who are receptive to the gospel who I can disciple.  A secondary goal, which keeps Immigration happy, is to identify together with the people ways I can serve them through community development, create action plans, and implement them.
  • Develop a Vision and Strategy Paper and Memo of Understanding for our team.  The VSP will describe who we’re working to reach, what the goals of our work are, and how we intend to work and what big steps we must take to accomplish our goals.  The MOU is an internal document for our team that establishes mutually agreed-upon guidelines for our work and how we’ll be accountable to one another.  These two documents will be born out of discussions with our newly solidified team in the coming weeks.  We got the idea for the VSP and the MOU from Daniel Sinclair’s book A Vision of the Possible, which is more or less a textbook for pioneer cross-cultural church planting in teams.
  • Help our team solidify their roles and implement ministry plans within our Mexican nonprofit.  What we do through our Mexican nonprofit is what gets us approved with Immigration to be in the country.  I’m currently helping David work through the implementation of a well drilling rig he has spent months building.  I’m also working with Rhonda, Nick, and Sarah to get a more established ongoing medical outreach rolling in area villages.  I hope to blog more about these activities soon.
  • Coach new church planters in the region on language learning and acculturation.  Erin and I are currently working with our new team member, Sarah.  I have also been communicating with a new church planting team that’s arriving tomorrow in a town two hours from us.  I’m helping get them settled in, and I’ll be visiting them every couple of weeks to help them get rolling in Mexico.  We’ve benefited tremendously from those who have helped us along the way.  Though we’re far from experts after only five years, I enjoy the opportunity to help others by passing on things we have learned and tips based on our experiences.
  • Implement my tribe building plan.  I have a passion to use modern technology to help connect those back home to the work on the field better than has ever been possible.  My tribe building plan currently consists of my online presence and communication.  I have a number of improvements planned, as well as a couple of entirely new things that I intend to roll out in the coming weeks.
  • Do one hour a week of voice recorder drills to work on my accent, inflection, and fluency in Spanish.  I get along very well in Spanish, but I need to continue to push myself to improve.  The only time I should ever relax about my Spanish ability would be if I reached the level of a native speaker.  I think these drills are one of the best things someone learning a foreign language can do.  I’m pulling them from Language Acquisition Made Practical by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster.
  • Read a local newspaper at least once a week, learning words, expressions, and constructions I’m not familiar with.  I think reading local newspapers is also a great exercise.  They’re written at a level a junior high or high school student can understand, they use everyday language common to the area, and they cover a wide range of topics, including many that don’t often get touched in conversation.  Newspapers are a goldmine for new, useful vocabulary.

Our transition from discipling church planting apprentices to focusing ourselves on church planting is in full swing.  As you can see, I’m currently focused on a lot of setup work to get us in a position for good church planting work.  My current ministry plans are a little light on connecting with villagers.  Coming back in January, though, we’ll be well-connected with other leaders in the region, knowing exactly what’s going on and where the areas of greatest need are.  Our team will have a plan of action in place.  We’ll be armed with the best available resources for our work.  I’ll have a system in place for connecting with friends back home and taking you along on the journey.  I’ll be in a rhythm of ongoing Spanish practice.  So from January on, I expect my time to be weighted quite a bit more heavily towards direct connections and discipleship with villagers.

We love sharing the ministry with you, so your comments or questions are welcome!

Advice from Grant and Jenn

Recently, our church planting team sat down with Grant and Jenn Haynes to get their parting words of advice based on years of ministry in southern Mexico.  Here are some of the points they shared:

  • Be really careful whose house a church meets in.  Because there are so many divisions and gossip around here, choosing the wrong house can cause a lot of problems.
  • Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.  Don’t latch on to one person too fast when they become receptive to God.  Keep working with a few different people.
  • “We’ve never seen it go well when money gets involved with anyone.”  Be extremely careful about finances being any part of your relationship with someone.
  • As much as possible, never do anything by yourself.  Always have a Mexican on your hip.
  • Discipleship in small groups (say, 3 or 4) is better than one-on-one around here, because with a couple of Mexicans present a person can’t lie about what they’ve been doing.  In one-on-one situations, people are often tempted to lie in order to save face.
  • It’s time for a season of broad scattering of the seed of the Word among many people.
  • Don’t get too married to any one model of church or ministry.
  • The goal is to see the gospel spreading through people’s natural relationship groupings (oikos is the Greek word).  The problem around here is that people’s oikos are small because of divisions and gossip.  Most people don’t have many good friends.  Really pray against that stronghold of gossip.
  • Keep hanging out with God and getting His perspective.  Only talking strategy and looking at the size of the task can be depressing.  Look at the Promised Land, not at the giants.

There’s a lot of good stuff there!  I’m glad we got that time with Grant and Jenn before they leave.

Finally, a visit to my friend’s village

For a while, my friend Don P. has been saying I’ll have to come visit his village, and yesterday we were finally able to make it happen.  I was out there for about six hours and got to help him with a house he’s building, read quite a bit from the Bible, and eat lunch.

Don P. belongs to one of the two main groupings of indigenous people in our area.  I don’t want to use the actual names of the groups because I don’t want people around here Googling this, so here’s what I’ll do: I’m going to start calling the two groups the Mixed people and the Tree people.  If you’ve been around here, I think you’ll know who I’m talking about.  If not, and you want to know, send me an email and I’ll tell you who they are.  So Don P. belongs to one of the tribes of the Tree people.

When I got there he showed me a spring on his property, and we talked about ways to collect the water and pump it up to his house.  He then wanted to read the Bible, so we read the story of the Prodigal Son followed by the creation story.  Though Don P. didn’t know it, I was following the listing of stories for evangelism found in the Shepherd’s Storybook.  The Shepherd’s Storybook is a resource developed by our church planting coach and his wife, Robert and Anne Thiessen, and is available for free download at paul-timothy.net.

We enjoyed a tasty lunch of egg and bean tacos made with fresh corn tortillas cooked over a fire, then we headed outside and worked on a house Don P. is building for his nephew.  After two or three hours of working and talking, we came back around to reading some passages in the Bible that addressed questions Don P. was asking.  He wanted to know why, if God created all the animals, they kill and eat one another.  He thought it was pretty cool to see how Isaiah says they will one day live in harmony once more.  Then we looked at passages relating to death and eternal life, because Don P. was saying he’s heard Christians say you’ll have eternal life, but that can’t be because they all die.  Finally, he got pretty fired up hearing testimonies I shared of how we’ve seen God miraculously heal people, and he thought sometime soon we should look for a sick person who has faith in God to heal and pray for that person.

It was a good time together, with a lot of seeds of the Word planted.  Please pray that God will cause the seed to take root in his heart and grow and bear fruit.

I intend to write a separate post describing a couple of interesting spiritual things I learned about Don P.’s village.  Update: Read what I learned about spiritual realities here.

Another trip to the airstrip

This past Saturday evening I headed back out to the airstrip for another visit.  I saw the teacher who was one of the two guys I talked to last time, and he invited me to sit down for a while and talk.  We had a good conversation about a variety of topics—generating electricity, culture, teaching, the Bible, his community, etc.  He strikes me as a pretty neat guy who (so far) doesn’t seem too standoffish around me.  He’s from a people group in our area that has been known for being very resistant to outsiders and tough to penetrate with the gospel.

While up there, I met one other new family from a different people group and a lady who is their neighbor from across the strip.  I had a nice chat with them as well, delving into spiritual topics some.  They have a very outgoing five-year-old girl (their youngest) who wants me to bring Lauryn and Molly to play the next time I come for a visit.

As for generating electricity, that still seems to have possibilities.  The teacher is quite interested in the project and doesn’t seem put off by the idea of a simple solar system for one home costing several hundred dollars.  I got a better sense of how much electricity families up there use, which will help us be more focused in research.  It sounds like most families have a couple of light bulbs, and radios and TVs are common.  About four families have a kind of portable, wash-only (no spin cycle) washing machine that many in this area use.  The teacher said we don’t have too much else to worry about, so the needs aren’t too intense.

Rob, our church planting coach, was pointing out to me that I should take the teacher along to an internet cafe when I go to do some more study.  We want to include the people of the community in each step of the process as much as possible, so they’ll take ownership of the project.  To the extent that I do research by myself and bring my findings back to them, they’ll conclude that they’re not capable of figuring these things out.  The whole idea of community development is to help the people of a community organize themselves to solve their own problems, eventually without outside help.

I think things are going well out there.  I’m looking forward to my next trip out.  I had hoped that would be tomorrow, but now I finally have an invite from my friend Don P to his village, so I don’t know when I’ll make it to the airstrip.  Maybe Sunday.  The teacher mentioned he knows a village about ten hours away where a guy set up a nice solar system and sells electricity to his neighbors.  When I expressed interest, the teacher offered to take a weekend sometime and take me out there to check it out.  Hopefully we’ll be able to make that happen sometime this summer.

Thanks again to everyone who commented on my last airstrip post or sent me emails sharing your ideas and resources.  Your input has been extremely helpful, and I invite your continuing ideas and feedback.  I appreciate your being part of the team!

Vincent Donovan on the rejection of Christianity

In this excerpt from page 82 of Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered, he reflects on the gospel being rejected by a Masai village. Donovan spent an entire year making difficult weekly treks out to this particular village to bring the Christian message. He shared with them everything he had to share, they understood it all, and he felt they were very ready for baptism. When decision time came, though, they rejected the gospel. I admire Donovan a lot for his response at that point. He did not try to talk to them more, share in a different way, or make the gospel more palatable. Masai villages make decisions as an entire community, and he did not then try and single out individuals who he thought might be willing to be baptized. He simply thanked them for their time and attention and, recognizing his work there was done, walked away.

Here are his reflections on the episode (remembering that he speaks from a Catholic perspective):


But there was an end to my work with these people. There were no moves left to make. The only reason I came these thousands of miles was to bring them this Christian message. They rejected it. There was nothing else I could do. My missionary obligation to them was finished.Perhaps the most important lesson I was ever to learn in my missionary life, I learned that day: that Christianity, by its very essence, is a message that can be accepted–or rejected; that somewhere close to the heart of Christianity lies that terrible and mysterious possibility of rejection; that no Christianity has any meaning or value, if there is not freedom to accept it or reject it. It is not an automatic thing, coming like a diploma after four or eight years of schooling and examinations, or after one year of instruction. It must be presented in such a way that rejection of it remains a distinct possibility. The acceptance of it would be meaningless if rejection were not possible. It is a call, an invitation, a challenge even, that can always be refused. The Christianity of a born Catholic or of a produced Catholic (the result of an automatic baptism following a set period of instructions) which is never once left open to the freedom of rejection, to the understanding that it is a thing freely accepted or rejected–is a dead and useless thing.Since that day, I have never seen those people of that village again, but I remember them as I remember no other people that I have come across in all my missionary years. For me, at least, they are distinct. They are unique. I feel a tremendous respect for them. They taught me something that no other people in Africa have ever taught me.

But it took a long time for that lesson to sink in. Day after day I found myself returning in thought to that moment at high noon in the hot equatorial sun when I heard no! for the first time. And I never remember any other time when the silence and the solitude of the African nights seemed so complete.

(Above photo courtesy of TangoPango)

Who appoints leaders in the church?

I have said that this year I want to learn more about leadership and authority structure in the church. Alan Knox intrigued me this past week with his republished post “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers“. Here’s an excerpt:

According to Acts 20:28 (above), it is the Holy Spirit who makes someone a pastor. Does the Holy Spirit do this as a response to the actions of a church? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe that the Holy Spirit makes someone an overseer regardless of the actions or lack of actions of the church itself.

In other words, the Holy Spirit places someone in a group of believers and subsequently gives that person the responsibility of “caring for” (that is, being an overseer for) that group of believers. The church is then supposed to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit and to recognize that individual as an overseer.

This is an interesting thought, one that has some scriptural support, and one that goes against a lot of our actual practice in the church. Alan’s post caught my attention because I was thinking about similar things this past week.

Last Tuesday, at our weekly church planting team meeting, a couple members of our team were relating challenges they’ve been facing with a budding home fellowship. This fellowship has two couples who meet together semi-regularly for Bible study, prayer, etc. One man is viewed by the four adults involved as the leader of the group, though he has not officially been given that position. Some holes in his leadership, possibly rooted in some sin issues, were concerning our team because of the negative effect they could have on the fellowship. They asked my advice.

Though this man is not an “official” leader in the fellowship, I focused on the fact that the rest of the group views him as a leader. They are placing themselves under his authority. God has driven home to me recently that (without arguing technicalities) the only time to disobey someone in authority over us is if that person tells us to sin. The leader in question was not telling others to sin.

Some might say this man shouldn’t be in leadership or doesn’t actually have any authority. Maybe the other members of the fellowship should resist him if he’s not leading in a good way. Whether or not humans have formally placed this man in authority, though, I could not see advising other members of the flock to step out from under his covering if they have submitted themselves already to his spiritual authority. It seems that they have given him authority. And maybe their submission to him is actually an extension of the Holy Spirit giving him authority.

If this man is not in leadership, the only other choices are the other man in the group (who is great but doesn’t seem cut out for leadership), the two wives in the group (we won’t raise those questions here), or members of our expatriate church planting team (we are trying to empower local leaders and work ourselves out of a job). I advised our team to instruct the rest of the group to continue to submit to this leader’s authority and then pray that God would bring about any needed changes in his life.

Our conversation took place Tuesday morning. By Saturday morning, our two church planters who raised the issue already had a great testimony of a noticeable change taking place in the life of their disciple.

This post is more just a “thinking out loud” regarding a situation, rather than a tidy box of something I feel like I’ve figured out. I welcome any perspectives or additional thoughts you, my readers, would like to contribute in the comments.

What do you think of my advice to our church planting team? Can the Holy Spirit place someone in a position of authority in a church without it ever being formally recognized by the people?

Is a negative spin ever positive?

I lead a church planting team. God wants to transform our region of Mexico with the gospel, and I have a deep desire to see that happen. I, therefore, am trying to be a more and more effective leader.

Talking about things in negative terms is generally somewhat taboo in Christian circles (at least in theory). “We need to encourage; to focus on the positives,” we say.

Many of us probably realize, though, that mistakes can be far better teachers than getting it right. I am on a steep learning curve right now, and almost everything I’m learning is by mistakes. Can talking about mistakes, about negatives, about what not to do be an effective way to teach others, then? I think that, at least at times, it can be an effective means of communication. I applied this line of thought recently in my post entitled ‘What discipleship is not‘. But how often and/or to what extent should we use this technique (if at all)?

I got to thinking more about this because of a post on Copyblogger this past week talking about the power of negative examples as teachers. Here is an interesting excerpt:

Wendy Joung performed behavioral training research on firefighters in 2006, and the results are published in Applied Psychology. She and her colleagues found that firefighters trained with case studies that focused on others who had made poor decisions and suffered adverse consequences ultimately showed better judgment and better adaptive thinking than a control group provided with case studies that focused on positive results.

Bottom line – mistakes teach better than successes. You might already know this from your own life.

How much does this apply to my leadership of a church planting team? Can we be better church planters by talking and thinking about what not to do?

I would love to hear some feedback from my readers on this one, including from GFMers. Any thoughts?

Follow-up to ‘Changes on the horizon for GFM’

In my last post, I described a couple of strategic discussions GFM staff would be having on our annual staff retreat. Here is the current result of the questions we asked and the subsequent discussions:

How can GFM more effectively disciple those who are part of our body?
We’re not making any large shifts in response to this question, but some positive incremental changes are taking place. Most significantly, our staff has a greater focus this year on the need for good discipleship in the context of relationships. I think we are gradually realizing that programs don’t necessarily produce good disciples, discipleship does. This doesn’t mean that programs can’t produce good disciples, but in order to do so they must incorporate effective relational discipleship.

In the long run, we would like to see every person who is a student, staff member, or apprentice with GFM being discipled in a one-on-one relationship with someone else. This is difficult for us right now, because some of those who would be good disciplers are tied up with other responsibilities (such as learning Spanish), and we are stretched thin overall. For this year, we figured out who is available to disciple others, and then we encouraged each staff member and apprentice to 1) seek out a relationship with someone who will commit to discipling them and/or 2) to set up a regular accountability group with two or three people. We have all done this, and the result is that far more focused discipleship will be taking place this year.

What should be the relationship between the long-term (church planting) and the short-term (mission trips, summer internships, etc.) work?
The outcome of this discussion was interesting. We are now realizing that, with our current strategy, it’s difficult for every mission trip we host to significantly augment the long-term church planting work. Mission trip outreaches in our town are able to serve people in practical ways and help the image of our Mexican non-profit organization, but we are worried that hosting so many trips in our town could also begin to hurt the work due to the presence of so many foreigners year after year. Mission trip outreaches here are able to make new contacts for our church planting team (CPT), but we are also seeing that our CPT is really busy with the relationships they already have and not able to effectively follow up on very many new contacts.

What we are now going to try and do is let the church planting work play a greater role in deciding what outreaches happen on mission trips. If the CPT says a certain outreach in our town would help them, that’s what the mission trip team will do. If CPT doesn’t really need anything at the time of the outreach, then we will take the mission trip team to a village in our area, rather than increasing the foreign presence in our town without providing a definite benefit to the church planting work. We love exposing people to mission work through mission trips, and in the villages they will be able to serve in practical ways while having a more neutral impact on the long-term work. We have plenty of experience taking mission trip teams to villages, because for years that’s always what we did with them. We find that some mission trip teams are happy to serve GFM by helping out with different projects at our base, so we are planning on making that more of an option as well.

Here are the different types of mission trips that may now happen with GFM:

  1. CPT asks for an outreach in our town, so the mission trip team digs a well or puts on a medical clinic or teaches an English class or does anything that the CPT requests.
  2. The team goes out to a village and coordinates with the government to provide some kind of service there. Such outreaches could include things like providing a medical clinic, teaching an English class, or putting on a community health program for kids. Though it is no secret we are Christians, these outreaches would be done under the name of our Mexican non-profit organization, rather than under the name of a church or mission group.
  3. The team goes out to a village and comes under the authority of a Christian church there, serving them in any way they request.
  4. The team stays at our GFM base and helps out with any work projects we may have going on at the time.

As always, all mission trips will continue to include two days of training at our base on the front end of the trip, and a debrief day at the end of the trip. We hope these new options will allow us to continue to expose people to mission work among the least-reached, while also more effectively serving the needs of the long-term work.