Saturday, October 20, 2012

A lie from the pit of hell

Okay, it isn't that bad, but I needed to grab your attention!

We were due to train a group in door-knocking yesterday, then take them out, but one by one they dropped off, so we postponed the training. One lady turned up unexpectedly, so we chatted with her for a while, hearing of her enthusiasm but also her fading confidence. "We need to earn the right to witness" she explained.

I've heard this so many times before. It is borne out of people's experience apparently, but when pressed very few can remember when they last caused offence by talking about Jesus - because we just don't do it any more. So it has become a mantra which justifies our decision to conveniently avoid something we find uncomfortable.

I disagree both for pragmatic and theological reasons. Yesterday we went out for a good walk, and on our way home collected a hitch-hiker, and took him to the train station. We chatted about job, family, holiday weekends, and Jesus. Yes, Jesus. The topic slipped easily and naturally into our conversation, and as he said he had never heard an explanation of why Jesus came, died, and rose again, we told him. Then the conversation carried on, easily and naturally. He was not in the least embarrassed, offended or upset that we touched on our faith. He responded in kind, telling us what he believed and how it shaped his life. This has been our experience time and time again this year. Not once have we been told to earn the right before speaking of Jesus.

Now the theological bit. I have been uneasy for a while with a model of evangelism which relies on me - either to live such an outstanding life that people ask me questions which lead to a conversation about Jesus, or to carry out acts of selfless kindness which somehow earn me the right to share my faith. I find it hard to see this in the Bible. Indeed, my conclusion today is that Jesus earned the right when he died on the cross. He earned the right for every man, woman and child on this planet to have the good news communicated effectively in ways they can understand and respond to. And this will nearly always involve words.

I will go further, and say that Christians have no right to NOT talk about Jesus. There are numerous commands in the New Testament that we should tell others of Jesus, live in such a way as to demonstrate kingdom life, and help others do the same. I see no suggestions that we should wait for the right moment, speak only when spoken to, or ever deny another person the opportunity to hear about, experience and understand God's incredible love.

"You must earn the right to witness." Not quite a lie from the pit of hell, but...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Southland reflections part one


My Southland journey began with a non-eventful flight from Auckland to Dunedin, enlivened only by a group of  energetic slightly rowdy Maori youngsters, and I could not help pondering what great gospel ambassadors they would make.

Not everyone feels this way, but I love Dunedin. The city exudes a gentle confidence in itself, and its Christians reflect this. I am sometimes intimidated by my fellow followers of Jesus who seemingly possess an absolute assurance, radiate an effervescent spirituality and enjoy daily intimacy with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe – but Dunedin folk are not like that.

I am greeted at the airport by a good friend, a man of intense faith, whose generosity of spirit and humble servanthood prove a challenge to my complacent arrogance on every visit. He lends me his car each time, joyfully. I arrive at my home for one night to be greeted with the news that the man of the house is in hospital recovering from an operation – I had deliberately not been told beforehand. Such selfless kindness.

I spend an hour with Bishop Kelvin – my favourite bishop to chat to. He wears the purple well; and is a man who knows and loves God deeply and well but feels no need to display his holiness, a man of deep thought and gentle wisdom. In another time and place Kelvin would undoubtedly be guiding and leading a diocese into growth, but this is 2012 and Dunedin diocese has massive struggles. The diocese feels as though it doesn’t quite know how it ended up in this place – and Kelvin perhaps reflects this! It has the air of the family member who is always looked down upon and kept at a distance, though such thoughts are never expressed of course. I think it has at times been used as a political football, seen as relatively easy prey for those wishing to push through their own agenda, rather than considering the good of the Diocese, or the Kingdom of God.

 Financial meltdown and declining numbers mean that change is absolutely inevitable. Some sing “change and decay in all around I see” as if the two need to belong together, but Kelvin sees hope beyond the pain, and God beyond the decline. He reminded me of St Aidan, who wandered the highways and byways, chatting with people wherever he met them, and telling them of Jesus, until one day most of Northumbria was following the way of Jesus. That is my commission as I wander Southland for the next 8 days.

I head next to St Clair, my favourite Dunedin location – glorious beach, massive waves, wild walks. I am thrilled to see what looks like a large seal further along the beach – the first one I’ve seen this close up.  It harrumphs just a couple of feet forwards, with immense effort, then seems to collapse. It stopped breathing and died, just a few yards away from me. Beautiful and awe-inspiring moments ago, it is now a mere carcass, terrible, rotting, decomposing, though not yet visibly.
As I understand it, seals have no spirit, so that is it. Nothing more. I was instantly reminded of a funeral I attended recently, taken by a secular celebrant. We lit candles, though not as a religious act we were reassured. We prayed, finally, that Betty’s “spirit may be at peace in the next realm.” But other than that vague, hollow, empty expression of hope there was nothing. Full stop. The end. How I appreciated the wonderful sense of eternity the Christian faith offers, though Jesus who is himself the resurrection and the life.

I headed away, saddened, and as the tide continued to advance up the beach I decided to return via the pathway which overlooks the beach. I wasn’t sure where it was, or how to reach it, but I knew it was there. I clambered up the dunes, three steps up, then two sliding back down. I reached a wooded area, where tracks came and went, and at times I had to make my own, frequently having to turn back and retrace my steps, before striking out again in largely the same direction! What a superb metaphor for this Diocese. The path which rises above the current troubles is surely there, laid by God, and we know more or less where that path lies. But we are unsure just how we get there. The question then, is who will have the courage to trample and tread new paths, embracing both success and failure along the way, meeting obstacles and frustration with renewed determination to press on? For surely we cannot stay where we are, the tide is coming in, and staying here is simply not an option.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why we do what we do

I guess there are two main reasons we do things - to prevent bad things from happening, or to make something good happen. Which motivates us may depend on whether we are optimists or pessimists.

A key aspect of T4T gatherings is Vision Casting - a reminder of why we do what we do, and of what God can do in and through us. Because I am a natural optimist, I attempt to cast vision by inspiring faith in others, telling encouraging stories, reminding them of God's promises...if we are obedient, God will do great things. But every now and again something happens that causes me to cast vision by urging people on because of what will happen if we don't obey the Great Commission.

We met Betty one day while door-knocking. She had ongoing contact with the Jehovah's Witnesses, but was always friendly on our frequent visits. She was not in the best of health, so standing was not something she could do for long, and even sitting became uncomfortable. She felt was "winding down her life", so we assured her God had a purpose for however many days she had left on earth. She allowed us to explain the Christian Gospel to her, and we spent time looking at Bible verses regarding "assurance."

Last week Betty wasn't in the three times when we called, and we found out yesterday that she was in a hospice. We tracked her down, and went to visit this afternoon, only to be told that Betty died this morning.

I am relieved that Betty heard the Gospel explained to her so she could understand and respond. Betty would not have walked into any local church, nor would me living a holy life have somehow communicated to her the fact that like all of us, she needs a Saviour, or the importance of Jesus' death and resurrection, or His readiness to embrace, welcome and save her.

Sometimes words are absolutely essential.

So who will you tell?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Name and Shame

J-P is an alcoholic. He lives with his brother, cares for his elderly Mum, and by his own admission has an empty, meaningless life. He wanders around our community asking for coins. Today we freaked him out a little bit!

Monika responded to his request for money with "hi, it's J-P isn't it?" He was stunned, shocked that someone who wasn't a law enforcement officer knew his name! He slowly recalled the day a few weeks ago when Monika had sat with him on the footpath for an hour.

The conversation quickly moved onto real issues - he had cut down on his drinking, but had no desire to give it up, explaining that he had nothing else to enjoy. He was comfortable talking about Jesus too, and welcomed our promise to pray for him. He received a hug, and apologised for asking us for money - you ask strangers, not friends.

Application? 1 - make the effort to remember people's names. God writes our names on the palm of his hand - names matter. 2. Talk about Jesus, don't decide for anyone else that they are not interested. 3. Be real, confront hard truths, speak truth into people's lives and they'll love you for it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chasing after people takes longer when they are moving away from you rather than towards you. Yet we continue to do it as that is the Christian thing to do.

Some of the people we have met responded warmly to our Gospel message, and to our offer to train them in telling their story and explaining the Gospel, and planting churches. Yet they have failed to be home at the arranged time, and failed to return calls or texts. So we eventually catch up with them, and they express the same enthusiasm as previously - but again are out (or hiding) when the appointed time comes - with no explanation or apology. So we try all over again.

I don't think this is biblical, or what Jesus did. Yes he welcomed people with all their sin and mess and brokenness, but he also expected them to change - "sin no more," "give back to the people you've ripped off." Jesus wholeheartedly and unreservedly embraced people as they were, but then demanded repentance, which involved a changed life, then moved on, apparently without feeling the need to offer a comprehensive support package, or repeatedly chase those who fell away. Indeed the parable of the sower suggests that this is inevitable, even when the one sowing is the Son of God himself.

Jesus of course went further - at times he made it incredibly hard for people to follow him, seemingly doing his best to put them off. The rich young guy was told to sell everything he had and give it away. Nicodemus, proud of his heritage, was told he must be "born again."

I am fearful that in constantly chasing after people we are doing little more than making ourselves feel good and ensuring unhealthy dependency. While Jesus did address crowds, he also sent out 72, and prioritised his training of the 12 disciples. He did not chase after the rebellious, but poured himself into the willing and committed. A lesson to be learnt?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Never too late


Ying Kai was the person God used to pioneer the TrainingforTrainers (T4T) model. It resulted in more than 1,700,000 people being baptized and just under 160,000 churches being planted in less than ten years! That is more than one third of the population of New Zealand!

One of the most encouraging facts about Ying that I have heard this week is that he was 53 years old when he first ventured to the mission field where he has seen such incredible growth. Turning 50 didn’t feel significant at the time, but when I see the deep darkness all around, and reflect on the vast numbers of lost people, I almost feel that it is too late for me to do much about it. Not so!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How many?


One of the questions we were encouraged to ask is at the Church Planting Movements conference is “How many of my people will hear the Gospel today?” How many people in Avondale will hear the Gospel today? In Auckland? In all of New Zealand? It is impossible to answer with any certainty, but I suspect the number would be pitiful.

Most Christians say they want to see people coming to faith – but the truth is that there are no more people in Avondale/Auckland/New Zealand who will come to faith today than will hear the Gospel. It is a simple truth, obvious even, yet how many of us actually live a lifestyle in which sharing Jesus is a daily occurrence? We don’t just share faith when we knock on doors, we do it whenever and however we can.

So how many of God’s people will hear the good news where you live today?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Something significant

This weekend I believed God has sealed or brought to a place of completion a significant change in me. For those who may not have known me long, a little personal history.

I served as an evangelist for nearly 20 years with Church Army UK, and enjoyed what most would consider to be an effective time in ministry. Ministering in one of the most difficult estates (Page Moss) in one of the most despised cities in England (Liverpool) we pioneered work among unchurched children and young people which attracted hundreds every week and considerably impacted the whole community. We frequently welcomed visitors from across the UK and beyond – guests from USA and even Australia were not uncommon. The ministry we were involved in was one of the pin-up projects for Church Army for a number of years. We followed this by launching a brand new Gap programme for CAUK, putting together the various elements in a ridiculously short time-frame, and attracting some amazing young people. In a reasonably sized pool I was a decent sized fish!

The call to move to New Zealand to head up Church Army ministry here was unexpected and most welcome. I suppose to some degree I interpreted the invitation to live and minister in a land of such endless beauty, with a more pleasant lifestyle, as some kind of reward from God. I hadn’t anticipated that ministering in a land where reputations made overseas count for nothing and where past glories have absolutely no relevance, would leave me in a situation similar to that of Moses as he started his new life as a humble shepherd in Midian, stripped of the position, privilege and authority he had enjoyed in Egypt.

So what did I have to offer in terms of enabling, modelling and encouraging evangelism in New Zealand? Basically, all that I had greedily devoured from the latest theorists, experts and even practitioners in the West in recent years – wrapped up in phrases such as incarnational evangelism, process evangelism or friendship evangelism. The common thread in all of these is that we must be patient, carefully cultivating relationships so that by the lives we live others may one day be compelled to enquire about the God aspect to our lives. To mention Jesus prematurely would almost certainly push people away and rob them of any likelihood of discovering the Risen Jesus for themselves. I may have even told people that to not talk of Jesus was the right way to help people find faith in Him. That is not just ridiculous, it is a demon inspired lie. A Gospel presentation that depends on the Godly quality of my life is deeply and fatally flawed. I do look back with regret at the times I have played at “evangelism” while rarely sharing Jesus; for years when I have encouraged and trained others in evangelism while not seeing a single person coming to faith in Jesus; when I have promoted a process, friendship, gently gently approach to evangelism which has seen a tiny trickle of people influenced by the Good News when the need is to see movements which see multitudes transformed by Jesus.

To the many people I have not shared the Good News of Jesus with, when I could and should, I deeply apologise, and hope and pray that God in his mercy will grant me opportunities share with you. To Jesus, who died for me while I was still a sinner, I repent of my refusal to tell others about you because of my fear, or shame, or embarrassment, or my misguided belief that by not telling people about you I was somehow helping them find faith in you.

To all those I will meet in future, if you don’t yet know Jesus I would love to tell you about him. To those who do, can I help train you in how to tell others?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Casting Vision

One of the interesting elements of our weekly gathering is "vision casting" - effectively reminding ourselves why we do what we do, and encouraging each other to press on.
I have mentioned our friend Brian a few times. He was the first person in New Zealand I personally led to faith in Jesus, and coming as he did from a life of petty crime and drug-abuse he was a wonderful example of God's grace powerfully at work. He was our first baptism in Avondale, and despite occasions when his life-before-Jesus rears its ugly head, all those who know him have a deep affection for him.
Brian suffers from multiple sclerosis, and spends his waking hours in a wheelchair. Last Friday when Monika and John went round for their weekly visit, they discovered that Brian had fallen out of his chair and was stuck on the floor. He painfully edged his way to the door, but could not reach the handle, so eventually John had to push Monika through a toilet window! Brian was understandably distressed, embarrassed and suicidal. To make matters worse, his "friends" has stolen his mobile phone so he had no way of calling for help.
What an awful, tragic situation - and yet God was in the middle of this mess. How wonderful that Brian has a faith in Jesus to sustain him through the lowest lows. How great that were were able to be there, as an answer to his desperate prayers, to offer physical help and emotional and spiritual support when he most needed it.
If we had not taken the decision to knock on Brian's door at the end of a long, discouraging day, then both his present life would be unbearable, and his eternity unsure. But we did, and his life with Jesus on earth, though it may not have long, contains a seed of hope, and his eternity is fixed, guaranteed, secure. I am reminded of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one lost sheep - a stupid, disobedient, scruffy animal of little worth - and when he finds it "joyfully puts it on his shoulder", carries it home, then holds a party to celebrate its homecoming (Luke 15:5).
So there's your vision casting - if you are wondering whether or not to obey the Great Commission and "GO," unsure whether you have the confidence to knock on doors, or share your God-story, or explain the Gospel, or lead someone to faith in Jesus, think today of Brian - in the world's eyes a waster, good-for-nothing, druggy drop-out who has a limited life-expectancy, but someone who the Good Shepherd joyfully carries on his shoulders, until together, they reach home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The concept of "doing things differently" is not popular in most churches, in fact it is bordering on the heretical. Anyone attempting to launch out into Church planting Movements, or having a stab at Training4Trainers will quickly realise that this approach demands a fairly significant shift in thoughts and actions. Even this is a process which can be implemented as given, but the key I suspect will be the small but significant tweaks which will be made according to the individual context.

The little churches we have planted are full of keen, enthusiastic and excited-about-Jesus people; thrilled to be meeting every week to be trained so that they can share with others, and loving every minute of our times together. We are around eight weeks in, so in my typical orderly fashion I would expect us to be reaching week eight in the training manual, or at least week seven, and surely week six. Reality -  week four, two, and "haven't actually got the initial stuff straight yet"!

There seem to be two main reasons. Some people simply live chaotic, drama-filled lives, so the chance of doing anything with a large degree of regularity is fairly remote.For others, especially those of Maori or Pacific Island backgrounds, family takes priority - and frequently we turn up for a group to find other people there before us!

So, we have a problem - every Tuesday at 3.30pm may not work - so how do we learn to do things differently? Well perhaps we start by seeing not a problem, but an opportunity - how can the love and life of Jesus flow into the chaos of some people's lives, bringing not an orderliness which would alienate our new friends from their community, but rather a sense of the presence of Jesus in the midst of the storm? How do Jesus' new followers introduce him into the hospital, family dispute, drunken brawl or the latest local tragedy? And can we view the "invading" family not as a rival or competition for group time, but as a great way for people to share their own and God's stories naturally?

We have much to learn, and I think that is how it is going to be for a long, long time!

Monday, May 7, 2012

I'll just sleep awhile

I love the story Jesus tells in Mark 4:26-29 of the farmer who sows seed, then basically ignores it! Whether he sleeps, watches TV, plays cricket or keeps himself busy, "the seed sprouts and grows...all by itself." This past week I have been in and around Dunedin (South Island for those who don't know - this is after all an international blog!) so of course all progress has come to a complete standstill in our little Church Planting Movement.

 Okay, that isn't entirely true. Monika, John and Heidi have been continuing with the four embryonic churches we have running in homes, as well as all the follow up. But not much more. Except that when they re-visited a Fijian lady and her partner they were really keen to host a training group and invite friends and family, so I suppose that's mini-church number five launching on Friday. Then there is the young Samoan guy who invited one of his friends to their group, and his friend committed his life to Jesus - our first spiritual grand-child. How cool to see a teenager leading his friend to faith in Jesus, just wish I'd been there...

 There's something disturbing about a church being planted in my absence. I'm the trained and commissioned (Church Army) evangelist don't you know? Three years full time training, years of experience, a licence from every Bishop in New Zealand...seem to count for very little these days! The farmer in Jesus' story observes the growth taking place "though he does not know how." That makes two of us! Though I am wondering if I should go away more often - perhaps a return to Dunedin in the spring to launch a Church Planting Movement down there?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Consolidation

One dictionary definition of consolidation is "to make strong or secure; strengthen". After the excitement of our initial two weeks of door-knocking, we deliberately decided to slow down and build strong foundations - following up on those who had either come to faith, or had at least been warm and welcoming. Where opportunities permit, we look to start groups, embryonic churches, with both established and brand-new believers. We immediately train everyone in how to tell their own story, and how to share the Gospel, and help them think about who they could share with or train! Where the contact is warm, but uncommitted, we see where the relationship goes, always hoping to share Jesus with them. There is always the fear that people will have cooled in between visits, and indeed this does happen sometimes, which is always a disappointment. But sometimes we discover that when we return, God has been busy! One lady we visited initially claimed to have no story to tell, and on 2 or 3 occasions when we went back for various reasons she could not meet with us - but last Wednesday evening she welcomed us in. The conversation included her son, a guy in his 30's whose life was going nowhere quickly! They both received the Gospel message with joy, and responded to our questions with humble delight. "Would you like to receive forgiveness for your sins?" Bowing his head, this young man who is well known to the local police, and has been battered by both life and acquaintances many times over, sheepishly and quietly replied, "yes, please." There and then mother and son surrendered their lives to Jesus, and a new church is born!
As we meet with new followers of Jesus, as well as training them, we take time to listen and allow their stories to unravel. We have learnt of a sister who committed suicide; a lady who years ago was involved in something so horrific she had only ever told three other people - and us; and celebrated with one new believer who for the first time in many years has not used cannabis since he gave his life to Jesus some weeks ago. As we step out, we discover time after time that we are merely catching up where God has gone before!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

First baptism

I mentioned last week that in Church Planting Movements we don't focus on "converts" but on baptisms, so it is a great thrill to be able to tell you about our first. Brian was the first person to respond to our door-knocking by giving his life to Jesus. To be honest, the first time we went back, I half-expected him to tell us to go away - but he didn't, and each Friday afternoon since then we have met. Brian has an "interesting" history, and suffers from MS - so the Bible verse we gave him was 2 Corinthians 5:17 "Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new." Brian is a like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, moving into that new life in Jesus. But this is just the beginning, and eternity will see Brian freed from his MS-racked body, and free from the scars of his past. Baptism is a beautiful symbol of being washed, cleansed, made pure and spotless, being raised to life. Most of those gathered commented on how privileged they felt to be present, and indeed this occasion was far removed from the showy baby baptisms I have often been part of with mumbled, half-hearted responses given by largely disinterested relatives. Welcome to the family Brian - may you be the first of many!

Friday, April 13, 2012

CPM latest

After a break of two weeks with no updates, how is it all going - or have we come to a dramatic full stop? After two full-on weeks, with daily door-knocking and continuing follow-up, other commitments have meant that recently we have only been able to follow-up the warm contacts we made initially.

CPM quote figures, not of "converts", but of people baptised and churches planted. This makes good sense, as inevitably some people will make some kind of commitment to follow Jesus, but then either change their minds, decide they want no further contact with us, or feed into more traditional churches - which is fine. But T4T is all about training trainers, so the first thing we look for is people showing they are serious about following Jesus by obeying His command to be baptised. In New Testament times, people seem to have been baptised almost immediately - so we don't hang around either - our first baptism will happen next Friday, hopefully the first of many.

What about churches? Well I wouldn't claim that we have planted any yet! But as people become followers of Jesus, we immediately start training them, so that they in turn can train others...and so on. Firstly, we train people to tell their own story and God's story, and to identify their "oikos" - family and friends they can quickly talk to about Jesus. Then in their homes we meet weekly, and as they participate we model how to run training! Their family and friends help form the embryonic church.

So...one baptism planned, 5 groups (potential churches) running each week, with another 3 likely groups. But the exciting bit comes when these groups don't just grow, but multiply - generationally. Watch this space!

The people we have seen respond bring inevitable baggage. We have been introduced to drug-dealers, met parents hoping to take a baby into their care, and have been thrust firmly into the seedier side of Kiwi life. For the first time since we arrived in New Zealand, I feel that I belong, and that I am walking where Jesus walks.

Friday, March 30, 2012

CPM last day of the beginning

I don't know what to say.

Today we met a Christian who initially told us he was a Muslim, but once inside said he was a follower of Jesus who feared for his life. We met with the young Mum I mentioned a couple of days ago, who told us she had prayed the prayer, and "really meant it." She has started reading the New Testament we left her, beginning at the contents page! We followed up with the guy with MS, who became a Christian just over a week ago, and talked about baptism - he's thinking it over. We hope some of his friends will come along. In any other phase of my ministry this would have been an exceptional day, but in CPM fortnight, it has been fairly typical.

Words are inadequate to sum up the past two weeks. My understanding of evangelism in New Zealand has been transformed. My practice of evangelism will never be the same. I know there are lost people who will be denied the opportunity of receiving Jesus tomorrow or next week or ever because we hide in our church buildings and programmes and irrelevancies, and leave the nation's doors to the Mormons and JWs. We build arguments and theologies which absolve us from the responsibility of telling people about Jesus, and sharing our stories, and offering them the chance to also know him. We employ professionals to do these things for us, though the tragic truth is that many of these too have lost confidence in the Gospel. I know these things because to my shame I have shared in them.

But with God it is never too late. The adventure has begun, and the birth process complete.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

CPM second Thursday

There's a Chinese guy in the Community we call home, whom we've been sharing Jesus with in recent weeks - a deep thinking guy who asks endless questions. We just found out that he wrote and prayed his own prayer of commitment on Sunday! In this current atmosphere of Godly activity, I guess he was finally drawn in!

One of our teams met a young Mum at the first door they knocked on with anybody in, and before long another baby Christian was born. We know it isn't always like this, but at the moment God's glory is abundantly present in Avondale!

One of the key concepts of CPM is the "person of peace" (Luke 10). This is the vital person who will welcome you, and be a gate-keeper in the locality. I have previously mentioned Michael, a young guy who recommitted his life to Jesus, though we had intended to speak with his Mum! We met her again yesterday, and it was an astonishing time. She readily welcomed Monika and I, along with Tim, into her home, and although we had not met her prior to this visit, within a few minutes she was telling us her story, a story so moving, deep, profound and intimate that she has only told it to 3 other people in the past 20 years. It was a story of immeasurable darkness, but eventually one of great and abiding hope.

When we explained the "person of peace" concept, and gently suggested that she might be just that person, she put her head in her hands. She explained that she had been in Avondale for 14 years, longing to serve God, but not knowing what to do, and had consistently prayed that God would move her or use her. Now, finally, this beautiful lady has the answer to her prayers. God was powerfully present, and we await with enormous expectancy to see how that home will impact the wider community.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

CPM mythbusters

Yes I know we've been doing this for less than two weeks, but we have learnt some important lessons already. As I reflect on the past ten days, I am deeply sorry for buying in to some of the myths about New Zealand as a context for evangelism. So today we are going to do a little myth-busting.

Myth 1 - "New Zealand is a very hard ground for evangelists." I frequently ask church leaders about recent converts, and receive a response of embarrassed silence more often than not. But our experience knocking on doors, with no previous contact, has been quite different. Many people are not only interested, they are desperate to hear the good news of Jesus.

Myth 2 - "Nobody takes the Bible seriously, so we need a different starting point." One of the keys for us has been to open the Bible as soon as we can, and invite people to read it for themselves. Rarely, if ever, have people suggested that the Bible is irrelevant.

Myth 3 - "Effective evangelism can only take place after a long period of building friendships." But the reality is that even when friendships have been built, we are ill-equipped and unprepared to share the Gospel. In any case, we have learnt that door-knocking can be relational, as many people have commented on how we listen to their opinions, and are genuinely interested in them.

Myth 4 - "We have to invest time 'earning the right to witness' before we can share Jesus." But Jesus repeatedly modelled just the opposite, engaging total strangers in deeply personal and spiritual conversations. We have found time and time again that God has already prepared hearts and minds, so that by the time we meet people they are more than ready to respond.

Myth 5 - "Door-knocking is outdated and ineffective." I would probably have agreed two weeks ago, but we have seen numerous people respond positively, who would otherwise have had little or no opportunity to hear and respond to the Good News. If anyone knows a better way of meeting these folk, please let me know.

Myth 6 - "The streets are hostile and dangerous." We haven't had any serious abuse, let alone felt threatened.

Myth 7 - "Evangelism is for experts only." I think all our team members have been involved in someone coming to faith, many for the first time. The whole point is that the process is simple enough for new Christians to immediately be able to share their faith with friends.

Myth 8 - "People are not willing to commit to anything." One of the things we ask is that people commit to meeting with a trainer every week, so they can learn how to tell their story, share the Gospel, and learn more from the Bible. As a consequence we already have a number of groups established, and new believers are keen to invite friends, and become trainers themselves.

Myth 9 - "Faith is considered to be a private matter." Absolute nonsense. By far the majority of people are willing to tell us what they believe, even when they know are Christians and they aren't! We have found many people to be spiritually hungry, and keen to engage with us.

Myth 10 - "Don't mention sin." People out there do know the concept of sin, and the majority are aware of their own sinfulness and need for forgiveness. By avoiding the issue, we are denying them the opportunity to experience the freedom from sin which only a relationship with Christ can bring. (On the other hand, many Christians need to understand the depth and absolute nature of the forgiveness which God extends to us, and stop harking back to past sins and failures. We are not "sinners saved by grace," but "saints who sometimes sin.")

We need to thoroughly reconsider our approach to evangelism, and for me, that includes repenting of taking on wrong opinions and attitudes uncritically, because they have relieved me of the responsibility of telling people about Jesus. The Great Commission still applies!

Monday, March 26, 2012

CPM second Tuesday

A simply stunning day. I will try to be brief!

We met an amazing group of born again Ethiopians, who were warm to our approach and keen to get together again - imagine an Ethiopian stream of CPM in New Zealand, certainly has a book of Acts ring to it!

John from Fiji spent a couple of hours with an amazing Fijian lady - "Nana", who is effectively opening her home as a community centre for street/gang kids, with God resourcing her. In an area with a high rate of burglaries, her home has remained untouched. She is a radiant Christian.

This afternoon we found the closest we have come to an English style council estate. Terraced houses, rubbish, every house with similar doors, dubious characters hanging around. But what a place where God has been busy preparing hearts. We chatted with two young guys in their early 20s - one a Christian, but struggling with alcohol, and the other not yet a Christian, but listened intently as we shared our stories, and grappled intelligently with the Gospel message as he read the Bible. He kept the Bible, promised to read it, and we will visit again on Thursday. Then we met a young lady who, like so many, has had contact with the Mormons and JWs. Again she responded really positively, and quietly read over the prayer of commitment. Did she actually pray it? Well we'll find out on Thursday! Then we met a Maori granddad, had been a hard-drinking drug abuser, but has straightened his life out, and is spiritually open, He wasn't ready to dive into the Bible, but promised to read "the Case for Easter" book we will take him. Add in the lovely Maori lady who is obviously the street matriarch, who was responsive and open and who welcomed our offer to visit again, and it was a great afternoon.

Our other team was following up in an area we previously visited. A twenty year old Niuean guy became a Christian for the first time, with great joy and urgency. He was almost literally waiting for us! You will hopefully recall Michael who recommitted his life to Jesus yesterday - we only met him by "accident" as we were hoping to meet his Mum. Well today we met her, and she was ecstatic, having been praying for her son for a long time. He had immediately told her what had happened, and she commented that he was a changed young man! Should we expect anything less? She also said he'd been busy texting his friends inviting them along when we meet next Monday. We were almost angels in disguise, arriving in direct and specific answer to prayer.

As we gathered to debrief, I think it is fair to say that there was a deep sense of awe and wonder among us. We have started to all speak out prayers together, because time is short and the needs are urgent - and today the praise concert was loud and heartfelt.

Reading through this, it all sounds too easy, but it is nevertheless my genuine account of what I understood to have happened today.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

CPM second Monday

Let me tell you about a few of the people we came across today. We had a young lady, born in Russia, who was very close to accepting Jesus last week, but before committing herself wanted to meet us in community - so she came along to Kodesh today and spent a few hours with us, during team training time. She is coming back on Thursday.

We met a Maori lady last week, just as she was about to go out, so we arranged to meet with her and a Christian neighbour today. We had a great hour with them both, sharing Bible verses, and the Gospel. They were keen for us to go back each week - so we have our first group!

Two team members met Michael because his Mum wasn't home! He asked if they would share with him instead, and before long he was recommitting his life to Jesus. He readily agreed for us to return next week to train him to tell his story and Jesus' story, then asked if he could invite some friends! We have our second group!

We found a lovely Fijian Christian lady, and asked whether she would perhaps be host to a group - and then discovered that her next two neighbours were also interested in Jesus - potentially a third group. The really exciting bit comes when these group members start leading their own groups, and training others to lead groups...

We have encountered many people who have been influenced and confused by Mormons and/or Jehovah's Witnesses. One lady is in her 70s, and we have visited with her a few times. She is warm and receptive but the battle for her spirit is apparent and real.

One of the guys who came to faith last week has not been receptive since - we think someone has suggested to him that he needs to be careful of us, as they have perhaps been hurt by previous experiences. While this is disappointing, we know that what God has planted in his life will not go to waste.

We visited the local Police station last Friday, and asked them which were the worst streets in Avondale, so armed with our list we knocked on more doors, and once again found many people receptive as God had prepared them for our visit. No street in this nation is so dark that the light of Christ cannot penetrate.

So, at close of play today
- we have loads of follow up to do, and some groups established already
- we have some ill team members
- we have encountered many people who have been confused by the false teaching of cults and sects (so our Gospel message needs to be clear and simple
- we have a number of folk who are nominal Christians but who have no assurance of salvation - these folk also need an opportunity to give their lives to Jesus

So loads for you to get praying about, please.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

CPM weekend special!

No proper blog today, but a couple of awesome things I need to tell you!

Firstly, in the T4T (Training 4 Trainers) book, it poses the question, "can CPMs emerge in a churched or post-churched culture such as North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe or Latin America?" The answer of course is "yes", but the point is that little old New Zealand gets a mention!

Secondly, a text I received from one of the team this morning, "I am buzzing. Had the courage to approach a Chinese guy who has been coming to church for a while, and led him to commitment in a church pew. Wow!"

Can't express how excited I am about the week ahead!

Friday, March 23, 2012

CPM day 5

I'll start with a quote from one of our Gap students. "Day 5 of door to door evangelising - so good. It's crazy the number of people who don't know the basics of the Gospel - who have had misconceptions or believed lies their whole lives. What an incredible experience it is to be able to bring light & truth into those situations! Saw one person almost come to faith today, will catch up with her again on monday. God is so good!" Ever heard an 18 year old write that about door-knocking before? I certainly haven't.

As promised an update on the guy who became a Christian on Tuesday. He told us a little more about his background - only two convictions, for firearms and drugs! We talked about he could tell others his story, including his messed up past, but then how he met Jesus, and how his life has already changed significantly since then. He was so excited to think that in telling his story he could help others. We took him through the Gospel presentation again, so hopefully he can share that with others. Then we did a simple Bible study based on Zacchaeus' encounter with Jesus, in the process teaching him how to study the Bible for himself - remember we are not just looking for new followers of Jesus, or to start new groups, but we are seeking to start a new church planting movement - which requires new believers to share faith, lead groups and train others! Our new believer said he had been reading the Bible, and promised to pray for us until we meet again next Friday! One key thing he said, "I listen to you two because you listen to me." Relational door-knocking is possible.

Two other pairs had amazing days. One led a Maori lady to faith in Jesus, while the other had a great time with as young lady of Russian descent, who was incredibly close to receiving Jesus as her Lord and Saviour, but decided she needed to know us better! So she is coming to spend Monday in our community - our StreetHope strapline is "Come and see" and she will do just that.

So after one week, three new followers of Jesus, numerous interested people to follow up, many more positive conversations, and an exhilarated but exhausted team of door-knockers.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

CPM day four

No converts today - so it was a waste of time, right? No!
One of the great things about the T4T process is that when we knock on doors, rather than expecting to bring everyone we meet to faith, what we are doing is looking for the people in whose lives God has already been working. We don't have to persuade them or win an argument - they are ready - like the Ethiopian Official in Acts 8. They often need to have the Gospel simply explained to them, and gently told how to respond to Jesus - but like my friend of yesterday, there is a clear sense that God has already been working significantly in their hearts. Do you see how that takes the pressure off us as we knock on doors?

One of the hardest people groups we have encountered are those who have experienced nominal Christianity. They have seen people going though the religious motions, but know nothing of the transforming love and power of Christ. "I tried that already and it did nothing for me." In effect they have been inoculated against the Gospel. I can't help but wonder if our emphasis on 'Friendship Evangelism' is doing the same. We make friends, but avoid sharing the Gospel in order to allow the friendship to develop naturally. They know we are Christians, but the last thing we want to do is to push Jesus on them. So we wait. And as we wait, they know we are followers of Jesus, they may even see us pray before a meal, or spot a Bible lying around - but we deny them the opportunity to experience the transforming love and power of Jesus, for now, and perhaps in doing so harden their very hearts we are hoping to soften. What do you think?

Thanks to all of you who have emailed words of encouragement - every one has been shared with the team. Nothing I have ever done with Church Army, here in New Zealand or back in UK, has provoked so much response. God is on the move, and people sense it. Many evangelists and Christians are longing to find out how we can share faith effectively, and disciple new believers, and see a movement spread, and maybe, just maybe, this is a significant part of the "how" for New Zealand.

I am excited as today we catch up with the guy who made a commitment to Jesus on Wednesday - I'll let you know how it goes. Any suggestions as to how we baptise a guy in a wheelchair?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CPM day three

Today's update is intensely personal. After a later start, and a training session, we headed out after lunch. Excited and more confident, we followed up two positive visits from yesterday. The first lady wasn't in, and the second lady, though she happily chatted with us for a while, when it came to it wasn't really interested in the God stuff. Deflated, we went back to the car and prayed. Anything was better than facing more rejection and failure knocking on doors.

What helped in this case was accountability - we'd be reporting back to the rest of the group! So with no expectations we trudged to the next door. It was opened by a guy in a wheelchair, carrying the physical scars of a life ruined by excessive drug-taking, further crushed by the onset of MS. He had explored a number of religions, and was happy when we offered to give a simple explanation of the basics of the Christian faith. He read the Bible verses, and responded to our questions in such a way as assured us he had understood.

So, "are you a sinner?" "Oh yes!"

"Do you want forgiveness for your sins?" "Of course I do."

"Do you believe Jesus died for your sins and rose again?" "I know He did."

(Can it be this easy?)

"Are you willing to surrender your life to Christ?" "I certainly am."

Wow, last question - "are you ready to invite Jesus into your heart and into your life?" "Yes, I am."

"No, this isn't a decision to make quickly, this is the biggest decision anyone can make - are you sure?...okay, well read this prayer quietly, and think if it expresses what you really want to say to God." He read quietly, then read it out loud. We suggested that having read it to himself, he could say it again as a prayer to God. He protested that he'd already done that - so with great joy we rejoiced with the angels in heaven in celebrating the salvation of a sinner.

We prayed for him, handed him a Bible, and agreed to return in two days time.

In two and a half years as National Director in New Zealand, I have not been involved in seeing a single person come to faith in Jesus. After two days of knocking on doors, I have - and I was not alone among our reduced team of 6 today. In just a few hours we have shared Jesus with a number of people, prayed with many more, lead two people to faith in Jesus, and have over 10 people to follow up on. I feel deeply thrilled, and humbled, and will go door knocking tomorrow with a little less trepidation and a lot more genuine expectation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CPM day two

To continue my running analogy, we haven't quite had a birth yet, but I can see the baby's head!
Let me start by setting the scene. One of the things that attracted me to Jesus as a young adult making life-impacting decisions was the promise that following Jesus would be an adventure. I fail to see that in the lives of most Christians and churches I encounter, but that is their loss...and this door knocking lark has helped me recapture some of that sense of adventure. Each drive, gate, door holds unknown terrors, joys, surprises, as we encounter another lump of raw humanity.
I probably need to confess that I'm not a natural door-knocking type -I wasn't as an 18 year old in East Hull, and I'm certainly not as a 50 year old in West Auckland. I'm clumsy in light conversation, and to be honest, pretty socially inept. I'd not unduly worry about preaching to a crowd, but chatting without script to random, unpredictable people - no thanks! So let's be straight - I can't do this. Which gives me every confidence, because it means I can do it, as it becomes a "God or drown" situation. So far, God has kept me from drowning.
And so to Tuesday, the weatherman was wrong, it didn't rain as predicted, so we went out and about. First the nicer streets, then we targeted a street with a fair degree of notoriety. Overall, absolutely awesome. Please don't waste your time sending me a list of reasons why knocking on doors is old fashioned, out of date, inappropriate and all that - I could return to you a longer list! I could tell story after story of real flesh and blood people we met today, with whom we shared our stories, and shared the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. I could tell of those we prayed for, for healing but most often, for the blessing of the peace of Jesus. I could tell you of those who heard for the first time ever of a God who loves them, died for them and longs to share in their live, as Lord and Saviour. And my response would be to say that we have no right to deny these people the opportunity to hear, experience and respond to the love of Jesus. If there is a better way, show me. But until then, we'll keep on door-knocking.
Tomorrow I'll tell you of the people we met, and the response of our brave young door-knockers to their maiden act of midwifery.

Monday, March 19, 2012

CPM day one

So today we awoke expecting to knock on numerous doors, welcome our first converts, disciple and train them, and see in all of this the first shoots of a Church Planting Movement. But, it rained.
I feel the way I imagine a heavily pregnant first time mother feels - a strange mix of incredible excitement and paralysing terror. There is a sense that we are in at beginning of an adventure the like of which none of us have experienced before. But due to the weather, delivery day has been delayed by 24 hours!
We have of course been busy - solid training from 9.15am to after 5pm. How to connect with people, share our own stories (in 3 minutes), explain the Gospel, and invite someone into a new relationship with Jesus - including practising our newly learnt skills. We had modelled to us the kind of gatherings the new churches will hold, and went through some of the initial training.
I was excited to see some of the participants already working out how what they were hearing and experiencing may work in their home contexts. They have grasped that we are not just planting churches, but launching a church planting movement. If the flipping rain stops.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

CPM?

Tim Scheuer will be arriving in Auckland in just a few hours.

Martin Morgan, National Director of Church Army in Australia, writes
“How will we reverse the trend of Churches decreasing, declining and dying in this nation? How will we see real impact by reaching people who are currently not part of any Christian community, group or congregation?

My friend and fellow worker with Church Army Australia, Tim Scheuer, heads up our Church Planting Movements arm. He has eagerly been telling us about the T4T approach in reaching new people outside existing churches with the Gospel of Jesus, to allow them to trust in him. This is really a very simple focus on training other trainers to train others in simple multiplication of new groups of believers.

T4T has come from the experience of the Chinese American missionary, Ying Kai, working in China in the eary 2000′s. He saw the simple and rapid multiplication of groups of new believers through the simple methods

It all seems quite simple- and in one sense that is what makes me less cynical than I am of other methods that are spruiked as “The Solution”. This just focusses on clear next actions with a focus on presenting the Gospel and encouraging an expectation of multiplication from day 1 in the life of a new group of believers. It has a healthy expectation that the Gospel message works! It is the sort of missional practice that we see in the initial growth of the Gospel. I think it is exactly what Australia needs.

I’m very eager to see the principles of direct Evangelism and multiplication take off in Australia. I’m sure we will see more Evangelists trained and more new believers come to follow Jesus. We have started to see that happen- and I am praying for more.”

I would echo those sentiments for New Zealand. Having read through most of a book about the T4T approach, I am incredibly excited about Tim’s visit, and would encourage any of you who can, to come and catch something of what Tim offers. We will be based in Kodesh, and will start each day at 9am – even if you can only be with us for a day, it will still be worthwhile. I will attempt to update my blog each day for the next two weeks keeping you up to date with the events of the day!