Questions Asked About Our Mission – Difficult Places (Part 3)

What are you referring to when you talk about planting churches in difficult places? (Part 3 of 3)

Friendship is powerful and opens closed doors.  When you have proven that you genuinely love someone they generally will listen, even if they reject what we share, and some will.  Let’s be honest about it; not everyone wants to believe even when they see genuine examples of Christ’s love at work.

As the Holy Spirit provides opportunity for friendship we find ourselves in a place of influence to share the love of God.  This reality is so crucial to reaching people no matter where we find them or what culture they reflect.  Authentic friendship, it cannot be some substitute built around winning them to our Christian faith.  Others will smell that motive out long before we get close enough to be friends.  And if they don’t, one day, when it is revealed, they will be scarred to the point that makes them cynics who are virtually unreachable.  Friends influence friends; that is a reality.  It cannot be forced or simply a front; it has to be real … you have to care about each other.Photo1_3

One important thing we believe is that those with whom we share the Gospel will have the opporutnity to make a good decision about their interest in the Gospel.  How is this accomplished?  We do this by being a good friend in their life.  We know that every person has to make their own decision concerning Jesus; we simply cannot believe for them.  Thus, it is important that our friends are able to understand the message of the Gospel.  If they understand the message of Christ then they can make better decisions about Jesus.  And when they can both hear and experience the Gospel it provides the listener with even more ability to make life decisions.

We see these places as difficult because they require everyone to learn, grow, and change.  When we say everyone we mean all who are involved:  our missionaries, the followers of Jesus who join them in this work, and those to whom we have come to share the Gospel with.  As we intersect (converge) through everyday life situations we peel away one layer at a time until trust is built.  It is like taking down layers of past experiences and opinions, one layer at a time, until the real person can be seen and the true Gospel can be found.

Once trust is built we simply live the Gospel and allow the truth of Christ to go to work.  We share our faith in natural ways, never hiding who we are, while being sensitive to the people around us.  Trust grows and with it understanding and the love of God which changes everything.

The difficulty is more in the learning process than anything else.  It is in the breaking down of barriers that keep relationships from developing.  It is the willingness of those involved to do the hard work of love that dispells the bias of misinformation.  We then can patiently work through the things that divide us and grow in our appreciation for one another.  Then the Gospel does the rest and, just like in any other situation, people have to make their own choices in what to do with what they discover.

Missionaries do this everyday where they work as they cross cultures and share the good news of Christ’s love with those they live with.  Today America is a mission field and needs us to use such approaches as we establish new communities of Christ in new places to reach a new people.  This is what we mean when we say that we want to establish new churches in difficult places.  It is what Jesus has called us to do.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.


Questions Asked About Our Mission – Difficult Places (Part 2)

What are you referring to when you talk about planting churches in difficult places?

(Part 2 of 3)

ImageOur personal focus (Kandy and myself) is the people of the University District Villages of America. That is a mouthful to read and say, but each of the words is important and descriptive of the people Christ has called us to. One day I will write what I have discovered about each one of them, but that isn’t the focus of this series of blogs.

In short, we are interested in being an influence to other influencers. In the university district you will find there are many different types of people who make up the variety of villages within its boundaries. They are the men and women who work in and around the university, who are the influencers of others: the professors, administrators, teacher assistants, admin staff, coaches, security staff, and business people who serve the school. It is a vast and diverse group of people with some common ideals that tie them together.

Few would argue the thought that the American University is one of the most influential places in our culture. Daily it influences the people of this village. Their influence is felt in the cities where they are located. You even feel their influence across the states where they are established. If you pay attention and follow the dots you will see the influence of the American university around the world. The university is a place of great influence.

OK … so the university is a place of influence, what is the big deal? The big deal is that in all of it’s influencing, the American university is often void of the influence of God. There is a spiritual presence on the campus, but it isn’t always the spirit of God that is present. This means that in all the influencing going on through the university, very little is being influenced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This grieves our hearts as we see a people who often times feel marginalized by the church because they hold a very different worldview. There it is again, that word “different,” a word that sometimes scares us because we don’t understand what “different” really is or what it means.

Let me say something important. The problem isn’t that churches have not been planted before in these areas or that churches do not exist there today. We have planted churches and some have done well, especially when we are talking about establishing churches to reach the students of the university. Unfortunately, more often than not, it seems that most of the churches have struggled to make it and fail in the process. Our hearts are glad for those who are reached through these works. We also recognize there are many people in the universtiy districts who for various reasons remain unimpacted by them. Could it be as simple as we don’t understand them and they don’t understand the Church?

Through Converge Group we want to treat the universtity as a mission field like we would any foreign mission field we send a missionary to. It is important to discover the nuances of any culture so that you understand them and can communicate better with them. We are talking about loving people enough to know them. This is what missionaries do all across the world.

We feel that we can best impact the people of the university village by taking time to get to know them first, genuinely care for them, and become part of their world. These are some of the difficult steps that must be taken when crossing cultures and finding ways to share love with others. It is what growing in love for your neighbor is about.

Some may want to argue that this involves compromise and we shouldn’t cross that line. It isn’t that we deny our faith or compromise ourselves in terms of our walk with Christ. This is about the truth of Scripture rather than the expressions of worship that are dictated by tradition and culture. It is about returning to the basics of truth found in God’s Word rather than living out the ideas of people on how to live that truth. We are simply looking at doing what missionaries do: take the message of the Gospel and find ways to live it in the context of the culture of the people.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing. They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

Questions Asked About Our Mission – Difficult Places (Part 1)

What are you referring to when you talk about planting churches in difficult places?  

Image(Part 1 of 3)

It would be great to say that no matter where we try to establish new churches we succeed, but that isn’t true.  There are some places where the evangelical church has a difficult time establishing new churches.  These are normally areas where the culture of the people is vastly different from the culture within the average church.  In essence, there is a breakdown between the two cultures, leaving them with an inability to communicate in helpful, positive ways.  The end result is either a negative critical co-existence or, more often, simply ignoring one another as if the other doesn’t really exist.

We believe that Jesus loves people who think, feel, and live differently than most Christians.  Yep, you read that last line correctly.  Jesus loves people who think and live differently from you and me.  After all, the Scripture tells us in Luke that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, even when the lost don’t realize they are lost.  It would seem that if Jesus cares about them then it is important that we care for them.

One great way to let people know you care is to get to know them and learn to appreciate them for the person they are; value them as people, as we honor them by listening and learning about them.  Discover what they think, how they believe, and why they feel the way they do.  This needs to be just as important as wanting to share with them what we think, feel, and believe.  To us, this is called friendship; it’s building relationships, sharing our hearts, and loving your neighbor.

The issue of difficult places has everything to do with culture and customs as they define who we are and what we think.  Whenever a person tries to cross into another culture there are going to be moments where they struggle to understand and to be understood.  The more diverse the cultures the greater the gulf that separates them, which in turn raises the difficulty each has in being comfortable with one another. The result is a breakdown that leaves people divided along the lines of their own understanding with the difficulty of finding a way to cross over to the other side.

It’s important that we understand the difficulty we are talking about is not seen as one that exists because the people themselves are difficult.  It is because the lack of understanding that exists between the people involved.  The hardship in planting a church is because we are trying to bring thoughts from one culture into another and have to discover the best way to do that.  Through time and observing we learn, change, and grow in understanding.  The difficulty we are talking about is exactly this:  the learning, changing, and growing.

As we explore Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog series we hope you will understand a little better how we plan to work through the difficulty ahead of us.  As we learn we can adapt and change growing in trust through the experiences of life.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or are affiliated with.