We wanted to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our family, friends, and partners for helping us walk through these past six months with Ron's serious health issues. We are so grateful to report as of this Friday morning (September 1st) that he is cancer free - no chemo/radiation treatments - and he is on his way to a full recovery…. at 80!!!
We know all of this was a gift from God and an answer to the many prayers that people have prayed. What a Faithful and Great God we are all privileged to serve and know! Thank you all!
Ron & Kathy
Ron recently went through triple bypass surgery that was unexpected, as well as having two holes in his heart repaired. He is recovering from that, but was still not feeling well. Due to a medication, he was sent by ambulance to Billings with internal bleeding. As the doctors were trying to figure that out, they discovered that he has colon cancer. They will be doing surgery to take out 12” of his colon, his appendix, and the lymph nodes and blood vessels around his colon. If the lymph nodes test positive for cancer, he will have to undergo chemo and radiation. The doctors told him today that this is just the beginning. Ron and Kathy have been missionaries for almost 50 years, often times paying out of their own pockets to keep youth camps and training seminars going.
Any funds donated below will help to cover travel and hotels costs, as well as some upfront medical costs, in Ron's battle against cancer.
Panoramic view of the mountains out our back door!
Dr. Tom and his daughter Cheri (GA), along with friends from Texas, stopped by for a visit on their way through Montana. They are longtime friends and supporters who always bring us joy, and our moments together always turn into treasured memories!
For the past five years, Four Winds Ministry Center has been privileged to host an AA Sponsorship Retreat.
Approximately twenty ladies attend, several of whom are Native American. They arrive on Friday evening from Montana and surrounding states and they stay until noon Sunday. We are so grateful to provide our facilities to this wonderful group of ladies!
During a December food/supplies delivery to Pryor, Montana (on the Crow reservation), we (Ron & Kathy) received a great and unexpected blessing! We were wrapped in a new Pendleton blanket! This is quite an honor, and we are humbled by this act from the people of the Crow Nation!
This is the third such honor we have been privileged to experience in our years of ministering to Native American people in our great state! To God be the glory and the thanks for giving us favor among them!
To My Heroes…
I have been a foster parent for over seven years, and had dozens of children come through my home. I am amazed at the people I meet that say, “I could never do that” or “it would be too hard” or “how can you give them back” or “I can’t have my heart broken over and over.” All of those statements are true. But I also want to let you into a world you may not have ever had a key to before. I know words aren’t much, and some of what you will read will repulse you, some will make you cry, and some will make you laugh. But it is a reality, and one that a majority of foster parents live in everyday.
When I took my training for foster care, it was hard. It brought up some things I have never thought of before. But once the class was done, the expectation overrode the reality of how hard it would be.
The first children that came into my home were teenagers, at least in body. But their minds were not fully matured, and their spirits were even less mature. Behind the “I hate you” glare that we would receive whenever a confrontation had to take place was a child that would cry when they thought no one was listening. Behind every “tough guy” image was a child that would beam with pleasure whenever he or she was paid a compliment. But behind those smiles also hid a darkness… a constant weight of understanding that your parents do not have you and, unfortunately for some, would never work to get you back.
Despite all the progress and milestones lay the fact that one visit from a biological parent could tarnish years of progress. I remember one time we had a little boy years ago and he was playing out in the yard. These two people walked by and he ran over to the fence and just watched them walk by. The male waved and the little boy waved back, then went back to playing. I asked him who that was and he said, “Oh, that was my parents.” He had not seen them in over two years at that point. The next day, that boy defecated on the floor of his room and hid under the dining room table, rocking back and forth and back and forth, and would not come out.
Then there are the babies, the little ones that steal your heart immediately. We took one little baby that we just loved to death. But let me clue you in to how “getting a child” works. Someone whom you may or may not know shows up at your door, and hands you a child. The child, more often than not, comes with a small sack of clothes (if anything at all) and, more often than not, those clothes are not gender appropriate or size appropriate. You are not told anything about their situation. You are not told what allergies they have or what formula they are used to or any of a thousand others things that parents learn about their own baby within the first week of their life. You are handed a baby, with all its little baby needs and baby concerns and baby fears, and nothing else. You are not given medical records or immunization records or anything like that. You sign a piece of paper that may or may not have the child’s actual birthday on it, and the person whom you may or may not know leaves and you are on your own.
That being said, we took this little baby. And then the crying started. For two solid hours. My wife and I have raised babies. We are not naïve. But it was two hours of solid crying followed by two hours of sleeping followed by two hours of solid crying followed by two hours of sleeping followed by two hours of solid crying… and by crying, I mean screaming at the top of its little baby lungs. No amount of holding would do. No amount of comforting would do. And this went on for six weeks straight. We ended up moving all the children to hide-a-beds in the living room, as our house back then had no interior insulation. And my wife and that baby fought it out upstairs. I watched the tension in the home escalate to a level where all the children were on edge, my wife was a literal walking zombie, and I was a walking frustration bomb. After six weeks of our lives being completely turned upside down, my wife and I made the hardest decision of our lives: to give the child back to the social workers. When the social worker came over, and in spite of my wife’s tears, she said, “Well, since you don’t want her I am going to drive around town and hold her out the window by one leg and wait till someone takes her or till she falls.” And that, fellow readers, is the support one receives. We found out later that the little baby was a meth baby. Not only were my wife and I not prepared or equipped to handle such a situation, but trying to comfort a baby that cannot be comforted is one of the most frustrating things that you can do.
At one point in time, my wife and I had 11 foster children and 1 biological child. I was finishing my senior year of college, our son was homeschooled, and my wife was pregnant with triplets. It was during this time that some of the hardest years of my life occurred. We had an 18 month old (the same baby we have earlier that we had to return), two 3 year olds, a 4 year old, a five year old, a seven year old, 2 eight year olds, a nine year old, 2 ten year olds, and a 13 year old. I know what you are thinking… “Why didn’t you take a few more?” And we wondered that ourselves. We never planned on being in that situation. We never planned on having so many children that haircuts took all day; our food trips were 3-4 carts at Costco every week or ten days (and everyone staring at us all the time…), and when you were mad and called the wrong name it took you so long to get to the right name that you not only forgot why you were mad but who you were mad at to begin with!
Between the toddler still not sleeping all the way through the night, one of the children having such horrible night terrors that our computers wound up being the unfortunate “urinal” for that horrible nightmare, my wife being so sick that there were some days she actually looked green, there was all the other stuff… the “I am addicted to caffeine so I am stealing tea bags to suck on through the night, and therefore not sleeping” stuff to the “I stole your calcium chews without you knowing and was constipated for 7 days and the inevitable plugging of the toilet that occurred once everything worked again” to the “I broke my glasses, and his glasses, and her glasses” to the “I don’t want to use toilet paper because toilet paper is gross” to the “I am going to set the world record for the most lies told in a day… a week… a month…” to the “even though you saw me slam the dog on the floor and hurt her there isn’t anything you can do about it,” you know, the normal parent stuff. And then my wife and I found out that we lost two of our triplets… the two that were identical twins.
It was also this time that the looks started. The “whispers” in certain circles started. And we understood that the hardest part of doing foster care would be the misunderstanding and judgment of others. We tried as hard as we could to be great parents to broken, hurting, independently dependent children. We took the brunt of their hatred, their accusations, their anger at life and their real parents that could only be expressed to those who were there, which happened to be us. We took the lying and the stealing and the manipulation. We took the poor grades and the “you’re not my mom/dad” to the cheating and fights at school. We took the expulsions, the tears, the throw up, and the frustration. But the hardest thing to take was walking somewhere with all our kids in tow and seeing the scales in peoples’ eyes. And we knew that we were found wanting. We knew that we weren’t perfect parents, and that most of the time, we weren’t even good parents. We knew that each of those children deserved their own parents, their own room, their own clothes, their own toys, and their own happiness. Of all the people that weighed us against some idea of what parents should be, my wife and I were the best. We knew every time we failed. We knew every time that we put so much hope into trying something new to make our children happy or trying something new to alleviate this issue or that issue and it failed… we knew. We knew it in the added frustration we felt. We knew it in the eyes of the children that knew we had tried something again that failed miserably.
And we knew it in the eyes of the social workers when again, we had to let them know that we had too many children and that it was just too much.
And we knew it when the safety of our children was compromised by a child in the home. A situation that was never even thought of, never even considered, became an immediate, horrible reality. And once again, we wore that failure and that shame.
It is easy to look at a mother with five children in tow, whose hair might be messed up and whose clothes might be a little too big or two small and judge her. It is easy to see a child who has a dirty face and look at the mom or the dad and think, “I did better with my kids.”
I do not write any of this to somehow make our experiences out to be the worst out there… they are not even close. I have heard stories from other foster parents and know that we have been spared much in our endeavors. And I am not naïve enough to think that parents tell the worst of the stories they have; they don’t. Which means that as bad as the worst of it is that I have heard, it is even worse in reality. I just write this to let people know how it really is.
My wife and I are still doing foster care. But there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t wish we could have a majority of the last seven years back to “do it better” than we did that day. And the day before that, and the day before that.
There are the days when an old picture will surface of children from years past, and if the tears don’t fall, the silence does. A silence that begs the questions, “Where are they now? Are they safe? I wonder if they look the same? I wonder if they even remember me at all?”
I have learned so much in the last seven years, but so much of it is not “nice and pretty” but “messy and gross.” I learned that anytime you get involved in the life of someone else, it is gonna be a mess, especially when you get involved to help broken people. And that is okay. I learned that all the standards that are set before an adventure begins should never be the deciding factor on whether that endeavor is a success of a failure. A smile, as normal as it might be for some, could be the only sign of success in the life of a foster child. A day where a child looks you in the eyes could be a sign of success. Or maybe, just knowing that they were fed, clothed, and that you loved them that day when no one else did is a success.
I do not write this for pity or for sympathy. No one made me become a foster parent and no one is making me stay a foster parent. I write this for all the foster parents that wonder if what they are doing is worth it, and for those that try and try and try and seem to fall further and further and further from the expectations they had when they started. I write this for the foster parents that have children that do not respond to anything you do or try, and simply offer these words: the fact that you are trying is enough.
I write this to all the foster parents that feel ashamed and unworthy and that don’t measure up to other people’s standards. I simply say this: you are not doing what other people are doing.
I write this to the husband and wife that are fighting each other in the midst of helping others, even though it is the last thing they want to do: you are better together and the love shown to each other from each other will be seen by those who need to see what true love is.
And I write this to all the foster parents out there that have seen the looks and felt the failure in the eyes of others: your reward is not in the eyes of others, but in the eyes of our Heavenly Father; when Jesus ate with sinners, He was judged… but He was also doing the will of His Father.
I cannot say that the last seven years of my life have been full of awesomeness and amazement. But they have been where grace met brokenness, in all the mess that it entailed. I can say that it is where two people trying to heal broken children became broken children in the arms of their Father. And I can say that it is where I realized that helping others always comes with a price… and that price is always worth it.
To all you out there that might read this and become foster parents or already are foster parents, you are my heroes. You are my inspiration.
Heavenly Father, as you look upon Your children, I pray that You would reach into the hearts, minds, and spirits of all the foster parents that are out there, and that Your grace and Your Spirit would fall upon them. I pray for renewed strength, vision, and empowerment. I pray that You would meet every need, not only for the foster parents but for their children as well. And I pray that you would allow these heroes, these who are helping the least of us, and these who are being Your hands and feet to be seen by others with Your eyes. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Keep on keeping on! You might just be changing the world; and if you aren’t, you are changing a child’s world… and that is pretty much the same thing.
This is a brief overview of our time doing foster care. One day I may write a book… but I have never seen a twenty-thousand page book. So, I don’t know…
As usual with any blog that I write, it has been born out of restlessness and reflection.
The title above might sound horrible, but let me explain: I have been reading a lot about what it means to stand justified before God the Father because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I have always looked at it one-sided, from my point of view, from the point of view of what Jesus did for me, of how my sins are washed away and I can stand justified before God the Father. However, I never looked at it from God the Father's side. He gave His only begotten Son... It pleased Him (God the Father) to crush Him (Jesus) (Isaiah 53:10). That is what I have been coming to understand... that the totality of God's wrath was poured out on the Son. Not only did Jesus take my sin, but He took God's wrath... for me, for you, for humanity. Not because He was mad at Jesus, or because He was angry with Him or anything like that, but because sin required punishment. The holiness of God cannot, by definition, allow sin to escape without punishment. Justification means exactly that: the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God.
Nothing I did accomplished that. Nothing you did accomplished that. Nothing anyone did, is doing, or can do will accomplish that. Only Jesus' death on the cross accomplished that. As sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God, we all deserve hell. But Christ took our sin, took God's wrath, and because of that, we stand justified before God the Father. I don't know if it means anything new to you, but that understanding has broken upon me in a fresh, yet completely humbling way.
How can I, then, not give my all to Jesus? How could I live my life like I am forgiven, but that it didn't cost anyone anything? How can I say I am a Christian but not follow Jesus? How can I put so many other things before my walk with the Lord? Did Jesus take my sin and take God's wrath so I could sing a few worship songs on Sunday, listen to or even give a message, and then go throughout the week worrying about me and mine? Did Jesus do all that so that my neighbor, who doesn't know Jesus, can remain in the dark, not justified because they do not know? Can I really justify all the material possessions I have, all the little hobbies and trivial pursuits and worthless trinkets and technological gadgets that I have when there are countries that do not have the Word of God translated into their language? Can I honestly pay money for pitiful, pathetic things knowing full well that there are children that do not have enough to eat? Can I be so blind as to not find the time to pray or help persecuted Christians? I am so safe in my justification that I do not have to hold up to the expectations of what a CHRISTIAN, A FOLLOWER OF JESUS CHRIST, should be and do?
And this is what bothers me. I rest assured that I am in right standing before God the Father because of the atonement provided for by Jesus Christ. I have the seal of ownership through the Holy Spirit. But for what? Jesus is not my ticket out of hell. He is so much more than that!!! How cheap we make His sacrifice, how we must break the heart of God the Father with our petty little sins, our pet transgressions, our hidden (or open) violations of God's grace and expectancy for our lives?
Did you know that there are Christians in some countries that refuse to call themselves Christians? They do so because they have been taught that America is a Christian nation, made up of mostly Christians. They do so because when the singer with nothing left to the imagination receives an award for their music they say, "I would first like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" as they then flaunt everything their mama gave them, speak of the filthiest things, and act in ways that draw no separation between themselves and a perverted animal, all while staunchly maintaining that they are Christians. Followers of Jesus in some countries believe that all American Christians have loose morals and are more worried about how they look and what material possessions they have than living for the Lord or following His Word. And they are absolutely right. Who in the world would want to associate their Savior with the depraved, perverted, disgusting, horrific acts that a majority of "Christians" have no problem letting the whole world see? Have we become so blind that we think that God is pleased with a people whom He bought with the blood of His Son that simply do not care about sin? O God, help us!!!
How sad it is that we tolerate sin in the church, in the body of Christ, because we do not want to offend anyone or, more importantly, we do not want to be offended. How much of a shame it is that by not confronting sin in the church, by not calling sin what it is, that we have lost the nerve to call sin in the world what it is. How else is the world supposed to know what sin is unless the Church stands and says, unanimously, "We have drawn a line in the sand: on this side is holiness, on that side is sin. We choose holiness!" No wonder many young people today find the church to be completely irrelevant; it is! If the church does the same things the world does, loves what the world loves, and seeks what the world seeks, all under the banner of Jesus Christ, then why would those of the world feel conviction, a need to repent, or believe in any way, shape, or form that they are not already justified and standing in right relation with God the Father?
What if we lived like Jesus' death on the cross not only bought our salvation, but took the wrath of God that was meant for us? Would it inspire us to live like Jesus? To live like Paul? Would it inspire us to get off the couch and actually share the GOOD news instead of keeping it to ourselves? Would we begin to understand the immense value that each and every soul has? Would we work hard to be the hands and feet of Jesus instead of being dead weight that drags His name into the mud over and over and over again? Would we seek to take the Gospel of Jesus to those who have not heard it, and continue to take it to those who have that have not yet accepted it? Would it move us from Sunday worship entailing all of what our Christian life is meant for and made up of to living like each moment has been redeemed by Jesus to use for His purpose and His plan, in accordance with the reconciliation of a fallen world to God? Would it inspire us to stop sinning like it doesn't matter, to confront sin in ourselves and others, to draw a line in the sand and begin to pull those on the opposite side of the line over to our side? Would it cause us to see that holiness matters and that Christ is coming back for a Bride without spot or wrinkle? Would it cause us to disciple ourselves and our children, instead of handing them over to the world through television, music, and social cesspools? Would it cause us to pray for our children instead of sending them to counselors or therapists, leaving someone else to fix the problems that we more than likely have caused ourselves? Would it cause us to value the name of Jesus Christ so much that we FEEL MOVED TO DO SOMETHING FOR THE KINGDOM?
It is almost like there is an alarm that we are waiting to go off so we can get up and go to work, having forgotten the whole time we have been sleeping that we were never supposed to have fallen asleep in the first place. I hate to say it, but for Christians who are waiting for an alarm, it will be too late to do much of anything once that alarm goes off. Of the ten virgins, five of them did not have their oil for the lamps. When the darkness came, they had to go in search of something to light their lamps. Because they had to leave to find it, they were not there when the bridegroom came. We all have a body that can be one of two things: lit or doused. Only those vessels that are lit will be there when the bridegroom comes.
I want to be ready. I want to live like I was bought with a price for a purpose, not of my own machination, but a purpose that was foreordained for me to fulfill. I want to live like Jesus took my place and took God's wrath, not so that I could be a fake Christian that cared more about the world that I do God's Kingdom. I want to live in a way that I am aware of what Jesus did for me, and that because I am aware of that, there is nothing I could do other than give my all, my everything, to Him and His purpose. I want to live with oil in my lamp.
So, Father, I pray that You forgive me, I have not known what I have done, until now. I pray that You redeem the time I have wasted, the people I have looked over, the times when I was too busy or too concerned with myself to offer words of life and encouragement to those you brought into my path. I ask forgiveness for the days I have wasted doing nothing for Your Kingdom. I ask forgiveness for the times I have handed my children over to the world instead of choosing to listen, teach, instruct, or pray for them. I ask forgiveness for the pet sins that I have chosen to tolerate versus confront. I ask forgiveness for the times when I chose to be weak and not confront sin. I ask forgiveness for any time that I was more a part of this world than I was a part of Your Kingdom. But most of all, Father, I ask forgiveness for not fully understanding or realizing what it is that Jesus did for me on the cross. Let me live each and every day, from this day forward, burning with a passion and desire to share the Good News with those around me; to pursue holiness like it matters, because it does; and to be submissive, obedient, and willing to follow Your will and Your Word. Help me wake up from my slumber, Oh Lord. Light my lamp. In the name of Your precious Son Jesus I pray, Amen.
It has been so long since I have written anything that I feel like the enemy has almost convinced me that it would be a waste of time to do so. But thank God that He chooses to believe in us above the lies of the enemy!
Jessica and I just returned from a trip to VA for her sister’s wedding. It was such a great time and really one of the only times that Jessica, Logan, Connor, and I have ever been alone together. It was awesome. The stress of a home with 8 children disappeared. The struggle of getting up every day knowing that issues are bound to arise (with this many children, it is pretty much a guarantee!!!). It was a great break from the same old scenery, same old drudgery, and same old circumstances. But it was also more than that. It was a time where her and I got to see each other as really husband and wife. Without the pressures of everything that we usually have, we really were able to connect in a way that was void of struggle and frustration. It really shook her and I to the core.
Upon returning, we had about a half hour’s reprieve and then…. “BAM!!!!” the world slapped us in the face, one more time, the way it has so many times before. The stress immediately began to pile up, and it just seemed like so many things that we had enjoyed went right out the window.
I write all that to say this, “Life would be so much easier not doing what the Lord has called us to do.” Whoa! I bet you are thinking, “Did he just write what I just read? And him, a pastor of all things!!!” I did write that and you did read it correctly. Jessica and I could spend every night in privacy, enjoying each other the way a husband and wife should. We could be pouring ourselves into Logan and Connor in ways that would take them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually years from where they are now. We could have the freedom to move wherever, work wherever, and do whatever. Seeing her parents would involve planning it out with them, not having to spend weeks finding babysitters for six more children. Our grocery bill would be significantly lighter. We could get by with one vehicle. We could actually have a guest room!!! Wait, we could actually have our own room instead of sleeping in a converted living room.
But by doing so, I wouldn’t be Justin Countryman… servant of God. Jessica would not be Jessica Countryman… servant of God. We would be Justin and Jessica Countryman… servants of self. She might get all of me in a certain sense, but she would not get all of God in me, as there is no way she could get that if I am not living out the fullness of His plan for my life. We might not have the stress we do now, but we for surely would not have the sense of purpose and the joy that comes from answering the call God has placed on your life. We might smile more on the outside, but we would be restless and torn on the inside. We might have the freedom to move where we want, do what we want, and work different jobs; but we would be bound to the thought of not giving God our all… and there is no freedom in that.
Matthew 19:29 says, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” Strong words with strong responsibilities on our end that follow such words. I have long struggled with what this verse meant, but I believe, in some small way, that I am beginning to see what it means. While I have never forsaken Jessica and the kids and ran off to the mission field elsewhere, I have forsaken Jessica in that she does not get all of me she rightfully deserves. Raising children takes time, energy, and sustenance. It has to come from somewhere. Raising foster children involves the same but on a much more magnified level. Pastoring involves service and sacrifice. There are times when my family gets put on the back burner due to the needs of somebody in the congregation. I am forsaking my time with them in order to follow what the Lord has asked me to do.
I may be rambling, and you may think that I am completely off my rocker by saying what I have said, but for me, at my time in my life, this is what this verse means. Even though doing what the Lord asks of us costs, it is well worth it. When I think of what our life would look like without these children, I see a completely different path, and one that does not look so good. I would have never married Jessica were it not for the years of sacrifice in Lame Deer. Connor would not be born. I would not see Logan having the godly mother he so badly needs that he has found in Jessica. I would not be where I am in my relationship with the Lord, as every thing that has ever cost me something in His service has not only brought an amazing lesson from but also brought amazing growth from.
It is just like the Israelites: they were freed and told to follow the Lord. However, because it cost them something (mainly time spent wandering) they began to complain. When their complaining grew to a higher level, they began to remember how great it was in Egypt, how they ate meat around the campfires, and how it wasn’t so bad. It was all a bunch of lies. If we can let the enemy trick us into complaining even just a little bit, we miss out on where the Lord is leading us to and where He has lead us from, and trade eternity for a daydream. A while ago, in another blog or another paper, I wrote this: Complacency is accepting what is, causing the death of what could be. This is what the Israelites did. This is what you and I could be doing right now.
I never want to be a nominal Christian. I do not want to be a Christian that just does enough to get by. I do not want to be someone that lives a great life that knows of Jesus. I want to be someone that has a great life born out of my relationship with Christ. This means that my life may not be everything I ever dreamed it would be… and that is okay. My life can be everything God the Father planned it out to be, and it will be the better because of it.
If I have to have a little stress, or a little more stress, or a ton of stress for a little while until I can hear, “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” then that is okay with me. This life is not the life that matters… my eternal life is what matters.
As I am writing this blog, there is a song playing that says, “We will worship You like it is the last time on earth we will be able to.” That is the attitude I want to have every day I get up. “Lord, you woke me up this morning, so I am going to live this day like it is the last day I have on this earth to serve you.” And there is nothing the “Pharaoh’s” or “Egypt’s” of this world can do to take that from me!!!
My life is not my own, for it was bought at a price. How naïve to think I could accept the gift of salvation, call Jesus my Lord and Savior, yet retain the rights and privileges of keeping my life my own. My life is His, and as His, He owns the rights and privileges to it. It is His to do with as He pleases, whether I agree, whether it makes sense, or whether it fits into my schedule. The cost: heavy; the reward: unequalled.
This was a paper I had to do for school. I normally would not put something like this on here, as it is extremely long, but it was a labor of love and the Lord really worked on me in the preparation of this paper. I leave it here for others to enjoy!
When looking at discipleship and missions, there is a great danger in falling into the ever-complacent Sunday-school, child-like thinking that so easily ensnares much of modern-American Christianity. But mission and discipleship are serious business! A Christian’s very essence as a human being fits into the mission of God and Jesus poured Himself out as the disciple-maker to His disciples. Unless Christians understand the link between mission and discipleship, they are in danger of not only having the momentum of their current missions stall out, but to have the engine of their Christianity lose power and begin to roll backwards down an already uphill road. The church is dead without mission and mission is dead without the church. “This generation of Christians is going to answer to God for this generation of sinners” (Tomlinson & Chappell, 9). Let Christians awake from their apathy, repent for their sluggishness, rediscover the mission of God, and see it come to pass by the power of the Holy Spirit.
One needs to understand what discipleship and mission(s) are and how they are to be defined in this paper. There is a difference between “mission” and “missions.” The word “mission,” as used in this paper, signifies “…all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 25). The word “missions,” on the other hand, means “…the multitude of activities that God’s people can engage in, by means of which they participate in God’s mission” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 25). This may seem like an easy way for anyone to say they are a missionary or that they are involved in missions; but it is time for the church to understand that it takes all types of people to reach all types of people. Not everything one does in a missional context will require moving to a distant land to reach foreigners, but all missional endeavors should be participative in the mission of God (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 26).
The word “disciple” means “one who follows and learns from another as a pupil” (McKim, 78). This is a very simple definition, but the simplicity of the definition adds that much more prominence for what it means to the Christian life. Understanding this definition of discipleship means that Christians need to not only read and implement what it says, but also understand and implement what it does not say. A disciple is one who follows, not one who watches from their vantage point. A disciple is one who learns, not one who isn’t transformed by the lessons they learn. In other words, a disciple is one who hears and listens from a teacher, not one who claims discipleship in word only. Discipleship needs to be redefined with the lives of Christians today. The question now standing before the church becomes, “How is this to be done?” N.T. Wright, in his lecture “The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World,” offers his solution below:
By re-envisioning and re-appropriating worship and mission in the light of all that’s been said, in the light of the full biblical story. Worship is not simply Christian entertainment or making a miscellaneous nice party with lots of nice music. Christian worship is humbly adoring the Creator God and thereby being renewed in his image. And image- bearing includes that love of the world which shares the love which was Christ’s, which sent him to die on the cross, renewed in his image and strengthened by his body and blood, into a transformative spirituality which expresses itself naturally and obviously in the work for new creation in the world (n. p.).
Some other words that will be used in conjunction with discipleship are “mentor or mentoring.” The following definition, used by Amanda Stone in her online post “Definition of Mentoring,” will allow one to fully understand the definition of mentoring/mentor used within this paper:
Mentoring is a developmental partnership through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information and perspective to foster the personal and professional growth of someone else. We all have a need for insight that is outside of our normal life and educational experience. The power of mentoring is that it creates a one-of-a-kind opportunity for collaboration, goal achievement and problem-solving (n. p.).
As a mentor to other Christians, one should understand that they create a chance for an interaction to occur within the life of another that no other type of relationship can (Stone, n. p.). This will have huge implications in the need for discipleship in missions and how mission/s is/are affected by discipleship/mentoring.
Christians tend to take their missional understanding from Matthew 28:18-20, better known as the Great Commission:
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (HCSB).
Christians need to see the gross, negligent misunderstanding the Western world has derived from this passage of Scripture. First, the whole Bible has a missional scope (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 31). Instead of simply seeing the Old Testament as a separate collection of stories and poems for the amusement of “New Testament” Christians, one needs to not only understand how the Old Testament led to the focal point of salvation, Jesus Christ incarnate, but also that one who is a Christian belongs to the people of God, known in the Old Testament as the nation of Israel. To cut one’s self off from the stories of their spiritual ancestors is to begin a “mission” without a proper understanding of who he/she is, to Whom it is he/she belongs, and to Whom he/she will give an account. “Unfortunately, there is a danger that the expression ‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world’ turns the church into nothing more than a delivery mechanism for the message. All that matters is ‘getting the job done’ – preferably as soon as possible. And sadly there are some forms of missionary strategy and rhetoric that strongly give that impression” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 29). If Christians simply deliver a message from One they have not truly and fully known, then they become simple errand boys and girls who do not actually, and in a “belongingly” active way, participate in the salvific mission of God. The Bible is not about an arrangement Christians work out with Jesus in order to procure a ticket to heaven, barely escaping the fires of hell; the Bible is about God dealing with the sin problem in all creation which just so happens to find its fulcrum in the humanity (and spirituality) of human beings (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 31).
The second great misunderstanding the Western world has taken from the Great Commission is to simply reduce it to a single verb command instead of a command laden with spiritually significant, unalterable, in-disposable, inter-related mandates from the Name above all names. It is not enough to just “Go!” Christians must go, but Christians must “make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them.” The church that seeks only numbers to be added to the “Official Roll Call” to be given to the Lord on the Great Day of Spiritual Reckoning will simply watch that paper burn into ashes before their very eyes. However, the church that labors continuously, without fail or falter, to go, disciple, baptize, and teach will find their crowns full of jewels. Some Christians have begun to take one of the most blatant of all Scriptural mandates and narrow it down to simply a “Go.” Why has this begun to happen to some? It has begun to happen to some because of the worldly thinking that has started to combat biblical thinking, which leads to getting without giving, barely doing enough to get by (spiritually), and being served as opposed to serving others. Converts can come in one service; disciples can take a whole lifetime.
Somehow today, we have reduced our ministry down to an eight-hour-a-day job at the Christian school, or a youth activity on a Saturday night, or a Sunday school lesson on Sunday morning. We have neatly packaged our ministry into sermons, lessons, assignments, and sessions. We are irritated when our schedule is interrupted by people with problems, questions, and needs. We have convinced ourselves that if people have our e-mail address, the number to our answering machine, and the password into our voice-message box, we are available. We have become masters at managing, but miserable at mentoring (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 4).
Churches (and Christians) today cannot let souls slide into hell because they can’t spare the extra minutes it could take to disciple someone. A popular quote by Charles Spurgeon says, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
The early church did not have the New Testament as it is known today to give them their missional command. It was through knowing Jesus and interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures in light of Him that they had the urge to go! Some of the disciples would have heard Jesus issue His missional mandate, but Paul certainly didn’t, and he evangelized nations due to the burdensome understanding of what the Gospel is: hope and life to those who know it not. “In both testaments, God’s people are called to nonnegotiable, uncompromising loyalty to the uniqueness of God – revealed as YHWH in the Old Testament, and walking among us in the incarnate life of Jesus of Nazareth in the New” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 31). Christians need to return to a proper missional understanding of who they are, Who God is, what His mission is, and how they are to partake in that mission both as individuals and communally as His church.
Discipleship – Does it Matter?
The Disciples had their lives changed not only by what Jesus said, but by what He did as well. In Western settings, things have been compartmentalized into general areas: family, work, and play time. Church is squeezed somewhere in between those three things, but has lost its own compartment within some Christians’ lives. Churches and Christians that face this need some mentors in their lives who would follow the model of Jesus and pour their lives into those seeking help, causing the shift of worldly influence into the Christian realm to cease and allow hurting Christians the chance to begin to influence the world around them. This world and the lives of those in it will never be changed by “four hour a week Christians.” Christ did not spare chances to preach and heal the masses, but He chose twelve men to accompany Him in life, both the desirable and undesirable parts of it (Goetsch & Rasmussen, VIII). Today, as Christians, some seem to ignore pouring their lives into others and have complacently satisfied themselves with simply preaching to the few… and those few seem to be their family members and those closest to them; not those who haven’t yet heard the Gospel. “If we want to transform our families, our churches, our businesses, our communities, and ultimately our world, then we must discover what it means to pour our lives into individuals. We must learn to spend more time with the few. We must learn to live for the next generation. We must become mentors” (Goetsch & Rasmussen, VIII). Some of the youth of today and yesterday have been taught great things academically, shown wonderful advancements in modern living, and have found acceptance within great educational boundaries, but have done so through second hand experiences, not through the intimate spiritual mentoring of one person to another (Goetsch & Rasmussen, VII). Some Christians and churches have taken discipleship and mentoring and, instead of understanding the depth of spiritual weight these two words carry, have simply replaced both words and meanings with a new word: entertainment. Churches now spend massive amounts of money to “entertain” the youth, which are the ones who will reach the next generation of sinners. Without engaging them in active, positive, spiritually formative mentoring, churches are only setting them up to do the same thing they have done: entertain tomorrow’s pastors, minister, evangelists, missionaries, husbands, and the list goes on and on. N.T. Wright again speaks in his lecture about a paradigm shift that is emerging in our culture today:
Within postmodernity God is sometimes assumed to be a very old silly dream that’s long gone but equally within some of the New Age movement there are gods of all sorts, gods aplenty, coming bubbling up at us from all corners, not necessarily the Christian God by any manner of means. Everyone now wants spirituality, but ironically they don’t all think, in fact most of them don’t think, that you can find it in church (The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World, n. p.).
Because the church has shifted its focus from discipleship and spiritual formation to entertaining and attention-competing with the world, it is no longer viewed as a spiritual place or a place to find spirituality. New formulas and ideas are great, but not at the cost of tried and true methods, such as “old fashioned prayer meetings” (Tomlinson & Chappell, 15). The church runs the risk of changing the very essence and culture of the church if too many new ideas are implemented without ensuring the “core” ideas remain, like prayer, evangelism, and missions.
So, one can see that simple entertainment is never going to instill the spiritual discipline that is meant by “discipleship and mentoring.” As believers whose works will be tested in the fire and whose very words will be judged (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Romans 14:12; Matthew 12:36), Christians need spiritual formation. This is the type of formation that goes deeper than just outward appearance; this is the type of formation that changes one completely from within, including every inner and outer aspect of who that human is, from something they were to something formed and shaped by the Spirit (Teague, 10). Christians need to remember that just because they are Americans, or just because they attend church on Sunday, or just because some of them are even pastors or ministers, that they are not immune from both having to be discipled and doing everything to disciple others. Spiritual formation never ceases for any age, gender, ethnicity, or profession. If Christ chose to disciple others until the day He died then the church and its members should look to do the same.
Old Testament Missional Perspective
In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself through different situations to different people: Moses and the burning bush; Abraham many times, especially through His covenant with Him; the exodus of Israel and the supernatural plagues brought upon the Egyptians. God chose Israel, but He chose Israel as a means of providing His self-revelation to the world. The full self-revelation of God among humanity is Jesus, which the Old Testament clearly prophetically declared. The Old Testament speaks clearly and plainly about both discipleship and mission. God became known to Israel as a nation through their wilderness experience and His discipline, through the Prophets, and through the many defeats Israel experienced by surrounding nations. It was all designed to prove that God is God, and Israel shall have no other. But it also served as confirmation to surrounding nations that Israel’s God is an all-powerful God, even using “enemy” forces to punish His own people for their disobedience. Israel did not command its God; their God commanded them. Israel did not use God for its own purpose; God disciplined Israel to fit His purpose. “It is clear then… Israel believed that they had come to know him as the one and only true and living God… Furthermore, they had a sense of stewardship of this knowledge since it was God’s purpose that ultimately all nations would come to know the name, the glory, the salvation and the mighty acts of YHWH and worship him alone as God” (Wright, The Mission of God, 92). There seems to be greater significance in the salvific plan of God than what popular Christian rapper TobyMac seems to present by acquiring a ticket on the “J Train” that is powered by the “Freak Line.” God is relentlessly working to save souls, to eradicate the effects of sin on a fallen world and a fallen humanity, and to prepare for His people a place of eternal glory.
“You are My witnesses”— this is the Lord’s declaration—“and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me. I, I am Yahweh, and there is no other Savior but Me. I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed— and not some foreign god among you. So you are My witnesses”— this is the Lord’s declaration— “and I am God” (Is. 43:10-12, HCSB).
God demands witnesses… witnesses of individuals; witnesses of families; witnesses of nations; but most important of all, witnesses of His people.
Old Testament Mentoring Perspective
Moses redeemed a nation; Jacob wrestled an angel; Joseph came to power and saved thousands, if not millions; Gideon defeated armies; Joshua brought down fortresses; David defeated enemies; Solomon wrote piercing words of wisdom and built the Temple; Jonah survived imprisonment in a whale; Esther saved her people; and all because they encountered YHWH, the God of Israel. Christians cannot cut the power of God short because they cut themselves short. The same power that freed nations, saved millions, defeated armies (physically and spiritually) and established kingdoms is in every Christian today. God’s self-revealed knowledge of Himself changed the surrounding world, in different contexts and at different times, but always for His purpose. Christians belong to that same purpose and Christians must realize that they have the opportunity to mentor the David’s, Jonah’s, Jeremiah’s, Solomon’s, Samson’s, and Noah’s of the future generation. The “disciplers” of the Old Testament are those that knew God in an intimate way… they are known as prophets today. The point of the prophets in the Old Testament was to warn, rebuke, and edify God’s people in hopes of showing them God’s missional will for their lives. But it goes further than that. Prophets were people who clearly and undeniably were used of God to instruct His instructors. “The job of the priests was to teach God’s law to the people. They were appointed to make known the ways, word and commands of God. Through the priests God would be known to his people. That’s why, when the people went so badly astray, the prophets said it was because there was no knowledge of God in the land. And who did they blame? The priests, for failing to teach” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 120). Teaching, in the sense just used, would fall on priests. Today, through the blood of Christ, all Christians are called to be priests (1 Peter 2:9). All Christians are responsible to teach and share the knowledge of God with those with whom they come into contact (1 Peter 3:15).
New Testament Missional Perspective
Many times, Christians read the Bible in daily “chop it up and serve it as a morning appetizer” type undertakings without ever really placing those morning bits and pieces into a comprehensive and understandable whole.
We won’t build the Kingdom of God by our own efforts in the present; it remains God’s gift by his grace and by his power. But we can produce signs of the Kingdom in love and justice and beauty and healing and fresh community work of all sorts, internationally, locally, all over the place. And thereby celebrate the whole biblical story, the whole biblical story. We must not collude with deconstruction in how we use the Bible as though a little bit of it here, a little bit of it there will do the business. No, we need the whole story. And re-creation, which is the heart of Christian mission, starts with the imagination of a world set free from sin and decay, a world we glimpse at Easter and are mandated to implement by the Spirit in art and music and literature, in politics, in theology, in chemistry, in mathematics, whatever — and to embody that in communities which live it out and make it happen in our public discourse in so many ways (N.T. Wright, The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World, n. p.).
The New Testament as a whole speaks of the actual coming of Christ, His death and Resurrection, the empowerment of those in the upper room by the Holy Spirit, the spread of Christianity throughout the world as they knew it, how to live a glorified life in a fallen world, and both climaxing and ending with the predicted return of Jesus Christ. New Testament theology is really the writing and teaching of God’s mission to humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, establishing God’s kingdom on earth, and the empowerment of His people by the Holy Spirit to bring that message of salvation to the ends of the world (I. Howard Marshall, 34-35). Instead of reading the New Testament as a story of what Jesus and His disciples did, as well as what the early church did, Christians need to read it as the beginning of a story they are still participating in alongside the same power that propelled the beginning of the story. “Within a few short years, those who named Jesus as Lord and Savior had grown beyond the original group of convinced Jewish believers to include Hellenized Jews, then Samaritans, then Greeks, then people of many ethnic groups in Asia Minor and eventually had taken root in the cosmopolitan city of Rome itself” (Wright, The Mission of God, 506).
The Missional Mandate of Jesus
In perhaps one of the most striking mandates from heaven, found in both the Old and New Testament, we can see a clear missional mandate that Jesus accepted as His own. Found in both Isaiah 61 and Luke 4, the following mandate is stated: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19; Cf. Is. 61:1-2a, HCSB). However, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus takes it a step further, resulting in the revelation to and eventual understanding of His audience, when He says: “He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled”” (Luke 4:20-21, HCSB). Jesus understood that He was fulfilling a mission. He was fulfilling not just any mission, but God’s mission, both prophesied of in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the incarnation of Christ. This Scripture clearly shines some light on the mission of God, from the beginning of time until the end of time as it is known. What one will never read in the New Testament is either Jesus, His disciples, or any other servant of Christ saying that the job is done and that the new missional mandate from God is to wait complacently for Jesus’ return, ignoring the original missional mandate stated earlier. Even in the Great Commission, Jesus says “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b, HCSB). Jesus does not say, “I am with you until you think the job is done.” What Jesus speaks of is a continual job, mandate, or undertaking that is greater than just a generation, a family, a person, or a season; He speaks of the mission of God for all time, to all people, in all places.
Jesus’ Intentional Form of Discipleship/New Testament Mentoring Perspective
When looking at how Jesus chose to disciple His disciples, there are a couple of things that stick out and have pertinent meaning for churches and followers of Christ today. First, consider what Jesus did do: Jesus sought out the Twelve. He gave them a simple choice: come and follow Him. He spent three years with them, both in life and ministry (is there a separation?), fellowshipped with them, cried with them, preached to them, rebuked them, and led them. Jesus poured His life into a group of men He chose. Second, consider what Jesus did not do: He did not preach a sermon and choose the best out of those who responded. He did not settle and pastor a mega-church. He did not live a life separate from His ministry. While Jesus preached to the masses, He poured His life into the few. Some ministers today pour their lives into the masses on Sunday and don’t have time for the few. “Revival will not come to our ranks when some preacher preaches something new – revival will come when God’s people obey the old! The problem is not ignorance – the problem is disobedience. Our education exceeds our obedience. The need of the hour is not more decisions – the need of the hour is to start living the decisions we have already made. Until that happens, we will be plagued with mediocrity instead of progressing to maturity” (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 7). When the church finds itself lost and without direction, going backwards instead of forwards, emptying instead of filling, the basics need to be retaught, relearned, and re-implemented. The church is not facing a new problem that needs a new model, but an old problem that will only be changed through spiritual formation and discipleship. It will take physically, emotionally, and spiritually mentoring another person in order for the desired change to be seen in that person (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 15). A “Veggietales” movie alone, while entertaining and enlightening, will not provide children with spiritual formation. Intentional spirituality that is lived through trials that children can witness will help the kingdom of God break through into their world. Pastors must intentionally disciple their flock as parents must intentionally disciple their children.
Jesus engaged the culture into which He was born. He did not run from cultural differences, but embraced culture as a way to minister to others. Even though He spoke mainly to Jewish audiences, He still had cross-cultural mission in mind. Even though Jesus ministered in words and ideas familiar to the Jews, He also made sure to do so in a way that would open the doors of other cultures, for the rest of time, to His message, allowing every culture an opportunity to come into the understanding of His message (Flemming, 22). The message of Jesus is cross-cultural at its very core. The church cannot change or water down the message of Jesus in order to help it fit a culture different than its own. Jesus spoke to a culture in its own cultural language and symbols, yet it had a profound effect on cultures to which one would not assume it would (Flemming, 22).
The Problem of Duality
Christianity is built upon paradoxes: losing one’s life to gain it (Luke 17:33); the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16); Paul’s paradoxes (2 Corinthians 6:9-10). Jesus Himself was a king who came to serve. However, there seem to be some great paradoxes that have shown up in the church: the duality of Christianity in the local church between the pastor and the laity and the attitude of “us and them” concerning the local church and missions/missionaries.
Some churches have created this idea of leadership that follows as such: the pastor is the righteous one with all the answers. His/her life is perfect; a shining example of Christian spirituality in a darkened world. On the flip-side of that coin are the laity, or those who aspire to maybe, one day, be close to enabling a righteous comparison to the pastor, who could never lead as Godly a life as the pastor does, and who are simply just not called to minister to others but only called to need the ministry of those who are called. In his “Lifeway Research Blog,” Ed Stetzer says,
The image that such terminology creates is of two classes of people inside the church. The first class (emphasis on "first") is the professional clergy, referred to as "ministers" by some churches. The second class (I meant to say that) is the laypeople. I also see something that is not only unbiblical but I believe it sabotages the mission of God intended for ALL God's people and teaches "lay people" that they are the ones who do nothing or are worth very little (Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 – Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System, n. p.).
Looking at Jesus as not only the Son of God, but the Shepherd of shepherds or the Pastor of pastors can help clarify this issue. All pastors still need Jesus as a Pastor; all Christians have the same spiritual value, whether missionary, lay person, or minister. All Christians are called of God to be His servants and to do His will (Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:11-18; Colossians 1:9-12; Romans 8:27-31; Romans 12:1-21). Removing the false dichotomy that has arisen within the church will allow a “one mind and one accord” (Acts 1:14; 2:1, KJV) type bond found in the Acts church to develop between pastors and their laypeople. This will also stop the pastor or minister from having to spend precious time developing “his” kingdom within the lives of those he/she serves that should already be in God’s kingdom. Once again, Ed Stetzer sees the growing issue as:
My fear is that we have created a class system in the body of Christ comprised of the "called" and the "not so much called." Nothing could be further from the truth. The ministry assignment of the laypeople is not to simply "lay" around and tell the called what they should be doing. Laypeople are not to be customers of religious goods and services served by the storekeeper clergy. We are all called although our current assignments may vary dramatically (Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 – Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System, n. p.).
This problem, however, exists not only between pastors and laypeople, but, even more sadly so, between some churches and missionaries. Too many churches view missionaries as “those” people who go and do crazy, radical things for the Lord in far off countries, facing imminent danger around every turn, and who are simply built of more “spiritual stuff” than regular Christians who just go to church when the doors are open. Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms defines dualism as the following: “any view that is constituted by two basic or fundamental principles such as spirit and matter or good and evil” (McKim, 83). While it may seem like the duality or dualism in the situation between minister and laity or church and missionary is not the same as between spirit and matter or good and evil, it is a matter of spiritual life and death to those who are not being reached due to the hindrance of this issue. Churches plagued by this problem need to allow for an understanding that the laypeople are to be partakers in the ministry of the church, taking responsibility for the church’s ministry as their own (Stetzer, Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 – Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System, n. p.). If lay people can learn that they hold responsibility for the church, then they become partakers in the message and mission of the church. This is what God intended! The group of believers in Acts that were of one mind and one accord (Acts 1:14; 2:1, KJV) were waiting on God, per the instructions of Jesus. They were all partakers in what was about to happen but only because they were all partakers in their belief in Jesus. Acts does not say, “The clergy (the Disciples) were in the upper room and the laity were in the lower rooms, to help signify the difference between their spiritual strength and maturity.” What Acts does say is that they “…were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1, KJV). The church needs to return to the intentional practice of being in one accord in one place. Pastors need to allow laity insight into their lives so as to live life together with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, while laity needs to understand that the pastor is called of God to feed his sheep and to cast the vision for the ministry and direction of the church. “To do this, we must begin by declaring the two class system of ministry dead -- we may even have to kill it. A new level of ownership must be given to the people of God, and the people of God must embrace what they are given. God's desire is to have a church made up of every day Christians living like missionaries” (Stetzer, Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 – Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System, n. p.). No longer should the church be made up of the elite ministerial class who only has time for the lower, peasant-like class of laity on Sundays and Wednesdays; and no longer should the church be made up of laity that expect to be spoon-fed their faith without taking an active stance in their own spiritual formation. There are many who will call themselves Christians, but there are few who would say, as Paul did, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, HCSB). A unified church that is void of the duality of the pastor-laity relationship and the church-missionary relationship will unequivocally be able to say, “Imitate us, as we also imitate Christ.”
The church desperately needs to return to its origins, to the beliefs modeled in the church of Acts and spoken of by Paul, Peter, and the other New Testament writers, forever manifested physically in the words, actions, and workings of Christ. Old terms need new definitions that return them to their original meaning for the church. “Mission” needs to be understood by all as something they belong to, something in which they have a part. “Missions,” however, should be understood as the myriad of ministries the Holy Spirit uses to call sinners to repentance. “Discipleship” needs to be understood, in light of modern thinking, as life-mentoring. Humanity, in general, seems to be struggling with various trials and issues, such as split marriages with children involved, economic pressures, bullying, and emotional problems; the church can either look at these issues as hindrances to spiritual growth or opportunities for spiritual formation through mentoring (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 89).
When speaking of a missiological view of Scripture, I. Howard Marshall says, “We shall also be enabled to avoid a one-sided understanding of the Holy Spirit as the agent of sanctification and to pay proper attention to the Spirit’s role in empowering and directing the church for mission and growth” (36). In order to see growth and conversion like the Bible speaks of in Acts, the church must seek the power of the Holy Spirit, not just for spiritual power to conquer evil, but for spiritual transformation to overturn fleshly, human thinking into spiritual, Godly thinking. The problems facing the church and its involvement in the Mission of God will only get stronger.
It seems almost certain that theological tensions will increase in the coming years. The larger cultural shift toward postmodernization and the ongoing relativization of truth even in the evangelical church will pose a challenge for the foreseeable future. In such a context missionaries may be tempted to give up, faced as they are with increasing resistance from people who not only do not want to hear the good news, but also even forcefully repel those who hope to bring it to them (Corwin, McGee, & Moreau, 311).
In order to face the dualistic problem of mission and discipleship, it will take a solution that has dualistic purpose. Because Jesus taught the Disciples through spending His life with them, the church must become a place where life is lived, not simply a place where believers have weekly fellowship. The church must break out of the walls that have held the message of the Gospel in for so long. Claude Hickman quotes K.P. Yohannan as saying, "Believers who have the gospel keep mumbling it over and over to themselves. Meanwhile, millions who have never heard it once fall into the flames of eternal hell without ever hearing the salvation story” (126). It is time that the church establishes a discipleship program that will take the focus off of the “if it works for me, then I am in” church mentality that is pervading churches today and instead creates spiritual formation that will cause ministers and laity to grow together into one cohesive unit that seeks to know their part in God’s mission, seeks to be involved in missions, and sends out and supports missionaries because it is God’s mission to do so. God didn’t send Jesus as Savior for a period of time, but for all eternity, meaning that all missional undertakings play a part in the ongoing salvific mission of God to all generations (Marshall, 710). As people saved by God, believers have a responsibility to share their knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus with those who have not heard (Romans 10:14-15, HCSB). Dean Flemming quotes Harold E. Dollar as saying, “Luke shows that the theological challenge of the Gentile mission is not the reluctance of the Gentiles to respond to the gospel but the reluctance of the Jews to preach to them” (32). It is each individual Christian’s responsibility to share the message they have come to know and understand with people who need to hear it just as badly as they did.
Believers also have a responsibility to mentor and disciple who they can. “Today, a generation of quitters is raising a generation of young people that won’t even try. Divorced parents have raised children that live together with the opposite sex without bothering to get married. Adults who have quit church have now raised a generation of atheists and agnostics. In an increasingly hostile culture toward Christianity, our young people desperately need examples of commitment to Christ” (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 19). Discipleship begins with each individual believer submitting to the authority of Jesus in their life; mentoring begins with each individual believer accepting responsibility for their spiritual formation with the help of and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Commitment to the sovereignty of God is going to be needed in order to show those who are watching that Christians believe what they claim: that God is real, true, and powerful (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 21). Commitment to Christ must return to the center of the church’s prerogative. Missions is hard work; it will take dedication, determination, and perseverance to see a fruitful harvest, yet this harvest may not come in weeks or months, but in years and decades (Tomlinson & Chappell, 52). Commitment does not mean that things suddenly get better or that all the hiccups the world has in store for Christians simply disappear.
There will be days when our walk with God will seem like a hard slog through the mud and rain. But there will also come moments of grace when God breaks through like the sun shining from behind clouds. Call it “inspiration” or “anointing” or “revival blessing” – God can suddenly inject grace into our weary hearts and help us function on a higher plane. Grace is not just the unmerited favor by which God saves us. It is also the unmerited power by which God helps us to live for him (Teague, 17-18).
Having commitment means one has faith that God is in control, even in the midst of the most adverse situations. How Christians present their faith in the midst of various trials will attest the viability of whether the Christian faith has meaning for a lost and dying world or not (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 88).
The church also needs to become a place for people to serve and live life together. Transformation can be both an immediate and prolonged experience, and it is often both, meaning that transformation continues beyond the initial stages of a Christian’s life, on into communal fellowship, communal ministry, and communal intimacy with Christ (Teague, 27). Spiritual lessons come from serving others in everyday life. Communal fellowship and ministry can provide those with less experience the proper education, both literally and spiritually, to grow in missional, spiritual, and biblical ways (Tomlinson & Chappell, 52). There are some lessons that are learned best by experience. Jesus didn’t just speak empty words; He proved those words through actions; He did not separate His ministry from life, but instead let His life confirm His ministry (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 4).
One way the church can help improve its spiritual formation and missional understanding for members is to implement and act out a sense of communal living, worshiping, and ministering. Increasingly, in the modern world, we think of ourselves as being persons instead of people. Once, as a people, we live closely together, did things together, and helped one another to survive. Now, we’re busy. Our families are smaller. And we spend years working on our personal goals, like obtaining degrees. We have become individuals who have forgotten how to think and act as a people. So, when we hear the “one another’ verses of the Bible – like “love one another” and “carry each other’s burdens” – they do not speak to us as they once did. And when we hear the pronoun you in Paul’s letters, we naturally think it refers to the single individual and not to the whole community as Paul intended (Teague, 96). If the body of Christ will allow themselves to live life together, as the church in Acts did, then Christians will live “church” every day. The problem of compartmentalization will be over. Entertainment, the thing taught to children at church, will be found in ministry opportunities outside the walls of the church while the body, when coming together, will be spiritually formulated for God’s mission as a whole, with each individual member receiving spiritual formation as well. It will end the duality of the minister-laity problem as well as the church-missionary problem, because church becomes a “we” and not an “us versus them.” “In conclusion, let me just reiterate that we are in this work as co-laborers. It is the greatest task in which we can engage… If we will consider each other and prefer each other in love, we will accomplish great things for the cause of Christ together” (Tomlinson & Chappell, 72). God’s mission will succeed, but it is up to the church to be a part of it, through mentoring, discipleship, and intentional spiritual formation.
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