Chained Yet Free

We have been told since day 1 of Jesus’ ministry that following Him would not be easy. Jesus was very frank about that. In John, He says that the world would hate us because it first hated Him, that we would be persecuted just as he was first persecuted. We see this very present in the early church: Paul was jailed and put under house arrest. Of the 12 disciples, only John died a natural death – in exile on the island of Patmos. The church as a whole endured persecution from the Roman government up through Constantine. From that day onwards, Christians have been persecuted at almost every time in every corner of the world, whether it be Christian missionaries to the Norse, Japanese, Soviets, or, currently, Muslims.

We will be persecuted. It’s not a matter of whether we will be, but when. even today, in the USA, ideological persecution is well under way. But we must remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of courage and a sound mind. In sending out the disciples, Jesus told them to stand firm and be courageous:

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but not the soul.

Matt. 10:27-28

Peter encouraged the early church with similar words, encouraging them to rejoice in their sufferings:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed … [If] you suffer as a christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that  you bear that name.

1 Peter 4:12-16

Finally, James, the brother of Christ, encourages us to take joy in our persecution:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

He also reminds us that we who persevere are blessed:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

James 1:12

So then, let us be encouraged. Let us not be fainthearted. We serve a God who brings salvation into the world. He is the light in the darkness that shall not be hidden. He is the truth, the life, and also the way. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel, but be encouraged by the life it brings, boldly going to the front lines, knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Let us remember and commend those who have gone before us, laying their lives down for the sake of the Gospel, who fixed their eyes on Jesus, casting aside sin and entanglements to boldly run the race marked out for them.

Let us remember our brothers and sisters still living who, even today, are the targets of persecutions. Let us praise God for their boldness and obedience and pray earnestly for their freedom.

Let us also be willing to say, “Wherever you lead, I’ll go,” to be obedient to the Lord’s command regardless the risk, for we know that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

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Doing “Less” to Do More

If you’ve never been there, you will. It will happen. You’ll feel the slow and steady hand of spiritual exhaustion gradually suffocate your fire to be on mission. You’ll feel yourself going through the motions of being “professional” in ministry and, yet, cold-hearted in your zeal for it. Your state of mind will be a breeding ground for doubt, insecurity, and apathy, and, yet, you’ll be inundated with a million churchy things to do.

I’m talking about burnout.

It has happened to every minister I’ve ever known at one point or another and I’ve seen ministries thrive or fall on the basis of how they handle it. For my small, but faithful, outpost church on the skirts of an otherwise forgotten trailer park in Chester, Virginia, burnout has reached our front door. I hope you don’t think I’m jaded when I say that the church is far from barren in its spirit to serve. In fact, I’m often flabbergasted at how much this small and humble church of less than 100 has accomplished on the mission field when neighboring megachurches, with seemingly unlimited resources, stay within their four walls with hands permanently fixed in their pockets.

However, burnout is an unwelcomed product of our ministry context, and there are, as far as I can tell, four broad-sweeping contributing factors—limited man-power, considerable budgetary restraints, exceedingly hard soil to till, and a pliability in trying anything to fulfill the Great Commission. They are all intertwined. To increase our budget, we know that the money is in reaching families with stable households and good jobs. Yet, the Lord hasn’t given us a church full of such people and many of those families are drawn to white-bread churches with a more respectable location and more impressive facilities. Thus, the same 20 people—those who are being discipled and growing steadily—are the ones who faithfully serve in every area of need. When coupled with hard ministry soil, (overly?) ambitious programming, and a resistance to more popular seeker-sensitive movements void of Gospel substance, this ministry context will inevitably take a toll on those who shoulder the burden.

Let me be honest—I don’t have the solution to these problems.

My suspicion is that many of you can relate. If not corporately, you may relate on a personal level. How easy it is to get spread too thin and feel overwhelmed by our circumstances! That fire that drives us and that feeling of being sustained by the Spirit can sometimes feel quenched in times like these. While I confess our leadership team has not come up with an end-all, be-all solution, we do believe we are on a trajectory toward a solution.

As we move forward on this journey, my intention will be to suggest movements both in ministry strategy and discipleship focus. In relation to strategy, the lesson we’re learning is that sometimes less is more. Since we already know our people have a heart for mission, we need to cultivate consistent excitement in ministry, at least on the whole, and the value it brings. We need to maintain a willingness to do anything for the sake of the Gospel while also balancing that with guarding our own affections for Jesus and people. Thus, there can’t be any sacred cows allowed in our church. Whatever fat that does not satisfy these requirements, must be trimmed. Programs can die and that’s ok. We may end up with fewer services, but we believe those services will be all the more impactful.

I’ve got to tell you—in my flesh, doing “less” doesn’t always sit well with me. It’s quite counter-cultural in a secular environment which views the notion of protecting margin in our time and services as a death wish for an organization wanting to expand its reach. What’s more is that church culture has adopted far too much from the business world’s paradigm such that cutting services is often assumed to be indicative of a dying church. The motto is usually “Bigger, Better, More People,” not “Less Programming, Fewer Events, and Strengthen Your Core.”

Yet, it’s in just this way that our discipleship focus may need to be tweaked. Dependency on Jesus is always the most accurate perspective when dealing with such problems. Abiding in the Vine is trusting in Him to produce fruit. It is most assuredly the only way the branches will bear fruit anyway. And it is exactly this grounding we need in our discipleship efforts. In this way “less” becomes more if doing “less” means helping the branches to stay wet with the blessed sustenance that flows from the Vine.

My prayer is that as we implement these changes, we will discover a new meaning for the idea of satisfaction in whatever the Lord decides to do in the place He has given us to serve. On the one hand, it is bright-eyed and Gospel-centered ambition that propels us into the Great Commission with vigor and stick-to-itiveness. I never want to lose that. Indeed, it too needs to be cultivated. On the other hand, we need to learn to temper our drive with the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord brings the fruit. We are obedient and He decides what may come of our obedience. So, may we celebrate even the smallest of victories as they come from “less” programming and more affection for our Vine.

Josh Waltman is a preacher, writer, and evangelist at On Truth and Love, a preaching and teaching ministry based out of Lynchburg, VA. He is also a worship leader with The Worship Collective, an alternative worship band from Chester, VA.

From Point A to Point B

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.
Matt 28:19-20

Looking at Jesus’ last words before His ascension, we can see how the great commission tells us our goal, what we need to do, and what we should do once that is achieved:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptise them
  3. Teach them to do the same

I find it rather funny that Jesus never expanded on that first point: “Make disciples.” It has always remained that very direct end goal with no real how-to ever given. There’s no 12-step program, Romans road, or Evangi-cube exposition given to the apostles. Instead, He leaves it rather open-ended and, honestly, I’m glad He did. You see, by not giving us a roadmap to discipleship, Christ emphasized the work-less, God-focused nature of salvation; He forced us to look back on His example; and He gave us freedom to evangelise in the way best fitting our personalities and talents.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus mentioning and alluding to the fact that there is no way to salvation except through Him (cf. John 14:6). He is not telling the disciples to seek salvation through the law, as Paul would later admonish the Galatians against, but that He is the only true source of righteousness and the only source sufficient to cover a lifetime’s worth of sin.  All of this culminated on the cross when, as Christ died, the temple curtain tore, signifying that the barrier of sin between man and God was now broken. It was not the law that brought salvation, but Christ.

Christ also drew many to him and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. His is the example we follow, when we evangelise and disciple those around us. Christ showed evangelism in a number of ways, all tailored around the individual he was meeting with. When talking to Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus spoke as an academic, with well-worded arguments and reasonings. When He was speaking to the woman at the well (John 4), however, His approach was loving, yet confrontational of her sins, ultimately offering rescue and salvation from the burden of it all. These are just two examples; there are countless more showing “how to evangelise.”

With discipleship, however, we see a more consistent theme running: Christ calls, Christ teaches, then Christ sends. Note that those whom He called already knew of who He claimed to be. They didn’t necessarily know Him, but they knew of Him and were expecting Him. So, we can say that discipleship follows evangelism, which makes sense. Yes, it’s true you can disciple someone to salvation – that happens often in churches, especially in Sunday school or youth group – but for true discipleship to develop, it must be with a current Christian. That doesn’t mean that the great commission is telling us to forgo evangelism. No, Christ said to make disciples, so we need to evangelise before we can even get to that step, as though it were a step 0.5 of sorts.

Which leads me to my last point, Christ gave us freedom in evangelism. Christ gave examples during His time on Earth, true, but He also gave us very unique skills and personalities in order to reach the disparate peoples of this planet. I, for one, am terrible at conveying the Gospel to a feelings-oriented person, but I can talk evolutionary theory and philosophy while tying in basic theology till the cows come home. God made me able to reach specific types of people very well and He gave me the passion and desire to evangelise to them as well. Now, that doesn’t mean I forgo evangelism to all people – I am to be preaching the Gospel to everyone I meet and, often, God uses my deficiencies to act in ways that blow my mind. Rather, it merely means that I am well-equipped in a specific area.

Bringing everything back to the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t give us an explicitly worded roadmap to get from point A to point B. Instead, He gave us a list of checkpoints. How we reach those checkpoints is up to us and we have been given the tools to do so. So, with our skills in hand, let us evangelise to and disciple those we come across, to the best of our abilities, in in the way that means most for them, bringing God the glory at their salvation and subsequent obedience, bringing in turn more disciples to further the work assigned to us.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

Need a Compass?

I walked into the dimly lit schoolroom.  The floor was covered in red dust.  It was the dry season in Kenya, so the dust was everywhere.  The walls were stained with it.  The room was filled with about 30 eighth graders.  It was a Muslim holiday, so the schools were closed, but these children had walked to school before dawn.

They came to study for a very important standardized test that all eighth grade students in Kenya must take.  This test, along with one they take in the final year of high school, is used to determine if a student can attend college.  They had been preparing for several weeks, in hopes of scoring higher than the minimum and thus not rule out their chances of going to college.

Eighth grade class in Kenya.

Eighth grade class in Kenya

When we entered, they were excited for visitors from afar and for a welcome break.  Upon learning about the purpose of their studies we noticed one child had a compass on his desk.  We asked about the mathematics portion of the exam and we were told that everyone needed a compass for the test.  Dr. Kaleli, part of the Living Bread Kenya leadership team, asked how many of the students had the necessary supplies to take the exam.  To our surprise only one student in the class had all the materials needed.

Imagine being in eighth grade with your entire future hanging in the balance based on an exam, and you do not even have the supplies needed to succeed.  Stories like this are the reason we launched our annual Share Christmas outreach.  Through Share Christmas your single $15 gift will provide school supplies or required school uniforms and a hygiene kit to one child in Brazil, Thailand, or Kenya.  Visit Share Christmas to invest in the life of a child and help them break the cycle of poverty for their family!

The Church: Being the Hands and Feet or Sitting in the Seat?

Sunday morning has come and gone for now. Don’t worry, though. You’ll get another opportunity next week. Chances are that seat is really comfortable. It’s likely right in the middle of your comfort zone. No pressure. No work. No hassle. Just come and enjoy the show for a little while.

No doubt that is the definition of Christianity for some.

While I’m thankful that those of you who hold to that view are at least hearing the Word preached, I want to challenge you to broaden that perspective.

I’m churchy, man. I’m more churchy than Noah was arky. But if Sunday morning is the central focus, what happens in my church Monday thru Saturday? Does it cease to exist as a force? If the Church is a living, breathing organism, what happens when the lights are out and the alarm is armed?

From a Kingdom perspective, the church building is just the rallying point. It’s the hub where you get energized to be the Church, not the destination where you merely have church.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul said “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Surely that was only for the leadership though, right? The pastor should be doing all that stuff while the rest of us spare parts count down the days from Sunday to Sunday. Not even hardly.

Think about what Christ did in His earthly ministry. He ministered to the poor. He mended the brokenhearted. He set captive people free. He healed. He saved. He delivered. He preached good news. And nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus tell His followers that all that stuff should stop as soon as He leaves.

As a matter of fact, John records Jesus saying, “He who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do (John 14:12 NKJV).”

The only qualifying statement Jesus made about who would do these works was “whoever believes in me.” He didn’t say, “Only those who go through seminary” or “those who lead churches”. That covers everyone who believes, from the pew-warmer to the pastor, and from the church-goer to the choir leader. Jesus was talking about the Church.

The Church has the hands that serve the community. It has the feet that carry the Gospel and the eyes that burn with passion for souls. That is the Church–the body of Christ.

I know it’s easier to sit in the Sunday seat inside the building we call “church”. And it’s certainly more comfortable.

Being the hands and feet of Jesus is what we are called to. Let’s get busy being what we’re supposed to be–the Church.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

Church Planter Magazine

Church Planter Magazine

As the editor of the Church Planting and Mission blog for Job 31 I am tasked with the responsibility of providing excellent content to help men live on mission.  With this in mind I cannot think of a better resource to recommend than Church Planter Magazine and the Church Planter Podcast.  Peyton Jones is the editor of the magazine and co-host of the podcast.  He leads the New Breed Church Planting Network and is the author of Church Zero; another excellent resource.  I encourage you to grab a free subscription to Church Planter Magazine and get a copy of Church Zero.  You won’t be disappointed.

Never Jump Alone

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By Peyton Jones

The most frequent question I’m asked is “how do I start?”

When you get ready to take the plunge, and dive into church planting, there are a few rules. Number one, you need to build your team. Being hasty and dropping out the hatch without this in place is tantamount to dropping without performing your safety checks.

Out of impatience and supposed “faith” in the power of God to do anything, you might be tempted to jump alone from the pinnacle of the temple and see if the angels will hold you up. The problem is that’s not faith…it’s stupid…and it’s church planting suicide played to the tune of rock-and-roll bravado.

Last year I watched a documentary on illegal base jumping and found that the few guys brave enough to jump off of cliffs and skyscrapers with flying suits always feel compelled to have a jumping partner. Think about that. These guys have more balls than the pit at Chucky Cheese yet they still want a partner with them at all times.

They’re not afraid to jump… just afraid to jump alone.

If nothing else, it might just be to have somebody to scrape them off the ground if the jump goes wrong. When I first founded New Breed, I realized that there were other jumpers ready to strap on the parachute, but like me, they just didn’t want to do it alone. Therefore New Breed began to form up networks of church planting, with the first two churches serving as sending agencies, so that the other guys coming up behind us would never have to jump alone.

When you’re a year into your church plant, on the “No Man’s Land” side of the front line, knee deep in mud, guts, and fear, you’ll be eternally grateful that you’ve got a band of brothers who can stand next to you and shoulder the burden of leading the troops. That’s right soldier, you need a team. The team you serve with is your platoon of like minded commandos who are willing to jump on the grenade in your foxhole. They’re not just your team mates, they’re your brothers in arms, and sometimes they pull you out of the soup, throw you on their back, and carry your bullet riddled body to the safety of an airlift.

When New Breed co-founder Dai Hankey planted in a rough Welsh council estate, there were a number of Monday mornings that I peeled him off the ground with a phone call and when I was low he returned the favor. He helped me to stay in Wales as I fought my transition from Californian reptile (where there is 6 days of rain a year) to Welsh amphibian (where there is 6 days of sun a year). I can’t even tell you how much of an encouragement we were to each other during those initial years through turning up at each other’s churches and making phone calls. It just helped to know that there was some other nut out there who considered me normal. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is something about tying two foxes together by the tail and having them carry a torch through the harvest fields that sets Philistine country ablaze! Nonetheless, be it Paul, or any of the church planters, they never go it alone. To do so is unwise, unsafe and discouraging.

Some guys go at church planting haphazardly…almost recklessly, resembling Daffy Duck drinking the potion in the devil costume on the Vaudeville stage. “I can only do this trick once” they shout, and spontaneously combust into flames, leaving a black residue on the floor. Finding the right team is essential to preventing you from the church planters crash-and-burn.

Many planters get the great commission like the disciples in Matthew 28 but struggle with the “tarry in Jerusalem” part of Acts 1. Slow down turbo. You’ll get your shot, but first we gotta build your squad.

Reflecting on planting the Corinthian church, Paul said that he “laid a foundation like a wise and master builder” (1 Cor 3:10). Compared to our padawan efforts at planting, Paul was a Jedi master at it. Paul used a team approach that wasn’t too much unlike the building of modern houses. When building a house, you need a team of plumbers, electricians, foundation layers, carpenters, and otherwise. God left behind a five-fold aspect to ministry wherein a pastor supplies what an evangelist is lacking and an “apostle” (little ‘a’) does what a pastor can’t do. There is a pattern in the New Testament of traveling in teams of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Guys who can complement your weaknesses. One guy leading isn’t enough. Jesus sent them two by two.

Paul knew he should never walk alone because his Master’s method was to send them in teams of two, propelling the disciples out into the towns of Judea in dynamic duos like double-barreled shotgun blasts. Did you notice the breakdown of the teams in Luke 10? There were 36 teams of two. Similarly, check out Barnabas’s Method of Operations. In Acts 11:25 when Barnabas is sent by the twelve to go and check out what’s happening up in Antioch, the first thing he decides to do is find a partner. That’s going to be step one for you too. Barnabas too took lessons from the Master, tagged his bags for Tarsus, and booked a passage to recruit a once legendary figure named Saul, who after 11 years had faded into obscurity. Therefore, recruiting your team is the first step to laying a foundation if you’re going to do it like a wise and master builder.

Paul’s 1st century Church planting network enabled multiple teams to strategically hit numerous targets throughout a broader area, operating in a bartering system of interchangeable men with interchangeable gifts who travel to an area when needed. Paul’s network was Asia Minor, and he moved his carpenters, plumbers, and electricians all around this little piece of Turkish real estate as and when needed.

peyton-jonesJob 31 Ministries wants to thank Peyton for his support to our ministry. Peyton Jones is the co-host of the, editor of Church Planting Magazine, author of Church Zero regarding Apostolic church planting, and he’s also a church planter with New Breed. If you’d like more  information about Jump School and church planting, or about Peyton’s podcast,  go to his site ChurchPlanterMagazien.com