Contextualization

We had our calling (to plant a church in Casper, Wyoming).  We knew it was time.  We began to think on the differences between our old area (Arkansas) and our new area (Wyoming).  We spoke the same language but the style, slang and intent of some of the language was different.  There would be subtle (and some not-so-subtle) cultural differences that I would need to learn and address if I was going to be able to ‘get through’.  What I am describing is context.  How would we go about learning our new context?  How would we be sure that God’s message was getting through?  There was a time in the early church where the followers of Jesus needed a miracle to communicate to the people. 

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:1-6 ESV)

For today, don’t worry about all the details (how, what, now, etc.). Instead, just marvel in this…God gave the followers of Jesus a special ability to communicate with others who had not yet heard the Good News that Jesus came, died, rose and is coming again.  God also allowed a special ability for the hearers (for the miracle was not only in the speaking).  Wow, God loves us enough to not let language be a barrier from knowing Him.  God bridged the gap of context then and can do so now.

Have you ever been ‘turned off’ because somebody couldn’t speak ‘your language’?  It isn’t only in a foreign mission situation or even a church-planting situation where context is important. Maybe you have experienced the in-ability to ‘speak the language’ of a teen or a person in a different stage of life. 

Context is at least half of the battle when you are trying to communicate to the heart of another person.  To contextualize is to speak in a language that comes to life for the hearer. How do we learn the intricacies of a context that is different from our own and then learn how to speak within it?  We start by asking God to reveal it to us. Then we pay attention.  We talk less and listen more.  We trust God to take our preparation and our words and put them into the heart language of the hearer.  

I’m still learning how to communicate effectively in my new city.  I can think of many examples where God has done something miraculous between my voice and another person’s hearing already but I know there is still much to learn.  We must not ever get comfortable in our communication to others because time brings subtle changes that, if ignored, can create quite a chasm between us and others.  

Is contextualization on your radar of things to do to ‘prepare for ministry’?  It should be. 

Building a Team

Are you a ‘do-it-yourself’ ministry leader or a fan of ‘doing church as a team’? I tend to be a ‘do-it-yourself’ guy in most areas of my life.  It is probably a control issue.  I can control the beginning, the ending and the quality of something if I do it as a lone wolf.  However, if I am in control of the beginning, end and quality of a ministry like a church plant then it doesn’t look much like God’s Church but more like my church…that isn’t a church.  

 

Here I was…ready to move and plant a new church.  I had a green light yet I was told by several mentors to make sure that I built a ‘church planting team’.  Apparently, failure rates are substantially higher for church planting individuals vs. church planting teams.  Some reasons for this are surely:

  1. The isolation that can come from planting.
  2. The accountability needed for anyone crazy enough to plant.
  3. The momentum that a team can provide.

Should I wait for a team to fall from the sky?  Should I ask people to go with me?  Should I trust that God would send people to my city as He was sending me?  Back in the new beginnings of the church, Jesus’ disciples were also considering their need for team.  Read about it here:

Acts 1:21-26 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

This group of people could have gone on but they didn’t…they realized their team was incomplete.  Through prayer and discernment they waited for God to direct them to the right people for the right time.  

Church Planting is a team sport not a one-on-one contest.  We recognized that and prayed that God would send others with us. We invited others to go on the journey with us but nobody said yes. It turns out that we didn’t get to pick and pray the way the disciples did…we prayed and moved to our new city and then found out how God had orchestrated our team (actually, we are still discovering it).  One family from Missouri, one from New Mexico and one that had moved here to be a part of another church plant 15 years ago…each of them had no idea they would get to go on this journey with us.  Now, we gather often and celebrate how God orchestrated what we never could.

Just as the Christian Life is not meant to be done alone, ministry shouldn’t either.  The Body of Christ is best equipped when it is assembled.  Has God placed others in your life?  Be thankful.  Do you sense a need to do ministry as a team?  Pray, invite and wait upon The Lord to build a team.  Don’t be surprised if He does so in a way that is different than you would do it.  Don’t be surprised if he fills your team with people that are different than you…that is probably what it will take to accomplish a God-sized vision like planting a church or leading a ministry.  

Waiting Upon The Lord

I wanted to plant a church as soon as it entered my mind.  Instead, I got Elevator Music. When it plays, you wait.  It represents a time where you are moving but you are also stationary.  You are making progress - going up or down - but you do not yet have freedom to go.  I struggle with this concept.  Once I know my destination, I am ready to go and go ‘without restriction’.  

Jesus taught His followers about His Kingdom.  Then He died (showing His love) and rose again (showing He is God).  Before He ascended to Heaven, He addressed the group and told them to wait. So, they did:

(Acts 1:12-14 ESV) Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

These men and women had been given explanation to the mysteries of God’s Kingdom. They had seen the Savior defeat death.  They had to be bubbling with enthusiasm to do something - anything!.  Yet, Elevator Music.  Jesus said to go and wait. The best church plants and the best ministry…it all must wait until God elevates us so we are doing His work in His power. We get a nudge from God to wait and we do not always want to do so.  Rather than see the whole picture we may focus on the fact that we are ‘ready to go’.  Indeed, we may be but just because we think we are ready does not mean everything else is…

I thought I was ready to plant a church for years.  I nearly jumped in on a few occasions. With hindsight, I now see that would have been one of two things:

1. Jumping off the elevator in mid-flight. When God provides for the journey then we should ride all the way to our destination.  Jumping off too soon due to impatience will not get you there quicker.  It will take you on a detour or require you to take an alternative route.  I have done this in life.  I do not want to do it anymore.  

2. Taking the stairs.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is discipline and purpose in going the long and hard way.  I used to work on the 48th floor of a building in Tulsa.  Once, I took the stairs instead of the elevator…just for kicks.  That was quite an experience.  I don’t recommend it.  When God says to wait for His perfect timing and His perfect will then we should do so and when He provides an elevator then we ‘get on’.  The ride won’t be nearly as long as it seems and the choice of music isn’t so bad.  Deciding we are unwilling to ‘sit still’ and ‘wait on Him’ may result in a very long set of stairs.

Before I moved to Wyoming to plant a church I needed to get comfortable with seasons of waiting.  I needed to be comfortable being confined to a place simply because God said so.  These would be valuable tools that would equip me for the early stages of a new ministry.  They can be valuable to you as well.  When God says to wait He has purpose in doing so.  Get on the elevator.  Enjoy that jazzy beat.  Wait until the door opens and you hear ‘the ding’.  Then get to it!

A Burden to plant a Church

I remember driving over the hill in the town we had just moved to and saying to my wife, “We need to plant a church in this town.”  I don’t know exactly how that thought came to dominate my mind when we were in the midst of moving but it did. Church Planting was in my heart long before I was ready (if a person is ever actually ready) and even before I was serving in church ministry.  

Yet, we didn’t plant a church…not then and not there.  We served in lay-ministry in a local church for several years.  Several times, I voiced the same thoughts to my family and close friends but I didn’t yet feel ‘released’ to do that work.  Maybe it was because it is daunting.  Maybe it was because of the statistics on Church Planting failures.  Maybe it was because The Holy Spirit whispered that His perfect timing was still to come.  

Timing is a critical component to any work we undertake for God.  When we jump into God’s Work in our timing we can find failure.  The stories of The Israelites going into war prematurely comes to mind. If our timing is wrong then we may be running ahead of God and His power.  If we plant a church without His Power then we haven’t really planted a church.  Remember the scene as Jesus spoke to His followers before His ascension:

(Acts 1:4-8 ESV) And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Our burdens to serve The Lord can run ahead of our preparation and even our enthusiasm.  A preacher’s sermon often begins with a burden. Out of that burden comes preparation and as preparation happens, enthusiasm grows.  It is the same for a person called to ministry and/or called to Church Planting.  

Years later, we moved to a new city to serve a rural church as its 50th pastor.  I still wanted to plant a church but God’s timing was still yet to come.  We served The Lord and continued to pray.  The burden for Church Planting never left.  The preparation for Church Planting never stopped.  The enthusiasm for Church Planting continued to grow.  

After what seemed like ages, we sensed God telling us that the time had come.  With that timing, we sensed God showing us where to plant - Casper, Wyoming.  1,000 miles away.  A town that was over 90% un-churched, de-churched or lost.  Our burden now had a place to rest.  Our burden would now be coupled with the power of God as we moved to our new mission field.  

Do you sense a burden from God to engage a particular work?  If it is from Him he will equip you to do the work in His timing.  A call to any type of ministry is also a call to preparation for that ministry.  It may be quick or it may be slow but in God’s timing it will be ‘just right’.  Our journey of Church Planting began in June of 2013 when we first made a phone call to Wyoming…but really it began when we crested that hill years before.  

Forever West

The vision of being part of the church planting movement in Wyoming (and the surrounding areas) is at the heart of Forever West Church Planting.

We hope to be useful to God's Kingdom by bridging the gap between potential church planters and their field of service.  This means that we want to serve as an incubator for those sensing God's call to serve in Wyoming by providing these practical helps:

1. For some, a Church Planting Apprenticeship that gives the potential planter (and family if applicable) 9-24 months of practical and hands-on work with a Wyoming Church Plant.

2. Contextual Ministry Experience for the person that senses Wyoming/The Mountain West is where God would have them serve but hasn't yet immersed themselves in the culture and context of Wyoming. 

3. Ongoing Support is vital in the Mountain West!  We hope to help each Church Planter gather the resources needed to plant the church God has burdened them to plant.  We desire to stay connected to each Church Plant by developing a strong network of churches that support one another and jointly support the ongoing mission of God in Wyoming.

Forever West Church Planting is just getting started.  We hope you will investigate how you can be involved!