Friday, September 19, 2008

The Harvest

Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful..." He also said, "But the laborers are few." Where I live in South America both these truths stare us in the face every single day. Whether we are driving through the gnarled traffic from one place to another, or whether we are out in other communities--rich or poor, it does not matter--we face a massive harvest. We face thousands upon thousands every day.

Today was no exception. Not at all. I went out with two of our finest. I took them to Lima's south cone. There we walked on hill after hill, talking to men and women that I had worked with in prior times. But this time things were a little different. On one hill where we stood, a lady we did not know came to us. She said, "Please come back. Please help our people. We need so much help here. Many of us are starving. Come back at Christmas and have a hot chocolate night." I asked the woman her name; she is Soledad T. Her name means "Solitude (as in, peaceful)." It can also, however, mean "loneliness." I did sense a deep loneliness and longing in the lady. It was obvious Christ was calling out to us through her.

In another community they asked me to explain my long absence. It was hard to explain, since they have no frame of reference for a furlough period. But what I learned broke my heart. All workers we had sent there had left. Some workers who had come in from another church also had left. They were abandoned, when it came to Christian teachings. The men I spoke with asked me to please help with two things: reestablishing the church, and helping them establish a daycare center so that mothers would have a place for their children while they worked.

Again, I was moved. It was not as moving, though, as when some who recognized me, ran to me to greet me with a hug and a kiss. Such Christian affection is a breath of fresh air in such places of darkness.

From there, we moved on to a few other communities, places we sensed God's call to us. I cannot fully explain the sensation and the thoughts that overcome me when I stand in the midst of a large housing community where there is no visible Christian witness. It's painful and at the same time joyful. The mind drums up visions of believers gathering together to worship the King. I can almost hear the praises rising up to our Lord.

Then reality hits. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I am so grateful Jesus told us how to handle that: "pray, therefore, to the Lord of the Harvest, that he send forth laborers." It's his job to send out the laborers. It's our job to pray for him to do so.

Please join me in praying for laborers to carry the message of redemption to the countless hundreds of thousands in south Lima that need a relationship with Jesus.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Transference in Church Growth

I am in the process of preparing my notes for tonight's Church Growth class. Many thanks to my prof, Dr. Steve Wilkes, of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. His notes from that doctoral seminar have been priceless for me.

One thing that must be emphasized in any church growth class is the danger of transference. I know that many will recognize "transference" as a pyschological term. In fact, Wikipedia defines transference in a number of ways. Here is one affirmation: "One definition of transference is 'the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person's childhood.'"

Notice the words, "inappropriate repetition." Those words are key for the intents and purposes of this blog.

We often admire the "successes" of some of the mega and meta-churches around the world. To read and hear--better yet, to attend a service--of a church that thousands may attend is something that often makes us yearn for something more in our ministry. To read anecdotes of successful church planting in other parts of the world does much the same for a missionary. Yes, we rejoice in both cases. But often we also hope and strive to see something akin to it where we are.

And it is there that we are tempted to go down a road that is unhealthy for us. We begin to study the church or field in question, and we see what we can pull from it to use in our ministries. But we must be careful. This is where Dr. Wilkes' sage warning comes in. Dr. Wilkes told us early on [probably not his precise wording, but these are from his notes], "Church growth is a complex issue. Do not fall into the trap of oversimplification. Do not attribute church growth to a single cause. Do not assume you can transfer methods from one situation to another."

In a world where responsiveness to the Gospel varies from location to location, we need to heed Dr. Wilkes' advice. We do not need to be guilty of missiological or ecclesiological transference. God's plan and methods for India may not be God's plan for Guatemala. While our message remains constant, our plans and methods must reflect at least three things:
  • Prayer - the foundational principle of our work within the kingdom of God
  • Local responsiveness
  • Local socio-political and other similar factors

I fear we are so intent on not reinventing the wheel that we too often take unwise, poorly thought-out, and untested shortcuts, seeking the most pragmatic solution to immediate results. We need to be more concerned that we have spent enough time before God to have gotten his plan and methodology, concentrating more on the long-term results, than we do on short-term, immediate results.

Take a close look at your ministry, or your church's or mission's ministry; see if transference--the unhealthy repetition of someone else's ministry ideas characterizes yours. If it does, perhaps it is time to call a prayer meeting to begin the changes you need in your field.

Jesus is Lord!