In 8 days I’ve travelled through 5 countries and preached 9 times. I spent 2 nights on planes and travelled over 19,000 miles. I’m not even sure if I slowed down long enough in any time zone for my body to experience jet lag. But what I did experience reminded me of the urgency that every church should feel, and it reinvigorated my own desire to see more reaping to our sowing.
Worshipping with fellow Disciples of Christ in different languages, settings, and cultures should be experienced by every Christian. Like the various church buildings, the people who attend church also come in all shapes and sizes. Despite the differences in churches of other cultures, there are universal similarities in every church. Some of those similarities are unfortunately, not necessarily positive:
- Wherever people are involved, power struggles and political maneuvers will occur. Where God is accomplishing extraordinary things, ordinary people have a propensity to control it or at minimal, take credit for it.
- When God’s provisions so often exceed our expectations, the sin nature can still cause people to look for other sources to meet their needs.
- “Vision slip” happens daily. When visions aren’t clearly communicated or are too broad to understand, competing visions will surface and unhealthy comparisons will replace hearty commitments.
- “Where there is no vision the people perish” and the church becomes irrelevant.
- No church has “arrived.” As long as there are lost people, the local church must pursue them with the good news of the Gospel.
Not all similarities that I observed on this whirlwind trip are negative. The following should encourage each of us:
1, Where you see and hear children, life is present and potential is limitless. As I preached in the wonderful facility of a church whose building is over 200 years old
with its gravestones bordering the structure, the sounds of life are most pronounced at this new home for Heritage Church in Preston, England. You could hear the demonstrative steps of children upstairs running, playing, and singing. It reminded me of the picture of vitality that occurs each week in our Marshall campus as children’s ministry classes are taking place simultaneously above those who are gathered for the worship service on the first floor of the Convention Center.
Churches with lots of children have limitless potential for ministry. Children are a gift from God. The gift of life is celebrated as orphans are being fostered or adopted from across Africa or from around East Texas. The 4-year-old shoeless Zambian girl who carries around her 1-year-old orphaned cousin demonstrates care for life as much as the young couple that is dedicating their recent newborn dawning a beautiful lace dress before a packed house on Mother’s Day at Mobberly Baptist Church. Every life is valuable, and while no one deserves the grace of God, every Christian on this side of Heaven owes every lost person on this side of Hell the chance to see, hear, and know the Gospel.
2. The more prevalent the lostness, the more pronounced the church’s mission field. I admire the love Mobberly’s 11 church planters consistently exude for their cities. They embrace the concept that God called them to reach their cities more than to grow a church within that city. I’m talking about more than mere friendliness. The DNA of Heritage Church in Preston, England is a church “for the city.” The messiness of life is not a deterrent to their outreach but rather an invitation for them to get involved. The loving pursuit of the lost began with the Greene family 3 years ago, and it is now being lived out through over 100 people in this faith family. It is not uncommon to meet someone in the church who will tell you how their drug addiction ended 6 months ago when Christ saved them through Heritage, or of a couple who were living together without Christ, met Jesus, got married, and were baptized all through the work of Heritage Church. Churches that see lostness as their mission field do not give up on anyone despite how complicated the chaos or how deep the hurts!
3. Where Jesus is lifted up, people are being transformed. Not only is this a biblical promise, it is easily ostensible. Some promises of God seem long-suffering while this one is visibly immediate. No one knows the urgency of the times like God, and He is already at work in the life of every sinner. I’ve witnessed African men who are under conviction as praise songs are being sung, and I’ve seen a British woman brought to tears of conviction as the Word of God was being preached. Let’s not let divergent opinions of whether the church is for the sinner or for the saints keep the saints from worshipping the Savior in such a way that sinners will be converted!
4. Worship through music is vital to Christian growth and discipleship. Personally, I enjoy praising God with music on my iPod or singing along in congregational hymns. I enjoy the atmosphere of praise bands like our Marshall campus or the Crossing and Spanish services in our Longview campus. I’m blessed to follow the leadership of our talented choir and orchestra. But I also love to worship in Bemba choruses I don’t understand with an entire village in Zambia or the Chichewa praise chants of Malawian pastors and church leaders. The sound of worship from every tribe and every tongue is a harmony that will ring around Heaven’s throne forever!
5. Where the Word of God is taught through word and deed, people are growing. Seizing an opening for the Gospel as about a hundred Zambian children gathered around me, I commented on the grand lone tree casting its shadow over us all in that dry hot village. I began to talk about the Maker of that tree and another tree very much like this one – perhaps that a short man, named Zacchaeus, climbed up to a perch to see Jesus 2000 years earlier. Story-time with children quickly expanded to include many adults intently listening behind the throngs of children already pressing up against me. The Word of God was alive that day!
About an hour later, our van was on its way out of the village and in route, we were to drop off one of the bricklayers who had labored on the newly completed church building. As we sat by each other for a few minutes, he asked me: “where do you get stories in your preaching? You must have a lot of books that you read.” My thoughts quickly turned to the shelves of books lining the walls in my office back home until I realized this man had just heard about Jesus but did not know that Jesus had actually written the story I just taught. I handed him a copy of the New Testament and asked if he could read English. As he affirmatively answered and received the gift, I opened it to the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. I didn’t get another word out of him. He became immersed in reading every word. About 10 minutes later as he was about to exit our vehicle, he said to me as he clung tightly to the paperback New Testament, “I will learn every story in here!”
This reminded me of how big Mobberly’s Crazy Big Mission Offering was to build the Malawi Pastor Training Center. I was overwhelmed with the privilege of teaching the first training session at this incredible facility and to know it is already being used to train pastors and church leaders with the Word of God. As thousands of more churches will be planted, pastors must quickly glean how to teach the story of God through the stories of the Bible!
The need to learn every story in the Bible is not unique to remote African villages. People we know in our spheres of influence often share this man’s ignorance but would equally welcome hearing the whole story if we would just tell them. It begins with us knowing the Word. We can’t share what we don’t possess.