“I Don’t Care for What I Have to Do”

My current line of thinking has been prompted by the acquisition of a little Carmichael booklet titled “His Thoughts Said…His Father Said…”
This is the first of a couple of blogs on the writings of Amy Carmichael. If you are unfamiliar with this amazing woman, you can Google her name and familiarize yourself with her writings and legacy. The Wikipedia article is a good starting place.

Like pretty much anything Amy has ever penned, this booklet is deep, comprehensible, practical, thought-provoking, and convicting. Amy was a missionary to India and her writings capture the necessity of followers of Jesus truly grasping the basic elements of the Cross if he work of the gospel is to advance.

In this posting, I want to comment on this new booklet. To begin, permit me to explain the title.

The first part of the title (“His Thoughts Said”) is in reference to the way followers of Jesus might reason things out in their mind. At times Carmichael alternates that with the phrase “The son said…”, the son being me or you. So the person “His” or “Son” could be any of us, male or female, as we seek to follow Jesus while confronted with our humanness. This could refer to our thoughts about life, or it could be our statements and complaints to God.

The second part of the title (“His Father Said”) is God’s response to our thoughts as he dialogues with us. The thought goes something like this: “When I think some of my ridiculously selfish thoughts, how might God respond?”

Here is a sample of how this book goes. This selection is titled “Like a Flint” and it is reading #68 on page 44. Where it says “The Son Said” you may re-word that to put your name in or simply say “I Said.”

THE SON SAID: “I am nothing.”

HIS FATHER SAID: “Did I ever tell you that you were something?”

THE SON SAID: “But I do not feel fit for this that is given for me to do.”

HIS FATHER SAID: “Can you not trust me to make you fit?”

THE SON SAID: “But I am not successful.”

HIS FATHER SAID: “At the end of the day, will my word be, ‘Come good and successful servant’? If only you will walk humbly with your God it will be, ‘Come, good and faithful servant.'”

THE SON SAID: “But I do not care for what I have to do.”

HIS FATHER SAID: “At last you have touched the root of the matter. Did your Savior ‘care for’ Calvary?”

Next entry: Amy Carmichael’s best-known and most challenging poem.

— Dave Shive

WHAT DOES A MISSIONS MOBILIZER DO?

While traveling last summer, Kathy and I met up with a dear friend and supporter for lunch. As we sat down to eat, this friend looked at me and said, “I have just one question. What is it that you do?” This guy must have really trusted us to be supporting us even though he has little idea what we do!

Fast forward to January, 2014. While speaking at a nearby church, I was enjoying a conversation with another old friend in the church’s foyer. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when this fellow looked me in the eye and said, “You know, I get your newsletters and read them. And I have one question for you: Just what is it that you do?”

Well, not being quick on the uptake, it gradually occurred to me that maybe what is so crystal clear to me might not be so clear to others.

And I won’t even tell you about the glazed-eye look that I get when I encounter strangers who ask me, “What do you do for a living?” A bead of sweat appears on my upper lip, I shift my feet nervously, and my voice begins to quaver as I begin: “Er…um…I work with churches…” (I can see that they immediately regret asking the question; my eye twitches nervously) “…to mobilize them to use their resources more effectively…” (at this point, they gaze into the distance) “…to fulfill the Great Commission” (some suddenly remember an urgent meeting and excuse themselves while I collapse from sheer exhaustion. My shirt is drenched in sweat. I retreat to the secret place in my mind where all is well).

As I recover from another painful attempt to explain my vocation, it becomes apparent to me that I need to rethink my whole approach to telling people “what I do.” 

If my work is important, I surely need to be able to explain it clearly. So let’s see here…

Mobilize – the term seems very straightforward – “to assemble or marshal individuals or groups into active service.”

Church – “the body of Christian believers”

Resources – “available supplies that can be readily drawn upon when needed”

Great Commission – (No, the Great Commission is not 30%) “to make disciples of all ethnic groups”

So, what do I do? I marshal members of the body of Christian believers to draw upon all available supplies to make disciples of all ethnic groups.

Reading this seems so understandable that I am beginning to wonder if people are not so much confused by what a mobilizer does as by how mobilizing is done. How does one “marshal members of the body of Christian believers to draw upon all available supplies to make disciples of all ethnic groups”? Now there is an avenue for discussion.

How does one mobilize? By drawing on the available stash of supplies (time, energy, education, personal passion, knowledge, gifts network of contacts, relationships) to make disciples (teach, preach, one-on-one times, breakfasts, lunches, seminars, workshops, Sunday school and Perspectives classes) who will make disciples so that all ethnic groups may be discipled.

Sounds simple, right? So, the next time someone asks you “What does a mobilizer do?” – just look them boldly in the eye, confidently answer, and expect to hear them respond, “Ah! That makes perfectly good sense!” That’s how you do it!

“Christopher J. H. Wright: The Mission of God” (Part IV)

It is not my intent in this last blog on Christopher Wright’s amazing book to exhaustively analyze all aspects of the book. I doubt that is really necessary and, anyway, that’s already been done.

If you are interested in a thorough evaluation of this book, I recommend the review on the “9 Marks” website by Mike GilbartSmith: http://www.9marks.org/books/book-review-mission-god. I especially appreciate the questions GilbartSmith raises concerning Wright’s methodology and theological presuppositions.

A fair analysis of any book must examine perceived weaknesses as well as obvious strengths. From my perspective, these perceived weaknesses deserve analysis and yet they don’t undermine my basic contention that “The Mission of God” is a quintessential resource for anyone who wishes to seriously mine the unsearchable riches of Scripture for God’s story about his mission to make his Son famous in a fallen world.

Here are four things that I especially like about Wright’s approach:

1. Wright is persuasive in developing the principle that a missiology without a strong Old Testament foundation will be a weak missiology. Though Wright has been criticized for his heavy emphasis on the Old Testament in the development of his theology, hermeneutics, and missiology, I personally find this the most attractive aspect of Wright’s work.

In working with churches as a missions mobilizer, I have recognized a deficiency in good teaching and in the Old Testament. On more than one occasion I have asked students in a class to give me an Old Testament verse on missions, only to be met with blank stares.

Of the roughly 2,000 (!) Scripture references listed in the “Scripture Index” at the back of the book, almost 2/3 are from the Old Testament. This may be expected due to Wright’s expertise as an OT scholar, but it is nevertheless refreshing to see the OT being used to establish the foundation for an undertaking (i.e., missions) that is normally assumed by most believers to be a New Testament innovation. (I sometimes wonder if we don’t think the Great Commission was an afterthought of Jesus…as if as he was preparing to ascend to heaven he suddenly paused, turned to his disciples, and said: “Oh guys. By the way, I almost forgot to tell you…Go and make disciples…”)

2. I appreciate the thoroughness and painstaking efforts Wright demonstrates in laying his foundation by beginning with hermeneutics. His discussions of hermeneutics in the earlier part of the book are extremely valuable, both for his conclusions but also for his methodology.

3. I love Wright’s ability to integrate God’s heart, missions, and a respect for the environment. He ably demonstrates this integration in his analysis of OT texts. This is sorely needed, not just an emphasis on good environmental practices, but a rigorous, robust theo-ecology based on a serious examination of the Scriptures.

4. I appreciate the fact that Wright continually emphasizes the role of the people of God as an elect community in carrying out God’s mission. This is so important to his missiology that he has produced a companion book, “The Mission of God’s People,” to highlight the priority of God’s people in carrying out his mission.

Well, there you have it. Go and buy this book if you want to ground your missiology in Scripture! – Dave

“Christopher Wright: ‘The Mission of God'” (Part III)

This is the third in a series of blogs where I seek to draw attention to a man who I consider to be one of the central figures in the field of biblical studies, particularly with a focus the missiological theme of the Bible. Chris Wright’s influence in my life is immense, and his impact in other lives is surely incalculable if the amount of material he has in print is any indication.

Those readers who have taken the course called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” know that the first lesson in that course is titled “The Living God is a Missionary God.” That is a ground-breaking concept if one can fully embrace it. To see God as a missionary (as opposed to only seeing ourselves as missionaries) and God’s missional focus on the exaltation of his Son’s glory (as opposed to the traditional way of seeing missions as focused on people and their need) is a breakthrough concept that revolutionized my life, the way I study the Bible, and my ministry.

Wright’s vision is not simply to talk about the Bible but to provide the hermeneutical tools (i.e., resources to make Bible interpretation sound) required to go deep into God’s story. The scope of his undertaking is daunting, and amazingly, he pulls it off (not without some problems, of course, but what book of this scope could be deemed flawless?).

For a simply outstanding review of one’s book, try this link – http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/11/26/mission-monday-the-mission-of-god-by-christopher-wright/

Here is how one reviewer summarizes Wright’s method: ” In other words, instead of searching the Scriptures with a flashlight hoping to shine light on ‘mission’ wherever it may be found, Wright believes mission is the flashlight that illuminates the whole Bible.”

I really like that summary because it encapsulates everything that Wright is trying to do. His is an entirely different approach than what is taught as standard hermeneutics in Bible college and seminary. Wright used to search for “the biblical basis for missions” but now is on a quest to discover “the missional basis of the Bible” (p. 22).

For me personally, Wright came into my life like gangbusters. After taking Perspectives in 1986, and then teaching the “The Living God is a Missionary God” lesson a zillion times in the next 25 years or so, I was pretty grounded in the biblical perspective of God’s mission. But I never in my wildest imagination thought that I would come across anything as comprehensive as Wright’s magical volume which was released in 2006, nor did I dream that it could enhance even more what has been the focus of my study in life.

Coming next: A deeper look at “The Mission of God” and some comments on its strengths and deficiencies. – Dave Shive

“Christopher Wright, Recipient of the Mantle of John Stott” – Part II

This is Part II of a series of blogs concerning the prolific author, Old Testament scholar, and unabashed missiologist, Christopher J. J. Wright. All enterprising missiologists would do well to become acquainted with this significant man.

Wright is a prolific author, and his writings carry the marks of scholarship, missiology, and passion for God and for God’s people. He is an ordained Anglican Church of England clergyman. Though my main objective is to highlight his writings, a little background to this man is important.

Wright spent five years teaching the Old Testament in India, and thirteen years as Academic Dean and then Principal of All Nations Christian College, in England. Since 2001, Christopher Wright has served as the International Ministries Director of the Langham Partnership. “Langham Partnership” may sound like an arcane title for an obscure ministry, but it’s roots are quite profound. To appreciate Wright, a little background to his current ministry is vital.

If I were to mention the name “John Stott,” we might feel on more familiar ground. Stott’s writings and ministry have profoundly marked the evangelical landscape for over 50 years.

For over six decades, Stott was rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London. Religion scholar, Michael Cromartie, once remarked that if evangelicals could elect a pope, they would likely choose John Stott who, as an author, preacher and theologian, was often compared to the Rev. Billy Graham. Stott died in July of 2011 at the age of 90. He once wrote: “We must be global Christians with a global mission, because our God is a global God.”

Because of the popularity of his writings and public ministry, Stott launched the original trust fund (“Langham Partnership”) in 1969 to foster the growth of the global church in maturity and Christ-likeness by raising the standards of biblical preaching and teaching through equipping Majority World Christian pastors, scholars, writers, publishers, and other key leaders.

Wright’s s job as International Director is to represent and promote the vision and work of the Langham Partnership around the world. He does this through his international travel, speaking, and writing ministry.

The philosophy of this ministry is simply called “the Langham Logic.” It has three pillars:
1. God wants his church to grow up to maturity.
2. The people of God grow through the Word of God.
3. The Word of God comes to people mainly (not exclusively) through biblical preaching.

In coming blogs, I intend to expose readers to the world of Christopher Wright through greater awareness of his writings. Hopefully this little background fills in the missing pieces about this man to give greater appreciation for his contributions to world of missions.

Dave Shive

Missions in Deuteronomy?

A few years ago, I stumbled across a notice that there would be a seminar offered at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut. The topic was “Missions in Deuteronomy” and it was being taught by a guy named Christopher Wright. Actually, his name is “Christopher H. J. Wright.”

Which raises an interesting question – what us it with the Brits and their cool names with multiple initials? C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, N.T. Wright, Christopher H.J. Wright.

Anyway, the seminar invitation caught me off-guard and intrigued me. The title of the seminar, for starters, piqued my curiosity. “Missions in Deuteronomy.” Yes, now you’ve got my attention.

Then there was the author. It had not been that long ago that I had purchased a copy of Wright’s magisterial “The Mission of God” and set out to devour it. (I use the term “magisterial” in the best sense of the word – i.e., authoritative, weighty, of consequence.) I had come to love and admire his writing style, insights, passion for the OT, and scholarship. Wright has a PhD. from Cambridge University and has written extensively on the Old Testament and missions. And the comprehensive nature of “MofG” had me hooked.

So off to Connecticut I went for a few days of idyllic study. I had never met Wright before and couldn’t wait to sit under his tutelage.

Let me explain this blog and the ones to follow. My passion is for budding missiologists and followers of Jesus to go deeper in the Scriptures so that our missiology is grounded in the Bible. Thus my blogs tend to drill down in areas of missions that I think are important and tend to be neglected. Because of this passion, I want those who follow this blog – are there three of you? – to become familiar with Christopher Wright and his contributions to the study of missions in the Bible, especially the OT.

My experience at the seminar in New Haven was precisely what I would have expected from my readings of Wright’s books. It was scholarly and insightful. In addition, Wright was an effective communicator. Most of all, I left New Haven with a desire to master the theme of missions as found in the book of Deuteronomy.

Because he is so influential and has so much to offer, I want to introduce readers of this blog to Christopher H.J. Wright. If you want to increase your passion for God’s heart through mastering the text of the Bible, Wright has a lot to offer you.

…To be continued…

– Dave Shive

“Going Missiologically Deeper in God’s Word in 2014”

It’s that time of year when Bible reading plans begin surfacing on Facebook and other places. It is great that there are so many different plans that challenge and encourage people to read through the Bible in a year. And it’s axiomatic that a solid grounding in God’s Word is essential if our missiology is to be sound. So this is good. I am filled with admiration for those who follow through on these plans.

But I must confess that in over six decades of life on earth I have never read through the Bible in a year (gasp!). I have at times started such ambitious plans but never completed one. I think I now understand why those kinds of plans don’t work for me.

As we approach a New Year, going DEEPER in God’s Word is on my mind, not going BROADER. So this post is devoted to my passion: challenging friends and budding missiologists to make 2014 a year of going deeper in God’s Word.

Perhaps you may feel like those water spiders who flit across the surface of a stream. You may have been skating on the surface of the Bible without digging in and gaining depth.

Wouldn’t you rather be like a gopher in 2014? Do you have a hunger for to spend 12 months in the subterranean chambers of God’s Word? If so, I want to offer an alternative approach.

What follows is a modest proposal for a different kind of Bible reading plan for 2014. It is aimed at the adventure of going deeper. And because most Christians gravitate towards the New Testament, all of my proposals will focus on digging deeper into the Old Testament (though you may apply the same general suggestions I am making to the New Testament). I will offer some hypothetical strategies to illustrate how my model might work.

A key is to figure out a plan of attack that is manageable for 12 months or 52 weeks.

The idea behind my plan is to master a section of the Bible in a year. Animals are often territorial. With this plan, you can mark out your own territory by claiming a portion of the Bible for mastery in 2014.

For instance, you could seek to “master” the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) in 2014. This plan could involved spending 10 weeks on each book, allowing the last two weeks of the year to focus on Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, the birth narratives of Jesus.

Or you could focus on the mastery of one book of the Bible in a year. For example, Genesis has 50 chapters and there are 52 weeks in the year. What if you spent one week in each chapter of Genesis? That would leave the last two weeks of the year to focus on Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, the birth narratives of Jesus. Or you could take a mid-year 2-week break from Genesis to study Philippians.

Or Jeremiah has 52 chapters, a perfect book for a one-year study!

If you’re interested, my plan for 2014 is to master the book of Deuteronomy. I have already spent the month of December getting traction in this amazing book. I have assembled a veritable plethora of tools and am getting incredible insights on God’s mission through mastery of this incredible book.

Or you could focus on mastering a small portion of the Bible in a year. Of course, the portion would have to be rich enough that a year of study would yield great benefit. A great illustration of such a portion would be Ezra and Nehemiah. These two books contain a total of 23 chapters, allowing one to study two chapters a month. By this plan, one could spend January studying the background of these two books as well as getting into Ezra 1. The remaining eleven months could be devoted to studying two chapters a month.

One last idea would be to strive for mastery over a combination of sections of the Bible in a year. A good illustration of this method would be to select the Psalms of Ascents (Psalm 120-134). That is 15 psalms containing a total of 101 verses (which doesn’t even work out to an average of two verses a week!). The shortest each have three verses (Psalm 131, 133, 134) and the longest has 18 (Psalm 134).

Some parting ideas…

Having one or more good “tools” to help you through the year can provide a vital supplement that will enrich your work. This often may be a good commentary. But remember, not all commentaries are created equal. There are “good” commentaries that may not enable you to go deeper. If you have picked a portion to study and would like a recommendation on good supplemental tools, feel free to contact me for suggestions.

Regardless of how you approach study in 2014, one tool I can wholeheartedly recommend is Christopher Wright’s “The Mission of God.” This volume is the most incredible tool I have encountered for discovering missiological insight and depth in Scripture. It is especially strong in the Old Testament. Using Wright’s book as a companion to your studies would be invaluable.

Be sure to set a schedule for the year and stick it when possible, but do not be a slave to it.

Remember to follow your interests. If a verse or topic you are studying piques your curiosity and you want to probe it more deeply, by all means do it. Rabbit trails are perfectly acceptable if they facilitate your going deeper in the Bible.

My passion and mission is to excite people about the Bible so that they can have an encounter with the missionary God whose story is found there. If you want to dialogue on any aspect of this by e-mail, don’t hesitate to contact me.

I hope to follow up this post with further thoughts and idea on going deeper in God’s Word in 2014.

Go deep!

Christmas Thoughts, 2013: “Arrivals are Great, But Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow”

Which is more impressive to you? That Jesus came to earth? Or that Jesus left heaven?

I post these thoughts on Christmas Day, 2013, not because I assume anyone is reading blogs this day. Rather, this is a profitable exercise for me on this momentous day.

Actually, these ideas are a fine-tuning and polishing of a newsletter that my wife and I sent out two months ago to our mailing list. Perhaps you are on that list, in which case you can either choose to ignore this posting or act on your curiosity to see if I actually improved the original writing.

The idea becomes increasing inescapable to me that God left his idyllic residence, crossing cultural barriers to lose his life in an alien environment of chaos and misery, subjecting himself to the workings of a foreign culture while bringing an alien message, ultimately to give up everything for…what…what shall we call it? His mission?

Departures can often be more momentous than arrivals, I say.

In my book, “Night Shift,” I recount an experience I had in late May of 1992. My oldest son, Dan, had spent his first year out of high school aimlessly trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life. After a year of this, he decided to enlist in the US Navy. I felt that this was a good move for him, but it was an emotionally difficult thing for me to say goodbye to him.

His departure was sandwiched between two painful experiences for me. In early May I had run over my foot with our lawnmower. A couple of weeks after Dan left, our beautiful black Labrador was struck and killed by a truck in front of our house. Coming between those two events, Dan’s departure is etched deeply into my consciousness by the emotional stress of that entire time period.

When I think of Dan’s time in the Navy, I have no clear memory of the events surrounding his coming home after his 6-year stint. But everything about his departure is clearly carved into my memory. I remember limping over to him on my crutches, fighting back tears, hugging him, saying an emotional goodbye. Departures are tough, especially when they occur in a context of stress and life’s ubiquitous pressures.

It is in this way that I think of Jesus at this time of year. Obviously we have a lot of narrative information in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 concerning Jesus’ birth- arrival. But what about his departure from heaven? We need to dig a little deeper for that. Oh, it’s there, but we need to seriously search for it. You see, it is not the Messiah’s arrival on earth, as amazing as that is, that stirs my thoughts this Christmas Day as much as it is his departure. I wonder about that departure from heaven. Could it possibly have been as amazing as his arrival on earth?

After all, it is what Jesus left that makes his coming so stunning. Earlier this month, Kathy and I left Baltimore for Florida. There was little that was remarkable about that. We left a cold climate for sunny climes, glorious days, and lovely beaches. No crowds will assemble at the airport to give us teary hugs and marvel at our sacrifice. But if we were to sell all and relocate to, say Calcutta, to work among the poor, diseased, and hopeless, the nature of our departure might become a salutary event worth noting.

If Jesus’ life is characterized by anything – more than his good works, more than his great teaching, more than his exemplary life – it is that in concert with the Spirit and his Father he left a place of perfection to immerse himself in a deeply damaged world. I see the clues that speak of the importance of Jesus’ departure from heaven.

First, in the Gospels, there are more occurrences of verbs depicting Jesus being “sent” than words that describe his “arriving”. In other words, the perspective of “the sender” (his Father and the Holy Spirit) seems to figure quite prominently in Jesus’ thinking and in the vocabulary of those who first told us his story.

Second, we have statements that speak of events before creation (cf. Matthew 13:34; John 17:5, 24; Ephesians 1:4; I Peter 1:20) that suggest some pretty big doings were going on. This suggests to me that we would do well to give more thought to what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (and angels!) were up to prior to creation.

If there were, in eternity past, a plethora of conversations surrounding Jesus’ departure from heaven concerning what Jesus would do in space and time, I would expect that the Trinity would be deeply engaged in those dialogues and that angels’ jaws would drop in shock at the imminent departure of the King.

In this regard, may I recommend a brief video clip that I think creatively and accurately gives a fresh perspective on Jesus’ departure to earth as an infant.

Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM1XusYVqNY

Finally, I love the endearing statements that link Jesus and the Father in an intimate relationship. These declarations may take the form of Jesus’ own words about his relationship with his Father. Or they may appear in comments made by other writers, such as the author of Hebrews, who describes Jesus as being “the radiance of his Father’s glory and the exact representation of his Father’s nature…” (Heb. 1:3).

My pain over my son’s departure to the Navy is understandable and shared by many. But Jesus leaving heaven, now that’s taking “parting is such sweet sorrow” to a whole new level.

Because we are apt to view the Bible through the lens of our own needs and wants, we may tend to emphasize Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem (especially at this time of year) over his departure from his throne in heaven. After all, we needed him to come!

But if we see this season through the eyes of God, perhaps our hearts will be stirred to think more of what Jesus “left” than that to which he “came.” This season think of heaven, not the one you hope to go to, but the one Jesus left. Think of departures, not Jesus’ departure to heaven after his resurrection, but his abandonment of the place of idyllic glory to come into this world. Think of Jesus, not as poor, but “though he were rich…” (II Cor. 8:9).

Has Your Church Discovered Its DNA?

Church missions committees everywhere seem to be struggling. That is, if the number of requests Joe and I get from church missions committees asking for coaching help are any indication. That may sound bad unless we consider the possibility that the up-side is that churches are recognizing their need for help. I find that exciting.

Each of these churches tells us a strikingly similar story. Here’s how that narrative might look: In the past, perhaps many years ago, the typical church began to acquire missions commitments. Perhaps the church decided to support “Joe in Kenya” because he was the cousin of a member of the missions committee. Or it was determined that the “orphanage in Guatemala” should be supported because “compassion requires it.” Or “maybe we should pick up the local Christian camp because a number of our kids were saved there.”

But now, years later, perhaps decades after the decisions were made, very few in the church remain who were around when those decisions were made. Even worse, very few people in the church may personally know these missionaries, have any contact with them, or show much interest in their ministries.

Now I’m not questioning if each of these missions commitments is worthy. They may all be doing a good work. Nor am I proposing that these worthy ministries be abruptly dropped from the roster of church missions relationships. But this “shotgun” method for a church to devise a missions responsibility is lacking in two very important ingredients: strategy and focus.

After all, there are literally thousands of missionaries and ministries worthy of a church’s support. But each church has limited resources. So how do we make a decision as to what our involvement should be?

Joe and I have had a great time doing a seminar called “Design Your Impact” with churches. This seminar concentrates a church’s thinking on asking the question: “How can we focus our thinking, energy, and resources to get the most impact for achieving the Great Commission?”

I remember when I finally figured out who I was, what my gifts were, and how I could best focus my resources for the advance of the Kingdom. In scientific language, we might say I discovered my DNA. And just as every individual has a unique DNA configuration, we have come to believe that each church has its own unique DNA.

For congregations, the acronym “SPACE” is helpful to remember the 5 parts of a church’s DNA: “Strengths, passions, assets, context, experience.” Figuring out your church’s unique DNA can be a fun, agonizing, fruitful journey. But it can prove incredibly helpful in developing a strategy that works for your church’s DNA. And it can enable you to develop a focus that will give your congregation a rallying point.

In the quest to be able to identify the “missions-minded” church, the question of a church’s identity is highly relevant. Let us know if you would like to go deeper into your church’s DNA so you can “Design Your Impact” as a congregation.

Dave Shive

Prayer and the Missions-Minded Church

Dave: Joe and I are continuing our comments on the theme of “The Myth of the Missions-Minded Church.” Our question today is – “Does the prayer life of your church and its members indicate that your church is missions-minded?”

Joe: Measuring the prayer life of a congregation is not easy. Actually qualifying that prayer as to its focus is pretty near impossible.

Dave: But let me try. Here’s a starter question – Roughly 41% of the world’s population is considered “unreached.” Is 41% of your church’s prayer time devoted to the 41% of the world’s population that does not have access to the Gospel? If reaching that 41% is important to God, should not our prayer lives reflect our interest in what God is passionate about.

Joe: I talked to the person at my church in charge of facilities and asked her to name the different groups that reserve rooms here at the church for prayer. I learned that we have healing prayer, soaking prayer (don’t ask because I don’t know what that means), prayer for the services, staff prayer and the missions prayer group. The missions prayer groups tends to be small (in numbers not stature). It is led by a dear friend who has been doing it for years and is very faithful every other week to bring the latest requests from our missionaries to pray through.

Dave: In Matthew 6, when Jesus introduces the “Lord’s Prayer,” he says, “Pray, then, this way.” In other words, Jesus is advocating a way to pray. And in Romans 8:26, Paul says that “…We don’t know what to pray for as we ought.” Does that scare you? Do you feel less smug about your prayer life in light of the possibility that you might be emphasizing in prayer things that God doesn’t esteem as the highest priority? In other words, while prayer is pleasing to God, God especially likes strategic and focused prayer.

Joe: Now measuring the prayer life of a congregation by the number of meetings a church has and the attendance at those meetings really doesn’t show us much. After all, Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing, so if we’re obedient that means that a whole lot of prayer is going on that the church facilities person knows nothing about. Putting aside for the moment the fact that we aren’t likely praying without ceasing, what other ways are there to figure out how folks are praying?

Dave: I see the first step in assessing your church’s prayer life might be to ask if your church has addressed the question of the purpose of prayer. If prayer is intended for me to get my needs met, then fine, it doesn’t matter if I ever pray for anything other than what directly impacts me. But if prayer is actually a weapon intended to enable us to get on the front line of battle to fight for God’s mission, then I need to refine the scope and intent of my prayers to see that reaching the unreached 41% becomes my prayer priority.

Joe: I am going to go out on a limb here and say that people talk about what they pray about. Sure there are those issues which propriety dictates that we keep between us and God and maybe just a few trusted friends. More often, however, if we are praying about it, we are talking about it. And if we are talking about it, we are likely praying about it. And that makes me sad. If I measure it by how much is said up front on Sunday, the numbers are far from impressive. If I measure it by what is said in passing conversation on Sunday morning, that isn’t much better.

Dave: My concern is not with the number of prayer meetings but with what we are actually praying about in those meetings. Lots of praying that is not strategic may not be accomplishing God’s desire in prayer. And clearly the bulk of most church prayers are for sick people to get better. Now that is not wrong in and of itself, but at the same time that kind of praying does not leave much time for the heart of God that disciples be made out of every nation.

Joe: I know two things which seem almost mutually exclusive: throughout history missions has often been treated as the step-child of church ministries, and if we want to see the resistant parts of the world reached, prayer will have to be a big part of that happening.

Dave: To reorient your church’s prayer style to become more strategic and intentional in fulfilling the Great Commission, it may require some changes in how prayer is done. Joe and I know of some neat things happening in other churches that may be of interest. There may be pain involved. You may have to re-learn how to pray. But think how pleasing that is to the Father when we get our prayer lives on board with God’s agenda. So, if praying for the completion of the Great Commission is not a priority in your church, you may have to reassess your church’s missions-mindedness.

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz