The purpose of this first seminar is to present you with a series of topics that will challenge you to think differently about your purpose as a follower of Jesus. You may be a little uncomfortable with some of the early sections, but I will finish by highlighting how easy it is to do the job Jesus gave us to do if we start to catch his vision for the lost and then do things the way he asked us to. We must return to the number one task we have been called to do instead of using up our energy on lots of other religious jobs that may seem important but don’t actually relate to the Matthew 28:18 “Great Commission” mandate. Our purpose is to bring the whole world into a loving relationship with its creator, and we already have all the tools to get it done, but we are so often doing other things.
The last topic covered is a very short summary of our personal experience with stepping out of “fortress church” and into our surrounding culture to be a light for Jesus. I share this with you to show you that all that is written below is part of our own journey from barrenness to fruitfulness. We are still learners and still making mistakes, but at the same time we are having a lot of fun seeing lives fixed, healed and set free.
ARE YOU A BARREN BRIDE?
With all due respect to those readers who are having trouble having a family, a bride who cannot have children is considered barren. It is a major medical problem, and unless something is done to fix the problem, the family tree for that couple will die out. Doctors are usually consulted and medical bills stack up. It is a very serious situation with major long-term implications.
The bride of Christ in the western world, the church, is that barren bride! It has basically stopped producing spiritual babies so it is shrinking in size and cultural influence, and it has been doing so throughout the last 100 years. Even though the situation is grim, few have consulted Dr Jesus or invested the time and effort to solve this huge problem. Jesus said we must produce fruit or he will pull us out of the vineyard (John 15:5-6). He also cursed the barren fig tree outside Jerusalem that failed to produce fruit (Matthew 21:18-22) as a sign of what was to befall the Israelite people for their spiritual barrenness.
Are you a barren part of the bride of Christ? When was the last time you brought someone to Jesus and discipled them? If you have trouble answering these two questions, then it is time to start asking Jesus for solutions. Search the scriptures for keys. Most of us still live in the delusion that if we continue doing the same things in the future that we have been doing in the past, then the result will change. It won’t. The time for a major change in church direction has arrived. If we do not take a radically different approach to winning our culture to Jesus then Christianity in the western world will completely disappear within two generations, if current trends continue.
ARE YOU PASSIVE OR ACTIVE?
Most Australian and other western Christians are steeped in a medieval European tradition of religious passivity. We turn up to a religious building and consume a packaged product, pay our dues and leave. Then return next week for a repeat. Nothing much spiritual happens in the other six days of our week. We swim in a secular culture Monday to Saturday and retreat into sacred buildings for a religious fix on Sunday without giving much of a thought about how to penetrate the secular culture with the good news. There is nothing sacred about this format for doing Christianity. It is not in the New Testament and would seem strange to believers from the first two centuries of the faith.
The basic procedures for this retreatist mindset were laid down in third century Rome and have changed little since. This curse was never meant to be part of our faith. The early church before this time was full of passion, action, intimacy, danger and purpose. They knew their mission was to turn the world upside down (Mark 16:14-18, Luke 24:45-47, Matthew 28:18-19, Acts 17:1-8). They knew that church meant people belonging to Jesus, not buildings to attend on Sunday. They knew that true worship was bringing the world back into relationship with the father and into precious relationship with Jesus. Every time one of these early believers met with another believer or engaged with a non-believer, it was an opportunity for church to happen. Church back then was a verb, not a noun.
It is time for all Christian soldiers to get out of “Camp Retreat” and into the battlefield. We need to ditch the old European church system that chokes our faith and return to the subversive missional commando mindset of the first few centuries. We must find the passion for that sent Jesus to the cross, live in it seven days a week, and start pleading for souls (Luke 10:2, John 15:8). Only then will we grow in numbers and quality. Fortunately, this is again happening in so many parts of the world, but we in the west are being left behind because we cling to our outmoded traditions.
CAN YOU HEAR THE FRUIT DROPPING?
Most secular citizens of western nations are deeply suspicious of the current model of church practice. They are afraid of established churches because of the endless profiling of religious pedophiles in the media. They are offended and turned off with by money hungry preachers, the sex scandals, the boring repetition, a self-serving clergy class and lack of vision. Our leaders have been asleep at the wheel while the crew has been abandoning the ship. Yet at the same time these secular citizens are much more open to the supernatural than in earlier post-war generations. They desperately seek to fill their spiritual yearnings with exotic religions and spiritual experiences from all over the world. Most people are also emotionally hurting and in desperate need of the love of God. The selfishness of humanistic materialism has left a huge pain in the hearts of the majority of people, especially the young. They really don’t know why they are here.
But all the while the army of God has been hiding inside its religious buildings. Our love has been held in a bottle. Our salt has lost its flavor and we have been tossed out by our host culture. If we could only repackage our message as one of intimate relationship with our loving creator then we will find our neighbours, work colleagues and friends are ready and waiting for this good news. Contrary to what you may think, people are very open to receiving genuine caring prayer for their needs. They are open to the message of friendship with God. Jesus still polls really well as a great man of history. People like him, so you need to represent him as best you can. The harvest in our culture is now very ripe but there are few harvesters actually in the field getting on with the job we were called to do.
WHO IS REACHING GENERATION Y?
If we lose this generation, our faith will completely die out in most western countries, end of story! If this happens then the huge Christian heritage handed down to us over the last 2,000 years will largely disappear. Imagine that for a second. Only 4% of Gen Y has a Christian world view. Most are deeply humanist and atheistic in belief, yet paradoxically open to spiritualism. Inside the fortress-church, our youth have a very poor philosophical understanding of their faith and are subconsciously steeped in the ways of humanism. Even the newer churches do not disciple well and most youth are bored with them by the age of 20 and leave via the back door.
For this coming generation of social leaders, humanism is the only cultural water they have ever swum in so they cannot tell you what is wrong with it. It is imperative that we strategically target Gen Y. They are softer than Gen X and the very selfish Baby Boomers. They instinctively warm to the interactive nature of informal/relational discipleship. They yearn for the supernatural, but they have been deceived into lifestyles that embrace substance abuse and sexual license. They are being spat out hurt, wounded and broken by age 30. Who will dedicate themselves to winning an army of disciples from this cohort? They are ripe for the picking if the message is packaged properly, in the way it was meant to be.
DO YOU THINK LIKE A GRASSHOPPER?
There is a popular doctrine among most protestant churches that believes the future is one of cultural defeat for the church and that the end of history will see powerful anti-Christian forces in charge of our planet. Why is it that we believe the lie that Satan will win the battle for our culture? Jesus told us to disciple all nations (Matthew 28:19), that the mustard seed would become the biggest tree in the garden (Matthew 13:31-32) and that the yeast of the gospel would permeate the whole loaf (Luke 13:18-21, Matthew 24:14). Do you really believe these words? The first tactic of war is to convince your enemy they will lose. Satan has convinced the western church that it is supposed to lose the battle for history and culture! The doctrine of the antichrist is exactly that. It was popularized in the depressive aftermath of WW1, the Great Depression and WW2, and has since wreaked havoc with the confidence of western Christians, giving them a philosophical justification for doing nothing in the face of cultural defeat at the hands of evolutionary humanists.
Our master came to earth and threw his spiritual weight around and totally defeated Satan (Colossians 2:15). He commanded us to do the same until the whole world was back in relationship with him, as was the original plan in Eden. Then he sent the Holy Spirit to give us the power to finish the job he started. Mindsets have to be changed from cultural and spiritual defeat, to victory and the taking of ground in every community we are a part of. This is a war where we have a huge advantage over our enemy, but have squandered it because we think we are grasshoppers in a land of giants. We are the giants; Satan is the grasshopper who shivers at the thought of us using our authority (Matthew 8:28, Hebrews 2:14, James 2:19)! Stop thinking like a grasshopper and get on with the job. Jesus rules, OK!
30, 60, 100 FOLD IS NORMAL
In the parable of the sower, Jesus said that the good seed, those that come to faith and stay faithful, will produce a harvest of 30, 60 or 100 fold (Mark 4:1-20). What he meant was that they would lead many others to faith in him. He was saying it should be the norm for a Christian to have up to 100 or more spiritual babies in their lifetime. Today it is not normal in the richer countries of the world as well as most developing nations. Why? In the early church it was not unusual for a follower of Jesus to win and disciple this number of people in their lifetime. But now we pull new believers away from their friends, shove them into a religious community where they lose contact with the people they should be winning. Even cell groups and house churches slow down the harvest when they pull new believers away from their peers. Disciple makers and church planters in parts of Asia and Africa are now regularly winning and discipling hundreds of new believers in their lifetimes, so it is possible. I have personally met smart young Indian men in their thirties who have raised up networks of hundreds of thousands of new believers by winning a few and then discipling them so they then win others and disciple them. One Indian discipleship movement of around 2 million people is currently growing at around 40% a year. Do the sums and work out what that will do for the nation in 50 years from now. Ask Jesus to make these growth rates normal for you too.
Every Christian should be able to win and disciple at least one new believer each year. That is tuff enough if you are new to discipling as a lifestyle. If that new believer becomes a passionate soul winner because you modeled it for them, they should win at least one person the next year. The results of this style of spiritual growth would become exponential within a few years. For example, there are about one million believers in Australia. If a mere 1,000 of us could be trained to be once-a-year disciple maker, we would double the number of total believers in Australia to two million in about 10 years. Only ten years!!!! This is exactly what has happened in China and is beginning to happen in India as young people are getting the vision to disciple and multiply new believers.
North Indian disciple trainer, Rod Gilbert only started 47 house churches in the first seven years of his ministry. In the next ten he oversaw the creation of 11,500 house churches, and all of them first generation believers from the Hindu heartland around New Delhi. Another Indian, Sadir Raj baptized 120 new believers in his first year, over a 1,000 in his second and over 6,000 in his third year, and he was working with Hindu priests and the elite Brahmin caste people. Both these groups have been the most resistant to traditional western expressions of Christianity but have responded to indigenous expressions of our faith. Brother Abul, from Assam in India, has seen 13,000 Muslims baptized into Isa (Jesus), most since 9/11. He became a follower of Isa simply by reading the Koran and has written a book showing all the passages in the Koran that point toward Isa as lord, not just a prophet. The result is an ever-growing web of believers within the Islamic sub-culture of Eastern India. Similar Pure Islam” movements are popping up in other parts of the country. Meghya Jonah is a very friendly and humble 35 year old member of the Gypsy castes of central India. Meghya has raised up a discipleship network in his people group with over 300,000 baptized believers.
The harvest is plentiful. We just need to enlarge our vision for our culture. Let’s get on with the job. It isn’t impossible. It isn’t even hard compared to India. Get the vision and ask Jesus to move you into it. After all, if he said we can do it they why do we doubt him?
FIND GOD’S PLAN FOR YOUR COMMUNITY
Jesus was a master strategist, Paul was too. They planned ahead. They targeted important cities on major trade routes. They targeted important people like the Ethiopian treasurer and Priscilla, a trader in purple. They knew how to begin with current beliefs can culture and move logically to the Christian world-view message (Acts 17). What is your strategy for your city, suburb, neighbourhood, workplace, peer group, friends and family? Jesus stands outside your city waiting for spiritual “donkeys” like you to carry him in to the people of your community (Matthew 21). If they sense him with you, if they see his love coming through you, if they see his power working through you, then they will worship him and lay the garments of their life at his feet. There is a plan for your community in the mind of our lord. Find it and live it. We are ambassadors of the king. We are to plant his flag in ever increasing circles of community influence. Our task is to push darkness further and further from the cultural centre of gravity. Your community, family and peer group are your fields of influence. You are the only pastor they may ever see. Pastor all of them. You are the spiritual anchor for your community. Enlarge your vision, become the salt and light. Stand in the gap and believe for community wide transformation. It is happening in other parts of the world. It can happen where you live. All that is required for the current evil to triumph is for God’s people to continue doing nothing.
ORDINARY PEOPLE, AMAZING RESULTS
At the end of the day, all of us are pretty ordinary. But we have an extraordinary God. He made the 100 billion galaxies of the universe and the 100 billion cells of the human brain, and he is now your partner in life’s journey. Wow! This unlimited power and authority (Matthew 28:18) has been delegated to you (Luke 10:19). That’s the key to how he took ordinary fishermen and trained them into world beaters. He took despised tax collectors and turned them into fishers of men. In the book of Acts Jesus took thousands of ordinary folk and gave them the Holy Spirit to turbo-charge their ministry (Acts 1:8). He took an angry bigoted Pharisee and turned him onto Paul, the great church planter of Europe. The result; they all started doing the same amazing things Jesus did himself. They raised the dead, healed cripples, cast out demonic spirits. If we also walk close to Jesus and live close to the centre of his will, then great things will begin to happen around us too. If we get beyond religion and into laying down our life for our king, then we too will turn the world upside down. Find your gifting, find your place in the body, flow in it and see your ministry flourish. Jesus only trained 12 and look what happened. You can disciple 12 people in the next few years. Go for it and see what happens to those around you.
Your nation belongs to Jesus. He paid for it with his blood. He owns it (Psalms 2:8, Matthew 28:18). So, on the spiritual level we are simply in a mopping up operation. The victory has already been guaranteed. But we have been tricked into believing the lie that it is hard to win people to Jesus. Jesus already owns your country and mine. He made all the land and all the people on the planet! Start praying that one day your nation will be full of worshippers who love their lord and their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Jesus expects nothing less than total spiritual, political, cultural and economic victory in every part of the world. That is the job he has assigned the church. We were never told to simply sit in pews, sing, listen and go home. That isn’t worship. Obedience is worship and the greatest act of obedience is to present souls to Jesus. That is true worship. It is our job to present those in our sphere of influence to Jesus as an act of worship, totally transformed into the bride he wants them to be for him.
Australia came close to reaching this goal in the 1870’s with a church pew for over 50% of the population, but we had the wrong model of church and the goal slipped from our fingers as our church leaders foolishly sat at the feet of evolutionary humanists in the early part of the 20th Century. Will you join the spiritual fight for your nation so loved by our Lord? The tree of life is for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2) and the people of your nation, like the people of mine, desperately need spiritual healing.
THE COMING DECADE OF HARVEST
For the last 50 years the western world has become increasingly hardened to traditional expressions of Christianity. Evolutionary humanism has become the dominant discourse for our culture. People now believe in a naturalistic past, a materialistic present and a technological future, full of individualism and self-expression. However, what most people don’t know is that one of the main underpinning causes of this flowering of materialism and selfishness is an ever increasing use of fossil fuels to subsidize our lifestyles. Nearly everything we do, touch, enjoy and eat can only happen because our civilization has been built on the premise of cheap energy, especially oil. Our use of stored oil and coal from Noah’s flood allows us to live lifestyles only dreamt about by our grandparents when they were young. Food flies in from around the world regardless of season, while we fly out. We burn several tonnes of coal each month to keep a single household in electricity. We drive where we want, when we want and how we want. Like junkies, we are totally dependent on a continual supply of black liquid gold.
But all of this conspicuous consumption and its associated individualism is about to change. Peak oil will be upon us sometime between 2010 and 2015, and after that point we will have to find other sources of mobility or scale back our personal, financial, cultural, and lifestyle expectations. Peak coal arrives in about 2030. When the physical limits of global oil supply became a global issue in 2008, the whole world economy shuddered. That was round one of a long battle ahead.
What does this mean for the rich, selfish, grossly indebted western world, which relies on oil for 90% of its transport? It will mean the scaling back of the false humanistic-materialistic heaven we have been foolishly thinking will last forever. It will be the end of cheap food, cheap individual transport, cheap housing, and cheap imports. It will mean church-goers can no longer afford to drive more than a few kilometers for Sunday worship, and few will generously donate to the next building project. It will mean a lot of unemployment and a huge dose of debt default and asset deflation. It will cause a lot of people to question their values, and it will bring a lot of people to a point where they will become open to a new and better paradigm for living their lives.
Cuba went through just such a crisis in 1990 when Russia stopped subsidizing their oil and prices quadrupled in a single day. During the “Special Period” of the next five years the number of Christians in Cuba doubled from 3% to 6% of the population. Everything across the nation downsized, including the church. Growth in believers accelerated because people once again had to help each other survive, as it has been for most of history. The same season of downsizing is coming to a town near you, to your family, to your wallet. It will open millions of hearts to the gospel. Will you be ready to disciple them?
This next decade or two could bring in a huge harvest of souls, if we are ready and have the right structure to hold it. The harvest will be abundant (John 4:35), but at the moment the workers are few (Luke 10:2). Become a worker now, hone your skills in disciple making and get ready for the rush!
In 2005, after learning about lots about the issues explained in this seminar, we made a family decision to start praying for our street and engaging with our neighbours. This was in response to a tugging voice in my heart over a three month period to “love your neighbour as yourself”. What began as a single afternoon tea has resulted five years later in our two elderly next-door neighbours on the left coming into a close relationship with Jesus. Over the next four years we invested heavily into their lives. They now teach the faith to Annette’s aging mother in a lovely model of the student becoming the teacher. These neighbours early on asked us to help their personal trainer who was having major personal problems. He and his wife then also came to a rejuvenated faith, and they have led between five and ten others to Jesus. Another neighbour two doors the other way come to faith after we helped her with meals during a bout with cancer and chemotherapy. But she then walked away from Jesus when her cancer went into remission and she moved away. We simply trust that the seed sown will one day re-sprout. That experience taught us a lot about the value of discipling after bringing someone to Jesus. Another near-neighbour, who had been to church all his life but who did not have a faith, actually met Jesus himself when he nearly died on a hospital bed. He now has a faith! Excellent friendships have developed with other neighbours who to this day are not in relationship with Jesus but are great company. Other neighbours have been resistant so we give them their space. We are also currently praying for one particular sub-culture in our community that has no gospel connection with the mainstream church. We are asking the Lord to help us find ways of serving this community that will honour him. Each day is constantly presenting opportunities to help people in need.
One of the very positive spin-offs from all this was that our children have developed a vision for souls. Over the last three years our eldest daughter has brought two fellow university students to Jesus. Our son has also brought two school friends to Jesus. I helped him disciple them during lunch times. What a thrill it has been to see our own children praying for their friends and circles of influence to come to know the one they love and follow.
Sin destroys people, it hurts people. It breaks up families. It causes financial problems, addictions, and rejection. Sin steals, kills and destroys relationships. Because of these on-going symptoms of sin in our local community we are finding a never-ending trail of opportunities to demonstrate the love of God to a hurting world. All we have to do for these opportunities to arrive at our doorstep is to pray and ask for opportunities to share the love of Jesus. This is one prayer that always gets answered.
Start with this prayer for a month and see what happens…