Réveille… (Part 6)
In Part 4—Our Commitment—I stated the need for a long term, boots-on-the-ground mentality… and how 8 to 10 years were needed to transition to a new culture and language.
I wasn’t exaggerating. In fact, looking back now, I see several things in play requiring lots of time for learning, breaking, reshaping, and adapting. Today, I’d call 8 to 10 years a good start… a bare minimum.
We can’t be new creations if everything stays the same.
Goff, Bob. Live in Grace, Walk in Love (p. 23). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
I’ve changed, albeit slowly. The process isn’t completed yet. I’m not through “becoming” what the Lord wants me to become.
A big part of my becoming had to do with the struggle to “un-become” what I had become along with becoming a Jesus follower. I’m the same Christian I had become. But it came with extra baggage… none of which was helpful for conveying the essential message of the Gospel to folks who have yet to embrace it. Some of it was even prejudicial to the cause… like creating artificial scenarios of taking a stand for God in ways that would spurn and divide rather than draw and unite at the foot of the cross. I learned to draw lines in the sand and prepare for battle. I didn’t learn much about loving, embracing, building relationships, disciple-making, and authentic mentoring.
The evolving had begun.
Nevertheless, along with the lack of experiential maturing inherent to a vibrant disciple-making environment, we suffered from another untreated malady.
We carried chronic Americanitis with us on our journey south of the border. We didn’t mean to. We would have rejected the idea of being carriers. But ironically, one of its primary symptoms is obliviousness. We said and did things with a certain swagger. We conveyed a self-assurance that looked like we knew what God wanted others to do. Without consulting native-born believers, we arrived on the scene with pretty strong opinions about how kingdom work should be done in their part of the world.
Being in Cancun, we were fascinated by the history of the ancient Mayan civilization… curious about how it had left its mark on the present. Even so, we could have listened better and learned more about the culture and mores of our new neighborhood.
Not that we didn’t already care about relationships, but we learned some things in Mexico we had not learned before we got there.
A few years into life in Cancun, we had opportunity to meet believers from another part of Mexico. They lived in Mexico City and Toluca, about 1,000 miles away. We connected with them through our friends across the street who were related to them.
I had never seen what I experienced with those wonderful folks. They ministered at every level of the social strata. They were growing quality disciples. Their groups were growing in number. They didn’t have a single church building to their name… didn’t want one… they would have said, “No thanks” if you had offered them one for free.
They were real about investing time in the Word and in prayer… real about nurturing new believers… careful to model real personal witness with friends and neighbors in a way that shouted, “This is the normal Christian life.” They had families in other countries with the same vision and work ethic.
It was transformative. I regret not staying longer among them. There was more I could have learned… more I needed to learn. I regret not having submitted myself to be discipled by them before continuing our work in Cancun.
As a result of their example, our future attempts to start new things in Cancun focused more on people and relationships and less on the spaces to gather them in. One day I added it up. Linda and I had held church in our home for an unbroken stretch of more than two decades.
Since Jesus is everybody’s creator, might there not be strengths in every culture’s language and customs that could be used to advantage for the Gospel? They might not be readily apparent even to an alert observer. An American arriving on the scene with all of the answers in his pocket will remain clueless in la-la land.
I like the advice “The Patriot” gives his boys as they ambush the British detail carting off their older brother to be hanged: AIM SMALL, MISS SMALL
Get a grip on the power of one… One potential “Timothy” who will influence and shepherd is more important than filling a building with hundreds of believers who won’t grow much beyond needing shepherded. If you had to choose, would you do weekly Sunday crowds or private Timothy sessions in your home? Which will last longer and go further?
Attend to the needs of the one…
“that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:28-29, ESV)
Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. (Matthew 13:52, ESV)
The endgame is always the same, but… church isn’t a disciple factory. Discipleship isn’t catechism. It’s a nuanced, Spirit-directed journey, fine-tuned on the fly to adequately address a disciple’s current state of affairs.
Suppress the church building urge… Do we really need a church building to start a church… to be a church? We teach “No”… we live “Yes.” More about this in the next post.
Use what the new culture already gifts us with… My only direct experience has been in Latin America, fortified by a wonderful trip to Spain a few years ago. There is a built-in cultural strength which becomes a ready-made vehicle for outreach and discipleship. It’s gift-wrapped in a single Spanish word: Sobremesa—after-meal table-talk. So, why try to reinvent the wheel?
Sobremesa times reveal the strength of The Patriot’s mantra—aim small, miss small.
Hearts open wider, relationships deepen, conversation turns eternally profitable. Prayer becomes more intimate around a table than from behind a pulpit. What better format for meaningful growth… what better path to fruitfulness?
If you live the life of a church-planting pioneer in a far off place, you will be changed more profoundly than what you can see in the mirror. You will never again be who you once were. For the rest of your life, you will feel like a stranger in a strange land… not entirely of one place or another. But let me tell you… it’s worth the stretch.
This is not your normal 9-5 job. People who have given their lives in such thorough and committed ways deserve to be valued… supported… cared for. And in their latter days… heard.