Three Sunday Conversations

June 9, 2016

To understand these conversations, a little background is necessary: At Desiring God Church, about 80% of our preaching consists of working our way through books of the Bible. A typical sermon is about 45 minutes long. I have been preaching through Romans for more than a year, and focused on Romans 8:26-27 this last Sunday. During the sermon I mentioned that, prior to studying Romans 8:28 – “God works all things together for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose” – we will leave Romans for a few weeks to look at what Scripture teaches about suffering in the book of Job.

Also: Our service begins at 9:30 and ends at 11; our host church begins their service at 11:30. When we first moved to our present facility, I thought the early starting time would be a negative. But we discovered an advantage: Many people are happy to stick around and talk when they don’t have to rush out for lunch. We often have a third of the congregation still at the church 45 minutes after the service ends.

Here are three vignettes from the ten or so conversations I had between 11 and noon on Sunday:

Shortly after the close of the service, I see a couple I have never met before talking with another elder. After introductions, they say, “We have never heard preaching like this. I now feel like I understand what this passage means, and how I can live it out. Thank you so much! Do you preach like this all the time at Desiring God Church?”

A few minutes later, Janey approaches me. A native of Congo, Janey received her citizenship in a ceremony at the US District Court two days previously. She had asked me after that ceremony if she could speak to the congregation following Sunday’s church service, thanking God and those individuals who helped her to get to this point. She now reminds me; I clap hands to get folks’ attention. Janey notices a few people talking outside the Fellowship Hall door, and asks if I can go alert them. When all is arranged, she very graciously thanks those who helped her study, those who drove her to classes, those who loved her and prayed for her – and praises God for taking her from a dangerous situation into this country. As she finishes, everyone claps, and Bruno – also a refugee from Congo – breaks out into a Swahili song, praising God for His goodness.

As the crowd begins to thin out, I sit down next to eight-year-old Rachel. Her family was part of this congregation before her birth, so I had the privilege of holding her when she was a newborn. As part of our service, we always ask for a volunteer to recite the week’s memory verses; this morning, Rachel and her brother had done so. I thank her for that, and we discuss Bible memory for a while. Then Rachel surprises me: “Pastor Coty, I was sad about something you said in the sermon.” “What, sweet girl?” “You said we were leaving Romans. I love Romans! I’m learning so much from it. So I’m sad that you’ll be preaching on something else” It takes me a bit to know what to say. Finally: “I’m so glad you are taking Paul’s message to heart, Rachel. I promise you, we will get back to it – I’ll only preach about five sermons on Job. And you know what? I think Job will help you understand Romans even better!” Then she is satisfied.

Driving home, tears well up in my eyes, praising God, and thanking Him for so much that I don’t deserve: For visitors responding to expository preaching; for those from a number of countries and peoples who grace our church; for a new citizen and spontaneous song; and for a little girl I once held as an infant who loves both the book of Romans and the in-depth preaching that opens up its truths.

What is T4T?

May 13, 2016

What is T4T?

If you are a part of Desiring God Church for long, you will hear the phrase “reproducing discipleship,” and the acronym, “T4T.” You may also be aware of debates within the wider evangelical church about whether T4T and church planting movements are biblical.

The name “T4T” stands for “Training for Trainers.” The name was coined by a missionary in southeastern China, Ying Kai, as he tried to describe a discipleship and church planting movement in which those who come to faith are trained immediately to share their faith with unbelievers in their circle of relationships. The movement that developed subsequently saw at least a couple of million people come to faith and gather in multiplying house churches in a short period of time. In this movement, all new believers were taught one way to share the Gospel, and one introductory set of Bible stories.

Praise God for that movement to Christ. But that history of the term “T4T” has led to misconceptions about its core principles. So let’s begin by making four “Not Statements” about T4T.

  • First, T4T does not consist of using a particular Gospel presentation, or a particular set of discipleship materials.
  • Second, T4T does not contend that if we follow the right program, many people will come to faith and many churches will be planted quickly. Indeed, T4T is not really about the number or speed of conversions.
  • Third, T4T is not contending that the church gathering in worship is unimportant, or that preaching is unimportant.
  • Fourth, T4T is not contending that house churches are better than churches that meet in church buildings.

Yes, some practitioners of T4T at times have spoken as if one or another of those “Not Statements” is true. But T4T does not imply any of them.

Instead, T4T begins with these five biblical foundations. We all should begin with these same foundations whenever we consider our role as God’s agents of change in the world:

  • First, we start with the Word of God. The Word and only the Word is authoritative; the Word is able to make us wise unto salvation; the Word will guide us, instruct us, rebuke us, train us, and correct us so that we are equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
  • Second, all nations must hear the Gospel. We must take God’s message to every people group – not only to those like ourselves, but to every tribe and tongue and people and nation. For “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Thus, whatever evangelism, discipleship, and church planting strategy we devise must at least have the potential to reach every people group.
  • Third, there is no other name than Jesus Christ by which men must be saved (Acts 4:12). Specifically, no program, no formula, no technique has ever saved anyone.
  • Fourth: God the Holy Spirit is the agent of change, miraculously shining the light of His glory in our hearts, thus giving us new life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). God converts people, not us. We bear witness. We testify. We must do so. But only a miracle brings people to faith.
  • So, fifth: We must pray diligently, persistently, unceasingly for God to do that great work. Even the Apostle Paul tells others they must help him by prayer (2 Corinthians 1:11).

T4T rightly emphasizes those five truths, which are common to all biblically solid evangelism and missions. Always interpret missionary accounts of church planting movements and techniques used in light of those biblical truths.

But in addition to those five truths, the proponents of T4T emphasize four additional biblical truths, arguing that these have often been overlooked in the church.

First: “Go!” not “Come!” Our Lord tells us in the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20a).

Too often our churches have thought of evangelism in terms of inviting unbelievers to an evangelistic service, or to an evangelist’s crusade. Praise God, some come to faith through such events. But our estimates in Charlotte are that somewhere between 40% and 60% of the population – including 100% of some people groups – will never come to an evangelistic event. Our Lord tells us to go to them, and we must do so. An evangelism and church planting strategy for a city does not even have the potential to reach all people groups unless it includes our going.

Second: “Disciples” not “converts.” Jesus tells us to make disciples. We are to teach new believers not only all that Jesus commands, but how to obey all that He commands. This implies practice and repetition; this implies looking at Scripture and asking how to obey it, then after a period of time looking back, being accountable, and seeing if I did obey. This also implies continuing in relationship with the person who has come to faith through my witness, helping him or her to become self-feeding from the Word, and day by day to become a more obedient follower of Jesus.

Third: Disciples make disciples. If that new believer is to learn to obey all that Jesus commands, he must learn how to make disciples of all nations – for Jesus commands that! So the new believer must learn to share the Gospel, to share the story of what great things God has done for him, and to lead others to share the Gospel and their story. So T4T emphasizes helping brand new believers to learn and practice a simple Gospel presentation, and then to learn and practice how to lead others in the same steps of discipleship they themselves have gone through.

The New Testament tells us of brand new believers whom God uses as evangelists, such as the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) and the man who had had a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20). In the latter case, just hours after his healing, Jesus tells the man not to accompany Him. Instead He commands him: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

Many in our churches think they are not gifted in evangelism, and use that as an excuse for not sharing. T4T rightly emphasizes that we all share in the privilege and responsibility of sharing the Gospel – even while we value those with evangelistic gifts. A gifted evangelist may know 100 ways to share Gospel. He or she can adjust the presentation, respond to questions, and switch method depending on the listener’s response. A new believer, on the other hand, is probably better off knowing only one Gospel presentation. But he needs to know that one well.

Fourth and finally: Disciples gather into churches. As people come to faith, as they are taught to obey all that Jesus commands, they must become part of a church. Many of us in the American church have assumed that when someone local comes to faith, that new believer should become part of the same church as the one who spoke the Gospel to him. But that’s an extra-biblical assumption. Instead, T4T emphasizes that we should ponder the question: What should church look like for this new believer? And part of the answer to that question is: What church structure will help this new believer to continue to grow in obeying all that Jesus commands – including the command to go and make disciples? That is: What will keep the reproduction process going? If this new believer immediately shares the Gospel with friends and relatives who also come to faith, one possibility to consider is the beginning of a house church – with the initial evangelist continuing to invest in building up this new believer in understanding what a church is biblically, and being able to teach and share with those he has brought to faith.

Some are disturbed by the notion that a new believer could lead a church. But consider Acts 14. Paul and Barnabas spend a little time in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. People come to faith, but opponents become stirred up also, and they drive out the apostles. But then – perhaps only a few weeks later, at most a few months – Paul and Barnabas return, and appoint elders for them in every church (Acts 14:23). They appoint as elders men who had not been believers for more than a few months.

So the reproducing discipleship process called T4T is built on foundational principles common to all biblical evangelism. T4T emphasizes four other biblical principles which also should characterize our disciplemaking. I encourage you, like the faithful Bereans, to search the Scriptures and see if these things are true (Acts 17:11) – and then to go, make disciples who make disciples, and gather them into disciple-making churches.

(For a book-length examination of the biblical foundations of T4T and church planting movements, see Steve Addison, What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World.)

Pioneering Movements: Leadership that Multiplies and Disciples Churches

October 30, 2015

I write this after spending the last week with an Asian church planting movement that has started thousands of churches in the last few years. The leaders of this movement are humble, with servant hearts; focused on filling thousands of villages with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea; very conscious of their own inadequacies and limitations; supremely confident in the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer to overcome the forces of darkness; effectively organized for the raising up and training of apostolic church planters who will reproduce themselves; and have a track record of identifying unreached, unengaged people groups, then sending workers to them to spread the Gospel. They are pioneering leaders.

Steve Addison has chronicled the advance of the Gospel through such movements, both on his website, www.movements.net, and in his three books. His first, Movements that Change the World, identifies five key characteristics of church planting movements. His second, What Jesus Started, provides the biblical foundations for this range of approaches to church planting, and briefly describes a number of such movements around the world. His new book, Pioneering Movements: Leadership that Multiplies Disciples and Churches, focuses on lessons regarding the type of leaders God uses in these movements.

The first six chapters are the meat of the book.  Chapter one relates Addison’s personal story of becoming a movement leader, emphasizing that successful movement leadership results from a change of heart and perspective rather than from adopting a particular strategy or following a particular formula. One characteristic of church planting movements is an emphasis on obedience, teaching others to obey all that Jesus commands, rather than simply teaching what Jesus commands. The author had to take that lesson to heart himself. One aspect of that change was shifting his focus to training others to build up the movement, rather than building dependency on himself, the leader.

Chapter two considers Jesus as the model for a movement leader, summarizing some of the content from What Jesus Started.

Chapter three then looks at Peter’s leadership of the early church. By any human standard, Peter was not qualified for this role. But he had been with Jesus – and that made all the difference. With that foundation, Peter continued to learn; he developed other leaders; he remained focused on the Word received; he moved wherever God led him. Along the way, Addison addresses a common misconception in Western churches. In Acts 6, the apostles do not get involved with the dispute about meals for widows so that they can focus on “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” He writes:

To our ears, [this] sounds like something a pastor does in his study before preaching. . . . [But in Acts] the Word is a living force unleashed by the living God (Acts 4:4, 29, 31). . . . So when the apostles described their priority, . . . it meant they were leaders of an expanding missionary movement driven by the living Word and the power of God released through prayer. (p. 54)

Chapter four focuses on structures that allow church planting movements to flourish. Paul’s missionary band was not an arm of the church in Antioch, but a separate entity, supported and encouraged by that church. This, Addison argues, should be the pattern for us today, as missionary bands go out in an apostolic fashion to unreached peoples, local churches go out evangelistically to those around them, and both partner, prayerfully and financially, for the advance of the Kingdom.

Chapter five relates the story of one contemporary movement leader, Nathan Shank, and some of the leaders developed through his ministry in South Asia. One of these new leaders, Lipok, had by any standard a successful ministry starting churches among the Mising people in the early 2000s. To Lipok, a successful church plant had to have a building.  Paid evangelists went out to the lost, bringing people to Christ, and then sending them to the churches with buildings. But he realized “he couldn’t build churches fast enough to reach all of the Mising people” (p. 83). Through Nathan’s influence, Lipok began training every disciple to become a disciple-maker. Multiplication skyrocketed. By 2014, Lipok attests that over 10,000 churches have begun in this movement. A movement dependent on paid evangelists would not multiply. Nor would a movement dependent on building buildings. But a movement that expected new believers to obey the biblical command to make disciples, and trained and encouraged them to do so, could grow exponentially.

In contrast, Addison tells the story of 19th century Methodist missionary William Taylor, who saw great response to the Gospel through his ministry on six continents. He aimed for missionaries to be servants rather than masters, founding churches that were self-supporting and self-governing. Yet his missions board was furious at this lack of dependency (p. 92). Such attitudes have been far too prevalent in the history of missions.

Chapter six details five levels of movement leadership, culled from the experience of numerous movements: Seed Sowers, who know how to share the Gospel and who to share it with; Church Planters, who know how to disciple others to obey Jesus’ commands and to become seed sowers, know biblically what a church is, and help new believers to become well-functioning churches; Church Multipliers, who help churches to produce daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter churches, releasing authority to the church planters they produce; Multiplication Trainers, who reach outside their own network to spur other church planting movements; and Movement Catalysts, who focus on developing church planting movements within an unreached people or region. Addison argues that church planting movements are rare today in the West because very few Church Planters ever even consider becoming Church Multipliers (p. 101).

Chapters seven and eight provide case studies of several movements and leaders in the US and in South Africa, while chapter nine discusses movements among Muslim peoples. Chapter ten concludes the book with a warning: All movement leaders will face crises, disappointments, and pain. All movement leaders are weak in and of themselves:

Movement pioneers see cities, regions and nations. They make bold, audacious plans. Along the way they face hardship and disappointment, opposition and delay. At times they may feel abandoned by God and alone. They will also see the power of God at work. Prayers will be answered. God’s provision will come at the very last moment. Workers will be mobilized. The gospel will spread. History will be made. There is a price to pay, and it’s worth it. (p. 164)

Some pastors and theologians, skeptical about church planting movements, have criticized taking lessons from the experience of a small number of movements and baptizing that experience as the way to do missions. They argue that CPMs are the latest fad – and we should not follow fads, but rather follow the biblical prescriptions for discipling all nations. I myself have made similar arguments about the faddishness of much of the church planting literature in the US. We surely want to remain grounded in Scripture’s lessons, and not jump from fad to fad.

Addison modeled how to counter this line of argument in What Jesus Started, by showing the biblical basis for this approach to missions, and highlighting movements that differ in many details but share this common biblical approach. Unfortunately, in the latter chapters of this latest work he sometimes slips into a pattern of speaking that lays himself open to the critics. For example, speaking of CPMs among Muslim peoples in chapter nine, he writes:

The place to begin [in evangelism of Muslims] is with the story of creation and move through portions of the Old Testament, such as the prophets of the Old Testament, before moving on to the stories about Jesus in the Gospels. (p 152)

Here Addison has departed from describing the way Muslim movements have worked, and instead is prescribing the way Muslim movements should operate. Yet other missionaries have seen a positive response among Muslims from starting with Proverbs, or starting with stories from the Gospels. Addison instead could have written, “Others desiring to work among Muslims should consider seriously this pattern of beginning with the story of creation and then much of the Old Testament prior to getting to Jesus.”

There are similar issues in the conclusion to chapter eight, where the author tells us how to become a Great Commission church. Addison again sometimes slips into using language that can sound as if he is providing a formula: “How to start a church planting movement in ten easy steps.” This too plays into the hands of the critics. The pity is that there are powerful lessons in this chapter for churches that want to move in this direction. And as he himself argues cogently earlier in the book, there is no formula. There are biblical patterns; there are experiences from around the world. So let us study Scripture, learn what we can from the experiences – and step out in obedience.

In sum, Pioneering Movements is a helpful and important work that draws on biblical foundations and the experience of church planting pioneers over the last 200 years to draw lessons for today. God is at work building His church among the poor and among the rich, among the reached and among the unreached. I have seen it firsthand. Read this book. Search the Scriptures to see if these things are true. Consider the experience of many in such movements. And then play your role in the drama God has ordained, as He builds His church from those of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Steve Addison, Pioneering Movements: Leadership that Multiplies Disciples and Churches, IVP, 2015. The book will be available in early December, 2015, and can be pre-ordered today. See www.movements.net for any possible discounts on orders.

Interview on Church Planting and Multiplying Disciples

November 23, 2013

In September, Brian Norris of Citylight Church interviewed me, focusing on church planting and DGCC’s vision for reproducing discipleship:

 

Brian Norris interviews Coty Pinckney

Suffering and Persecution

November 1, 2013

This Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We will spend some time during our service reading relevant Scriptures and praying for our brothers and sisters around the world who boldly proclaim Jesus at the cost of family, jobs, health, freedom, and, in some cases, life itself.

I was privileged these last few weeks in India to meet with many such brothers and sisters who are suffering today, or putting themselves at risk of suffering, because of their faithful witness. At the same time, I read an excellent and challenging book, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected (B & H Books, 2013). Nik Ripken (a pseudonym) and his wife spent many years ministering in Somalia; after being forced out because of the deteriorating security situation and then having their 16 year old son die tragically, the Ripkens returned to the US questioning God. They began traveling around the world interviewing believers who face daily suffering and persecution, in part to help them process their own suffering, and in part to help picture what must happen among Somalis for the Gospel to spread widely.

What they found challenges our American mindset time and again. The challenges come, yes, from the experience of those who have suffered, but also from Scripture itself. The challenges also lead us to ask another question: What must happen among Americans for the Gospel to spread widely to the unreached groups within this country?

Below, find some Scriptures interspersed with quotes from the book. Ponder these truths. By all means, read this volume. And pray that we might value Christ enough to live like our brothers and sisters around the world.

2 Timothy 3:12  All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

(From a Russian believer)

“Nik, that’s why we haven’t made books and movies out of these stories that you have been hearing. For us, persecution is like the sun coming up in the east. It happens all the time. It’s the way things are. There is nothing unusual or unexpected about it. Persecution for our faith has always been—and probably always will be—a normal part of life.” . . . I had always assumed that persecution was abnormal, exceptional, unusual, out of the ordinary. In my mind, persecution was something to avoid. It was a problem, a setback, a barrier. I was captivated by the thought: what if persecution is the normal, expected situation for a believer? And what if the persecution is, in fact, soil in which faith can grow? What if persecution can be, in fact, good soil? I began to wonder about what that might mean for the church in America—and I began to wonder about what that might mean for the potential church in Somalia. 2253

 (From a Russian believer, recalling what his father said to the family before being arrested)

‘All around this part of the country, the authorities are rounding up followers of Jesus and demanding that they deny their faith. Sometimes, when they refuse, the authorities will line up whole families and hang them by the neck until they are dead. I don’t want that to happen to our family, so I am praying that once they put me in prison, they will leave you and your mother alone.’” “‘However,’ and here he paused and made eye contact with us, ‘If I am in prison and I hear that my wife and my children have been hung to death rather than deny Jesus, I will be the most proud man in that prison!’” When he finished his story, I was stunned. I had never heard that kind of thing in my church growing up. I had never encountered that in my pilgrimage 2449

 (From Chinese women, when asked how they became church planters)

“Once churches are planted, the leaders are often imprisoned,” they explained. “When those leaders are away, other people begin to lead. Sometimes, those leaders are taken to prison too. Every time, though, others rise up to take their place. We simply do what we have been trained to do; we take God’s Word and we share it. When people receive the message, new churches are started. That seems to be the way that God grows His church.” I was astounded by the clarity and simplicity of the strategy—and by their commitment to it. These women seemed completely uninterested in titles, positions, and formal structure. They were committed to sharing the story of Jesus; nothing else seemed to matter to them. 3446

 John 8:31-32  “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

(From Chinese believers, on the meaning of “freedom”)

The security police regularly harass a believer who owns the property where a house-church meets. The police say, “You have got to stop these meetings! If you do not stop these meetings, we will confiscate your house, and we will throw you out into the street.” Then the property owner will probably respond, “Do you want my house? Do you want my farm? Well, if you do, then you need to talk to Jesus because I gave this property to Him.” The security police will not know what to make of that answer. So they will say, “We don’t have any way to get to Jesus, but we can certainly get to you! When we take your property, you and your family will have nowhere to live!” And the house-church believers will declare, “Then we will be free to trust God for shelter as well as for our daily bread.” “If you keep this up, we will beat you!” the persecutors will tell them. “Then we will be free to trust Jesus for healing,” the believers will respond. “And then we will put you in prison!” the police will threaten. By now, the believers’ response is almost predictable: “Then we will be free to preach the good news of Jesus to the captives, to set them free. We will be free to plant churches in prison.” “If you try to do that, we will kill you!” the frustrated authorities will vow. And, with utter consistency, the house-church believers will reply, “Then we will be free to go to heaven and be with Jesus forever.” 3534

 1 John 4:17  As he is, so also are we in this world.

How many of us who strive to follow Jesus today have ever wished we could have witnessed firsthand the kind of spiritual adventures and the world-changing, resurrection-powered faith experienced by believers in the New Testament? I believe that we can—and we don’t need a time machine to do it. We need only to look and listen to our brothers and sisters who are faithfully living for Christ today in our world’s toughest places.  . . . When Ruth and I first departed for Africa with our boys almost thirty years ago, I was a young, naïve Kentucky farm-boy who believed that God was sending us around the world on a great adventure to tell people who Jesus was and to explain what the Bible was all about. Today, I realize that God allowed us to go out into the world so we could find out who Jesus was from people who really knew Him and actually lived the Word of God. 4069

2 Corinthians 1:8-11   For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. 4140

 (From a woman from a Muslim country after witnessing a public baptism in the US)

“I cannot believe this! I cannot believe that I have lived long enough to see people being baptized in public. An entire family together! No one is shooting at them, no one is threatening them, no one will go to prison, no one will be tortured, and no one will be killed. And they are being openly and freely baptized as a family! I never dreamed that God could do such things! I never believed that I would live to see a miracle like this.” 4291

 Psalm 73:25  Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

Finally, a quote from another book on suffering that drives the challenge home:

If the foundation of our identity is anything less than God—if the thing that makes us who we are is a position in life, a certain relationship, a prestigious (if difficult to pronounce!) last name, money, you name it—then we will experience pain whenever and wherever that foundation is assaulted, as it inevitably will be. Our suffering will serve as an indication of how little we actually believe this good news, or at least an indicator of what we are building our life on and where we are looking for meaning. And when we lose something that we believed was crucial to our existence and value, maybe even something that we felt we deserved, when one of the load-bearing beams in the house that glory built collapses, we will become embittered or despondent. The truth is, suffering does not rob us of joy; idolatry does. But if our identity is anchored in Christ, so that we are able to say, “Everything I need I already possess in Him,” then suffering will drive us deeper into our source of joy. When theologians talk about God “imputing” His righteousness to us through the death and resurrection of Christ, this is what they mean: that our identity, and therefore our freedom, is not a matter of Why or How but Who. Our ultimate standing has been secured—from the outside—and nothing we may do or say can shake the foundations that were built two thousand years ago. We are freed to revel in our expendability! 1566, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian (David C. Cook, 2012).

(Reference numbers are Kindle locations in the ebook version.)

DGCC 10th Anniversary Services with John Piper

September 11, 2013

This weekend we were privileged to have John Piper with us to celebrate God’s faithfulness over the first decade of Desiring God Community Church. The theme of the weekend was “Looking Back, Looking Forward, Pressing On: Gospel Ministry for the Joy of Our City and the Nations.” After an afternoon when many shared stories about what God has done over this decade, we joined other churches and ministries across the Charlotte area Saturday evening at Stonebridge Church Community to worship together, to rejoice in ways we have partnered together in the past, and to spur us on to deeper partnership for God’s glory in the future. Pastor John brought us a message from John 10:7-18, “I Have Many in This City Who are My People.” Sunday morning, Midwood Baptist Church graciously opened their doors to us. As the service focused on the joy of all nations in Jesus Christ, Pastor John spoke to us from Isaiah 12 on “Persevering in Gospel Ministry for the Joy of All Peoples.” Follow the links for audio. DesiringGod.org will post video of both talks before too long.

Many thanks to Stonebridge, to Midwood, and to the many members of DGCC who worked hard to make the weekend a joy and a success.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Pressing On: Giving Thanks for 10 Years of DGCC

September 6, 2013

Ten years ago we held our first public service as Desiring God Community Church. This weekend, we celebrate God’s faithfulness over this decade under the theme, “Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Pressing On: Gospel Ministry for the Joy of our City and the Nations.”

As we prepare for the weekend activities, give thanks together with me:

  • To John Piper for bringing in to sharp focus the biblical command to pursue our greatest joy in God;
  • To Kenny Stokes, for friendship and prayers, humble service and effective leadership;
  • To Amanda Knoke for her initial boldness in suggesting a Charlotte church plant, and for dedicated, enthusiastic service to realize that dream;
  • To Matt and Michelle, Jacob and Karen, Scotty and Lisa, Jim and Michele, and Erica, for following God’s call to go out from DGCC long term for the joy of the nations and the glory of our Savior;
  • To Vijay Sastry, Paul Chintada, P. Swamy, Caleb Rayapati, Johnson and Babu, Shadrach, Thomas, Stephen, and Elijah for partnership in Gospel ministry for the joy of the peoples of India;
  • To Rio, Renata, Alicia, Ali, and Rosemary, for partnership in Gospel ministry for the joy of the peoples of Indonesia;
  • To Steve and Paula Rumsey, for ten years of friendship and quiet, faithful, God-glorifying service to our King;
  • To Fred Balbuena, for seven years of co-laboring for the Gospel, always faithful, exemplifying a servant heart;
  • To Ed Conrad for his willingness to move hundreds of miles to help fulfill a biblical vision, and for the deep love that he constantly displays for God’s people as he helps all the rest of us fulfill that vision;
  • To Karl Dauber for his friendship and wise counsel;
  • To my parents and Beth’s parents for constant support, love, and prayers through the risks and uncertainties of church planting;
  • To Kevin and May, Sunil and Jerlin, Johnson and Vimala, Mike and Lily, George, Bruno, and many others over the years who have crossed language and ethnic boundaries to become a part of DGCC, fulfilling what we wrote on the front of our first Sunday morning bulletin in March, 2003:

God is calling us to establish a church that builds true, joyful community among believers from the many people-groups God has brought to the Charlotte area. We thus aim to be a church of the nations, with ministries to the nations, both those in Charlotte and around the world.

  • To present members of DGCC who today are living out this biblical vision more and more fully month by month, year by year;
  • To past members of DGCC who labored diligently, prayed wholeheartedly, gave sacrificially, and served faithfully over this last decade;
  • To Beth, for standing beside me and supporting me, for correcting me and calling me to account, for constant love and faithful partnership, for wisdom and grace, firmness and gentleness, in all circumstances of our life together: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, by God’s grace and in constant dependence on Him;
  • To God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son: For the great privilege of being part of a body of believers – a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession – brought together to proclaim with great joy the excellencies of the One Who called us out of the darkness we deserved into His marvelous light. Continue to use us, O Father, over this next decade, to spread that Gospel for the joy of the undeserving and the glory of Your Name, here in Charlotte and around the world.

The Death of a Hero

June 7, 2013

Who are your heroes? Who sets an example that you want to follow?

One of my heroes is Sundara Rao. The father of Vijay Sastry (who visited DGCC two years ago), Sundara died in Hyderabad, India earlier this week. He was 58.

Sundara spoke little English. He had no higher education. But he was a man who did all to the glory of God. He was a man whose joy in Jesus was sparklingly evident. He was a man who out of that joy left all and followed Jesus – whatever the cost.

Born into a high-caste Hindu family, Sundara came to know Jesus as a 17-year-old, while seriously ill with typhoid. During weeks of illness, he prayed to god after god. He rejected the offer of a local pastor to come and pray for him. But after his condition continued to grow worse and worse, he relented. When the pastor came, Sundara was drifting in and out of consciousness; he only heard bits and pieces of the pastor’s words. But he prayed to this pastor’s God: “If you are the real god, save me, and I will give my life to you.”

God did save him, both physically and spiritually. Sundara then eagerly studied the Bible to learn of this God – and came to understand that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that any human can come before God. He embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior, and savored Him as his treasure.

But this devotion to Christ had a high cost. Sundara’s father told him he could not be a Christian. Sundara tried to honor his father – to express his devotion and love – but said that if he had to choose between his family and Jesus, he must choose Jesus. So Sundara was disowned, and sent out with nothing.

After a period of discipleship and training, Sundara became a pastor. Several years later he went to the village of Ventrapragada to plant a church. He began by ministering practically to the lower castes, living in their section of the village. Those of higher caste were unhappy to see one of their own mingling with those of lower caste, and approached him, offering him a place to stay in their section of the village. Sundara declined, saying he would live with those he was serving. Later the same higher caste folks asked him to come and teach them about Jesus. Sundara declined to hold separate meetings, saying they were welcome to his meetings with the lower caste folks. Jesus, he said, broke down all those barriers of caste and race. None came – for about a decade. But as Sundara cared for the sick of all castes and persevered in showing the love of Jesus to all, eventually those of higher castes began to come. The church today includes men and women from all caste backgrounds. As one elderly, high-caste villager said, “When you’re a Hindu, caste is everything. When you’re a Christian, Jesus is everything.”

Serving predominantly poor people, Sundara and his family had little to live on. But God provided for their needs – through gifts and, when necessary, through Sundara’s work as a laborer in farmers’ fields. On such days, after hours and hours of backbreaking labor,  Sundara would come home, clean up, and go out to serve the poor and the sick, or to hold an evangelistic meeting.

From early days, Sundara invested in young men. Seeing the need for church planters and pastors all around him, he cast vision, offered training, and challenged personally many youth to take their faith seriously and to go out for the sake of the Name. Over the years, dozens of churches were planted from this small village church.

God eventually used Sundara’s son Vijay to multiply the church planting ministry into what is today Reach All Nations. I met Vijay in Minneapolis in early 2009, and first met his father that summer. I have since participated in several pastors conferences and church planter training sessions with them.

Two years ago, Sundara suffered a stroke that left him almost blind and partially paralyzed. Yet he fought back, and was able to participate in preaching and training once again. Last month he suffered a major setback, and had to be rushed to Hyderabad. He seemed to be on the mend until right before he died. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Sundara had finished his race. He kept the faith. He has received his crown.

Consider these Scriptural commands and exhortations in light of Sundara’s life:

Matthew 10:37-39  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Philippians 3:7-8 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

2 Timothy 4:6-8  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, Father God, for Sundara, Your servant. Thank you for giving me the privilege of seeing so many biblical truths lived out in Sundara’s life. Thank You for saving him, for providing for him, for spurring him on to serve you with all his heart. O Father, may the ministry of Reach All Nations continue to build on the foundation Sundara laid, glorifying Your Name more than ever among the peoples of India. And may that same spirit of selfless giving shine through me and all of us at DGCC. May we be similarly focused and devoted to You, loving one another, serving those around us faithfully, proclaiming the Gospel with our lives and with our words – that we might live for Christ, count all else as rubbish, and love His appearing. Amen.

What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World

January 11, 2013

Yesterday I finished an excellent book by Steve Addison, What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World. Steve highlights six elements of the movement Jesus started, and thus six elements of any church planting movement: See the need, connect with people, share the Gospel, train disciples, gather communities, and multiply workers. He uses this grid to look sequentially at Jesus’ ministry on earth, Jesus’ work through Peter and the early church, Jesus’ work through Paul, and Jesus’ work today. In between each section, he includes modern case studies: of Jeff Sundell‘s work in south Asia and North Carolina, of Ying Kai’s work in east Asia, and of Julius Ebwongu in Uganda. Here are some quotes:

When Michelle and I planted our first church, we felt we had to form a church to share the gospel and make disciples. Church first, then gospel, then disciples. Evangelism for us typically meant inviting someone to come to church. Two decades later we’ve learned to change the order and priorities to gospel first, then disciples, then churches. When we connect with people, we’re not trying to get them to come to our church. We share the good news about Jesus, not the good news about our church. We’re looking for responsive people. As people are putting their faith in Jesus, they are also learning to obey what he commanded and become disciples. . . .

God used unqualified, inexperienced, under-resourced people. Think about what this missionary movement didn’t have. Funding was limited. There was no central organizational structure. There was no professional priesthood. No schools for training missionaries. Galileans were not well thought of throughout the rest of Israel. Jews were cultural outsiders in the dominant Greco-Roman culture. The political and religious powers of the day were against the disciples. There were no historical precedents for what they were trying to achieve. The disciples only had Jesus’ example, his teaching, the message of his death and resurrection, his authority, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, they had very little to aid them in their mission. . . .

The building and equipping of his church is exactly what Jesus’ kingly rule is designed to produce. The gospel of the kingdom is not an alternative to the gospel of Christ crucified for our sin. Jesus came to announce the reign of God and to perform the decisive act through which God will bring in his reign. Talking about the kingdom of God requires us to talk about the cross, the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. . . .

The goal is not to teach new disciples everything they need to know. It is to teach new believers the habit of obedience to what they know. . . .

There is a world of difference between a command to teach disciples and a command to teach disciples to obey. The former focuses on the teacher, the latter on the learner. The first is concerned with transferring information; the second is concerned with life transformation. Learning to obey Christ is the goal of discipleship. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present as new disciples gather around his Word and learn to follow him one step at a time. Our methods must be simple and transferable so that new disciples can immediately begin teaching others. Evangelism that aims at decisions rather than disciples will never produce a multiplying movement. Movements spread through new believers who hear, believe and obey! . . .