For many years, I have been challenged by part of a verse in 1 Thessalonians 1. Verse 5 says: “you know how we lived among you for your sake.” I have often wondered what that looks like in the missions context. What does it mean for us to ‘live among them for their sake’? It continues to challenge me.
Of course, as we continue reading in the book we get a number of insights into what it is actually saying. Let me identify a few aspects of this:
The Gospel message was shared and it produced work out of faith; labour motivated by love and endurance out of hope (1:3).
The Gospel came with power and transformed them from the inside out (1:5).
The Gospel was received with Holy Spirit joy in the midst of severe suffering (1:6).
They imitated the team and became a model church in the whole region (1:7).
The gospel message rang out from them and faith became known everywhere (1:8).
They turned from dead, lying gods to serve the living and true God (1:9-10).
I am quite sure that this deep impact, life transformation and message resonance emerged from the way the team engaged with the community. In 1 Thessalonians 2 we see that the team loved them like mothers, worked alongside them like brothers and encouraged them like fathers. In addition, the Gospel was delivered in the context of a loving relationship. In 1:8 we read, “we loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” Here is both the content (gospel of God) and the context (our lives) of effective gospel transformation. This church became a model church within a matter of months though Paul and his team were only there for a few weeks (Acts 17).
So we have an example, but what would this look like for us Kiwi Christians today with a desire to see this sort of impact in our communities and in distant mission fields? What does it look like, this ‘missional living for their sake’? This ‘loving-so-much that we share the gospel and our lives as well’?
I have to admit that most of my ‘going’ has been on my terms. I have managed to work ministry around my family, my timeframes and my agenda. The intensity of missional mindset found in 1 Thessalonians is extremely radical and very difficult to execute. It is rarely seen in practice and increasingly challenging for Westerners to attain. I am in awe of those who are able to make it work.
Perhaps the main reason why we at Bright Hope World concentrate on supporting transformation through outstanding local people, rather than sending in outsiders, is that they are able to achieve things no outsider could ever achieve.
Take Worku, whom I met at Pathways College thirteen years ago. He is a refugee who returned to Ethiopia and has been, for the last ten years, responsible for planting hundreds of churches in his homeland. He is supporting dozens of church planters. He has built an income generating school with 1,750 pupils that employs over 100 people and supports hundreds of widows, elderly and blind young people.
Take Gideon and Jennifer in Zimbabwe, who are seeing whole villages transformed as they turn barren, arid landscapes into green, flourishing gardens.
Take T Raja, who with his family, chooses to live with more than 700 mentally and physically challenged people in Bangalore, India. He rescues human detritus from the streets, and houses and feeds them. Every year he buries hundreds of people with dignity; people who have had the opportunity to hear the name of Jesus and know genuine Christian love.
Take Bassem, an insurance agent and part-time pastor in Beirut who is seeing multitudes of Syrian refugees come to faith as they pass through Lebanon on the way to somewhere else in the world.
As we partner with people like this we are challenged by their tenacity, resilience, flexibility, relational capacity and willingness to be inconvenienced. They will do anything to deliver the Good News. Their lives are ministry; they do not turn it on and off. They rarely get a break – how do you have a break from those you love intensely? They do not come and go; they are embedded in the community. Their lives are vibrantly different from others. There are always hordes of people hanging around and often living with them. They live at a similar economic level and conditions to those to whom they minister. I am totally challenged by this.
As I look at Paul and his team, and the people we partner with, something else becomes very evident. When ministry is done like this, when people are completely transformed and overwhelmed by the power of God, the Spirit of God and the Gospel in the context of relational intensity and integrity, whole movements begin.
Niranjan in Nepal starts a clinic and a chicken farm sees thousands of people trained and tribal groups coming to faith. Hundreds of churches are established and numerous micro-loan programmes are initiated to empower people.
Santosh, on the border between India and Bhutan, commences a training programme and children’s hostel. He sees churches planted in two of the most difficult countries on earth.
Friends in Indonesia initiate an outreach movement that is doubling in numbers every fifteen months and has spread to fourteen other countries. There are no church buildings, the average size of a group five to six people, they cannot sing songs and they often meet in small minivans for security.
Somehow, we have to jettison our preoccupation with putting ‘bottoms on seats’ in church buildings and focus on living among the people, for their sake, sharing not only the gospel but our lives as well. Otherwise we will only ever develop programmes, or a church, or a ministry and we will never get to participate in a movement of God.
We must become mother-loving, brother -sharing, father-encouraging, life-sharing, gospel-speaking. And on the back of this, God will deliver real transformation, burgeoning vitality and exponential growth.
But what if we don’t? Sure, we will baptise a few, we will disciple some and we will maybe even add more people each year to the church directory. But is that what it’s about? Is this really what we’re called to?
I yearn to participate in a relationally authentic, deeply transforming, idol destroying movement in which God is obviously, deeply, continuously at work.
Of course, all this starts for us in our own communities. Average Kiwis need to experience this type of relationship with Christian friends. For the sake of our own people, we need to develop this kind of ministry lifestyle and take our families on this journey. This is a role for all of us every day of the week.
Moreover, let me tell you, if we do, we will find ourselves partnering with amazing people all over the world as part of an astounding, global movement of God; lives transformed and people turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
Kevin Honore | Day 25, GC3 Daily Prayer Guide