Thursday, February 28, 2019


   One of the problems of finding qualified church planters, (and that phrase needs explanation) is that one needs certain basic things before one can, or should, plant a church.  A “qualified church planter” is something that his sending agency determines.  That agency asks the question, “can this person, in our estimation, have a reasonable chance at success in planting a new church?”  They ask this question because to some level they are going to invest resources into this church planter and into the effort.  Will those resources produce a product, i.e., a new church?  Or, will these resources be wasted when they could have been used for someone else they expect will actually succeed?

    We believe that God (if he chooses) can use just about anybody to plant a church, so obviously any agency, or church, or church organization, can be wrong in estimating potential for success.  This does not make them wrong in giving prayerful consideration as to whether or not they should or should not invest in a person.

      Men can be resentful when told “no” by a church planting organization.  A man can feel called but if others don’t recognize that calling he is left with a few choices; accept the decision of the agency and do something else, work on changing the conditions that caused others not to invest in him, decide to go it alone and prove the agency wrong, or, not accept the decision and simply be angry. There are spiritual factors at work in men that God calls to plant churches, and there are practical factors as well, and it takes a lot of wisdom to know when or when not to endorse, commission, or invest in a man to plant a church.

    It is also true that church planting agencies have cultural and organizational prejudices.  If they only have experience in certain economic, cultural and social demographics they may find it difficult to believe that successful churches could be planted outside of their known experiential parameters.  Even if cross-cultural mission demands that they extend themselves outside of their historical patterns they may be very reluctant to do so.  Missions always take faith, and business investment strategies are not always compatible with mission efforts.

   This doesn’t mean leaders should be foolish risk takers to try and make others believe they have faith.  The combination of stewardship, faith, risk, and wisdom are always challenging for leaders.  Yet, at the same time it is far too easy to simply always follow previous patterns and then be frustrated that things don’t change.  As someone who seeks to see many more churches planted among the poor, and churches that are cross-cultural, I know that many agencies need to examine other models from other traditions that work, even if they have not been part of their own experience.

   Yet, when examining a man to go out and plant a church there are some basic things we would hope that a man can do.  We certainly want the man to be a Christian, we certainly want him to know the Bible, we want him to have some record of living the Christian life, some knowledge of what the church (at least in general) is supposed to look like, to do, and to be.   If he is called to church planting he ought to be able, he will have to be able, to gather people together and to hold them together in worship and community.

     We want the church planter to have the spiritual fortitude to work against the odds and opposition, to be a man of faith and prayer, and to endure the hardships of disappointment and frustration when gathering, recruiting, developing, and winnowing leaders.  We need him to trust God when the finances are not sufficient, to trust God when people suddenly leave or turn against him, and to stay humble when things are a smashing success.  We also want him to be a great husband and father while he literally works overtime to get everything done.

   I remember being mobilized as a Reservist to go to war.  My unit was sent to an Army post and while there each soldier was assessed as to whether they could physically endure an extended time of active duty.  One of those tests was a trip to the dentist, and if you had bad teeth you would not be allowed to go to war.  If they could pull those teeth, or fix the problem, you could go.  Some were turned away.  I thought it ironic that you had to have good teeth to go and possibly get killed.  Yet, if you spent all your time in pain, or asking to go see a dentist while in a combat zone, it just wasn’t going to work for the Army.

   It is amazing how many National Guard units are full of soldiers with bad teeth and sometimes those units cannot be mobilized. It is amazing how many young Americans are not suitable for military service because they are obese. Many can’t run a mile or do any of the physical things that we used to assume any healthy young person should be able to do. One can’t even get started in certain areas of life without some pre-conditions being met.  One pre-condition for a church planter is evangelism.

    A question usually asked potential church planters is, “have you ever led anyone to Christ?  Have you presented the Gospel to them, seen them believe it, and prayed with them to be saved?”   Far too many of the men graduating from our seminaries are not able to say “yes” to this question. 

    There are lots of ways to do evangelism.  Some are not very biblical, some are really scary, some are complicated, some seem offensive and intrusive, and some don’t seem to give great results.  Yet, at a very basic level evangelism has to be done if unbelievers are going to become believers.  Evangelism can be inconvenient, and certainly can make us feel foolish and open to rejection.  Yet, to be obedient to Christ in fulfilling the Great Commission it seems to be necessary.

    Wouldn’t we all assume if the Bible tells pastors, “do the work of an evangelist!” (2 Timothy 4.5) that every pastor would know how to do it?  Wouldn’t we all assume that pastors could teach the rest of us how to do it?  The reality is that many of them don’t know how, and they can’t teach us what they don’t know themselves.  It is far too easy to preach the Gospel without every sharing it personally with individuals.  It is far too easy to give a generalized public call from the pulpit and not make it personalized, pointed, and call for a decision.

    The question isn’t whether God can or does save people in a worship service, yes he does, praise him!   The questions are; are we really faithful in sharing the good news, or, are we cowards, lazy, and constantly avoiding confrontation in some desire to protect ourselves? Are we failing to reap the harvest because we never go out in the fields to reap the fruit?   Are we failing to see conversions and adult baptisms because we simply aren’t calling people to faith in Christ?  Or, do we simply not believe Jesus can save people by faith?  Have we stopped believing in the power of the Gospel for those who believe?

   Who is at fault in this, why do potential church planters have no experience in winning people to Jesus?  Here are some reasons, and I say these things as generalizations and realize that there are exceptions: First, local church pastors are not modeling this behavior, not mentoring in evangelism, not going out and doing evangelism and taking young believers with them.  Second, local churches are not extending themselves outside of their own buildings to reach the lost –and this is a failure of pastoral and Elder leadership to not only call for it and demand it, but to lead in doing so.  Third, youth groups are not training teens to share their faith to specific individuals and calling on them to believe.   Fourth, seminaries give little attention to this training and fail to work with local churches in evangelistic efforts.  Fifth, mission agencies do more kinds of service ministry then they do evangelistic ministry, or failing to use their service ministry as opportunities to have gospel conversations.   Sixth, individuals who want to plant churches stop listening to Jesus and follow institutional church models, hoping for transfer growth instead of conversion growth, and replace raising Christian children rather than the evangelism of unchurched children.

   So, I want to give just a word of exhortation and encouragement.  If you think God might be calling you to be a church planter, go and witness to a non-believer about the love of God and the cross of Christ.  Pointedly ask them if they want to become a follower of Christ and to be saved by him.  Pray with them.  Keep doing it until you hear someone say, “yes, I want Christ.”   Do it some more, and keep doing it, and bring someone with you when you do it.  You might actually be planting a church while getting ready to do so.

Thursday, January 17, 2019


Personal Disclosure
Some personal disclosure as I write on this subject.  One of my sons is part of the federal work force that is working without pay.  So, for me this is personal.  My son tries very hard to be apolitical and he doesn’t like to engage in political discussions.  He is a loyal and sacrificing American, a combat veteran, and has an essential job in security for our nation.  These are not his opinions as he is just trying to do his job, take care of his family, and survive these difficult times.
    Some of the things I say will be vehemently opposed by those who are partisan.  They completely support the president or adamantly oppose him, no matter what he does.  I may fail in my attempt to take a neutral position here, but I am sincere in seeking to honestly discuss and analyze what I think is going on, and on some possible scenarios for what may happen, or could happen.

It Should Be Possible to Agree
   First let me say that I think it is possible for Americans to agree on two positions, one is that we ought to continue to be a country that welcomes immigrants, refugees, and try to be a nation that is not racist or xenophobic.    Second, I think we can admit we have an overwhelmingly too large population in our country who have come here illegally, or have stayed here illegally.  I don’t think those two positions are mutually exclusive, although the extremists in political parties seem to oppose one of those positions.

   I need to give some commentary on both of these items.  First I will write about illegal immigration vs. legal or needed immigration.  Many Americans remember south of the border interactions with fondness, not anger.  There has always been a need for additional farm labor, and much of it was seasonal and temporary, and some became permanent.  Many of these folks came from Mexico, and with the South-West once belonging to Mexico and the U.S. having such a long Latino heritage in the West it was not offensive, except to some. 

   Puerto Rico is part of the United States and Puerto Ricans are Americans, so we have always had a strong Latino presence in the northeast.  Cuba has always had a strong interaction with the U.S., and when it became Communist Cubans who fled from there were immediately given asylum here due to cold war policies.  Florida was heavily impacted by this and Cubans are part of it’s heritage.

The Immigration Crisis
    However, a huge group of folks from Latin America began to come without papers, documentation, or permission early in this (21st) century, and stayed.  That trend has grown increasingly from Central America.  This flow reached its peak around 2003 but the growth made a significant demographic, cultural, educational and social service, (and thus political) impact.  Since then the flow has gone down and this illegal group of immigrants has gone from 4.0% of the population to 3.4% of the population (around 12.7 million according to the Pew Hispanic Center).  Not only that but apprehensions of those crossing illegally went from 71-222,000 per month in the year 2000 to 20-40,000 by 2018.  This is an amazing drop.  In addition, when the economy went into recession there were more “illegals” from Latin American leaving then there were coming as many jobs disappeared.

   One might say the “crisis” in border crossings has largely diminished or that we are far more effective in stopping it.  But, that is not solving the problem of the millions who have stayed by breaking the law.  These are two different things and they need to be differently approached for solutions.  Thus one might say the “wall” is more of a symbolic political stand on the reality of illegal crossings rather than a crisis necessity.  It is like closing the barn door after the horse has left, though border security is a real need and has continued importance.

   Why should we be concerned about illegal immigration, because many Americans do constitutionally (by character and allegiance) not like people scoffing at our laws.  Even when we are compassionate and care about the suffering of people from other countries due to oppressive governments, religious persecution, gang and criminal violence, and grinding poverty it is hard to turn a blind eye to a process of illegality that starts with getting in without permission, then forging documents, skirting social security and taxes, or staying past an expired visa, then working an over-extended system of immigration courts to extend those stays, and hiding out.

   I for one do not give much credence to being afraid of immigrants, legal or illegal, because of some supposed inherent criminality.  There are of course too many stories of crime, but highlighting some cases to scare people for political purposes is simplistic cynicism by political opportunists.  Since we already have so much home grown crime and home grown extremism these rather isolated stories seem to pale in comparison.  Since so many immigrants are hardworking, (legal or illegal) is it hard to make an effective economic argument against them, except when their economic involvement prevents business, government, or individuals to look to our own (low skill) legal population to do the work and incentivize that through education, training, and higher wages.  As someone who works with inner city folk this is a concern of mine.

Solutions Suggested
    So, I want our government to find a practical process that speeds up the identification of those who are here without documentation, find compassionate ideas and solutions for those children who grew up here without choice of their own and are now culturally American, send back to their country of origin those who have willfully and illegally overstayed their visa or come without one, and use common sense about border security on which we are already spending billions.  I know many of us will differ about what is common sense.  I also want to stop or expose what are simply racist and xenophobic responses to strangers and people with accents, which has always been a dark under belly of our collective American experience.

   We need immigrants and we need them for several reasons.  One is simply to be true to our ideals and heritage as Americans, besides Native Americans and African Americans (as opposed to immigrant Africans) we have always been a nation of immigrants.  Another is that we need them economically, and a third is that we need them for our future and our seniors.  Americans are not replacing themselves in the rate of births.  We must continue to grow that population in order to have workers to support an aging population (yours truly included).  If we had not aborted so many of our children we would have an additional 40 something million people, but they are dead and we don’t have them.

  Overwhelmingly immigrants are aspirational, they work hard, they want to achieve what they think of as the “American Dream.”  They are not losers, parasites, or deadbeats.  We are in a war against religious extremism that produces terrorism.  This is related to certain immigrant groups but some of it occurs in those who are here legally as religious passions arise within them. We  have the same problem with Americans who have been here for generations when political passions arise within them.  Where can we ship them, if we could identify them?  Vigilance against extremism and terror are our constant challenge, and right now some of the people we pay to do that aren’t getting paid.

    Some of the driving force of President Trump’s stand on the wall comes from the extreme fringe of his party. He will find it difficult to compromise his stand because of them as they make the biggest noise in the primaries.  Indeed, there are extreme fringes on both sides and they are both dangerous to the Republic.  Some of these people are simply seditious traitors who don’t believe in government at all and have no problem shutting any of it down.  Some of these folks are those that think people who blow up federal buildings are patriots. 

    Even more conservatives are callous in their approach to people who work for all of us, risk their lives for us at the border, fighting crime, spies, and terror, risk their lives for us when out at sea, and control those prisons which are built to isolate the dangerous and corrupt from the rest of us.  Yet they proclaim themselves to be flag wavers while having little appreciation of what keeps our lives safe, working, and feasible.  They are patriots who moan about taxes yet want the Coast Guard to come and rescue them.

    There is much that could be written about the culture wars of our political parties.  Democrats have achieved much through judicial fiat and without majority approval and this has made conservatives resentful and determined to use the same politicization of judge selection (i.e., Teddy Kennedy and Borg) to stem the tide of what they see as a cultural and moral erosion of values.  At the same time, going back to the Warren court, civil rights has come about by judicial action and that is and has been a good thing for our country. 

   Unfortunately, Conservatives have seemed to think that since government is “the problem” they can use heavy handed tactics to force economic decisions from Congress without majority approval.  We are a democracy, we vote in our legislators by state, they constitutionally control the purse strings.  In order to get them to agree on things they must compromise and that is the art of politics.  Today politics is actually hostage taking, not negotiation or compromise.  I get my way or we kill what you want, or if necessary burn our collective house down, or since we only have one horse and we want to go in two different directions let me shoot the horse.

We Need A Compromise
   I think we need a compromise.  I think we need strong border security.  I think the Congress has already voted a compromise to give the President more than he is asking for right now, but also with provisions for the “Dreamers” (is that not so?)  Why can’t that bill be brought back up and re-worked if necessary?  The only reason is to completely defeat one’s political enemies, and that is not politics but demagoguery leading to dictatorship.  This is a political crisis, not a border one, created by our President and only he can end it.  If he wins because he holds out longer than the Democrats I am afraid there will be some horrible consequences for all of us.  One will most likely be a speedier path to impeachment.

    To continue to demoralize some of our best Americans, some of the finest people we could find who are educated, trained, and committed to work for all of us is not only short sighted but extremely dumb.  At what point do they stop working, walk away, and go find some way to feed their families?  How can we make up for their present fears and anxiety, the ruin of their credit, and the disgust they must begin to feel for our present political leaders?  Maybe if we had a national strike and not only those workers but everyone walked off their job for a day, so the border was left completely open, no food or drugs inspected, no one could fly or planes were left to crash, prisoners would be left to walk out of jail, those at sea left to drown, taxes uncollected and no elected officials allowed to be paid, what would that be like?  I hope we don’t have to find out.

   Now, by the way, I pray for our President, I honor his office, and I pray for our government and our country as a whole.  I encourage  you to do the same.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


“Can two walk together unless they be agreed?” Amos 3.3

   If you have ever tried walking in the rain under an umbrella with another person then you know that it takes a bit of care and intentionality to actually share it.  One has to work at keeping both of you under the umbrella otherwise someone is hanging out a little too much.  The “guest” who is being included may not realize that the “host” who is holding the umbrella may be actually sacrificing themselves while trying to keep the guest under cover.  The closer the two people get to the handle, and to each other, the more protected each will be.

   There can be a bit of awkwardness to sharing an umbrella.  You might not be sure about how close you want to get to the other person.  Will you be forced to put your arm around them, touch hands, shoulders, or hips? People are not always the same height, they don’t always walk at the same pace.  How does this get worked out?   Someone usually takes the initiative and does whatever they can to keep the other person covered even at the cost of their own exposure.  Mutual cooperation and adjustment seem to be the secret of making it from the car to the store without getting too wet.  I’m short and I may have to give up the right to hold the umbrella to a taller person, otherwise he is out in the rain.

    Umbrellas and tents have been used as metaphor to help us visualize bringing people together under one idea, one purpose, or sense of purpose.  These metaphors lack punch unless one realizes that there is indeed an environment to which we are exposed.  It is always raining something, whether water or sunshine, and both can reach a point where we realize we need some cover.  My point in this writing is that not only do we need cover, but that to actually get the covering we have to share it.  I suppose you could say I want a theology of golf umbrellas versus that of the collapsible one person kind.

    I understand that no one wants to share an umbrella, or probably anything else, with someone that they believe to be an enemy or someone they feel will bring them harm.  That is exactly what I wish to examine, i.e., the standards people use to make the choice of exclusion and the refusal to share a close space.

    There are two areas that are my present concern, both have to do with the context and history of my ministry and involvement.  First is the Christian social justice movement and the second is the area of race and reconciliation ministry.  The umbrella metaphor is helpful when we realize that as Christians we are trying to get to some place together, at least we ought to be mindful of what Jesus demands of us in terms of love, unity, and reconciliation.  I can preach love but if I don’t want you under my umbrella it might be hard for others to believe that I actually practice what I preach.  I might advocate social justice, but if I am not very social in my crusade for justice just what am I about? 

  Unity is often difficult to achieve.  Meaningful and continuing relationships of cooperation in ministry are hard to sustain, especially when disparate individuals, groups, ministries, churches actually try to accomplish something.  I am speaking here of folks who do have some things in common.  They confess the same Lord Jesus Christ, they are both aware of a certain hostile environment opposed to the things they wish to achieve (consider this the rain or the heat from which we need some shelter), and they essentially agree in the broader vision of what they want to see brought about; things such as justice, peace, and love.

   There are “reasonable” difficulties in maintaining unity.  The common elements of human life such as work, daily and weekly schedules, geographical distance, and normal family complications make almost all partnerships challenging.  When and where will we meet, how will we communicate, how often, who will be the energy for us to continue in our common effort, etc.  Then there are the hidden obstacles that can suddenly and surprisingly become all too apparent and even vicious; envy, jealousy, competition, power grabbing, resentment and bitterness about real or suspected motives.  Even when we agree to what or who should be included under the same umbrella we can still be competitive as to who holds the handle.  We can actually hate the one standing next to us.   Agreements don’t eliminate our innate sinfulness.  May the Lord have mercy on us!

   There are problems of theology, ideology, and strategy that are significant and not to be dismissed easily.  Add to these the problems mentioned above such as ego, personality, and sin, and one is amazed we get to experience unity at all.  How many churches and denominations agree on just about everything within themselves so that the differences about what they believe are so small as to be invisible to the outside world, yet, still manage to fight like cats and dogs about just those differences.  Sometimes differences are invented just so obnoxiousness can have its day, and these people can be as homogeneous as anybody from the School of Church Growth could desire.

   In reference to Christian social justice I am concerned with the Christian Community Development Association especially, although the issue is broader than just this one organization.  CCDA has been a blessed and wonderful experience for my wife and me.  We have many friends in the Association, and have learned and been blessed by the worship and teaching at the conferences.   As it has grown and developed it is obvious to me that the umbrella is getting harder to share, both because some want to push people like myself out, and because I am not sure others should have ever been asked to share the shelter.

    At what point does such an organization have to define what it means by “Christian?”  As “progressives” (which is such a problematic word as a lack of fidelity to Scripture means one is no longer progressing but regressing), want to make sure women are treated equitably both as preachers and leaders, that homosexual practice is no longer seen as sin, or that traditional religions are seen as equal to God’s revelation in Christ, what happens to those they consider conservative Evangelicals (even if many of us didn’t vote for Trump)?  There are still those of us who don’t ordain women due to biblical conviction.  Is this the dividing line in terms of ministry involvement or cooperation?  Will we divide over issue advocacy versus evangelism and church planting among the poor?  Will we divide over an Ana-Baptist view of justice versus those who believe in the just war theory? 

    The umbrella seems to be getting smaller and smaller for those who insist on a humble obedience to the Bible and believe it to be God’s word and authoritative in all things.  Many of my fellow urban workers are no longer comfortable in CCDA gatherings as they have no sense of safety there in holding to the biblical foundations that led them to the pursuit of justice and racial reconciliation in the first place.  At one time if somebody said something crazy in the evening meeting it would be called out by John Perkins the next morning. Where will that authoritative biblical voice come from in the future?

    In the racial reconciliation movement there is a divide that is, not surprisingly, based on race.  Several issues are involved in keeping people under the same umbrella or pushing them out of a partnership in the pursuit of racial reconciliation.  Sometimes it comes down to who will hold the umbrella, a person of color or not?  Is that always the aim or goal of a racially reconciled church or organization, and can it be assumed that this is the proof positive of reconciliation? Can we actually walk under the same umbrella if someone from the majority culture is the pastor or the leader of an organization?

    In terms of leadership in reconciliation churches or ministries, does every person of color have an innate understanding of what it takes to pursue reconciliation and are white people automatically disqualified or suspect until they stop being white?  Does anyone, whatever our color or ethnicity, have the right to choose not to pursue reconciliation?  If we are Christians the answer must be that no one has the right to step out of God’s commission of the ministry and message of reconciliation.  All of our discussion is of course in the historical context of racism and so it must be asked, how are we taking on the humility of Christ and attempting to make ourselves less in our service to others if as white men we fight to hold onto dominance?  How are we becoming “least of all” if as black men we insist on leadership for ourselves and are never able to serve under white leadership or even cooperate with it?  Is this movement just a temporary or cosmetic movement while in our ethnicity we are actually striving for supremacy?

   One realizes that not all talk of reconciliation and justice is actually that, but more an expression of hurt, bitterness, anger, and a desire to maintain a wall of separation.  There is a difference between heart felt lamentation and emotional venting and accusation.  There is a difference between biblically prophetic calls for repentance versus that of simple antagonistic name calling.  In short realized reconciliation has to be the goal of a righteous agenda, no matter how much necessary truth telling, repenting, forgiving, patience and seeking to understand each other we have to go through to get there.  There is no legitimate reconciliation without seeking to lovingly become a slave to others in their cultural context. (I Corinthians 19.9ff)

     There are those who struggle with incipient racism, prejudice and bias.  Some also can fall into the trap of being a “racialist;” seeing everything through the lens of race and justifying all decisions about involvement, cooperation, and association based on it.  How do we maintain cultural integrity, righteous gratitude and pride for our ethnicity and legacy while not damning or rejecting other people?  How do we appreciate who and what others are without giving up who we are by cultural assimilation?

   A legitimate reconciliation movement has to honestly look at history and cannot bury its head in the sand about racial injustice.  There is no real reconciliation without a constant effort at repentance for bias and prejudice, and a rejection of any systematic oppression of people.  There must always be the acceptance of responsibility for an active breaking of the yoke of past wickedness.  In the movement for reconciliation there will always be a hurting grief over racial injustice.  We cannot be honest or healthy via a burial within ourselves through a suppression of emotional deep hurt.  It cannot be papered over with a joint worship service. However, though anger must be acknowledged, understood, and even sympathized with, it must not be allowed to define any of us as believers.

   If reconciliation and unity are the will of God, if mutual love and submission are mandates of Christ, and if these must be exhibited no matter what ethnic history has been or how it has injured us, then we must attempt to walk together.   Evil is raining on us, and we all need shelter both from the hatred of racism and its bitterness.  Christ is our shelter, and to be linked to others as we walk toward His kingdom is a blessed thing.  It models the kingdom while we seek it.  It is what love and peace have always done.