A Word From Steve Jones
January 14th, 2019
Under the heat of the scorching sun the bones were sapped of all moisture. They were absolutely useless. One step away from dry dust. Behold – what do you see when you see the state of the church in Canada today? Could Canada be characterized in the same way? A land of dry bones.
Today, we continue my “President’s Address” from FNC2018 in November. Last week we clearly stated the discipleship drought in our churches and the dry bonesfound in the pews. The problem was outlined in last week’s blog; the solution follows from Ezekiel 37:3-5: “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’”
Recent surveys and studies indicate the Canadian church is shrinking. One of the starkest indicators is the exponential growth of the religiously dissatisfied in Canada, often referred to as the nones, or those expressing no religious affiliations. The Canadian average is 24% indicating no religious affiliation and this grows to 29% on average among those born between 1987 and 1989 – the millennials. In BC it’s even worse with 44% on average indicating no religious affiliation. The trending is bad across the country.
Last week we investigated in vv.1-2, that:
Ezekiel’s vision should cause us to pause and look at our own land
The dry bones of lives that exhibit no spiritual life, lost in sin with no means of escape. Churches that are so spiritually sapped and dry that they have become useless to the Lord. Slowly being pounded into dust by the constant waves of secularism, distraction, and apathy. Churches that have forgotten they’re supposed to be on mission. In fact, some have forgotten what the mission is. Now they’re only seeking their own survival.
A few months ago I heard a report about three mainline Protestant denominations who are currently seeking to sell almost 5,000 church building due to closures. It was heartbreaking to hear, knowing that at one time these were vibrant witnesses who lost their way. Denominations are becoming real estate business, rather than mission agencies.
Is the Evangelical church in Canada doing any better?
It actually is, but the trends don’t point to a future of tremendous vitality. Church health and church planting barely keep up with the national birth rate. And so, a visitation of the Spirit of God needs to invade our typical Boneyard Baptist Church, or we could be closing many churches in a generation or two.
What is the solution?
The Lord spoke to Ezekiel and told him what needed to be done. He had a responsibility to be on mission with God to reignite and revitalize these “dry, dead bones.”
“Can these bones live” (v.3). “O Lord God, you know.”
This responsibility rests upon the preachers of our churches, and I’m not only talking about the clergy.
Ezekiel’s first responsibility was to:
A. Preach (37:4 ESV): “Prophecy over these bones and say to them, O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.” Like any fellow follower of the Most High God, Ezekiel was to preach life into these dead dry bones by preaching the Word of God. The level of death and desolation represented by these dry bones in the valley must have made Ezekiel initially feel his assignment was utterly futile. But God’s Word is more powerful than our plans and methodologies.
The prophet and preacher Isaiah reminds us of this in Isaiah 55:11 (ESV) saying: “So shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth: It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s Word penetrates “joint and marrow … [and the] thoughts and intents of the heart” according to Hebrews 4:12. God’s Word will infuse truth, infuse life, into these dry bones.
For the past few years I have been meeting with our five Regional Directors discussing and considering best practices to revitalize the 30+% of our congregations that are not exhibiting mission-effectiveness. They find themselves on the descending side of the church life cycle, feeling dry and struggling to turn the ship around. But there is some good news on this front in every Region. Signs of health are showing in all our five Fellowship Regions, though we still have lots of work.
One of the critical reasons why revitalization is happening is because of what Ezekiel is commanded to behold or look for, found in verse 5 (ESV): “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” Until the Spirit of God breathes new life into these dry bones, our preaching will be in vain.
B. Ezekiel’s Second Responsibility is to Pray (v.5): Ezekiel had preached the Word of God to these dry bones. They seemed to appear to be alive, but they remained dead. They needed to be touched by God before they were fully alive. Ezekiel was commanded to pray that God might breathe on them and reanimate these dead corpses.
One of the seven reality principles of the Experiencing God discipleship toolkit is to look, watch, behold, and engage wherever God is already clearly working. Revival, revitalization happens when we join in where God is already doing a work of grace. Pray and ask the Lord to show you where He is breathing new life into dry bones. Join in with God’s purposes by not only preaching with urgency, but also praying with fervency. And let the outpouring of the Spirit of God bring life to dry and lifeless people and churches who have lost their way and have forgotten their purpose in life.
Next week we’ll investigate Ezekiel 37:6-10 and discover the result of this kind of preaching and praying. The insights we’ve learned so far is as follows:
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… I recently heard a church planter say, “Our future is in the harvest”. That got me to thinking: If we have no harvest, do we have a future? What are our churches doing to ensure we have a future harvest?
So started my address at our Fellowship National Conference (FNC2018) this past November. I spoke about what I was seeing across Canada in these days. We investigated Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones. My hopeful message was the “rattling” I was hearing among the dry bones.
A young 25 year old must have been thinking just how lean his future seemed as he and his people were marched into exile.
Ezekiel was a preacher’s kid who was taken to Babylon in 598 BC with King Jehoiachin, who had only enjoyed his coronation, becoming king three months previously. Thousands of the finest and most promising citizens of Judah who had not been left for dead in a brutal battle in a valley were taken into exile to Babylon.
Ezekiel’s name means “strengthened by God”. There is little doubt his repeated visions over his 20 years of faithful ministry were used to challenge and strengthen God’s people.
In Ezekiel chapter 37 his vision of a valley full of dry bones is a message specifically for the nation of Israel. Verse 11 mentions: “the whole House of Israel” (ESV). The nation is dead but God promises it will come back to life and bring glory to God.
So, is Ezekiel’s vision a word for the church today?
The church in Sardis was described in a similar way in Revelation 3:1: “…I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Like Ezekiel we too are surrounded by the dead. Everywhere there is existence of decay. It dominates our cities, our counties and our country. Our task is to spread the message that the dead can live again. God is in the restoration business. The conditions that surround us, should sober us, cause concern, and stir us into action. Ezekiel’s vision was shocking, even gruesome! A valley full of bleached white, scattered bones; this is the remnants of the nation of Israel.
So, in this growing hostile environment, what is the solution? We believe the hope of the world is Christ and the platform to deliver this hope is the local church. Is the local church healthy enough to stem the tide? In 2015, the Barna Group completed a significant study on the state of discipleship. Let me briefly share several findings from this large study on the state of discipleship health in the church today. While listening to these stats, ask yourself: Is there sufficient evidence to indicate that the Canadian church is healthy enough to address the growing indifference and even hostility toward the church?
Barna’s study involved the interviewing of 833 pastors and 2013 Christian adults:
An encouraging 52% of Christian adults definitely believed the church was doing a good job of helping people to grow spiritually, with another 40% saying the church was probably doing a good job.
However, church leaders were far more pessimistic. Only 1% said the church is doing very well at discipling young believers, and 60% said our churches are not doing well at discipling.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh Mission Conference of 1910, four conferences were held in the four cities of: Edinburgh, Boston, Tokyo, and Cape Town. At each conference, just eight years ago, the overwhelming concern was the lack of discipleship in churches as a universal worldwide problem.
The Cape Town conference produced a document referred to as The Cape Town Commitment (2010). One commentator writes: “The Cape Town Commitment (2010) uses the language of confession, lamentation, and repentance more than 25 times referring to the scandal of the shallowness and lack of discipleship in churches.”
The encouraging thing is that in Barna’s 2015 study, 77% of practicing Christians indicated a desire to see growth in their spiritual life. In fact, 23% or one quarter indicated they are currently discipling someone and 94% of pastors said they were discipling someone. 25% of practicing Christians wanted their spiritual growth to happen in a small group while 40% wanted to grow all alone and another 16% would prefer to be discipled one on one with someone.
The picture is not an encouraging one. There remains so much our churches could do to help people grow spiritually. Very few Fellowship churches have developed a clearly defined Discipleship Pathway or Process. The result is a lot of spiritual dryness in the pews.
Ezekiel looked over the valley and he saw death. In verses 1-2 of chapter 37, Ezekiel sees a revelation. He looked over the valley and he saw death. The bones pointed to death. Many Bible commentators believe Ezekiel’s vision was the scene of the aftermath of a great battle. A valley filled with the bones of his own countrymen after their battle with Babylon. Thousands of Jews never receiving a proper burial (a horrific thought to a Jew), were left to rot where they fell, this was death on a massive scale.
What do we see in our own communities?
We see the living dead, the spiritually dead, sheep without a shepherd. The Fellowship’s mission statement declares that we are, “A movement of churches making passionate disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“Lord, open our eyes. Help us to see the devastation, help us to not become so familiar with the stink of death that we remain half-hearted in our work of making passionate disciples.”
John 4:35 (KJV) reminds us: “Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.” The word behold used in the ESV and KJV is a dramatic way to say look; look carefully and feel the immensity of the moment. Look carefully and see what the Lord is doing, and will do. Behold the mighty deeds of the Lord are at play, at work. Look! We must see the world as it really is: dead.
But in Ezekiel 37:7 (ESV) we read: “And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a great rattling, and the bones came together, bone to bone.”
Next week we’ll investigate the rattling that is going on in our land. Some encouraging signs of health and Gospel advance in our Fellowship of churches and the Evangelical church in general in Canada.
Have a blessed week,
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… He attended the Council of Nicea in 325 AD where he supported the Biblical doctrine of the trinity. There is a rich tradition that speaks of his commitment to Christ despite much persecution and threats of martyrdom.
Stories abound of his compassion and shepherding character that compelled him to love and care for children. He became well known for giving gifts to young children, gifts that would symbolize God’s ultimate gift…our Saviour.
Nicholas would somehow morph into today’s Santa Claus and largely be forgotten. Born of wealthy parents in 280 AD in the small town of Patara in Asia Minor, his parents died in an epidemic when he was very young. But, they had instilled in Nicholas a strong faith.
He was later made Bishop of Myra and imprisoned for his faith by Roman Emperor Diocletian and later released by Emperor Constantine. Stories abound about his generosity and compassion. He begged for food to feed the poor, gave a girl’s dowry to marry her future husband, but the best known story is the disguise he wore while giving gifts to the poor children. He gave away everything he owned and died penniless.
Poets and writers have written strange things about him. Clement More gave him a red nose and eight tiny reindeer. Thomas Nast illustrated him as big and fat wearing a red suit trimmed with fur. Others renamed him Kris Kringle, Belsnickle, St. Nick, Pelznickel, Father Christmas, Père Noël, Babbo Natale, Kanakaloka, Julenissen, Ded Moroz, Kerstman, and Santa Claus.
But most important Nicholas possessed the self-giving character of Jesus…. Their love would touch the whole world.
We celebrate Jesus, not Santa, at Christmas. We rejoice that our Saviour was born in a cradle to later die on a cross offering all humanity the gift of salvation.
On behalf of the entire Fellowship National staff, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed 2019!
Merry Christmas from the Fellowship National Staff
You won’t receive “A Word from Steve” for a couple of weeks. We will connect once again on January 7, 2019. Happy New Year!
Have a blessed week,
Some of us may over-eat this Christmas…some of us will remember the 1970s ad: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”
In the story of “Babette’s Feast” we discover a beautiful parable of the wonders of Christmas. It was written by Danish writer, Karen Blixem who spent 1914-1931 in British East Africa (Kenya) farming a coffee plantation. She is best known for her book, “Out of Africa”, which was made into the 1985 film, “Out of Africa” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. She returned to Denmark and began writing under the pseudonym, Isak Dinesen and wrote, “Babette’s Feast”. I watched the film adaptation a few years back and was deeply drawn into this parable of God’s wondrous grace at Christmas.
This is a longer blog than normal, but let me tell you the story:
The story is set in an impoverished fishing village off the coat of Norway. The movie locates it in a coastal village in Denmark. The streets are muddy, the roofs are thatched, the village is poor, and the people follow an elderly white-bearded austere Lutheran pastor. The villagers of Norre Vosburg renounce all worldly things, and so they wear black clothing and eat a steady diet of boiled cod and a gruel made of boiled bread and ale.
They met on the Sabbath and sang songs of the “New Jerusalem”, while enduring, even tolerating their life on this earth. The old pastor had two beautiful daughters named Martine (named after the great Reformer, Martin Luther) and a younger daughter named Philipa (named after Luther’s brilliant disciple, Philip Melonchton). The villagers used to attend church just to feast their eyes on these two radiant beauties.
One day a dashing young cavalry officer saw Martine and he wanted to marry her, but she resisted his advances, for she only wanted to care for her aging father. The cavalry officer later married a young aristocrat.
On another occasion the greatest opera singer of the day, a Frenchman named Achille Papin, heard Philipa singing one day and wanted her to come to Paris with him to make her a star. She and her father refused the offer and Papin left dejected.
Fifteen years passed. The old pastor is dead and the two sisters are still unmarried and have attempted to carry on their father’s harsh and austere mission. The little church had splintered due to conflict, and only a few still attend the Sabbath worship services, while the two sisters continue to boil bread for the toothless elders of their church.
One night during a terrible storm the two sisters heard a knock at their door. A woman collapsed at their doorway exhausted, speaking no Danish. She had escaped from Paris during the Civil War. Friends and family had been killed. All she had was a note from the opera singer asking them to kindly take her in. The note said: “Babette can cook.”
They took her in and Babette becomes their cook and housekeeper, and for 12 more years she boils cod and makes gruel for this devout group of Lutheran followers. No one ever talked to Babette of her past life. It came as a great surprise to Martine and Philipa when Babette received her first letter from Paris after living with them for 12 years. Apparently, one of Babette’s friends had continued to purchase her a lottery ticket each year and she had finally won. She had won a windfall of 10,000 francs.
The two women thought Babette would leave them, but much to their surprise she did not.
They had been talking about a celebration to commemorate their father’s 100th anniversary of his birth when Babette’s letter arrived.
Babette requested she be allowed to make the meal for the celebration party. She had never asked a favour in 12 years…now she pleaded.
The two women agreed, but it was secretly agreed among their little religious order that no one would comment or gain pleasure from the meal Babette would create.
One might imagine that a steady diet of boiled cod and gruel would have killed their taste buds anyway.
Babette ordered the groceries and many exotic delicacies arrived.
Amazing sights never seen in this austere village were seen. Work men pushed wheel barrows loaded with crates full of small birds, a cow’s head, truffles, pheasants, other strange creatures, even a huge, live tortoise snaking its head around as it was carried into the kitchen.
On the snowy evening of December 15 the party began! They sat down to a table full of china, silver ware, candles and evergreens. Even the dashing cavalry officer, now a general and over 30 years older, was there. While the villagers tasted these strange dishes one after another they never said a word nor changed their grimed-faced expressions. Babette wondered why they were not enjoying it!
The General, on the other hand, was overcome by the culinary wonders and explosive tastes that passed his lips. He raved about the meal over and over again during the feast. But, something began to happen. The villagers began to enjoy the wondrous feast placed before them. Undeserving of so great a gift lavished before them, they began to warm up to the occasion.
Their blood warmed, their tongues loosened, and they began to speak of the old days. Two brothers confessed to one another and were reconciled. Two women who had not spoken to one another for 10 years began smiling and talked to each other. One little lady burped and a brother next to her yelled: “Hallelujah!” They all laughed…this had not happened in years!
Heady with the moment, overwhelmed by the wondrous gift of the sumptuous meal the General rose to make a speech.
The story ends with old parishioners holding hands around the village fountain and singing lovely songs of their faith. It is really a COMMUNION scene of rejoicing in God’s goodness and grace.
Babette’s feast had opened the gate, but grace had strolled in among a grim-faced group for the first time in years.
The AUTHOR writes: “They felt [for the first time] as if they had indeed had their sins washed white as wool.”
The final scene takes place in the kitchen. Babette sits among pots, pans, carcasses, bones, grease, empty bottles and vegetable trimming. She looks as exhausted as she had 12 years previous on the night she arrived in the storm. She is completely spent looking as exhausted as Jesus might have looked while hanging on His cross. Martine and Philipa complement her on the meal and say they will greatly miss her when she returns to Paris. Babette looks at them and says she doesn’t plan to return to Paris, for she has spent the full 10,000 francs on the meal they had just eaten. The women are immediately jolted by the news of the cost. They had done nothing but let Babette live with them and be the housekeeper and cook, their servant in effect. And now she lavishes this undeserved gift on them!
The cod and the gruel eaters are just beginning to understand the riches of turtle soup and pheasant under glass.
How much is your congregation worth in services to your community? Have you ever thought about that? You should.
A Senate Committee has been studying Canada’s Charity Sector since January 2018. They are to give their report sometime this month. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has mentioned that every Western nation that has done a similar study comes back with significant suggested changes to how government treats charities and religious places of worship.
Churches paying property tax, donors not receiving annual receipts, clergy losing their house allowance benefit, and much more is being considered.
Currently, the Church in Canada has very little quantifiable data that indicates the real added-value our churches have on our communities. We know this is true, but the hard data is very scanty. The Town Council, in each of our cities, need to hear how our churches make a significant socio-economic impact on the community. If they choose to tax churches, impeding them from continuing to offer helpful ministries in the community, what would it cost the city to offer these same services. Sometimes money does talk…loudly.
The Halo Project
Our Fellowship has embarked on a study to discover the socio-economic impact the average Fellowship church has on its community.
Halo Canada will be conducting surveys this Autumn with some of our churches across Canada. A cross section of diverging churches have been chosen by our five Regions including city, suburban, and rural churches along with small, medium, and large churches. The objective is to discover our “Halo project” on a community.
Recent Halo Projects in Canada
In a recent Toronto Halo project of just ten congregations, it was discovered they offered the equivalent of $45.4 million dollars of services to their communities in one year.
In a Halo Canada Project where 30 congregations were studied, it was discovered they offered the equivalent of $69.8 million dollars of services or an average Halo effect of $2.3 on each community. In this study the median attendance of each congregation was 100 with a total of 12,535 worshippers attending these congregations. CLICK HERE if you want to read more about the benefits of Halo project Study.
The Fellowship’s HALO Project
Sphere Research conducted a brief study of the Halo effect of the average Fellowship Church in June 2018. We discovered, using CRA data collected from 420 Fellowship Churches, that our national Halo estimate totals of $417,300,000 (urban: $379.2 million and rural: $38.1 million).
We decided to go deeper by conducting a controlled study to the socio-economic benefit our faith communities (churches) are making on Canada. This will become quantifiable evidence for the federal, provincial, and municipal governments as they make decisions concerning the charitable sector in Canada. Our Fellowship Halo Project should be complete in the spring of 2019.
Our Halo researcher mentioned that the average property tax bill on the average congregation in Canada could be in the range of $150,000 per annum. This would adversely affect many of our churches in offering many ministries to their communities. For some congregations, it would close their doors for good.
WHY DO WE NEED THIS INFORMATION
The times are changing! Let’s never get distracted from accomplishing our primary mission (making disciples). However, we need to address the society we live in and its growing Christian- amnesia. Civic authorities need evidence, hard data, that the church in Canada is making a huge impact on our communities. Last year the Halo effect of the charitable/church sector in Canada was $17.7 billion in socio-economic benefit. That is equivalent to 1.1% of Canada’s GDP. Next to the federal government, religious institutions are the largest land holders in Canada at $16.7 billion with $4.2 billion revenue raised through donations.
Charities and churches make a massive impact in Canada. Our politicians need to hear about the good deeds that happen daily without using a single tax dollar from government coffers. The Fellowships Halo Project will be a tool to help communicate this truth.
Have a blessed Week,
Steve here… Our Fellowship family have historically recognized three Theological institutions in our 60+ year history:
They have served our churches well for decades training our future pastors, missionaries, church planters, chaplains, along with church staff and leaders.
Much ink has been spilled in recent years on how best to train these leaders and the transitions theological institutions must consider. I have had the joy of watching our school, Northwest, attempt a grand experiment which is currently bearing “much fruit”. I recall the day I sat down with President, Kent Anderson, who shared what he, our Fellowship Pacific Regional Director, David Horita, and others were planning. An approach to theological education that was church-centric and competency-based. That was seven years ago … much has happened since then.
The Immerse Story at Northwest
President Kent Anderson told the Immerse story in this past year in Northwest’s publication. He shares the recent positive recognition that Association of Theological Schools (ATS) (the accrediting body) indicated toward the Immerse experiment.
Kent Anderson, President of Northwest Baptist Seminary
I thought it deserved a broader audience, and so, the following is part of Dr. Kent Anderson’s article:
Northwest exists to serve our churches. Nothing drives us like our passion to be helpful to the churches God has called us to serve.
For that reason, it was deeply encouraging to be invited to participate in a recent ATS conference in Orlando, Florida on churches and their denominational contexts. Seminaries were invited to participate for free as long as they brought their seminary president, their board chairperson, and their denominational leader. It was our particular honour to be asked in addition to bring a “case story” – essentially an invitation to tell the story of Northwest’s relationship to Fellowship Pacific. David Horita, Dennis Wasyliw, and myself were pleased to agree.
There were three case studies presented. The first was from a network of mainline denominational schools, describing profound administrative malfunction. The second was from a large Eastern Orthodox seminary that had experienced years of public scandal in its relationship with its churches. Clearly our story was going to have a different tone.
When we were introduced toward the end of the meetings, it was suggested that the conference organizers wanted to leave the crowd with a positive story. “We want to leave you with a hopeful instance of a school that has got it right with its relationship with its churches.” After an introduction like that it was pretty cool for David, Dennis, and me to stand up and tell our story.
It is significant to me that when the Association of Theological Schools looked across North America in search of a school that has done well in serving its churches, that they identified Northwest. Of all the accomplishments that we could speak of in recent years, I am most pleased by this. We can do more – and we will – but I am encouraged by this affirmation that we are on the correct course.
What was it that ATS observed in us that would cause them to single us out for excellence in servicing our churches?
Obviously, the Immerse program caught their attention, but it was the origin story of the program that impressed them most. Most seminaries understand their need to serve churches, but Northwest took that interest to another level. We determined that if we really wanted to be effective in serving churches, we would have to do this with our churches. We knew that it would not be good enough for us to simply tell the churches why we knew best what was good for them. We would have to actually listen to the churches and work collaboratively to design something that everyone could own with equal levels of commitment.
This meant that we had to let go of some things. We could not control the outcome if we truly wanted to achieve something different than what we had offered in the past. The seminary institution had to matter less to us than the value of the church. Seminaries have always seen themselves as service organizations – committed first and foremost to the church, and we had been no exception. Yet this kind of commitment proved easier to affirm than to practice.
The development of Immerse required months of deep dialogue with Fellowship and pastoral leaders. It was not going to be enough for the faculty to tell the church what outcomes mattered. These things had to be mutually discerned. The conversation was sometimes painful as we listened to one another, inching toward an eventual shaping of a set of outcomes that everyone could affirm and pursue with passion.
Dr. Kent Anderson
The results over the past couple of years have been encouraging. Students studying in Immerse’s church/competency-based theological education model are graduating students that walk the stage who are already involved in long-term pastoral placements within our Fellowship churches. This is the strength of school and Region working in close collaboration.
Immerse is Spreading
Over the past of couple years our theological school in Quebec, SEMBEQ, formed a partnership with Northwest to begin their own iteration of Immerse among our French-speaking churches and students.
Fellowship International, our own mission, has also formed a partnership with Immerse with our first two students, preparing for missionary service to Japan and Pakistan. Let me introduce you to:
Adam Pietrantonio, appointed for service in Japan.
Kevin and Micaela Miller, appointed for service to Pakistan
Fellowship International has also adopted Immerse among the churches we work with in Colombia and there are hopeful plans to see Immerse established with our missionaries serving in Lebanon.
The power of a dream given life via collaborative partnership which results in multiplication. To God be the glory!
Have a blessed week,
Have you ever heard of the “Parable of the Three Trees”?
Once upon a time, three young trees were planted close to one another. They matured together, sharing sunshine, minerals and water. They shared their dreams and aspirations with one another.
They all aspired to become huge and live for hundreds of years. There is a sequoia redwood tree in Northern California called “the president” that is close to 300 feet tall. Its trunk is 27 feet in diameter, and it’s 3200 years old. Another redwood close by, named “General Sherman”, is even larger.
The three trees continued to dream big dreams about the impact each would make in the forest. But one day a lumberjack cut all three trees down before they could make the impact they had aspired to.
One was carved into a feeding trough, the other into a boat bench, and the third into a cross beam. They were disappointed. They had become such ordinary things that would make no significant or discernable impact in their world. They got depressed.
But soon after that, they discovered why they had been formed into these ordinary objects. Each would be of service to a carpenter — a carpenter who would be their master. The feeding trough would become a manger in which the Christ child would lay. The boat bench would become a pulpit for Jesus to preach atop, while in a boat, for the thousands who heard the beatitudes. And the cross beam became the beam that our Saviour would be nailed to in order to redeem all humanity.
These three trees never imagined their aspirations for greatness would turn out this way. Their disappointment turned to joy.
As we mature as followers of Christ, often we need to let go of our dreams, goals, values, priorities, and desires — our spiritual maturity is dependent on it.
We strive to be a treasure chest, full of jewels, money and riches. But God is calling us to be a feeding trough full of nourishment to satisfy the soul of those seeking Jesus.
We set our sights on attaining the heights of the mast of a great sailing ship, to be noticed for miles around. But God calls us to the lowly service of a service bench that people can lean on. They never notice the bench, but they always appreciate that it’s there.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that greatness is found in worldly significance. The three trees found importance in ways they had never imagined.
Greatness is found in lowliness. In fact, God tells us that He opposes the proud. Significance is discovered in humility.
This is the way of the cross. Embrace the Lordship of Christ in your life.
What dream, value, misplaced priority, or goal is hindering your walk towards Christ-likeness? Let the Great Carpenter carve your offering into something even greater than you aspire to. He loves to use ordinary objects to do extraordinary things!
Have a blessed week,
Our Fellowship family is celebrating at FNC2018! Our Fellowship National Conference (FNC) is happening early this week in Richmond, BC…very close to beautiful Vancouver.
Our conference title is: “Saturate your World” and the theme is discipleship!
Our two keynote speakers will be addressing the discipleship need in churches today. Jeff Vanderstelt will be talking about establishing missional communities in our churches that reach out to our community. Paul Watson will be sharing the principles necessary to create a disciple-making movement from his book, “Contagious Disciple Making”.
I have been praying for months that this FNC will make a spiritual impact on our leaders.
Fellowship International adopts DMM model
Two years ago our Fellowship International department made an important decision. They would shift from seeking to establish church planting movements in specific regions of the nations we served, to establishing disciple-making movements (DMM) in these same nations where our missionaries live and minister.
This does not mean our missionaries no longer plant churches. Their primary focus will be to establish disciples who make disciples who collectively become local churches.
This past August most of our Fellowship International missionaries gathered in Poland for a week to receive further training on DMMs by their director, David Marttunen. I was there too. It was an inspiring time with our mission’s personnel leaving with a new approach / model to win many to Christ.
Fellowship International - Poland Summit 2018
One of our missionary couples serving in Spain are especially excited by the early results that occurred among their seekers and young believers by adopting the DMM principles. Here is a brief testimony:
We praise God for the things we’re learning about the work of disciple-making. Our task (and yours) is to make disciples who will make disciples. For us, this means teaching pre-believers what they will need to know to become obedient disciples of Christ when they allow Jesus to be their King. It also means equipping our group of believers to do the same and allowing God to establish His church. In preparation for our Summit in Poland with other Fellowship International personnel, we were asked to read Contagious Disciple Making by Watson and Watson, and Spent Matches by Roy Moran. We decided to put into practice one of the lessons we learned. During the three gatherings of our group before we left to go to Poland, we used the simple question outline for “Discovery Groups” described in Spent Matches and our group responded very well. It’s like the light finally came on, that the Great Commission is their mandate, too! We are anticipating that at least one new group will begin soon and be led by Salva.
We are thankful for Fellowship International’s Poland Summit. We are thankful for our leadership who is encouraging all of us to take seriously Jesus’ command to make disciples who are taught to obey everything He has commanded us (not just to know more stuff)(see Matthew 28:19-20). It was an inspiring and encouraging week.
Will YOU start a Disciple-Making Movement in Canada?
Can I let you in on a secret?
I invited Paul Watson and Jeff Vanderstelt to better expose our pastors and church leaders to the principles outlined in their books. How do we create disciples who automatically make disciples? The multiplication principles.
What our Fellowship International mission is exposing our “international” missions personnel to, which they are embracing, needs to be prayerfully and soberly considered by our “domestic” missionaries…namely, our pastors and local churches in Canada. Will disciple-making movements start in every Region of our needy nation in the years to come?
Pray for FNC2018. That the Spirit of God might move us to even greater effectiveness in the advancing of God’s Kingdom in Canada and beyond.
Have a blessed week,
There are places on this planet where there are very few followers of Jesus. Japan is one of those places. Our mission, Fellowship International, has been sending missions-personnel to Japan for decades.
Currently, Rob and Kathryn Fleming, Steve and Jacquie Willson, and Chris Evangelista are in Japan with another new appointee seeking to go after his deputation goals are met. Please pray for Adam Pietrantonio.
The Flemings in Japan
A recent prayer newsletter from Rob and Kathryn caught my eye. A couple paragraphs capture a sense of ministry in Japan and the reason why we need to keep sending Fellowship folk from our churches to Japan. I’ll let the Flemings speak to this:
Kathryn and Rob Fleming
“We visited Hitachi Hope Church (this was our church plant from 1995-2005) last month. I (Rob) still go there to preach/teach once a month. The church is an average-sized Japanese church of 20-25 souls, with no pastor, as are 20% of churches in Japan. A single mom named Maiko will be baptized as soon as the big Pacific baptismal tank warms up in July. The average Japanese church has one baptism every five years or so.
“We also met with Rutsu, one of our Hitachinaka Oasis church members (our work from 2005-2014). Mrs. Fujieta followed her kids to oasis house church outreach in 2008, believed in Jesus along with her sister and children, and has continued in her journey. “She does not “go to church” as we think in the western tradition. She lives her faith, leaving for work 30 minutes early to be sure to have her Bible reading/prayer time, asking God to lead her every step of the day. Dependence on morning Buddhist idolatry has been replaced with the Bible and Jesus, and she has regular times of encouragement with another believer, where Rutsu serves as Mrs. Fujieta’s mentor. That was not what we had in mind when we came to Japan 25 years ago, but it is, I think, a more natural expression of faith for Japanese than our western “go to church” expectations.
“We left behind two very different communities of faith in Jesus when we moved to Tokyo. But we continue to minister to Hitachi Hope Church and the remnants of Hitachinaka’s Oasis Church.
A baptismal service is a big event in Japan. Japanese believers will see few believers baptized in their life-time. Our Fellowship International missionary, Rob Fleming, had the joy of baptizing Maiko this past July. He sent me her testimony which she read on the beach by the Pacific Ocean prior to being immersed. In fact, Maiko and Rob were immersed several times as the baptism occurred the day after a typhoon. The typhoon-generated waves made things a little rough.
I read Maiko’s moving testimony and I thought you would love to read it. So I received permission. Please enjoy, pray for Maiko and the Hitachi Church, and give God all the glory.
“ ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ – Matthew 11:28-30
“I am Maiko, and this passage led me to believe in Christ.
“I started to believe in God right around the time when I gave birth to my daughter in Canada. At the time, my partner and I did not get along, he hurt me often, and did not help out with the pregnancy at all. I had no help because I did not have any Japanese friends and did not know God’s teachings. Every day was tough and agonizing. It was about that time that an organization called, ‘I’m Not Alone’ reached out to me. This organization offered me used baby clothes, gave me tips on how to raise my child, and took care of me during and after my pregnancy. They also offered something similar to counselling as they would listen to my concerns. Around that time, Linda, one of the members of the organization told me about a church that was near by and gave me a Bible. Although I had been to church a few times since arriving in Canada, it was not because I believed in God, but rather because I was curious and because my friends were going.
“Although my partner and I separated after I gave birth, I constantly blamed myself saying, ‘How could I have possibly chosen someone who was so helpless? Did I make a mistake giving birth? How am I going to support myself in the future?’ I thought to myself, ‘I am such a haphazard, stupid woman for giving birth to a baby outside of marriage.’ Linda said, ‘God will forgive you, even if you can’t forgive yourself. Even if no one else forgives you, God will always be by your side and will forgive all of your wrongdoings. If God will forgive you, why would you need anyone else’s forgiveness?’ In this moment I felt God’s mercy for the first time and cried. Although I had never really read the Bible deeply, I felt God’s mercy. I soon began to study the Bible, and upon reading the passage mentioned above, I became a Christian. Since then, whenever I have run into problems, I always look for answers in the Bible’s teachings. Through God’s mercy I have gained peace, and by following God’s Word, my life has completely transformed.
“Before this, if someone mentioned that they were a Christian, I would look down on them thinking, ‘You actually believe in God? Why?’ But now things are different. When I heard from Rob about a church in Hitachi where I lived after returning to Japan, I thought that I would go. God was present even when I was changing jobs. I had thought of quitting my previous job many times because it made me too busy, but I did not quit because I had faith that God was going to give me a sign of when I should resign. Then one day my boss decided to take maternity leave and said, ‘You should probably resign now.’ There could not have been a clearer sign for me, so I decided to submit my notice of resignation. I ended up applying for a new job before my resignation date and was accepted, which allowed me to transition into my current job without being unemployed. “My current work environment is wonderful. Even when I am not in control of things, my life has become much smoother as a Christian.
“There is another passage that I really like. ‘Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Last year our Fellowship celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in a number of ways. We:
Students receiving French Bibles in Haiti
I want to thank the many donors and churches that generously gave to our “Sowing the Seed” project. I had the joy of handing out Bibles to Haitian teens and children earlier this year. It was a thrill.
Missionaries to D.R. Congo, Apollo and Lois Midigo have been able to use “Sowing the Seed” funds to give Bibles to pastors in the Goma region. Thank you. Recently, I heard another story of how our “Sowing the Seed” appeal blessed a group of Pygmy evangelists in D.R. Congo. I thought it would encourage you.
Fellowship International missionaries, Richard and Brenda Flemming, are serving the church in D.R. Congo helping them to catalyze mission mobilization and establish a disciple-making movement. This has begun among a group of new Pygmy believers. They are treated very poorly and marginalized in their own nation, but are finding hope in Christ.
I asked Richard to share what is happening:
“In August of 2016, I flew into the city of Inongo, D.R. Congo for a week of training with some 25 Pygmy ‘evangelists’. These ‘evangelists’ were functioning as pastors, though they possessed little theological training and none had Bibles. I thought that the names of the churches they represented were odd (Church 21, Church 34, Church 65, etc.), until I discovered that the figures indicated the number of kilometers they were from the city!
“I was there to help them understand how to share the Gospel in such a way as to minimize, if not eliminate altogether, the threat that syncretism poses for listeners. In their context, syncretism would refer to the mixing or uniting of the Gospel with traditional animistic beliefs, a widespread problem in that part of the world.
“I was invited to give this training by Jacques and Rose Maylala, a Congolese pastoral couple serving with the Baptist Church in Kinshasa who for years had been helping these Pygmies. They immediately understood the value of the training and committed themselves to translate the studies into Lingala (my materials were in French).
Rose Maylala with some of the Bibles and songbooks
“This past August, Jacques and Rose returned to Inongo and spent a week with these same Pygmy ‘evangelists’ teaching them how to communicate (in Lingala) the beginning Bible studies of the, ‘Creation to Christ’ series (a part of the Firm Foundations series made available through Ethnos [formerly New Tribes Mission]), underscoring the principles combatting syncretism. There are 26 lessons in this version of the series, so lots left to translate, but Jacques and Rose are so happy to see these Pygmies receive the grounding in Scriptures they so need and want.
“However, the Pygmy ‘evangelists’ received more than just the training. Thanks to last year’s Fellowship project, ‘Sowing the Seed,’ Jacque and Rose received funds that enabled them to purchase Bibles for these Pygmy ‘evangelists’ as well as songbooks for their churches. Now, thanks to those who participated in this project, Pygmies in the Congo are receiving sound teaching from God’s Word. This is the partnership of missions at work, to God’s glory!”
Jacques Maylala teaching the first lesson in the ‘Creation to Christ’ series of Bible lessons
Bibles and songbooks
Keep praying for Richard and Brenda Flemming and Apollo and Lois who are serving the Lord as Fellowship International missionaries in D.R. Congo. Our current FAIR appeal, “Labour’s Refuge”, is seeking to raise $120,000 to build a maternal birthing clinic in a rural region in D.R. Congo. This project is a story that reaches back to the 1930s and some of our Fellowship Churches. I encourage you to CLICK HERE to find out more, watch a brief video and donate generously. What a great Christmas gift!
Richard and Brenda Flemming
Apollo and Lois Midigo
Have a blessed week,