A Word From Steve Jones
March 12th, 2019
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… Quebec is Canada’s largest mission field. The current reality is that our AÉBÉQ Region is a mature Region in the least-reached mission field in North America.
After six decades of ministry in Quebec there are about 80 French-speaking Fellowship Baptist churches and about 9,000 believers in these churches. This is good news.
The stark reality is that the other six million Francophones living in Quebec and the other one million living elsewhere in Canada, are largely unreached with the Gospel. Only 0.8% of Francophones identify themselves as evangelical Christians. Missiologists indicate that until the number of evangelical Christians within a people group reaches the 2-3% threshold, a church planting movement will struggle to maintain momentum and struggle to accomplish the entire mission task on their own.
However, the Region is mature, in the sense that it is led by spiritually mature leaders. God has raised up some extraordinary and visionary leaders to advance the cause for Christ in this Region. Since 1971, the AÉBÉQ Region has been shepherding their growing ministry.
Our New Funding Model
A few years back, francophone ministry in the Fellowship moved from missionary-support to strategic partnerships between English churches and new francophone church plants.
After 56 years, the French Mission formally drew to a close (December 31, 2014) as a Fellowship National Agency after ensuring each of its missionaries completed individualized transition plans.
Fellowship churches and individual donors from across Canada are now encouraged to engage in collaborative relationships with francophone church plants through direct and strategic partnerships that could potentially involve the sharing of resources, work teams, and mutual prayer support. These strategic partnerships are brokered by our National Fellowship and managed by the AÉBÉQ Church Planting Director.
Our immediate objective is clear: it is to improve and encourage our English-speaking churches and our faithful team of individual donors to continue to engage in partnering with and funding francophone church plants so that an even greater harvest of souls will be gathered in the years ahead! Our ultimate objective is to reach a point in Quebec and the other French-speaking Regions of Canada where at least 2% of the population self-identify as “evangelical”, and the AÉBÉQ Region “has sufficient strength to sustain and ensure the continuous multiplication of churches.”
Because of our proximity and our history, our Fellowship of churches and faithful donors from across our nation have a unique responsibility and opportunity to support church planting among francophones. It is crystal clear that church planting in Quebec has been and will continue to be the most effective way to reach new people and new communities with the Gospel.
Our partnership strategy continues to focus primarily on Quebec where 85% of Canada’s francophones live, however, we will also focus on the other French-speaking regions of our country. It is our sincere hope and expectation that dynamic church planting partnerships will be developed between English-speaking congregations and/or individual donors and francophone church plants across our nation.
The Plan: 7x7=1. Yes, we know…the math doesn’t work, but the plan will!*
It involves: 7 churches and / or donors – Fellowship National has the responsibility to prayerfully seek out and find churches or individual donors to partner with Regionally-approved Francophone church plants.
* 7 years – Fellowship Regions have the responsibility to manage and encourage these partnerships between churches or individual donors and Francophone churches within their Region. These relationships will be in place for seven (7) years with the possibility of a three (3) year extension.
* 1 Francophone church plant – Our partnership objective will be to see each Francophone church plant develop and mature into an autonomous, self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating local church to the glory of God!
Join my next “Quebec Vision Tour” on June 3-5, 2019
Twice annually I take a group of pastors and church leaders to Quebec on an exposure tour. Over a period of 48 hours, participants visit seven or eight church plant locations (meeting the church planter and launch team) to get a good idea of the massive spiritual needs among Francophones. They are Canadians, who speak French, and most are entering into a Christless eternity.
If interested, take a few minutes to watch a brief video describing a “Quebec Vision Tour” (QVT) experience – click here.
Please pray about supporting the mission in Quebec. Consider joining me on my next QVT on June 3-5, 2019. I need to hear from you soon…first come, first serve.
Have a blessed week,
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… I thought you would be encouraged to hear about some stories of ministry from our Fellowship International missionaries. These are good news stories:
It is difficult to share Christ in this country. Last year one of our veteran missionary families was told by the government they had two months to leave the country. After 20 plus years of ministry and no explanation, this was a shock. Our mission’s personnel live in difficult circumstances, but God remains faithful and the church continues to grow. Our personnel have been involved in Family Camp through the years. Here is one story, the testimony of one Pakistani mother who attended a family camp recently:
“When my husband said we were going to a family program, I was extremely worried; who knows what kind of environment it will be? My husband said they are not of our religion (those at the camp where we would be going), so I made a lot of excuses so that we could not go. But my husband and children really wanted to go.
“The first day went by with a lot of shame and fear, and I only enjoyed it a little bit. But by the second day it seemed like everyone were brothers and sisters; they were like friends and people we’ve known for a long time – I received a lot of love.
“I say my daily prayers and used to believe that only our fellow religious people are good and worthy and that all others are blasphemers. But coming here to this camp, I felt like I was in my own home or together with my own relatives. I have learned fundamental things about family life, even though I am a teacher at a government school.
“I will tell my relatives and friends that the followers of Jesus Christ are people of love. We hope we will receive an invitation to the next camp. I will bring my girlfriends’ families with me.”
Our Fellowship International personnel serving in Spain live in a region called Extremadura (which, in English, means “very hard”). The ground is stony, but they have experienced some very encouraging signs of spiritual thirst. Here are a couple recent stories told by our missionaries themselves.
Cookies turn to conversation with a “person of peace”:
“November 13, 2018 was International Kindness Day, so I baked some cookies to deliver to friends and neighbours. There are too many details to share here, but the best part was the reaction of the owners of a nearby bookstore, a married couple with whom we’ve chatted from time to time. At the precise moment I walked into the shop with my basket of cookies, they had been talking about inviting me to be the guest storyteller at the bilingual school’s Christmas celebration. They were surprised, to say the least, to see me arrive just then! The secretary of the parents’ association was in the store at the same time. To summarize, the couple asked if they could meet for coffee with us and some of their friends (including the secretary and her husband) so they could hear us talk about our “stuff” (and that’s how they put it!). They would plan the place and time and do the inviting. On December 1st, we met for the first time and they chose the coffee shop of some other friends of ours who are also, we believe, seeking Truth. We were able to share about how God led us to Spain and why our faith is based on the Truth of the Word of God rather than tradition. They were very open and want to meet again. We believe this couple are “persons of peace”. Please pray that they will schedule another gathering and that a regular time to meet will be set up."
A Book begins a friendship with an Apollos:
“Early in December 2018, we received a call from the Catholic radio station that covers all of Extremadura, requesting an interview about the book I wrote about marriage. The interviewer asked very good questions and we were pleased by how it went. About 10 days later, we received an email from someone who lives in a town about two hours away. He had heard the interview and wanted to purchase seven copies of the book. You may remember that last fall, I had travelled to pray in every town and village in Extremadura. The town this man lives in was the one that I decided I wanted to return to. So, the decision was quickly made that we’d go to his town to meet him and deliver the books in person. We spent several hours with him. He happens to be the Catholic priest of this parish. Could he be the Apollos we’ve been praying for? He was very open about his frustrations with the empty ritualism of his people and his desire to see them have a real encounter with Jesus. It was an amazing conversation that went on for several hours as he showed us the town. He’s a very nice guy and we feel this is the beginning of a friendship. We feel God is up to something special and amazing! Pray for Kingdom advances!”
Fellowship International missionaries seeking partners
Thank you for praying for our Fellowship missionaries around the world. Currently, we have four career missionaries looking to go to their field in 2019 / 2020. They are looking for churches and people to become a part of their support team. Please prayerfully consider this:
Bechara and Roula Karkafi
to Lebanon; sent by Greenbelt
Church, Ottawa, ON
Kevin and Micaela Miller
sent by Calvary Baptist Church, Edmonton, AB
Adam Pietrantonio to Japan; sent by Church of the City, Guelph, ON
Wayne and Shirley van der Merwe
to Indonesia; sent by Westsyde Fellowsh
Have a blessed week,
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… Our mission as a Fellowship movement of churches is to make passionate disciples of Jesus Christ. Are we accomplishing our mission?
In the latest winter edition of the Fellowship’s THRIVE magazine, we investigate this topic in “WALK: Disciple Making Movements”.
I strongly encourage you to click here to check out this important edition of THRIVE.
Read about what a Disciple-making Movement (DMM) is and learn about some encouraging signs on the mission fields where our Fellowship International missionaries live and serve. Our Fellowship International department has adopted the principles of DMMs to advance the gospel.
Read about three case-studies on how to adopt a multiplying disciple-making pathway as a local church.
I found Pastor Spencer Adams of Church of the City (Guelph, ON) especially helpful:
When Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” He wasn’t inviting them to attend a class or purchase a curriculum. It was an invitation to share in His everyday life—to eat at his table, follow where He went, and minister alongside Him. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, He commissioned His followers to do with others what he had done with them. That same commission rests on us today.
This is what we, at Church of the City, aim to accomplish through missional communities: men and women applying the truth of the Gospel to everyday life. In order to accomplish this, missional communities explore three Gospel identities.
First, because of our adoption by God the Father, we are now the family of God. Missional communities ask, “How will we live as the family of God?”
Second, because Jesus promised that the same Spirit that empowered His ministry would live in us, we believe that we are missionaries sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit. Missional communities ask, “Where are we being sent to demonstrate the Gospel in word and deed?” Finally, because even after Jesus’ death and resurrection some of the disciples were still doubting, we recognize that being disciples of Jesus is a lifelong apprenticeship. Missional communities ask, “What are our next steps in our apprenticeship to Jesus?”
On the most practical level, this looks like a lot of meals shared together, men and women committing to Gospel-centred accountability over the long haul, parties and celebrations that include Jesus followers and those far from God, and tangible displays of the Gospel in our neighbourhoods.
Our Fellowship Pacific Region reports in our latest THRIVE magazine that every church in their region will intentionally implement a discipleship plan by 2022. Why this massive goal? Because they discovered only a small percentage of their churches (BC/Yukon) had a plan and even fewer were implementing one.
I encourage you to read our current THRIVE magazine and consider what you and your church is doing to make disciples who make disciples
Have a blessed week,
Please find a copy of my most recent Prayer Newsletter attached to this email.
Click to Download and Print Below:
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains, and friends,
Steve here… The times are “a changin’”, as Bob Dylan once sung. The secularization of Canada and the subtle establishing of a secular public confession continues:
It is because of this that our Fellowship National Council has planned a Communication campaign this year to make our churches and leaders more aware of what is at stake regarding religious freedom in Canada.
Religious Freedom Survey Results
You’ll receive further blog reports from “A Word from Steve” and Religious Liberty Communiques. This past Fall our Fellowship National office hosted a “Religious Freedom Survey”. Almost 20% of our churches responded; 88% of the respondents were our Lead Pastors. Here is a snap-shot of what we are saying on the subject:
A December 2018 senate Committee on the Charitable Sector in Canada may possibly be suggesting some of these very same things.
When asked in the survey what Fellowship National might do to practically support our churches in protecting religious freedom in Canada, the top five responses were:
We are looking for local churches who will become our first Fellowship Religious Freedom local churches. These are churches who will seriously consider their involvement in the religious liberty fight in Canada; churches who will assign a leader or team to identify, plan and implement attempts to influence our culture; churches who will put some of their resources behind this endeavor, sharing tools, documents, resources, lessons learned, and finances to continue battling the current negative trajectory in Canada related to religious liberty. If interested, please contact Steve or your Regional Director.
The most important thing we can be doing is pray. Pray for our country. Pray for our churches to remain salty. Pray for our civil authorities. Pray for righteousness in our land. Stay tuned for more updates.
Have a blessed week,
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains, and friends,
Steve here… Our churches have remained committed to the social and spiritual welfare of children in our communities and around the world. Many times in recent years our FAIR appeals (Fellowship Aid and International Relief) have addressed the need to care for children, whether that be children victimized by cybersex trafficking in the Philippines, educating Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, feeding hungry school children in Haiti, or ensuring safe maternal care in the DR Congo. These appeals continue to be very well received and funded by our churches and donors. I thank you.
Our latest FAIR appeal seeks to care for children in Honduras. The current “Casa Hogar” children’s home is in critical need of one-time gifts along with donors who will commit to monthly support that will address the needs of these children. I will let our FAIR Director, Dan Shurr explain more.
“The streets can be a dangerous place for children anywhere. In Honduras this is especially true. Predators abound, particularly in poor neighbourhoods where children are left on their own to fend for themselves as best they can. Some children are abandoned. Some are orphaned. All lack the basic necessities to eat, to be safe, to get a good education or medical help. Most of all, they don’t know about a Heavenly Father who loves them as no one else ever could. Casa Hogar was established to help meet the needs of abandoned, abused, and orphaned children and to provide them with a place to call home.
But a new chapter is being written in the story of Casa Hogar. Over the past months negotiations have been ongoing between FAIR and Casa Hogar’s mother organization, Vida Y Libertad, in Spain. Lord willing, FAIR will be assuming much more responsibility for the home and its ministry. We are launching the Fresh Startproject this month to raise $110,000 needed to make provision for this change, provide bridge funding to support the children until the sponsorship program is fully in place, and to put a roof over a play area, making it accessible in any kind of weather.
The child sponsorship program currently in development will guarantee the sustainability of Casa Hogar for the future, and will be uniquely designed to meet the needs of the children in the home.
Two hundred and fifty sponsors giving $35 monthly will provide for the needs of the children currently at Casa Hogar. The program will become the model upon which other child sponsorship programs will be built, each one tailored to its specific setting and need. This exciting addition to FAIR’s ministry is expected to be launched in the Fall of 2019.”
Thank you Dan. This is the first of future child sponsorship appeals. We need 250 sponsors to join the team to meet this critical need. Please prayerfully consider this request; we need to hear from you soon. Thank you.
Have a blessed week,
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… One night Jesus met with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader and a religious man. Nicodemus was born in sin, so he could not inherit the Kingdom of God. He was also blind to sin, so he could not see the Kingdom of God. He was bound by sin, so he could not enter the Kingdom of God. But, the Spirit of God breathed life into this religious man and he was born again. He was brought back to life from the dead.
Today, we conclude my “President’s Address” from FNC2018 in November 2018. The past couple of weeks we’ve investigated the discipleship drought in our churches and the solution from Ezekiel 37:1-5:
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. Dem bones, dem bones gonna walkaround!”
James Johnson’s famous spiritual, made more famous by the Myer Jubilee singers in 1928, helped to popularize Ezekiel’s vision and underscore the supernatural work of God. New birth, whether in people or churches, is a supernatural event! Ezekiel 37:10 (ESV) says: “…they live and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army”.
But it’s not enough to just connect the bones. God also strengthened them sufficiently enough to stand, and to stand without the aid of crutches, splints, or a respirator. They were strong! We pray earnestly that many would come to faith, but also be strengthened by His Spirit and discipled by His Church, to stand and withstand. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father”, prays the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:14-19 (ESV): in that believers might be, “strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (vs 16b), and “rooted and grounded in love, [that you] may have strength to comprehend” (vv 17b-18a), and “be filled with the fullness of God” (vs 19b). We pray for new birth, we pray for new disciples who make disciples and churches who establish new churches. We pray that the supernatural work of God might reanimate the bones of this valley and then move as a “great army” to the next valley and to the next and the next. Verse 7 notes there, “was a sound and behold, a rattling…” (ESV).
Is there a “rattling” going on in Canada? In the Fellowship? Any signs of new life? Are there any places where the Holy Spirit might be “breathing”?
The Fellowship’s church planting story since 2010 is most definitely a sign of “rattling”.
Our Fellowship Pacific Region has planted 11 churches. Our Fellowship Prairies Region has planted three churches. Our FEB Central Region has planted 48 churches. Our AÉBÉQ (Quebec) Region has planted 11 churches, and our Fellowship Atlantic Region has planted three churches. This comes to a total of 76 churches planted in the past eight years. Previously, between 1990 and 2000 our Fellowship planted another 87 churches. Over the next 25 years, in many ways, we’ll look back on this period of our Fellowship as a time when we returned to our heritage as a church planting movement.
When it comes to church health, we’re also hearing some “rattling” as well.
Our FEB Central Region has identified and classified 23 churches as “turn-around churches” in the past five years. This means that churches who were on the descending end of the “Church Life Cycle” are now in varying stages of good church health.
The story of our Fellowship Pacific Region is one of revitalization. After 3o years of a four percent decline (-4%) each year, leaders decided together that was not acceptable; this could not possibly be God’s desire for their Region. The result was a five year partnership (which was completed in 2016), whereby a greater degree of collaboration and interdependence would occur among churches. The outcome is a “turn-around Region” that is no longer experiencing -4% decline, but a healthy 7% growth annually on average among its churches. This is remarkable, in that this is not happening in most Evangelical circles in Canada today.
And to top this all off, this past year our Fellowship International department deployed nine missionaries from our churches, and our Chaplaincy department appointed 18 new Fellowship chaplains. These are recruitment records among our churches.
However, I would still contend that this is still the sound of the “rattling”, not the “thunder clap” of a marching army rising from the dry valley. As encouraging as all this fruit might sound, it still is only the “rattling”. The sound of a “reviving wind”—the Spirit of God is looking to envelope our churches with his “breath”. The “sinew, tendons and muscle” growth has only started to happen; there is still lots of dry bones out there; still plenty of graveyards, and too many “Boneyard Baptist Churches”!
When I started in my role as Fellowship National President in mid-2011, we were a movement of churches numbering 507. Seven years later we are 510 churches from coast to coast to coast. Seventy-six church plants were established in that same time frame, and yet we remain the same number of churches across our nation. Obviously, there has been some death. Some dry bones succumbed. Death is a natural occurrence, even among churches, sometimes even for good reasons.
But if our birth rate only keeps pace with our death rate, you do the math. We need to follow Ezekiel’s lead and pray for a resurrection. Church leaders in three mainline Protestant denominations woke up this morning to start their work day as real-estate agents trying to sell off 5,000 closed church buildings. The church does not have a mission, the mission has a church. Are we joining in with God on mission? Are we allowing Him to “breath” on us and bring “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19)? We’re just starting to hear the “rattling”.
Every Fellowship Baptist church needs to discuss, identify, and implement and intentional Discipleship Path for every one of their current members and the ones who will be won. We need this intentionality, so that the “sinews, tendons, and muscles” might grow strong, so we might become the visible army that Ezekiel saw in the valley (vs 10). This army will fiercely take on the “gates of Hades” here in Canada and beyond.
“When the Philistines saw that their hero (“champion” [ESV]) was dead (Goliath), they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued…” (1 Samuel 17:51b-52a NIV). Goliath is dead, and the Lord’s “great army” (Ezekiel 37:10) “surged ahead”. I love this picture. We need to get this picture in our heads. How will our churches “surge ahead” with Gospel advance in our land? Let’s follow Ezekiel’s prescription:
Near the tip of South India lived a godly missionary named Amy Carmichael in the late 19th Century. Her own mother and father had been “revived” during the Ulster Revival of 1859 in Northern Ireland. Amy devoted her life to the rescue and care of the “devadasis” women. These were young temple prostitutes who were used and abused in savage religious service. Amy took them into her care in her well-known orphanage in the town of Dohnavur in southern India. Amy and her mission helpers prayed for years for a visitation of the Holy Spirit upon all of India akin to the Holy Spirit’s visit during the Welch Revival of 1905. When the Revival did arrive this is what she wrote in her diary: “On October 22, to quote one of the little girls, ‘Jesus came to Dohnavur’. He was there before, but on that day He came in so vivid a fashion that we cannot wonder that it struck the child as a new coming.” Notice what Amy was saying: Christ was already there, but on that day, it was as if He had come again – a new coming.
Ezekiel writes in chapter 37:8 (ESV): “Flesh had come upon them and skin had covered them. But there was no breathe in them.” There was no power in them! The remarkable thing about gaining the Spirit of God’s power is that any work of the Spirit must be precipitated by a death. Ezekiel 37:12b (ESV): “I will open your graves and raise you from your grave.” The insight: we must first learn what it means to die (to self) before we’ll ever see a resurrection in any Boneyard Baptist church” in Canada.
Have a blessed week,
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,
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.