From Moldova to ‘Moravia’ a faith adventure

From Moldova to ‘Moravia’ a faith adventure

This summer two of our Moldovan staff families decided to take an expedition trip to Czech Republic. The idea was birthed several months before.

“When we were told that 5 countries in our region did not have a GCM ministry, our hearts were deeply moved by the need and we started to pray. We do really love when people are garhering together as a home-church or live group to share their faith and lives with one another. It is where a lot of spiritual transformation happens. In Moldova we have a lot of groups and churches like these and we would like to start movements of multiplying churches and comunities in other countries” shares with us Liuba Voleanschii, our GCM staff in Moldova ”
” In Cyprus, at our regional staff conference, when we saw the list of the countries without a GCM ministry, our family prayed and Czech Republic caught our attention” (more…)

How About Church Practices Instead of Church Programs?

How About Church Practices Instead of Church Programs?

OK, let’s say you want to change something about the culture of your church.You want to help people move from a consumeristic mindset to a discipleship mindset. You want disciples who live on mission to make more disciples who live on mission to be the norm for your church…

How do you do it? If you’re like most leaders, your go-to strategy is to adopt and implement some kind of church program to make it happen. We’ll preach a sermon series and offer this program that people can sign up for, and we’ll be on our way!

So we buy the materials, write the sermons, get the staff on board, recruit the facilitators, put up the signs, put a booth in the foyer, talk about how excited we are about this new thing, and try to get everyone to sign up for the church program.

Disappointing results

If you’ve never tried this kind of thing, I’ll save you some time and effort: it just doesn’t work.

Even when you get a great turnout and participation in the program, the real results you were looking for won’t be evident. People’s lives won’t really be changed, they’ll just get busier and more excited for a season, and then you’ll move on to the next thing.

So even when it does seem to work, it doesn’t really work. Even if you succeed in getting people into the program, it doesn’t result in the life change you were hoping for.

Programs vs practices

Part of the problem is that there’s something wrong with the very idea of recruiting people to attend church programs, and it’s this: offering church programs to people plays into the very same consumeristic mindset that keeps them trapped in non-discipleship.

So here’s an idea: instead of asking which programs are “working” (which typically means the ones that are well-attended), try asking this instead: What practices are forming us into a community that can pay attention to and participate in God’s mission?

The difference between thinking in terms of “programs” and “practices” is more than semantic.

  • We offer programs for people to consume (usually by simply “showing up”), but
  • With practices, we invite people to, well, practice them!
  • A program is just something we can only really attend or support, and it doesn’t have much formative power.
  • A practice is something we do together that shapes and forms us as a community.

For an example of what I’m talking about, check out the practices we are cultivating in the church I lead.

What if every ministry at your church needed to be filtered through this lens of “practices that form us to pay attention to and participate in God’s kingdom”? If the ministry or church activity doesn’t lead us into that, we stop doing it.

It might change a lot of what you do. It could also change a lot about how you do what you do.

Written by Ben Sternke

No risk no… multiplication

No risk no… multiplication

No risk no… multiplication

No risk no… multiplication

We are talking much about the idea of multiplication and we hear much from all over. There is no doubt that it is important; needed and that was the strategy of Jesus. Many times and on different ways, we teach others what is the difference between adding and multiplying. We draw maps; we kind of try to calculate how many people shall hear the gospel in the next generation. I love that part of training especially because I am a mathematician, I love numbers and elegant neat charts.

None of us needs to be convicted to multiplication, so why the reality around us does not look like what we can see at these beautiful charts? Now, I can hear voices of those reading my statement. Everybody will easily find plenty reasons why that does not work. I would like to add one more reason to that long list. That is the thinking I can see around me lately and what is on my heart. When I read the book “T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution” (Steve Smith and Ying Kai) one thing draw my attention. There in the chapter 4 are described two models of discipleship, one is Jesus model, and the other one is of Paul. Authors write that many contemporary models of discipleship are based on Jesus’ model, which is based on physical presence among disciples. Paul’s model is leading from distance, preparation of disciples and leaders to do the task when he has to go to another place. That does not mean that Paul is not in touch with them once he is gone. He writes letters sends coworkers and prays for them. But we need to see that they grow and develop without his presence.

The difference between these models punched me, but are they really so different? Jesus said to their disciples: “…it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you…” (John 16:7 NIV).

Were disciples of Jesus left alone after Jesus went to heaven? No. Holy Spirit came, Spirit of Jesus, God in third Person.

Did Paul, when he left a town in which the ecclesia (community of believers) was established, leave them alone? No, they were left with somebody without whom they cannot do anything: the Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus. He was with them. Paul taught them to depend on and become addicted not on him, Paul but on Jesus.

And it is here, where we find that element of risk. Jesus “took risk” choosing such and not different disciples and leaving in their hands that enormous task, matter of death and life: the gospel, as it is the power of God that brings salvation. We know that after the Pentecost disciples started very well, but we do not know everything, we do not know all their struggles, successes and failures. Only a few of them wrote letters, which give us today some light on their lives. We do not know if always and everywhere they did the same. Probably not as every of them were different. The similar thing is with the ecclesias started by Paul. We know that they struggled with many obstacles. They were not perfect. But the gospel was spread all over the ancient world and had huge impact. There is no doubt about that.

I think that one of the key elements of multiplication is teaching people to depend on Jesus, not on us as mature leaders and allowing them for autonomy and maybe even for failure (?!).
Somebody one day trusted me that I would be able to share Christ with others and lead them in a group. Of course I was not perfect in that as was my leader. I made a lot of mistakes and I still do. I am not a perfect leader.

Of course, not all of our leaders will be doing everything as good as we might do.
Of course, there is a risk of mistake. Jesus also knew that. The very history of the church is full of councils solving what is right and what is not. They also struggled with heresies. Gnosis was present there in the first century.

But the gospel was carried to our times with its unique DNA.
As we have entered a new year, and many of us like to reflect and come up with resolutions, I wish you courage in leaving the gospel in the hands of the people you are discipling, and trusting that Jesus is surely with them always, to the very end of the age and will enable them to overcome.

No Greater Joy

No Greater Joy

We were soaked! It had been pouring rain for 3 days! It was my first youth camp and I had been a believer for two years. Our guests from the US brought their tents but they were not made for this mountain rain. They were flooded. Some of us decided that we would crowd in and make space for all the guests to fit in our tents. We started arranging boys with boys in their tents and girls with girls in their tents. I went to the couple who were leading this group of Americans and I offered them my room in my tent. They were amazed that I would do that and sleep in the hallway of the tent. I thought that this was what a true disciple of Jesus would do.

Making disciples is one of the things that is so dear to my heart. I experienced it. It is something that even today I love to do. That process begins before they pray a prayer or submit to Jesus. A disciple is one who is learning to obey Jesus in all aspects of his life. It is a process, not a program. A disciple never graduates. Always there are new areas that the Spirit reveals where we need to submit and let Him have control. As I look back on my experience, I see three major components of discipleship.

  1. Life on life. Discipleship is more than a Bible study that you do weekly. Studying the Bible with your disciple is important but this is just one aspect. You need to meet outside of the formal study time with your disciple. Let them be part of your life. Have them over in your house for meals, games, and informal time. I learned a lot by being included in the life of my discipler, Floare. I saw her discipline her daughter. I saw her have a conflict with her husband and saw how they solved it. I saw her ask forgiveness. I traveled with her and saw how she acted when tired and under stress. I saw her give her bed to guests who came unexpectedly. She gave us rides to different places, let people borrow her car and things from her house. I saw what it means to put Jesus in charge of all you have. I knew I could go to her anytime with any question and she would never be bothered.
  2. Life in community. Discipleship is not just one on one meetings. You need to involve your disciple in a small group where others can speak into his or her life. Our disciples need more experience than any one of us can provide. Floare and Adi (her husband) put me in a group with seven other boys and girls. I was probably the youngest one but I learned a lot. We grew up as a community. We knew each other well and had the courage to correct each other. We had fun together, studied the Bible together, planned things together, and had Christmas parties together. We kept each other accountable and we grew up together. We were like a family. We cared deeply about each other and we called each other during the week to keep in touch. I still keep up with all those dear friends from that group. Our friendship goes beyond distance and time.
  3. Life on mission. Discipleship is not just gaining knowledge about Jesus. A disciple of Jesus makes disciples. A disciple is active and shares what he learns about Jesus with others. All of us from our community group were given responsibilities. We led the youth camp. We invited colleagues from school to the youth meetings and camps. We shared the Gospel with kids who did not know Jesus. We were challenged to go and find kids who need to be discipled. We were not just to attend the leadership group, pray, study, discuss and agree on what the Bible says; we were expected to go and act on what we talked about. All of us started our own small groups with other teenagers we found and invited. We spent time with our own disciples and helped them to take steps in their walk with God. We challenged them to also go and make disciples, and they did.

My life has changed but I still put a high value on discipleship. This year I started praying for God to show me who I should disciple. God put on my heart two women. I went to them and challenged them and they accepted. One is a professional from Zimbabwe, the other ran away from her pagan family who would like to see her dead. Both women are involved in communities with me. I want to help them go and make disciples.

Look around you. Who has God put in your path? Invite them to life on life, life in community, life on mission. What a joy to see your disciple discipling others in Jesus!
“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4

Home, A Place of Service

Home, A Place of Service

home churchWe 21st century Christians rarely connect our homes with a place of service. Most of the time when we talk about church service we connect it with a building called a church. But when we take a closer look at the New Testament we discover that homes were the usual places for service.

On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent on the disciples, Peter preached the gospel, about 3,000 people came to faith, and it is written that “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts”. Right from the beginning of the church, homes became the places of service.

But it all started much earlier. Jesus used homes (his own and many others) to minister to people. There are a few examples in Matt. 8:14-16, 9:9-13, 13:36, Luke 19:5 John 3:1-6, 12:1-9. It is written in many places that Jesus was teaching in synagogues. But don’t miss the fact that when He sent out the 12 apostles or the other 72 disciples He gave them very strict orders where to go and minister. In both Matt. 10 and Luke 10 Jesus told his disciples to find a home and stay there. The strategy Jesus taught His disciples was, to minister from a home.

When we read Acts we see how the Church was expanding through the Roman Empire. But we also see how the first Christians were using their homes for ministry. When Cornelius got an order from God to invite Peter, he invited him to his home where he gathered a pretty big crowd. When Peter was arrested by Herod, the church was praying for him in the house of John Mark’s mother. In Acts 16:11-15 we read about the beginning of the church in Philippi.

It all started when a woman named Lidia invited the apostle Paul and his friends to stay at her home. At the end of Acts we read about Paul’s ministry in Rome. Where? “They came to him at his lodging in large numbers.” “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” (Acts 28:23,30,31)

One of the key qualities of a bishop/overseer is based in the home. “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim 3:4-5) Ask yourself, how should we know how a man managed his home if we spend no time there?

We can start with our own families and then move outward to others: relatives, friends, neighbors, etc. Do you get the picture? Our homes could be great places for service and ministry.

My family consists of me, my wife and our three children. They are all grown up. The oldest is Paul. He is 22. Then Martha 20 and Agatha is 18. Right from the beginning we did many things with them at home to teach them about God. We read the bible together, we discussed it, we prayed together, we taught them different lessons from the bible, we worshiped God together, we opened our home for others to share the gospel with them, and we did much more. Today, all of our children walk with God and are His followers. I know it is by His grace but we helped a bit. We tried to model a good Christian life on an everyday basis. They saw us in different situations. Home is a great avenue for ministry starting with our own families and then extending to others.

Why is it necessary to write about the home? I am writing this not because I do not like church buildings. I am writing this because many Christians today have made the home an asylum, a castle where they retreat. I challenge you to place your own home on the altar. Is your home, your castle, available for the King’s service? It may be for prayer, bible study, worship, evangelism, or some other type of service. It is natural, it is biblical and it is very fruitful. In His hands, our homes can change the world!

My bitter-sweet relationship with statistics

My bitter-sweet relationship with statistics

I grew up under Communist Albania, where children believed they were the happiest in the world, but had never seen the world.

To be honest, I was happy. Even though we did not have many toys or clothes, we had a lot of friends as we played most of the times outdoors, in the nature.
I developed a love for arts, probably because we were forbidden to watch Hollywood, thus we were served with opera, ballet, classical music and classic films like “Le miserable” or ” Mozart”
I liked to read. I liked to paint. We did not have the fancy coloring that our kids have now. I would draw with white chokes, outside or with a stick in a ground. My friends told me that I was talented. I think I did well. At least I really enjoyed it.

My cousin, who lived right on the next building, loved to draw too. She started to go to the city painting club. One day I decided to join her with the purpose to join the club. The Pioneer’s House, this is how we called them in Communism, was cold and grey, kind of ugly. The painting class was in a big, not so nice room. There were about 20 students there and me. The teacher, a man at his 40’s, who looked like life had beaten him, with fuzzy curly hair, put in front of us two objects, told the students that they had 2 hours to work on them, and then left to enjoy his cigarette.

Nice start. The object was a white clay Hellenic ornament. As soon as the teacher left, I started my work. And after 20 minutes I was done. I looked around the classroom and everybody else but me, was still working. To my surprise they were not even close to finishing. I felt so proud of myself! To my greater surprise they had made a big rectangle and divided it in parts. I saw them stretching their arms, with their pencil up, eye blinking, measuring something and then drawing on their rectangle.

My cousin had a look on me and gave me that cheating smile. I gathered myself, stretched my arm, pencil up and tight in my hand, eye blinking, and then.. What do I do with that?

Later on, I realized that they were measuring the object in order to draw a faithful model of it. I was drawing a shadow model, something that looked very similar, at least to my opinion the shape looked the same, but the teacher and all of them would say that was not faithful to the model, it was not the exact thing. My other new friends had learned special techniques to achieve with excellence what was asked of them.

That day I learned that painting was science, and painting was hard work. It needed commitment and discipline. You could not ignore certain techniques if you wanted to succeed. And measurements were highly important. That day I decided to quit without starting! I considered myself as a free spirit artist, who could not be bound in rules less more in measuring techniques like arm stretched, pencil up and tight in the fist and eyes blinked! You know now that I never became a professional painter.

But that was my first experience or introduction with measurements.
I could go on with examples of how Communism helped me to hate measurements and what a struggle was for me as a young staff to fill stats. God is not bound in statistics. We could not measure His work. His Spirit worked according to His will, like the wind that Jesus mentioned to Nicodemus. I never forget that passage, as I came to Christ through the first 3 chapters of John. Another reasons I did not like statistics was that deep inside I was hurt. Because of my misunderstanding about the importance of measurements I felt like my leaders did not care about me, but numbers, results. Thus I would fill stats for them, not for myself. And I never liked that even though it made me feel good when I had high numbers to report.
One thing that I love about our walk with God is how he transforms us. He transforms our thinking and equip us with skills, so that we can faithfully accomplish the task that He has called us to do. In this process, to my surprise, I have come to love and appreciate measurements. Yes, it is true 🙂

Why?

They tell me the condition of my sheep. The bible tells us to know the condition of our sheep.

“Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds” Proverbs 27:23

They help me analyze the situation better and help me get a clear picture and understanding of where my time and efforts are spent and if they are giving results.

If I pay close attention to numbers, they tell me which tool is more effective in reaching others.
As a career consultant, when I read a client’s report, numbers are very important to me. I just cannot ignore numbers and metrics. And they make a difference in how to read the report and the kind of advice you give to your client. You can light his path or totally build up a big confusion and mislead him in another direction.
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And I believe measurements are biblical. God gave clear measurements to Moses to build the temple, and He equipped him and the workers He called, through His Holy Spirit with the knowledge and skills they needed to accomplish what was required of them. Moses built the temple exactly as it was asked him. Why? Because he built by respecting those measurements. He didn’t just build a tent, a table, an ark according etc. He measured all the time and consulted the model that God gave him and accomplished everything with the exact given measures. He indeed succeeded and the Bible records that.

“Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them” Eksodus 39:43

We too, like Moses, are called to God’s work in building His body, which is not a physical building but a spiritual one. We believe that our specific task that He has entrusted us is building churches that will multiply. Do we have to measure and can we measure what we are building? How do we measure it? If so, what do we need to measure in order to make sure that we are building the right thing and are not wasting our time, money and energy?

What do we need to do today in order to make sure that we are on the right track and are not wasting time, energy, human and financial resources in the wrong direction?