“If They Would Only…”

Ministry is a funny thing. We serve others because we care. Our deepest desire is that people would experience love and freedom. We desire for them to be filled with hope and their lives to be marked by peace. Obviously our desire is rooted in relationship with Jesus. It is out of a life that’s being transformed by Him that we serve others. At the same time, often the longer we are in ministry the easier it is for us to see the shortcomings in others. It becomes easier for us to see clearly the barriers to belief or life transformation in the lives of those we serve. We often find ourselves locked in to the “problems” that plague the church and hinder her from being all that God has called her to be. If we’re not careful though, our ability to discern these things can lead us to a place of pride. With great ease we quickly move to right answer and right action rather than actually caring for those we serve.

Out of “love” we say things like…”if they would only…” or “why can’t they just…” or even, “they need to understand…” I’ve said these words. I’ve thought these thoughts. And even though I can rationalize them as care for others, I often find that my bigger issue is that they’re not doing the things that I want them to do. Or perhaps they’re not believing the things I think they should believe. This is often just a guise for control. When we use the cover of ministry to control actions or belief, we’re actually not loving people at all.

Ministry is messy. People are messy. The longer I walk with Jesus the more I realize that my job is not to change behaviors or even thinking…it’s simply to love my neighbor. God actually takes care of the rest…in his time, in his way. How can I love well when I more concerned with getting them to do the right thing, when we know actions are nothing more than outpouring of a person’s heart? If I care for someone’s heart well and actually allow God to do the changing of things, it often leads to real transformation. When I only see the sin or distorted belief and push towards change of behavior or belief, well, that often leads to a fight. That’s probably because behavior modification rarely leads us anywhere.

To actually care for a person’s heart we must be filled with compassion. Compassion allows us to live with the tension of what is and what should be without needing to force anything. The only way we can actually live lives of compassion is if we ourselves have experienced compassion. This is probably why Jesus tells us to love our neighbor AFTER we learn to love God. That’s because the only way we can be people of compassion is if we have first received it from God himself.

When we show compassion to others, when we choose to love rather than control, when we sit patiently with people, we are actually pointing them to life in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is a kingdom in which we can trust God will act. Life in the kingdom is a life of compassion, a life of patience, a life of long suffering, and a life of trusting in the slow, intentional work of God to bring about transformation. This is where real change happens. When I push – I often push away from the kingdom. I am reminded of how Jesus interacted with the woman at the well in John 4. He didn’t start with “you are a terrible human being who sleeps around and makes terrible choices.” That probably would have shut down the conversation rather quickly. Instead, Jesus actually leads with compassion and care. The change in her heart naturally follows.

May I be a person who simply points people to life in the kingdom. May I show compassion when I’m tempted to show someone the “right answer.” May I resist the urge to simply jump to right thinking and instead care for someone’s heart by trusting God to do the changing. To be clear this doesn’t mean we don’t ever preach repentance or point people towards their need for change. But as I reflect on the life of Jesus I see over and over again examples of his compassion and care. The people whom he went to battle with, the Pharisees, were those who should have known better and claimed faith. As someone who claims faith, I must repent of having all the right answers and the right way of bringing about change in a person’s life lest I become like those Jesus condemns. May we in the church practice restraint and patience and a desire to love rather than control.

Dio è Amore

The past few months we’ve spent a great deal of time connecting with people and sharing our story and vision for ministry in Italy. As we prepare to launch this October one thing we continue to realize is, for most, when it comes to overseas missions, Italy, and western Europe in general, rarely come up in conversation. Most people think of Italy only as pasta, pizza, the Colosseum, the leaning tower and good wine. Few people ever think of Italy as place that is desperately in need of the gospel and the hope that it brings.

The reality, as it relates to ministry in Italy, is that less than 1% of Italy’s 60 million people are evangelical Christians. The majority of that 0.5% are in the southern regions, leaving an estimated 0.1% in the north. And while Catholicism is the predominant religion in Italy, many are leaving the church all together, searching for answers and largely turning to atheism, agnosticism and the occult.

There are over 100,000 licensed witches in Italy – that’s more witches than there are priests.

Italy, in all of its history, has never seen a spiritual revival.

Surprisingly, the Evangelical community has, in the past, faced much persecution and has been viewed as a cult. For the most part its been widely misunderstood by the religious culture of a predominantly Catholic nation.

In Italy, many missionaries will tell you, there seem to be three main challenges:

(1) Identity, (2) Unity, and (3) Training.

Evangelicals in Italy are (and have been) in a struggling minority situation. Christian identity has been largely defined not by who they are but by who they are not (e.g., not religiously Roman Catholic, not theologically liberal, not culturally secular). The overall perception has been that evangelicals are a cult. There is a huge need for Italian evangelicals to better grasp their evangelical identity based on gospel distinctives rather than what they are against.

Disunity has been sewn into the very fabric of this complex land since before the inception of Rome. This fighting and warfare has found its way into the church and marks many of the cities throughout the country. This reality means that very few local churches ever work together but rather, more often than not, work against each other.

Lastly there’s training. In struggling and small churches (which are most Italian churches), formation hasn’t been viewed as a priority. Most leaders are self-taught and self-trained. Cultural engagement is often shallow at best. There is a tremendous need for proper training and support. If leaders don’t emerge who are better equipped for ministry and better prepared for how to be faithful and missional in their vocations then little will ever change.

We believe God is doing a new work in the hearts and lives of Italians.

We believe a new generation of leaders is being raised up to bring renewal, reconciliation and hope to a country mired in despair.

We believe God is preparing the hearts of Italians who will birth long lasting legacies of faithful Jesus followers, and whom will be sent out to create fresh expressions of church, church planting movements, and other missional communities in Italy and throughout all of Europe.

We believe that when Italians walk in the ways of Jesus, and discover the unique areas God is calling them to serve, generations will be transformed. Leaders will be birthed. Italians will walk intimately connected to God, know themselves 
as His children, and live into their unique Kingdom contribution.

This is what we want to be about. This is God’s invitation for us. We can’t wait to enter into what God has in store for this great nation. But there is a lot of work to be done. And we believe, it starts with prayer.

Would you join with us and pray for Italy.

When you have pizza – pray for Italy.
When you have pasta – pray for Italy.
When you are drinking your cappuccino – pray for Italy.
When you open a bottle of wine – pray for Italy.

Here are a few specific ways you could pray for Italy:

  1. Lord, I pray that you raise up a grass roots prayer movement in Italy.
  2. Lord, I pray that you raise up strong spiritual leaders in the churches of Italy.
  3. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will build and empower the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Italy.
  4. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will encourage every believer in Italy to be a bold witness for Jesus.
  5. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will draw thousands of people in Italy to Christ.
  6. Lord, I pray that the youth of Italy would embrace Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
  7. Lord, I am believing you for spiritual revival in Italy.

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

God actually brings people through the desert. On purpose. Because He loves them.

Let that sit for a bit.

The desert.

You know, that place where you’re all alone. That place where there’s absolutely nothing around for miles. That place where wild animals are looking for their next meal. That place where your deepest fears and insecurities seep up from the depths of your soul because you’re left alone with them.

That place where no matter what you do, you don’t feel God’s presence and nothing turns out the way you thought it would. That place where you’ve done everything you’ve been told to do in the past: pray, read your Bible, listen to hymns about God, go to church and it just doesn’t work.

That place is where I’ve found myself wandering throughout this past year. To say that it’s been exhausting, emotional, and just plain hard would be an understatement.

And yet, being led into the desert was God’s purposeful and loving path for me to be formed in the ways of Jesus. And through it, I’ve learned a lot.

1) God cares more about my heart than He does about the results of my “ministry”

God used the desert to show me the places in my life where I didn’t love Him. He began to strip away any semblance of productivity and success. God made it clear: more than the number of people I lead to Jesus, more than the leaders I’ve trained and developed, more than the partnerships I’ve forged, He cares about my heart being surrendered to Him.

2) Often times I live like I’m a Christian Moralist

When I didn’t see the results and “fruit” of all my hard work I felt guilty and shameful. In order to cover those feelings up, I worked harder. But what God began to show me was that it’s not my job to take away guilty and shame. That’s Jesus’ job. That’s why He died. God began to show me what was in my heart. Spiritual pride. “I can do it myself.” Instead God pointed me to a place of love and humility; the way of Jesus.

3) You can’t read and pray your way out of the desert

Scripture is full of verses that talk about “waiting on the Lord.” We often think that that the longer we’ve been walking with Jesus, the more “experiences” we’d have with Him. We’re often told that we’re supposed to “feel” God’s presence all the time. And so it’s confusing, we often think that the more character/maturity we have in Christ, the deeper the experience of God we should have. When we stop having the “feeling,” often our response is to go back to what we know. “But, I’ve read my Bible, I’ve prayed, I’ve gone to church…why does God still seem so distant?” What I began to understand is that God’s desire is to take us to real places of growth. Thats the purpose of the desert, to expose one’s heart. God strips us of what’s worked before to draw us into deeper relationship with Him. God brings us to places where all we can do is pull up a chair and sit down while we wait for Him to form us, grow us, and lead us out of the desert.

4) God desires for us to be vulnerable with Him

I was raised as a good Baptist.  I could never imagine telling God I was angry at Him. I mean, I probably told God I didn’t like something once or twice, but never dared to express my anger towards Him for putting me in a specific situation. And yet, this past year I’ve spent more time reading Psalms and Lamentations than ever before. Let’s be very clear: David and the writer of Lamentations were extremely honest with how they felt about their subsequent situations. They held nothing back. As I began to share the anger, frustration, sadness, and brokenness that was in the depths of my heart, I in turn experienced the invitation of God to draw near to Him in love and comfort. He loved me despite the smorgasbord of genuinely negative feelings I had towards Him. Allowing yourself to feel emotions in the midst of your situations and offering them up to God who in turn responds with love is a recipe for heart change. And that’s what began to happen.

5) We need community to point us to Jesus when we can’t find the way ourselves

The desert is disorienting, exhausting, and grueling. When you’re in the middle of the desert it’s hard to tell which way is up. I’m grateful that in the middle of one the hardest seasons of my life, God graciously surrounded me with people who knew which way was up. When I couldn’t hear God’s voice, they listened on my behalf. When I couldn’t “feel” God’s love for me, they showed me the love of God. When I couldn’t see God’s faithfulness they pointed out God’s gracious provision. They prayed faithfully for me, listened intently to the cries of my heart, and sat with me when I needed friendship and comfort. They pointed me to Jesus when I couldn’t find my way through the desert. A community that reflects the person and work of Jesus transforms neighborhoods and lives. That’s why community is so important.


I have some questions…

This is a story of a man named Jose and a woman named Carmen. Jose and Carmen got married at a young age somewhere in Madrid. They soon started their own family and Carmen gave birth to a beautiful little son named Francisco. Now, Jose and Carmen took Francisco to church every Sunday. Jose and Carmen loved Jesus and raised Francisco going to church and reading the bible, even praying that he would grow up loving Jesus too. Francisco grew up and somewhere in his twenties simply stopped going to church. Francisco eventually married a young woman named Isabella and they soon had two boys of their own – Sergio and Juan. But Sergio and Juan weren’t raised going to church. Every so often they Francisco and Isabella would take their family to church on Easter because their grandparents wanted them to, but that was it. Sergio and Juan eventually grew up, married and had children of their own – both Sergio and Juan and their spouses raised their children outside of the church, and in turn those children did the same. And their children’s children did the same. Now 4 or even 5 generations removed from Jose and Carmen – how much do you think those kids grew up knowing about Jesus?

I think it’s safe to say they’d know nothing, absolutely nothing about Jesus…

And that’s the spiritual climate in Spain today. They are now 4-5 generations removed from families faithfully even going to church – that’s not even to say that they were faithful Jesus followers – just faithful church goers. The numbers for Spain aren’t great. In fact, they’re pretty grim. 1% of Spain is Evangelical Christian. 1%. And only 3% of all Spain even considers religion to be an important part of their lives. Among those 30 and under in Spain – the church has zero influence. ZERO. Add to that the staggering unemployment rate for those 30 and under that fluctuates somewhere between 55% and 60% and you have a recipe for hopelessness.

Talk to almost any young person (30 and under) for a period of time and the same things tend to crop up in conversation. Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life? Where am I going? What am I here for? Questions of meaning and purpose tend to permeate so so many of those conversations that I have with young people everywhere I go. While we were in Spain this past year on our visioning trip we had the opportunity to sit down with young a man named Jorge. Jorge was one of the few who actually grew up in the church. His family actually took him to church as a child. Jorge soon found himself in that awkward transitionary period between high school and university. As he left “youth ministry,” he soon found himself hitting the proverbial “glass ceiling.” His desire to serve and invest in the church was met with a firm – “there’s no place for you” response. This response led him down a long journey of: “well, if there’s no place for me here, perhaps there’s no place for me in the church, and maybe there’s not even place for me in Christianity.” At such a crucial point of his life, a time of searching and trying to discover who he was and who God’s made him to be – he found the church to be a closed and even cold place to engage this season of discovery. As he shared his journey with us you could feel the heartbreak in his voice. He began to look for answers to these life shaping questions everywhere except the church. In fact, he left the church entirely, and still hasn’t really returned.

People like Jorge are the people our hearts break for. The reality is that young people in their twenties are asking questions of faith, value, calling, and of life meaning and are doing it everywhere else – except the church. As we prepare to transition over to ministry in a context devoid of Jesus we are thankful for the opportunity we’ve had to train and learn how to create safe places for young leaders like Jorge to wrestle with those questions and engage those questions at deep and meaningful levels with Jesus always being the aim. We want to see young leaders learn how to do the same with their peers, with their neighbors, with their communities. We desire to see lasting legacies of entire generations following after Jesus pointing those who are to come after them in the same direction.

The truth is that if we, as the Church, don’t provide those safe spaces for young people to ask those tough questions of faith and purpose we’ll continue see entire generations grow up with the same perspective as Jorge. “If there’s no place for me here, maybe there’s no place for me in Christianity.” So how can we provide that space?

Here’s a couple things we’ve learned over the course of this past year:

Recognize that you don’t have to have all the answers – so often young people need a sounding board, a place to process. They don’t simply need the answer to the solution, but rather, need a safe place to process through whatever questions they have, which means I need to ask better questions. In fact most of their lives they’ve been told what to think and believe, helping them process things with the ability to reserve judgment will take you farther and deeper into a relationship than you could know.

Be consistent – investing in young people takes a tremendous amount of patience and faithfulness. Though they are sometimes really flaky, they appreciate someone who is faithful and consistently there for them. Honestly, this takes a lot of humility and grace as it can sometimes be really frustrating when you’re set up for a meeting and they cancel for “that other thing that just came up.” But as I show grace and the ability to be flexible (within reason) it really goes a long way to build trust and a place of safety.

Understand that I don’t have to beat them over the head with Jesus – this is sometimes the hardest thing for me to come to grips with. There’s a difference between pointing one to Jesus and punching them in the face with Jesus. When we’re dealing with life questions it’s important to point people to Jesus and what He says about given life circumstances, but I don’t always have to immediately go there, in fact often times I find it better to be patient and let them connect Jesus to said situation themselves. The reality is that people I engage with almost always already know my heart and passion for Jesus – when I’m patient and let the Spirit lead I find time and time again that Jesus bubbles out of whatever we are talking about, and God opens up the opportunities to engage those “Jesus moments.”

There’s a lot more that could be said on this…but just typing these things reminds me of how I need to be a better listener and my first response should be one of grace, love and truth, especially as I engage my neighbors…

Moving forward I am overwhelmed with excitement as we prepare to be people who provide space for young Spaniards to ask questions of faith, life, and how the two intersect and I pray they meet Jesus! It is our prayer that as we go, as invest ourselves in the lives of young Spaniards that a new generation of Jesus followers would come forth and birth fresh expressions of the Church in Spain that would leave a legacy of many many generations to come of faithful Jesus followers. The reality is that whether we are in Spain or anywhere else for that matter – as Christians our heart is for people to meet Jesus. That they would connect with the Creator of the Universe and understand why He matters to their life. If we can’t be a people who create safe spaces to help our neighbors explore those things we’ve missed a significant opportunity to be salt and light to our world.