Yesterday, after a seven month hiatus to care for my dad and deal with some of my own health issues, another local elder and I visited the jail to check on a church I previously had been helping.
The first thing I noticed was around twenty new men were now in that fellowship, with only two of the original brothers still around (the others, as is normal in a jail environment, had been released or transferred).
The church, I was thrilled to see, had not only survived but thrived during my absence – with them showing a wonderful continuity of life from when I last saw them.
As I then listened to them openly share their hopes and struggles in the Lord with each other, and watched them encourage one another to love and good works (Heb. 10), I cried silent tears of joy.
Cynicism and lazy seem to go hand in hand.
Many “Christians” habitually express those qualities when it comes to the problems and challenges of our age …
Rather than make a difference, they use cynicism to justify laziness.
To put it bluntly, they are not my brothers and sisters.
I recently posted this update on Facebook.
Deciding to step down from jail ministry was hard, but I was deeply touched by the comments that followed on Facebook – especially from those who have first hand knowledge of my involvement in men’s lives at the jail over many years.
In the meantime, pray for Marianne, my mom and me as we bring grace and dignity to my dad as he closes out a lifetime of service to the King.
~ Jim Wright
“Missional” seems to have become yet another buzz word used by gifted leaders to rally God’s people around their own callings and motivations.
It all sounds so good, but it becomes a trap when the Great Commission is reduced to one man’s vision and mission – especially if all the other gifts, callings and Kingdom imperatives in the New Testament then get pushed aside or made to play second fiddle.
Last Friday was a holiday here in the United States, and Marianne and I opened our home, yard and pool for a day of family, friends and fellowship.
Fortunately, following my heart operation and extended hospital stay two weeks ago, several brothers in a couple of fellowships we relate to stepped forward and organized things – including a great cookout.
Afterwards, Marianne and I both said that this was one of the nicest days we’ve had in years – not because the past few years have been bad (they’ve been challenging due to some of my health issues, but not “bad”!), but because we’re seeing solid maturity arise among those we’ve been pouring our lives into.
Although we’ve always loved them deeply, now it’s actually fun to spend time with them!
In addition, we now have the profound pleasure of watching them reproduce their life in Christ among others.
As they step forward and do the work of mission, discipleship and strengthening our various fellowships, it seems more and more that God’s role for Marianne and me is to step back and serve through simple hospitality, unassuming encouragement and quiet mentoring.
Today I was with a group of men in the jail. One of them was very troubled because his son was getting into all kinds of trouble. He couldn’t understand why, because (he claimed) he loved his son and was always telling him he loved him.
I felt something stir in my spirit, looked him straight in the eye, and said that was a lie. He didn’t love his son, he loved his drugs more – and thus had not cared enough to be part of his son’s life as his son was growing up. This deeply wounded his son, who felt unloved and worthless because of it – and was now acting out.
Unfortunately, I lost my John Hagee “Bible Prophecy Secret Decoder Ring”, so I was unable to determine the true meaning of last night’s “blood moon” before I went to bed.
Within nothing more to do, I decided I might as well get a good night’s sleep, wake up in the morning, and get on with my life – just like normal.
Now that it’s morning, I see that the world’s still here – with its normal complement of good news and bad news.
What a bummer. I was hoping for something more exciting, given all the hype.
Until we understand that the Gospel preached by Jesus was the “Gospel of the Kingdom”;
That “Christ” wasn’t His last name, but meant “the King”;
And that He claimed “all authority” over all things,
Both in heaven, and “on Earth”…
I came across this quote from professor Karen Swallow Prior:
“Christ belongs in places outside of my heart, too – indeed, in all places.”
Yes, indeed –
Over every square inch of creation…
Over all nations, societies and culture…
Over all spheres of human endeavor…
Christ now boldly proclaims “mine!”
Do we minister “to” the poor, despised, destitute and abandoned…
Or do we open our lives to each other, in mutual ministry one to another?
Do we have programs “for” the poor, despised, destitute and abandoned…
Or do we open our tables to each other, in mutual fellowship one with another?
Do we “go” to the poor, despised, destitute and abandoned…
Or do we hang with each other, in mutual friendship one for another?
Do we “fix” the poor, despised, destitute and abandoned…
Or do we need each other, in mutual humility one with another?
This weekend, I met with one of several fellowships in our county that’s primarily comprised of men who surrendered to Jesus while in jail.
They are now out, and meeting weekly in different gatherings as they encourage, support and move forward together in the Lord.
Because they came to the Lord in jail, many of these men did not have an opportunity to be water baptized quickly after conversion. Some ended up serving the Lord – and the State of Virginia! – in jail for several years after becoming believers, and were only recently released.
As a result, they now want – and need – to be water baptized.
What is the church and it’s purpose, what is God’s grand design, and what is our calling in Christ?
Talking about those questions often is muddled by all the either/or, false dichotomies touted by various voices in the Body of Christ who want:
- the Living Word without the authority of His written Word
- grace without transformation
- relationship without discipleship
- fellowship without accountability
- favor without sacrifice
It often seems that these either/or false dichotomies are rooted in the prevailing existential, post-modern perspective of this age – which heavily influences many Christians and seems to stunt us from growing up and reaching out.
This produces a very self-content, “I’m OK, you’re OK” mentality that seldom breaks out of its insular cocoons.
With them, Jesus seems little more than a friend with benefits.
David Lim, an international leader in “organic” missions, wrote an important and probing article called Towards Closure.
Basically, he discusses (from a more academic but still very pragmatic standpoint) the difference between an “imperial” and an “incarnational” approach to church planting, the Great Commission and bringing Christ into new communities and contexts.
Like me, Dr. Lim is an advocate of organic (or simple) churches because he sees them as not only faithful to New Testament examples and principles, but as best able to fully express Christ in all His gloriously diverse ways in different communities and cultures.
According to him, when such churches emerge within the context of local communities, Jesus then becomes more fully “incarnational” (i.e., embodied and alive) in and through those communities.
He also makes another very important point: By allowing the Lord to adapt to each culture and setting, without imposing some intense, cookie-cutter concept of Him – and how His Church must look and operate – we avoid the trap of “imperialism”.
“Church” too often means forcing others into our own molds, in order to support the sensibilities and biases of our own cultural perspectives.
In contrast, we have been learning to let “church” emerge in all its splendid diversity, as the life of Christ takes root in the rich soil of different cultures and communities.
Last night, two other men and I met with one of the indigenous churches some of us helped start in the jail four years ago.
This fellowship is one of several that we have seen emerge in various housing units within the local jail.
That particular church (typically numbering six to eighteen men) has been a powerhouse for God, as the guys have learned to express Christ to one another through open, participatory fellowship.
Literally hundreds of men have come to the Lord because of them, and they’ve been effectively discipling each other in the faith
In addition, many, many other fellowships have sprung forth from them, as the men in that indigenous church – rooted in the specific cultural dynamics present in any jail or prison environment – are then transferred to other units and facilities.
Two new fellowships, comprised of about twenty new believers, stood on their own two feet today.
Two of us did some foundation laying over the last month, but today we just sat back and let ’em go – and they did! We literally had nothing to say, and there was no opportunity to do so even if we wanted.
Life was popping out all over the place among them. They were amazed, but I wasn’t. God moves among us when we let Him. :-)
Next week, I’m expecting the same with several more new fellowships we’ve been helping to start, comprised also of mainly new believers.
God is good!
Two recent blogs I liked are:
Giving in Simple Church, by Tim Day.
Like Tim, Marianne and I reject the idea that Christians are obligated to tithe or that the tithe carries over into the New Covenant. But like Tim, we still give at least 10% of our income because we feel that’s what God wants of us personally, as we help and serve others.
Tim’s blog provides some very balanced, practical insight on giving.
The Changing Face of Full-Time Ministry, by Alan Knox.
We need to move past the old mentality of “full-time ministry” and realize that we all are ministering Christ full time.
Both of these brothers, and their blogs, should be on your “must read” list.
Have you ever noticed how those who heavily promote organic food and natural health with the most enthusiasm and sincerity, sometimes look the most sickly and anemic and seem to have the most health problems?
They are reacting to real problems, but have turned their idealistic and seemingly good-sounding concepts into an all consuming idol – to the exclusion of real health which comes from a balanced life.
I’ve also see this among some who are the most ardent proponents of organic church. They’ve fallen prey to unbalanced reactions and aspirations which prevent authentic life and sustainable, healthy fellowships.
As I delve into the history and status of the organic church community in the U.S. (and to some extent Europe), I’ve been impressed with how some “church planters” are able to help diverse fellowships emerge. Each fellowship they help looks very different based on the context of its own local community.
Others, however, seem to forge fellowships that look strangely the same – and like them – from locale to locale.
Marianne and I have the greatest privilege in the world. God allows us to introduce Him to those who have reached the end of themselves, and then allows us to walk with them towards healing and wholeness.
We have the privilege of then seeing those who some consider the discards of society grow in the Lord to become mighty men and women in His Kingdom.
But the highest privilege of all is this: To call them friends.
This is the story of so many when we first met. Listen, and may the Lord move your heart to compassion.
When we teach folks to be the church, God’s Kingdom can’t help but ripple out into all sorts of improbable places through improbable people – impacting whole communities, towns and cities. Here’s just one related, amazing story, among many …