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Discipleship

Prayer and Fasting… and Perseverance

January 17, 2017

Praying HandsORLANDO, FLORIDAThis week, I’m in Orlando with Every Nation pastors from all over North America (USA & Canada) for the North American Strategic Team (NAST) meeting. Over the week, we will be praying together and strategizing how we can strengthen our existing churches and campus ministries and plant more in 2017.

If you fasted and prayed with us last week, here’s a post-fast thought about prayer, faith, and perseverance.

Whenever I get to the end of a week of prayer and fasting, I am always full of faith for what God is going to do in the coming year. Sometimes, I see immediate breakthrough and answers to prayer during the actual week of prayer and fasting. But more often than not, I see God answering those January prayers in March or June or November. And sometimes, I see God answering my 2017 prayers much later—in 2018 or 2028 or 2058!

Perseverance is one key component of faith that we often neglect when we talk about prayer. As much as we need faith in God’s power when we pray, we also need faith in His timing.

Too often, we think that because God didn’t answer our prayers according to our timeframe, then God didn’t “answer” our prayer. At this point, many give up praying, assuming that they must have misunderstood God’s will. Instead of giving up, we need to realize that this is exactly the point where true persevering faith begins.

If faith in God’s power produces boldness in prayer, then faith in God’s timing produces perseverance in prayer.

In Hebrews 11, the most famous passage in the Bible on faith, the author talks about ancient heroes of the faith like Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, and he makes an interesting comment about their faith journeys: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13 NKJV)

These all DIED in faith, not having received the promises.

Look at Abraham. God promised him that he would become a great nation, but when he died, he had only one descendent. He died before he fully received the promise. God’s promises to Abraham did eventually come to pass, but they came to pass in future generations. Yet Abraham did not waiver in unbelief, or assume that God had forgotten him. As it says in Hebrews 11, Abraham saw the fulfillment “afar off” and was “assured” of it.

So here’s the post-fast question: In 2017, are we going to persevere in faith whether or not God answers all of our prayers according to our expectations and timeline?

Let’s not get discouraged or give up—Let’s pray boldly and persistently, trusting both God’s power and His timing for our lives in 2017 and beyond.

Discipleship

How Not to Fast

January 9, 2017

Chilli Cheese Dog

NASHVILLE — This week, churches all over the Every Nation world are beginning 2017 with a week of prayer, fasting, and consecration. I have been participating in fasts like this since I was a college student.

I’ll never forget my first fast.

For some crazy reason, Rice Broocks and I, and several of our brilliant friends, decided that it would be a good idea to break our fast at midnight at Sonic Drive-In with a footlong chili cheese dog. It seems like most of the fast, we found ourselves in a trance-like state, dreaming about chilli cheese dogs and longing for midnight.

I definitely learned my lesson on how not to fast (and how not to break a fast).

Here are a few more tips on how not to fast that I have learned over the past few decades:

1. A fast is NOT a Christianized diet. When we diet, the ultimate goal is body transformation. When we fast, the ultimate goal is soul transformation. When we diet, we are relying on our personal discipline to change ourselves. When we fast, we are relying on the Spirit of God to change us. When we diet, success is measured quantitatively (in pounds or kilos). When we fast, success is measured qualitatively (in relationship).

2. A fast is NOT a hunger strike. A hunger strike is all about defying an authority figure and getting him to comply with our demands. A fast is all about humbling ourselves before the ultimate authority and submitting to His will. In a hunger strike, the person fasting is the heroic actor who brings about change. In a fast, God is the heroic actor who brings about change.

3. A fast is NOT a spiritual performance. Fasting is not a demonstration of spiritual strength. Rather, it’s a declaration of spiritual weakness. Fasting is not about proving to God (or to ourselves) that we are committed disciples; it’s about denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Him. Fasting is not about demonstrating devotion; it’s about cultivating desire for God and His Kingdom.

As I have said many times before, I have a love/hate relationship with fasting. I hate having an empty stomach for a week, but I love how God changes me as I am emptied of self and filled with His Spirit.

So as we fast this week, remember that fasting is NOT about losing weight, or getting what we want, or proving how spiritual we are. It’s about God working in us and creating an even deeper desire for Himself and His Kingdom.

Blog / Discipleship

A Christmas Message: Don’t Quit

December 19, 2016

9509907779_18c35c33af_zEver want to quit – relationship, job, church – but deep down, you knew you shouldn’t?

Even though it would be easier to walk.
Even though you were wronged.
Even though it hurts to stay.

Maybe the marriage is not all you dreamed it would be.
Maybe the job is not what it was promised to be.
Maybe the church really is filled with hypocrites.

But for some reason, God will not let you quit.

So what do you do? Stay, or walk? Go for it on 4th and 20, or punt? Fight on, or tapout? All in, or fold?

What do you do when everything in you says to quit, but some faint, barely discernible still-quiet voice says to hang in there? (Don’t you wish God would speak louder or write His will on a wall or communicate in a way that is easier to hear understand than a still quiet whisper or an inner witness or a sub-conscience conviction?)

If you ever feel like you want to quit, but you know God wants you to not quit, I suggest you read the Christmas story.

The one in Matthew 1:18–25.

Summary. A man discovers his fiancé is pregnant. The baby is not his. She claims it is God’s. Yeah right. I’m out of here. He wasn’t bitter or vindictive. Just hurt. Confused. Done. And moving on with his life. But while he was sleeping, God sent an angel to tell him that the baby really was from God, and he better not quit.

An angel, really? How about sending me one of those every now and then?

I’m sure this guy still had questions. And doubts. And pain. And confusion. But he stayed engaged. He went for it. All in.

“When he woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded.” (v. 24)

Sometimes we just want to stay in bed and sleep it off, when we know we need to wake up and obey God.

Same question as before: ever wanna quit – relationship, job, church – but the Holy Spirit says not to?

We all have.

It will probably be a good idea to obey God. Every time I do, eventually, I’m glad I did.

Merry Christmas.

Blog / Discipleship

A Short History of Campus Ministry

December 12, 2016

NASHVILLE – Several months ago, I was invited to speak at our Every Nation Campus Staff Summit. I was supposed to inspire our 130 campus missionaries in attendance to embrace a vision to reach the world, not just their campuses. I am not a last-minute “wing-it” preacher. I plan ahead. But a few hours before my talk, I mentioned to my son William what I had planned to say. He responded by suggesting that I add some info about the Oxford Holy Clubs, the Student Volunteer Movement, and other significant student movements throughout history. William is a PhD candidate who lectures on Islamic History at Vanderbilt University and has taught church history in our schools of ministry in Nashville and Manila. For a brief moment, I attempted to add his history insights to my message before finally saying, “What are you doing tonight? Maybe you should just be the speaker, and I’ll introduce you.” After running that idea by our Every Nation Campus team, they all agreed that William should speak, and I should listen and take notes. Because so many campus missionaries asked for William’s notes, I prevailed upon him to post them here. 

_________
About a year ago, I (William) was asked to develop a church history course that would be taught in our schools of ministry around the world. Aware that a large portion of our School of Ministry students would eventually be campus missionaries, I thought that it was important to prepare a session that gave a short history of campus ministry.

After a few months of research, I was struck by one overwhelming fact: historically, campus ministry and world missions have been inextricably linked.

Here are just three examples.

1. The Oxford Holy Clubs: In 1729, Oxford students John and Charles Wesley founded a small group with other Oxford students that focused on Bible study, prayer, fasting, and the pursuit of holiness (hence the nickname “Holy Clubs”). In addition to their “acts of piety,” the small group of Oxford students also regularly engaged in “acts of mercy,” spending significant time ministering to people in the local prison. Though the group never grew beyond twenty-five members, the disciples who came out of that small campus ministry would have a massive impact in England and beyond. Perhaps the most famous member of the Holy Clubs was George Whitefield. After being converted and discipled as an undergraduate at Oxford, Whitefield traveled with the Wesleys as a missionary to the British colonies in North America. Whitefield spent many fruitful years preaching in the colonies and was a key leader in a revival that would later be known as the “First Great Awakening,” This revival transformed the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution and set the historical trajectory of American Evangelicalism for many centuries to come.

The 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

2. The Student Volunteer Movement: In 1886, evangelist D.L Moody led a summer conference for Christian college students in Mount Hermon, Massachusetts. Though world missions was only a small part of the conference agenda, the call to world missions captured the hearts of the students attending the conference, so much so that 100 (of the 251 in attendance) committed their lives to serve in foreign missions. One of those who responded was a Cornell student named John R. Mott. After graduating, he was part of the founding of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (SVM), a group whose purpose was to mobilize college students to give their lives to world missions. Though the SVM was closely affiliated with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), they linked arms with a wide variety of campus ministries and churches all across the United States and Europe, as they traveled from campus to campus recruiting for foreign missions. Their battle cry, which later became the title of Mott’s first book and the slogan of the famous Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910, was “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” Between 1888 and 1946, over 20,000 college students committed their lives to foreign missions through the work of SVM. This was and is still one of the greatest movements for mobilizing missionaries in the history of Christianity.

3. CRU (aka Campus Crusade): In 1951, Bill and Vonette Bright founded Campus Crusade on the UCLA campus. Their aim from the beginning was to reach the world by reaching college students. With a strong focus on campus evangelism and small-group discipleship, the campus ministry started at UCLA and quickly spread to other campuses around the United States, and eventually, around the world. One of Bright’s most effective tools for campus evangelism was the “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet, which has been translated into over 200 languages with over 2.5 billion copies in print. Another tool developed by Bright and his team is the Jesus Film (1979), which has been dubbed in over 974 languages and viewed by over 5.5 billion people! Just 65 years after their modest beginnings in Los Angeles, CRU has a presence in 190 countries around the world.

This short history of campus ministry should remind us that what we are trying to accomplish at Every Nation Campus (ENC) is not new. We are committed to rigorous small-group discipleship on campuses—so were the Holy Clubs in the eighteenth century. We are committed to engaging students in world mission—so was the SVM in the nineteenth century. We are committed campus evangelism—so was CRU in the twentieth century (and still in the twenty-first century).

The real question is this: will we keep our focus?

After sixty-five years, CRU is still going strong. And though the Oxford Holy Clubs do not exist in the same form, the larger fruit of that ministry was the Methodist and Weslyan church movement, which is still active today almost three centuries after its founding.

The one group that is no longer active is the Student Volunteer Movement. There are complex historical reasons for why an amazing movement like the SVM unraveled. But one moment in the story is particularly telling. In the 1920s, the SVM abandoned the slogan “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” Some thought the mission was unrealistic. Others thought that instead of evangelism, they should focus on social issues. Though the movement had momentum for a few more years, by the 1930s, the SVM was little more than a memory.

What happened?

They forgot that campus ministry and world mission are inextricable. Once they lost sight of the mission, they lost their reason to exist.

These examples should serve to inspire and caution a young movement like Every Nation. We want to reach every nation and every campus, but in order to accomplish our goal and pass the mission on to the next generation, we need to learn one thing from those who have come before us…

College students are not only our mission field, they are our mission force.

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership / Uncategorized

My Thoughts on the Election

November 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

HO CHI MINH CITY – Tomorrow will end one of the most bizarre and polarizing election cycles in American history.

The candidates from the two leading parties are deeply unpopular (with good reason). And Evangelicals are deeply divided over how they should vote—or if they should vote at all.

Considering that the Bible has little to say about electoral politics (they didn’t have elections back then), here’s some wisdom from John Wesley:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; and 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side. (From The Journal of John Wesley, October 6, 1774)

Whether you will be voting tomorrow in the United States elections or voting in a highly contested election somewhere else in the world, here’s how we can take Wesley’s wise advice to heart.

1. Vote for whom you think is most worthy. A simple yet often forgotten point about voting. It’s your vote; so you decide. Don’t worry about the pundits. Don’t worry about pleasing your peers. Don’t worry about pleasing your pastor. Vote for whom you think is most worthy—whether they are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or a write-in.

2. Speak no evil of the candidate you voted against. In an election season when most people feel that they are in fact choosing between the “lesser of two evils,” it can be tempting to justify your vote by simply describing how “evil” the other candidate is. But as Christians, we are called to a different standard. Our words, even when critiquing a candidate, need to be full of grace. And our attitude should be that of humility—recognizing that apart from God’s grace, we are no better or less sinful than even the most corrupt and morally-bankrupt candidate.

3. Do not sharpen your soul against people who voted differently than you. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say: “I don’t know how someone who calls themselves a Christian can vote for _______.” If you find yourself saying or thinking that, I would suggest that either your circle of friends is too small—or that you’ve spent too much time on the echo-chamber of social media, where you usually only see the newsfeeds of people who think just like you. I guarantee you that people in your local church are not all voting for the same person. Even if you’ve wrestled and prayed over your decision and feel that it is the best vote a committed Christian can make, know that other committed Christians, who have put in similar thought and prayer, will be voting for another candidate (Ed Stetzer has compiled a series of opposing viewpoints from prominent evangelicals that you can view here). Guard your heart from pride and don’t allow the vitriol and disunity of the culture to creep into the church.

As I have said to my church on many election days in the Philippines, we may have a new president; but Jesus is still King. So let’s live (and vote) like it.

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Leadership

Post-Conference Thoughts: Back to Work

October 18, 2016

Every Nation World Conference

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA.  Deborah and I just got back to Nashville from Cape Town, South Africa, where we attended the Every Nation World Conference with thousands of delegates from fifty-eight nations. For those of you who couldn’t make it, check out the recap video(s) and mark your calendars for the next world conference—coming in 2019.

I often find that when I return home from a conference, I’m re-energized to pursue God’s mission for my life and my church, but sometimes I don’t know where to start. There are so many new ideas running through my head and so many pages of notes to sift through. How can I begin to implement the global vision and mission in my local context? And how can I convey the big picture to staff and leaders in my local church who weren’t at the conference?

As leaders, sometimes it can be difficult to translate the momentum of a world conference into concrete action in your local church context.

My advice: keep things simple. Channel all of your energy and momentum into building strong and healthy local churches and campus ministries. Building a strong, healthy church and campus ministry is not complicated. Difficult—yes. Complicated—no. The starting point for a leader is to focus on the few things that really matter: discipleship, worship, and leadership.

Strong, healthy churches and campus ministries must be great in these three areas:

1. Discipleship. As I’ve said many times before, God calls us to make disciples. When we do that, He will build His church. To assess how you’re doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Are we actively engaging our culture and community? Are we consistently establishing biblical foundations—in both new believers and old-timers? Are we effectively equipping every member to be a minister of the Gospel? Are we empowering disciples to make disciples?

2. Worship. Though I haven’t written this book (yet), you might say that there are 4 S’s to worship—singing, sermons, service, and sacrament. To assess how your church is doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Do the songs we sing together as a church point us to Jesus and motivate us for mission? Are the sermons we preach theologically sound, culturally relevant, and Christ-centered? Does our “spiritual worship” (see Romans 12:1) include service outside the church walls? Does our worship prioritize and celebrate the sacraments of communion and baptism—or have they become empty rituals?

3. Leadership. As I’ve written recently, leadership development is crucial whether your church or campus ministry is small or large, growing or stagnant, new or old. To assess how your church or campus ministry is doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Are we actively identifying emerging leaders? Are we providing opportunities for instruction so that our emerging leaders can grow? Are we creating time for impartation so that we can pass on to future leaders the vision, values, and mission of our church? Are we making opportunities for internships so that emerging leaders can work alongside and learn from established leaders?

Allow these questions to help you focus your energy and post-conference momentum on the things that really matter.

Blog / Discipleship / Missions

Why GO?

October 5, 2016

logo-graphic-2-01-2016-1

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA. Yesterday was the official start of our Every Nation GO Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. Over the next few days, thousands of people will be gathering from all over the Every Nation world to worship God, to connect with friends, and to remind ourselves of our mission: to make disciples of all nations.

You may be asking yourself — can’t I do all of those things from the comfort of my own home? Why take the time and money to travel half-way across the world for a conference?

Obviously, there are plenty of legitimate reason why people can’t come. But here are three reasons why conferences like these are important (which occur every three years):

1. WORSHIP: Though it’s true that you can worship God in your own local church (or anywhere for that matter), there is something powerful about worshipping God with people who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, and don’t speak (and sing) in the same language as you do. If you’ve ever been to a GO conference, you know that we make it a priority for our worship to give you a taste of the diversity of heaven — where God is being worshipped by every tribe, tongue, and nation.

2. FAMILY: Though you can (and should) experience Christian community in your local church setting, there is something eye-opening about connecting with our church family from around the world. Whether it’s hearing a testimony from a believer facing persecution in the Middle East or simply grabbing lunch with a local church member from the host country (in this case South Africa), you’ll be amazed to see that despite our many cultural differences, we share a bond of unity that transcends national, cultural, and linguistic differences.

3. MISSION: Though you can remind yourself of God’s mission wherever you are, throughout the Old and New Testaments, there is a distinct pattern of God calling His people to gather together to receive instructions and strategies from Him about the mission. Whether it was Moses and the Israelites meeting with God at Mount Sinai or Jesus and the disciples meeting at the Mount of Olives, God often chooses to impart mission and vision to his people when they are gathered together.

I can’t wait to see what God does in and through us in the next few days as we come into His presence and are equipped and empowered to go out into the world to make disciples.

Blog / Discipleship / Family

Parenting Lessons from a Funeral

September 19, 2016
Me with the Fabregas family after the funeral

Me with the Fabregas family at the funeral

NASHVILLE, TN, USA. This past weekend Deborah, William (my oldest son), and I spoke at a parenting seminar at Bethel Brentwood. During the half-day seminar, we talked about the four E’s of parenting (sound familiar?) and tackled four big questions that every parent should ask themselves:

  • How can we engage our children’s world?
  • How can we establish strong biblical foundations?
  • How can we equip our children for life?
  • How can we empower them to pursue God’s calling?

I opened the first session with a story about a good friend of mine who recently passed away at the age of 77.

Salvador “Bomboy” Fabregas was a pillar of our church for many years. He and his wife became Christians in their late 40’s. One by one his adult children came to faith, and most of his eighteen grandchildren have grown up in our church in Manila.

When we found out about his passing, I was in Nashville, so I quickly booked a flight to Manila so I could be there for the funeral.

One thing I will never forget about the funeral was hearing his grandchildren talk about their grandfather.

One grandson talked about his memories playing chess with (and always losing to) his grandfather. Another referred to his grandfather as one of his biggest fans on the soccer field. One granddaughter talked about how her grandfather was such a good listener and was always making sure he was up to date on what was going on in her life. For me, the most poignant story of all was hearing a teenage grandson tearfully explain that while all his friends complained about their obligatory visits to their aged grandparents, he absolutely looked forward to and thoroughly enjoyed every visit with his grandfather.

Pretty soon a clear pattern emerged.

This grandfather was deeply engaged in the lives of his grandchildren—all of them, individually. He didn’t necessarily care about chess or soccer or high school drama—he cared about Carlos, Bea, and Daniel, and the other fifteen.

As a grandfather of two, I was blown away by the fact that my friend had eighteen grandchildren—ranging from their mid-thirties to their pre-teens—and every single one of them felt like the favorite. (Favoritism is destructive when one child or grandchild feels favored and the others feel rejected, however when all feel equally favored, favoritism is a thing of beauty.)

As parents, one of our most important jobs is to engage our children. Love what they love. Care about what they care about. Listen to what is on their minds.

It seems simple enough, but at certain stages, it can be really difficult for parents to engage their children. Maybe your son’s or daughter’s interests have changed to things that you know nothing about. Maybe your teenager is intentionally pushing you away. Maybe you a have a new baby in the family that is taking a lot of your time and attention. Or maybe you are simply too busy at work.

Whatever season of parenting we find ourselves in, let’s learn from my good friend Bomboy. Let’s stay engaged with our children (and eventually our grandchildren) all the way to the end.

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership

Why You Should Stop Searching for Authentic Community

September 12, 2016

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

TOKYO AIRPORT. A few weeks ago, my oldest son, William, preached a sermon at Bethel’s Wednesday night service on the importance of church community.

He opened with this quote from German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945):

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. [from Life Together (1939)]

The main idea behind Bonhoeffer’s quote is that Christian community is not about warm feelings—it’s about active engagement. I often hear people say they don’t feel like their church is creating authentic community.

The truth is: it doesn’t really matter.

Because our job is not to create authentic community. Our job is to participate in it. If you see the creation of authentic Christian community as the church’s responsibility, you’ll constantly be disappointed in your pastor or your church or even yourself. But if we see Christian community as an eternal spiritual reality—created and sustained by God in Christ—then we will be freed to love and serve and forgive even when we don’t feel like it.

So how do we participate in Christian community?

The answer may be disappointingly obvious. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I regularly attend weekly worship gatherings—or do other weekend activities take priority?
  • Do I faithfully tithe to my local church—or do I hold back in giving because I have an issue with the new building program?
  • Do I actively participate in weekly small group discipleship—or do I complain that my church feels too big?
  • Do I willingly serve at my church—or do I come only to get fed?
  • Do I thank God for my local church family—or do I fantasize about finding a better, more “authentic” church community?

Like our natural families, spiritual family is real whether we feel it or not—and whether we like everyone or not. We don’t have to create it. God already did that.

All we have to do is engage.

Blog / Discipleship / Missions

Multi-ethnic Ministry and Ministry Flexibility

August 16, 2016

hands Brown Smaller ResMANILA, PHILIPPINES. Last week, following a sermon I had recently preached on Luke 24:46-49, I asked the question: What does Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry look like in practice?

Looking at Peter’s first attempt at cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry (in Acts 10), we discovered that in order for Peter and the early apostles to reach every nation, they had to be willing to set aside their Jewish cultural (and culinary) preferences and eat every food. Peter’s willingness to accept Cornelius’ hospitality (and eat his non-Kosher food) was a crucial first step, but it was just the first step.

Peter didn’t stop there. He went on to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his household. And that’s when things got really interesting…

Remember, Peter was preaching the Gospel to non-Jews for the first time. He had never seen a Gentile become a follower of Jesus, and he assumed that anyone who responded to the Gospel would probably need to convert to Judaism (and be circumcised) before they could follow the Jewish Messiah. In Peter’s mind, the discipleship process looked like this: repentance, circumcision, baptism in water, and eventually, baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, it turns out, had other plans.

All those who heard Peter’s message were baptized in the Holy Spirit and immediately began speaking in tongues—before he even finished his sermon (see Acts 10:44-48)! The Jewish disciples who had traveled with Peter were shocked at what they saw. Not only had these brand new Gentile believers skipped the “crucial” step of circumcision, they had not even been baptized in water before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Peter was also shocked. But he decided to abandon his own ministry expectations and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, saying, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

In short, if Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry requires us to be adventurous in our eating, it also requires us to be flexible in our ministry expectations.

Imagine if Peter had been unwilling to adjust his ministry expectations and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Imagine if he had silenced the new believers from speaking in tongues. Imagine if he had made everyone (well, all the males) be circumcised first, then baptized in water a few weeks later, and then baptized in the Holy Spirit only after they completed the process.

How would this story of cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry have played out differently if Peter had rigidly held to his own ministry expectations?

Perhaps it’s easy for us (Gentile) believers in the 21st century to see that Peter made the right decision when ministering to Cornelius and his family. But at the time, what Peter was doing was highly controversial and shocking to many Jewish believers.

Spirit-led, multi-ethnic ministry often requires that we be flexible with our ministry expectations in order to reach people who are very different from us.

Here are a few modern examples of this from around the Every Nation world:

Example 1: Friday worship services in the Middle East

  • Though most Christians throughout church history have gathered to worship on Sundays, most of our churches in the Middle East hold their weekly worship services on Friday. Why? Because Friday is the day of the week when most people in majority Muslim countries have off work. If our missionaries were rigid about worshipping on Sunday, then few people would be able to come since most people work and/or attend school on Sunday.

Example 2: Discipleship groups in the pub in Western Europe

  • Though many American evangelicals and Pentecostals choose to abstain from drinking alcohol (this includes me), our missionaries to Western Europe have found that one of the best settings to make disciples is in the pub. Why? Because pubs have a different function in European society than they do in American society. In the eyes of Western Europeans, pubs are less a space of drunkenness and partying than they are a space of conversation and community—kind of like a coffee shop. That’s why many of our Every Nation missionaries find pubs to be a perfect place for small group discipleship.

Example 3: One2One discipleship in Japan

  • Though the One2One discipleship material has been an effective tool for teaching new believers (and even pre-believers) the basics of the faith, our missionaries in Japan found that the material—originally intended for a Catholic Filipino audience—assumed too much background knowledge about the Bible and the life of Jesus. Our leaders decided that to make the tool more effective in their context, they needed to rewrite the One2One book with a Shinto/Buddhist/secularist Japanese audience in mind. Among other things, this involved adding a “Chapter 0” to lay the groundwork for Chapter 1 on Salvation.

These are just a few of many examples of how our cross-cultural missionaries have needed to be flexible with their ministry expectations in order to do effective Spirit-led, multi-ethnic ministry in every nation.

Remember, the truth of the Gospel does not change, but how we communicate and embody that message should change depending on our ministry context.

So let’s learn from Peter and remember to be flexible and, most importantly, to be led by the Holy Spirit as we go and make disciples of all nations.