God is Doing Amazing Things around the World through the OC Global Alliance!

3 highlight graph 2015The Global Research Team, on which I serve, recently finished the 2015 Annual Report for the OC Global Alliance. Based on the information submitted by our field teams working in over 40 countries, we took a close look at three areas: personnel, countries impacted and ministry results.  We found surprising outcomes in each of these three areas.

  • With regard to ministry results, over 5,200 churches were started through the ministries of OC workers in 2015, almost double the number of churches started in 2014.
  • With regard to personnel, the number of workers associated with the OC Global Alliance surpassed 1,000 persons for the very first time. The news here is the large increase in the number of ministry volunteers serving alongside our teams outside of the United States. The number of volunteers working in the United States is up too, and it is interesting that our United States Mobilization Center has called 2016 the “Year of the Volunteer.” This link tells more about the “Year of the Volunteer.”
  • In 2015, God opened doors for OC Global Alliance workers to minister in 103 countries – the largest number in history and one more country than last year.

We are in awe of God’s unprecedented work!

Awesome Video: The Spread of the Gospel

I love this 90 second YouTube video that shows the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

Check it out for yourself at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gp-_ZsUagc

The spread of the Gospel from the first to the twenty-first century is a fascinating story.

It is a story of missionaries and martyrs, whose blood, said Tertullian, is the seed of the Church.

It is the story of kings and commoners, who both embraced the Gospel of the Kingdom and shaped the destiny of nations.

It is the story of amazing advances and as well as significant setbacks.

But most of all, the story of the spread of Christianity is God’s story – it is His Story – and of Christ, who promised to build his church and work through his people to take the Good News of the Kingdom to every tribe and every people in every nation.

Now that the Gospel has reached the ends of the earth, the next challenge is to reach the last peoples on the earth. There are just  6,649 to go.* Let’s work together to finish the last chapter of His Story.

*According to www.JoshuaProject.net, accessed on 2/21/2016, there are 6,649 unreached people groups.

How is God at Work in the World Today?

How is God at work in the world today? This is a question that several of us on the Global Research Team of One Challenge are working together to answer.  During the first quarter of 2016 we will gather information about what the 40 plus teams in the OC Global Alliance accomplished in 2015.  In addition to determining what they accomplished, we also want to discover how God is at work in and through these ministries. Indeed this is a more difficult task that requires divine insight.  This has motivated me to “search the scriptures” to discover how God was at work in the New Testament, presupposing that he continues to work in the same ways today.

A few months ago I started a series about how God is at work in the world today which is very much related. (These are the previous blog posts: On The Study of God’s Great Works Discerning How God is at Work God Opens Doors for Effective Ministry.)

I began with the thesis that scripture provide us with a useful framework to discern how God is at work in the world today.  I will mention, by way of review, two key ideas already developed previously, namely that God is at work in conversions and growing churches, and develop two additional points.

Conversions. Acts 2:47 says, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” What a good reminder that every person who comes to faith in Christ did so because God’s work!  So when we number those who were saved through the ministries of OCGA workers in 2015, we have in mind that God too was at work.

Churches. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” When we see the Church growing, either in number or fruitfulness or geographical extension, these are a good indication that Jesus is involved.  So we will tally the new churches that OCGA workers helped start in 2015.

This installment will develop two additional areas: God sends workers and open doors for ministry.

Workers Sent. Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2 NIV).  Here we find two complementary truths: first, it is God’s business to send out workers; on the other hand, we see that is our responsibility to pray.

A case study of how the Lord of the Harvest sends out workers is found in Acts 13 at the beginning of the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Saul (aka Paul).

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.  The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 NIV)

Here we observe that the leaders of the church at Antioch were praying; they were doing their part according to Luke 10:2. We also see two ways that God the Holy Spirit was a work. First the Holy Spirit “said” or spoke to the praying leaders at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for mission work.  Second the text says that the Holy Spirit “sent” Paul and Barnabas on their way. We might say that the “sending” of Barnabas and Saul was more accurately “redirecting” since both were leaders ministering outside of their homelands; God had other fields for them to open.

Thus, if this case study contains universally applicable principles, when workers are mobilized and sent into the harvest, this is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

Over the last five years within the OC Global Alliance we’ve been amazed to see God answer this prayer by raising up new workers from outside of the United States. Those countries that have received workers are now sending mission workers, and these now make up the majority of OCGA workers around the world. This trend within the OC Global Alliance is also manifesting itself on a worldwide scale. This is an exciting way that God is at work sending workers into his harvest field in our time!

Opportunities for ministry. Six passages in the New Testament indicate that God opens doors for effective ministry; two passages point out that God does so in response to prayer.

Let’s start by examining the two passages that highlight the importance of prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

In Colossians 4:2,3 (NIV) Paul writes: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Both passages speak to our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry, and just like the previous section, workers sent, we find complementary truths: God opens doors for ministry – that is his business; it is our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry.

The next four passages highlight the fact that God opened a door for ministry.  The first passage comes at the conclusion of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas.

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:26,27  NIV

Paul and Barnabas perceived that God had been at work opening doors during their first missionary journey to the Gentiles.

The next passage comes in the context of Paul’s third missionary journey where he writes the Corinthian church about his ministry at Ephesus. “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Cor. 16:8,9).

Luke provides an account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-20. The entire passage merits a close reading for it gives us further insight into how God was at work there. Here are several highlights.  “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10), and “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19:20).  Luke also points out that “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11).

Following his ministry in Ephesus, Paul moved on to Troas and perceived God at work opening a door for ministry there. Again writing to the church at Corinth, Paul says “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me” (2 Cor. 2:12).

The final passage from Revelation gives us Jesus’ words.

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:7,8 NIV

This final passage emphasizes that Jesus opens doors for ministry. It is interesting that we started this section with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 and concluded with Jesus’ words in Revelation.

How does this apply?

First, we need to pray. Our brief survey noted that it is God’s business bring people to faith in Christ, build the church, send out workers and open doors for effective ministry; it is our responsibility to pray earnestly for workers and open doors for ministry.

Second, we need to keep our eyes open and ask, How is God at work? Previously we noted the need to count conversions and number the churches. These are the more obvious fruits or results of God’s work. This particular study leads us to look for and quantify other ways that God is at work, which precede conversions and churches (or results).  We also need to look at who God is raising up workers for the harvest.  We need to look to where God is sending these workers.  We also need to look at how God is opening doors for gospel ministry.

Here’s how we keep our eyes open to discern God-at-work within the OC Global Alliance.

  1. We track the number of people who come to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of our workers.
  2. We also track the number of new churches started.
  3. We track workers associated with the OC Global Alliance. As previously mentioned, in the last five years we’ve seen a large increase of non-American workers within the Alliance.
  4. We track the countries where out teams have ministry. In 2014 OC workers were active in 102 countries – the highest number of countries in the history of the organization! Many of these countries have amazing “God stories” of how God opened the door for ministry. We might call the “open country doors”.
  5. We also track how teams are responding to pressing needs. In 2015 we also saw how God open doors for several of our teams to assist victims of natural disasters or women with crisis pregnancies, the poor, prisoners, children, refugees, immigrants and those who are sick. We might call these “opportunities to minister to needy people doors.” As Titus 3:14 says, ”Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”

So we look forward to collecting and telling each team’s “God stories” of how He has been at work in 2015.

I have not yet fully answered the question, “How is God at work in the world today?”  as I still have in mind several  points related to this theme that I hope to develop in the future.  Can you think of other ways God is at work in the world today? Feel free to share your insights as they may be helpful to others who are seeking to discern how God is at work in the world today.

Celebrating 150 Years of Protestant Mission Work in Taiwan

Taiwan Infographic2015 commemorates the 150th anniversary of Protestant mission work in Taiwan. This infographic highlights four fruits of Protestant mission work as well as a task that remains to disciple the whole nation.

  1. 4,101 Protestant Churches
  2. 3 Million Church Members
  3. 5.6% of Taiwan’s population is a member of a Protestant Church.
  4. Protestant Church Membership nearly tripled between 1989 and 2013.

These are impressive accomplishments, built upon the foundation of the first pioneer missionaries and the generations of workers who followed. Still there is much to do as 22 million people in Taiwan are not yet members of a Protestant church. So the included map casts vision for the task that remains.

This map shows how many new churches are needed by district to attain a church to population ratio of 1:1,000 or one church for every thousand people. From the perspective of Saturation Church Planting (SCP), attaining this church to population ratio would provide every person in Taiwan with easy geographical access to a Protestant church and is a significant milestone to reach in the process of discipling a whole nation.  For more information about growth of the Protestant church in Taiwan and the task that remains, see the report by the Global Research Team of One Challenge, Taiwan Church Growth Report 2015.

On the Study of God’s Great Works

As this new school year begins, I’ll be teaching New Testament Survey for the Juniors and Seniors at the local Christian High School, The Kings Academy. As I ponder how to motivate these young scholars to dig deep into the New Testament, my thoughts turn to Psalm 111:2, one of my favorite verses:

“Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them.” NASB

I’ve found this verse useful to introduce just about any class that I teach.  Here’s why.

On the Importance of Studies

I first latched on to this verse because it highlights the word “study.” Granted, I am showing preference for the NASB and ESV translations, which use the term “study”, because my aim is to motivate others to study God’s works. The meaning of the Hebrew word translated “study” has broader meaning than just academic study, as brought out by the NIV, “they are pondered by all who delight in them” or the KJV which says, “sought out”.  The root seems to go deeper than academic study to include meditation and reflection. So to “study,” “ponder” “seek out” God’s great works is first application of this verse.

Where we can Discover God’s Great Works

As I have pondered this verse over the years, I experienced several great “Aha!” moments when I realized where we can discover God’s great works.

The Bible

I’ve taught Old and New Testament survey classes before and have shared Psalm 111:2 with my students to motivate them to study the scriptures, because the Bible records the marvelous works of the Lord. A casual reading of the Bible will notice that it records God’s works.

In particular Jesus claimed to have worked the works of God. These claims are especially prevalent in John’s Gospel. For example:

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. John 5:36 ESV

 “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do”
John 17:4 ESV.

So the Bible is our first “go to place” to discover the works of God.

There is a collection of books called The Great Books, about 500 works of literature that have shaped Western Culture and still have contemporary significance. However, the Greatest Book ever written is the Bible. It has been read by more people, translated into the most languages, and has exerted the greatest positive influence on world history than any other literary work. The Bible is the greatest book because it records, the “great …works of the Lord”. And, yes, its author is God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16) – through the agency of human authors (2 Peter 1:20-21). That alone should make it the Greatest Book ever written!

So it is obvious that the Bible is a rich place to study the “great…works of the Lord. “ But there are other places where we can also discover the God’s works.

All Created Things

I once substituted for a natural science class and shared a devotional thought based Psalm 111:2 with the young scholars, motivating the them to study the physical world, because it is God’s creation, the work of his hands (Psalm 8:6). The Bible begins with an account of how God “created the heavens and the earth.” And God’s work was good, yes, very good. Psalm 19, written by David, begins “The heavens are declaring the glory of God.” Paul too refers to God’s revelation of himself though creation when he says “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Romans 1:20) Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who is considered the father of the scientific method, observed “God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.” No doubt Bacon’s understanding of the Creator motivated him to devise methods to study His creation. So then the study of the natural sciences, astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, botany and biology, can point to the “great …works of the Lord,” leading us to marvel at his power and wisdom.

Human History Points to His Story

I’ve taught the history of Christian missions on several occasions. Psalm 111:2 is fitting to share with those classes, as a trained mind should be able to discern the “great…works of the LORD” throughout the history of Christian missions. There is a German word that I love: heilsgeschichte – it is fun to say and means :”an interpretation of history emphasizing God’s saving acts and viewing Jesus Christ as central in redemption” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). In my opinion, the person who coined this term got it right. We can discover in history God’s great works. Human history points to His Story!

The Present Day Mission Work

Recently I used Psalm 111:2 to introduce a training seminar on missionary research. The mission organization that I serve with, One Challenge International, says, “We ask how God is at work, then we assist the Body of Christ to being God’s transformation to individuals, communities and nations.” Since we hold that God continues to work in the world today, missionary field research enables us to seek how God is at work today – if we connect the facts with the divine factors causing Church growth (1 Corinthians 3:5ff) – and then join Him in His redemptive purposes.

The mission information worker or researcher is much like a news reporter – relating the story of what God is doing today.

So my second observation from Psalm 111:2 is that God’s works can be found in many places: scripture, the created order, in the history of Christian missions and on the mission field today. We have plenty to study!

Discovering God’s Work is Delightful!

This leads to a final observation: studying the works of God is delightful. Psalm 111:2 concludes on this note: “Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them.” I’ve found great delight in discovering God’s work.

I remember when I first started to read though the Bible with spiritually open eyes. Wow! What wonderful discoveries I made that I was blind to in previous readings. This was also the same time when I discovered the highlighter. Vast portions of my Bible turned yellow as I marked those marvelous, life transforming passages. I discovered, as David wrote, that the scriptures “are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

Over the years as a mission information worker, I’ve spent hundreds of hours entering data into Church and Christian worker databases. Many would consider this mundane work, but I’ve found it exhilarating, after I realized that I’m not just entering data, but I am recording the great works of the Lord. Each baptism represents God’s work in the life of a new believer. Each new church has God’s fingerprints all over it. Every new missionary sent out, every new Christian Worker is evidence of God’s work. I’ve experienced delightful moments of worship when I’ve recognized God’s work in the data of Christian missions.

Motivation for Education

We might view the interaction of God’s works, study and delight as a spiral. The more we study, ponder, reflect on God’s works, the more we delight in them. And the more we delight in God’s work, the more we want to study them.

I hope that you frequently experience the joy of discovering God’s great works – where ever they are found.

Sharing the Great News of God’s Wonderful Works

Another motive for studying the great works of the Lord is to “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3 NASB). We cannot share with another what we have first discovered ourselves. As we turn to the New Testament, we realize that the greatest work of the Lord is the atoning death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead, which provides the basis for the forgiveness of sins. Luke summarizes, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46,47).  This succinct summary points to the greatest news of God’s wonderful works, and our 21st century obligation to share it with all peoples.

My Next Step

The New Testament has quite a bit to say about how God continues to work out his redemptive plan. So I intend to write a brief piece that identifies some of the specific items that a “trained mind” looks for to discover God’s work in history and the present.

20 Years of Fruitful Service with One Challenge, A Mission on the Move with God

April 7 marks my 20th Anniversary with OC International or as it is now known, One Challenge.

The ministry of One Challenge has experienced impressive growth over these twenty years.  In 1995, when my wife and I were accepted as career missionaries, OC had resident workers in 19 countries. At the end of 2014 OC workers were resident in 41 countries with ministry in a total of 102 countries. There was just one sending country in 1995: the United States. Now OC is a Global Alliance with mobilization centers in eleven countries.  OC had 301 workers in 1995; now the OC Global Alliance has over 730 workers, and the majority of OC’s workers are associated with mobilization centers other than the United States.

Over these 20 years I’ve heard OC’s leaders repeatedly say, “Each year OC has an impact on global missions way beyond what our size as a mission would predict.” Recently I brought several facts that support this generalization. The table below has five indicators of OC’s disciple making impact comparing 1995, the year we joined OC, and 2014.

OC DMI Table 1995 2014

Although the number of OC’s personal increased about two and a half times, the other four indicators of OC’s Disciple Making Impact in 2014 were six to fifteen times greater. Thus OC’s Disciple Making Impact is far greater than the mere increase in personnel would predict. Other factors contribute to the growth of OC’s Disciple Making Impact, and I would suggest that the primary factor is “God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Last month I participated in One Challenge’s Leadership Gathering in Colorado Springs, which began with the installation of our new President, Dr. Dean Carlson.  The tag line for his inaugural message was: God is on the move – and OC is moving with Him.  It is a privilege to be a part of a missionary organization what is striving to keep in step with the Lord of the Harvest. You can learn more about One Challenge’s vision for the future at www.OneChallenge.org.

Ten Best Practices of Effective Missionary Churches

I just finished listening to an interview with pastor David Horner on the Missio Nexus network about his book “When Missions Shapes the Mission: You and Your Church Can Reach the World.”  Horner based this book on a statistical survey in which 100 Southern Baptist Churches participated.

What caught my attention were the ten best practices of effective mission churches which Horner described. These ten best practices are grouped under three categories:

  1. Catching the Vision (Practices 1-4)
  2. Thinking and Acting Strategically (Practices 5-8)
  3. Missions with Staying Power (Practices 9-10)

Here are the ten best practices:

  1. Make sure that someone in the congregation is in charge of providing leadership for missions, be it the pastor, missions committee or a missions pastor.
  2. Equip, Inform and Inspire with missions information. It is common for churches to have an annual or bi-annual missions conference.
  3. Make Missions visible from the pulpit – a big challenge for pastors.
  4. On the job training: Give a high priority of sending people on short term trips, praying that a tithe will become long term workers.
  5. Priority in establishing partnerships with indigenous leaders.
  6. Identify and assess candidates and match candidates with appropriate opportunities.
  7. Adopt a people group. Nothing focuses prayer and action like having a specific target!
  8. Have a way to plant churches where none exist. Don’t just sent people on short term trips. Have a strategy to actually establish disciple making churches where none exist.
  9. Have personal relationships with workers on the field. This will involve communication, prayer, visits and much, much more.
  10. Cultivate a generous giving community.

In my opinion, these seem like excellent “best practices”. Which are practiced by your church? What ideas do these ten best practices spark in your mind? Are there any best practices here that could be implemented in your context? What might be one or two action steps?

David Horner’s book, “When Missions Shapes the Mission: You and Your Church Can Reach the World,” can be purchased on Amazon.