Mar 30, 2020
In uncertain times, it’s important to remember the power of hope in the midst of mass anxiety. Tune into Faith>Fear every Monday and Thursday to learn how people with all kinds of perspectives are coping through quarantine, social distancing and COVID-19, and beyond.
Clinical psychologist Karissa Christian has a word for you—BOLD. It’s not only an adjective to achieve but also stands for a process. B is for Breathe, a reminder to stay calm. “...You can be the biggest servant to other people [by] making sure that, first and foremost, you’re replenishing yourself and then you’re seeking out to help others,” says Karissa.
O stands for Observe, monitoring your emotions in order to learn about yourself. “If you’re someone that’s struggling, you’re not alone and it’s OK. It’s OK to be scared and lonely and feel overwhelmed. And it’s OK to ask for help.”
L stands for Listen, hearing your values, conscience, and the Holy Spirit in all situations. As II Corinthians 4:18 puts it, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Finally, D stands for Decide, choosing an action while taking all the previous steps into account. “How can I act in alignment to honor my feelings but also connect them with my values?” asks Karissa. While the world seems to spin out of control, God still grants us the strength to stand boldly.
Return next week to see our interview with Dave Stewart whose life has seemed somewhat like Job’s during the tumultuous year of 2020.
“Embrace whatever degree or suffering during something like this,” says Kirk Hayes. “Embrace that suffering because it’s always in the kingdom. It’s always joy and pain together, parallel tracks.” For Kirk this has been true in multiple ways during the past months, good and bad coming together to create something new.
Some forms of suffering are small, he says, like his loss of taste for the past three months since contracting COVID-19. Other things are significant but have developed advantages, like the innovation experienced in his ministry as president of South Houston Bible Institute, which has launched them into Internet courses for people worldwide and not just locally. Yet other things have afforded them more joy during this chapter, like the presence of children and grandchildren that usually live overseas.
With each situation, however, Kirk sees that Christians are not meant to simply hang in there and get through the worst. God is doing something greater. “I don’t want to waste this opportunity to grow deeper in some way during this time that I’m without something that I normally hold dear.” As small as the taste of chocolate or as great as the presence of a loved one, God leverages any absence to help us grow.
To learn more about Kirk’s ministry at South Houston Bible Institute, visit www.shbi.org.
“...If people are spending time in the digital world, we have to be there where they are, giving them hope, offering them meaning and life through Christ.” That’s how Clyde Taber, director of Visual Story Network, sums up their purpose. When there are 8.5 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, how can the church not use the Internet as a mission field?
However, the mission doesn’t stop at online communication but should extend to offline connection. “[The digital world] can be our on-ramp… In an ideal world, find a way to bring [seekers] into real-world relationships.” So while Clyde believes that Zoom has earned a Nobel Peace Prize for holding society together these days, he’s ultimately more excited that it can lead to many connections that will be carried on into coffee shops, house churches, and beyond.
As much as Clyde champions media to spread the gospel worldwide, he knows that none of us are off the hook individually. It’s up to each of us to make disciples. “One of the greatest joys on the planet is to be able to invest your life in a small way or in a great way to help somebody become more like Jesus. Not enough people are doing that.”
Take Clyde’s discipleship challenge at www.visualstory.org/twelve.
When you sit in a counselor, professor, and actor’s chair like Karl Wendt, you have ample opportunity to observe what people are learning from a time like this. The following are just a few lessons Karl mentions:
Slow Down: “Suddenly people are realizing the value and the beauty of slowing down a little and looking at the people in the eye and valuing that contact when you can.”
Stay Connected: “We don’t need to practice social distancing. We need to practice physical distancing… Because of Facebook, and because of Zoom, and phones, there are so many ways to stay connected socially. And we hunger for that. We need that.”
Think of Others: “What we’ve got to do is find ways to get the people that are not creative enough...maybe [they] don’t have Internet, or they don’t have a really fancy phone. And so where are those people that have been accidentally marginalized?”
Use these tips as a scorecard–what are you doing well, and what needs improvement? Wherever you’re at, remember this last tip: “Go ahead and focus on... the things that need change, [but] always balance that with at minimum 50% looking on the bright side.”
As its name implies, Team Expansion seeks the growth of the church in the most effective ways. “...What we try to do is just multiply disciples, try to multiply groups or simple churches among unreached people everywhere,” says founder and President Doug Lucas. “That’s essentially what we consider to be our mandate.” But how was their mandate affected by a global pandemic?
Even before COVID-19, Team Expansion faced the challenging task of seeking out unreached people groups. “...The church kind of reaches a barrier, a wall, and in order to reach that neighboring tribe, we come out to design a specific or a contextualized strategy that focuses on them specifically.” Fortunately, the pandemic acted not so much as a barrier but a gate to a new emphasis of online distribution.
As one example of the Internet’s impact on ministry, Team Expansions’s Zúme, a disciple-making course, now has over 25,000 participants in nearly 4,000 active groups because it entered the realm of Zoom. Though this approach started with the pandemic, it will not end with it. “It does away with the old-fashioned handing somebody a DVD and makes a kind of a flat earth so that we can now destroy the walls of geography and share Christ with people all over the world.”
In the stacks of the Seth Wilson Library at Ozark Christian College, you may well find Jessica’s workspace right among them. In this sense and many others, she is right in the middle of things. As a professor, administrator of Ozark’s Academic Resource Commons, and mother of a college Freshman she is well-positioned to help students through a difficult time. “We’re enough months into this that, yeah, ‘just grin and bear it’ isn’t going to do it.”
When it comes to coping strategies for these times, Jessica thinks it’s important not to just step back or sweep things under the rug. “God doesn’t ask us to be robots. He doesn’t ask us to disengage from our emotions. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge our emotions, but then let’s take them to him.” This can be accomplished through conversations with others and with God about our honest feelings and perceptions of our experiences.
Could it be that God is actually ministering to today’s youth through their challenges in a unique and remarkable way? “...If they can, you know, be born post-9/11 and live through things like this,” reflects Jessica, “there is a whole lot of potential for this generation to be super resilient.” To her, this is not a time for despondency but for great hope.
The way you think sets your path. Take it from Andrey and Anya Goryainov. Andrey has authored books on critical thinking and the scientific method. While many do not often exercise these mental skills, Andrey and Anya see the pandemic offering a new opportunity to reengage them. “This stressful time makes people ask questions about the basics, about the foundation of life and its true values,” they write.
For those in Ukraine, however, the pandemic has only added a layer of stress to a region that was already in a difficult position. Through an invasion in 2013, ongoing conflict at the eastern border, and the election of a very different administration last year, everything is up for reevaluation. “Changes in Ukraine will take place when each citizen starts treating all the data and information critically … not only from the rational and practical point of view but also in the light of moral values.”
At the same time, Andrey and Anya recognize that God sometimes urges choices that fly in the face of deliberate, precise thought, including the ones that led them to adopt seven children in need. “Looking back, we understand that our decision to adopt kids was not so rational as it was a leap of faith… We have never regretted our decision.”
The cassette tapes weren’t working. Missionary Frank Preston had based his media evangelism strategy on theory and research, but he realized there was something that he needed to relearn. Seeing that the strategies of Islamic extremists seemed to be very effective he decided to study them for missions application. When the Department of Homeland Security caught wind of this and came alongside, it was clear there was significant potential in this research.
What Frank discovered had big implications. “...Media or any type of communication, broad-based communication, is better at identifying than it is for persuading people,” says Frank. “So that changes everything we go about doing.” The cassettes he had tried to use sought to convince listeners about Jesus, but that was the wrong goal entirely.
Rather than presenting an argument for Christ, media can much more effectively guide seekers to the next step. “From the harvest will come the harvesters, so no longer will the professional workers be the harvesters. It’s going to be the individual who’s running his own house church movement.” In rethinking this strategy, we rely much less on our influence and much more on God’s call on the hearts of those who are open to his truth.
“For ten weeks in a row when I would preach, I would sing to the church solo,” recalled David Young, pastor of North Boulevard Church of Christ. “I don’t even know how to sing. I just wanted them to know I’m here, I’m not leaving, I’m not going anywhere.” That’s the kind of heart the pandemic has demanded of church leaders, a willingness to your commitment by bold action.
Even before the pandemic, however, North Boulevard took the stage to sing when they accepted a specific call from God. They felt led to make disciples and plant 60,000 churches when they had not even started one beyond their home congregation, but the need was undeniable. “...You can have all sorts of missions, but if you’re not making disciples, this is the last generation that’s going to share your mission.”
However, there’s another simple song of boldness that David believes each Christian must sing. Plainly, this is to respond to the word–not just learn from it, but to do what it says. “Following Jesus’ teachings of forgiveness is not bondage. It’s liberating. So I want to encourage North Americans to recover this gift, the beauty of obedience.” The lights are up. The music has started. It’s time for your solo.
Hear more from David Young in his book King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience, available in bookstores and on Amazon.
If you turn on Trinity Broadcasting Network to watch “Huckabee,” it is producer Andy Freeman’s job to ensure that you receive three valuable things. First is information which is often dominated by politics and COVID these days, though they are careful not to merge the two. As Andy says, “Both parties and whoever’s in the middle have taken the COVID-19 issue and politicized it … Medical things should not be used for political purposes.”
Entertainment is the second benefit that Andy makes sure you’ll receive from the show, and it’s one that’s close to his heart. While “Huckabee” often features musicians, wholesome comedy often has a place as well, just like it does on Andy’s social media feeds. “For me, you know, humor is a lingua franca. I was like that when times were better. I can’t not be myself when times are more difficult.”
Last but not least, Andy helps keep inspiration at the heart of Huckabee. While this comes from well-known pastors or stories from everyday folk on the show, Andy finds inspiration in truly knowing the Scriptures. “They are in your mind, in your heart, and we can bring those back to light without having to jump on our search engines. It’s a part of a deeper, and broader, and more vivid and lively Christian walk.”
To watch full episodes of “Huckabee,” tune in to Trinity Broadcasting Network or visit the show’s Facebook page and website.
Experience Life Church had reached its goal early, bringing 10,000 people to Christ in only eight years instead of ten. It was then that they started praying, in the words of pastor Chris Galanos, a dangerous prayer: “What’s the prayer that you want us to pray, not what prayer can we make up to pray? Lord, what’s on your heart?” The answer was not another 10,000 but a million.
To reach this goal, Experience Life knew they had to leave traditional church behind for disciple-making movements. The cost was lower attendance and giving that led many of the church’s staff to pick up second jobs, a move that turned out to be a blessing. “By becoming bivocational, we were basically saying to the people that we were talking to, ‘Hey, you don’t have to be full-time in ministry to be a disciple-maker and a church planter.’”
With 78 churches internationally, Experience Life is on its way to success. “If we continue to raise sails for movement, ...if the wind of the spirit blew into these raised sails, there is no doubt in my mind that we could see a million in the next ten. ...Whether we will or not is up to the Lord.” Are you ready to pray your own dangerous prayer?
“This is happening globally,” says Stephanie Freed. She wasn’t referring to COVID-19, but an outbreak of another kind. “This is happening here in the US, and it’s happening all over the world—a huge epidemic of exploitation happening to our children.” The epidemic is human trafficking, a phenomenon that is greater now than at any time in history.
Rapha International, the organization where Stephanie serves as CEO, seeks to end trafficking and sexual exploitation one child at a time. Their mission has only become more complex under the shadow of COVID-19 in which human trafficking has been able to hide and grow. In developing countries like those where Rapha works, day-to-day survival may have become hour-to-hour, and increased time online has fueled trafficking entry points and pornography consumption.
This epidemic within the pandemic makes for dire circumstances, but anyone can be part of the solution through self-education and advocacy. Stephanie even attributes the growth of Rapha to the championing of such efforts by today’s youth. Yet, she has one more word of advice: “If you see something, say something. If there’s any kind of instinct in you that this child might be in trouble, … make that call because it will save their [life].”
Jeff Vines has served as a missionary in Zimbabwe and in New Zealand, but he believes the most difficult field he’s experienced is much closer to home. He ministers at ONE&ALL Church outside of Los Angeles, where COVID restrictions are high and churches are under a microscope. “I knew that all of our neighbors were watching all of our campuses to see if we really loved ourselves or if we loved them too,” shares Jeff.
Though COVID has caused plenty of controversy about churches nationwide, it has also played into one of ONE&ALL’s greatest growth points—online community. “This is the future. This is the way we’re going to reach a generation who may never come through the front doors.” And this generation thrives on an open forum that they can access from home, has its own ministers, and actively answers spiritual questions.
Since earlier this year, the online community has become much more through community—groups gather at home for service watch parties, prayer, and meals on a weekly basis. “I don’t want to go back to where you’re not in community and you’re just using church an hour and a half on Sunday to get a spiritual buzz.” Only God can use a time of social distance to deepen faith and bring his people together.
Much has been said about the medical and economic effects of COVID-19, but the devastating social effects of the virus have not been treated with the same urgency. Jay St. Clair has a particular name for our current context: “We call them social deserts … where you do not have the community or the relationships to sustain you within a crisis...”
Jay is executive director of God’s Resort, a transitional housing ministry that does much more than shelter the homeless. “We have 39 homes in a neighborhood that we use as a tool to help people, through a community of Christ, find freedom from their past and reach their potential as a child of God.” The physical need of roofs over heads is in focus, but the social need of community is seen as a central solution to that issue.
Not everyone at God’s Resort succeeds all the time, but Jesus makes the difference. “If you come to Jesus, you’re going to spiral up. You’re not going to spiral down… And it may seem like, at some point, you are failing, but that’s not possible. God redeems, and he uses everything.”
“We have a 1,200-seat auditorium, 435 parking spaces, and we feel like we serve an area of about 300,000 people,” says pastor Roy Moran. “...We couldn’t offer enough services in a week to get them all there.” Yet, these 300,000 fall in what Roy calls his church’s Circle of Accountability, an area where they claim responsibility for the lost.
Sundays weren’t getting the job done before COVID necessitated a different approach. That’s why Shoal Creek Community Church started to see their congregation as a hybrid church, offering attractional services but also cultivating a network of micro-churches. It’s about “keeping track of who were the people that were most vulnerable in their neighborhood, creating this social safety net at a micro-level…”
In order to truly exercise responsibility for our Circle of Accountability, Roy believes we need to face a hard truth. “We have the spiritually obese people that know far more than they’ve ever done, and they use knowing to overcome some guilt, I think, maybe because of the doing.” Want to step beyond knowing Christ and into following his example and commands? Maybe it’s time to draw your own circle.
A pandemic year doesn’t seem like the easiest time to lead a conference of thousands, but the International Conference on Missions’ president Jeff Vines thinks it’s more fitting than we realize. “...When everyone’s pausing to consider the future and the rhythms of their lives,” Jeff asks , “how about pausing at ICOM and saying, ‘What is the message that we’re really taking out?’”
This question will be put into particular focus at the Student ICOM (SICOM) in which students will physically gather (or watch online) on Saturday, Nov. 21. “...If I had a teenager, I would make sure they got to Indianapolis this year... because there are some questions that we have in the Christian world, and we want to know how to relate well without repelling people.” Ravi Zacharias International Ministries will lead students to consider how to parse sensitive social topics with their peers.
Before we pause at these events, however, now is the time to also pause in prayer as the conference gears up for next month. “...Pray that somehow during the course of this entire challenging event of ICOM,” Jeff requests, “that the church will remember that God does his best work when things… seem difficult to overcome.” With God’s help, ICOM 2020 could be the most active pause we’ve ever taken.
For more information about ICOM or to register, visit theicom.org.
It was a 50¢ T-shirt on a thrift store rack, but its message seemed priceless to Lydia Florence. In bright blue lettering, it reads, “Know Your Worth.” It may be a simple task, but it’s easy to forget in the fog of chaos. “...We try to find our worth by the things we can control,” observes Lydia, “or we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others.” Yet, our worth is not derived from such things.
The knowledge of our worth is something to be shared, though we often keep it locked away in church gatherings. Lydia feels that our current challenges are teaching us to take courage and invite others into our lives. “There’s a lot of people who would be very willing to walk into my home or your house who might never walk through the doors of a church building.”
Before we can share it most effectively, though, the knowledge of our worth must be held tightly in our own hearts. Know this and remember it: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less. You are worthy, and you are whole because he says so…”
Hear Lydia share more on this topic in this reflection video.
Opening your social media feed can be a treacherous decision these days–sensitive topics, opinions, and vitriol abound. However, so much communication happens on these platforms that people like Jennifer Johnson, Chief Communications Officer at Johnson University, have to live with it constantly. And like many of us, she’s come to a new understanding of herself: “As I observe the many things that are going on in our nation right now . . . I’ve realized that there is a lot more anger in me than maybe I wanted to admit.”
Jennifer cites not only reactions to the pandemic but also social justice and political issues as pitfalls that can cause extreme frustration. Sometimes she just feels the need to back away from it all. “ ...Feelings are crazy and uncontrollable and they are what they are. If there are certain days where I just can’t even with all of it, I just don’t.”
Yet, when you realize that some of your frustration is directed towards brothers and sisters in Christ with very different opinions or even value systems, a more active solution becomes necessary. “I think the anger comes from elevating the importance of some of these issues,” says Jennifer. “And they are important issues, but they’re not as big as [the kingdom].” When you just can’t even, sometimes you must.
When the velvet ash tree loses a leaf in its desert climate, a scar remains in the shape of a smile. This metaphor of strength and endurance is the namesake of Velvet Ashes, an organization that encourages women ministering outside their passport countries. “...Women make up about 75% of those who serve overseas,” says executive director Denise Beck. “And if we can impact them to stay and be effective, we’re going to really push the boundary of the kingdom all over the world.”
Through Velvet Ashes, online retreats, blogs, and other resources encourage women but also give them the opportunity to connect with others. “Velvet Ashes basically provided the virtual living room for them to get together and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been through that before. It’s hard, but let me tell you what helped me.’”
Though the ministry recently celebrated eight years, could it be that Velvet Ashes was designed for a worldwide crisis such as this? Yes, but no. “Gathering like-minded women who are serving globally together to encourage and share with each other has just been so transformative, and it really has infused women with courage.” The need for that kind of courage and community may be in focus now, but it’s always essential.
Middle school was not Jason Cravens’ preferred field of education, but his role as principal at East Middle School in Joplin, MO is his favorite job yet. “...It legitimately is an awkward age to live through,” Jason admits, “but as an adult dealing with those awkward aged kids, it’s a pure joy because the reality is they just want to be loved and accepted.”
Parents of junior highers may or may not always feel that pure joy, but Jason has been thankful that they have been gracious during a challenging period for educators. He has even seen parents grow in understanding beyond the current circumstances: “I really think since COVID happened, parents have a greater appreciation for school.”
The truth is that COVID-19 has revealed a need for greater maturity in us all—students learn and develop, parents are finding greater patience, and Jason thinks we must all reexamine our priorities. “You’re called not to live comfortably, not to live in luxury, not to expect the world to stay the same. You’re called to live for Christ.” In this life, we’re all at that awkward age, but times like these can help us grow.
An often overlooked field of ministry is the ministry field itself—as pastors care for their sheep, who will care for the shepherds? Don Wilson retired from ministry at Christ’s Church of the Valley two years ago but has also retired to a new ministry with Accelerate Group. Pastors and their wives are strengthened and encouraged through seminars and coaching from Don and his wife Sue.
The pastor’s position is a difficult one, as is the pastor’s wife’s. Yet, Don is also keenly aware of the great challenge newly retired pastors are facing. “...They have a lot of spare time, the friendships have all changed, nobody’s calling, and they’ve got to say, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’” says Don.
To pastors in either stage of life, Don is sure to emphasize a message tailored to a world in crisis. “I don’t think the church is ever going to have the attendance back what it was in the local building in years, but that doesn’t mean the church can’t be more powerful. But we’ve got to be the church that goes out versus the church that just invites everybody to come in.” Wherever we are in life, pastor or not, we can all be part of a church that goes out.
Have you ever wished you owned a COVID-19 manual during the past few months? It turns out that author Frank Viola has you covered at no cost with his book “A Survival Guide to the Current Virus Crisis.” But don’t read it to learn about masks and hand sanitizer.
Frank’s “Survival Guide” is more likely to address pursuits like seeking happiness which he believes is a myth. Try finding a command in the New Testament to do so. “Instead, the whole push, the whole emphasis of the New Testament revelation is to seek the kingdom of God.”
Seeking the kingdom within the vortex of politics and social media is tricky, and it doesn’t come down to identifying Jesus’ political party. “He transcended both because he was part of a new civilization that he was setting up on the planet that had nothing to do with the political system.”
So don’t seek happiness or activism to try to make the world a better place. Make a deeper change in yourself. “...The message of Jesus and the apostles is to be the better place in a fallen, corrupt world, to be an alternative civilization that lives completely different than the world’s system…”
Get your free copy of “A Survival Guide for the Current Virus Crisis” at frankviola.org/survival.
You’re lounging by a river with friends when you encounter a horrific sight. As small shapes in the water flow nearer, you see that they are babies. Two friends rush into the water to rescue them while you stay on the shore to receive and care for them. However, the most important job is often forgotten. “Somebody, a lot of people, needs to go upstream and find out who’s throwing these kids in the river in the first place,” emphasizes Maggie Schade.
Maggie is part of the RISE (Regional Intervention of Sexual Exploitation) Coalition that brings many parts of the community together to fight human trafficking locally in Joplin, MO. She believes one huge part of that community must be the church. “The church’s most important role in anti-human trafficking work is to go upstream, to find out who are the vulnerable kids in our community.”
As an individual within the church, each has a role to play. It starts with seeking accurate information on the issue. For some, it extends to parenting as moms and dads monitor their children’s devices and online activity. And for all, Maggie believes we must ask, “How can we partner with our organizations that are already doing this incredible work?”
No one envies the position of college ministers right now. How do you begin to approach that work with so many unknowns? College Heights Christian Church’s Kolby Allen thinks that it comes down to surrender. “I think we’ve got to get to a spot where we’re OK with not controlling every little nook and cranny of what’s happening,” says Kolby.
It’s not that Kolby doesn’t see benefit in planning——it’s simply that disciple-making is not driven by people but by the Spirit. People just fall in line behind. He calls it duckling discipleship. “We follow the duck in front of us, and we do our best to be the type of people we’re following. And we invite little ducklings, you know, to follow behind us.” And each link of of that chain is forged through a one-on-one relationship with a disciple and eventually with Jesus.
So the key is not the smoke and lights that accompany the crowded church services that make so many wary these days. It’s not about events and programs that take weeks of planning. It’s about losing control and following Jesus’ example. “You can pray, and you can love people, and you can study the Bible and share… I think those are elements that can go beyond us pretty fast.”
Brixton Charles Johnson is perfect. He was up against a lot (potential health complications, being born and adopted in the middle of a pandemic), but his parents saw God do the impossible in his life. “It was a pretty crazy time,” recalls Brixton’s dad Matt. “...We look back on it now, and it’s kind of a blur, but it’s a huge blessing.”
When Matt and his wife Kassie took Brixton under their wing, Matt already had plenty of responsibilities as an owner of multiple businesses. Undaunted by the uncertainty of the times, he’s continued to grow and adapt those efforts. “God has really honored the fact that… we serve the people that we do life with and we serve the people that expect us to be good stewards of their products.”
Blurry chapters like a complex adoption or maintaining businesses in the days of COVID-19 can become great blessings when we move in the confidence of a father’s love. Matt feels that love for Brixton, but he also knows that God feels that for all of us. “God doesn’t need us, but he wants us… He’s going to take care of us, not because of anything we’ve done. But everything that he’s done for us is going to bear fruit in due time.”
The table seemed set for the International Conference on Missions’ biggest year yet. They had a popular location in Indianapolis, a talented president in Jeff Vines, and a remarkable main speaker in Ravi Zacharias. And then, a few weeks ago, they made a change. “We decided to switch from our normal conference to more of a hybrid virtual experience with a few live elements in Indianapolis,” says Dave Empson, ICOM’s executive director.
While that choice was a necessary one, the effects on the conference are undeniable. It’s going to be shorter with fewer workshops and exhibits. “We have lost or greatly diminished every stream of income—our sponsorships, our advertising, our annual giving, monthly giving is down.” On top of everything, Ravi Zacharias is no longer with us.
Through many challenges, however, Dave is thankful for the ways that God and the church showed up. Many have continued support of ICOM, their president is well-suited to the task, and the sky’s the limit for ICOM’s online attendance. “I have an incredible staff. Without them and the power of God, it couldn’t be done.” Necessary changes are made on every side, but the God behind us remains unchanged.
Micah Foreman is husband and father to a family that comes alongside him in his role as an international trainer of orality, a skill that leverages storytelling to share the truth like Jesus did. During the pandemic, trainings happen online and are finding a new emphasis here in the US. “Those people that feel like they’re on the sidelines, [probably 80-90% of people that go to church],” shares Micah, “it unlocks them to be major players in the kingdom.”
Micah’s young family experienced the difficulty of a traveling parent, but they seem to have found a solution. Instead of Micah taking off for weeks at a time, the Foremans have invested in an RV. “This is our way of combining those two… Ministry and family are happening at the same time.”
However, this new family dynamic was threatened earlier this year when a potentially tragic accident occurred. But Jesus drew them close to himself and to each other. “You’re actually going to be able to follow in the midst of unknowing, following in the midst of fear. And you can’t do that with someone that is a distant god, right?” For the Foremans, Jesus is near.
“We’re not going to get it perfect,” states elementary school principal Holly Schrage. “...We might make a mistake, and the next day we will pivot.” Though the news and the public seem to be up in arms with her field of work right now, Holly simply asks for expectations padded with grace rather than an insistence on perfection.
Schools are putting a great deal of thought into how this semester will work in school buildings, trying to factor in local guidelines that sometimes conflict and won’t always work. “If you’ve ever been in a class with 20 kindergarten students, you know social distancing is sometimes a little bit different.” Beyond those concerns, Holly’s school is trying to be “virtual-ready,” poised to go online at any moment while knowing that kids without Internet access might be at a great disadvantage.
As she asks for grace, Holly is also prepared to give it as parents try to make the right choice for their kids. “God is not waiting to see if you make the wrong decision... He’s waiting to see if we trust in him in the decisions that you make.” Expectations and anxieties are high for all involved, but we stand tall with a faith that God will continue to lead us and grow us.
Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom once preached, “There are no problems in heaven, only plans.” To Taylor Brown, that quote still speaks loudly today. “...She was saying God is never caught off-guard by anything,” he explains. “His plan is still as much his plan as it was before.” And his plans are not our own.
Some years ago, Taylor was diagnosed with anxiety, a condition that would seem to impact his career as a public speaker. For some time, however, he was able to separate what he would call the real Taylor and speaker Taylor until one event where his anxiety was put on display before thousands. It resulted in a breakthrough for many students attending the conference. “I realized, ‘Oh, audiences need to see this imperfect Taylor and how Jesus is at work in him.”
God revealed that his plans, though sometimes unthinkable to us, always stand. “I think leaning into telling your story in an authentic way and a way that shows that God has changed your life through his word, you can’t lose with that.” God has factored in every change to allow faith and ministry to continue—just stick to the plan.
For more information about Taylor, visit www.taylorbrownspeaks.com.
Track, basketball, kickboxing, boxing, and MMA fighting all fall under the prowess of Teejay Britton. “That’s five sports that I’ve done professionally, and it’s not me. It’s God who gets the glory from it,” Teejay shares. And that glory extends beyond the athleticism to the influence and example he gives to the many people that hear him share his faith through coaching and speaking engagements.
When Teejay shares his faith today, he focuses on speaking peace into chaos, whether that be the pandemic or racial tensions. When it comes to the latter, peace looks a lot like unity. “...I don’t think you’re going to go to heaven and on the south side, there’s going to be the black church, and over here’s going to be the Mexican church… It’s not going to be like that. We’re a big family.”
Whether in sport, health, or race relations, Teejay knows two universal truths. First: people will fail. We fail to perform, to protect, and to accept. Second: God never does. He expresses that in a way that only a professional athlete can. “This basketball is going to fail you. One day, you’re going to dribble and it may be deflated, and it may not bounce again, but our God bounces any day for you.”
Learn more about Teejay’s ministry at victoryjoplin.com.
“Church is never going to be the same again. It’s just not,” says Greg Nettle, president of church planting organization Stadia. Some may mourn this change as a loss, but Greg has another perspective. “How do we make the transition to not only having a great physical presence, but how do we have a great digital presence as well? What an opportunity.”
Digital church feels different, but it also feels bigger. “No one is stuck anywhere anymore! There are no boundaries when it comes to digital.” Stadia is taking churches on virtual vision trips around the world while other congregations are setting up online groups for prisons and rehab centers. Meanwhile, Greg believes the next step is using the digital church to raise up the next generation, discipling kids and teens who have grown up online.
Can the Internet sometimes be a place of danger and darkness? Yes, but Greg offers an important reminder. “God is omnipresent... That means that God is not only present when we gather together in our physical locations but God is present in the digital space as well.” Now it’s up to the bride to invite the light of Christ in.
For resources to help your church make the digital transition:
First Christian Church in Phoenix, Arizona has chosen to be compliant, not defiant, wearing masks, limiting groups sizes, and physically distancing. “Out of concern for our neighbours, ...we’re going to be cautious and protect ourselves and each other,” says FCC pastor Chuck Foreman, but a few have disagreed with this approach. “I’ve been surprised to see that declaring that position has drawn a line in the sand with some people…”
For Chuck, this has begged the question of how the church defines itself. “Our identity is not chained to our large group gatherings in our nice buildings on Sunday.” If anything, COVID-19 has proved that the church never shuts down, even when the pastor comes down with the virus himself. It’s Christ and the active love he inspires that define a church and keep it going.
Perhaps the true line in the sand is not whether we will wear a mask and keep six feet apart but whether we will take the open hand God has offered us. To Chuck, it all comes down to this question for the American church: “Will you take advantage of the great opportunity God is giving you right now to partner with him, to see what he’s up to, and join him?”
Ziden Nutt recognizes great privilege in his life, though it might look different than you’d expect. Growing up in Gary, Indiana, he was in the minority as a white boy in a predominantly black town. “We were very, very blessed to have grown up in that situation because [it gave us] a deep respect for the African people,” notes Ziden. This blessing would play an enormous role in the life of him and his wife Helen who moved to Rhodesia as missionaries in 1959.
Once in Rhodesia, Ziden’s next significant privilege came in the form of Chief Dandawa. “He had not one day of formal education but was probably one of the wisest men I’ve ever known.” Though he initially chided the Nutts, asking what took them so long to come and help his people, he also advocated for them, protected them, and even made Ziden his son in a traditional ceremony.
These privileges could be attributed to Ziden’s upbringing or his relationships. Yet when he reflects on the needs of the US in the face of many societal tensions today, a different source is revealed. “Unity comes when we all focus on God... and his word. Then we are at peace with one another because we’re following the same God and the same authority.”
“We used to fish with a fishing pole, one at a time,” Chris Casey illustrates. “...And now we’re using a net, and we can just broaden our search, broaden the seed that we sow.” Chris has spent over a decade in eastern Europe not fishing for trout but for people. When various modes of interpersonal evangelism proved ineffective for about ten years, his team resorted to a new tool that yielded overwhelming results—social media.
The team uses Facebook ads to find seekers and connect them with disciple-makers on the ground. This works so well that Chris’ team has become evangelistic not only about Jesus but also this method of “fishing.” Since the start of the pandemic, a team in a nearby country asked Chris’ team to help them launch this strategy as well. “Within a couple of months, they had already pretty much surpassed us in the fruit that they were seeing.”
Though still highly involved in this work, Chris has now moved his family back to the US, realizing that he can cast this net from anywhere. Working here, he can also be more involved in recruiting new fishermen. “Even in the ten years when we didn’t see fruit, Jesus is still faithful... And so he looks at that decade and just smiles.”
In 2019, Christ in Youth hosted over 77,000 students at over 100 events domestically and internationally. 2020 will look very different. All events from spring and even into next year have been cancelled, drastically limiting the organization’s revenue. “...You know you want to call kids to kingdom work, you want to call them to Jesus, you’ve built all of this, and now you can’t execute, you can’t deliver, and that’s heart-breaking,” shares CIY president Jayson French.
“It truly was the goodness of God and the generosity of churches and donors that allowed us to make it through what… is the worst season in the history of CIY.” So while physical events are impossible, CIY has moved into a very new space with online experiences MOVE/AT and MIX/AT that make the “at” of ministry much easier to navigate.
By offering resources, Jayson hopes that CIY can continue supporting and loving the church during a challenging chapter that has made many, particularly pastors, vulnerable to depression and anxiety. To a church in crisis, he offers this encouragement: “...The gates of hell can’t stand against us let alone of COVID, and we will get through this because we are the body of Christ. We’re resilient, we’re strong, we’re tough. We’ve faced darker days than this.”
During times like these, media can be very frustrating. However, Jon Ralls, owner of Kavanah Media, sees so much potential in leveraging it as a tool to reach the lost. And he thinks any church leader or member can be a part of that, no matter what level you’re at.
Level 1: Make a Call
Personal messages of encouragement go a long way while people are far apart. Reach out to those you can help, and go the extra mile by video calling on FaceTime or Messenger.
Level 2: Set Up a Simple Online Presence
With some inexpensive software or even free apps on your phone, you can reach your people. Barriers like lighting and audio can often be overcome by simply finding the right location, so don’t be afraid of posting that first video devotional or even going live with platforms like YouTube or Facebook.
Level 3: Manage Discipleship
Sometimes we need a little help to keep all of our relationships straight as we try to meet people where they are. GNPI’s Redux is an app that can help you do that, allowing you to set reminders, add tasks, and track progress in multiple relationships. With that edge, you might just become a bit more faithful in prayer, a bit more intentional in love, and a bit more of a disciple-maker. Search for “Redux Discipleship” in the App Store or the Google Play Store to download.
Level 4: Analyze
One thing that many churches don’t take advantage of is data. You can have free access to this by using Google Analytics or installing the Facebook pixel to your website. “People will check the church out long before they will ever visit,” says Jon, speaking on the importance of church websites and social media platforms. Data shows what they are seeking and what they value. Why not make use of that knowledge? Jon can help you get started with his Introduction to Facebook Marketing or Google Analytics Essential Training.
Level 5: Run an Ad
If you have an online presence set up and even have some idea of why people are tuning in, it might be time to consider running an ad. “Church marketing” may sound bad at first, but it’s really just one way to get the Good News out. Use an ad to offer prayer or help with a local issue, and see who God leads to you. When you’re ready, you can learn more with Jon’s Introduction to Google Ads or the Facebook course listed in Level 4.
No matter what level you’re at, remember that this is about much more than technical prowess. “It’s really just about what the Holy Spirit is doing,” Jon reminds us. “And we can do things completely wrong but if we’re submitting to him, he is going to do what only he can do.” For more information about any of these topics, please reach out to GNPI at https://gnpi.org/contact or to Jon at https://kavanahmedia.com/contact-us.
As tension, brutality, and protests rage in the US, the world watches, including Yassir, a black Sudanese minister and professor living in Germany. In his view, the global church has mischaracterized the problem completely. “We need to classify this racism thing as not the government issue or political issue,” says Yassir. “I think it’s a deep spiritual issue.” Describing this another way, Yassir remarks that it’s not a skin problem but a sin problem.
In making that mistake, the church has sometimes squandered opportunities to become part of the solution. “...If Christ could not be the middle ground that should bring us together, I don’t think anything else could bring us together.” The key to this is to look beyond surface differences and recognizes that we all bear the image of God as his creation.
Beyond the understanding that all are equal through God, we may individually strive to love as best we can. Yassir offers a caveat, however: “...Don’t even try to love people, you know. You will not succeed. ...The only way that you can succeed [is] when you put your trust completely in Jesus.” Surrender, though it seems like the most passive response possible, is the most active reaction we can offer through Christ.
“Fever broke. Within another day, I was flat on my back, couldn’t get out of bed. My aches were just excruciating. I couldn’t eat. It even hurt to drink water.” It was mid-March, some of the most disconcerting days when COVID-19 was a very new threat, a terrifying unknown. And Bob Sartoris had it.
Bob works with various ministries in media production and training. He believes that through instilling these skills in individuals, many will realize a passion for using media to share the message of Jesus. Laying in bed, Bob was unsure whether this work would continue. “Would I ever get a chance to finish writing that course or do my monthly thank you letters for our supporters? ...Everything was on the table.”
While many plans remain in question, God brought Bob through, and reaching out made the difference in more ways than one. People reached out