An entire Native American family heard the gospel today as a student in their family was baptized. Brothers, parents, aunts, and friends.
But it wouldn’t have happened if I’d had my way with things.
Let me explain.
One of the most difficult things about moving from an organizational mindset (focused on how to build an organization with controls and a chain of command) to a movement mindset (nurturing rapid reproduction of an idea or set of practices) is the seeming loss of control that takes place.
In a traditional organization, a higher degree of control is built into the structure. When there is growth, it is easily measurable (ie: how many people attend meetings, how many new members, how many staff are employed, etc.).
A movement’s growth is different. You still look to evaluate growth and ascertain where you need to improve and adjust, but the traditional measuring tools often don’t apply immediately. In a movement mindset, you place a high value on really average (aren’t we all “really average”?) people leading so there is potential for things to become “out of control.” Every step of the way, you’re trying to think and act in ways that further the movement so it goes further after you’re gone. You’re preparing people to be dependent on the Holy Spirit and not dependent on you. It’s hard because you feel a lot smaller. You feel like a failure when things don’t go the way you want. People disappoint you. They sometimes make stupid decisions. Yet, they often make incredible ones as they are learning to follow Jesus.
Jesus modeled how to start a movement. He continues to stand as the leader and founder of the greatest movement in history. He was such an incredible leader that in three years’ time, he prepared leaders, then laid down his life, assuring them, “It’s better for you that I go away,” and, “Greater things than I did, you will do, because I go to the Father.” Who did Jesus appoint as His successor after He left? Not to anyone person, but to twelve. (Ok, some Christian traditions would argue Peter was the lead guy). Even after the twelve were appointed, the man God used to write most of the New Testament wasn’t even among the twelve (Paul). Jesus placed the future of the movement at the hands of a group of ordinary men, all who had abandoned Him at his most difficult hour, and a guy who was persecuting Christians. As the movement spread, countless pagans and idol worshipers became the leaders of this movement. Why could he do this? Because He knew His example and His leadership through the Holy Spirit would continue to inspire men and women throughout history to spread the movement. He built so things would go further after He was physically gone.
We must grasp this aspect of the historic Christian faith — that, in it’s essence, it is a movement more than an institution. Organizations are important. But we must be constantly mindful that the organizations we build only serve God well to the extent that they are aligned with what He is doing in this ongoing Jesus movement that I believe will one day conclude with disciples of every nation on earth.
When you build toward a movement, it’s best for things not to be dependent on your day to day involvement. You try to build and influence in ways so that the idea (ie: the spread of the gospel) spreads authentically and powerfully at the hands of common people so that there is no way to control or contain it. You still look for some ways to evaluate (Are we transforming and blessing our city? Are people coming to faith in Jesus? Are people growing in spiritual maturity? Are we making disciples? Are churches growing and multiplying?), but the old ways of validating an organization tend not to work so well.
In the case of student churches, to instill in students the very real sense that they are responsible for obeying all Jesus’ commands (being Jesus’ disciples together) is sometimes frustrating. Sometimes growth seems slow. People make bad decisions sometimes. Yes, sometimes you have to correct things. (Remember that most of Paul’s letters in the New Testament were written to young churches struggling with heresy and problems that seem shocking to us today). But other times, students learn priceless life lessons. Often times students surprise you with incredible decisions they come up with under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and scriptures.
I pray there would be thousands upon thousands of new churches started in America in this next generation that grow from following the Holy Spirit, being interdependent upon one another, listening to good mentors and older leaders, and simply seeking to obey Jesus together.
With students I mentor, there are innumerable times and places for speaking wisdom, giving advice, and pointing people to scriptures. But oftentimes, I struggle to intentionally limit myself from telling people what to do in order to press them to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the scriptures, figuring out what they need to do. Sure, I give advice and lead, but it’s often a fine line between pointing people to scripture and becoming the “expert who everyone consults for Bible knowledge.” (People start becoming dependent on a person more than the scriptures and the Holy Spirit. It gets out of balance.)
OK, back to my native American friend.
After he’d professed to become a Christ follower, he told me one day he was going to go to his first peyote-smoking worship ceremony with other Native Americans. He asked me what I thought about it. Oh my. I wanted to jump on this one, but refrained.
“Are you going to worship other gods or spirits there?”
“No, I only want to worship Jesus. And I want to show others there that they can worship Jesus too.”
“Well, my advice is to pray about it, then do what you feel peace about. Honor Jesus with your words and actions. Then see how it goes and learn from it.”
One day I took him to a big training conference with other students. Several students were getting baptized and I asked him if he wanted to, especially since it had been a number of months since he’d professed to become a follower of Jesus.
“I’m not ready.”
I felt my frustration rise up (which I mistook for God’s leading at the time).
“Jesus commands us to be baptized. You need to obey Him now.”
The time was so right. It was a powerful moment. I knew he needed to do it.
“I’m not ready.”
He later told me,
“I wanted my family to be there.” (To my knowledge, none of them are Christians yet).
In our American church culture, we value individualism. Getting baptized and following Jesus is an individual decision. There are Biblical values that agree with in this cultural value — such as the understanding that every person is individually accountable to God.
Yet, there are other Biblical values that other cultures, such as several Native cultures, exhibit that Americans are often lacking. Namely, valuing the ideals of community and family over individualism.
This afternoon, I gathered with my Native friend and almost his entire family – brothers, parents, aunts, and friends. He gathered them all together because he wanted to be baptized in front of them as a way to honor them and include them in his decision to follow Jesus. He went and grabbed another student he’d started to read the Bible with and asked him to baptize him so his friend could help hold him accountable to truly follow Jesus. (Great idea. I don’t know how he thought of that. I guess it was the Holy Spirit).
As his family and friends gathered to watch his baptism, he stood in front of them and said,
“I wanted to do this with you all here today so that I could hopefully influence you.” He honored his family and they all seemed to welcome his decision to follow Jesus.
There are times when we need to assert the clear commands of scripture. There are other times where we need to trust the Holy Spirit , let go of our fleshly need for control, and let people figure out how the Holy Spirit is leading them, even if they make mistakes. Is it risky. Yes! But if you think back over your life, how did God treat you with your mistakes? What freedoms has God given you?
I’ve found the Holy Spirit’s way is always much more fruitful than my own controlling ways would have been.
We all have a call to make disciples and influence people for Jesus. Yet how we go about this is really important.
We will all be more fruitful for Jesus in the long run if we can learn the art pushing people toward the Holy Spirit and the scriptures for their leadership, not relying on our own control or approval if they make decisions that please us.
Jesus places a lot of trust in us to make disciples and represent His kingdom in the earth. We need to place a lot of trust on His Spirit to work in those we are discipling toward following Him.
In the end, being out of control can actually be a lot of fun when we truly let the Holy Spirit be in control!