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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Challenged by the Book of Acts

In 1977, our mission planned a conference of all our Caribbean missionaries which was to be held in Grenada. Terry Martin, the field director in Grenada was responsible to plan the conference and to invite individuals to present papers and to lead panel discussions on a variety of topics. One of the topics on which a paper was to be presented was “Church Planting” and Terry asked me if I would chair a panel discussion on the subject after this paper was presented. I’m sure that Terry had no idea how that assignment would radically alter the course of my life and ministry!
In order to prepare for this assignment, I looked in our local Christian bookstore for books on Church Planting but I could find none. So I thought, “Really, the best place to look should be the Book of Acts!”
So I began reading Acts through repeatedly and began inquiring how the early apostles preached the Gospel, instructed believers and planted churches in the first century. It seemed to me that they would likely have the best perspective on how the task should be accomplished since they had been personally instructed by the Lord Jesus, Himself.
So I prepared a chart listing all the cities mentioned in Acts where the apostles had ministered and then noted their methods and the results of their ministries, i.e. were strong churches established by them? If so, how was the task accomplished? If not, how did their work which failed to establish churches differ from the work in cities where strong churches were established.
Two observations from that study intrigued and challenged me:
(1) Where ever one man went alone to preach the Gospel, churches were never established! (Peter went alone to Lydda and Joppa where people were saved, healed and even raised from the dead! Paul went alone and preached on Mars Hill in Athens, where a number of folks were saved)
(2) But where ever two or more men went together and preached the Gospel to the unconverted, there were always churches established! Yet in most of our ministries, emphasis was generally placed on a man working alone as a “one man show” and in most of our churches one pastor was ordained as a “star performer” who was expected to minister to everybody else.
But a third observation troubled me greatly about my own position as “the pastor” of the congregation which I served:
(3) Every church that I found in the NT was lead by a plurality of elders who co-operated together. They followed the example of the team of men who had co-operated together to bring the Gospel to them in the first place! I could not find even one church in the whole NT which was lead by one elder or pastor such as myself!
And a 4th observation really awakened me to the fact that many of the “church traditions” with which I’d been raised and which I’d accepted as the norm were all foreign to the Bible!
(4) No NT elders or church leaders were “imported” from elsewhere, and none were trained in “Bible schools”. Rather all such men were “homegrown”, well known by the saints to whom they ministered and were all equipped for leadership by serving the saints in their home communities! But we had traditionally imported pastors who were initially total strangers to the congregations they served and were men whose training consisted of years in Bible school or seminary far from home rather than years of actually serving the saints right where they lived!
Eventually, I wrote a paper on the subject of church planting which laid out these and other observations which had deeply troubled me. When I sent the paper to Terry Martin, he asked me to make copies of it, invited me to present my paper at the conference and said he would simply find someone else to chair the panel discussion!
So I went to that conference with fear and trembling! I knew that I would be presenting a perspective that was radically different from our own practices, but I desperately wanted answers as to why there were such radical differences between first century church practices and our own. But I was not at all prepared for the response that I would receive!
(To be continued in next post.)

Changing My Mind on Insurance

Before continuing with this account (begun in the previous post) I want to make very clear that what I express here, on how I came to my own conviction is not intended at all to be a judgment or criticism of anyone who does not share the same. I do not criticise or refuse to have fellowship with others for not sharing my conviction in this or similar matters. I simply share this account and the subsequent events to encourage anyone who has come, through study of the scriptures, to a personal conviction before the Lord on any matter which may not be shared by others and in which obedience to the Lord may cost them dearly. The most important thing for any of us is obedience to the counsel of John 2:5, “Whatsoever He saith unto you do it.”
I was certain at the outset that scripture would clearly support my own position that good stewardship of resources the Lord had committed to us definitely included good insurance coverage. But the more I searched scripture, the more uncertain I became on that point! In fact, after almost two weeks of personal study of every scripture that I thought could be related to the subject, I came to believe that I had been wrong and must change my view!
It now seemed clear to me that…
- My lip service to trust in the Lord would actually be denied if I could not trust him to protect
the building, or to replace it if He allowed it to be destroyed. (Proverbs 3:5,6) Up to this point, I had been trusting in the insurance company and the combined pool of funds of many policy holders for the security of the building. I had thus far failed to place my trust in the Lord to protect what I acknowledged to be His property!!
-Our insurance premiums went into a common fund which was used for the protection, restoration, or replacement of many businesses which were characterized by ungodly practices: i.e. bars, brothels, breweries, abortion clinics, and even false religions! Thus I came to believe that if I chose to continue to do so, I would be unequally yoked together with unbelievers contrary to II Cor.6:14.
- While I claimed to believe that the Lord's work should be done in the Lord's way and that I
should never appeal to unbelievers for funds (Philippians 4:6,7) , if the building was ever destroyed and I with others claimed insurance on it, I would actually be depending on premiums paid in part by owners of bars, brothels, breweries, abortion clinics and supporters of false religions to rebuild that building!!! This would again demonstrate that I was, in fact, unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
Most of the congregation had opposed insurance from the start. (I had simply come to agree with them as a personal conviction of my own resulting from my study of the scriptures.) So when the matter came to a vote in our next congregation business meeting, the congregation voted to discontinue paying insurance on the building. As a result, the mission board chose to insure the building with mission funds!
I knew I could not hold to one view of insurance for church matters and another view relative to my own personal matters! So our own life insurance policies were cancelled and I appealed to the mission headquarters regarding our group health insurance with Blue Cross/ Blue Shield. As an entire mission organization, we were paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and rarely claimed any major medical expenses in return!!! The greatest benefit in recent years had been $60,000 which had been paid for one missionary’s surgery! So it seemed to me that we were needlessly pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars down a “black hole”. I was sure we could never stand before the Lord and demonstrate that such waste had really been “good stewardship” of resources which He had committed to our trust!
So I suggested that, in place of a group plan with “Blue”, we could simply establish a fund, within the mission itself, to which each missionary would contribute. When a certain established maximum amount was reached, the fund could be capped and no more payments be made into it until some medical expense had to be paid. Then contributions could resume to replenish the fund and nothing would be lost. But this suggestion was flatly rejected and our mandatory participation in the group health plan was still required. Because of my changed convictions regarding insurance on the church building and our mission’s group health insurance plan, I knew that I was “in hot water” with the organization. But another matter was soon to be brought to my attention, on another subject altogether, which would ultimately make it impossible for me to remain in my current position as pastor in that congregation or a missionary with that mission. God was about to use another Christian to challenge my thinking regarding our whole ministry of church planting! (I must close for now to continue in yet another post.)
BTW, your comments, questions, or other perspectives on this subject are welcomed and encouraged below or in personal emails or conversations.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

First Challenge to a Tradition of MIne

I’d been raised in a Christian home, had gone to Bible school, been ordained to the ministry and with my wife had gone as a missionary to the West Indies. The church building which we used had been purchased by the mission board and the local congregation was only responsible for maintaining and insuring it. (Personally, I had never questioned the principle of insurance. I simply believed that it was good stewardship of God-given resources to have "adequate insurance coverage". I had life insurance, property insurance and auto liability insurance. I contributed to the government Social Insurance programs including the Canada Pension Plan and we paid a high premium to participate in our mission board’s health insurance plan.) It was during the summer of 1976, at the very first church business meeting which I chaired as a missionary pastor, that my thoughts on insurance were deeply challenged!
When the financial report was read, one of the church members, Clinton Dyer, stood to his feet and asked a question…. (This was to be the second question I’d encountered in my life which was entirely “outside the box” of my traditional thinking!) He asked, "Why are we, who claim to trust in the Lord, paying a worldly insurance company to protect the Lord's property?"
I, along with other North American missionaries, tried to explain how insurance was good stewardship of the Lord's property. (If a flood, hurricane, or fire destroyed the building, the insurance would enable us to rebuild or replace it.) Many of the believers in the congregation were not satisfied with our explanation and a heated discussion ensued. But little light was shed by which to resolve the dispute. A visiting summer missionary commented to me after the meeting, "No one, on either side of the debate, appealed to scripture to support their position!" That keen observation reminded me of the principle that Professor Gundry (mentioned in the previous post) had taught me just a few years before!,
I knew the discussion would continue at our next mid-week meeting. I was also determined we would not have another "hot debate"! So when we met again I said to the believers, "Opinions are like noses everybody has one! But we need more than opinions to settle our disputes. We need scriptural principles. We know that the word "insurance" is not found in scripture. But there must be principles to guide us. So let us search scripture with our concordances for words and expressions which might bear on the subject."
We then brainstormed and compiled a list of words for which to look in scripture that might lead us to scriptural principles relative to the subject of insurance. Our list included the following: safety, security, stewardship, peace, protection, gold, silver, money, calamity, confidence, preservation etc. We purposed together not to discuss the matter further until we had searched scripture and found scriptural principles to guide us relative to the question of insurance.
At this time, I had no idea how Clinton Dyer’s simple question would soon get me into my first pot of “ministerial hot water” and eventually change the course of my life at a number of crucial points!
But the continuation of this account must wait for another post!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Evaluating Traditions By Scripture

Thirty five years after graduating from a 3 year program at Moody Bible Institute, there is only one academic assignment from those years which I still vividly remember! The reason it stands out in my mind?… was the one assignment that began shaking my understanding of the church! Previous to this assignment, I had simply assumed that the way we had “done church” in the congregation where I was raised was the way it was to be done! I’m sure that almost everyone, regardless of religious or denominational background, believes the same about their own religious heritage…. until our traditions are challenged by ideas “outside the box” of our traditional mindset!

Stanley Gundry, the professor who taught our class on “The Pastoral Epistles” (I and II Timothy and Titus) posed a question which was entirely “outside the box” of my previous church traditions!

He divided the class into a number of study groups and assigned each group a question to research and then to present their findings to the class. My group was assigned the following question: “Are the qualifications for overseers/elders in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11 a standard which must be met or do they describe an ideal to which elders should aspire?”

In my humble estimation, Professor Gundry was the best teacher under which I studied at Moody. Rather than telling us what to believe, he asked us questions for which we had to find answers in the Word of God! Traditions or opinions are not sufficient to guide the people of God and for the first time in my life, I began to compare church practices, traditions and doctrines with what scripture actually said!!

As our group of 4 or 5 students met together to consider our question, it didn’t take us long to notice the word “must” (an absolute requirement) found 4 times in I Tim.3:2 and 7 and Titus 1:7 and 11. But even more importantly, we noticed that the necessary qualifications for such men had nothing to do with education, administrative abilities, oratorical skills, charisma, talent or pulpit manners!! They all had to do with character (what kind of man is he?), control (does this man know how to control himself and train his own children?) and commendation (does this man have a good reputation among unbelievers in his own community where people know him best?) The only ability that is scripturally required of such men is the ability to teach the word of God so as to be able to refute false teachers!

Such observations shook me to the core as I realized that, while churches with which I was familiar claimed that the Bible was our “only and final authority”, we did not heed these scriptures at all when it came to appointing elders! Back home, when our congregation had searched for a new pastor, we were not informed that scripture set out the qualifications for which we should be looking. Rather we were asked to evaluate men who were total strangers to us on the basis of their education, credentials, and primarily on their preaching skills which we observed in one or two sermons!!!

I am so grateful for the pattern that Professor Gundry established in my own mind and heart which has continued and has guided me many times since. The practice of seeking to give the scriptures absolute primacy over traditions, practices or doctrinal statements of men has been of invaluable worth to me. It has also gotten me into plenty of “hot water” on more than one occasion !! But such accounts will have wait for another day!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Urgent Prayer Requested For Christians in India

This was not the kind of post I envisioned for this blog, but if this kind of news does not challenge and change my prayer life, something is definitely wrong!

I have received the following plea for prayer from two different friends in the last couple of days, one in the Philippines and one here in Ontario. The letter is from YWAM staff (Youth With A Mission) in the state of Orissa in India.

The same sort of reports from Orissa are coming from Gospel For Asia. Please also check out their reports of the situation at and above all, please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing horrendous persecution in Orissa!

Dear beloved sponsors and friends of Good News India,

We have never seen anything like this. We knew that Orissa was the most resistant and hostile State in India as far as the Gospel is concerned. And we brushed off the continuous threats and harassment we faced as we went about His work. But none of our staff imagined that they would see this kind of carnage.... And it seems to be totally under the radar of the Western Media ....

Let me explain.... A militant Hindu priest and 4 of his attendants, who were zealously going around the villages of Orissa and 'reconverting' people back to Hinduism, were gunned down by unknown assailants in Central Orissa last weekend. Immediately the Christians were blamed. The cry rose up...'Kill the Christians!'And the horror began.... In the past 4 days, we have first hand witness to hundreds of churches being blown up or burned and many, many dozens of Christian tribals have been slaughtered. For no other reason than they bear the name of Christ.

Night and day I have been in touch with our Good News India Directors spread across 14 Dream Centers in Orissa... they are right in the middle of all this chaos.

In Tihidi, just after the police came to offer protection, a group of 70 blood-thirsty militants came to kill our staff and destroy the home. They were not allowed to get in, but they did a lot of damage to our Dream Center by throwing rocks and bricks and smashing our gate, etc. They have promised to come back and 'finish the job.' Our kids and staff are locked inside and have stayed that way with doors and windows shut for the past 3 days. It has been a time of desperately calling on the Lord in prayer.

More police have come to offer protection. In Kalahandi, the police and some local sympathizers got to our dream center and gave our staff and kids about 3 minutes notice to vacate. No one had time to even grab a change of clothes or any personal belonging. As they fled, the blood thirsty mob came to kill everyone in the building. We would have had a mass funeral there, but for His grace. In Phulbani, the mob came looking for Christian homes and missions. The local Hindu people, our neighbors turned them away by saying that there were no Christians in this area. So they left. We had favor. The same thing happened in Balasore.

All our dream centers are under lock down with the kids and staff huddled inside and police outside. The fanatics are circling outside waiting for a chance to kill. Others were not so fortunate. In a nearby Catholic orphanage, the mob allowed the kids to leave and locked up a Priest and a computer teacher in the house and burned them to death. Many believers have been killed and hacked into pieces and left on the road.... even women and children. At another orphanage run by another organization, when this began, the Director and his wife jumped on their motorbike and simply fled, leaving all the children and staff behind. Every one of our GNI directors that I have spoken to said: 'We stay with our kids.... we live together or die together, but we will never abandon what God has called us to do.'

More than 5000 Christian families have had their homes burned or destroyed. They have fled into the jungles and are living in great fear waiting for the authorities to bring about peace. But so far, no peace is foreseen. This will continue for another 10 days.... supposedly the 14 day mourning period for the slain Hindu priest. Many more Christians will die and their houses destroyed. Many more churches will be smashed down. The Federal government is trying to restore order and perhaps things will calm down. We ask for your prayers. Only the Hand of God can calm this storm. None of us know the meaning of persecution. But now our kids and staff know what that means. So many of our kids coming from Hindu backgrounds are confused and totally bewildered at what is happening around them. So many of their guardians have fled into the jungles and are unable to come and get them during these trying times. Through all this, I am more determined than ever to continue with our goal: the transformation of a community by transforming its children. Orissa will be saved... that is our heart's cry. If we can take these thousands of throw-away children and help them to become disciples of Jesus, they will transform an entire region. It is a long term goal, but it is strategic thinking in terms of the Great Commission.

What can you do? First, please uphold all this in fervent prayer. Second, pass this e-mail on to as many friends as you can. We must get the word out and increase our prayer base for this is spiritual warfare at its most basic meaning. We are literally fighting the devil in order to live for His Kingdom. The next 10 days are crucial. We pray for peace and calm to pervade across Orissa.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please pass it on and help us to get as many people to partner with us on this cutting edge effort to fulfill His mandate: Go and make disciples of all nations....

Prayer works!

Blessings, Chip & Sandy Wanner Col 2:2 MBI Team Facilitators to YWAM frontlines

Father Gives Legacy to Young Son

My Dad, Wilfrid Woodford, has always been a hard working man. When I was just four, we moved to a new location where he would supervise the delivery of bread for a major bread company. He had to be on hand late each night when the daily shipment of bread and baked goods arrived by truck at his local depot. Each day Dad and 5 or 6 other drivers, which he supervised, would deliver those fresh baked goods door to door on their respective delivery routes in the surrounding communities.

But after a number of years of serving in this capacity, Dad’s supervisor came to tell him that their company was restructuring and that he would soon be coming to our town to take over Dad’s responsibilities as the local supervisor. Naturally, Dad asked him what his job would be at that time. His supervisor told him to choose the best delivery route of the men whom he currently supervised and take it.

Dad knew if he did that, one of the men that he had supervised would ultimately have no job. Dad was not the kind of man who would do such a thing, so he told his supervisor that he would rather resign than bump one of his men out of his job.

When Dad first came home and told us that he would soon be out of work, I did not fully realize what his decision would cost him. But as I watched him over the next few years, his conviction, displayed in that one moment of testing, became for me the greatest legacy my Dad could ever give to me, his son!

Dad is a man of few words, but a man who lives what he believes. He practices what he knows the Bible teaches and leaves the preaching to others! When Dad resigned he had a wife and 4 children to support (I was the youngest). But jobs for which he was qualified were scarce. So Dad, who was willing to work at a job which was not to his liking, took on the task of being the local “Fuller Brush man”. He was no salesman, but his task was seeking to sell a wide variety of brooms, brushes and household cleaning products to housewives in our community.

I can remember sitting at our supper table awaiting Dad’s return from offering his products for sale. Many times our meal was finished and we were still waiting for him to return home after a long day on the road. We would eagerly await the news that he had made some good sales that day, but often Dad would come home tired and discouraged with not a sale to report for all his trouble.

It was then that I began to realize what Dad’s convictions about putting others’ interests above his own were costing him. Those were very lean times in our home as far as material goods were concerned but I began to realize that my Dad was a man of principle who would rather walk a very difficult road with a clear conscience than walk an easy road without one. His example has encouraged me at a number of crisis points in my own experience when tough decisions had to be made. (I hope to share some of those in posts to come.) But as a result of my Dad’s example, I’ve learned something of the truth expressed by Henry Blackaby in his book Experiencing God- knowing and doing the will of God, “Obedience to God is always costly right on the front end, but the dividends multiply in the long run.” The corollary is also true….Disobedience to God is always the easiest thing to do at the moment, but the sad consequences also multiply with time!