The world today is boiling hot in hate, violence, discrimination, and war. Christians are literally on the brink of extinction in parts of the Middle-East and being forced out. A true fact is that numerically, more Muslims are being slaughtered by extremist Muslims in the Middle-East than any other group. Neither the United Nations nor governments seem to have the will or ability to address the issues. It’s time for those of us as religious leaders to stand up, stand together, speak out, and WORK HARD against religious bigotry and for religious freedom worldwide starting right here in the good old United States of America.
Fifteen years ago I began working in the Middle-East and Near-East with Christians, Muslims, Jews and others. Prior to that, all of my perceptions of Muslims, Arabs, and that part of the world were shaped by 2 minute news stories. There is no way, you can understand another group by short news stories or editorializes on either side of issues where the news deals only with the most shocking or sensational stories. I began to read broader, listen to many different news sources, and then meet people and talk to them directly.
There is not a more important role in the 21st century for peace and harmony in our world than that of the religious cleric. Peace or war is going to be driven, endorsed, promoted, justified by clerics to the masses more than any one entire group in the world. Religious leaders in the past, have felt attacked by academics, globalist, scientist, secularist, and diplomats because religion was supposed to go away – but it didn’t. Clerics of all faiths were viewed as ignorant, uneducated, simpletons and relics from another era. The world has discovered religion isn’t dead, it’s alive, and not just alive but thriving.
My heart goes out to the families of the 4 US Marines and the Navy Sailor who lost their lives and all those injured. There have been far too many mass shootings in our nation and sadly no longer disbelief as much as when will the next one occur. Whether it’s a White Supremicist, an extremist Muslim, or a mentally disturbed person – it all says something is seriously wrong in our nation and no one wants to do much of anything different. But of this I am convinced, we must come together, stand together, and not turn on one another. The old saying “United we stand divided we fall” has never been truer.
But once again it’s as if we’ve forgotten what we were taught as children and we no longer know how to treat one another. Our country is gripped by fear and by political polarization where we no longer know how to listen to one another, compromise, or stand up for one another. I was so sad, when I read the Facebook posting of Franklin Graham calling for a halt to any immigration from someone who is a Muslim and to call their congressman to make it happen. This would be devastating for those wanting to be Americans, as well as creating a perception that all evangelicals have of Muslims, which is incorrect. The majority of the mass shootings have been from non-Muslims. Because your platform is so large, built by the faithful witness of your Father, those of us, of your tribe, must challenge you, and this kind of thinking. This is not “evangelical” and even less evangelistic. This is not the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus your father taught so many of us as little children. Rhetoric like this is hurtful, incendiary, polarizing, and denies the Gospel of Jesus and instead of making people open to the Gospel, creates barriers and walls. Read more
In May 1998 I wrote the following in my journal – “God I want to hear and follow you. Hear my prayer; grow Northwood so it can be a base to engage Hanoi and all North Vietnam. I pray for 20% of the non-believers in North East Tarrant County that they will follow Jesus and our churches will reach them. Give the needed resources, allow my family to be a lighthouse, let Northwood be so much more than simply a worship service”.
Except for my age, the circumstances, and some of the faces – the challenges and issues are the same. Big vision, not enough resources, open doors, challenges, people issues were all present – and still are! We think that when God moves everyone is chirpy, upbeat, excited, and there are no headaches. Don’t tell that to Job, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Paul and a lot of other people. God moves despite our circumstances and in those circumstances he’s drawing us to himself. Whatever revivals were in the Old Testament – they didn’t last long. Whatever great things God did in starting the church in Corinth, man who would want to pastor that thing with all its junk! I’m excited about where we are and where we’ve come from – we have a fantastic future. But, keep this in mind, it’s never about the perfect staff, or the perfect finances, or the perfect people, or even me or you being the perfect pastor – it’s more about faithfulness to what God has called you to over the long haul. Read more
I’ve always believed in the power of prayer. Prayer is a part of my life. It’s a rare day, and there are rare days, when I don’t begin my day with prayer. I teach new Northwood Church members and new Christians that it is critical to begin your day with prayer. Prayer is breath. Prayer is talking and listening. Prayer is worship. For more than 25 years I’ve begun my days journaling what’s going on, good and bad, decisions needing to be made, etc. then I write them in my journal and I read slowly 3 chapters from the Old Testament, 1 from the wisdom literature, and 1 from the New Testament. Then as I read I write, what I sense God saying to me. I sing. I reflect. I worship. I believe it’s critical to do that first thing because it prepares me for the rest of the day. I pray throughout the day, I pray before meetings, during meetings, after meetings. I pray while driving, I pray while talking sometimes – “God guide my words carefully.” “God be present in this decision give clarity.” I’m praying non-stop no matter who is there or what is going on and I believe God hears all those prayers. There are so many dimensions to prayer – it’s bigger than a form, a set time, a moment – it’s a life.
Many years ago when I was in Afghanistan in the desert, I was with my Muslim friends and they would stop and pray. They would lay out their rugs on the sand, and I waited in the SUV. But I thought, I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I’m praying. So I asked them at their next stop would it offend them if I knelt down beside them and prayed as they prayed. They loved it – and I did to. It lead us to a whole conversation about what prayer was about and how God guides us in our life.
It’s sad to me, that people, many of whom would call themselves Christians, will be picketing outside a mosque, and performing behaviors that are offensive to Islam and the worshippers in the mosque. For them to picket and draw cartoons is their right whether I agree with it or not, but to do it in front of a mosque, a place of worship to dishonor and disrespect them is not right.
Do we really want a country that heckles worshippers? Is that the “free exercise” thereof?
I love freedom of religion. It is in our first amendment. It applies to everyone, not just Christians. I’m a passionate evangelical. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word like no other book. I believe Jesus is God. I believe what Jesus did on the cross is how all men get to know God. So, I don’t agree with Muslims that Jesus was only a prophet. I don’t agree with Jews that he wasn’t God, I believe that he was. I don’t agree with polytheist, I believe God is one. BUT, I strongly believe they have the right to choose their belief.
My parents migrated to the United States when I was just three years old. When they first arrived in Philadelphia, they were part of a church plant that was just a few years old and primarily focused on the immigrant Indian community. I grew up in that church and saw her grow from a handful of blue-collar immigrant workers to a fairly large congregation. I have been incredibly blessed by the passion of the Indian Christian community in which I was raised, and their faith and risk-taking challenged me as I grew up and began to pursue ministry. When I entered seminary, my dream was to go back to the Indian community and work with the second and third generation community – a community raised and educated in the United States. They spoke English fluently (often instead of our native language) and obtained degrees from the finest of universities as well as great jobs. They love baseball, basketball and football. Their kids are actively involved in sports leagues and school activities. One could argue they were more American than Indian. Read more
In January 2010, I came on staff at Northwood Church with no clue as to what would be the future of my ministry and family life. I left Detroit where I had a 9 year career in technology and 22 years of history. I gave it all up and came to the strange land they call Texas. You see, I’m Hmong and grew up in the inner-city streets of Detroit. (See Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.) Texas was a very scary place for me! That year I found myself way outside of my element with people that I would’ve never imagined doing life with. But it was during those years that God began opening my eyes to see that the story of my upbringing as a second generation immigrant whose family landed in the US as refugees was a strength in the Kingdom of God and not a weakness. I’ll never forget having lunch with Bob Roberts and hearing him say, “You were given an advantage to do global ministry because of who you are. But you have to stop thinking like a minority. God made you for the world.”
I don’t think either Bob or I knew how prophetic those words were at the time. Maybe Bob did, but I sure didn’t. Read more
By Kevin Cox, Pastor of Vista Church, Heartland, TX
I first met Bob Roberts at a day and a half Turbo event hosted by NorthWood. The program centered around four values: kingdom, disciple, society and church. The last three values would later shape our fledgling church plant (and continue to do so today), but it was Bob’s teaching on the Kingdom of God that captured my heart. Bob’s teaching answered the all-important “why?” question: Why should we plant churches? Because the Kingdom of God is not about addition but multiplication! Within the Kingdom of God, we have a new set of metrics. We still measure progress through baptisms, finances and, attendance, but now we also measure fruitfulness by church multiplication.
With such a paradigm shift, how does a church start multiplying? Here are some suggestions:
Instill the vision/DNA of multiplication.
With four kids in the house, life is never boring for my wife, Kathy, and I. At some point all four of our kids have exhibited behavior resembIing Kathy’s or mine. Without fail, Kathy and I will glance at each other and say, “I wonder where they got that from? I’ve never done that, so it must be from you!” The hard truth is that the Cox children have both of our DNA’s within them. Good, bad or ugly, they resemble both of us, act like both of us, imitate both of us, and think like us. As our kids have grown, we have attempted to parent and help shape them into the people they’re becoming, instilling our values and beliefs into their minds and hearts.
When we started Vista Church, from day one multiplication was the vision, value and DNA. We would multiply. We could not wait a month, a year, or for a 10-year anniversary to multiply. If it was indeed who we were, then we would vision-cast it on day one, begin financially preparing for it on day one and be prepared when the opportunity arose. Since then, we have instilled who we are into the people of Vista. Because people are inspired by a vision that is bigger than themselves, our church’s vision for multiplication has often been a drawing point for people to join our church. We’ve shared the multiplication DNA with church planters we have partnered with, and they in turn have instilled this same DNA into their church plants from day one, as well.
Teach the kingdom of God.
Admittedly, I’m a pragmatic person. Show me the blueprint and then let me run with it. My introduction to the teaching of the Kingdom of God was literally a fresh beat of the Holy Spirit in my heart. The Kingdom of God is His rule or reign in my life. The Kingdom of God demands surrender, reminding me that church multiplication is not my idea but flows from the heart of the Father.
Why do we sacrifice money that could easily be used for a “good” event or a staff position in Vista Church? The Kingdom of God. Why do we invest in church planters, their wives and their families? The Kingdom of God. Why do we give away sound equipment to church plants rather than selling it for our own use? The Kingdom of God. Why did a godly and generous family in our church build a training facility on their property so that we could increase the amount of church planters we equip? The Kingdom of God.
When we started teaching the Kingdom of God, multiplication took off.
Learn from others.
There’s something to be said for heeding the advice of those who have traveled the road before you. Church multiplication is indeed an exciting adventure, but it also comes with its own set of pitfalls and tensions. Vista Church was fortunate that God blessed us with many pioneering friends along the way who instilled in us a vision for multiplication, shared strategy and were always available for advice on next steps.
We inquired early and often from people like Bob and Omar Reyes at Northwood and Brian Hook at Hope Church in Las Vegas who had traveled the road of multiplication before us. We learned from some seasoned multipliers. Through their advice and guidance, we avoided many pitfalls along the way and have witnessed God’s favor.
Develop a system that fits your context.
My youngest son, Walker, utterly idolizes his older brother, Jackson. Walker is 9 years old while Jackson is 16. In Walker’s mind, he, too, is 16. Jackson plays high school basketball and baseball, and Walker believes he can do anything Jackson can do. Sadly for Walker, this lack of self-awareness usually ends up with him getting frustrated or worse, hurt.
Unlike Walker, our church has a better grasp on who we are. We are not a megachurch. We are not even a midsize church at the moment. For us to multiply, we need to know who we are and what we’re capable of doing. We don’t pretend to be something we’re not, and we only offer what we can do. Furthermore, we have grown into the system that we’re currently using for church multiplication.
Our initial system of church multiplication was simply committing monthly financial assistance to a church plant in Seattle. From that simple step of obedience, God opened the door for informal training of a church planting couple that joined Vista Church. For a year, he and his wife learned different aspects of church planting while starting a small group in our community. After he graduated from seminary, we had the honor of sending them off to plant in upstate New York. We committed to monthly support, as well as ongoing communication and coaching. Simultaneously, we committed to partner with church plants in Chicago and Ft. Worth. This last year, we added the last piece of our church multiplication system: formalized training. We trained five church planting teams that are planting or will be planting in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Seattle. With each new church planting partnership, another piece of our church multiplication system emerged.
Seven years later, our system is comprised of four components: assessment, training, funding and coaching. We have a training facility built on their own property by a generous and Kingdom-minded couple in Vista Church, Gary and Joyce Moore. We affectionately call it, “The Barn.” Our church planters can use it anytime for retreats or trainings. Joyce and my mother, Paula Cox, did something as simple as hold babies at our Release church planter training so that the wives could participate with their husbands. We have developed a system that fits us. As our church has grown and matured, we have quite literally grown into our church multiplication system.
We have a saying in our church that undergirds our church multiplication: Size does not determine impact. Numerically, Vista Church is not big, but Vista’s impact on lives and families extends far beyond our own community because of the churches we have helped start. Big in the kingdom is the ability to multiply. Any size church can multiply multiple churches. Will your church answer the call?
by Mitch Jolly, Pastor of Three Rivers Community Church, Rome, Georgia
One of my first memories of Bob Roberts and Northwood Church was a conference I was attending while a graduate student in Fort Worth. Bob told us about the local and the global and how they are not separate realities but that the local and the global are connected and that it’s not the professional ministry people who will be key in getting the work done, but the key would be those who engage their domains of society as agents of God’s kingdom. As a student I wanted to be one who engaged my domain of society, mobilized others to do the same and equip them for the work. I was a student being infected with the DNA of the kingdom at Northwood. It was not long until Bob and Northwood accepted me into the church-planting program and the infusion of the Northwood DNA began, and that DNA would be transferred to students like me all the way in Rome, Georgia.
As a graduate student Northwood was catching me at a prime time for harnessing one of God’s greatest seasons of life.
College students have long been catalysts for local and global good. Dwight L. Moody saw the fruit of college students when in 1886 his series of meetings led to one hundred college students pledging themselves to the local going global. Numerous examples like this are scattered across history. Some of the best, however, are right under our noses in our colleges and tech schools.
Three Rivers Community Church is settled in Rome, Georgia. Rome has 3 colleges and a technical school. Students from all over the southeast and even a few Yankees find their way to Rome for higher education. Due to the DNA of our fellowship, we get the honor of shaping many college students’ values and infecting their spiritual DNA with the kingdom.
Without a doubt, the local and global work of the kingdom is impacted with these amazing people seeking to advance the kingdom of God.
Over 12 years we have sent countless college students on summer assignments from across town to West Africa to Nepal to South Asia to North Africa and a host of places in-between in spite of our focus on one particular place. As a side note, the more we focus on one place the more students are raised up to engage other places. It seems to be a trend, but that is for another post.
Many students have tasted these summer adventures and decided to invest their lives in hard places, and some are currently still in those hard places bringing the healing power of the kingdom to bear in their domains of society.
We have watched our students spend summers sampling the world. Those students complete their degrees with a vision. Those students graduate and invest their lives all over the world building hospitals and teaching in schools doing some of the most incredible kingdom work imaginable. We are currently preparing to send one who graduates this May to our global work to be a teacher with a partner organization.
Students who have a global perspective also find their niche in the local domains of society as well. Just this past Sunday I had three young men who have been part of Three Rivers for several years volunteer their services in doing maintenance for a foster home we will be staffing and operating beginning this summer. These guys, as resident assistants in their dorms, pledged the dorms they oversee to the work as well. We have countless stories like these students engaging the local and global domains of society.
Perhaps our college students are our most ready human resource available.
What is it about college students that make them this powerful?
Here are some of my observations.
1. Principled Energy
I’ve been privileged to get to know an increasing number of students whose purpose was to give themselves to something they perceived to be more meaningful as opposed to a job that may net them more money but may also net them less joy.
Couple a principled end with the vigor that comes from being in one’s early twenty’s and the sky is the limit. These guys and gals need very little sleep, they heal fast, they need fewer resources to thrive and they are productive.
I love the word Oomph. It is another way of saying “full of life”. College students are bubbling with life. They bring life to the party. College students bring joy where circumstances may have done a beat-down on some of us dudes getting weathered a bit. College students can bring Oomph to us pastors and our churches.
College students worship with more vigor. College students volunteer faster. College students are hungry to know God. These things lead to an infusion of life.
College students are able to do just about anything at just about any time. Most of them are not married yet. Not all, but many have more financial resource that I’ve anticipated they would have. Many are learning the necessity of a value-laden degree not a debt-laden degree, and they are financially able to let go of trappings that can hinder their local and global service. This is a highly agile and mobile group of difference makers that can make a difference.
College students are still learning what singularly makes them passionate. So, they have many passions and they can flex to each one and be solid help in multiple domains.
4. Visionary Sacrifice
The college students involved in our work in Rome have been able to see to an end that they are not the center of, and they are willing to sacrifice the American Dream in order to have it. That kind of visionary sacrifice shows God to be bigger than other petty ends, and it inspires others to imitate their example.
What is the power of working with college students?
The past and the present tell us that this kind of principled energy, oomph, flexibility and sacrificial giving of oneself for a end higher than themselves not only achieves great kingdom gain, but it inspires others in the kingdom to do the same. College students are, arguably, the most powerful human force for good on the face of the planet. And this collegiate human force for good has historically been used by God to begin movements that have had ripple effects for decades. I’d call that powerful.