Why are You Limiting Church?

In this age of COVID-19, amid fear and panic, I am reminded of the Book of Esther. My favorite verse is,

 And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:13-14)

We, too, are faced with a daunting challenge. Will our fate depend upon our own faithfulness to God? While Esther faced death for daring to approach the King without being called, we face the unknown. Many churches have stopped meeting in the face-to-face. Some have gone online. Small groups and Bible Studies are canceled. And yet, God has prepared us for this by giving us a way to talk to anyone we want around the world through social media and Virtual Reality.

So, why limit your church to a building, your group to your home, or your Bible Study to a room in the Sunday School wing of your church? Like Esther, we don’t need to stay silent. The Gospel is continuing. God is asking us to be faithful in using these tools to reach out to people online, build trust, and develop friendships. In this era where TP is being hoarded, we can shower our communities with the love of Christ.

I am available to help churches and individuals interested in making disciples and wishing to continue church even as we experience historical fear and panic as the globe begins to shut down. We don’t want our older people marginalized because technology scares them or they don’t understand or like it, and we don’t want to be on social media out of boredom, scrolling, and sharing, without any real thought or purpose. While the building shuts down, here are some tips to continue sharing the Gospel:

  • Bible Studies: Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Discord can be used to lead a video Bible Study like your face-to-face. This is an opportunity to invite people in your community to join. Hold them during times when the rest of your community can join you, too. Think of the working class in your planning.
  • Small Groups: Your small groups are going to need your continued support as we face the challenges of this period of history. Use Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Discord to continue meeting. As you meet people locally online, invite them to join you. When the church opens again, you may find them meeting you in person.
  • Church on Saturday or Sunday: Virtual Reality has church every weekend through Altspacevr. Your church may use Youtube, Facebook, or IGTV to do your worship service. Instead of treating your online service as a pulpit, treat it as a coffee shop. Ask people questions. Pray with your words for people so they can read it and pray with you. Worship with your words in the chat. Share the live feed to local Facebook groups or invite someone to join you in a “watch party”.
  • Socializing: You can use almost any video gaming system to play video games with people from across the world.

Check out WorldVenture’s Facebook page for more tech tips. I’ve been sharing there since Saturday.

Jeremy’s Courage

(picture was taken in Georgia)

When I first “met” Jeremy in 2019, it was on my friend’s Facebook Live of their church service. I heard his soulful worship of the Lord, and from my friend, heard about his heart and how it beats every day for God, his family, and his church. In flying out to Georgia to train his church in digital discipleship, I was looking forward to meeting with him.

What is so amazing about Jeremy?

In 2019, he used a flip phone to type out bible verses to his friends, family, and neighbors. If you don’t remember or have never owned a flip phone, that is dedication! When we met, we talked about how to do that more efficiently. I encouraged him to seek out responses to his texts. After my visit, he eventually got a smartphone.

Today’s text from him references 2 Corinthians 12:9:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

The following prayer from him is emotional, humble, and shows how Jeremy draws his strength, not from himself, but from the Father.

“Dear God, I experience many moments of weakness in my daily life. I thank you that I can totally rely on your strength to move forward and do the work you have called me to do. I take glory in my moments of pain and weakness, because you give me the strength and resolve to carry on, the same way you did for the apostle Paul and the rest of the believers who proclaimed the gospel. I choose not to give up because I know you are always with me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.”

People don’t connect with the cerebral. They connect with the emotional. So, bear your heart in the little things. Do things for others because you love the Lord and the Lord has taught you to love them. Be courageous enough like Jeremy to be vulnerable with others.

How Books and Movies Inspire Me

Everyone is talking about 2020—what books they will read, what 2019 did (or didn’t) do, and making resolutions they will break by January 31. We’re all seeking meaning and purpose. Books help us find it.

I read books from authors I may not 100% agree with and books of authors that I can trust and count on. Everyone should read books that help us become better thinkers.

My books and Movies from 2019:

My Life by Sevasti Kyrias Dako: An autobiography of a woman who pioneered female education in Albania. She fought hard to retain the Albanian language. She believed in her work and suffered for it. As I read her words, I wondered,

  • What am I willing to suffer to see this vision come to fruition? How far am I willing to go? When you get into missionary work, you think raising support would come easy. For pioneering work, it is the true act of trailblazing. When I think of trailblazing, I think of brambles with thorns, fighting through the wilderness, and wild animals. For Sevasti, female education was a lifelong passion and work.
  • Sevasti was helped by wise people to see her potential and direct her passions. I am grateful that God is providing those wise people around me.

Visioneering by Andy Stanley: I stumbled upon this book when my husband was reading it for his group. Some of the quotes snagged my interest and I am reading it again. What I learned,

  • Nehemiah is a great book in the Bible when you are building something. It is still very relevant today.
  • Persist in the vision and sift through criticism. Take what is helpful and discard what is not helpful.

Kon Tiki: A man discovers new research about how Polynesians didn’t come from Asia but came from Peru. He builds a raft and takes a group of men to drift in the currents to Polynesia to prove his theory correct.

  • Missionaries, especially trailblazers, face a steep climb to 100% funding. Watching this movie and reading this book, showed persistence to get the funding he needed to build the raft.
  • The lingering glance in the movie of the gap between the cement pier and the raft with the water in between showed second thoughts. As the tug boat started to bring the raft out to sea, I saw his courage as he faced his fears and the uncertainty of dangers and of being wrong.
  • People said it couldn’t be done. He proved them wrong by showing up. We don’t have to prove anything as Christian leaders. We just need to show up when God calls and participate. He does the work. We just need to have faith in the journey and pray.
  • The joy of feet on dry land, of proving his theory, was evident. His actions inspired his crew and others in generations to come to trailblaze new theories and try new things. I know I trailblaze a path for people to come behind me. Therefore, my story will be God’s story. He will get the glory.

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

How to Prepare Your Congregation for Digital Ministry

A successful digital ministry team at your church is built on a foundation of love for their community and the world. Without this motivation sustaining them, digital ministry is every bit as difficult as the face-to-face. Your digital team will need encouragement and prayer.

Here are some suggestions to build a foundation for a future digital team at your church:

  • Your leaders must support it from the pulpit down. Digital ministry cannot be treated as a second-hand ministry. Your digital team and the online congregation members touch every aspect of your vision and mission in your community and missional endeavors. It’s also the new word-of-mouth.
  • Engage your Facebook Live and Youtube Live Viewers. During communion, the pastor addresses the online crowd to encourage them to participate from home. Ask a question for the online viewers to answer in the comments by directly engaging with them. In both ways, you are treating your online viewers as part of your congregation.
  • How do your Elders/Deacons/Pastors talk about social media and other technology in its use to share the Gospel? In one-on-one conversations, talk social media and technology up. Identify the obstacles within your congregation to digital ministry and address them. Share positive stories of how others used social media or other technologies to share the Gospel. Don’t ignore the concerns over social but address those concerns.
  • When preaching, connect biblical application to technology. Use your words to guide your congregation in living for God both online and face-to-face. Maybe share some examples of others who have done this and how it was perceived. Inspire your congregation to share the Gospel online in meaningful ways through conversation and updates.
  • Don’t marginalize the Senior Adults. Instead, use their lack of knowledge about technology to pair them with someone in the youth group. The Senior Adult can mentor the youth while learning from them how to use Facebook to share their stories (or how to take a good selfie and start a conversation on Instagram).

As you hear your congregation begin to explore technological options, look for people who are willing to be part of your digital team. Churches need to get beyond marketing their church online to making disciples throughout the globe, and the need to train churches to do this is urgent. Church staff is already overworked. Most social media communicators are serving in many different roles and don’t have time to focus only on making disciples. Often, small churches are dependent upon their pastor to post online. Missions will come from the church if only we would stir from our slumber.

How can I help you help your church serve in mission?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

How to Stop Adding Garbage to the Fire

Eli Pariser (What Obligation Do Social Media Platforms Have to the Greater Good) on Ted Talks Daily said, “Facebook right now I sort of think of as 1970s New York. The public spaces are decaying, there’s trash in the streets, people are mentally and emotionally warming themselves over burning garbage, and the natural response is to hole up in your apartment or consider fleeing to the suburbs.” This comment was received with loud applause and laughter.

In all honesty, the very people applauding are probably contributing to the decay of the social media space. What Eli suggests is creating responsible digital spaces in the way that cities build towns. To most that sounds like censorship, and as administrators of Facebook groups have soon discovered, moderating, not censorship, builds a productive and safer online community.

Towns have parks, public libraries, town halls, and the spaces are regulated or moderated. What he suggests is coming with Virtual Reality where you are facing the person you are talking to in a space you have created that encourages better discussions, supportive environments, and a place to worship if that doesn’t exist in your country. The problem is in people.

We cross boundaries, make assumptions, and refuse to change our behavior even if that may convince someone to understand our point of view. Hence, the applause in the video reminds me we are always great at sharing things we think other people need to learn but forget the humility of admitting when we are wrong.

So, how do we create a better digital space?

  • Exercising self-control in the face-to-face is just as important in the digital world. Measure your words.
  • Research what you share to sustain moral authority, so people believe you when you talk about the Bible.
  • Don’t react. Respond. In fact, the beauty of social media is the lack of obligation to respond quickly. We can instead choose to get back to the conversation when we have emptied our minds of damaging and defensive emotions. How many times have we imagined what we could have said later? Social media gives us those options.  
  • Refrain from humor others won’t understand.
  • Create parks, town halls, libraries, cafes, and other conversation-friendly spaces online to meet a need, create a bond, and build a friendship.
  • Most importantly, don’t assume you have the right to tell someone how to live. Build trust first. Think about mentoring the person rather than trying to make a mini-you.
  • Be teachable.

Social media may make you feel like fleeing to the suburbs or holing up in your apartment (i.e. leaving social media).

Don’t.

Digital discipleship is investing your time online in real conversation using whatever technology is available and finding ways to meet in the face-to-face. Transforming communities in the face-to-face starts with our behavior online and who we choose to share our life with. Instead of burning garbage, let’s instead build a real fire that warms the soul and shines a light into the darkness with the sweet aromas of friendship, love, and truth.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

How to Keep Your Focus When Raising Support

Years of raising support can make you forget to enjoy the company of people around you. Conversations point back to ministry, and you forget what normal conversation looks like. Ted Esler, president of Missio Nexus reminds me to stop making my work an identity.

“Organizations can suck the life out of a soul. The travel, meetings, concern for sustainability, mission fulfillment, and other realities of our jobs take emotional and mental resources. As we wrap our lives around confronting those challenges, we can exchange our personal identity for an organizational one.” He goes on to say how the job shouldn’t define us and warns that conversations personally become limited to work issues. He asks, “When the job is over, what happens to their identity?”

How do I break the hold of a ministry that can become all-encompassing?

  • Relationships take precedence over support. In order to maintain an example of authenticity in a marketing world, I must also model this in my life. I look beyond the support someone gives to me and pray and care about them. If someone doesn’t support me, I pray and care about them. A friend once sent an email to say she couldn’t give financial support ahead of a lunch date. I had to assure her that I was meeting her for lunch and not asking for support.
  • Get a Hobby. While I combine ministry with rest as a lot of creatives do, using my camera to practice taking shots for story postcards, social media, etc is also therapeutic. A good camera causes you to chase light and detail. You find rest in waiting for the right shot and changing your focus. Sometimes, that is in the middle of a forest and all you hear is the hollow sound of a woodpecker knocking on a tree.
  • Spiritual Care. After changing jobs from a church job to a secular job in 2017, I maintained my normal hours of rising early to get into God’s Word or just sit in His presence to wait on Him. I can’t serve others if I am burned out and empty.
  • Marriage Care. I am married to a great man. He is my prayer warrior. My life must include him in it and it’s not always easy. Making disciples on social media isn’t Monday through Friday. Boundaries are important. I break off from my work to sit with him. We hike together. He loves my photo journaling. We made a pact to grow together.
  • Physical Care. Take a walk, go for a run, and keep your physical healthy. That’s my lifeline to keeping up my energy.

Many different sources say the same thing—working long hours doesn’t improve work output. Respect the shut down to refuel for the next day. You’ll get more done. Work is not my identity, and I am practicing being more thoughtful to others in what I converse about, making sure people know I care about them.

* Inspired by Missio Nexus CEO Survey

New Article Published!

Restoration in Madagascar

Deforestation is a constant threat to the environment and the people living in it. The world loses about 8.3 million hectares per year of forest, often spurred by increasing poverty in developing countries like Madagascar. In 2015, we shared how Eden Projects doesn’t just replant the forests, but also helps Malagasy families combat poverty. Today, stories of hope continue and the forest is growing!

Eden Reforestation Projects is an organization that started in Ethiopia in 2004. Dr. Stephen Fitch understood the “third world culture” and the cycle of poverty. “Many of the villagers, who had been raised over many generations in these areas, were now being threatened with relocation to refugee camps following radical deforestation. Eden Projects was launched in order to attempt to reverse environmental devastation that negatively impacted families and local culture.”

Madagascar is the largest of the reforestation projects in Eden, but the people see the forest as a resource to use, not as one to protect. In Madagascar, charcoal is more desirable than firewood and more available than gas.

Continue reading…

In The Wake of Kon Tiki

Many pioneers in different fields exist in the pages of history, like Thor Heyerdahl. He believed South America populated Polynesia and that the seas were an avenue of communication, not barriers as historians believed. Thor noticed similar plants such as the sweet potato, the movement of the trade winds and breakers in the Pacific Ocean, and learned about a demigod named Tiki. Tiki “… brought his ancestors to the island from the big country beyond the eastern horizon. (from here)Thor’s story encouraged me. As a pioneer in a new field, I related to so many aspects of his story.

I first heard about Kon Tiki on Netflix in the movie directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (2012). Thor had to raise the support to build the raft and fund the project to prove a theory his colleagues said was impossible.

“‘Your mother and father will be very grieved when they hear of your death,’ one skeptical diplomat told Heyerdahl when hearing of his plan. Promising ‘nothing but a free trip to Peru and the South Sea islands and back… ‘”

https://www.history.com/news/thor-heyerdahls-kon-tiki-voyage

The movie portrays the journey to support as an emotional roller-coaster filled with rejection and hope. No one believed him. Thor didn’t even know how to swim or have any sailing experience. With the raft finished and ready to go, Thor stood on it, waving at the crowd with his five-man crew. The camera focused on his face. His eyes warily fell away from the cheering crowds on shore to the gap between his raft and the cement pier where the ocean lapped against the sides. It was as if to say, “Do I have confidence in my theory?”

It reminded me of a quote I found on Facebook by Dwight L. Moody,

“Moses spent forty years thinking he was a somebody; forty years learning he was nobody; and forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.”

Thor got his raft funded. I am still trying to build this raft. I am approaching people, churches, and businesses, and asking them to join me in changing our approach to missions by connecting the churches with the missionary organization to reach the unreached, the unloved, and the unchurched through social media and face-to-face. I am a nobody, but God can do much with a nobody like me. The concern most church communicators have is in marketing their church online.

We need to change our thinking from marketing to making disciples. If a congregation is trained on social media by the church and the missionary organization, marketing will happen on its own. While we need to focus on algorithms and best practices on social media, our people can focus on making meaningful connections. Thor made it to his destination. His journey inspired others to new pioneering fields. The journey to his destination included much joy and discovery as well as danger and doubt. In the wake of Kon Tiki, I, too, struggle.

From the beginning, support raising hasn’t been traditional — everyone in technology shares in this struggle. Even an online friend mentioned how little of us digital workers there are in the world using this communication tool. Often, we create new apps or try to intentionally or unintentionally compete with other like products.

I am not after creating a new app or a discipleship product. People are accustomed to hanging out in different places on social media. Churches already have websites and a presence, but we’ve become passive on Sunday. As a church congregation, we expect the community and the world to walk into our building, instead of making an effort to meet them where they are online and in the face-to-face. That adds an extra wrinkle to my support raising.

The church is part of my vision; not the leadership. Leaders in our churches have enough to do and are often overwhelmed, but we need them to equip and guide us. Unreached people groups in North America are within a stone’s throw of a church member.

In the wake of Kon Tiki, I dream of uniting the church with the missionary organization to reach different people groups in their community and all over the world through social media, apps, and their preferred discipleship programs. Thor made it to Polynesia. I won’t see this dream finished. I am starting it so other generations behind me can take up the reins when I am gone.

The Man With The Bullhorn

A man stood on the corner, shouting into his bullhorn, “Repent, or you will go to hell!” Social Media has become the bullhorn–A place rife with opinions. What if instead, we asked questions?

Rather than tell people how to think, walk with them as they think. 1 Peter 5:2-3 talks about shepherding. The commentary by David Guzik speaks of pastors.

“Shepherds should not do their job as lords, because the sheep do not belong to them. The sheep are entrusted to them. Instead, shepherds are to serve by being examples, not dictators. (emphasis mine)” (from here)

Every person on social becomes a shepherd; an example people follow whether they want that role or not. What we post both visually and literally shares our character with others. Everything from how often we check in to a church, to what we are studying in the Bible, to how we interact with others gives a visual story of our life to others. If we become the man with the bullhorn, we will only get people who agree with us and alienate the rest of them. If we alienate others, we do not have any connection with them.

Seek to honor others and slow down in building those friendships. A former pastor friend once said, “Salvation is a supernatural miracle.” It won’t happen overnight.

  • First, get to know your friends, what they post, what they are thrilled with, and how they struggle.
  • Converse with them often.
  • Most importantly, seek to meet them for coffee where the Spirit leads. Let the online friendship complement the face-to-face one.
  • Seek friendship because you care, and remain friends with them even if they choose not to become a believer. Always be authentic in all your friendships.

As to the man with the bullhorn, I only saw him once or twice. Most people avoided him. Others, like me, stared because it was so freakish. Things could have been different had he just talked to people.

Good Reads:

5 Reminders on Social Media

Seth Godin wrote in The never-ending ratchet of conspicuous consumption, “The only way to do well is to refuse to play.” He said this towards the end of the blog about consumerism and social media. He also said, “Earning trust outperforms earning envy.” As a social media person, creating content and doing organic engagement on WorldVenture’s social media is about creating trust and posting meaningfully. But, what about you–the person who isn’t a marketer who wants to use their personal social media for outreach and meaningful engagement?

You don’t have to play the game.

Trends are wonderful things for pages and groups, but personal social media should remain personal, original, and meaningful. Here are five ways to engage and create without exhausting yourself. You are not me. Be you.

  • Rest and read. Creativity needs rest. It needs new inspiration. Go to an art museum and learn about artists. Take up photography. Do some gardening. Quilt. Take a walk. Nap. Buy a book on Amazon that is different and challenges your thinking.
  • Budget your time on social media. Do a short social media fast (no more than a day or two). Watch a movie without picking up your phone. Read a chapter without checking Facebook. Nap with your notifications turned off.
  • Post Bible Verses. When using Adobe Spark or Canva, create Bible verses from images you have created or from copyright-free image sites, like Pixabay.com. This is a healthy break when you’ve run out of things to talk about online.
  • Interact more than post. If we get too caught up in the monster of creating original content, we can miss the important conversations. Don’t worry if you have nothing to post. Instead, find someone to interact with online. Maybe you can invite them to meet you for coffee? Post only when you feel led, not because you have to post something. Idea: Share another person’s post with a meaningful response on your personal social media.
  • Use Facebook Live to take a walk and invite others to walk with you virtually. Have a conversation with them.

When churches have digital teams who use their personal social media to reach out to their community and the world, a person on the team can feel overwhelmed, especially when they are not a marketer. As a social media person, I feel the pressure, but I tap into the mass amount of information that is within WorldVenture for inspiration and take regular breaks to keep what I post fresh and new. As Seth Godin says, “The only way to do well is to refuse to play.”

Happy posting, friends!