Danger Zone: Competition in Kingdom Advance

competitorsOne of the things I love about watching the Kansas City Royals this year is their competitive edge. They never give up; they never quit and when the other team thinks they have them down the Royals just keep coming until they find a way to win.

So much of our culture in the US is built on competition. For example, our economy is built on competition in the market place, in my previous profession I was ranked against my peers in a way to formulate raises and bonuses, we get our kids in extra curricular activities that are based around competition (against others or themselves), we cheer on our favorite sports teams because we love competition, etc.

Our culture loves competition! In fact much of what has made America the great country that it is is a result of our nation’s competitive spirit. And I really believe that, for the most part, competition is a good thing and we have all learned a lot of great life lessons through it.

Competition Gone Bad
However, competition in the wrong context is a poison. For example, competition between siblings can lead to bitterness and jealousy, competition with our friends or neighbors to get the next big thing breeds covetousness which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5), etc.

But there is one area that competition is worse than poison; it is a tool of Satan – competition within the church. Perhaps no one battles this temptation more than pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders. The temptation to look at the ministry of others and compare, criticize and question is always beckoning. Finding faults and failures of others or other ministries often gives way to one giving themselves a spiritually couched “pat on the back” because, after all, “we do it right.” This type of sin is damaging to the perpetrator’s soul, their ministry, and the overall advance of the gospel.

Now, if you are not a ministry leader you are not off the hook. Have you ever asked a believing friend about their church only to respond why your church is doing things so much better? Don’t get me wrong, it is great to be excited about your local church, in fact we should be. However, there is a subtle difference between being excited about my church and being prideful about my church “doing things the way they are really supposed to be done.”

The Character of Our Conversation
When we find ourselves involved in a conversation about troubles or failures of another ministry where there is no heartfelt concern for how these things affect the advance of the Kingdom among the nations – there is a problem. If there is no call to pray for these organizations or the people whose lives are directly impacted by these troubles – there is a problem. If the conversation is characterized by a glow of victory because our organization has what those others do not – there is a problem. If the conversation has an undertone of celebrating that our ministry is on the right track while those others are not – there is a problem. If we do not grieve hinderances to gospel advance then we are indeed the ones on the wrong track.

A Call to Move Forward in a Christ-exalting Way
Therefore, I want to call you to join me in making a concentrated effort to view the advance of the true gospel the way heaven does, by rejoicing (Luke 15)! Yes, even rejoicing with those true believers who are theologically and/or methodologically different from us. I also want to call you join me in grieving for and praying for other ministries when obstacles come their way – yes, even grieving for and praying for ministries proclaiming the true gospel that are theologically and/or methodologically different from us.

Finally, rejoicing with and praying for gospel proclaiming ministries and people who differ from us on some things is not an endorsement of all they do or all they believe. Rather, it is a humble understanding that the Lord advances His Kingdom how He wants and through whom He wants. I mean, hey, He even does it through you and me despite all of our failures and shortcomings. So, we must remember that it is always right to celebrate the advance of the gospel into the lives of people.

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The Value of Acts in Mission Today

As I had the privilege of leading the missionary trainees of To Every Tribe through the book of Acts I was once again reminded why it has played such a vital role in the lives of missionaries both now and throughout history.

In Acts, Luke recounts the powerful movement of God in which we see a band of 120 disciples gathered to pray in an upper room in Jerusalem mobilized to “turn the world upside down” with the saving power of the gospel. This is all set off by Jesus’ final words to the apostles just before ascending to heaven, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). It is these words then that drive this narrative which covers about thirty years of history.

As we read this exhilarating story of Kingdom advance we cannot help but notice several important themes that develop.

Jesus’ words of Acts 1:8 come to fruition
The church and gospel message expand geographically from Jerusalem, throughout the Roman empire, and even to the heart of Rome itself. However, this advance of Christ’s Kingdom is not simply geographical, it is numerical as well. In fact, there are approximately 20 verses that indicate massive church growth (2:41; 2:47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1; 6:7…). Moreover, we also see how the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 come to pass in the gospel crossing cultures into a variety of people groups such as Jews (Acts 1-7), Samaritans (8:4-8), Ethiopians (8:26-39); Roman Gentiles (10:34-48), and Greeks (14:1) to name a few.

Witness driven gospel expansion is fueled by prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit
Directly after the ascension the early church was, “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer,” (1;14). From here we see that prayer permeates everything the early church does. They pray in their church gatherings (2:47). The pray for boldness (4:24). They pray that others would receive the Holy Spirit (8:15-17). They pray for missionaries they send out (13:3). They pray in prison (16:25). They pray for those in prison (12:5). They pray for newly appointed elders (14:23). They even pray for guys they appoint to serve tables (6:6)! Clearly, the spread of the gospel through the early church cannot be separated from their devotion to pray to the Lord of the harvest.

Furthermore, the witness and advance of the early church was empowered by the Holy Spirit (1:8; 2:4). In fact, it was the Holy Spirit that enabled their boldness (4:8). It was the Spirit that provided visible confirmation that a new people groups were entering the Kingdom of God (10:44-48). It was the Holy Spirit that enabled success in evangelism and teaching (11:22-24). And it was the Holy Spirit that set apart and sent missionaries from the local church (13:1-3).

Rapid gospel expansion happens in the face of opposition
The apostles and the early church were mocked (2:12), threatened (4:21); arrested (8:1-3); beaten (14:19) and even martyred (7:54-60). However, no amount of opposition could stop  the gospel from moving forward and often times the Lord even used the opposition to thrust the gospel to new places (8:4; see also Paul’s missionary journeys).

It has also been said by many that Acts serves as a missionary handbook of sorts. This is very true, however, we must remember that Acts is a description of what took place and not a prescription for exactly how missionaries today must do all things. That being said we see that a missionary’s ministry is made up of primarily six functions.

6 Primary Functions of a New Testament Missionary

  1. Evangelize (Gospel proclamation and baptizing new disciples)
  2. Congregationalize (Bring disciples together to form local churches)
  3. Set the church in order (Lay a foundation of sound doctrine that leads to pursuit of individual and communal godliness)
  4. Appoint Elders
  5. Move on but remain available by pen, presence and/or proxy*
  6. Recruit/train/mentor new missionaries

In all we can see that Acts is not only a motivating and encouraging account for missionaries to read over and over again but it is also very helpful in distinguishing what missionaries are to focus their ministry on. Finally, the story of Acts leaves us with three important conclusions. First, the job is not yet done and therefore more missionaries are needed to complete the task. Second, just as in Acts, the local church is the vehicle through which the Lord has ordained to send those missionaries. Third, the success of the advance of the gospel to the ends of the earth is guaranteed.


*I am indebted to Jim Elliff (www.ccwtoday.org) for the phrasing of #1-5.

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Reflections on running and the Christian life

trevor and tito 5k finish
Most people I know HATE running and, frankly, I don’t blame them. In fact, in a recent conversation with a good friend who is an avid runner, he told one of my sons that the only part of running he likes is the finish line. Running is hard, tiring, and most of the time not all that exciting. Sure there are moments of runner’s euphoria and scenic views but most of the time involves just keeping one’s focus on reaching the goal ahead.

However, over the last few years, I have come to realize that running does have a few indirect spiritual benefits for me.

Running mirrors the Christian life in many ways.

  • I often feel great when I start out and think to myself that today’s run is going to be an effortless joy.
  • But, a couple miles in and my legs begin to get heavy and each hill looks more daunting than the last. The important thing at this point is the same as in moments like this in my walk with Christ, keep focused on the goal ahead and on the reward that comes with finishing well.
    • Hebrews 12:1-2 often comes to mind, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
  • Eventually, after periods of great joy and delight as well as difficulty and temptation to give up I see the finish line up ahead. It is a great feeling to make it to the finish knowing that I never gave up and that I battled through all the difficulty and temptation to quit.
    • Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Running is a great time to meditate on Scripture and direct my heart toward God.
I always listen to music when I run and every song I have on my playlist is one that exalts Christ. In fact many of the songs are Scriptures set to music – mostly Seeds Family Worship songs. Therefore, much of my time running is spent on reflecting on the glory,  majesty, grace and love of Jesus.

Running gives me much needed time to think and pray.
Getting some time away to think and pray is priceless. When I am running I am often thinking about texts or topics I am working on to teach, ministry situations, often times my best ideas come while running, I am able to evaluate important aspects of my life like how I am doing as a husband, father, sins I may be struggling with, etc. As I think trough different topics I usually pray about/for them as well.

Running provides great opportunity for fellowship and friendship.
Some of my best and strongest relationships have been forged through running with brothers in Christ. It is a great opportunity to talk about life, family, Jesus, prayer requests, our walk with the Lord, etc. In fact, running with my sons has provided a great time to talk and pour into them away from all the other distractions that surround us. Therefore, I will gladly pay the race fee for a 5K they want to run simply for the hours we will spend training together engaging in meaningful conversations that just don’t seem to happen as naturally anywhere else.

I am sure I could come up with several more spiritual benefits I have received from my time running but these are probably the most noteworthy. It is important to note, however, that these benefits can never outweigh or replace the necessity of focused time in God’s Word, fellowship within the context of a local church and times of stillness before the Lord in prayer. It is just as Paul wrote, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

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Meet Our Team

(Left) McKenzie Family - Josh, Brita, Dan, Clara, Paul, Evie; (Right) Greenup Family - Dustin, Heidi, Ezra, Olivia, Camille, Moses, Emily

(Left) McKenzie Family – Josh, Brita, Dan, Clara, Paul, Evie; (Right) Greenup Family – Dustin, Heidi, Ezra, Olivia, Camille, Moses, Emily

The McKenzie Family: 
Josh and Brita McKenzie received their theological and missional training from To Every Tribe in 2015. Prior to this, Josh was an engineer with a highway construction company for 12 years in Montana. Brita works in the home caring for the family and homeschooling their children. They have four children: Daniel (’02), Clara (’04), Paul (’06), and Evelyn (’10).  Their whole family is eager to faithfully minister in Peru and continue to see God work in amazing ways and delight in Him through Jesus Christ.

The Greenup Family:
The Greenup family is sent by Faith Bible Church in Spokane, WA. The Greenup’s spent the last two years with To Every Tribe Ministries receiving theological and missiological training. Prior to that time, Dustin was a residential real estate broker and Heidi a registered nurse. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping believers to carry out all the great commission. They have five children: Ezra (’06), Olivia (’08), Camille (’10), Moses (’10), and Emily (’14).

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Why do Missionaries Cost So Much?

About seven or eight years ago I had a good friend approach me about supporting him and his family as they would soon be leaving to be missionaries in a third world country. Perhaps what I remember most about our discussion was looking at the budget he showed me. Of course, I did not look at the line items, rather I went straight for the bottom line.

I was shocked to say the least. His budget was for far more than I was making. Thousands of questions raced through my head. Aren’t you going to be living in a third world country?  Are you just taking your American dream over there? Don’t people there live on a few dollars a day? Isn’t everything cheaper in foreign countries? The list went on and on. In the end, I was so put off by his budget that I thought I could not, in good conscience, support him.

Now some of these can be good questions to ask but I can say that personally I was coming from a critical heart-attitude, an idea that I knew how missionaries should live, how much it should cost to support a missionary, etc.

Had I ever been a cross-cultural missionary? No. Did I take the time to humbly ask him to walk me through his budget? No. Did have even the slightest idea of what anything costed in the area he was going to? No. Did I take into account that he had a family of five whereas Betsy and I had just had our first child? No. Did I ask myself if this was New Testament ministry that was needed in that area? No. Did I ask myself if he had proved himself faithful with money in the past? No. I could list several more examples of how I really was making a snap judgment without really knowing what I certainly thought I did.

Even realizing all of that, the question still begs itself, “Why is it so expensive to send and support cross-cultural missionaries?” Below are a few major or ongoing expenses that I have discovered that many of us do not think about:

It is expensive to get to the field: Just to arrive at the location the missionary intends to serve, the missionary needs funds for plane tickets which depending on the location can easily tilt the scales between $1,000-$4,000 per person. So, if it is a “normal” size American family you’re looking at between $4,000-$16,000 just in airfare. Many missionaries also need to ship crates of personal belongings which usually start around $7,000. Throw some training costs on top of that (seminary, if required, or a training program, language school, etc) along with various other costs and that can make it pretty pricey to send a missionary to the field.

Visas: Obtaining long-term visas is becoming more difficult and more expensive around the world, especially for Americans and especially for missionaries. This cost can vary dramatically between countries and can change significantly due to new laws once it is time to renew.

Building and/or furnishing a home: Most (perhaps all) missionaries I know are not living extravagant lives over sees. They are living more or less like the people around them with perhaps a few differences mainly for the sake of keeping sane. Either way, whether your living in the bush of Indonesia, on the frozen taundra of Northern Canada or in a more urban environment it often takes a fair amount of money to get your home set up even if you are buying all local items.

Food, electronics and other everyday items: In many foreign countries food is very expensive because so much of it has to be imported. Yes, items that grow locally are typically very inexpensive but a lot of food can be double the price of what we pay in the US. The same is true for other things such as computers and other electronics as well as other everyday items such as cookware, appliances, etc. In most foreign countries you will need to pay for quality because going cheap on the wrong items can make you pay in other, more unpleasant ways. Missionaries we know try to live as much like the local people as possible but their bodies could not physically handle going totally “native.” Therefore, they do have extra cost for food and other necessities but they work hard at being good stewards so they pay more for quality when it is needed and buy local every place they can.

Ministry expenses: Missionaries typically have to raise all of their own ministry expenses. This could include resources they are using with those the are discipling or evangelizing, materials for projects they may be doing to help the community, among many other things.However, one of the largest expenses is typically travel. Many missionaries work in several different areas of a region or country. Therefore they may need to pay for airfare, boat rides, truck rides, bus rides, etc to get to the various places they are working.

Vehicle: Family vehicles are usually pretty expensive anywhere you go. However, they can be extraordinarily expensive when nearly 100% of the cars are imported. Again, all the missionaries we know buy used but they have to be really careful that they are buying good quality which can increase the cost even more. In most countries around the world there is no such thing as “lemon laws” so if you are not careful about buying good quality you can find yourself with a vehicle that is a far greater curse than it is a blessing.

Healthcare costs: These are expensive for anybody these days but monthly premium costs can be greatly alleviated when an employer is paying into them as is the case for many Americans. Missionaries often have no such luxury. They are not on an employer healthcare plan and thus often pay more on a monthly basis for coverage that works outside the US.

Taxes: This is another area where we often don’t realize that employers help out as well. Employers pay portions of Social Security and Medicare taxes taken out of your paycheck. On the other hand, most missionaries pay the full amount – both the employee and employer shares.

Sending Agency Administrative Fees: A good sending agency can be invaluable for a missionary especially when it comes to navigating the visa process, giving direction in strategy, encouragement or counsel in tough times (alongside the local church), handling donations and tax issues, raising support, etc. To do all this the sending agency has costs associated and can have administrative fees anywhere from 5%-25% of the donations that come in depending on the agency.

Had I been remotely aware of all these things I probably would have still been a little surprised by my friend’s budget but I would have taken a different approach. Thankfully, Betsy and I are blessed with a sending church and ministry partners that are not like I was. They are loving, caring and heavily invested in prayer, encouragement and finances. We praise God for those who are here in the US laboring alongside us wherever we are. The Lord continues to use them powerfully in our lives.

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We have chosen our sending agency!

Reaching & Teaching Will be Our Sending Agency
We have officially been appointed as missionaries with Reaching and Teaching

As you may know we recently completed our time on staff with
To Every Tribe. Over the last two years we have enjoyed helping to train other missionaries, church planting in Northern Mexico and filling in some of our own gaps in needed preparation for the mission field.

We are now focusing our sights on long-term ministry in Peru. Our goal there is two-fold: 1) To partner with and train Peruvian pastors, leaders, and missionaries to reach the unreached with the gospel and 2) To entrust biblically sound teaching to faithful men who will be equipped to teach others, thereby strengthening the church in Peru. Therefore we have chosen Reaching and Teaching as our sending agency for two primary reasons:

  1. Their focus and expertise in training and mobilizing indigenous pastors and missionaries.
  2. Their expertise on missions in the South American context.
Please praise the Lord with us and pray for us during this exciting transition.
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Recklessly Abandoned – But Not the Way You Think

Ed McCully of the “Ecuador Five” once wrote a letter to his good friend and missionary teammate, Jim Elliot, that he had resolved to live his life in “reckless abandon” for Christ. Now, if you know anything about To Every Tribe or David Sitton (the founder of To Every Tribe) you know that the phrase “reckless abandon” is at part of the heartbeat of the organization, its leadership and missionaries.

IMG_0117However, over the last two years I have become close to a people who would have a different context and understanding of this phrase, “reckless abandon.” These are the people living in the small villages and towns in Northern Mexico whom myself and others in the Center for Pioneer Church Planting have been ministering among over the last two years. So how would they understand this famous phrase? They would understand it not as who missionaries are but what missionaries have done…to them.

Yes, over the last several years American missionaries and mission organizations have by-in-large recklessly abandoned the people of Northern Mexico, including our own brothers and sisters in Christ. That stings to hear, I know. But let me briefly explain from what I have experienced over the last two years of doing mission in Northern Mexico.

First, well meaning Americans were reckless in their approach to mission in Northern Mexico the last several decades.

Not long ago Northern Mexico was saturated with well-intentioned short-term and long-term mission work. Sadly, the approach to much of this work was driven by the shock that most Americans have when they see the economic and cultural disparity between what they just left back home and what they encounter just across our Southern border. Thus, the approach to mission work in Northern Mexico centered around “service projects,” handing out material goods, building houses, building church buildings, etc.

Sadly, it seems as though nobody stopped to ask what this was communicating to the people. Well, Garry Weaver, points out to the missionary trainees he oversees at To Every Tribe, “One of the best parts about church planting in Northern Mexico is that you get to see the lingering results of mission done poorly.”

The steady flow of American handouts and “service projects” effectively communicated that the Mexicans should move over and let us show them how things should be. In fact, American mission efforts possibly put some people out of business as we brought in clothing to give away and building supplies to build with. Had we never considered that before gringos arrived the Mexican people were getting their own clothes and building their own houses and church buildings. Actually, they were building structures that they could maintain themselves as opposed to the American structures which require different tools, materials and skills to maintain.

The worst result of all of this is twofold. First, along with the handouts and buildings also came decisionistic gospel presentations which focused on getting people to come forward or raise their hand to receive Jesus. Again this is all well-intentioned but perhaps not well thought through. Anyone who has a very basic understanding of the Mexican culture immediately sees why this is a poor approach – Mexican people are very agreeable people. In other words, they do not want to disappoint you. Thus, if you ask them to do something or ask them a question they will give you the answer they believe you want to hear even if they have absolutely no intention of following through.

For example, our team goes around our village inviting dozens of people to our evangelistic Bible studies and every single person gives us the perception that they will be there. In fact, they will even double check the time and place with us before we leave their home. But when the Bible study rolls around a vast majority of those who indicated they would come are not there. Why? Were they lying to us? Well, I guess from a technical sense maybe, but culturally speaking, no. They just did not want to embarrass us or shame us by saying “no” to our faces so they said they will be there even if they had no intention of coming.

This is true for invitations to receive Christ as well. I could go to the villages we worked in right now and get almost every single person I share the gospel with to pray the “sinners’ prayer ” with me, not because they are genuinely giving their lives to Christ but because they do not want to embarrass me by rejecting my message to my face. However, odds are that many or all of them would probably have no real intention of truly following Christ. American Evangelicals have traditionally not only taken this approach but handed out stuff while doing it. Given the cultural context and a desire for the free stuff to keep coming, what other response would you expect? As a result of this simple lack of cultural understanding, American missions practices have led to many false conversions.

Furthermore, I have seen firsthand that this approach has effectively side-lined the Mexican church in gospel proclamation because they cannot reproduce what the Americans just did. Therefore, when presenting the gospel, seeing conversions and discipling people who live in Northern Mexico we must truly walk alongside them in life and have a long-term, fruit-oriented, reproducible approach.

Second, American evangelicals have abandoned our brothers and sisters in Christ in Northern Mexico.

All that was stated above leaves no doubt in the one’s mind that the church in Northern Mexico, in a vast majority of places, is very weak and wide open to heresy and other troubles that come with a lack of proper discipleship and leadership development. This is further compounded by the fact that over the last 15 years or so missionary efforts in Northern Mexico have really dried up due to the growing dangers associated with drug cartel violence.

I am not casting judgment on the churches and mission agencies that have pulled out of this region but I must ask the question, “what does this communicate to the people there?”

Those that I have spoken with feel abandoned. In fact, many people just over the Southern border do not believe gringos keep their word or genuinely care about their well-being. This is surprising when we first learn it but this perception is solidly backed a history of broken promises and leaving them when things got tough. What would you think of people who told you they loved you and wanted you to truly know Christ but when the situation gets dangerous and difficult they stop coming? I think we would all feel how many believers and unbelievers in Northern Mexico feel – recklessly abandoned.

My conclusion then is this: Northern Mexico does not need any more short-term trips seeking to do things for the people that they are capable of doing themselves. The people of Northern Mexico do not need any more slick in-and-out gospel presentations focused on quick decisions. The people of Northern Mexico do not need to be saved by the American heroes with matching t-shirts who come in for a week to help “those poor people.”

What the people of Northern Mexico do need is missionaries and US churches who are committed to loving them and laboring alongside them for the sake of the gospel for the long-haul. They need people who will walk through life with them, teaching them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and how they too can make other disciples. In other words, the people of Northern Mexico need what every people need, the fullness of the Great Commission carried out among them.

 “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,I am with you always, to the end of the age,’” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis added).

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