Still Learning My Way Around

Recently I was encouraged to put an index to some of my more useful blog posts, on this site. I have placed links to similar posts within posts, but I was not sure how to accomplish what was requested.

After I got on my site the next time I decided to check out the “Categories” and the “Tags” links (if you put your cursor over the words that follow either of these two, you will find they change color, meaning if you click on one you will be provided every entry that deals with a specific category, or every one that mentions the tagged topic. So the categories is sort of like a topical table of contents and the tagged words are sort of thematic indexes. This is what you get when you read the blog of a novice–I keep learning more of the features that are built into this blog format.

If you go to the top of this article you will see that just below the title, “Still Learning My Way Around,” there is a box that has “Category:” followed by several items like, “Bible Studies, Communication, Community Development, etc.” Click on any of those and you will get all of the posts I have grouped under than category.

In that same box, just below “Categories” is the option of “Tags:” which is followed by words like “Discovery Bible Studies.” If you click on that you will get the 10-11 articles that mention these.

Hopefully this is old news to most of you. But just in case you are still sort of new to this whole blogging scene (like I obviously am), I want to be sure you know how to use this feature. While I listed all the categories, I only gave you a few of the tags since there are more than 40 of them.

Let me know if any of these posts prompt questions. Some of my best writing happens when people ask good questions.

A Change on the Horizon

I am convinced God is calling me to become a full-time trainer of trainers. This is a journey He started me on in 2003. I never could have imagined an invitation to a fund-raising dinner would be how he would launch such a transition.

My tenure as the Pulpit Minister of the Stones River Church will close at the end of May. When I announced this on Sunday, March 6, several shared that they have seen it coming for a while. One even asked, “What took you so long?” It has been obvious that catalyzing the spread of the Gospel into new territory has become my passion. God has used this time to prepare me for my next phase of ministry. It has become obvious that a change is necessary.

Debra and I will continue to live here in Murfreesboro. Stones River Church will be our home congregation. But I will be travelling extensively to train others to do what God has been preparing me to do. Ten years ago, I could not have imagined this becoming my passion. Papa God planted a desire to go to Sierra Leone in my heart and then used my travels to that war-torn country to light a fire for the nations to come to know His glory.

My passion had always been local. I could not envision myself working globally. But the sweetest thing is how significant all of my ministry experiences become in this new phase. Before this change took root I had to learn the foundational importance of discipleship. This learning has to be experiential—not just abstract or theoretical. God used Sierra Leone to open me to being discipled by David Watson. Then he called me to start passing on what I was learning to others—men in jail, young adults and anyone who would listen.

While I have thought about this transition since early in 2006, I doubted my training. I have taken one missions course in all my academic work  and spent less than three months outside the United States. But God has given me some incredible experiences during the last eight years. (My lack of traditional missions training may have actually made it easier for me to think in non-traditional ways.) My focus on theology has certainly been a blessing. But most of all, God has blessed me with some great mentors.

Most of my thirty-one years of pastoral experience has been solo. Often I lamented feeling like I was attempting to “reinvent the wheel” since I did not have older preachers from whom to learn. But my training in Disciple Making Movements has come through relationships with two men–David Watson and Jerry Trousdale. It is exciting to think about what I have learned from these brothers and the opportunities that will come to work with them in the future. God is good!

Debra and I covet your prayers. We ask you to intercede for us and for the Stones River family. The last thing we want is for this transition to be damaging to this congregation. I want to see it grow and flourish. Pray for the shepherds. Pray that God will show us his plans for the future. This season should prove to be exciting and scary. We can be confident that as God leads us, there will be many blessings to come as we are faithful.

Pray that I will be successful in recruiting partners who will assist us financially. I have always been fearful of fund raising, but I reached the point where not stepping out would result in being disobedient.

Father, I praise you for giving me this passion. I claim your promise to do more than I can think or imagine. Bless me on this journey. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Guest Posts Schedule

My guest posts are scheduled to go live on the Brett’s blog

on February 9, 10, 11(Wed., Thur. & Fri.).  Each post will publish at 7:00 am Central Standard time. I encourage you to subscribe to Brett’s blog, since he’s an interesting writer and he is attempting to do some of the things I write about here. He and his wife, Christie, are part of a team that has lived in Tanzania for the last two years.

It is still my intention to post some connected thoughts here. My last-minute preparations for a trip to Asia are making this harder than I hoped, but I am still working to make this happen.

What’s Up With That?

As most of you know, I have not posted to my blog in the last couple of weeks. I entered the New Year with the anticipation of doing more consistent writing. It appears that resolution has been dashed with many others. But wait, I have been writing during those two weeks—just not for my blog.

A friend asked me to be a guest author on his blog. I shared with him that I realize I need a goal and a deadline. He was offering me the goal (write three blog articles on discipleship) and set my due date as January 25. I sent him the three articles on the 22nd, so he has time to prepare those to be automatically posted, even though he will be traveling during February.

Why would I write for someone else, rather than myself? To help him out. To see if my posts might draw some readers to my blog. To see what kind of reaction his followers have to my articles (he has attracted people who comment frequently). One of the things I am pondering is whether my style and/or subject matter may limit dialogue. Or, have I just not pushed the right buttons yet.

But another piece of this is I am experimenting. Many of the blogs I have read suggest that helping others is a great way to grow your own audience. We will see.

Now I plan to write some articles that I will publish here that work off the guest posts on his blog. That way if some of his readers hop over they will find some connections. The other thing it pushes me to do is plan ahead more.

Most of my posts build off of other conversations or experiences. Often I take a section of an email conversation and expand it. Or maybe I drill deeper into an issue that arises from a dialogue with a friend. Someone asks a mission-related question and that prompts me to fashion a response. Those are usually pretty easy to write, but they are reactive, more than proactive. I want to become more proactive in my writing. I will continue to respond to things that come up in the flow of life, but I also need to write regularly and consistently to build my discipline.

Thanks for checking in to my site. Any comments are appreciated. Questions are certainly welcome. If there are topics that come to your mind as you read any of these posts, please respond in a comment.

Those three posts will be on Brett Harrison’s site, Aliens and Strangers, ( during the month of February. Brett does a good job of writing interesting and thought-provoking articles. He also has about four different types of posts that he mixes up well to attract and engage a diverse readership.

Is it possible I will gain more from giving those articles to Brett than if I had just posted them here? Join me as I test the promise of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Dialogue on Disciple Making and Evangelism

Recently I was asked to respond to a quote: “The making of disciples is not an end in itself. The end result is evangelism, and disciples are the means.” Jim Downing – Agree or Disagree? Why? I replied, “I would disagree, because I believe discipleship is a lifelong process of transformation into the image of Jesus while evangelism deals with the beginning of that process.”

At that point I was directed to the interview from which this quote was taken. You can find it at:

Reading the whole article certainly puts Jim Downing’s words in their original setting and that gives me greater understanding of how he uses these terms. There is much that Jim says with which I wholeheartedly agree.

But just as I originally responded to his words without their context, I fear we all do the same with Scriptures from time to time. For example, I do not believe Mathew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8 are synonymous (an issue that was raised by another respondent). These two passages are spoken at different times, in different places, commanding different responsibilities. Combine this with the fact that one is the close of a gospel and the other is the opening of the sequel to another gospel, and we ought to intuitively realize they are probably accomplishing different things in those contextualized presentations of the story of Jesus. (Before we juxtapose or combine two texts from different authors we must be sure we understand each in its original context.)

My studied conviction is that the Great Commission is the crowning completion of Jesus’ disciple-making paradigm—in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus models a three-fold ministry of preaching, teaching and healing in the first gospel (Matthew 4:17-23). As he calls the twelve he uses the three strategies to which Jim Downing refers. Jesus teaches (even with thousands overhearing in chs. 5-7), coaches (ch. 10) and mentors them in groups of three or less. But Matthew never speaks of these hand-picked, sent-out representatives being sent out to “teach” until the Great Commission is given. They imitate Jesus by proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and by healing the sick, but in the first gospel they never teach until their final sending, and even then it is qualified as “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Only Matthew records Jesus’ difficult saying about not being called “Rabbi” or “Teacher” (Matthew 23:5-11). Jesus alone is the teacher in the first gospel. He radically contrasts the many teachers of first century Judaism (cf., Matthew 7:28-29, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”). The Great Commission launches the reproductive process of making disciples by baptizing them and teaching them to obey all of Jesus’ commands. This is how the first gospel insures that Jesus is kept front and center.

By contrast, it is my studied conviction that Acts 1:8 is particularized—exclusively addressed to the apostles and compelling them to remain in Jerusalem as witnesses (at risk of martyrdom) because they are to insure that the gospel flows to Gentiles unfettered by Jewish culture. I agree with Steven Hawthorne when he writes, “God drew the apostles together in body, heart and mind for one of the most important moments of history—the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15.” Unlike some who believe the apostles were disobedient by remaining in Jerusalem, I am convinced they were stubbornly obedient. Jerusalem was not their home—Galilee was and that is where Jesus speaks the Great Commission.  Remaining in Jerusalem places them at grave risk as is evidenced by what happened to James, John’s brother. But Jesus’ special directives to them required they stay in Jerusalem as his witnesses (Acts 1:8). The Greek word “martus” was a primitive word from which we get our word “martyr”; a witness. Witnesses establish the value of following Christ.  Their persuasive power is not only because their words match their life—their words and their life match those of Christ Himself. It is as if Christ Himself stands to testify before the world.

Paul’s life was brought under this same directive when Jesus sends Ananias: “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” (Acts 9:15-16). “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.’” (Acts 22:12-15).

Let me summarize what all of this means to me. 1) Each of the four gospels is a contextualized proclamation of the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus. Each presents those portions that will especially resonate with and transform the believers who are being called out of four different worldviews. We will be better served to grapple with, understand and then appropriate those diverse presentations than to conflate them into just one chronological gospel—like we Westerners are inclined to do. 2) In our calling to develop the mind of Christ, we will learn to make disciples by watching, imitating and obeying Jesus. 3) From time to time he will call representatives to step forward as witnesses who will withstand attempts to shackle the gospel with cultural baggage that would slow or cripple its spread. 4) Teaching obedience to Jesus is at the heart of disciple making—here I am heavily influenced by Matthew’s proclamation. 5) Care to use some of these terms with a more nuanced meaning will give us greater clarity, but only to the extent we can agree on such meanings.

In the context of the original interview with Jim Downing, I want to conclude by noting a further point from his context. While the interview opens with a question about the Great Commission, Jim begins with a reference to Matthew 24:14. Do not overlook this because it sets the perspective for everything that follows. If you are familiar with the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement materials you know that this earlier text is a lens for interpreting the Great Commission. Everything Jim says in this interview is colored by what he believes about this verse.

Personally,I am still wrestling with the Perspectives understanding of Matthew 24:14. It has grown on me over the last five years, but I am not totally settled, yet. We all have texts that shape how we interpret other blocks of Scripture. Recognizing this is very important for us to grow in our ability to hear God’s Word afresh in our lives.

Encouraging Missionaries

Do you know a cross-cultural missionary who is away from loved ones for Christmas? Do you help financially support such workers through your church or personally? If so, I encourage you to keep at it and prayerfully consider increasing your contribution.

Regardless of your ability to give additional funds, there is a way for you to help them. Always respond to their communications. Always write them after you receive a report or prayer request.

Maybe you don’t know them that well. Don’t let that get in your way. You can overcome that deficiency given enough time. Realize the cumulative effect of consistent actions. If they stay on their post for five years and you respond to their monthly reports you will have written them 60 times. They will have come to value and anticipate your communication as much as you do theirs.

Last February I travelled to Asia to encourage English teachers to be intentional and strategic in making disciples who make disciples. I shared my email, Facebook, Twitter and blog addresses. Over the next several months I began to have contact with a few of them. I always made it a point to respond to their posts on their blogs, reply to their newsletters and acknowledge their prayer requests.

The second thing I began to do was take note of the blogs they read. Checking these out led me to additional teachers in the same region engaged in the same work. I began to respond to their reports and posts also. Today I follow about 35 missionary blogs. I am encouraged by my increased awareness of what God is doing in our world. I am also more mindful of the needs of these workers.

You probably don’t have time to interact with as many as I do, but will you encourage one or two? Will you pray for one or two? If so, I suggest you always respond (in writing) to their correspondence. Be sure to take note of where they are and what their special needs are. If they are in a restricted access country, realize the need for care. If they use the phrase “good book” instead of “Bible,” then follow their lead. If they speak of the “church” where they are as “family”, do likewise. Most will not allow your comments to be posted without moderation and they will catch your mistakes and not allow them to be viewed publicly. Just use good judgment, but always be encouraging.

Build them up. Note the things they are doing that are praiseworthy and express your appreciation. Use your abilities to let them know that they are not doing this work alone. Let them know that you are lifting them up. From time to time I encourage you to write out a prayer and send that to them. Claim one of God’s promises for them. Pray the Lord’s Prayer for them. Ask King Jesus to let his kingdom come, that his will be done in ___________________ just like it is in heaven. Be an intercessor for them.

Some of those couples in Asia asked me to be a mentor to them because they found my comments helpful. The fact that I did this without knowing any of them well made me stand out. (May I be brutally honest? One reason I stood out was so few of their family and friends comment on their blogs.) I realize I do not have access to their personal email accounts, so they may get lots of encouragement that way, but I suspect that does not happen either. We can do better than that.

It is easier to intend to change than it is to build new patterns of behavior. I once shared a 31 day list of prayers to pray for missionaries with the church where I preach. I realized a couple of weeks later that I was not practicing what I was preaching. I sat down with that list and adapted it to use as daily Facebook posts—reminding myself to pray for these friends. I wanted to redeem the beneficial opportunities I saw available in social networking, but I needed to be disciplined. I get more comments about those posts than anything I do online.

What can you do? Pray for and encourage one.

If you realize it will take some kind of external reminder for you to build a new habit of praying and encouraging, comment on this blog and I will help. I know about an email application that will send you a daily reminder to pray/write. I will be happy to share it with you if you wish.

Be the encourager these kingdom spreaders need!

Coping With a Crazy Busy Schedule

Two down, two to go! I am halfway through a four-day stretch that is crazy busy. Yesterday we participated in an annual fund-raising dinner for a ministry where I am president of the board of directors. This morning I had my annual physical. Tomorrow my wife and I will be running our first half marathon and then on Sunday our church is participating in Church Outside the Walls!

Putting any of these into a normal week would add to the stress level. Adding all of them to a four-day stretch has been interesting. Everyone of these activities is good. But even good things can add to busy-ness.

Jesus seemed especially prone to slip away from such hectic times to spend special times with Papa God. While I did not spend any all-nighters in prayer, I have found myself praying whenever I wake up thinking about these activities. When our schedules are busiest we most need to guard our times with our Father.

Training for this half marathon has helped me in several ways–some unanticipated. I thought it likely that I would lose some weight and that my cholesterol numbers would benefit. My physical revealed both happened. But the training has also helped me spiritually. I find myself praying while I run. There are some Muslims for whom I pray. There are friends who have lost loved ones. I have prayed for Church Outside the Walls. Like training for a half marathon, intercession requires discipline. It has been great to couple spiritual discipline with physical discipline. But the running has also given me deeper insights into Hebrews 11:39 – 12:13.

Running a 13.1 mile race takes planning. It is easier to train when you have a partner–Debra and I have kept each other going. Keeping your eye on the goal and breaking the preparation down into manageable chunks is essential. Perseverance is demanded and it increases with training.

Throw a major home-remodeling project into the mix over these last two weeks and the recipe was ripe for a melt-down. But the extra prayer time and the running helped me stay sane through a crazy busy schedule.

Practice discipline. Be healthy. God will equip you for challenges that lie ahead!

Overcoming Apathy in Your Walk

A few months ago, I heard from a friend who is a missionary in the southern hemisphere.  He wrote, “I have struggled immensely with language shock, apathy in my walk with God, spiritual warfare, despair, and depression.  I am tired.  I have felt so alone here.” Below is the counsel and offer to help I gave him.

Fold a piece of unlined paper into three equal parts like you would a letter you are about to put into an envelope.  Open it up and draw a line in those two creases.  Turn it landscape orientation and write the following at the top of each of the three columns:

God’s Word:                             In My Words:                               “I Will…” Statements:

Open to Ephesians 1:1 and write as many verses as you can in that first column taking about 10 minutes (including beginning with a prayer to hear God’s voice).  Yes, write the verses out word for word.  This is a form of meditation that addresses “Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.”  Ten minutes.

Now take the next 10 minutes to re-write the meaning of what you just copied from the Bible.  Here you want to rephrase it like you are telling a 12 year old what the passage means.  Be sure to highlight any insights into God that are revealed in the passage you just wrote.

Now take the next 10 minutes writing statements affirming what you are going to do to obey this passage.  Each statement should begin with the words, “I Will.”  Some passages are harder to do this with than others, but it can be done with any section of God’s Word.  There is an acrostic (S.P.E.C.K.) that can help with the more difficult sections:

  • Sin—Is there a Sin identified in this text that I need to confess or avoid.
  • Prayer/Praise/Promise—Is there a Prayer I should pray? A Praise I should give? Or a Promise I should claim?
  • Example—Is there an Example in this passage I should imitate?
  • Command—Is there a Command I should put into practice?
  • Knowledge—Is there Knowledge here that I need to learn?

Do this Monday through Friday.  Saturday take a break from writing.  Review the five sections you have written.  Ask God to reveal who you know who needs to hear one of the interesting things you have learned about God through your study this week.  Thank God for what he has revealed and ask him to reveal even more about himself next week.  On Sunday begin by asking for wisdom to discern which “I Will…” Statement you most need to pursue.  Now list 3-4 steps you can take next week to put that “I Will…” Statement into practice.

Start the process over again the next Monday.  Thirty minutes a day.  Work through Ephesians.  Scan these into your computer and email them to me as attachments.  I will respond to them as a friend, brother and accountability partner.

The only way this can get any better is to start doing the process with 3-5 people from your neighborhood.  It is amazing how much more we hear from God when we do this process with a group.  The other benefit is they will help provide accountability for you.

DBS and 3-Column Studies

Yesterday I enjoyed an hour-long phone conversation with a brother who is returning to Benin for a short-term mission trip among some Aja believers. He had served as a cross-cultural missionary among these people for several years before moving back to the States. Now he goes back periodically to encourage them and do some teaching, coaching and mentoring.

He told me that he had introduced the Discovery Bible Study approach to these people a couple of years ago. He was wanting my feedback on what he was planning to do on this upcoming trip. In the course of our discussion he exclaimed, “I did not understand that. I have probably caused a lot of frustration among these people!”

What had he just understood? What light had come on for my friend?

Discovery Bible Studies and 3-Column Studies are not identical. They overlap. They dove-tail well when they are used among people who are functional literates, but even then they are not the same.

A 3-Column Study is primarily an individualistic inductive study. An individual writes out a short section of Scripture, copying it into the left-hand column in a word-for-word style. Then he/she paraphrases the same passage in her/his own words in the middle column. In the third column the person itemizes what he/she will do to obey–put into practice–this passage.

This is an inductive study because all the meaning comes directly from the text. In re-writing the passage you include who is speaking and to whom. You include what the author/speaker wants the audience to understand from the events that transpire. If the time frame is significant, then “When?” is a question that is answered in the re-telling. Where these events take place is also revealed. Why these events are significant is declared. How the desired outcome takes place is also revealed. Basic reading comprehension is reported in the middle column.

In the third column the student records what she/he hears from the text that should be applied to his/her life. Ownership is taken by using the format of starting each line with the words “I Will…” (I once had a friend tell me that someone in one of my classes said he never did the 3rd column because if he wrote these using the “I will…” start he would feel like he had to obey them.)

Completing this process can be very valuable for any student of God’s Word who is functionally literate. It can be richly rewarding because it slows you down and has you “handle” Scriptures. (Have you ever considered that in Jesus’ day there was a group of spiritual leaders who were formed by the practice of writing Scripture–the Scribes? Their shortcoming was their refusal to obey what they learned by copying God’s Word.) It is valuable because it prepares you to tell someone else what you hear God saying through a specific text. It also serves as a historical document describing what you realize you need to do to submit to God’s teaching from a particular passage.

But 3-Column Studies are not going to work with functionally illiterate people. They will not work with those who do not know how to read and write. They will not work with oral learners. These people either are unable to read and write, or they strongly prefer not to do so. But we must remember that Scriptures were primarily written to be heard. “Hear, oh Israel…” “Let him who has ears to hear…”

People who will never read or write can orally do the equivalent of a 3-Column Study. The format we recommend for that to happen is a Discovery Bible Study. Here the process is done through speaking and listening. Here the text is read or told well. If it is read, it is probably best if it is read well twice. At the appropriate time it should first be read from a trade language translation. Follow that with a heart language translation if that is available.

Whenever a group gathers, to do a discovery study (whether they have previously done a 3-column study or not), there is a very valuable format for them to follow. It actually entails discipling them (primarily by modelling and by you coaching an insider who will facilitate the process in his/her household) to ask and answer eight questions during their gathering:

  • What has gone well lately that gave you joy?
  • What has caused you, or someone you know, stress lately?
  • How did the efforts to help with the stressor we picked last time go?

[Have the passage read twice/told. Have someone  re-tell the passage. Ask others to fill in any significant details that were omitted when the passage was re-told.]

  • What do you learn about God from this passage?
  • What do you learn about humanity from this passage?
  • What would obedience to this passage look like in our lives?
  • Who do you know who needs to hear what we have learned today?
  • Which of the stressful things that were mentioned earlier can we help to overcome?

By following this format groups discover many things. They discover something about God’s nature and work. They discover that they can help each other with stressful situations. They discover the value of being thankful. They discover the benefits that come from hearing, understanding and practicing God’s Word as a group. They discover how obedience to a passage is transformational. They discover how to minster to others. They discover the importance of sharing what they are learning with others.

Everything in the Discovery Bible Study is done orally. It can be done by people who love to read and write. It can be done by those who hate to read or write. It can be done by those who are unable to read and write. It involves people in a very reproducible process of coming to Scripture and submitting to what it is teaching.

My friend had been trying to get people who are oral learners to use a literate process. I can relate; I have attempted the same thing. I know I have frustrated many, too.

Don’t get me wrong–writing out 3-Column Studies is extremely valuable for anyone who will consistently do them! These written studies become a great testimony to how God has been transforming your life over a period of time. But there is great value in doing Discovery Bible Studies. Those who only do 3-Column Studies will miss much richness that comes only from being part of a community that is opening itself to God’s Word.

Since you are reading this blog, I know you can benefit from using both formats. Doing a 3-Column Study would be a great way to prepare to facilitate a Discovery Bible Study. Pass it on to any who read and write, but invest your primary energies into getting others to do Discovery Bible Studies. Make sure they know they can open themselves to God whether they like to read or write or not!

Sustainability Considered

In CPM we stress the following three approaches: Educate, through teaching, to increase knowledge. Train, through coaching, to increase skill sets. Equip, through mentoring, to increase capacity. We know that one of the problems with traditional Western Christianity is that it is almost exclusively focused on the first of these. Teaching is important, but inadequate by itself.

Lately some of us have noticed that those of us who train others in Church Planting Movements often have this same weakness when it comes to Access Ministries. We teach the need to do access ministires. We share the CPM counter-intuitive that says, “Small for-profit projects often yield much higher long-term access and goodwill than free services.” But how many skill sets are we training church planters in the area of access ministries? How many are we mentoring to greater capacity?

Church Planting Movements often grow rapidly for a while, and then begin to slow some because our fund raising capacities fail to keep up with the need to financially support the number of CPM trainers necessary to keep the work moving forward. The greater the numbers the more “just in the nick of time training” is demanded. The broader the area is that is being impacted by churches being planted, the greater the needs for coaching and mentoring. Thankfully, these very needs push us to become more creative and alert to new ways to accomplish what God is calling us to do.

Biblically we often are drawn back to the “tentmaking” material. Paul’s most fruitful work came when he was in the city of Ephesus for roughly three years. Even his enemies acknowledged that the work of Paul’s team was incredibly productive. They felt like if they did not do something quickly they would no longer have employment because their silver images of Artemis were being purchased by fewer and fewer people. This recession was being produced by the fact that more and more people were following Jesus and rejecting their polytheistic past (Acts 19). Reflecting on his time in Ephesus, Paul notes, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:33-35).

The apostle Paul’s practice in the matter of support is an intriguing study. For “right/wrong” people (where everything has to fit into one of these two categories) he can be frustrating. There are places where Paul was adamant about the right of kingdom workers to receive support from those who were being blessed by their ministry. But then there are those places where he chose to forgo such support and appears to expect the same from others. I fear we try to make an “either/or” out of something Paul deals with as a “both/and.”

I can almost imagine a modern query, “Paul, are you for self-support or full-time support from those who were coming to know Jesus?” Paul’s answer woud be, “Yes.” “But Paul, that was an either/or question,” would be the reply. “Yes, I know. Why do you choose to make an either/or out of a both and?”

Paul’s choice in this matter appears to be situational. He strategically decides to work with his hands to support himself (and even his team) when that will do the most good for the spread of the gospel. At other times he lives off the financial support other churches forward to him. But he consistently did not accept financial support from the people where he was currently working. We need to be open to using these two approaches depending upon which is best in a particular situation.

To recognize which strategy will be most fruitful we must know the culture where we are working well. What are the attitudes of the people we are trying to reach about money? How do they view someone being supported while spreading the gospel? Do they have a history of religious charlatans? How will our choices now affect the spread of the gospel later? Is our course of action infinitely reproducible? Is our course of action sustainable? These are some of the questions we must learn to ask and answer.