Category: Spiritual Formation

10 Reasons Why You Need Community

Written By: Debra Fileta
This article was originally published on TrueLoveDates.com 

I love to talk about relationships.

As a Professional Counselor and Author, it’s a topic that I’m passionate about and one that I feel led to write about, speak about, and even just think about. But sometimes I wonder if our culture at large tends to get fixated on romantic relationships, without remembering the other important relationships that God calls us into.

In order to learn about love- we need people.

The concept of Christian community is such an important part of love, because it’s within the context of relationships that we have the opportunity to express and receive love. God is so creative, in that He gave us a body of believers as a way to experience the give-and-take of love, no matter what our “romantic” relationship-status.

Here are some reasons why it’s really important to be in relationship with other believers:

1. Community challenges you to be more like Jesus (Hebrews 10:24-25). Nothing makes you more like Jesus than the daily grind of interactions with others. We often think about marriage when it comes to this refining process, but the truth is God also gives us community as a way to become more like Him. God’s word reminds us that we are put in relationships in order to encourage one another in our pursuit of God and His Kingdom. It’s within the context of community that we are given the opportunity to be refined as followers of Christ.

2. Community meets practical needs (Acts 2:42-47). Just like in the early church, community is a place where we come to get our physical needs met. We need to learn to let down our walls and ask for help from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether we need someone to pick up medicine for us when we’re sick, cook us a meal at the end of a long week, or help us carry a financial burden- the body of Christ was made to support and love one another in practical ways. We can learn a lot about love within the exchange of practical needs.

3. Community carries you emotionally (Galatians 6:2). Just as important as physical needs- are the emotional needs we carry through life. We are given the the responsibility to support each other in hard times, and to carry one another’s burdens. As much as we need to be available for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we also need to have the courage to ask them to come alongside of us when we’re the ones in need of support, prayer, or a shoulder to cry on. It’s important to learn to be real with one another- because that’s what true community is all about.

4. Community reveals your gifts and talents (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Two are better than one, because there is double the strength, double the stamina, and double the talents. Within the context of community we’re given the opportunity to discover our gifts and our talents, and to use them to bless others. We’re each given a very specific role in the body of Christ and it is within these relationships that our roles can be used to glorify God to the fullest. We’re part of something really special (1 Corinthians 12:27).

5. Community opens your eyes to the needs of others (1 Thess 5:14). Within community we are encouraged to look around at the needs of those around us. We’re called to strengthen those who are weak and to and encourage those who are down and out. Community calls us out of our self-centeredness and self-absorption by giving us the responsibility to look outward.

6. Community empowers your relationship with God (Proverbs 27:17). There is something real about the concept of power in numbers. When we are surrounded by other believers, we feel empowered in our faith and may even be more sensitive to God’s presence in our lives. There’s something powerful about believers joining together, making each other accountable and being a sort of a witness of one another’s lives. We need people checking in on us, asking the hard questions, and challenging us to really live out our faith.

7. Community meets our need for love (Proverbs 17:17). There’s no denying that we are men and women who crave love. We were made to, by a relational God who longs for us to be in relationship with Him. But even more amazing, is that God gives us the gift of each other as a way to meet our earthly needs for love. This brotherly love (phileo) that we’re given is a beautiful representation of the greatest Friend who laid down his life for us. We’re also called to love each other in this beautiful way.

8. Community offers opportunities for confession which leads to healing (James 5:16). There’s power in confession. It gives us the chance to bring to light the things that have been holding us back in darkness. Within community, we’re given the opportunity to get real with one another, to confess our sins, and to break free from the things that are holding us back from living God’s best life. True community requires transparency, authenticity, and confession.

9. Community teaches you to work through conflicts (1 Corinthians 1:10). Bring any group of people together and one thing is certain- conflict is inevitable. But we’re called to work through our divisions with one another as the body of believers. We’re asked to be a united body, which isn’t always easy, nor natural. It’s a humbling experience that teaches us to lay down our pride, to learn assertiveness, and to enhance our communication. We need each other, because it’s within the messiness of relationships with one other that we’re reminded of our desperate need for Him.

10. Community gives you the chance to forgive (1 Peter 4:8-11). There is nothing more beautiful than the picture of the gospel displayed through our healthy interactions as a body of believers.  Within this body we’re bound to get hurt, and then guaranteed the opportunity to forgive. We get to feel what Jesus felt as He suffered wounds at the hands of the people He loved, and then loved them anyway. This is the hardest part about community, but it’s the part that makes us most like Him.

It’s time to recognize your God-ordained need for people, and then seek to build relationships with the people God has placed in your life. As you think through this list and read through the last few posts about community, ask yourself how much you’ve allowed your relationships with people to impact your life and your faith? What is holding you back?

By: Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author.

Seek God First – Spiritual Exercise

sflogoScripture Focus: Colossians 3:1 17 (take some time to read through this as you begin)

What I Desire: To be formed deeply into the likeness of Christ and live into the fullness of who He created me to be. To love, lead and serve like Christ in every part of my life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see the particulars of my sin and lead me into confession under the fullness of your mercy and grace. Grant me a deep desire to live into the virtues of Christ and to seek you first in all things at all times for your glory.

UWM Core Value: Seek God First – We pursue God’s Kingdom, presence, and sanctifying work in us as foundational to everything. We are intentional about spiritual formation, beginning with our own hearts.

Thoughts for Reflection

At the foundation of our spiritual formation is the sanctifying work of God to restore us into His likeness. This is a work of the heart. Our heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” (James 17:9), marred by our sinful nature and attacked by the evil one. As a follower of Jesus Christ, we are justified by our faith in Christ, but the gospel doesn’t stop here. The gospel continues and invites us into a renewing of our heart and mind, a regeneration of the heart as we live out our daily lives. I like how John Wesley says this, “Justification is a doctrine ‘relating to that great work which God does for us, in forgiving our sins,’ while regeneration relates to ‘the great work which God does in us, in renewing our fallen nature.’ Justification is for us, regeneration in us. The one restores us to the favor, the other to the image of God” (Fred Sanders, Wesley On the Christian Life). Therefore, as the people of God on mission with and for Him, we desire to be intentional about our spiritual formation and this begins with a deep work in our hearts. As my friend Brian Rice says, “This is a long, slow, deep, difficult and particular work of God’s grace.”

Why Seek God First?

Because He is our Sovereign, our Creator, our Father, our Savior, our LORD, our King, our Teacher, and our Friend. He calls us over and over again to come to Him, to seek Him over all the things of this world.

Because He first loved us and pursues us diligently with great longing so that we would desire, love and enjoy Him forever. He seeks to offer us love, life and liberation.

Because His Kingdom and presence are filled with ultimate love, fullness of joy and abounding grace. We are crowned with loving kindness, and in Him all things are made right. We are changed by the magnificence of His glory, and in His presence we find life.

We are intentional about our spiritual formation because it matters for us, those around us and the mission of Christ in the world. The degree to which we have been transformed by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit will be the degree of our influence and impact on the people around us. We will only be able to love authentically like Jesus to the degree that we have experienced and received His love for us and been changed by it. We will only be able to offer mercy and grace to the extent that we have first received it from Jesus. In other words, we will not be able to engage the world as Jesus did unless we are being deeply engaged by Him and allowing His work in our hearts to form us. Spiritual formation leads to transformation both within as well as around us, authentically demonstrating the nature and characteristics of God. This always leads to something glorious and beautiful because this is who He is and we were created in His image.

As we consider Colossian 3:1 17, we are invited to remember that we have been saved by grace through Christ’s death and resurrection, and then instructed to seek the ways of the Kingdom of God. Paul offers us a necessary process for the presence and work of God to be enabled. He points to the deep work we must do to deal with our sin ruthlessly and to desire and grow into the virtues of Christ. At any given time, as we do this, we hear the word of Christ spoken intimately to us, and it becomes the very Word that regenerates us. As this Word dwells in us richly, it is the Word we now have to offer others. It is our message of life in Christ, our story, meant for the praise of God and the edification of the body of Christ, the Church.

Colossians 3:1 17

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek (“zeteo” dzay teh’o – desire, endeavor and enquire about) those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears,
then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Therefore, put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in

your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Suggestions for Reflection

As you move into this reflection, I encourage you to take several devotional times to give deep prayerful thought with each suggestion. Allow this to guide you to places Christ has been and is now inviting you. Return to it from time to time, for this is an ongoing process, and Colossians 3 is a beautiful doorway for dealing with your heart.

  1. Slowly, prayerfully read Colossians 3:1-17, listening for where the Holy Spirit is inviting you to stop and listen carefully.What is the Holy Spirit drawing your attention to? What is the Word saying to you?
    How do you desire to respond?
  2. Think about the word SEEK (to desire, to endeavor and to enquire).
    What things are you seeking regularly? Are they the things of Christ, heavenly things?What are the earthly things you seek?
  3. Put to death that which is earthly, sinful and destructive. Spend time with each sin listed.
    Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where any particular sin is present and the impact it is having on you, your relationships and service for His Kingdom. Write this out. If nothing changes, what destructive end will this lead to?Spend time in confession and repentance, allowing His grace and forgiveness to wash over you. This is where transformation occurs.
  4. Put on what is holy, righteous, good and life giving. Spend time with each virtue listed. Where do you see the particular virtue emerging in and through you naturally? Write these out. Which ones are lacking? What do you desire?Offer a heartfelt, honest prayer of longing and desire for the virtues the Holy Spirit is inviting you to grow in. Give thanks and praise to God for those that are already leading to beautiful ends. This is evidence of the redeeming, sanctifying and formative work of God in your life.
  5. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.What Word has Christ spoken to you?
    Has it become a song within you of thanks, praise and adoration to God?
    How is Holy Spirit giving you opportunity among others to offer the work and word that has occurred in you?Take time to write a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving and desire to your Lord. Share this great work with a friend, your family, someone you serve with or the community you share life in.Proverbs 8:17
    “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)Psalm 9:10
    “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.”

By: Chad Hollowell, Director of Spiritual Formation and Field Leadership

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A Matter of the Heart – Devotional

‘Tis the season to make and quickly break our traditional New Year’s resolutions (NYR). I recently read a statistic that said 90% of NYR’s are broken and discarded by the first of February.  25% fail in the first week.  Less than 8% keep their NYR throughout the entire year.

Why do most of us make resolutions and fall short, or quit altogether?  Is it a lack of resolve?  Insufficient will power?  For most of us it is more a lack of living in the reality of the true desires of our heart.  We quit exercising at some point, because we surrender to something we love more than having “abs of steel”.  We fall off the diet wagon eventually, because our love for something else trumps our love of losing weight. The love of ice cream perhaps.  We stop getting up early to seek God because we eventually decide to seek something we love more – like sleep, or binging on Netflix – or maybe that’s just me.  At one point I contemplated naming my bed “prayer” and my pillow, “the word”, so that I could actually spend more time in them and feel good about it!  Call me Captain Obvious, but the answer seems pretty simple.  We seek what we desire, and we seek first what we desire most.

If we are honest, most (and by most, I mean all) of us struggle to keep God in that treasured spot.  What if we tried to keep a daily resolution – to seek God first?  Most likely failure would quickly ensue followed by a stunning sense of shame that really is the gift that keeps on giving.  Is the secret to try harder, or smarter, or, to really mean it this year?  It is first on our UWM list of values.  Failure to strive for it will have adverse effect on our lives and ministry.  So why is it so hard to maintain, and is there anyway we can hope to make progress in living out our powerful value of seeking God first?

When it comes to seeking God first, as my pastor often says, “the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.”  The apostle John concludes his first epistle in chapter 5, verse 12 with this admonition, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”  The writer of Proverbs says it this way, “above all else guard your heart for from it flow the springs of life” Proverbs 4:23.

The value of seeking God first will not penetrate the heart of the cultures we serve until it first penetrates the culture of our own hearts and replaces what they serve. 

First we have to face the bad news.  Our hearts are idol-making factories that turn good gifts from God into ultimate things in our lives, thereby replacing God in our affections. Tim Keller puts it like this:  “What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”  In short, idols include anything we are seeking first other than God himself.  Idols are rarely things that we would consider obviously evil.  That would be too easy.  Idols are almost always good things that our hearts twist into ultimate things, or the thing we seek first.

For me, family can easily become an idol.  To love them and seek their flourishing is virtuous and honoring to God.  That is, until I make sacrificing for the family my ultimate thing and begin subtly evaluating my identity and worth in light of how good a job I am doing.  What is it for you?  What good thing are you currently seeking first instead of God?  We all have them.  It could be your time, your money, your children, or even your ministry itself.  For me it is usually all of the above and often resembles an emotional game of whack-a-mole.  As soon as one idol pops up, I whack it down and another readily pops up in its place.  In my own strength the game never ends.

Reflective and brutally honest time with God is needed for me to break the cycle that keeps my idol “du jour” from popping up to take first place in my heart.  It is helpful for me to regularly spend time sitting with questions like:  What is currently absorbing my heart and imagination?  What am I currently seeking to give me what only God can?  What great thing am I seeking for myself?  Let’s call this step repentance.  I encourage us all to spend some time with these types of questions as often as possible.

And now we are ready for the good news.  God has provided a way to break the cycle of loving and seeking lesser things more than God himself.  To my delight it has nothing to do with focusing on working harder or will power.  The secret to loving God and seeking him first is simply in allowing our hearts to be smitten over and over again by the reality of His great love for us.  Let’s call this step belief.  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  We love because he first loved us.”  1 John 4:9-10, 19.

Spending time daily meditating on and believing the truth of the great love of God for us in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, transforms our hearts.   In this way, the Holy Spirit fills us with love, joy, peace, patience, and all of the spiritual fruit we need for life and godliness.  Our hearts begin to overflow with gratitude and adoration for and to Jesus, the lover of our souls.  We become compelled by the very love of Christ to seek Him first.  Let’s call this step fight.  In the light of HIs glory and grace we fight to re-order our lesser loves into their rightful place.

So in order to live out the value of seeking God first this year, let us resolve to spend time daily knowing and believing the great love that God has for us.  May our prayer be like that of Saint Augustine,“O Love ever burning never quenched! O Charity, my God, set me on fire with your love! You command me to be continent (self restrained). Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! (Confessions, X.29).”

The chief object of our deepest affection is what we will ultimately seek first. The pathway to seeking God first is like a daily three step dance with the Divine – like a waltz.

Step 1. Seek to root out the idols that currently capture the affection of your heart and repent.

Step 2. Seek to believe and be overwhelmed by His great love for you daily and you will unconsciously begin to fall deeper in love with the one who first loved you.

Step 3. Then you will be free in your fight to love Him and all that he loves.

Repent – Believe – Fight – three steps of a daily waltz toward maintaining the value of seeking God first.

So go ahead and make a resolution to seek God first this year.  And when you fail, like I will, remember the three steps of the Christian waltz.  There is no condemnation for those (dancing) in Christ Jesus.  I hope to see you on the dance floor.

By: Tom Mullis, Director of Strategic Partnerships 

The Privilege is Greater than the Price…

A WOMAN OF WHOM THE WORLD WAS NOT WORTHY: HELEN ROSEVEARE (1925-2016)

“God never uses a person greatly until He has wounded him deeply.
The privilege He offers you is greater than the price you have to pay.
The privilege is greater than the price.”
—Helen Roseveare

Written by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition on Dec 7. 2016

Helen's Story

Helen Roseveare's inspiring story through traumatic suffering while serving in the Congo is a present-day challenge to all of us who follow Christ.

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Changing Senegal through Farming and Discipleship

The Beersheba Project is changing the landscape of Senegal through agricultural techniques and discipleship of young farmers. United World Mission has missionaries serving on this multi-ethnic, multi-agency project.  Check out their story…

Aaron & Sara, Serving in Senegal

Beersheba Project from Go2819 on Vimeo.

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Saved to Serve

Most missionaries can wholeheartedly agree that this missionary life can keep us very busy. Leading, teaching, preaching, preparing, accounting and administration are just a few things that fill our days and our schedule. So much so that sometimes we forget to stop for the one right in front of us (the one we came to serve *gasp*). We were recently given the opportunity to reach out with the love of Christ in a personal, sacrificial way. Let me tell you about Brenda…

actis1

We were in a busy season of ministry getting ready to open the doors of our new Vocational Skills Center for Girls. We were up to our ears in planning meetings, looking for curriculum, hiring teachers, buying school supplies….yada yada (you get the picture) when Brenda came into our lives.

actis4

I knew Brenda from my teen moms’ outreach. She was a small girl, dark as charcoal with a shy demeanor and a broad smile, her belly burgeoning with the growing little one carried safely inside. She dropped out of school in 4th grade because she didn’t have the school fees, left home at 15 because of an abusive aunt, went looking for love in all the wrong places and at sixteen became pregnant. She was then abandoned by the baby’s father with nowhere to go. No job, no education, no land, no husband. This is becoming an all too common story woven throughout life in the village.

A few days after losing her newborn son, she was chased from her in-laws place as they simply didn’t have enough money to continue feeding yet another mouth. God placed her in our path at a most “inconvenient” time. As she invited us into her story, I must admit a million reasons for why we should not ‘enter in’ bombarded my mind. We were busy doing ministry (*wink*).

actis3

Yet, Brenda came into our lives in a time when God knew we needed to learn another important lesson. We were reminded how Jesus, though He had places to go and crowds to teach, took the time to stop and serve the one in front of Him. People matter. Lives matter. All the time. No matter the time.

actis-2So…together with the local pastor we work with, we hatched a plan. Together with his church, we would give Brenda the family she needed. We would co-parent her to meet her emotional, spiritual and physical needs. We found and rented a small house for her near the pastor and his wife. They can provide a family and supervision, and we also enrolled her in our Girls’ Center so she can learn important life skills and discipleship. We now sit with her as she endures her very first trip to the dentist; we scour the open air market looking for adequate clothing for her; we have long chats about discipline; you know, normal parenting stuff yet, in a very not-so-normal circumstance.

“Surprised By Love” is a core value of our mission. In this case, not only has Brenda been surprised by love, but also WE have been surprised by love. As we go on with the daily ministry we love, training village pastors, teaching Farming God’s Way, running the Vocational Center, visiting our sweet widows or teaching young moms about proper nutrition, we are reminded to stop and take care of the one God has placed in our path in that moment. We are forever changed in the messy, the hard, the inconvenient, the joy-filled, the abundant, the indescribable moments called life.

By: Shelley Actis, Serving in Uganda

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Why is Support-Raising So Hard?

Didn’t the Apostle Paul say, “All things work for good…”?

This week has been difficult for a couple of new missionary families seeking to discover their financial support. Both couples have been challenged to evaluate their motives by family members who do not trust their reasons for leaving the U.S. Others are struggling with the slowness of the process and the challenge to maintain the pace of phone calls and appointments in the face of rejection. They are tempted to throw in the towel.

I am convinced that support raising is an important character-forming tool in the missionary process. The combination of hard work, ambiguity, success and rejection is more than faith stretching. It is an important tool for maturity and growth. After experiencing the reality of long-term missionary life, I can confess that our characters needed a lot of molding (and still do).

God is committed to conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. Simply put, He is determined to making us better people.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:28, 29a)

So, why is God allowing the support-raising process to be long, slow, difficult and frustrating? Simply put, He is conforming you to the image of His Son. He is fulfilling His commitment to take away all that does not reflect Christ and is building up those character attributes that bring Him glory! He is preparing you for a lifetime of incarnational ministry, being like Christ wherever He leads.

By: Tim Hagler, Support Coach previously served in Honduras

Practicing Gratitude and Awakening Joy

Our hearts long for joy, and we seek it out in the most peculiar places.  As workers for God’s kingdom living in distant lands, the distractions are just as prevalent as anywhere else.  Inwardly we are preoccupied through busyness, mindlessness, addiction and a preoccupation with television, sports, movies, shallow reading, Facebook, ministry, itself, and more.  It is near impossible to be attentive to the generous gifts of God that come to us within a day.  In our search for joy, we forget the pathway begins with gratitude.  It is gratitude that awakes us to the goodness of God and becoming joyful.  Brennan Manning writes, “The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness.  Gratitude arises from a lived perception, evaluation, and acceptance of all of life as grace – as an underserved and unearned gift from the Father’s hand.  Such recognition and acceptance of the gift is implicitly an acknowledgement of the Giver.”
Much of our serving environments are filled with hardships, trials, spiritual warfare and daily challenges that wear us down and cause us to become cynical, grumbling and eventually ungrateful.  Ingratitude produces the fruit of joylessness. Practicing gratitude is a beautiful spiritual discipline that awakens our perspective and helps us to see the goodness of God in everyday life.  As I’ve practiced this discipline and worked with many servants of Christ, I’ve seen a lot of peace and joy come where disturbance and sadness were well grounded.

There are many Scriptures that provide a launching point for giving gratitude in specific ways.  Psalm 103:1-5 is one of my favorites, and each time I work through it, I’m astounded by it’s relevance for where my heart and life are found in the moment.

Take some time to work through this prayerful offering of gratitude in the exercise provided.  I pray you will be led forth into God’s goodness and your heart will be renewed in the joy of the Lord.

By: Chad Hollowell, Director of Field Leadership & Spiritual Formation

Practice Gratitude

Would you like to engage your soul in an exercise to produce a grateful heart?

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Spiritual Formation in Avance

The Avance Missions Immersion program, based in Mexico City, mobilizes young adults in cross-cultural mission service for two months, a semester, a year or two years.  All of our participants live with Mexican families, learn Spanish and serve under national leadership.

Spearhead Prayer Retreat Summer 2011

Our passion is that our participants will gain perspective on what their role is in God’s call to the nations.  Whether this is serving Christ cross-culturally or back home in Christian or secular contexts, our hope and prayer is that all will be missional – actively seeking to share the love of Christ wherever they are.

We also desire to see our participants deepen in their love and intimacy with Christ and to live and minister out of this reality.  It is in response to this desire that we have developed and continue to improve our Spiritual Formation focus within our ministry.

Prayer Retreats
Our initial steps in implementing this vision in Avance, came through a one-day prayer retreat in the midst of our busiest ministry season: the summer.  At this strategic point in the summer, after our intensive Spanish language course and before the final weeks of full-time ministry, we now draw aside and spend a full day in worship, prayer and learning to enjoy the presence of our good Lord, Jesus.  During this time, we take times in silent focusing prayer before the Lord, give our participants a guided two-hour time alone with the Lord and provide optional prayer appointments.

This retreat has grown into an overnight experience and is meant to be a launching pad for implementing key spiritual disciplines in the lives of our participants.  Last summer we provided a guide for all attending the retreat to use over the final four weeks of the program and one week upon returning to their home countries.  This guide covered important topics in formation:  the role of our desires in our spiritual growth, the importance of times of solitude and silence, the spiritual reading of texts (lectio divina), journaling and self-care.

Spiritual Direction Opportunities
We also offered the option for our participants to sign-up for one-on-one Spiritual direction sessions, one in person before the program end date and one after via Skype…with the option to continue indefinitely.  We had a very positive response to this opportunity and a number of our participants continue to take advantage of this one-on-one spiritual mentoring.

Spiritual Pathways
In our regular meetings we seek to model and use specific pathways or disciplines that lead us to reflect on Christ’s work in our hearts and lives: times of silence, lectio divina, artistic praying in colors, worship, and other creative prayer exercises.

In addition to our summer retreat, we also have retreats in the fall and spring, to pull aside together to seek the Lord, reflect on our life in Him and return recharged for ministry.  Here’s a brief glimpse of our fall retreat:

Learning Discernment
As a leadership team we have been slowing reading Ruth Haley Barton’s Pursuing God’s Will Together.  This has been a valuable exercise in learning to discern God’s will together which does not come naturally.

Spiritual Mentoring Groups & Curriculum
Our staff have initiated spiritual mentoring groups with the purpose of accompanying young Mexican leaders in putting their roots deep in Christ.  We currently have 8 groups operating in partnership with Leighton Ford Ministries mentoring communities.  Additionally, we have written spiritual formation and direction activities into both our certificate and master’s programs.

Pauls spiritual mentoring group

Our desire in all is to see Christ formed in us and those we serve, to follow the example of our Teacher, the Lord Jesus, who modeled a deep commitment to drawing aside to spend time with His father and in going out in ministry as His father directed.

“My dear children for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you:                                                                   Galatians 4:19

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.       Luke 5:16

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.”                                    Mark 3:13-14

By: Paul Johnson, Director of Avance

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Be a Barnabas, Pastor a Paul

The Lord sent Ananias to lay hands on Saul —could there have been a worse candidate for Christian missionary service? Ananias obeyed, prayed and appointed Saul to apostolic work in Eurasia. Immediately, the converted Paul set out on mission (without raising support!) and encountered life-threatening resistance. He had to be evacuated.

Who was this lone ranger? The Church certainly had their suspicions.

How would Paul have found his “sweet spot” in ministry without Barnabas coming alongside, endorsing and encouraging him into his place in Christ’s Body and mission to the world? Christ had called him, the Holy Spirit had filled him, the Scriptures had taught him, but God used Barnabas to mentor and position him into the fullness of his destiny.

As we have been an “Ananias organization” appointing missionaries to go disciple nations in today’s world, we have seen too many start out only to fizzle, flatline or fail completely. A survey revealed many of our long-term missionaries also were dry, distracted or dislodged from their “sweet spot”. Surely this was not what Lord of the harvest (nor we) intended.

As I went to serve in Nepal, I was matched with a mentor, a seasoned missionary who offered a wealth of knowledge and advice. I treasured his input. But as I look back, I was on my own for spiritual growth. Our view of mentoring came from a western framework: a personal source of specific knowledge, skills, and strategies. Matters of the heart weren’t touched.

I would have benefitted from a fuller, more holistic view of mentoring. Instead, I developed as a “smart” and productive missionary lacking attention to my inner world. My spiritual disciplines shriveled as did my ability to hear God’s voice and sense His presence. My life displayed very little grace. I really needed a spiritual father or shepherd of the soul who would come alongside and relationally guide my formation as a Christlike ambassador of the Gospel.

Meanwhile, I mentored Nepali leaders in ministry knowledge and skill development without nurturing their spiritual vitality. One later told me the main thing I imparted was a “strong work ethic.”  This was a hard truth: my lofty words rang empty when my life spoke salvation by works, when I labored from my own strength rather than the overflow of love, grace and the beauty of God in my soul.

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Another Nepali leader saw my insistence on imparting grand abstract ideals and said, “Brother, all ministry here flows out of relationship.”  I was taken back by that as well. Relationship was my weakest link. What was I doing here in a relational Asian context?

Slowly, I realized Eastern culture disciples studied the whole life of their rabbi or guru. If I wanted to impart any subject, I had to embody it holistically — and Jesus was my model in this. He used a rabbinical style of training in which disciples learned how to live like the teacher, not just think like him.

UWM invited me to engage a spiritual mentor and transformational processes that integrated mind and heart. Over time, I grew intimate with my Lord again and His word re-evangelized my heart with grace and beauty. When I returned to visit my national partners still laboring in ministry with dry and desolate hearts they said, “Ron, you’re different!” Apparently I now embodied the Gospel and evidenced a deep friendship with Jesus that attracted their curiosity.

I invited them to retreat with me for 24 hours, to reconnect and abide in the Vine (John 15).  Tears were flowing as they encountered Jesus in ways their hearts had desired for years. “Ron, no missionary ever ministered to our hearts like this,” they said. “It was always big ideas, tactics and mission strategies. This is what we’ve lacked!”

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The renewal retreats were just beginning points, invitations to sojourn together on a long journey of increasing intimacy with Christ. We meet monthly for one-on-one conversations and prayer times, listening and discerning God’s presence, word and work in our lives. Instead of being the “answer man” I come alongside these brothers –sometimes from a few steps farther on the journey with Christ — to prayerfully listen and open a space for the Holy Spirit to impart wisdom, clarification, amplification or encouragement specific to them.  I see a vitality in their lives, families, teams, partners and churches as they reveal —not just teach —grace, truth, and God’s glory.

As an organization, we’re observing an increasing felt need among our Western coworkers and partners for spiritual mentoring as well. The Holy Spirit is reiterating what He instructed the church of Antioch in Acts 13: appoint Barnabas and Paul combinations. Match spiritual mentors like Barnabas to come alongside passionate world changers like Paul types so their lives, ministries and message embody the Gospel, reveal Christ in full glory and sustain fruitfulness long-term.

By: Ron K, Serving in Hungary and Asia

Spiritual Formation Opportunities

Do you know some Barnabas-quality encouragers that God may be calling to become spiritual mentors for cross-cultural workers? Invite them to contact us after checking our opportunities to serve in spiritual formation ministry.

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