Nicole Cottrell is trained in the fine art of button-pushing. She uses her skills daily on Modern Reject where she writes about the intersection of faith and culture as well as the unpopular stuff no one else likes to talk about. Nicole is a speaker, writer, discipler, and coffee fanatic. She and her husband planted the Foundation, a network of house churches in Arizona. Nicole lives in Scottsdale with her husband and two little munchkins, three of the coolest and funniest people she knows.
It is Tuesday – day two of a three day school for leaders. Wow! First day was amazing. These schools always are as they are for leaders, most have taken time off from paid jobs in the secular world, and many have travelled long distances and suffered many inconveniences to be with us. They are hungry, open, ready to receive and seriously in love with Jesus. This is certainly a lethal combination. All I o is light the fuse.
Miroslav and I have been sharing the teaching load equally. So, I too have been learning as he is an amazing teacher and God has certainly been doing a very powerful work in his life and ministry. He has stepped up and stepped in to a very powerful apostolic ministry and is learning and rowing personally and ‘professionally’ at a very powerful rate. He is a mature believer and a terrific minister of the Gospel. He is here with me as a team member and not an interpreter. He is here as a teacher, apostle-in-training and prophetic minister. He is a blessing and I am seriously proud of him. He leaves a day before I do as he is on his way to the country of Moldova after his time here to teach for a week. God is opening many doors for him and other maturing team members in various nations.
As much as I enjoy the teaching and prophetic ministry I really enjoy the times in-between official sessions and both before and after sessions. It is then that I am able to meet one-on-one with the leaders and more especially with the young men that I mentor daily via emails, Skype and text messages. In person is much better and I so enjoy seeing them and interacting with them. Thy have so much life and tremendous hope for the Church in their nations and are willing to lay their lives down to see the true Church of Jesus Christ established and successful. I am honored to play a very small part in their lives as their mentor and leader.
Today’s prayer focus: Our remaining day and a half of the leaders school and for every meeting, every session, every informal gathering and specially the fellowship that goes late into the night all over the campus we are occupying for this event. And, for Thursday when I will be meeting with the leader of a new church plant in the city of Almaty in the morning (his name is Michael), the leader of a new Ukraine church plant in the afternoon, and an evening service in a local church in Almaty that is undergoing major shifts and tremendous change as they move forward into an apostolic DNA and redesign their very life and the basic nature of their fellowship. We appreciate you standing with us in prayer. Powerful, life-changing things are happening every hour of every day.
Pictured: Leaders and future leaders of a rehabilitation center in Burundai, Kazakhstan
When it comes to the Church that Jesus is building – winning is everything. In sports, as much as we may say it is not true, winning is everything. It is not about the exercise, the fun we have, the camaraderie between the players, the team spirit; it is really all about winning. We want to hit a home run and win the game. The same is true in the Church that Jesus is building. Winning is everything.
Define winning. I think I will. For the Church, winning is the transformation of people and communities in every part of God’s world. (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). So, how does the Church accomplish that kind of winning? Just a few suggestions:
Focus on changing lives – when people’s lives are truly transformed by the good news of the Gospel, the Church is winning. So, work in such a way, train in such a way, pray in such a way that the focus is seeing lives changed. This is our “product” so-to-speak and what we are really all about.
I am writing this blog early on a Sunday morning on the ninth floor of an apartment building in Kazakhstan. Yesterday I was in an event (before the two services of the day began) where there were a substantial number of orphans. The church I am working with reaches out to them, loves them, and believes God is wanting to change their lives. I was emotionally and spiritually seriously overwhelmed by the love that was so tangible in the midst of the “party” we were having. The love between church members and the orphans and even between the orphans – powerful demonstration of changed lives. In the picture – one orphan feeding another who was unable to feed himself.
Focus on reproduction – statistics and research show that new churches have four times the number of conversions as established churches. New churches also grow 23 times faster in their first 10 years than established churches more than ten years old. Reproducing leaders, groups, sites and churches will result in big wins!
While out late Saturday night walking the streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan after a long day of ministry I was speaking to one young man at length (a continuing conversation from previous meetings) about planting a church in his city aimed at youth who hang out at the bars and wander the streets getting into trouble. We are working at and focusing on reproduction. It was a great and lengthy – but goo – conversation.
The third thing to win – Focus on your unique calling. I am convinced that the reason so few of the people in your community attend church on any given Sunday is because most of our churches look remarkably similar and are designed to reach the exact same segment of the population as all the other churches. This tends to leave as much as 60 to 75% of the population without a good option for finding their way back to God. We need to engage our imagination and let the Holy Spirit bring about missional expressions of the Church. When we have different kinds of churches that reach different kinds of people, that is a win for everyone except the devil!
If your local church is transforming people, reproducing at every level and staying true to the unique vision that God has given it, we all win. And when we all win, attendance will take care of itself. So, don’t focus on building attendance on any given Sunday – focus on these three things: Changing lives, reproduction, and your unique calling. God will take care of the rest.
Today (Monday) is the first day of a three day school attended by Christian leaders. They come from a variety of places – the city of Karaganda in the north, the city of Almaty in the south, villages and towns such as Burundai, Arna, and Talagar. We have people gathered from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, as well as Canada. We all work with local churches, networks of churches (called unions here), and/or with rehab centers (for alcoholics and drug addicts). They are young and old, male and female. We have gathered for one purpose – to learn how to be the church in the world and impact the world we are in. After all, that is why Jesus left us here and why the Church exists today – to go into all the world and seek and save the lost (Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 19:10).
The team has been assembling for several days. There are young men who are apostles-in-training from a number of nations assembled here as a team representing the Lord and a bright future working under the name of Ralph Howe Ministries and we are ready to go. They are here to learn as well just like all of us who are assembled but they will also be helping with the hands-on ministry – prayer and prophecy – and thus gaining practical experience and mentoring in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural. I will also be spending time one-on-one with each team member during their stay here in Almaty where we are holding the school. Some are staying on afterwards and, in fact, some are coming for the second week and will not be in attendance at the school but will help with our ministry in the rehab centers.
It is promising to be a powerful time in the Lord as 50+ leaders gather to celebrate the Lord and learn how to minister to a rapidly changing world with the never-changing Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated – for those in attendance, for the team, for the teachers, and for Timor our translator.
So, how does what you believe affect how you live and what you do? Most local churches have a statement of faith articulating their ORTHODOXY or what they believe; how does what you believe impact how you live? Does your lifestyle – your ORTHOPRAXIS – line up with what you say you believe?
ORTHODOXY – means you have the right beliefs and believe the basic, fundamental teachings of the Bible about the Lord Jesus Christ, the Church, the doctrines of the Church, and your heavenly Father. But, what you believe is suppose to change and actually determine what you do – how you live and thus practice your faith. This is called ORTHOPRAXIS or right living or right practices based on what you believe.
Most Christian congregations and communities have a statement of faith outlining their orthodoxy. But, that is usually where it ends. What really matters, I believe, is how we live, how what we believe gets fleshed out, so we also have a statement of orthopraxis or right living and right practices. And this is where most belief-oriented faith communities and believers fall short. They tell us only what they believe, but they do not tell us how their beliefs affect their lifestyles.
People today don’t care much about what you believe. They do care about how you are living. It is your lifestyle that they see and by which they are impacted. Then having seen the way you live and maybe even having been touched by it in a personal way – they will be open to asking you why you live and act the way you do. At this point you have opportunity to share what you believe. In other words, your orthopraxis leads the way for you to share your orthodoxy. The way you live and interact with others opens door for you to share your faith and what you believe – or why you do what you do.
So, it might be good to examine the way you live – at least the part that others see and interact with – and check if it lines up with what you say you believe as a born again believer. The Bible is very specific about how we are to live and interact with one another (other believers) and with those around us who have yet to believe that Jesus is the Way, the only Way. They are watching to see if our walk and out talk line up. They are watching to see if we really believe what we say we believe and if it makes any visible and tangible difference in our lives. They are wanting to see, examine and know your ORTHOPRAXIS before they will take the time to consider your ORTHODOXY.
Remember, once others know you are a born again believer and thus a true Christian the validity of your faith rides on how it has changed and continues to effect the way you live in the world today. And, the way you live your faith and interact with your world determines whether you will ever have an opportunity to explain what it is you believe and Who it is that you follow.
Maybe the lack of witnessing opportunities in your life is a direct result of the way you are living your life today in the real world. Just a thought – but one that might change the way you live.
I am in the town of Burundai in Kazakhstan today – a local church of 100 people (more than full house) and two services; two services. each four hour lomng. Two dynamic services with tremendous worship and a lot of young people who are excited about God and hungry to learn more about following Him and being His disciples. They want to be world-changers and not just pew-sitters. I am thrilled to be here again for another visit. This time – a quarter of those in attendance are from a local rehab center where young men go to dry out and become free of drug and alcohol addictions – all by the power of prayer, the Holy Spirit and the grace of God.
Many of the scheduled churches over the next two weeks are directly connected to rehab centers or are actually located in rehab centers as most of these recovery centers have a local church functioning within their structure. The majority of the work being done with alcohol and drug addicts is done by the born again Christian church without direct support from the local or national government – financial or otherwise.
I have many days on this trip working directly with these wonderful young people and am so looking forward to coming to know them better, praying with them (they can really pray and are serious about prayer) and ministering to them prophetically. God always shows up in special ways and really blesses, encourages, and stirs up each and every one of them. It will be a good two weeks as these events are scattered in and among many other powerful events being held in 8 different locations in 14 days.
If you are praying – please pray for these two services and that all the young people in attendance would be seriously encouraged and blessed. Pray for all our team members as we are all on jet lag and so tired mentally and physically – yet we want to give each person our best. And, pray that the team members (from three nations) will quickly form into a team and flow with one another and with the Holy Spirit. Our sincere thanks for praying and supporting us in this powerful way.
When I was in seminary – both times, both degrees – I was taught that 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus were the PASTORAL EPISTLES written to Timothy who was, I susposed, the pastor. These letters were from Paul who was most certainly the apostle. However, when you realize that Timothy, although the leader of the Church in Ephesis, was also an apostle by calling (Titus was also an apostle by calling and gifting) and was not pastoring the church but was in apostolic oversight of the work there – throws a totally different light on these three books. And, makes you wonder if these three books should not be fondly known as the APOSTOLIC EPISTLES.
As you take this non-religious viewpoint and begin reading these three short books of the Bible as if they were instructions from a senior statesman – an apostle – to two young and somewhat inexperienced apostles still working at finding their footing in their ministreies – it opens these three books wide open. Here is a direct training manual for young apostles. This may not be exciting or earthshattering for you but as a senior apostle training many young and gifted apostles (in training) this is good news. There is much to teach young men in the ministry from these three very brief books of the Bible.
I have begun to take notes. Lots of notes. There is a tremendous amount of wonderful material in these three epistles regardless of what name they go under. Information about character, life-style, expectations, church, teaching the Word, politics in the church, evangelism, being apostolic, the Kingdom … the list is long and the material is excellent. Paul was a good teacher and had great wisdom to share. Wisdom and not just information. Understanding not just ‘feel good’ data. Understanding and wisdom that came as a result of many years in the war for souls and the advancement of the Kingdom into the domain of the devil as he planted the Gospel and Jesus built churches as he did.
I appreciate the Holy Spirit having taken the religious glasses off of my spiritual eyes so that I can see these three books in a new light and gain much wisdom that I can then teach and share with my young disciples as I train, equip, and mentor them. Just as Paul shared his life and his wisdom with Timothy and Titus and so many others so I attempt to share my life and my ministry with a group of young apostles around the world by text messages, emails, Skype, and in person. Thank you Paul for such a great example to follow and for sharing your wisdom with us.
I wonder, at times, what Paul might have accomplished had he been alive in this age of modern travel and tremendous technology.