Author Archives: Jon Hirst

Failure in Ministry

“Rejection does not mean failure. Failure is when we refuse to be rejected.” Francis Chan

We don’t understand failure in a ministry context. I’m at the Missio Nexus mission conference this week and Francis Chan is one of the speakers. He challenged our thinking about success and metrics. This is an ongoing issue because we are raising the game in the area of outcomes and metrics in the ministry world.

But at the same time as we are increasing our professionalism in how we measure and manage success, we cannot forget that success in the Kingdom is fundamentally a different game than success as defined by the world.

How do you deal with the push to measure things the world cares about as a Kingdom endeavor? That is the question we need to be asking.

Reflections on Adoniram Judson’s 200th Anniversary

“I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet, when Christ calls me home, I shall go with gladness.” – Adoniram Judson

This past Saturday passed with many of us spending time with family or doing household errands. Most of us missed the fact that Saturday June 13 was the 200th anniversary of Adoniram and Ann Judson’s arrival in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar).

This man was one of the founders of North America’s missions movement and has inspired millions to look beyond their own circumstance and seek ways to share the love of Christ across cultures and great of distances. His optimism in face of great challenges has always been an encouragement to me. Especially the quote,

“The prospects are bright as the promises of God.”

I attended Judson University and so there was a fair bit of prominence given to Judson’s missionary work. I remember watching the film of his life and being struck by the huge challenges he faced.

Now that 200 years have passed since Judson began his missionary service on the field, I think it is worth a question: “How has this great missionary endeavor faired over the past 200 years?”

What is incredible to me as I look at the data and maps showing the growth of Christianity is how many across the whole globe have heard the Good News and responded. See these maps based on Operation World data showing the difference between the status of Christianity in 1900 and in 2025.

Operation World Data showing the status of Christianity in 1900

Operation World data showing projected status of Christianity in 2025

It is appropriate to look at these two maps and be amazed at how God has moved among the peoples of the world. We should stop every time we are faced with this information and praise our Lord for what He is doing as He reclaims His world and brings in His Kingdom.

But what about the challenges that Judson faced? Have they really changed that much? Well, some have decreased significantly. It took him a significant amount of time to get from the US to Burma. Today that is no more than 48 hours at most. Judson suffered significantly from death in his family as a result of the difficult conditions on the mission field. Today that is much less of an issue, even though sickness still can be a great challenge for many in missionary service. Judson had few language learning tools and no Bible resources translated into the languages of the Burmese people. Today there are many ways to learn languages and the number of resources available in a variety of languages is growing all the time.

On the other side, the challenges of reaching Burma are just as real today as they were at that time. This country is just now coming out of years of isolation and Operation World puts its Christian population at only 8.9%. In the larger missions movement, the same challenges of being culturally relevant, incarnationally engaged and partnering with local believers exist today. In Judson’s day the global might of the British empire defined much of how Christianity was viewed. Over the past 50 years it has been North America’s influence that has defined many people’s perceptions.

Today, many of the challenges that Judson faced would be much easier for a Filipino, Chinese or Kenyan missionary to relate to. They are the Judson’s of today. With every wave of people that God sends out into His world, there are initial challenges and then challenges that always stay the same. Just because the logistics get easier doesn’t mean that the task is really any easier from God’s perspective.

Let’s keep Judson’s pioneering spirit and sacrifice in our minds. Even as we thank God that we do not have some of the challenges he faced, let’s remember that our professional missionary enterprise doesn’t solve the greatest challenges of cross-cultural missions!

 

 

What does this Quote Have to do with Missions?

“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are.” ~ Mother Teresa

Some might here this quote and say, “Why was Mother Teresa discouraging people from addressing the great poverty in places like India?” That is a good question. Many people came to seek her out and get the experience of serving the poor in Calcutta along with her.

But let me ask you this question, “If I’m not willing and actively serving the poor in my home town, then what right do I have to serve them anywhere else?” This isn’t to say we should not have cross-cultural missionaries. But I am saying that when we go, it must be out of an authentic calling that has permeated every part of our lives.

If I am not willing to serve the sick or the poor in Des Moines, Iowa, then why would God as me to do so in Calcutta?

Where are you today? Where do you feel God wants you to serve? Don’t wait till your big opportunity to serve in some large or recognized way. Start serving today, where you are and then let God lead you to the mission field as you grow in your passion for the cause he has put on your heart.

Preparing for a Busy Day

A day can slip away so quickly. Two meetings in the morning, a lunch appointment, a few hours working on a project and the work day is done. Then throw in dinner, a quick project around the house and some time with family or friends and you are ready to fall into bed.

The decisions you make that fill up your days are important ones. They define what you accomplish and what you push to the side. They also highlight your priorities.

How do you make those small decisions? What criteria do you use in allocating your time? Have you ever thought about the values that rest underneath those decisions?

Take some time to ask God to guide your daily time management decision-making and see how that impacts the way you spend your days.

My 1000th Tweet

I was attending the CLA luncheon here in Colorado Springs today and sharing some of the quotes from one of the members of the crisis team who provided leadership during the Waldo Canyon Fire, Jerri Marr. When I looked up from the ideas I was sharing I saw that one of her quotes was my 1000th tweet.

And I thought to myself, that is worth commemorating. So this blog is that opportunity. The quote was “The first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive.”

What a powerful idea. You as a leader are tasked with keeping hope alive in those that you are leading. How are you doing at this important task? Any examples to share?

Jesus Sweets

I’m privileged to be in India meeting with GMI’s long-time friends and those we serve through mapping and research tools. What a blessing to hear how the Church in India is growing and how ministries are using research to make Spirit-led decisions about how to move forward.

I was sitting with Richard Howell, the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, and talking about what he is seeing as the Church grows in India. We talked about a variety of trends and big picture items, but one story he shared stuck with me as an example of transformation.

We were talking about the fact that there is little separation between religion and other areas of life in India and Richard shared about a man in a village that came to know Jesus. This man sold sweets for a living. Others selling sweets would label them with names that connected to their faith - Krishna Sweets for example. As the man began to process his faith decision and what God would have him do to live out that faith, the answer was easy. If there could be Krishna Sweets, why can’t there be Jesus Sweets!

So that is exactly what he did. Now all the sweets he sells come bearing the name of Jesus! This man found a way to bring his faith and his life together and see it as one testimony to his Savior. Are we doing the same? Are we integrating our faith, family, work, recreation, relationships and hobbies together in such a way that they represent our Savior?

I would encourage you to ask that question today and then ask God to give you the wisdom as you strive to represent God in every area of your life.

Weighing Our Words

“We need to be freed from the oppressive judgements or expectations of others that limit our ability to hear and respond to God’s voice for us.” Gordon Smith

Sometimes it is the voices of others that keep us from hearing God clearly. Did you ever think that your voice could actually drown out God’s direction in someone’s life, or that others could hamper our ability to hear God?

It is a scary thought to consider, isn’t it? We have a much greater responsibility towards fellow travelers on this Kingdom path than we are usually willing to concede. But in those quiet moments when we think back to the words we have spoken that day, we can be honest with ourselves.

Many times our words do not draw people closer to God’s heart and thus His will for their lives. In those moments, our words are spoken for selfish or thoughtless reasons rather than selfless reasons.

A friend might be trying to pick between a job in town or one half a continent away. As they are seeking God’s will, and turn to us for input, we could easily share from our selfish desires to see them stay close by rather than our desires for God’s will to be done in their lives. Our words could have a huge impact on the next phase of their life.

What words did you speak today? Did any impact the decisions of others? If so, was your impact Kingdom-focused or YOU-focused?

 

A Decision to Trust

As you start this week, you have a very foundational decision to make. On this one decision, the rest will rise or fall. It is not a tactical decision about what you should or should not do. Instead it is a relational decision. It is a decision of orientation.

Solomon spoke of this in his third Proverb. As he sets the stage for how someone should live their life, he states clearly “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Solomon goes on to talk about how we should not be wise in our own eyes but we should focus on God. He is challenging his charge to reorient life around the God of the Universe rather than around his own strength, skills or ideas.

We need this same reminder as we begin another week. We need to orient our lives God and His agenda and trust Him to guide the activities of the week. That decision does not mean we do not plan or be intentional in our work.

Our decision to trust means that all of our plans and intentional actions flow out of waiting expectantly on God and depending wholly on Him. Our pastor said it this way in this weekend’s service, “It is always a bad idea to try and do God’s work for him.”

When we design our plans and rely on our strength, we do the work that only God can do well. We take His job and do a poor job of it!

Why is it so hard for us to hold off on the action and let God lead in our lives? Part of it is that letting others lead is seen as laziness. We look like we are without initiative or drive. Another reason this is a challenge is that when we don’t make the plan, we don’t always get our way.

But what does it look like to make the first decision of our week to trust God with our efforts? I’m not very good at it, but I’m committed to learning as I serve through GMI. So here is a real-life example:

We are going to be hosting an event and we have sent out an initial invitation to gauge interest. Tomorrow we need to send out a full invitation but I am still not sure whether we will have enough people to attend. My natural response is to push through and force the event to work. I have done that many times in the past. This time, I’m going to take a different tact.

  1. I have been praying with the coordinator and asking God to show us the right direction for this event.
  2. I am going to write two emails before we make the decision – one announcing the event with all the details and the other modifying the event.
  3. When I have my meeting in the morning to plan our next steps, I’m going to come to the meeting having prayed asking God to direct our plans and show us His will through the details, pricing, participation and personal input of those planning it.
  4. I am going to listen to my team and to God more than I am going to talk myself.

So will you decide to trust as you start the week? Will you make trusting God your first decision rather than an add-on? If so, how? Share your plans very practically here and ask the GMI community for prayer as you seek to make this important decisions!

Why Don’t People Bounce?

Resilience: the ability to bounce back

What happens when something doesn’t bounce? It falls flat!

Most things in this world do not bounce. In fact, that is true of people as well. We are more likely to fall flat on our faces than bounce. You have to look no further than the many bloopers videos to see people falling on their faces.

But that doesn’t stop with comical YouTube videos. Throughout history and Scripture we have seen countless people fall flat on their faces and fail. I think of Lot’s wife as she turns towards her old home or Saul’s pride as his kingdom fell apart.

So if we usually fall flat, what does it take for us as Kingdom workers to bounce back? I attended a conference called Colab 2013 in Chicago last week where we talked about resilience and what it takes to continue on even when we experience significant blockers or trials. Two points stuck out in our discussion:

1. Allowing failure: We have to make failure acceptable if we are to survive long-term. If the only possible outcome of our endeavors is stunning success, we will be set up for defeats that we cannot handle or deal with constructively.

2. Feedback loops: If we do not have many different kinds of feedback loops set up within our lives, it will be very hard to handle the ups and downs of leadership. But if we are getting input and making corrections, we can maneuver through those times that might leave others lying on the floor in pain.

As I have thought about this idea of resilience over the past few days, I realize that I want it badly. I don’t want the result of my efforts to lead to a dramatic “made-for-TV” ending. Instead, I want to be in a place where I am able to respond to my situation, understand my reality and make the Spirit-led decisions that God expects of me.

Are you resilient or are you trapped in a world

 

When the Facts Decieve Us

Many a crusty reporter on deadline has uttered the words, “Give me the facts . . . just the facts!” We are constantly drilling down to what we hope is the core information about the situation at hand. We interview, test, verify and analyze the information at hand in a genuine effort to find the truth.

But sometimes the facts don’t lead to the truth. Sometimes we are decieved by the very tangible and real information presented to us. When this happens it shakes us to the core. And that is exactly what happened to Joshua and the people of Israel soon after they entered the Promised Land.

In Joshua chapter 9 we are confronted with an example of deciept and cunning that is impressive while also shocking. The Israelites were recently finished redeeming themselves from the debacle in Ai where they initially lost becaue of sin in their camp when they were presented with another critical moment of decision.

The Gibeonites realized they would die if they fought Israel, so they planned a trick. They pretended to be a delegation from a far-away country coming to make peace with Israel. They took great pains to look the part, bring old and moldy food and give every reason for the Israelites to believe them. The facts were in their favor . . . not because they were true but because they were intentionally being deceptive.

So as the Israelites processed the Gibeonite’s story and considered how they would respond they had two real choices. They could go with the facts as told to them by this delegation or they could start by seeking God and allow the facts to fit into the conversation as He guided.

The Israelites chose the first. Joshua 9:14 says, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.” And because of their choice they inherited a who group of people who came to live among the Israelites as slaves. These and people like them brought their gods and beliefs into the Israelite communities and caused incalculable harm as God’s people turned away from His teachings to follow the gods of the local tribes.

The facts in this story were not unimportant, but they were not the whole picture either. Most of the time in our decision-making we start out with the facts and ask God to bless our findings. But Spirit-led decision-making requires us to start with the Spirit and then allow the facts to be part of the process that He guides.

This will take more time, it will seem less professional and it will not be as easy to control . . . and all that is good. The facts give us a false sense of control over the decisions in our lives. We need to release the facts to God and allow Him to use them in the decision-making processes that confront us.

Think about the last decision you made where the facts decieved you. Did you make that decision in the Spirit? What was your process? Learn from the past and commit to allowing the Spirit to guide your processing of facts and figures!