A few weeks ago I sat down with Dr. Robert Newton. Missionary. Seminary Professor. Pastor. Bible scholar. Denominational executive. We laughed and lamented. Bob shared wisdom and biblical insight as it relates to our current environment.
Bob, let’s start with some perspective. What do you see happening in the world right now?
What’s going on right now cannot be overstated. It didn’t start with COVID-19. Every 500 years there’s been a big shift. You can see the fomenting. Percolating. You see it in people.
- 500 AD Gregory the Great
- 1000 AD The split of the Eastern and Western Church
- 1500 AD The Reformation
- 2000 AD Centuries of Christendom replaced by post Christendom
You can see the antecedents. Patterns that emerged. Reflection. Repentance. Renewal. The Gospel exploding in fresh ways.
It’s normal to respond with fear. The world can be a scary place. I long for an explosion of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people to be part of His Kingdom coming.
My hope is that congregations can stop lamenting the demise of what we’ve known and start embracing the world that needs to know Jesus. You and Gail and the PLI family have been a big part of calling us forward to something more.
Could you give some biblical connections?
John 15. The vine and branches.
This is a profound time of pruning. The Lord Jesus is pruning His people so that we can bear much fruit. We need to remember: pruning is not the end. Pruning is the necessary step toward much fruit.
I wish it could be easier. Shorter. It might be a decade or more. The Lord uses all types of things. Even COVID-19! There’s a fresh dependence on the Lord Jesus that will result from this.
Pruning is not the end. It’s the necessary step toward much fruit.Dr. Robert Newton
Last year, you observed the 1,000 Young Leaders Nashville gathering. What did you notice?
It was beautiful. Here’s a group of young people that never knew christendom. They don’t see this unchurched world as a threat. They’re incredibly enthusiastic about it. They grew up in secular society. No one needs to convince them to engage the world, their friends, their family. No hard sell. No legalism. They deeply appreciate the investment they receive in 1,000 Young Leaders and the practical tools to be effective at this time and place. They are wired to be missionary people.
We’ve been so focused on the pastoral office and to the people gathered in churches. There’s an economy of the Spirit. I wonder how many more mission-minded people just need to be encouraged, trained and raised up for the people who don’t know Jesus. We can be confident that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Word of God
Bob, do you have advice for the church leader, the non-pastor that sees the loss of christendom but is also starting to see the mission field reality that you describe, but doesn’t know what to do?
Simple. I would find someone else to go with me. Grab them. Don’t go alone. And then find someone further down the road. If that’s PLI’s Not So Young Leaders or something else, find someone that can invest in you and walk with you. Just start praying and ask God to give direction and to start bringing people into your life.
What about pastors who are tired from carrying the heavy load of the last six months?
Invest in yourself. Now. Find the real center from which you lead, biblically speaking. Get clarity about how God has designed you. PLI does that so well in Leadership Essentials in the U.S. and in countries around the world. It’s your relationship with the Lord and relationships with others that’s the centerpiece of what you do.
We all find value in producing. Counting numbers. Shepherds or scientists or Silicon Valley. Everywhere. Value is interpreted as what we produce. As a result families suffer and relationships come in second. Jesus came into the world for a relationship. Discipleship is about a relationship with the Lord and with people. I’m almost 70 years old. I wish I would have learned this a longtime ago. When I was a missionary in the Philippines they tried to make a very task oriented guy reoriented around relationships. I wish i would have learned then.
Pastors have the guilt that I’m not doing enough. When Jesus was with Mary and Martha, he told Mary that she chose the better way. Not that Martha was wrong. Just a better way.
Bob, what’s your dream for five or ten years from now?
My dream would be that we see missionary leadership formation among the baptized people of God become such a burning desire in the church body that organizations like PLI are overwhelmed with the number of people wanting to be trained. That we would simply see the Father’s heart. We can trust that He will equip us with all that we need.
We need to be patient with ourselves. The Christendom paradigm is profoundly deep for us. Jesus ascended to heaven and the disciples wondered if now the Kingdom would be restored to Israel. They had 2,000 years with Israel as the center of the world. Abraham. David. Solomon. The nations would come to Israel. Everyone would come to hear Solomon.
If you watch the Book of Acts unfold, it’s a long journey from Pentecost for Peter to get to Cornelius. These are not dumb, faithless people. They’re just people people.
To change a paradigm that we’ve known for 1,500 years? To check it at the door but never give it up? I had the advantage of going overseas as a young missionary. COVID-19 just might be accelerating what would have taken a few more years to arrive.