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July 7, 2011

Thursday Is for Turkey: The Church in Philadelphia

I am currently in the middle of a series of posts reflecting on my recent trip to Turkey on a Jet Set Vision Tour with the Upstream Collective. We visited the locations of the seven churches from the Book of Revelation. You can look back at earlier posts:

The Church in Ephesus

The Church in Smyrna

The Church in Pergamum

The Church in Thyatira

The Church in Sardis

For Christians everywhere who have been lied to, mocked, shunned, and persecuted, there is hope. That's Jesus' message for the church at Philadelphia, the one church mentioned in the Book of Revelation about which Jesus has nothing negative to say. Though they had suffered persecution at the hands of the Jews, the Christ-followers there had remained faithful. The Lord commends them for keeping His word and promises that one day even their enemies would recognize that they were loved by God.

As we continue reflecting on our tour of the 7 Churches of Asia Minor, we come to the church in Philadelphia. In its day, the ancient city was referred to as "Little Athens" because of its great number of temples, festivals, and variety of pagan practices. The ruins of earthquake-prone Roman administrative center are found in the center of the bustling little Turkish city of Alasehir. It was a strange feeling to preach from Revelation 3:7-13 while people watched on through the fence that surrounded the ruins.

My favorite thing about these Upstream Collective Vision Trips is the conversation. We don't just talk about the blogosphere and Rob Bell, we talk about serious missiology and the practicals of what we see. The leaders on this trip to Turkey came from a variety of backgrounds, so we were able to explore the different sides of key missiological issues like contextualization, church planting, and partnering together for the work of the Kingdom.

One such conversation revolved around pragmatism. We wondered together whether "what works" is always what's best. We often see results-driven pastors and church leaders fall into a desperate search for a strategy or method that will produce results. But even the least competitive among us almost can't help but look for ways to do things bigger, faster, easier, and better. When visiting another ministry, it's almost second nature for us to evaluate what's being done and dream up ways to improve upon it. We learn from both successes and failures, and we're not afraid of missteps along the way.

The "workers" we met along the way, however, didn't think in terms of results. They seemed much more concerned with getting things right from the beginning than just starting in one direction and then making adjustments along the way. This makes sense if you think about the complexities of doing ministry in a context that isn't your own, as every decision can have long-term impact on the work. Nobody wants to foster dependence on outsiders or accidentally communicate a false teaching. These things need to be thought through.

The pastors on the trip had some great insights, though. They suggested that it might be wise to take a hybrid approach—do whatever it takes to get to "one," and then disciple that "one" to help navigate cultural pitfalls and come up with a plan to get to an indigenous expression of church. Furthermore, the group saw tremendous potential for partnering with churches in the initial stages of such a plan. Why not use the resources, diversity, and skills of church members on short-term trips to jump-start a work that longer-term workers could then step into and provide ongoing discipleship?

Were we playing armchair missionary? Sure. But there is value in these sorts of conversations. Here, we can think through the implications of our various approaches to ministry, and begin to apply basic missions principles to our ministries back home.

Here's a conversation I had with Aaron Harvie, church planter and lead pastor of Riverside Community Church in Philadelphia, PA.

I'm thankful to the Upstream Collective for challenging pastors, planters, and church leaders to think and act like missionaries at home and abroad.

NEXT WEEK: The Church at Laodicea

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Thursday Is for Turkey: The Church in Philadelphia