1. AWAKENED TO A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF GOD
Raised by missionary parents and with more than 30 years of missionary experience myself, I have hungered for God and pursued Him with all my heart from childhood. However, it was four or five years ago that my heart began to be awakened to a new understanding of the God I had loved all my life, and a fresh hunger for Him was born. I began to get glimpses of One Who not only loves me but Who is in love with me. Then through a number of circumstances, I made my first visit to the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO., two years ago.
Little did I suspect the impact that visit would have on me. Like a magnet, the place drew me back over and over again. I would make the eight-hour drive simply to spend long hours soaking in the Lord's presence in the Kansas City International House of Prayer where worship and intercession continues night and day.
2. SEEKING THE FULLNESS OF HIS DESTINY FOR OUR LIVES
While I had been very happy serving the Lord, what I experienced at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) made me realize that I had not yet moved into the fullness of His destiny for my life. As I continued making trips to Kansas City to bask in His love and presence, He was doing a deep work in me that I was not consciously aware of at the time. Being long hours in an atmosphere permeated by His presence brought fresh and new revelations of His beauty, and the more I saw Him, the more my heart was inclined to want all that He intended for me, at whatever cost. The more I saw of His goodness and beauty and joy over me, the more awakened I was to fears and insecurities in me that have held me back and kept me locked up in the prisons of self-protection and self-preservation. Being in His presence caused me to want freedom and to dare to get free.
3. A DIFFERENT PARADIGM OF MISSIONARY TRAINING
Some time before making my first trip to IHOP, I was being exercised in my spirit about the missionary training program where I serve on the faculty. Having "fallen in love" with the young people in our college and having been influenced strongly by the passion and vision for the new generations that our pastor had brought with him a few years before this, my heart was strongly moved related to the need for a different paradigm for training a new generation of missionaries.
As a graduate of Bethany College of Missions, I could see that, although many good changes had been made over the years, the fundamental model was still the one under which I had been trained 35 years ago. Living with and listening to the newer generation of missionary trainees convinced me that a new wineskin was needed for our training to have the optimum effect in their lives.
4. PRAYER PRECEDES REAL CHANGES
I began discussing this and wrote a couple of papers about it; then, during a week in which I set aside extra time for prayer, the Lord spoke one thing clearly to me: "Nita, the changes you desire to see won't happen without much more prayer." In obedience to that word, I rearranged my life to make room for more personal prayer and laid aside my attempts to persuade others of the need for a paradigm shift.
Meanwhile, I was making trips to the International House of Prayer and my heart was progressively being captivated by the Lover of my soul, and He was awakening me to my life destiny as related to intercession and worship. Little did I know what the Lord was designing, and a short time later, the new President of Bethany invited me to establish and oversee a ministry in Bethany dedicated to prayer. In this gesture, the Lord handed me the privilege and joy of multiplying my prayers many times over through a team of people.
Today, two years after my initial paper on the need for new wineskins for training missionaries, my personal life and the life of Bethany have changed dramatically. The multiplied hours of worship and prayer that have gone on for the past year and a half have helped change the spiritual climate on campus, and I believe the time is right to once again address the issue of the need for a new paradigm for missionary training.
5. INTIMACY WITH GOD IS THE NEW WINESKIN
And so the purpose of this article is not to make a sophisticated argument but to share the fire burning in my heart concerning the issue of the heavenly Bridegroom's love affair with the nations and why I believe that intimacy with God is the new wineskin needed for training today's generation of missionaries.
6. FOUR QUESTIONS
To address the issue of a new paradigm for missionary training, I will attempt to answer four questions.
First, why a new wineskin?
The reason new wineskins are needed in cultures that use them as containers for wine is that new wine expands as it ages, and new wineskins have elasticity to them that permits them to stretch and conform to the expanding wine. Old wineskins are stretched as much as they can be stretched with previous use and therefore no longer have the elasticity to expand and adapt themselves to the new wine. Over time they grow brittle and crack easily. Putting fresh wine into old wineskins results in the wine leaking out of cracks as it expands or in the whole wineskin bursting and the wine being lost entirely.
Everywhere we turn, it is obvious that a paradigm shift has taken place in our society. For generations incremental changes were happening, but in the more recent years because of the quantum leap in technology, our society has shifted into a new paradigm. This has produced a culture in which change happens quickly and constantly, making Paul's words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1 very real in our day: "…in the last days there will come times of stress…" The suddenness and frequency of change has increased the stress level in the world dramatically, even to the point of being dangerous.
Intense stress, which is what the Scripture is referring to here, causes an increase in all kinds of problems: sickness, tensions in relationships, carelessness, recklessness, etc. This, in turn, produces broken homes, murders, betrayals, infidelity, addictions…so that our children are now born and raised in such an emotionally broken world that even those from strong Christian homes are affected by the spirit of the age.
They come to us with their hearts on fire to serve God but with their emotional immune system so broken down that they cannot handle the pressures that life and ministry hand them.
Not only are our young people broken emotionally, but we are sending them into a harvest that is more demanding of the missionary than it was before. There are at least two reasons for this: one is the simple fact that the closer we get to the "end of the age," the more abundant the harvest, and harvest time is the most stressful season in the farming cycle. The sheer workload intensifies as we approach the end. The second reason is that they are going into a harvest field which, like the young missionary, has also been affected by the emotional brokenness of our age and by the intensifying spiritual resistance of evil forces.
And so our young people have to cope with both internal and external pressures at a level past generations did not face.
The former model of training does not adapt to these new realities but rather assumes that our youth should be able to cope with things as we did. The old wineskin does not give them room or space in which to heal and breathe and drink deeply of the life of God because it has lost its elasticity and is incapable of adjusting itself to this generation. Attempts to patch the old wineskin will ultimately fail to hold the new thing that God is doing.
There's one more reason I believe we need a new wineskin for training a new generation of missionaries. The closer we draw to the Lord's return, the more He is preparing His Church for her eternal identity as His Bride. There will be an increase in our understanding of this dimension of relationship with Him. For our generation, this is a new way of seeing ourselves and strongly suggests a need to shift our focus more to intimacy with God and a love relationship with Him. It is this intimate knowledge of Him that will heal and bind up the trainee's wounds and equip him/her to heal and bind up the nations' wounds. It is intimate knowledge of God and the understanding of His enjoyment of weak humans that makes the missionary strong in the inner person to endure the intense situations of the world into which we send them.
Christian leaders of all streams of Christianity are acknowledging the new shift that is taking place in missions related to this need for much more prayer. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade says,
The Great Commission needs to be fueled with fiery continual prayer with fasting. Our greatest effectiveness in reaching millions of souls will be seen only as our work is bathed in prayer and fasting . . .
This kind of continual prayer is only possible in the context of intimacy with God, otherwise burnout will take place in the work of prayer.
Second, what does intimacy with the invisible God look like?
First, I would like to present what it does not look like. There are three basic things that I believe will not characterize intimacy with God for end-times missionaries:
- A cloistered lifestyle. The young missionary will not shut him/herself up in isolation, untouched by the messiness of a lost world.
- A religious lifestyle. This generation's missionary won't worships man's systems. They will understand that systems are made to serve, not to be served.
- An individualistic lifestyle. The new missionary will understand that being part of Christ's Bride speaks of corporate identity and so will understand that an independent spirit hinders the fullness of God's destiny for His Body.
Fears about pursuing intimacy with God are well founded because of abuses in this area, but the prayer movement that is taking place in these days will not be about seclusion and religion but rather about bringing in the harvest for the One Who is in love with the nations.
By its very nature, intimacy implies investment of time, energy, focus. Thanks to technology, much in life can be done in a hurry. One thing that cannot be hurried is intimacy. Pursuing intimacy with God is the missionary's greatest spiritual battle. In his book, Secrets of the Secret Place, Bob Sorge says,
One of the most (spiritually) violent things you'll ever do is wrestle down all the competing elements in your calendar and consistently carve out the time to shut yourself into the secret place....
Intimacy for the missionary of today will include much fasting, much prayer, much worship; he/she will understand that "wasting time" soaking in the Lord's presence is the most efficient use of time in God's kingdom economy. Though it will look different in each person's life, fasting and extended hours at the feet of Jesus will be normal for the radical, passionate missionary. This lifestyle of intimacy will be practiced by men and women and children of all nations and races.
Because true intimacy requires dedicated time and focus, this new wineskin for missionary training will necessitate cutting back on and reshaping other elements of our present model of training. For example, while formal teaching will always be an important ingredient, the number of hours spent in a typical classroom setting will need to be reduced in order for the trainee to have the time necessary to let the Word penetrate deeply into his/her spirit to find a dwellingplace there. In the new model, the greater focus will be on assuring that there is time and opportunity for the Word to make a deep imprint on the human spirit rather than on downloading Biblical information to the human mind. This implies that time must be put into the structure for spiritual "digesting" and for personal ministry to the trainee.
Other activities that are part of the present training program (such as practical training assigned to students for four hours every weekday) will need to be reexamined as well in the light of this. And although this could look at first like a step backwards in accomplishing measurable results, in the long run, it will bring God directly into the center of the mission and will produce more in less time.
Third, if what I'm proposing is true, what are the implications of this new wineskin for present leadership in missions?
I believe there are at least three implications for those of us who find ourselves overseeing a new generation of missionaries, whether we play a direct or indirect role in mentoring them. We can find these modeled in the Lord Jesus:
- The embracing of the new generation as they are and an acknowledgement of their need of a different training context. This will mean letting go of the old, as good as it has been, and wholeheartedly accepting and empowering the new. Perhaps the first shift must come in our mindset about this. Structural adjustments will happen as needed when we fully embrace the priority of intimacy with God as the new wineskin for the new missionary. Jesus wholeheartedly left what He knew as the Son of God to embrace human culture and from within the realities of that culture, He shaped disciples.
- The giving of permission to a new generation of Christians. Although they look and sound different than our traditional idea of consecrated missionaries, they are as on fire, if not more, than other generations of missionaries. The generations coming behind us have characteristics such as hunger for God and for a personal experience of His affection; passion for the nations; lack of bias on issues of gender, race and social status; eagerness and capability to help shape their own training; readiness to follow risk-taking leaders; willingness to be mentored by trusted leaders; an inclination toward extremes (i.e., not lukewarm); etc. They need our affirmation rather than our judgment. Jesus is exemplary in His affirming relationships with humans. In contrast, the Pharisees were very concerned to restrict the people and were quick to judge someone who didn't fit their mold.
- The handing over of responsibilities to a new generation of leaders. Another implication of this new paradigm is that of letting go control so that young leaders can begin to have a part in decision-making early in their experience. This is risky because they will make mistaken decisions, but it is imperative if the work of the Kingdom is to advance as is needed in these days. Jesus, the greatest Leader of all time, was the greatest Risk-taker. He trusted in the Holy Spirit to oversee the work of bringing in the harvest; He ensured His followers' success by praying for them, both while with them in training and later from His position as Intercessor at the right hand of the Father.
Finally, the fourth question, if it is true that intimacy with God is the new wineskin needed to prepare and empower a new generation of missionaries, then what is the implication of this to the young person in training?
I believe the implication is two-fold. First they must determine in their heart, by the grace of God, that they will do all that is in their power to make the pursuit of intimacy with God top priority. Secondly, in practical terms this will mean aggressively pursuing God in at least three areas of their life:
- Emotional healing. One of the great hindrances to pursuing intimacy is the deep fear we as humans have of true intimacy. We long for it but are terrified of what it means in becoming vulnerable. And the more emotional brokenness there is, the more fear we have of intimacy, whether it be with people or God.
- Intimacy with Him through fasting and spending extended hours in His presence in prayer and worship, both in private and corporate settings.
- Active engagement in church life. This dimension integrates into their life the needed accountability in such areas as integrity, disciplined living, study of the Word; it is also where they find intergenerational relationships; and it is the place to practice hands-on ministry (the exercising of the gifts of the Spirit and of personal giftings).
The young missionary trainee will have to embrace the disciplines that an intimacy-based training implies and join the program fully aware that it won't be a typical college experience where everyone functions independently of others and where multiple options are given to satisfy personal preferences.
7. A FINAL WORD: INTERCESSORS
One final word...God's heart burns with love for the nations, for every person, for you and me. It's obvious that He is up to something greater than humanity has ever witnessed because He is putting together what is proving to be the greatest worldwide prayer movement in the history of mankind. When God awakens intercessors, it means He intends to bring in a great harvest of souls. Some of our new missonaries will be intercessory missionaries, meaning their main calling will be to function as intercessors/worshippers on a team, but many will be called and gifted in other areas. No matter what the primary focus of God's call and destiny is for their lives, each one must learn to hear His heartbeat and move with Him, and this kind of partnership is only possible through a lifestyle of intimacy with Him.
The missions movement that is emerging today will be fueled by the love and affection of One Who endured the cross for the joy of having a Bride to rule and reign by His side forever. And that which will empower the Bride to endure the suffering necessary to gather in the final harvest from all nations will be her desire for the heavenly Bridegroom. May the grace and power of the Holy Spirit take us into the heart of God and back out to the nations with His fiery love!
The following is a sample of personal testimonies that I have received from some of our college students who are presently in cross-cultural ministry for their internship. These testimonies eloquently express the need for a shift in our focus in the emerging missions movement and have been sent to me unsolicited. (These are a few out of several e-mails I have received. I quote them verbatim; "M2J" refers to a model of worship they learned at the Bethany College of Missions which is labeled Ministering to Jesus.)
- Italy (September 2, 2002)
It (M2J model) was very strange for me at first, especially because I sing all the time. It was definately a discipline, and I'm ashamed to say not very fun. Not anymore! Praise the Lord! Now I'm free to sing and dance, be still and listen, or do whatever the Lord's calling me to do.
I'm finally understanding what true worship is. It's not words, but intimate, deep communion with the Father who loves us. With this new understanding has come the realization that there are so many depths of the Lord that I haven't even entered into yet. How exciting!!!
- Uzbekistan (November 10, 2002)
I'm really feeling the blessing of worship, and I'm learning to go there when I don't know where to go. The lessons I learned under your teaching have been absolutely invaluable to me here. Honestly, Nita, I think I would've gone home by now if I didn't know how to get to the throne in worship. Meditating on Him is my lifeline here…I need to see Him here, or I'll grow weary in well-doing.
It is GOOD to know that I can do His Kingdom work in my room or on a walk or a run... I am so thankful to know these things, or I'd feel like this was a waste of time. Precious waste of a year to Him... He can do sweet things with my heart-offered "waste" of time. And, thankful to know…that prayer isn't short-lived. Long after I've left Samarkand, the prayers gone up over this neighborhood will be rising still in heaven to my Father's ears. That is a precious thing to pour into. What lessons, Nita.
- Tajikistan (October 8, 2002)
So for now, M2J is the route I take. I feel like it's the one thing I do here that has affect. I will keep pressing into that. It sounds like that is what Jen is doing to. I am thankful for the training we had last year.
- Bangladesh (November 17, 2002)
Speaking of M2J- I participated with you all on Saturday- which would have been Friday night there.
I've found that my times of adoring Him are the times I treasure most. When I'm doing that it seems there is no greater "work" that can be done.
December 2, 2002: We want to cover the areas He directs us to in pryr and worship, believing that as we adore the Lord, the spiritual climate of this area will be changed.
January 6, 2003: I'm really sensing that the Lord wants to me shift my focus a bit for the rest of Internship- when I return from Thailand. I'm considering dropping formal language study to focus more on worship and intercession. It just seems like the most valuable thing I can be involved with while I'm here.