David Fuller's blog

InFaith's History (Part 2)

This is the second part of a series taking a look at how InFaith has been reaching local and changing lives over the past 200 years. You can get an overview of our history on our timeline and read the first part of the blog series here . The following are a smattering of snapshots that demonstrate the ways that InFaith has reached local throughout the years. In the 1920s and 30s, missionaries started to organized what they called vacation Bible schools and young people’s Bible conferences. The idea was simple: Gather kids together for a week each summer to do concentrated Bible teaching. Get teenagers out in nature and give them a concentrated time together, studying Scripture and fellowshipping. These are now familiar forms of ministry that we take for granted: VBS and summer camp. But they were new ideas at the time and a unique way to reach local kids in a local way. Though not as famous as the Hoover Dam, the Colorado River Aqueduct was a larger public works project affecting more people. According to InFaith’s records, the project required 10,000 men in various temporary camps working for six to seven years to complete it. A report describes the living conditions of the temporary camps in the 1930s in the Southwest: “Mere shacks are called homes, and many are but tents or adobe houses.” InFaith sent missionaries to these camps to attend to the spiritual needs of the workers and their families. Throughout the past 200 years, InFaith suffered alongside the rest of the nation in times of turmoil. One such time was during World War II. The mission struggled financially and, like the rest of the country, the number of men fighting in the...

InFaith's History (Part 1)

Over this past summer, I had the privilege (yes, it was a privilege!) to read through hundreds of pages of Annual Reports and missionary stories from our past. In addition to finding lots of facts that went into our timeline , I discovered that InFaith has been reaching locally and changing lives in all kinds of ways for the past two hundred years. I have talked in other places about what it means to reach local and change lives . This is the first part of a series taking a look at how that has manifested over the past two centuries. The very formation of InFaith as an organization was a response to the changing context of the day. The founders of the mission were businessmen and politicians who recognized that Sunday schools were a powerful way to reach out to the hurting around them with the gospel. The schools where held on Sunday (hence the name, “Sunday School”) because local people worked the other six days of the week. The goal of the schools was to teach literacy in addition to Biblical values because many local children and adults could not read. (This was before the public-school system was established!) The mission called itself the Sunday and Adult School Union. Forming a “Union” brought together several different groups who all had the same goal. The organization focused their efforts, raised funds to pay for teaching materials (and later paid missionaries), created lessons and books, and developed best practices for conducting Sunday Schools. It was a response to the need for a guiding organization to help the fledgling groups better reach their local areas with the gospel. In some times and places, God calls men and women to spontaneously reach out...

Is there a biblical basis for "Reach Local"?

Is there a biblical basis for “Reach Local”? Yes! In fact, the Bible is peppered with this idea of reaching locally ! Consider the very first action in the Bible. After creating the cosmos – where God carved out the oceans and formed the mountains and put together the laws of physics that would govern everything and established the sun that would provide the energy to keep the earth going – He culminates his grand global creation by establishing the first residents in a particular garden. These two first people are charged with tending to their neighborhood. The get to know their neighbors and give them names. They enjoy the beauty of their surroundings. They revel in their locality. And this is just as God wanted me to be… We read further in the story and we find a struggling place. The first residents rebelled. They were forced out of the neighborhood. The world is a mess. God chooses to execute his master plan of salvation through local acts that bring radical change to the entire world. First, he partners with an elderly, barren couple named Abraham and Sarah. Eventually this family becomes a nation. God helps the nation establish its place in the world. God gives them laws of justice and mercy to help them live rightly in their location. The nation is established to be a blessing to all other nations. This isn’t supposed to happen through global expansion, but through local expressions of justice and mercy. The Old Testament laws are generous to the foreigner and sojourner. Israel’s eventual demise is caused in part because they didn’t care for those around them. Right in their own backyards, they sold poor people for a measly pair of sandals and they denied justice to...

Reach Local. Change Lives.

“Reach local, Change lives” is more than a catchy phrase; it describes the essence of everything that we are all about. Why Reach? The Christian faith has always been an evangelical faith. It has always been a mission faith. The reach-nature of God’s plan for the world is throughout scripture. In the garden, God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” God promised Abraham that he would one day be blessed to be a blessing to all nations. Jesus’ ministry was a creative cycle of gathering and sending. Whether it was the sending of the seventy or the healing of a blind man, Jesus’ instruction was to go and tell what they had witnessed. Some of Jesus’ final words include a command to make disciples and extend the reach of the movement He started. The first followers of The Way very quickly multiplied in number as “thousands were added to their number” (Acts 2:41). When we say “reach” we mean reaching out to those around us. We bear witness to the reality that God loves us and God wants to relate to us and bring about wholeness in our lives. God has reached out to us and so we reach out to others. That is why we reach. Why Local? We reach out locally because we believe this is at the very heart of the gospel. The gospel is a radical acceptance of who we are. The gospel doesn’t require you to change your language or your culture. It doesn’t demand you become someone you are not. God himself radically accepted who we are by becoming one of us through Jesus. The incarnation – God becoming a man – is history’s most radically local act! If this is the good news we are sharing, we believe...

Naming. Defining. Relating

I’ve been working on creating an epic list of key schools to connect with in order to expand our work and bring more people into the InFaith family. It’s been pretty dull. I’ve looked through all the lists online of the “top schools.” I found this interesting list on Seminaries for Evangelicals . I take a break every now and then and make my co-worker Mesha list every school she can think of in sixty seconds. Yep, this is the kind of stuff I do everyday. Exciting, I know! I’ve approached these lists with angst. I need to find just the right mix of schools that reflect InFaith’s general theological and practice-of-ministry ethos. I have to find the names of schools and define them in some way that makes sense so I can understand how they relate to other schools. So I’ve spent time looking at websites and perusing statements of faith. I see the same angst in the lists I found online (and especially the comments that accompany them). There is great concern on how to classify a school. Is such and such school conservative or liberal? Are they evangelical? Mainline protestant? Liberal, but hostile to conservatives? Conservative, but friendly to progressive thinkers? Has this school been co-opted by one political party or the other? Does this school even care about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? And suddenly the record playing in my head comes to a (proverbial) screeching halt. Why have we become this way? Why am I this way? Why do I come to something as simple as a list of schools and feel the need to box people up in certain categories? I suppose at a basic level, it is just our natural human response. Since the beginning we humans...

3 Steps to Becoming Missional

It is common to put a distinction or hierarchy on people in the church. And at the very top we place pastors and missionaries. But the reality is that we are all called to be missional in our daily lives. Bearing witness to the reality of God’s kingdom and the reality of God’s king-ship in our lives is the basic call of every Christian. Too often we get into this zone of thinking that only the special few are called to do this. A couple months ago, I was able to lead a workshop at Multnomah University’s Global Ministries Conference in Portland, OR. We talked about three steps to becoming missional. The workshop was InFaith’s first Reach Local Idea Lab. There were three main components to the workshop. 1. Consider God’s story. Consider the grand story of God’s salvation. This story has been described ( here and elsewhere) as an unfolding drama with four major plot developments: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. This drama is found in the Bible. It is also found in the lives of countless Christians who have found healing and transformation through Christ. We are in the part of God’s story where the church, empowered by the Spirit, has been sent out into the world to bear witness to God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. 2. Consider your story. Ben Bobeda, who works with us in Oregon, began the idea lab with a simple statement: “Often our experiences give us our passion.” This powerfully set the stage for the idea lab and is the next step in becoming missional. Our experiences do give us our passion. Often our good experiences give us an interest and skill in some particular thing. I grew...

Innovation

I’m twenty-seven. Pretty much right at the front end of the millennial generation. Now though we millennials are a very diverse group, something I hear about us all the time is that we are innovative. Apparently there are entire conferences out there dedicated to celebrating millennials’ entrepreneurship and innovation. I’ve never been to one of these things. Honestly, I can imagine hating it. But I am a big believer in innovation. Not the kind of ignorant innovation that ignores rich traditions and basic historical facts, but the kind of critical thinking that understands root problems and moves decisively to address them. Bold innovation that is risky, that fails, that gets dirty, but keeps trying again and again. Innovation has always been a part of the church. The alphabet for modern Russian and other Slavic languages was the innovation of missionaries. Cyril (hence Cyrillic script) and Methodius showed up in the 9th century and there was no written language. So they made it up! They innovated. For our part, InFaith has been involved in innovation in the church since our very beginning. We began as the American Sunday School Union. We formed after a Philadelphia bishop visited England in the late 1700s. There he saw an incredible innovation led by Robert Raikes. Raikes was teaching children, who were working in factories six days a week, how to read. They met on Sundays and Raikes called his school, Sunday School. This innovation was a part of the development of public school systems in England and the U.S. People of the church saw a need, moved decisively to meet the need, and introduced a new idea. They innovated. The very fact that we have had three names in our history suggests that InFaith is not afraid of innovation. We have lasted for 200...

Focused

Do you ever feel like the world is just too big? Do the vast number of options and ideas and plans and visions and things-I-could-do actually feel like a daunting, overwhelming “something” that you don’t want to deal with? When we have so many options at our fingertips it is easy to get lost in the options and the ideas. Some days I kind of wish that I had never had the option to leave the farm in Kansas. If I hadn’t, at least I would know where I was going and could focus on that! But, alas, I did leave the farm. And now I’m in “the big city.” Now I’m in the elite 7% of the world that have a college degree . So I have to figure out where to go in this big world of choice. I realize that what I’m describing is a problem of the privileged. I realize that my sex, race and religion afford me more opportunities than others in the world. This is of course my reality. It would be easy to be paralyzed by the realization of my privilege. But it would be better to acknowledge it, move forward, and seek to live into a reality where all are afforded equality of option. One of the reasons I’m excited about InFaith is that we have decided to limit our options. We have chosen to focus. This continues my look at InFaith’s ministry essentials. You can read my previous posts about relevance , commitment , and community . This week I’m looking at focus. We are about connecting people with relevant ministry in the United States. We believe that people transformed by Jesus will be a...

5 Reasons InFaith is an Awesome Mission Organization

Here are five reasons why InFaith is an awesome mission organization: 1. InFaith has a rich and dynamic history. We are over 200 years old. For any institution, such an age is a feat in and of itself. It reveals an inherent dynamism that has proven the organization to have the adaptive capacity to change with the times. InFaith’s history is a story of adaptation. From our beginnings as the American Sunday School Union, and through our time as American Missionary Fellowship, InFaith has been about connecting God’s unchanging reality to the world’s ever changing context. Today, we sit on this rich history and reflect on what it means for our current context. As we continue our march into the 21st century, we are able to celebrate the way God has moved with and through our organization, and confidently look forward to the ways in which god is calling us to change. 2. Our people are uniquely themselves. Have you ever been in a room with charismatics and cessationists? I have. In fact, it was just last week at our Refresh conference. We were all worshipping God together. We love each other, in fact! I was also in a room with hunter orange and camo sitting next to hipster thick-rims and skinnies. InFaith has people doing ministry all across the U.S. and our people reflect the parts of the country they come from. We have all sorts of different accents. We vote in all sorts of different ways. We listen to all sorts of different music. But one thing brings us together: We are living in faith together as a messy, diverse, and loving family. 3. Our ministry is as diverse as our people. Many great and wonderful mission organizations, domestic and abroad, have focused on a...

America is a Mission Field

I grew up in a context where to be a missionary meant two things. First, it meant long skirts and white button ups. Second, it meant you went to Africa. But we live in a context today where that idea is ridiculous. Obviously, my immature vision of what it meant to be a missionary was just that: immature. Beyond my youthful ignorance is the reality of a world where mission is no longer simply over there, in that place, to those people. Mission is now from everywhere to everywhere. Churches all across the globe are sending missionaries all across the globe. No country or region is exempt from the need for missionaries and no country or region is excused from the call to send missionaries. It should come as no surprise that the U.S. is a mission field. I mean, duh, is everyone in the U.S. a Christian? Are we now experiencing the fullness of the kingdom of God in this country? Has the beautiful vision of Revelation 21 – that picture of a time when there will be no more tears, where the new has come – been actualized here? Absolutely not! But even more than that, the notion that “missions” is this narrowly conceived activity that takes place only on the other side of an international boundary line comes from a misunderstanding or mis-emphasis of the Bible. Consider the oft’ quoted text of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). The imperative in this verse is actually only “to make...

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