Bivocational Scheduling

How they do it is beyond my understanding. Marcelo teaches part-time (nearly full-time, if I understand correctly) at a public high school while also working as the sole evangelist (missionary) of the church he planted in 2002. They aren’t just in maintenance mode. The church is growing, and Marcelo is doing all of the teaching and preaching for the congregation. One year they had something like 40 days of purpose, and they’ve also had congregational fasts and prayer vigils. Right now they are doing a very interesting evangelistic campaign, and all the members are being taught and encouraged to evangelize. They’ve gone door knocking (this still works in Uberlândia, Brazil) and have several evangelistic Bible studies set up in people’s homes.

But I said “they,” didn’t I? Really it isn’t just Marcelo, it’s also his wife Selma that makes this thing work. An experienced church worker, she does a fantastic job of leading the women in the congregation and organizing the activities for children, while also raising the three children she and Marcelo have.

Our goal is to get their mission support to the point where neither Selma nor Marcelo have to work outside the church. We want 100% of their time dedicated to the mission work. Since January the church in Iowa that had been their primary source of support has assumed greater responsibility, following a very good visit by two men from that church. The Iowa church is moving towards getting Marcelo to full support, and the church in Uberlândia will be a sort of “sister church” to the congregation in Iowa. Marcelo is to be considered a minister of the church in Iowa, under the direction of its eldership and supported by the prayers and offerings of the congregation as a whole.

With this positive progress made, Christiane and I are now looking to how we can prepare ourselves for a permanent return to full-time mission work. Right now we are members of the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark, New Jersey, and would like to be able to devote more time to the church’s work here. As it is, though, we barely have time to see one another. Cris works as a house cleaner and I work two jobs. My primary employment is with AT&T mobility, and my secondary employment is as an ESL teacher. I leave home at 7am every weekday, return home by 6pm and then leave to teach again at 7:30pm. Most nights I manage to get home by 10:30.

Having this sort of schedule, it is very difficult to do anything with the church. Weekends are the only time we have left, and having children we want to spend it with them. At the same time, how can we set aside our calling to ministry? We shouldn’t, but our financial reality necessitates it. New Jersey is not a cheap place to live, and we only just manage to pay rent for our tiny third floor apartment. We’re here, though, because of the Brazilians. There wouldn’t be many Brazilians in Missouri if we were to move back there.

After a lot of thought and prayer, and having been a bivocational minister for a few years now (with the exception of that awful time in New Mexico), I’ve come to the conclusion that there are people with the calling to bivocational work…but I’m not one of them.

The evening I accepted what I perceived to be God’s call on my life to Brazilian evangelism, I made a commitment to become fully trained and equipped for the mission field. It was my intention to devote every energy to mastering the biblical languages, studying theology and developing skills in practical ministry that would help me advance the reign of God in Brazil. What I did, instead, was rush through a good training program for a Bachelor’s that I should have followed up with a Master’s. Then I met a great Christian woman in Brazil, got married and moved down there. Though good work was done with God’s blessing, more could have been accomplished had I stuck with that first plan.

Bivocational work is good, necessary in many cases and a true calling that some have. The down sides, though, are many. The worst of these, in my opinion, is the lack of time. I used to say that I might has well have a job, since other members of the church have jobs too and I wouldn’t be able to meet with them or prospective converts during the day anyway, since they’d be working. This may be true in many cases, but when you work a regular shift and have a family, you don’t have much time for the administrative and logistic work or the crucial study needed to have a successful mission. The more you have to work in a “secular” job, the less time you have for evangelism, counseling and discipleship training.

It is further my opinion that those who are bivocational workers should, due to their time constraints, work in a team with a few other bivocational workers. This way the tasks of ministry can be divided up among team members, freeing up time for family and other obligations, and taking the pressure off of individual ministers.

My dream, renewed, is to obtain the necessary seminary education for myself, at least a Bible college degree for my wife, further experience in ministry here and now in New Jersey (and throughout the northeast) with Brazilians and others, and also full financial support.

Lord willing, I’ll be posting much more on this in the days ahead. There is so much to do…and so little time.

Concerns about Barth

When I moved to New Jersey and was just beginning my crisis of faith and identity, I got into contact with a professor/Presbyterian minister I had met after leaving the Roman Catholic Church in my teens. He directed me to Karl Barth’s works, and over the following year and a half I tried reading some of his writings. At first the style of language put me off, then some of the content intrigued me and resonated with where I was. Still, there are points that seriously concern me, like this:

“Note well: in the whole Bible of the Old and New Testaments not the slightest attempt is ever made to prove God. This attempt has always been made only outside the biblical view of God, and only where it has been forgotten with whom we have to do, when we speak of God. What sort of attempts where they, after all, where the attempt was made to prove a perfect being alongside imperfect ones. Or from the existence of the world to prove its ultimate and supreme cause, God? Or from the alleged order of the world to prove the ordering Power? Or the moral proof of God from the face of man’s conscience? I don’t know whether you can at once see the humour and fragility of these proofs. These proofs may avail for the alleged gods; if it were my task to make you acquainted with these allegedly supreme beings, I would occupy myself with the five famous proofs of God. In the Bible there is no such argumentation; the Bible speaks of God simply as of One who needs no proof. It speaks of a God who proves Himself on every hand: Here am I, and since I am and live and act it is superfluous that I should be proved.”

That’s from Barth’s “Dogmatics in Outline.” Now, I can’t help but wonder if he was reading the same Bible I read. I find these “proofs” throughout the Bible, but especially in the apostle Paul’s writing. How, then, did Barth write a commentary on Romans but reject the evidences of God in creation?

Eastern Christian Convention

Today I took the first step towards attending the Eastern Christian Convention this year. I requested time off work for November 15 and 16 (the other two days fall on a weekend).

This convention is important for a couple of reasons. One is that it will be the first significant gathering of people from independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ that I will be attending after years of mission work and self-imposed exclusion. Another is that it will be the first time I’ll be operating an exhibit about the Brazilian mission work. It’s essential that we obtain support over the next year for Brazilian Evangelism Ministry (BEM) so we can reach out to the Brazilian diáspora in the U.S. and elsewhere, and also prepare for renewed mission service in Brazil.

My wife has the creative and artistic talent, so I’ll be counting on her for the overall display. I’ll also need to order a lot more business cards (the first batch is on its way already) and I should think about a video presentation to keep running as well as some quality literature.

November seems like a distant time, but then its June now and I feel like it should only be February! We’ve got to get the ball rolling.

Dark Mood About the Dark Ages

Lately I’ve been reading through one of several church history books I own. The first several centuries didn’t bother me too much, but the Middle Ages have me nearly depressed. It is very easy to see, with the rise of the papacy, the crusades and the general worldliness and corruption of the medieval church, why the Protestant reformers were so adamant that change was needed. Then I’m brought lower as I remember the crimes against humanity committed by many of those same reformers. People say they were products of their time and shouldn’t be judged by modern standards, but I have a difficult time reading the Bible and finding room to grant such sweeping pardon.

Then again, I know it can’t have been 100% bad during those times, and that the slant of the historian writing the book can have a lot to do with one’s perspective on those times.

The Kingdom of Christ

“What is the kingdom of Christ? A rule of love, of truth-a rule of service. The king is the chief servant in it. ‘The kings of the earth have dominion: it shall not be so among you.’ ‘The Son of Man came to minister.’ ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ The great Workman is the great King, labouring for his own. So he that would be greatest among them, and come nearest to the King himself, must be the servant of all. It is like king like subject in the kingdom of heaven. No rule of force, as of one kind over another kind. It is the rule of kind, of nature, of deepest nature-of God. If, then, to enter into this kingdom, we must become children, the spirit of children must be its pervading spirit throughout, from lowly subject to lowliest king. The lesson added by St Luke to the presentation of the child is: ‘For he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.’ And St Matthew says: ‘Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ Hence the sign that passes between king and subject. The subject kneels in homage to the kings of the earth: the heavenly king takes his subject in his arms. This is the sign of the kingdom between them. This is the all-pervading relation of the kingdom.” – George MacDonald in Unspoken Sermons

If Jesus reveals the Father to us, and the Son came in the form of a servant, what does this say about the fundamental nature of God? He who is worthy of all praise, glory and honor does that which appears weakest and most humiliating…out of love. How can we do otherwise?

BEM Update – Sunday, 24 June 2007

Today I taught the third lesson in the series “Great Themes of the Bible” for the Brazilian church’s Sunday School. So far, the lessons have been:

1) General Revelation (Creation)
2) Special Revelation (Prophets)
3) Special Revelation (Christ)

Next week the lesson will be entitled simply “Sin,” and will explore the origin and nature of sin, as well as how to deal with temptation. Having only 30 to 45 minutes for each class really limits how much I can do, but the feedback so far has been quite positive. A few of the upcoming lessons I have to prepare will be especially challenging to me, especially with the limited free time I have to study (due to work). Of special concern are the classes regarding Abraham, and the one in a few weeks I will teach entitled “The Life and Vocation of Jesus.” Both of these topics are going to require a lot of thought, prayer and careful preparation.

A letter is in the works to send out to current, past and prospective supporting churches. The purpose of this letter will be to update them on what we are doing and set goals for the future. We would like to eventually raise enough support to allow both Christiane and I to spend most of our time working with the Brazilian community here in the northeast, and also study for future ministry in Brazil. This week I’ll be posting more on this latter point, Lord willing.