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The Racist Support Raising System

The Racist Support Raising System

I was alerted to a post over at the website Minister Different on the support raising system. The charge is that the system keeps parachurch agencies white. I am not going to reproduce the main points here so if this interests you, go read the article and then come back to read why I think the author is only half right.

As a missions agency exec at Pioneers I can attest to the difficulty in mobilizing African Americans. While the article lumps hispanics and African Americans in the same group, I think this is an oversimplification. We have had some success with recruiting and deploying latinos and we expect that to multiply in the years ahead as latinos move more into the mainstream of missions in general and our organization (Asian Americans are represented at a much higher rate than either African Americans or latinos in our organization). It is certainly true: we have had very limited success in mobilizing from the African American community. I agree that support raising as a means to funding ministry is a big reason why this is the case. We have had numerous African American missions leaders tell us that unless we fund them they won’t join Pioneers.

The system appears rigged, as the author suggests. But… that system is not just a “parachurch system” as the author implies. The issue is much more deeply embedded in the giving culture of the Evangelical church as a whole.

Churches, like Tim Keller’s (he is heavily quoted in the article), are also a part of the problem. Let me explain.

The article states that the individualized, support raising model depends on social networks to raise funds. True enough, but the local church, at least in our environment, is at the core of this funding model. For a ministry like ours (we may be different from Intervarsity and Cru in this way) the support raising model starts and ends with local church giving. I’ve run the numbers on our donor base: very close to fifty percent of the funding comes from local churches. The largest donors to support raised staff are churches. If it weren’t for generous churches our agency would struggle.

One might argue, “So what? That’s the same problem.” But it’s not. If we wanted to pay salaries to African American staff we would need donors willing to give to that. And they simply aren’t willing to give to “buckets” that aren’t attached to faces. This is particularly true with church giving.

In my entire time at Pioneers USA I can count less than about 4-5 churches which have donated to Pioneers USA’s general fund. They donate to “their missionary.” I am pretty sure that if you checked out Tim Keller’s church budget you would find precious little given to the operations of organizations like Pioneers. It’s not because we aren’t asking. It’s because churches do not see organizational donations as a valid gift type. If our goal was to pay salaries we would need to find that money and that money would not be tied to particular workers. Giving is tied to people. This is at the core of the “individualized support-raised model.”

“Well,” one might counter, “what about the example of Cru? They have this fund, you see…” Yes, a couple of other organizations have raised some funds toward this end. That’s a laudable thing. However, I would question the sustainability of that approach as well as the scope. Very few people, relative to the size of these organizations, will benefit from these funds. It’s simply doesn’t do enough or fix the root causes.

When agencies raise funds through missionaries it comes out of the “service fee” or what I call the “missionary tax.” Trust me when I tell you that churches and other donors do not want us increasing the missionary tax so that we can pay the salaries of a racially selected group of missionaries. We get a lot of pressure to lower these fees. Organizations that rate non-profits look at these sort of fees as “inefficient fund-raising” or “money not spent on programs.” In other words, raising money for salaries like this is a band-aid and not a sustainable, systemic change to the system.

Why doesn’t the author of the article suggest ideas for changing the culture of giving within the African American Church? Surely, this is just as much part of the equation as the organizations doing missionary work. I have heard many excuses as to why the African American Church is not able to give toward global mission and send their own. Until there is a change of heart from within the African American Church I am afraid the solutions will look a lot like failed government programs: unsustainable subsidies that treat the symptoms of injustice and, in the long run, perpetuating injustice.

There is an insipid implication in the article: white organizations are systematically racist because of the support raised model. The support raised model is not an ordained, Biblical model. There are many ways to get involved in mission. Simply because there is the opportunity for some through the support raised model does not mean that others are being forbidden or suppressed from fulfilling the Great Commission. Declaring that African American Churches must adopt the model of the white Evangelical church when it comes to missionary support is also racist. What solutions can come from within the African American Church that better fits their model of ministry and culture?

When missionaries work in other countries to assist them in the mobilization process they should be very careful about introducing the support raised model to the national church. It won’t work in many other cultures and we shouldn’t assume it must for justice to reign among African American Churches.

I recently had a wonderful few days with the founders of Movein.to. Here is a missions mobilization model that sits completely outside of the support-raising paradigm. They have mobilized 250+ people in just a few years. Perhaps this is a better avenue for the African American Church to consider. There are other options out there as well and more that a clever entrepreneur could dream up.

So… yes, there is a problem and yes, it’s systemic. Yes, organizations like Pioneers should be working to overcome this issue. But no, it doesn’t lie completely within the system of support raising nor should we force support raising onto those who have clearly rejected it. This is not an issue of justice. It’s an issue of cultural sensitivity and awareness of differences within the body.

Missionaries on Welfare

Missionaries on Welfare

Two converging events have created in me a need to write this post – a post that will no doubt offend (or embarrass) a few of my fellow Christian workers. Please forgive me for what I am about to write.

This past week the Obama campaign rolled out a fictitious story about Julia. Julia’s story unfolds on the computer screen telling us about all the ways that Uncle Barack has come to the rescue in the form of government assistance just when Julia was at her time of greatest need. It contrasts these benefits with all the heinous cuts the evil Republicans are planning to make. The Republicans responded fiercely, painting Julia as a ward of the state, sucking from the teat of government rather than making her own way in life (that’s the first time I have ever used the word “teat” in a blog post!). One rather cute  tweet noted that, most likely, Julia will be moving in with mom and dad after college since she cannot find a job.

This got me thinking about the “support-raised Christian workers” who are taking advantage of government welfare programs. They are, in effect, missionaries on welfare.

The phrase, “support-raised Christian workers” refers to people working in organizations that require their staff members to find donations to pay for their ministry cost. I am aware of a number of them that are now sucking at that same teat (2nd time!!) as Julia. The issue to which I am referring is almost exclusively found among US-based staff (none of the aforementioned “welfare missionaries” are with Pioneers, mind you, although there may be some).

My bias against welfare is about to come out and I apologize in advance for being such a troglodyte about government assistance. I have this old-fashioned idea that welfare is not supposed to be a part of a household’s economy unless there are (negative) extenuating circumstances. In other words, if you are on welfare, you have problems and need help.

I have learned, however, that many consider government welfare (whether it concerns food stamps, school lunch assistance, or any other range of assistance programs) to be “rights.” In other words, if you qualify, than it is your “right” to have it.

There is something that seems wrong about deciding to work a bit less at fundraising because, with a lower income level, one can top off the budget with free school lunches. Worse yet? Qualifying for food stamps or assistance payments that allows a person to continue in ministry despite budget shortfalls. If one works for a non-profit I assume the idea is to provide a service to society, not to ask society to give you welfare benefits. After all, non-profits already get a government break through reduced taxation.

As I pondered this, I realized that I myself have sucked at a government teat (wow – three times in post!) but perhaps not the same one. Just this past month my wife and I refinanced our house. We qualified for a lower interest rate through an FHA-sponsored program that covered most of our closing costs, courtesy of the Obama administration, based on when we purchased our home. I didn’t ask for it – in fact, we were bombarded by offers and simply couldn’t pass it up (that’s my justification for doing it). If one extrapolates this to include other benefits of government for which I qualify (roads, bridges, protection from the US armed forces, etc.) I suppose we all get government assistance of some sort.

Still, am I wrong to suggest that missionaries who raise their support should think twice before getting welfare benefits?

What do you think?

How to Think about Missiology

How to Think about Missiology

A few years ago, a friend gave me a little article he wrote (not published, so I can't send it to you) that he entitled, "How to Think about Leadership." It was an overview, a set of categories actually, of the various ways that people have written about leadership. I've long since lost it, but it was a helpful tool when evaluating authors who write about leadership.

As I read for my PhD I have noticed that there are also categories of missiology. These might help to understand an author's perspective and how the text is intended to be used. There are four broad categories, with a myriad of smaller subcategories underneath them. FYI, my working definition of missiology is "The study of God's movement in time and place."

Observational Missiology
The first of these three categories is observational.  Historical research and analysis is applied to the question of how Christian movements have formed and grown.  In this school of thought, understanding movements is essentially a study of Christian history.  Getting a comprehensive view of Christian history is a challenging task.  There are, of course, the standard problems in recreating any historical account and this is the challenge of observational missiology. Autobiographies, historical accounts, reports from the field, and a great deal of research is a part of this branch of missiology.  This category seeks to answer the question of "What happened or is happening?"

Applied Missiology
Another category is applied missiology.  These authors are most concerned with how Christians should carry on their work in order to create or support Christian movements.  Their work is often filled with prescriptions and recommendations for how church and mission is to be conducted.  Often, there is a sociological root to the views expressed by these missiologists. How-to courses and manuals intended for churches or missionaries, prescriptions on church planting strategies, community development paradigms, various "special interest" missiologies (i.e., children at risk, environmentalism) would fall under this broad category. Applied missiology answers the question, "How should we go about our work?"

Theological Missiology
There is, of course, much theology embedded in the first two categories.  However, some missiologists focus more exclusively on the theological basis of mission. Systematic theology, Biblical theology, and other theological pursuits are similar in nature but have distinct emphases that are different from missiology. Examples of this sort of theological missiology includes NT Wright's, "Jesus and the People of God," Christopher Wright's, "The Mission of God," and a lot of Newbiggen material. The overarching question that theological missiology seeks to answer is "What is mission?"

Local Missiology
Local missiology utilizes any of the previous three categories but is tied to an underlying worldview, culture, or region. This might be the author's own perspective or it might be the authors reflection on another culture. The emergent church authors, for example, are distinctly concerned with postmodern, Western, missiology. It does not translate well to the plains of Africa, where a much different missiology has developed. Because we are all trapped by our culture, all missiology might be considered local at some level. However, this category is reserved for those authors that are writing about missiology in a specific context. It answers the questions, "What does this cultural context say about mission?"

The best missiology happens when these categories are fused together. They are not independent of each other, but work together to form a whole. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

Too Much Emphasis on Islam

Too Much Emphasis on Islam

Here is a question I have been pondering lately.  

Is there too much emphasis on Islam in missiology?

Let me state up front that I am NOT talking about too much of a focus on Islam in the church, particularly the North American church. I can only hope and pray that churches would be more and more concerned about their attitude and posture toward Muslims, particularly those that live with us in the USA.  I am also burdened by the large numbers of Muslims that will never know a Christian or understand the gospel through a believer.

No, what I am asking about is this: Are we allowing Islam to overshadow a Christian missiology?

Why would I ask such a question? In the circles I run in, the books I read, the conferences I attend, and the missiological influencers I am listening to are all highly focused on Islamic outreach. That's overall a good thing, because missiology is the study of missions and there is a great need to reach out to Muslims with proper and good missiology.  My concern is that our missiology has become overwhelmingly reactive when it comes to Islam and is largely consumed by Islamic issues.

Christian theology stands apart from Islam and must be understood from its scriptural and historical roots, before Islam was created by Mohammed and subsequent Arab cultures. Since that point, we can understand Christian theology in part as it relates to Islam, but it is still unique from Islam. Yet, current missiological themes are highly interwoven with Islamic issues. My question is, "Has this gone too far?"

Is it good missiological practice, for example, to define the church theologically only in terms of its context culturally?  This seems to be a major theme of the Islamic contextualization debate.  Similarly, the task of the Great Commission (which is, from my perspective, a focus on discipleship resulting in church community) is most often discussed in relationship to Islamic outreach.  A quick review of Church Planting Movement (CPM) reveals a historic root in Hindu societies.  Yet, the movements which seem to be most discussed and written about are Islamic movements (I actually commend the editors of Mission Frontiers who, in the last edition on Church Planting Movements, included both Hindu and American focused articles). If you disagree with me I invite you to open up just about any missions resource and see if I am correct.

From a "closure" standpoint I suppose this is a good thing.  If the church wants to see the message of Christ spread into every culture then Islamic cultures must be at the forefront.  Muslims continue to make up a majority of the world's unreached and from a mobilization and recruitment standpoint Islam must be a major theme. I would caution, though, that missiology needs to be rooted on Christian theology and understanding first, with a secondary application to the temporal culture into which it is placed. I am not referring only to the contextualization debate, although that has garnered much of the recent interest.

Islam is the late-comer to the world religion arena. Christianity will outlast it. Let's not let Islam define our missiology to the point where it is reactive and temporal, a response to the headlines and world political situation. The cross preceded Islam and the cross will surely outlast it.

Do you agree with me on this? Are we a bit too focused on Islam in missiological reflection these days?

Pioneers Statement on Contextualization

Pioneers Statement on Contextualization

Pioneers recently adopted a “Statement on Contextualization” which provides insight into how the international leadership of the organization views contextualization.  This statement will be heralded in some circles and maligned in others.  Overall, though, I think it does a pretty good job of combining freedom with responsibility.

I would love to get your feedback on this Statement and post.  Please comment!

My own views on this topic continue to evolve.  Most recently, I have observed (mostly in personal conversations) that proponents of “Insider Movement” strategies are seeking a reform of Islam itself.  I believe this is a different conversation than one about contextualization.  To see a reformed Islam means that Christianity doesn’t really confront Islam as an alternative religious worldview.  Rather, within the scope of Islam itself these IM folks believe there is room for a brand of Islam that is Christian.

In justifying this approach, IM'ers suggest a comparison to the Protestant Reformation and include a harsh indictment of the historic church.  The Protestant Reformation, I would suggest, is a poor analogy for a reformed version of Islam.  The distance from Catholicism to Protestantism is significant but it pales in comparison with the distance between Islam and Christianity.  The indictment on the historic church stems from the argument that,  “We cannot too harshly judge Islam; just look how bad our own history has been.”  It is an attempt to close the aforementioned distance by stating that Christianity can be divorced from its historical forms and practices. I believe that can only go so far. As much as we Christians might not like it, there is a great deal of history in our Christianity. We are who we are in part because of where we have been. Just take a simple issue like the Biblical canon.  It was put together through the lens of history. That’s just one of many, many issues that do not allow us to walk away from our history.

So, as I personally wrestle with this topic, Pioneers produced the following statement. Even though I work for Pioneers, I can objectively say that I think it's a pretty good statement.  A few things stick out to me: 

  • Pan-Religious:  Pioneers works with people from all of the major religious blocs.  For that reason, this statement it not simply directed at Islam.  It can be used in any context.  [I would note, as a sidebar issue, that missiology is skating dangerously close to being overtaken by Islamic themes and essentially "splitting" into different forms.  While I appreciate the commitment that many have to “Muslim-only” approaches, most of the unreached are not Muslims.  While Muslims make up the greatest portion of unreached, it is not strategic, Biblical, or helpful to ignore the rest of the world’s unreached people. The Christian faith should not be defined as a reaction to another religious worldview.]
  • Addresses Identity:  From my perspective, issues of identity are paramount in this discussion.  I personally do not believe that missionaries should encourage Christians to identify themselves as Muslims or have continued allegiance to Mohamed.  Extracting people from their social circle is a challenge to the formation of movements.  However, our pragmatic desire to see church planting movements occur should not come at the cost of a believer's new identity in Christ.  The Pioneers’ statement addresses this concern.
  • Freedom:  Particularly the second paragraph provides for missionaries to explore contextualization at a fairly deep and experimental level.  All churches in the US will not view this positively.  They are looking for a strict “Do / Don’t Do” list.  Missionaries are, for better or for worse, the entrepreneurs of the church.  We must allow them a fair measure of freedom as the experts on the local culture.  This statement accomplishes that without compromising theology.

So, without any further ado… here it is

PIONEERS STATEMENT ON CONTEXTUALIZATION

Messengers who bring the Good News have the privilege and responsibility to faithfully communicate the biblical Gospel message. They should model and teach obedience to all the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Thus PI workers desire to minister in ways most likely to yield faithful disciples and the reproduction of biblical churches among those with least access to the Gospel.

We believe God normally desires new believers to remain connected with their social context (1 Corinthians 7:17?24), while not compromising biblical teaching in their beliefs or practice (e.g. permanently retaining their former non-Christian religious identity). The implications of living out this creative tension and Gospel witness are best worked out by groups of believers, through prayer and diligent study of the Scriptures, informed by the story of God’s people throughout history and the global body of Christ.

This affects key issues, including:

Allegiance:

We encourage believers to live in such a way that those around them become increasingly aware of their wholehearted submission to Jesus as Lord. He calls all believers to a process of transformation into the image of Christ (Romans 12:1,2; Colossians 3:10), giving courageous and respectful testimony of Christ’s work in us (1 Peter 3:14?16).

Identity:

We want believers to understand their biblical identity in Christ and his church, and to embrace the implications of that identity as active members of a local community of believers (Ephesians 2:19?22; 1 Peter 2:9).

Obedience:

Our passion is to see believers obey all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:20). This involves an ongoing process whereby believers are empowered by the Spirit and nurtured through the Scripture (Galatians 5:16?25; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 1 Peter 2:2,3).

Worldview and Beliefs:

Believers are intentionally discipled in such a way that their worldview and beliefs are increasingly transformed into conformity with Scripture (Romans 12:2; Hebrews 5:14).

Suffering:

God grants us suffering in this world to refine our faith, strengthen his church and bring glory to Christ (Phil 1:29; 3:10; 1 Peter 1:7). Together, we recognize that persecution is not to be feared, and “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 10:32?34).

Culture:

All cultures reflect elements of God’s creative goodness and human sinfulness (Romans 2:14,15; 1 John 2:15?17). We encourage believers to live out biblically sound and culturally appropriate worship, witness, relationships and lifestyles (Ephesians 5:15; 1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Peter 2:11,12,16,17).

No Global South?

No Global South?

I recently finished reading Robert Wuthnow’s 2009 book, Boundless Faith.  He does a superb job of analyzing the current paradigm of mission (a paradigm I myself have adopted and written about on this website).  Chapter 2 of this book makes a challenging argument regarding the Global South. Popularized by Walls, Jenkins, and others, the new Christian population centers of non-White, non-Western Christianity have become the focus of mission strategy and thinking.

What if, as Wuthnow suggests, there is no Global South? 

Wuthnow contends that the proponents of this view have oversimplified global developments to the point that the entire paradigm is open to question.  He traces the development of the concept of world Christianity (which became known more recently as “global Christianity”) through Walls and Jenkins.  However, the way Jenkins has used David Barrett’s data is Wuthnow’s first challenge: Barrett paints a complicated picture of the world’s Christians.  By simplifying it for the average reader, Jenkins redefines what, in reality, is happening.

I will let you get the book and read Wuthnow’s depiction of the new paradigm as it has been popularly used.  He notes, “Missiologists argued that it [the new paradigm] necessitated a fundamental shift from am emphasis on sending missionaries, or even talking about missions, to viewing the church everywhere as being God’s witness in the world” (p. 37).  Re-thinking the premise of mission has led to an overhaul in missiology, from goals to how we record historically the spread of the gospel. 

There is far more to Wuthnow’s argument than I care to write up in a blog post.  I do find it interesting that we can't seem to define the Global South.  China, which has had tremendous Christian growth, is not found in the southern Hemisphere.  Like globalization, the growth of Christianity has been uneven and has roughly followed population trends.  America continues to be a nation with incredible Evangelical clout.

Let me give you one more argument that he makes.  Often, in emphasizing the role of the non-West, numeric growth is the key to understanding Christianity’s center.  Numeric growth, however, never tracks with influence.  A range of other issues also come into play, like money, politics, intellectual force, etc.

I hope I have wet your appetite for this book.  It’s a very good read regardless of how you feel about the author’s position.

Egypt in Turmoil

Egypt in Turmoil

As I type this, people are dying on the streets of Cairo.  My heart breaks for this great nation.  Please take a moment to pray for this unfolding crisis.

I just spent a week with Christian leaders from several North Africa / Middle East (NAME) countries, including people from Egypt.  It was one of those time when you know you are in a historic time, with people experiencing history in a way that will forever change the world.

Some of the people I met with have not been able to return home to their countries because of the unrest.  There was weeping, joy, fear, and a quiet optimism to be found among the meeting participants.

Here are a four simple observations that I heard from these Arab Christian leaders:

  1. This is a necessary challenge to autocratic rule in many of these countries.  Christians should be concerned about the injustice and corruption foisted upon the peoples of the Arab world.
  2. The ramifications for the church are deep and broad but we will not know what they are for months or possibly years.  A full Islamic retrenchment. like the Iranian Revolution, is unlikely but open societies are also unlikely. It is possible that we will see a radicalization of some countries while simultaneously seeing an opening up of others.  The Arab world is not monolithic and we should be cognizant of differences across the NAME region.
  3. A foundation has been laid over the past twenty-five years upon which the future of the Arab church will be built.  We should be aware that there is not a single Arab country without a church meeting within its borders.  In some places, the price of discipleship has been high.  These are the kind of partners in ministry that the global church can look toward for leadership.
  4. The role of media in outreach has become more important over the past two weeks.  The current uprising was launched on social media.  The future church will also use media technologies in expanding into the Arab world.

Pray for Egypt and pray for the churches that are spread across all Arab countries.  They are a small, but powerful force for the Kingdom!

Bible Storying

Bible Storying

In the past few years there has been a strong movement embracing the use of oral methods of teaching from the Bible.  This approach recognizes that oral cultures may be taught the Bible without waiting for a formal, written translation to be completed.  I saw this methodology in use on my recent trip to Africa and it was thrilling to see how effective it was.

Since many cultures of the world are oral cultures (verus written cultures), this approach uses their means of passing down truth from generation to generation.  It is important to note that orality is not simply a method.  It's a way a culture processes truth and information.  It's a hermeneutical issue.

I have been networking with others about the way in which this methodology is being used, particularly within the CPM (church planting movement) school of missiology.  Here are some broad observations:

  1. It’s a fantastic tool for oral cultures and for post-modern cultures.  Evidence of its successful application abound.  It is probably a basic tool all church planters should have in their toolbox, regardless of the target people group.
  2. CPM training should “wrap it” (be placed before it and after it).  If CPM training does not precede it, then churches are started with the wrong DNA for reproduction.  If CPM training does not follow it, the highly applicable storying approach crowds out the more abstract fundamentals of reproducible church planting.
  3. It is controversial with two contrary schools debating the best way to do it.  One side sees it as akin to Bible translation and therefore require the stories to be detailed from a translator’s perspective (placing more emphasis on proper accuracy within the local context and focus less on proper use or fast deployment) and the other side see it as a means of efficiently and effectively sharing the gospel story (placing more emphasis on proper use and reproducibility than accuracy).  While this is a oversimplification of the issues at hand, it highlights the different ways orality is being conceptualized.  The differences have great ramifications for how orality is used in context.
  4. The ability of non-Westerners to use storying should make us take notice.  It is a “viral” methodology which has yet to be effectively captured for use by non-Westerners in a broad way except in a few limited circumstances.  It would be very helpful for a non-Western group to develop their own storying training and curriculum in order to compare and contrast their approach and the current curriculums, which have been created primarily by Western mission agencies.
Non-Religious on the Run?

Non-Religious on the Run?

If one listens to the media it is easy to get the impression is that atheism (and its little brother agnosticism) are taking over the world.

Evidently, rumors of religion's demise are… well, rumors.

The latest International Bulletin of Missiological Research analyzes the number of people who claim to be non-religious.  The data goes back to roughly 1900 when there were very few non-religious people.  Here is an edited quote:

A comparison of 1900 (99.8 percent religious) and 2011 (88.6 percent religious) shows that the world is less religious today than it was 100 years ago… If we consider the figure

for 1970 (80.8 percent religious), however, we can see that the world is more religious today than it was four decades ago.

Furthermore, our projections for 2025 point to a more religious world in the future (up to 90.5 percent).

The authors contribute the rise of religion since 1970 due in part to the fall of Communism in Russia and the "resurgence of Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions in China."

The overt evangelism being conducted by atheists in Europe and North America is certainly having an impact on the cultures found there.  Immigration and demographics, however, will probably win the day even in these current secularist strongholds.

For more information, you can signup for the IBMR at http://www.internationalbulletin.org.  This info was pulled from an article by Johnson, Barrett, and Crossing found on page 28 of Volume 35, No. 1.