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Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Voice Crying in the Wilderness

A recent conversation got me thinking about this tongue-in-cheek post that I wrote a few years back. It’s still a good one! Take it in the spirit of humor, please!

Memo

To: Isaiah

From: The Jerusalem Temple
100 East Gate
Jerusalem

715 BC

Dear Isaiah:

Greetings in the name of our Messiah (whom we haven’t actually seen yet, but we take it by faith that He’s coming).  On behalf of the missions committee here at the Jerusalem Temple it’s my honor to greet you – we only wish it were with a holy kiss.

Isaiah, it’s that time of year when we re-evaluate our priorities regarding the distribution of funds to various temple-supported prophets.  As you know, our temple has a substantial commitment to the preaching of the Law.  We have developed a five point system of evaluation that includes the following: teaching the Pentateuch, apostasy return, royalty succession, Baal shaming, and war counseling.

We noticed on your recent evaluation form you indicated that the primary purpose of your ministry was “voice crying in the wilderness.”  You need to know that this is not one of the priorities that we have set for the prophets that we support.  While “crying in the wilderness” is certainly an important ministry, it is simply not one which we feel called to give toward.

We also have some questions about this particular assignment for you.  We noticed that you have been “crying in the wilderness” for sometime now, but there is little sign of fruit.  This makes us wonder if this particular ministry is a match for your particular gifting.  Furthermore, some of our member are concerned that your recent newsletter reported that you are, at times, running around bare-naked.  Unfortunately, we suspect that your sending agency, Propheteers, is not adequately holding you accountable to a reasonable ministry plan.

We did write them and they have indicated that they are unable to remove you from ministry, because that is the role of field leadership.  This is unacceptable to us, and we have, therefore decided to suspend our support for your ministry.

We will continue to send you fatty parts from the sacrifices for another three months, at which time our support will end.

With Love,

 

The Missions Committee

The Jerusalem Temple

Missiology’s Dark Side

Missiology’s Dark Side

Yak, yak, yak… so went the meeting into the wee hours of the night. It actually was the middle of the day, but for me, suffering from jet lag on a 12 hour time zone change, it felt like 3 AM in this Asian city. The topic was about how to best go about the task of reaching people in the midst of disasters: how to help refugees, how to provide immediate relief in an organization that isn’t a relief organization, how to work in a culturally appropriate way, etc. It was a good, robust discussion about doing ministry that serves felt needs while simultaneously being a witness for the Kingdom.

And there was no actionable outcome. Why? Because for every good idea there was a reason why that idea was bad. It almost doesn’t matter what the suggestion might be:

  • Provide food? No-no (that might create dependence).
  • Organize? Don’t go there (you don’t understand the local leadership style).
  • Strategize? Oh, that’s too managerial (ala Escobar).
  • Teach? No way! (that elevates the missionary and not the national).
  • Hire the nationals to teach? Bad idea (creates dependence).
  • Don’t hire the national? Terrible idea (nationals are the most effective).
  • Use media? Uh-uh (too shallow).

Yak, yak, yak.

William Carey wrote “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” It seems that for every “means” there are a lot of “moans.”

Herein lies the dark side of missiology: it’s essentially a rebuttal and critique of everything. No good thing is left good on the other side of the missiological debate. That’s a strength, of course, but also a liability. If we allow our questions to become immobilizing then this strength becomes a weakness.

Let us not fear strategy or the use of means. Robust debate is our friend but not if it eclipses action.

To be read in the spirit of CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters

To be read in the spirit of CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters

My Dearest Wormwood:

I understand that you’ve allowed the Enemy’s soldiers to live amongst the people you’ve been set to guard. No doubt it’s nothing at this point and there is time to countermand this advance, but I am truly sorry for it on your behalf.

They look like nothing to fear right now: a husband, wife, two small children and a couple of single adults. They can’t speak the tongue of your witless charges and they know nothing of the deep seated hatred we’ve instilled into native hearts. I warn you, though, my dear Wormwood, that this is not the beginning, but the continuance of the Enemy’s plans.

These interlopers were most likely trained by special forces the Enemy has put together, called missionary agencies. They prepare them for their singular task of establishing a beachhead amongst people that belong to us! Imagine the arrogance. We have owned these creatures for hundreds of years and have tread thousands of miles over their souls. It takes an admirable fearlessness to think that this can be easily overturned. We have attacked these agencies’ leaders and their families. We are working to set their own government against them. They struggle to finance their work, act like beggars for prayer, and we seek to discourage them at every juncture. Yet they continue on. It’s a horrible business but now you must deal with the fall out.

So what to do? There are number of strategies that have worked well. I suggest you start by focusing on the family. Attack their children. Make them homesick, lonely, and generally unruly for the hapless mother. Use the Internet against them if at all possible and destroy their moral purity. Distract their language learning. Most devils are trying a new strategy to sideline the single adults. They will gladly spend hour upon hour watching Netflix movies and surfing for potential romances on dating websites. It’s like they never moved overseas. This little group has no idea yet how difficult we can make the relationships between them be – pitting them against each other is something delightful for any young under-demon.

Alas, all of these approaches have yielded limited success. These people are usually backed by a powerful army of prayer warriors. This must be your most important point of attack. Go after their ability to directly beseech the Enemy for reinforcements. Build strong alliances with your colleagues “back home” to ensure that their little missionary newsletters are unsubscribed from, their appeals are trite, non-specific and ignored, such that their daily struggles are never highlighted to the Enemy. Prayer is, above all else, the thing to be feared.

Wormwood, all is not lost. But you had better get out in front of this before they establish a community of people worshipping the Enemy. Once that starts you will be dealing with it forever and you will have to answer to me.

Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape

5 Stories You Will Read about in 2015 Regarding North American Missions

5 Stories You Will Read about in 2015 Regarding North American Missions

I typically post a “top trends” article as the year begins to flip. This year I offer this list of stories I think we will be reading about next year.

1.  Continued debate over the definition of missions

Under the surface of Great Commission theology is the understanding of what “mission,” “missions,” and “missionary” means. For the past century or so, Mission Dei has been the favorite flavor of missiologists, particularly those from theological institutions. Missio Dei fits well with a modern / post-modern missiology and influential authors such as Leslie Newbiggen embraced it and made their mark on missiological thinking. I think much of this philosophy of missions culminated with Chris Wright’s book The Mission of God as taught at Lausanne a years back.

However, the Evangelical missionary movement globally has grown fastest and deepest when its proponents have not embraced a broad definition of mission. Particularly among Pentecostals and Baptists an alternative view of missions challenges the Mission Dei definition. This alternate view is conversionistic, focused on church planting, sees social action valid only when accompanied by proclamation of the gospel, and is quite theologically conservative. it is closer to fundamentalism than Western missiologists might like.

In 2015 I expect we will begin to see theologians (particularly from the non-Western world) begin to challenge the dominant Missio Dei definition of mission. The fall out will be felt in the North American missions movement as more narrow definitions of mission begin to take hold. This will not happen quickly, but it is ripe to start.

2.  Consolidation, mergers and “acquisitions”

It sounds so Wall Street to talk like this so forgive me. However, the “missions industry” is not immune to the process of growing and aging like any other “industry.” I would commend the book, How Industries Evolve for more information on this. The basic thesis is that mature industries end up with a handful of dominant players. Smaller, niche players will appear in the areas where the larger organizations aren’t interested in focusing. I see no reason why the missions agency sector would be immune from this and, in fact, see why it needs to happen. This has been going on for some years already but will probably accelerate in the next decade.

In 2015 I expect we will see at least a few missionary agencies “merge” into other agencies, increase cooperation substantially for some services, or altogether shut down. This will be encouraged in part by local churches who are not excited about support structures in missions and who are asking for greater efficiencies in the back room operations of organizations.

3.  Security Issues

The world is an increasingly dangerous place for missionaries. Despite the growing danger there is a sustained focus on the part of missionaries to work in the Islamic world where much of the danger exists.

While we have always had stories of missionary sacrifice and martyrdom, I expect that in 2015 there will be a new round of high profile cases that will get our attention.

4.  Growing Local Church Involvement in Missions

There have been a number of starts and stops when it comes to integrating the local church in missions. The exception to this would be in regard to the short-term missionary movement. When I talk with church leaders, they often characterize the short-term trip as necessary but disappointing. At the same time, most missionary agency executives long for deeper involvement by the local church.

I believe the maturing mega-church movement will, in 2015, begin to demand and exercise greater missiological sophistication. Another way to say this is that after decades of asking the question, “Who owns the Great Commission, the church or agency?” (which has setup a false and antagonistic dichotomy). This question is being replaced with, “How do we get this job done?” A good part of this is due to the emphasis on church planting that has taken place in the North American church. In 2015 this will be an encouraging and growing story.

5.  Church Planting Movement (CPM) Controversy

Within missionary agency circles the concepts surrounding CPM have taken a strong hold. I recently read an unpublished research paper in which over 30 agencies were questioned about their  use of CPM strategies. All but one had made strategic shifts to embrace a CPM oriented ministry philosophy.

Within the US there are few churches which embrace the CPM concepts (house churches, decentralization, lack of didactic preaching, etc.). There are also some church structures that are overtly hostile to the leadership paradigms being used globally. I anticipate that we will see a debate emerge over the theological underpinnings of CPM strategies. At the same time, the CPM outcomes are hard to argue with: they form a challenge to our traditional ecclesiology. In 2015 I would expect we see these issues debated and discussed in a healthy and necessary way.

So, there you have it: 5 stories I think you will read about in 2015. I would welcome any thoughts you might have about these items.

Jesus and Jobs

Jesus and Jobs

No matter where you go in the world there are two needs basic to every human being. Jesus and jobs. In this post I am going to focus on the latter.

A job is a ticket to housing, food and family. A job provides self-respect. It’s better than a hand-out. A good job blesses an entire family. It can contribute to a person’s sense of well being. It creates value in a community. It gives people stability. Communities with good jobs are healthier than those without it.

This is so basic that we often miss it.

I am out on the West coast where I am attending a board meeting for Positive Impact. This little organization is all about non-traditional ways of supporting the global Great Commission. A large part of the effort is directed at creating jobs through entrepreneurship and business development.

Think about the difference a good job has made in your life and you will understand why this is part and parcel of what it means to be a Kingdom-minded Christian.

Cool Infographic

Cool Infographic

50 Years of Mission: An EMQ Retrospective
Of all the geopolitical forces dominating people’s attention in the 1960?s, the launching of EMQ (Evangelical Missions Quarterly ? www.emqonline.com) was not one of them. We were making major tech advances such as the introduction of color television and the world was caught up in a Cold War between the superpowers of the day, but in a small corner of the US, several key thinkers set out to create a space for dialogue about global mission. EMQ was the result and it has served a very important function. Take a moment to learn about the progression of issues discussed and the changing landscape that EMQ’s 50 years represents in global mission.
China Becoming Most Christian Nation

China Becoming Most Christian Nation

This is no news to readers of this blog or really any missiological information, but the Drudge Report has been running a link to this Telegraph article about China becoming the “Most Christian Nation:”

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

Full article here…

I think there are significant dangers to the continued growth of the Chinese church. Two primary issues give me pause: Materialism will grow there as the economy grows and the institutional church is being exported from the US to China.

However, now is the time that we might see a significant shift in missionary sending from China to the world. Below is a link to a field trip I took last year, documenting the need for established missionary agencies to provide support to the Chinese church at this critical point in their development:

Multiply: Pakistan from Jacob Lewis on Vimeo.

Don’t Just Shift from One Sponsorship Program to Another

Don’t Just Shift from One Sponsorship Program to Another

In the wake of World Vision’s announcement that they will now hire married homosexual staff members many Christians are looking for alternatives for their giving. Already I have read a number of comments on websites on the options that are out there and I feel one more should be mentioned.

Rather than shifting from one child sponsorship program to another, I suggest you consider giving to church planting efforts where there are few Christians and few churches.

Do I dislike child sponsorship? No, not specifically. But I would argue that the starting of new churches where there are none is much closer to the definition and intent of New Testament teaching on missionary work. Charitable efforts, whether they are feeding the poor, drilling water wells or child sponsorship are best delivered by Christians when they are done in parallel with the starting of new churches.

Within the pages of the New Testament we find that Paul and his band of missionaries were foremost concerned about preaching the Gospel and forming communities of believers. Nowhere do we see him advocate for charitable efforts apart from church planting or for the support of Christian among whom missionaries had already labored.

So, Christian, if you are re-evaluating your giving, I hope you will consider giving to the cause most in line with the New Testament’s emphasis in mission: church planting among unreached peoples.

Contact me if you want specific opportunities to consider.

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.

Is Seminary a Requirement for Missionary Service?

Is Seminary a Requirement for Missionary Service?

I was recently asked to comment on the need for seminary if one is considering becoming a missionary. The question was spurred by short video by Ligon Duncan posted on Vimeo that was promoting the Cross Conference. In the video, Duncan states that the best missionaries he knows were prepared by being involved in a local church and by going to seminary.

Involvement in a “Bible believing local church” pretty much goes without saying. Amen to that. Seminary? Now that’s a another can of worms.

I went to seminary and received two degrees. I am no enemy of seminaries. However, the best missionaries I have met were not marked by seminary attendance. I would guess that Duncan’s experience is flavored by his involvement with denominational missions (most denominational agencies require seminary).

Seminary has the potential to be harmful to missionary service in a number of ways. Debt is an obvious one. There are very few seminary graduates who have avoided debt as they obtained their degrees. In my case, generous scholarships made it possible for me to complete seminary while I worked full time. These opportunities are few and far between. Another problem is time. Taking three to five years to study is a huge investment if there isn’t a direct connection to how that time spent affects the missionary outcome. In three to five years people change. My experience has been that many who go into seminary planning on missions decide to go into the pastorate instead because seminary is about pastoring. Others have kids and decide they can’t go overseas as a result of a growing family. Still others just plain forget their original intention. Seminary can derail a person’s vision for cross-cultural ministry.

I would warn you that the ecclesiology taught in most seminaries has little to do with church planting globally and much to do with a Western, institutionalized version of the church. If you want to be a missionary, be careful not to let that sort of ecclesiology invade your philosophy of ministry. Instead, teach yourself to see the church in the way that the first century movement saw the church. This is much more like the missionary experience and model that you will be utilizing on the field.

The seminary system was not designed for missionary preparation. It was designed for institutional church leadership. There are many assumptions in the seminary system that don’t apply well on the mission field. For example, the idea that you, as a Western missionary, must be prepared to preach sermons is rather outdated. You will not be the pastor-preacher. If you are, you are most likely doing something wrong. Your role as a missionary, in most cases, will be to support the work of indigenous people who will be ones doing the pastoring and preaching (if there is any preaching at all!).

If your role will be to lead or train in an overseas seminary than you should get a seminary degree. I am not sure this really qualifies as missionary work  (see Deyoung’s article on this) but it is an example of why seminary might be a good idea. If you feel the need to understand the history of Calvanist thought or really want to develop your own theological works in a new language group than seminary might be a good idea. There are a lot of great reasons to go to seminary (including the sense that God is calling you to do it) but only in specific cases would I say seminary is necessary for missionary service .

Also, it’s important to remember that business skills, teaching and a host of other types of services are often desperately needed where missionaries are working. Serving the people might require a professional skill that you won’t get in seminary.

For most who want to serve cross-culturally I would suggest some core courses. Systematic theology, hermeneutics, Old & New Testament survey courses are probably the bare minimums. These can be taken for credit if you think you might one day want to go to seminary. These courses will get you started in the right direction and you can build off of them as you gain experience cross-culturally.

The best preparation is to do church planting cross-culturally, on a team, planting house churches. You can do this in just about any major city in the USA. The single best program I know of is New York City Immerse. There are others.

So, I rarely suggest that people go to seminary to become missionaries. Take a few courses and get practical, hands-on training instead. Better yet, combine these with a professional skill that serves the culture in which you will be living.