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Theomissional

Theomissional

I have been reading and enjoying (very much) the book, “The Shape of Things to Come,” by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. I highly recommend it.

One of the issues that Hirsch focuses on is the definition of the church and its relationship to mission. He ties in many different themes, from those espoused by the missional/emerging church movement to standard organizational theory (for example, he builds on Adizes’s Organizational Lifecycles). However, I would say that the main idea being espoused is a change in our fundamental understanding of the church. It is a good summary of so much of what I believe needs to happen in the Western church. It is also a good summary of what I have personally seen from my travels around the world among church movements. If there is any one criticism I would make it would be that the perspective of the book takes place in the post-modern cultures (for example, the research that was conducted took place in the US, the UK, Italy, France, Israel, New Zealand, and South Africa, p. 182). These cultures are not representative of the global. Yet, the ideas in this book are not unlike those at work among churches emerging from tribal, Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist contexts. Could it be that these ideas are, in fact, transcendent, particularly regarding the definition of the church?

There are systemic changes underway in the Western church and this extends to the missionary agency like the one with which I am associated. Are there necessary changes regarding the future of the missionary agency (I am going to assume from here on that I am addressing Western mission agencies). I believe so and these changes will rightly flow from a redefining church in the West.

I do not agree with many authors who argue that the mission agency exists because the church has not done its job. This begs the question of function. If the function of the church is to do mission, and agencies are doing it, then the agency becomes a functional part of the church. There is a great deal of sloppy theology going on over the definition of the church. I like to always ask myself, “Is this a ‘church universal’ issue, or is it one of the ‘local churches’?” Just as the missional movement is redefining church away from its institutional components, the mission agency needs to be defined apart from its institutional components.

When somebody asks me a question about Pioneers, they are often thinking about the organizational, institutionalized version of Pioneers. I usually respond in kind, by saying we have X number of missionaries, an office in Orlando, etc. This works for that context, but it does not really get at the core of what Pioneers is from a “theomissional” standpoint. To understand the core, one needs to see Pioneers as a network of apostolic teams, sent from a variety of different “home” churches, planting churches in much the same way that the first century church planting teams did their work. It is very much a Kingdom definition of church at stake here, rather than a localized definition of church (and a localized definition of a mission team).

The mission agency, for most of us, is rarely seen in this light. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that the agency often presents itself as such through websites, brochures, programs, etc. There is also history playing into this. The current “board structure” used in most agencies over the past two hundred years is a reflection of the British business model from which it grew. In the US, our tax laws further push us down the path of being a “501-c3 Corporation,” a distinction proudly displayed to ensure that everybody gets a tax break. Marketing approaches, glossy advertisement in magazines, and other representations of missions are the primary contact point for most people in the church. If you are a missions pastor at a local church “well, look out, we are coming for you and you will be assimilated!”

That’s only the tip. The real “iceberg” in Pioneers is the other ninety-two percent of our staff that live among various cultures worldwide (and most recently, within North America itself planting churches among unreached, ethnic immigrant communities!), working on highly motivated and focused teams of church planters. When viewed as a network of apostolic teams that are planting the church, a mission agency becomes much less of an institution and much closer to the model that we see at work in the New Testament.

The truth is that our mission agencies are in desperate need of reform when it comes to seeing themselves as networks of apostolic, church planting team. It’s not until these reforms are made that we can expect local churches to see us this way.

Is Business as Mission really the Traditional Approach?

Is Business as Mission really the Traditional Approach?

Note: A few weeks ago I wrote an article for Business as Mission Network.  Since a few weeks have gone by, I think I can post it here without raining on their “content parade,” so here it is:

There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about Business as Mission (BAM) and its implication for the “traditional” mission agency.  I work for Pioneers and I don’t like it when people say we are a traditional agency – probably more because of my pride than anything else.  Lately, however, I have begun to wonder about what it means to be traditional.  Could it be that BAM really is the “traditional approach?”

As I write this I am sitting in a roomful of BAM practitioners – about 75 of them from around the world of Pioneers – a small representation of the many BAM staff in our movement.  There are over 40 types of business represented in the room, from cottage industries to some of the largest manufacturing firms in their sector.  Many in the room are among Pioneers’ finest missionaries.  As we have heard from case studies, speakers, theologians and, most importantly, missionaries who are businesspeople (or is it “businesspeople who are missionaries?”) a few things stick out to me.

The first observation is that many of these people have never felt embraced by the missionary community. If people within Pioneers are feeling this (I am biased, of course, but I consider Pioneers to be fairly forward thinking) I can only imagine what others have felt.  It is time for agencies to fully embrace the BAM model of ministry.  This means re-thinking our structures that are mostly built around the full-time Christian worker mentality.  God will continue to call people into “full-time service,” but that doesn’t mean that we should continue to be one-key pianos.

Another point that has been repeated by these business oriented church planters is that we must focus more attention on the holistic nature of ministry. Holistic ministry meets the needs of people.  BAM is a natural outgrowth of a ministry philosophy that stresses this holism.  Business meets many of the needs that people have.  Who doesn’t want to see their family provided for in a way that is not only financially sustainable but also empowering?  Commerce is a cultural universal.  If we are serious about transforming societies it must include business.

Yet another theme that I heard was a need for pragmatic assistance.  BAM practitioners are often working in business-hostile environments with high taxes, corruption, and poverty.  There is a complexity introduced by cross-cultural realities.  It is tempting for me to write that, “Agencies need to cope with these issues.”  That’s the wrong answer – the church is full of experts that can help with these issues.  Agencies need to learn how to make a connection for these experts and then get out of the way.

A final observation was that a BAM philosophy benefits from good missiology.  Missiology is no more than the accumulated theology, learning, and experience of the “church on mission.”  The men and women at this conference were eager to hear from others who are in business and seeing spiritual fruit.  Analyzing these various models together and highlighting the things that worked was very well received.  It was a rich time of learning for all.

There was a small businessman (whom I have never met) that got a yearning to love a very unreached part of the world. Church leaders derided him as ill prepared – even questioning the value of his vision.  He did his best to get appropriate training before setting off but was never fully embraced by his denomination.

He landed in a hostile country. His goal was to create a self-sustaining model using commercial enterprise.  Opportunities were very limited in his new home but he soon found himself managing a small production facility, creating inks for the textile industry. As he worked he learned the local language and culture.  He found new opportunities and built up a printing business. As he went, he shared his faith and soon had a small group of believers meeting and worshipping – the first in this people group.  His business was burnt to the ground, rebuilt, his wife went mad, and he was physically threatened.  Yet he persevered.

This small businessman was, of course, William Carey, now known as the founder of the modern missionary movement.  He was a holistic entrepreneur. He not only conducted business, he learned the language, dress, and customs of the people among whom he worked.  He knew the scriptures and took difficult positions for the sake of the gospel.  Carey’s model has reverberated throughout the past two hundred years and continues to influence what we know as “mission.”

If it’s true that the modern missionary movement was based on a BAM model, lets return to our roots.  Here are specific steps, culled from BAM practitioners, that agencies can take: recognize the valuable role that BAM is playing in the world today, focus on holistic strategies, provide practical assistance, and encourage good missionary practice.  There are some structural issues to address as well.  The businessperson who does not raise their funds through donations needs to sit at the table alongside other missionaries as full members of our agencies.

The traditional approach to mission might not be as old fashioned as we think.  It’s a BAM approach!

IWJO

IWJO

I have been criticized a bit for my own criticism regarding “rock star pastors.”  These are the “bug guys” that have the huge churches and staffs.  From my perspective, celebrity pastors are a blind spot in evangelicalism.
Sinking to new lows is this web site selling “I Watch Joel Osteen” fish pins.

No wonder the culture at large thinks we are idiots.

Missional and the English Speaking Emphasis

Missional and the English Speaking Emphasis

I have been thinking a bit lately on the missional/emerging (M/E) church movement and its implication on cross-cultural missionaries. I have a couple of observations that I would like to bounce off of you and get your feedback.

I have been reading “The Shaping of Things to Come” by Hirsch and Frost. It is a wonderful book, full of good missiology and it’s also a super way to wrap your head around the philosophies behind so much of the M/E movement. It has also made me question some of the assumptions in the M/E movement, though, because I am not sure that they are practicing what they are preaching.

Now, I don’t mean that from a moral or hypocritical standpoint so much as to how their theology has actually worked out. One of the more forceful points made in “The Shaping of Things to Come” is that the missional model is incarnational. The term, “incarnational” is one which has been used within mission agency circles for years. It has most often been applied to the concept of contextualization and the need for Christians to incarnate Christ to those they are reaching. When I have taught what it means to be incarnational I have stressed the importance of understanding the people to whom you are ministering. It involves learning the language and culture of the people and being careful to avoid inserting your culture into the communication process.

This is not new missiology, of course, but M/E brings a new focus onto it. This is great! This is the kind of thinking that we need within the whole church, not just the missions proponents.

Why is it that the vast majority of the M/E practitioners and leaders are working completely within the English language? Where are the cross-cultural models that are incarnational yet “emerging” in their ethos?

I think the reason why this might be the case is that the M/E philosophy is altogether focused on post-modernism. They are, in effect, like Ezra. They are discovering for the first time the written law that was hidden away in a long forgotten alcove. Pulling it out and reading it for the first time it all feels and seems new.

For those in the “traditional” mission agency, however, it’s not new. It’s just not been applied within the English speaking world because that world has been considered “reached.”
Now, when one goes into a tribal culture or an Islamic culture that is not post-modern the incarnational approach is just as valid. Yet, we don’t seem to find the M/E church involved there much. I am sure there are a few examples, but the “sending” concept seems to be distasteful to my M/E friends. “No, Ted, the mission field is here,” they tell me.

Well, that might be true. It’s all also there, however.

How cool would it be for the M/E movement and the traditional mission agency world to “come together” and see how much of their DNA is the same?

Freedoms

Freedoms

Wow – the Korean hostage situation appears to be winding down. Unfortunately, there were some lives lost.

And freedoms.

I have made the point on this blog before but I must make it again.

Free Speech + Religious Freedom = Missionary Work

Where is the hue and cry from the West when two very basic and fundamental human rights are scorned? Where is Amnesty International, the United Nations, and the Hague?

We don’t expect the Taliban to respect civil liberties. Apparently, we can’t expect that from South Korea, either.

There is a great article over at Real Clear Politics on the rise of atheist authors and why they have gotten such “great gains” in the publishing world as of late (thanks for the heads-up on this one, Steve).

The author points out three reason for this (you can read it yourself for the points) to which I would add a third: The rise of materialism.

Materialism (which I would define as the love of money) and atheism are highly compatible. If there is no “outside source” of moral accountability then one has no reason for the pursuit of moral values. One is also free to construct a moral system that fits one’s lifestyle.  As we are more and more materialistic in the West we will need to deconstruct Christianity’s condemnation of materialism in order to feel good about ourselves.  Hence, atheism becomes an attractive alternative.

Islamic Theology – Root of Terrorism?

Islamic Theology – Root of Terrorism?

One constant refrain we get from the mainstream media is the claim that terrorism is a result of political actions taken by the West.  Personally I have never agreed with this assessment or the resulting propaganda (such as, “Islam is a religion of peace.”).  Well, here is an article from a former insider that will confirm my viewpoint, namely, Islamic terrorism is mostly a religiously motivated terror.  Please note that I didn’t say that it was void of politics.  The politics and theology of Islam are interwoven and secularists in the West are seemingly unable to see that within the Muslim fundamentalist mind the two are inextricably linked.  In any case, here is the link.

Hitchens versus Hitchens

Hitchens versus Hitchens

Anybody who follows the new fundmentalism of atheism knows about Christopher Hitchens. He is an outrageous verbal bomb thrower. He hates those who suggest that faith is a part of their worldview. He represents the natural outcome of the godless liberalism found in much of the Western world today.

Well, Hitchens is now being answered by… Hitchens, his brother. They have shared a womb but, apparently, not much else. This is a great read: get it here.