Thursday, April 26, 2007

Maybe I Just Ain't That Smart

I get some interesting mail sometimes. Recently a friend of mine in California, who has been reading my blog, sent this note:

“Enjoy your thinking - How come you don't sound that smart when we are together?!

My answer to him was that (a) maybe he’s not listening or (b) he’s talking so much I can’t get a word in edgewise.

Or, I could quote from Goody’s book, The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society, “In the context of both intellectual and practical developments, it is important to stress that a significant attribute of writing is the ability to communicate not only with others but with oneself.” Maybe that’s what blogging is all about, talking to yourself.

Probably my best defense is in the old saying that good writers are seldom good speakers, as good speakers are seldom good writers. I don’t have a speech impediment, but I do process things differently when at the keyboard than before a microphone. I would never be good in a debate and I hate being a keynote speaker. The other day I was viewing a video of me speaking to a large delegation in Korea. If you think I’m tedious in person magnify that by going through an interpreter!

In my own defense as a tongue-tied spokesman, I’m in pretty good company. Moses told God he wasn’t articulate enough to speak for the people of Israel but he did a pretty good job as a technical writer in penning the Pentateuch (I realize scholars are divided on how much he did write, but he no doubt had a part). Paul was criticized for not being a polished orator as Apollos, but he churned out some rather heavy tomes in the New Testament. I may not be in their league, but they allow me to justify my writing as having influence through the written word. Though I do wish I could verbalize my thoughts better before a crowd, I’d rather be a quite writer than a big talker. I am much more comfortable in a classroom setting as prepared lesson notes are kin to writing.

My answer to my friend was also (c) maybe I just ain’t that smart. Either way, Rick, keep reading and I will keep writing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Does The Church Care?

About a year ago I met with a young Christian professional who works in Mumbai (Bombay). I’m not a business guy, I’m a culture guy, but I am interested in encouraging the member s of the Body of Christ where God has gifted the workplace. Moving away from the emphasis on the institution of Christianity and more to the incarnational face of a follower of Christ, we need to think of ways we can support those outside the professional role of ministry. It is my belief that the incarnational church is made up of those who do not draw their “daily bread” from the coffers of the non-profits, but instead their salaries are derived from the marketplace.

I want to restate my position; I am neither against the institutional church nor the role of career pastors or missionaries as they play an important role in God’s Divine purpose. It has been vocational pastors, teachers and missionaries of the past that is responsible for many fine churches and schools established throughout the world, provided social programs for the poorest of the poor and made Bible study and theology truly the queen of the sciences. I have a hard time thinking of what the world would be like today if it were not for those who gave up lucrative careers to serve others, many with meager means. However, increasingly the professional clergy and ministries are becoming a part of the problem in putting the emphasis of the local church (ecclesiocentric) rather than the Great Commission of reaching the community with the message of Christ.

One role of the local body is to equip the saints for ministry. The other functions of the local assembly are worship and instruction in God’s word. The institutional church does a good job, generally, in the latter two areas of function but usually not very strong on outreach or equipping. The equipping of the saints has given way to equipping the church staff to do the work of evangelism and the theory is if we can pour enough resources into making the local church attractive, the not yet followers of Jesus will be drawn in. At least that’s the theory.

Meanwhile, the saints (I’d call him Joe six pack, but the saints are to be teetotalers), feels he has no place in God’s grand scheme except to show up for church, volunteer for the church focused activities and underwrite programs with their tithes and offerings. Saint Joe is seldom guided, coached or equipped to do ministry in his community, workplace, and school. In my reading I came across a quote, made by a businessman thirty years ago. His comments are profound as well as convicting. William Diehl, sales manager of a major overseas steel corporation writes:

In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my coworkers. I have e never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work (1976: Christianity and Real Life).

I believe Diehl would be pleased with the emerging churches that are addressing the need of workplace ministry today. Through small group interest groups believers are encouraged to be involved in non-Christian workplace functions and organizations, not necessarily to convert, but to be salt and light in places where people interact on every level of life. Through special interest grouping the topics the institutional assembly never addressed for Diehl’s ministry needs are dealt with as “real life,” issues.

My Mumbai friend and I have created a network of Christian professionals throughout India. What is interesting to me is that some career pastors have joined the group, but the network is steering the discussion away from institutional topics (theology, outreach programs, etc.), to workplace subjects, such as ethics and how to be a relevant witness of Christ as a member of a minority religion. It’s my belief the institutional church does care about the needs of their membership including equipping them to be functional in the world, it’s just they don’t know how to do it. Stuck in a 1,700 year model that focuses on how to be separated apart from the world, they have forgotten how to be holy within the world. How to change directions will not be easy and probably not widely accepted.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Church Planting Challenge

I’m presently working through a book entitled, “The Shaping Of Things To Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church.” I think most people like books if they (a) are not redundant of common themes, (b) provide new insights and (c) are generally in the same ballpark of their own philosophy or thinking. This current reading coincides with my own thoughts on the institutional church and the traditional church-planting model.

As I stated in a recent post, sometimes I believe that the church and missionaries are stuck with the old paradigm of CP, i.e. evangelism, collecting the believers in one locality, buying land, building a structure, filling those structures with church stuff, etc. Authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch label this the “attractional” model: build it to attract outsiders and they will come (also know at the Field of Dreams syndrome). The author’s, in contrast, suggest a better way, the “incarnational” model, which begins with reaching people with the message of Christ and from that a fellowship of believers group together, which may not look anything like the institutional church today.

Most missiologist understand the concept of incarnation and/or indigenous principles. The problem is that many, in spite of supporting the incarnational philosophy, seldom execute this model and instead revert back to the traditional CP of the past. Why?

Church planters feel a need to quantify what they do as a defined by ministry activity. When I moved to Kenya I raised support as a pioneer church planter. Following the pattern of the traditional way, I sent reports to our donors on our activities. I learned language, visited people in the villages, found a meeting place for Sunday services and eventually churches were planted. Accountability is important and people who support traditional missions expect there be a return on investment. We bought land, erected church buildings (mud or concrete blocks) established a training program and we were very successful. I was the epitome of a classic pioneer church planter.

In my role today I teach in traditional schools and training programs. My students are equipped with theology, evangelism methods and discipleship programs and at the end of their training are sent out, expected to plant churches using the attractional model. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Every national I have ever taught feel that their greatest need is having enough funds to build it (church, school, orphanage), so they (the lost) will come. In spite of my best efforts to convince otherwise they are stuck in that model? Again, why?

I think it’s partly due to the fact that no one quite understands how to organize an incarnational church plant. The truth is, it can’t be done. It’s my belief, and I would think Frost and Hirsch world agree, that a truly incarnational church shouldn’t be organized, at least not in the traditional sense. Once the leadership tries to harness a movement it loses the dynamics of being indigenous. Let me give you an example.

Several years ago I was invited to speak at a large church in Cleveland. I was impressed with the facilities…forty acres of land, large meeting place for corporate worship, etc. The pastor gave me the history of the church and said that he was a drug addict when he was introduced to the Gospel message. He told me that after his conversion he and his girlfriend started telling others in the inner city about this Jesus who had transformed their lives. He told me that for years they were just a rag-tag group of converted addicts and prostitutes telling others about the Savior. One day they incorporated and he told me, over 15 years ago, that he was worried that they had lost their edge. I’ve heard that over the years the congregation has struggled with the same things that plague every traditional church -- finances, personnel problems, transfer of membership, etc. This group of redeemed potheads started out incarnational, they became one of many traditional congregations trying to attract others into their assembly. Ministry to the inner city became organized outreach rather than spontaneous and incarnational telling others about Christ.

The church today is a business enterprise and has all the trappings of product. Whether it is books to market, discipleship material to promote or capital campaigns to finance a new and improved worship center, going into all the world requires a business plan. The secret disciples of Christ in a Tajikistan village cannot be measured; the underground church in Laos cannot be identified. Somehow, it is thought, we must rescue these people from anonymity, expose them, promote them, and put up a building for them. It’s only when the product is packaged appropriately that it can truly be called church planting.

Monday, April 16, 2007

No Regrets...Future Focused

The evening I sent out my last post I was “chatting” with my brother in the states. He wanted to know if I was depressed or remorseful that prompted my writing about “Turning Back The Clock”? My brother knows me better than anyone else in this world (he preceded me in life by five minutes), and I do have moments of introspection. But my last post was not one of those times…it was in context with what I have been writing about as it relates to missions today as well as the future. If my brother misunderstood the meaning of the post, maybe others did as well.

The truth of the matter is, my generation of x-cultural workers is stuck in the institutional mission thinking. I believe most churches are stuck, or somehow can’t break out, of doing ministry as usual. I’m coming to the conclusion that church planting and church planters are part of the problem with the mission enterprise, and it has affected the national church around the world. The church planting paradigm necessitates structure, which includes formal theological studies, support for people to go out and plant (like a corn) churches, erect a meeting place, fill the building with church stuff (seats, pulpit, baptistery, sound systems, etc.), have small groups, build another theological school and-on-and-on-and-on. In the meantime one-third of the world has never heard the Savior’s Name and ninety percent of the worldwide outreach effort is doing missions with the old fashion way to one third of the population who have already heard the Gospel!

Having said all of that, I have a very strong belief in the Sovereignty of God. I believe He has used the efforts of the past, which I have played a role, as He is using the traditional Christendom today. My prayer is, however, that I personally won’t fossilize nor will I make sacred the methods of the past. I’d like to die thinking about how to serve Christ in the future rather than talk about the good old days of my past. The buzz trends of “saturation church planting,” “people group movements” and even “business as mission,” remains the brainchild of the institutions. Helpful, yes, but still tethered to program that is often cumbersome and limited.

Someone said to me, “Richard, don’t just give theories, people want answers, they want to know what to do.” Well, my last post was an attempt to do that; it wasn’t just an old guy regretting life.

If I were thirty years younger and just starting out on life’s journey I’d do things differently today. Sadly, most missionaries starting out today are stuck in yesterday’s model spurred on by the institutional church that is mired in tradition that demands structure. My point is, let’s keep pushing the edge even if it doesn’t quite fit into the old mold.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

If I Could Turn Back The Clock

If I could turn back the clock I’d do things differently in reaching the unreached with the message of Christ.

* If I were an engineer I would get a job with a company that works overseas.

* If I were in college today I would study international business.

* If I was graduating from college this spring I would take a civil service test, apply for a State Department job and try to get an overseas assignment with the U.S. embassy.

* If I were a history, english or math teacher I would apply to teach at international school in the Middle East.

* At 23 years of age and single I would join the Peace Corp, Red Cross or some other international agency.

* If I were a chef I’d open a hamburger joint in Jordon.

Whatever a person is good at, they can live, work and serve Christ overseas.

For a local church to be involved in M3 ministry they only have to look as far as their local college or university as students from M3 nations are in your town.

In almost every community there are cultural blocks of people. In my hometown in northwest Arkansas of 45,000 people, there is a significant Hispanic population, but also a considerable number, between 15 and 20 percent, of immigrants from the Marshall Islands. One does not need to abandon their local church to reach out to students or immigrants; they merely have to look for ways to interact with others.

If I could turn back the clock I probably would still teach intercultural studies, but rather than following the traditional mission track of working within the established church I would look for ways to serve Christ in the secular workplace. I can’t turn back the clock and I’m too old to start over, but I can encourage others to think about doing missions differently in this age of globalization and post-Christendom.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

He Is Risen, Not Reborn

My landlord has never understood the resurrection. As a cultural Hindu, he understands enough of his religion to be confused, not enough to truly have a deep faith. So, when it comes to Christ, the god of the Christian, Mr. J. can’t grasp the meaning of the Good Friday (the death of Jesus) and Easter (His resurrection). Every years he asks, “Now, this is the day Christians believe Jesus was reborn?”

“No,” I patiently explain, “Jesus rose from death, He was not reborn in a different form but demonstrated His power over death by rising the third day.”

There’s not much reason to explain to Mr. J. that the during the three days after His crucifixion Jesus was indeed alive, in a different spirit world establishing His victory over the last enemy of all mankind, death. His death, which means separation, was brief as Christ was separated from the Father and separated from His body. But, like all men, the spirit does not die, it is just separated from the physical. The meaning of the resurrection of Jesus was that He has the power over the physical and for those who believe in Him, one day, we too, will have power over the limitations of the physical. Those who are not followers of Jesus will always be separated, both from God and the physical. This is called the second death.

Whew, no wonder my landlord doesn’t understand the resurrection, it’s a bit confusing to even those who place their faith in Him. But, unlike other faiths, which place their trust in their own good works or in or mortal gurus, our faith hinges on the resurrection. The gods of others possess fantastic stories, as confusing and meaningless as to those who are not followers of the faith of Christ. The difference is that no other faith claims the resurrection. Some would say Christians are duped by historical fiction. Others will see this day as mere ritual of another religion.

Those who are followers of the Christ celebrate this day for the One who gave His life as a sacrifice for all men, rejoice that Jesus did not die a martyr’s death. It was not a death that was an ending, but a death that announces a beginning of eternal life. He is risen, He is not reborn!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Cut To The Chase

In the past couple of posts I ‘ve been pontificating on the need to make missions better. To cut to the chase, what would I do, how would I approach missions if I were a pastor in the U.S.? Whether my congregation was 50 or 500 here is what how I would pastor my flock in the world of global outreach.

1. I would begin a yearlong educational program so that our membership was informed. I’ve talked about this issue over the past two posts, so no need to repeat myself here. I would subscribe to monthly journals, have a reading list, attend at least two seminars on missions and would invite a missions consultant to meet with our people. I WOULD NOT invite a missionary or national to visit my church during that year. The reason is obvious; they have a work and an agenda. That’s not bad, but you should build relationships and partnerships AFTER research.

2. I would create a purpose statement that reflected Acts 1:8, i.e., outreach to Jerusalem (my city), Judea (my region or country), Samaria (similar belief countries) and, uttermost parts of the world (the unreached). I would define missions as outreach outside my local congregation. (I define any outreach for the benefit of our congregation as evangelism, but for the sake of category would identify local outreach as M0). True missions, therefore, would have with these classifications:

a. M1 – Regional outreach. This may mean giving to a Hispanic ministry in the city, supporting a new church plant among the Iranian’s in Dallas, campus ministry to international students, drug intervention program, etc.

An M1 mission is not VBS, short-term mission trips to Mexico. Though important, these projects promotes and benefits the local assembly, therefore would be M0 evangelism.

b. M2 – Outreach to the Reached. Missions and missionaries (Western or National) to people and countries who already have access to the Gospel. I am well aware that the people in Mexico City, Stockholm and Pusan are not yet Christian centers and those who serve in those areas are important and some do have significant ministries. If I were a pastor, those serving in M2 missions would need to get my attention if our church is to partner with them.

c. M3 – Outreach to the Unreached. One third of the world’s population has no viable Gospel witness. They live in the restricted countries where politically it’s impossible to openly declare the message of Christ; they are religiously resistant (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist). An M3 mission is ministry in hard-ground among hard people and the fruit of the ministry may not be seen in our lifetime.

3. I would institute a 70/30 budget…70% for Jerusalem/Judea (M0) and 30% for Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world (M1, M2, and M3). Of the 30% to missions I would dedicate 10% to M1 and M2 and 20% to M3.

To make this budget work the congregation must be diligent to protect the integrity of its purpose. If the teen-agers want to have a Bible club in New Orleans; if the mission committee wants to take a fact-finding trip to Moldova; if a missionary comes by for lunch, monies for such activities should either come out of the M0 budget or paid for out of a persons own pocket.

When I think of budget, I am thinking of ALL monies that are raised through the church. If my church needs a million dollar expansion, we should think about how to raise $300K for M1-M3 missions. I realize I lose most of my audience at this point, but I contend that there needs to be radical shift from centripetal ecclesiastical centered congregations to centrifugal missional assemblies. If the reason for our church existence is to compete with other congregations so we can survive I’m not convinced we have a right purpose. If our purpose is to reach the world with the message of hope in Christ, then a spirit of sacrifice of must prevail within the assembly. If a group of believers of people can’t function on 70% of its income, it seems to me, our priorities are a bit out of kilter. Real radicals might suggest a 60/40 budget.

To go 70/30 and to budget toward M3 ministry is a process that will be difficult for the institutional church. Denominational intuitionalism will make it even more challenging. The larger and older the congregation the more the “choke law” of innovation becomes evident. If I were a pastor of an established program I would set a five-year goal, beginning with education, in moving toward a 70/30 M3 mission plan. Those with the newer congregations or who do not have a defined mission strategy can move much quicker toward the reality of a missional church.

Idealistic? Perhaps. One thing is certain, churches throughout the world are captivated with church growth and what it takes to become more attractive in their community. Though half of the churches in our region could die tomorrow and Christ would still have an adequate witness, we can’t or won’t realign our outreach that is more outward and less inward focus. To cut to the chase, we need to revaluate how we do missions and to those who have never heard His Name.