Thursday, August 30, 2007

Franchising the Great Commission

North American Christians and churches (NAC) want to be involved in missions more than writing a check. In today’s economy people can visit an exotic destination for as little as $500 or the other side of the world for less than $3,000.

In addition, some churches have given up backing the vocational missionary and have opted, instead, to partner with national churches. Rather than investing $100 a month into a North American family, they would prefer to use that $100 to support five national church planters. It’s a great deal more appealing to write a check for $1000 to build a church in Africa than it is to cough up a thousand bucks to help pay for a missionary's health insurance. This reality has created a shift in sending churches and agencies. No longer do donors invest in facilitating global outreach, embracing instead the latest trend -- franchising missions.

As the graph above indicates the difference between Franchisers and Facilitators is primarily a matter of time perception. Franchisers have a condensed perspective of mission involvement whereas Facilitators have an extended view of global outreach.

A typical franchising mission project: A local church meets a national through a short-term missions trip. The NAC “adopts” the people group or the national pastor as their project. The NAC claims they are now in partnership with the national church by funding church planters, orphanages and schools. The members of the NAC volunteer to go overseas and train national leaders for a week, provide crucial equipment (loud speakers, generators) for crusades and, provide funding for tracts and Bibles. Emotionally based, the Franchiser’s feel good that they are making a significant contribution in the Great Commission.

I am well aware that God is Sovereign and He can use the franchising method. But, as I’ve argued before, short-term gain based on missiologically weak practices can also cause more harm than good. I am also aware that every Franchiser believes their program is missiologically sound and that since buying into a franchise it has revolutionized their local NAC.

Why am I concerned about Franchisers? I recently returned from Kenya, where I lived and served for 14 years. The pastor of one of our churches told me about one of the graduates from the Bible Institute who went up north to work among Sudanese refugees. I challenged the church to support this man, that it was time for the Kenyan church to be senders of the Great Commission and not just recipients. They were enthused about the prospects, until they learned that a franchising organization in America had contacted this brother and told him they would take him on as “their missionary” and fully fund him. These Franchisers are not interested in the Facilitators who must run the Bible school, certainly not interested in working with any North American as they now only work with nationals. The Franchisers are not only shortsighted in their missiology, they have robbed the local church in Kenya from growing and being a part of global outreach.

I understand that not all Facilitators are missions strategic. Sadly, some facilitators are so pressured by the NAC franchising trend they are now creating their own ministry outlets to compete in the franchising market. Sending mission agencies have created so many franchising opportunities that they now recruit more people for short-term projects than they do career Facilitators.

“The world is thus,” they tell me. It’s the way it is, accept it. My answer is, “No, thus we have made the world.” Whether they are the national who lives in the villages of India, the native urban dweller working Santiago or, the North American who has committed himself/herself to learning language and culture in Tanzania, the Facilitator’s of this world will still be engaged long after the Franchiser has moved on to another project.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Franchisers and Facilitators

I’m working on an article for submission entitled Understanding How Cultures Think: A Guidebook for Ministry Partnership. The project has forced me to analyze how people from different cultures can work together more effectively. In the process I am coming to the conclusion that the role of North American missions does best when they are placed in well-defined structure. As I think about those who have succeeded in missions, versus those who have failed, one reality jumps out -- those who accomplish something generally are those who go to the field with a specific task and are placed in a work environment where they have defined role.

One guy I know in India, I’ll call him Robert, has lived and worked in this country for twenty years as a teacher in biblical studies. He is no academic slouch and is often asked to speak in different schools in the country. He and his wife have raised three kids and seem to be quite fulfilled in their role. What Robert does well is teaching and mentoring future church leaders. Only in eternity will we know what his impact has been for the Gospel.

Robert is not a high profile personality. If a supporting church or donor in America is looking to get spectacular ROI (return on investment) in terms of churches planted, an orphanage started or converts won; Robert’s work will not show up on the radar screen. Yet, while I have watched others come and go with a lot of flash and cash, but not much of anything else, Robert continues to plod along, adding value to the work of the church in South Asia.

I started training missionaries back in 1989. Many of those I have trained are still on the field; a few have gone on to other things. As I think of those who have now completed 10 – 15 years of service, with a few exceptions, they are people who found their niche in working within a defined role, either as teachers, curriculum developers, tech support personnel or administrators. The few entrepreneurs that have succeeded have done so because of they produced a product that was a felt need of the church and have developed a network of national relationships to make their project successful. All of them came with clear understanding what needed to be done and what they would do.

North Americans are, and will continue to be, a strategic link in global missions. It’s important that the western churches and sending agencies recruit the right people and place them in a places or responsibility who know what they are suppose to do everyday they are on the field. We need fewer franchisers and more facilitators; people who use their skills for the advancement of the Kingdom rather than those who go the field with a new idea and pray it works.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

1968 Was Quite A Year

Dow Jones hits 980.

Gallon of gasoline $0.34 - gallon of milk $1.04 - cost of 1st class stamp $0.05 -median household income $7,743 - Cost of new home $26,600.

Beginning of Tet-offensive in Vietnam. 1,000 American soldiers killed each month.

Superbowl II: Green Bay Packers beat Oakland Raiders, 33-14 in Miami Superbowl MVP: Bart Starr, Green Bay, QB.

U.S. Female Figure Skating championship won by Peggy Fleming.

"Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" premieres on NBC.

Spy ship USS Pueblo and 83-man crew seized in Sea of Japan by N Korea.

Famous photo: Saigon police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes a Viet Cong officer with a pistol shot to head.

Country's 1st 911 phone system went into service in Haleyville, Ala.

Baseball announces a minimum annual salary of $10,000.

Singers Johnny Cash (36) and June Carter (38) wed.

U.S. Mint stops buying and selling gold.

My Lai massacre occurs (Vietnam War); 450.

"Royals" chosen as the name of new Kansas City AL franchise.

Lyndon Baines Johnson announces he will not seek re-election.

Martin Luther King Jr. murdered in Memphis.

United Methodist Church forms.

Sirhan Sirhan shoots Bobby Kennedy, who dies next day.

650,000 Warsaw Pact troops invade Czechoslovakia, ends reform movement.

Police and anti-war demonstrators clash at Chicago's Democrat National Convention.

Iraq adopts constitution.

1st broadcast of "Hawaii Five-O" on CBS-TV.

Beatles' "Hey Jude," single goes #1 and stays #1 for 9 weeks.

Detroit Tigers beat St. Louis Cardinals, 4 games to 3 in 65th World Series.

Committee suspends Tommie Smith and John Carlos for giving "black power" salute as a protest during victory.

Jacqueline Kennedy marries Aristotle Onassis.

Nixon elected 37th President of U.S., defeating Hubert Humphrey.

34th Heisman Trophy Award: O J Simpson, Southern California.

Frank Borman's Christmas reading while orbiting Moon.

39 years ago, August 23rd, Richard and Sandy marry.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are You Called?

The other day I received a questionnaire from a supporting church. Not only do I not have a problem when I receive such inquiries about our ministry, funding and sharing personal information, I welcome them. I am a strong advocate of accountability. I am accountable to my board, and the Master, of course, but I think it’s important that churches actively stay in contact with those they support.

One question on the questionnaire I always have a problem with is, “Explain your ‘call’ into ministry.’” I’m never quite sure how to answer that question as I believe there is a misunderstanding of that term; I don’t believe it has Scriptural foundation and historically has been abused.

Earlier in the week my wife and I were having supper with some friends in the city. In over a little over a years time three families from their organization has left the field. Two of these families lasted less than three months each. If you were to ask any of them, prior to landing on this side of the world why they were here they would have said emphatically “God called us to this country.” They no doubt raised their support by passionately telling potential donors that they were bound to living overseas because of the compelling call of God on their lives. What happened? Did they “miss” their call? Did God change His mind? Or, as I argue, there is no such thing as a call.

This is what I do believe as it relates to the subject:

• I believe there is call unto salvation; that is a call to everyone who has the privilege to hear the Good News of Christ.

• I believe there is a call for every redeemed saint to take that Gospel message to others, whether it be to the pagan across the street or to the pagan across the ocean.

• I believe that God gives gifts to people to equip them for ministry (see my earlier post on whether missionaries are made or born).

• I believe man makes his plans (based on their personality, gifts, relationship with Christ) and God directs their steps. (Romans 15:20 is part of that guiding for my life.)

• I believe that in the process of man making plans that God’s direction can steer people towards opportunities and likewise can thwart mans plans by closing doors of opportunities.

• I believe that man can override God’s leading by pursuing their agenda in spite of God’s attempt to steer them in a different direction. Baalam beat the daylights out of his ass before he got a clue of God trying to steer him in a different direction. Some of us override God’s leading by sheer pride that He has “called” us and we’ve raised too much money in the process to turn back now.

As an outside observer I can only guess why the three couples ended up leaving the field. One is because the husband was hell bent on coming to the field and the wife never was on board. Another couple came and went because of a dramatic change their family circumstance between the time they were appointed to the time they arrived (reluctantly) to the field. Another was due to two things, lack of job satisfaction and culture stress. The fault of two out of three of these cases lies squarely on the sending agency’s leadership. None of these situations was God’s fault.

An old missionary of the past was fond of saying, “Why do you need a call when you have a command?” My fourteen years in Kenya as a church planter and sixteen years teaching and training countless cross-cultural workers around the world is not a result of a call but a desire to fulfill a command. My present and future residence has nothing to do with a specific summons from God. If I gave up vocational ministry tomorrow I wouldn’t feel any less valid in His service, as long as I was still walking close to Him. I don’t feel compelled to lie for God’s sake to explain the path I have chosen and the steps He directs.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Doohickey Missions

My friend, Neal, likes to say, “There IS a difference between being a visionary leader and a day dreamer.” This cartoon brought to mind the many people I see on the field who may have a philosophy (people group focus, saturation church planting – SCP, business as mission – BAM) but really don’t have a clue on how to make the vision a reality.

I appreciate vision. I think it’s wonderful that people are in the business of motivating others to be a part of the Great Commission. When I attend conferences in the U.S. most of it is about the global need in missions and casting the vision. Now, if we could just come up with a doohickey strategy for missions to achieve the goal!

The 90 – 10 Rule goes something like this – “The first ninety percent of the task takes ten percent of the time, and the last ten percent takes ninety percent.” I’m not sure, maybe I have it backwards, but sometimes I think creating an idea on how to do missions is the easy part, it’s the actual doing of missions that seems to bog everyone down.

I belonged to an organization that is built on a mission dream called SCP that propose that missionaries “Draw a circle around an area and saturate it with churches.” The visionary president even stated boldly, “Church planting is easy, we just need to do it.” My conclusion is that SCP, though an interesting idea, is missiologically flawed. Most people who bought into the vision have never planted a church, and wander around the country trying to figure out what they should be doing to make SCP work. SCP works fine in countries like Kenya and the Philippines, where there is already a strong Christian presence, but it’s another matter in counties that are Gospel resistant, like Senegal or Cambodia. If churches are planted in those countries it’s because someone is spending ninety percent of their time doing the work, not just dreaming about it.

The same could be said of BAM. There are a ton books now written on doing business as mission. Apart from the ethics of BAM, like church planting, if you’ve never actually done it, is it really a good mission strategy? Those who succeed know how to do business, those who are not business minded end up with a doohickey idea and call it missions.

As I write this post I do it with concern. I feel sorry for so many of my friends who have good hearts, love Christ and really want to serve Him. Their passion for others is not in question – they long to see people come to know the Savior. What they need is not more vision and they deserve more than a doohickey program. Their need is to learn what it means to use ninety percent of their time making the ten percent vision a reality.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Disneyfication Of Missions

The other day I read a post from a pastor who just returned from a two-week youth camp in Eastern Europe. He concluded his cheery post by saying, “Ain’t serving God fun!”

Fun? I read the post while sitting in my sweltering three-room (that’s rooms, not bedrooms) apartment in Delhi. With the daytime temperature at 95 with a heat index of 120, fun wasn’t exactly what I was experiencing. It may be fun to do a 10 day sortie serving others on the mission field, but it’s an entirely different matter when you know your return airplane ticket is still another two years away.

This pastor’s post came on the heels of a note from a friend in Cambodia. His subject line heading was “Home Because of Burnout.” After being on the field for over three years, struggling with learning a difficult language, living in a steamy climate, eating rice everyday and facing a resistant population, Lee and Pat were not having fun. Culture stress usually gets all those who spend more that a fortnight away from the comforts of home. Being around people of a different culture everyday loses its giggles in a hurry.

The trend for many years in the American church has been to make the church experience fun. The songs we sing, the games we have to entertin our children and youth all point to the Disneyfication of the church. This trend is an attempt to make church appealing, exciting, not boring. There is nothing more tedious than being in a service that drone’s on. In our desire to draw people into our services we are trying to convey a message that being a Christian is a hoot. Finding a balance between worship and whooping it up for Jesus seems to be a challenge.

Though life overseas isn’t always rainbows and daisies, it is rewarding. What keeps most cross-cultural workers going is knowing that maybe God will use us in His grand scheme of redemption. Fun is not why we do what we do and it’s a good thing, because life overseas ain’t always a barrel full of monkeys.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Left Behind

This is a tough week for my kids. It’s the week my eldest daughter, Becky, says goodbye to her sister, Sara, for three years. Sara and her family are heading to Senegal, West Africa in a few weeks. Compounding the pain of separation is saying goodbye to the nieces and nephews. Sara’s kids, Isabella (4 yrs) and Simon (2 yrs) and Becky’s children, Molly (13) and Colin (10) make saying goodbye extra tough knowing that three years makes a huge difference in the lives of kids. Next time they see each other Molly will have her driving permit and Simon will be in kindergarten.

Missions is kind of a family business for us. Of course our girls grew up in Africa. Becky handles our office work, her husband, Casey, is the son of a missionary working in Mexico and other countries. Aaron, Sara’s husband, grew up in Senegal, so this ritual of saying goodbye in our family is not new – but it’s never easy.

When we said our first goodbyes to family and friends on September 21, 1976 to go to Kenya, I was aware of the pain I felt but never fully realized what it meant for those left behind in the states. I am close to my twin-brother, but guys are different when it comes to these things, so we took our separation as a-matter-of-fact. My, wife’s sisters, on the other hand, felt our departure with more sadness and probably cursed my name as we boarded the plane. My folks at the time was in their mid-50’s and outwardly supported us, but it had to be tough to say goodbye to their granddaughters, who were at the time 5 and 1 years old.

This past year I know of at least three missionary families who have returned to the states because of family issues. For some the separation from mom/dad and siblings is just too great a price to pay for serving Christ overseas. I have never criticized those who make the decision to leave the field for family reasons. I think sometimes the screening process of potential missionaries should be better to flush out those who resist leaving their home country, but I can’t fault those who quit because of family ties.

For those who do make the commitment to leave family I have great admiration. But to the families that “let them go,” and are not an obstacle I have even greater esteem. I came to this appreciation much later in my career. Being a grandfather and seeing my own move to the other side of the world gives me a different perspective of things.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Nationals Versus Foreigners

I was reminded again this week of the division that exists between some national and foreign church workers. This schism has always been a part of the history of missions, but it seems to be growing. I don’t want to overstate the situation. Not all nationals have a negative attitude of foreigners and, in fact, those I work with treat me with respect and appreciation. However, there is an underlying tension among some national leaders who see foreigners as irrelevant and even unwanted. Sadly, some nationals have a racist and hostile attitude toward foreigners. Why? What’s the reason for this animosity of nationals toward foreigners?

HISTORY – Our missionary forefathers, for the most part, were noble God-fearing people. They went to the regions beyond for the express purpose of telling others about Christ, establishing schools and hospitals. Along with the expansion of the Gospel, however, was an attitude of paternalism. Many foreigners of the past, which is still prevalent in too many foreigners today, was the attitude that the nationals were uncivilized, dirty and lazy. The foreigners treated nationals as incapable and sometimes even as coolies for their ministries. The mistrust of nationals toward foreigners today is the result of age-old scars of paternalism.

POWER - When the marginalized become masters it’s not uncommon for them to wield power they were once denied. Money, land, decision making, prestige once held by the “white skins,” now are held by the brown, yellow and black. No longer must the nationals ask permission or beg for authority, they have it and they intend to use it. Sometimes power breeds disdain. For some nationals there is a sense of seeking justice for the wrongs committed in the past, and those with power often seek ways to even the score for the injustices of history.

In dealing with this issue of division between nationals and foreigners it’s important to look for balance as well as spiritual maturity. Neither paternalism nor nationalism can hardly be what Christ has in mind for His Church. The role of the national is and should continue to grow; after all, it is their countries. Foreign institutions need to actively release their paternalistic grip on fields they helped evangelize. Foreign missionaries need to learn their new role in today’s changing world and not act as though they are the final authority or indispensable in overseas ministry.

Likewise, the national church needs to recognize there is a role for foreigners in world missions besides just funding. Though nationals continue to berate foreigners it hasn’t deterred them from invading the foreign church seeking funding. The color white seems to be acceptable if green is involved. Foreigners can still play a vital role in missions, through technology, education and yes, even evangelism.

The tension between nationals and foreigners will remain a reality as long as man lives on this earth in his sinful and ethnocentristic state. Those who overcome these destructive attitudes understand that the Body is one and each member, though functionally different, is important for the cause of world evangelism.