Friday, November 16, 2007

What's The Difference?

As I write I’m taking the night train back home. It’s time for assessment. I spent three days and about three hundred dollars for transportation, food and hotel. The class was not thirty pastors working where the Christian population is less than one percent. I was delighted to speak to those assembled on the theme, Reaching Your Community For Christ. The sessions went well; those in attendance seemed to appreciate the new concepts presented to them.

Before I left, my national friend and I discussed the challenges of being in ministry, especially since we both have to raise funds for our work. The Great Commission system is out of kilter as the only thing our Lord said to His disciples was to go into the world, present the message and make disciples. He didn’t say anything about church buildings, bible schools, holding seminars, raising funds to travel on a train or renting a place to live in a foreign country. Some of the best work for Christ is everyday people who live in their everyday communities telling family and friends about the joy that have in Jesus. Even more impressive are those Hindu’s or Muslim’s who are now followers of Christ that quietly, but faithfully, work out their salvation in their own context. They publish no prayer letters, they solicit no funds. They are the unseen church, though not invisible.

And then there is the mission industry, which is a branch of the market driven church. Missiologist write about and opine on the need to target UPG’s (unreached people groups), do statistics on the most UPG’s, but know that if they don’t quantify the ROI then the ecclesiastical venture capitalist (foundations, churches and individual donors), won’t be forthcoming in underwriting the foreign enterprise. The vicious cycle that the capitalist church finds itself in today is one of counting noses so the nickels (pennies actually, compared to the dollars that remain in America) will continue to make it’s way to those who have never heard His name.

As my train rolls on down the tracks, my mind swings back and forth, keeping rhythm with my swaying coach. What good is all of this traveling, teaching and begging for support? If I really were a gospel entrepreneur I’d package these seminars so that people in states could buy “soul shares.” For $50 a month they could support one national pastor which will baptize roughly ten people a month, which means their ROI is a mere $5 a soul. If more souls are saved there will be, of course, more bang for the buck and the initial investment will result in higher dividends. If the national doesn’t produce we can always close his account and give to the servant who took ten talents and doubled the initial investment. While this idea sounds economically and strategic viable it’s just another market scheme generated with a view of the bottom line but often does not make missiological sense.

Larry King asked Billy Graham, in his last interview, what difference he thought he made in the world? Is the world better today than when he first began his ministry? Graham replied that he didn’t know what difference his life made. On the surface the world doesn’t look a lot better than when he began his ministry in the ‘50’s. His answer was that “only in eternity will anyone know what difference they made on this earth.”

I have no idea the outcome of my time this past week, whether it will make any difference in the grand scheme of things is something won’t be revealed until the universal clock stops. I will always struggle with my role in a system that seems to have lost its way. I can’t quit, though sometimes it’s a temptation. I won’t because, in spite of all my reservations, I’m a bit-player that still has a role. Perhaps that’s what Christ had in mind for all of His followers – to do the best we can with the gifts He has given us, keeping our eye on Him and not the ROI.


Bill said...

The big difference for you my brother is that you CARE if you make a difference or not...more than that you almost grieve that you don't... While most of the North-American Christians don't give it much thought, you wonder what impact a "bit player" can have for the cause of Christ..the most important "role" in have an impact on others, to Glorify Him is what life should be about..most folks are not deeply concerned with such matters...I' m grateful you do...

Press on...
Bill Lewis - President
Extension Management Inc.

AfricaBleu said...

I would argue that if God were to line us all up according to what impact we have each had for the kingdom, your spot would NOT be among the "bit players." What about your lifetime of missions ministry?--including (but not limited to):

Thirteen years as a pastor/church planter in Kenya. How many souls were won directly and indirectly throughout your career there? The establishment of a Bible school in Kenya--including a Swahili curriculum that YOU wrote--the ripple effect of your service there can not even be determined. I'm sure Pastor Paul, Pastor David, and Pastor Freddy would agree.

Then there was the UWM stint, in which you created, from nothing, a now VERY well-respected and sought after School for Interculutral Studies. How many of your former students have reached more lives for Christ than they would have otherwise because of what they learned in your classroom? Who can tell how many would have come home early, discouraged, if they had not been prepared by your teaching about culture?

By the time you moved on to India, your focus and heart had changed from doing the pastoral mission work YOURSELF to training those best equipped to reach their neighbors--national pastors. You have shown marks of greatness in that you adapt and change--you are not stuck in the "we've always done it this way" model, but are willing to examine what is most effective NOW. You are an incredible scholar, always studying, always learning, striving to better your effectiveness in your field. Such quiet dedication is hard to find in this "I want it all, now, with little effort, please" world.

And how about your writing? Your book has had an impact on how people think about missions. Your articles, found in varions missions magazines, offer incredible insights in your field. Your blog gives missions-minded folk things to ponder every week.

No, I don't see you as a bit player. Of course, in all things, God deserves the glory, and rightly so. But it helps that you have always been available to step out onto the stage, whenever and wherever He wants you.

Take a bow.

Sara said...

I'm happy that you see all God has done thru you as a 'bit'. It gives the rest of us hope that God could do a 'bit' through us too. Love your posts.