Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Educating the Church

Neither rain, snow nor a blizzard can keep me from my appointed fund raising rounds. Last week I got caught in a “white-out” between Kansas and Colorado as the 50-mile an hour winds and blowing snow closed I-70. Like a mother cow trying to find a hole in the fence to reach her bawling calf, I headed south trying to find a highway that was open for me to cross into Colorado. Talking with my brother on a cell phone, he scanned Doppler radar guiding the best he could. I continued south until I ended up in New Mexico attacking the allusive Rocky Mountain State border going north on I-25. The twelve-hour journey ended after eighteen, but I made it, for which the host pastor was grateful.

The next morning I taught the combined Bible Study class and in the evening spoke on the importance of cross-cultural communication with my lecture on “Being a Bridge of God.” In the Q and A there was some interesting enquires of terms I used throughout, such as defining what it means to serve cross-culturally and explaining the meaning of contextualization. After services I interacted with many who said, “I have never heard of these things before.” Amazing, since many of these people have been in the church for over forty years.

The next morning over breakfast the pastor said to me, “I learned more about missions yesterday than any class I have ever taken.” This comes from a pastor who has been in the ministry for over thirty-five years and who has led his church to support missionaries for all those years.

Why was there such an awakening in the congregation about missions? Is it because I am such a profound expert on the subject that I presented new information that is just now hitting the church? Not at all. I believe there are essentially two reasons for such a reaction. (BTW, the reaction from this congregation is not isolated as I experience this response in many churches I visit).

First, most missionaries when they visit a congregation spend more time on inspiration and little or no time on education. Most missionary presentations are filled with pictures of the country, their family and ministry. With the technology that is now available PowerPoint presentations are slick with video clips, testimonies and music. The appeal is made for reaching the lost that have never heard or an anecdote how someone came to Christ and was delivered from evil spirits or idol worship. Good stuff, but designed to reach the emotion of the heart rather than informing the mind.

Second, there really isn’t that many missionaries who have a desire to educate and many more who lack mission education in their own lives. It’s difficult (impossible) to talk about contextualizing the message when in your own ministry you are still using a western method and model for your ministry overseas. If one has never wrestled with the issue of Hindu or Muslim secret followers of Christ, it’s not going to be a part of the missionaries presentation. Since the western church is focused on church planting, how does one report on what God is doing if it isn’t easily identifiable? (And how can we possibly raise forty-thousand dollars for a church building if the converts are not yet ready to openly declare their faith?)

In my talk yesterday I said that ninety-five cents of every Christian dollar given is dedicated to those who have already declared they are followers of Christ. Less than one cent of every Christian dollar given goes to the effort of reaching the two billion people who have never heard the message of Christ. In spite of this reality we are still supporting projects home and abroad that will not have any impact on the masses that have never heard the Good News.

This stuff isn’t new, it’s just seldom talked about. Churches need less inspiration and more education in world-wide outreach.