Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Missiologist - Critical But Not Negative

The other day a friend wrote and mildly rebuked me for one of my blog posts. He suggested that my writings would be more helpful if they were more positive. My reply to him was that, indeed, I recognize that sometimes my writing is often critical, but I am not sure that it is negative. One thing that many people don’t understand about my writing, speaking and teaching, is that my opinions and perspectives are that of a missiologist. I am not a pastor trying to shepherd a church. I am not a theologian trying to interpret doctrine. I am not a counselor making an attempt to solve personal issues. While it is true that as a missionary coach I sometimes take on elements of those roles, for the most part, my giftedness is trying to figure out how the work of missions and the church can be done better.

When I was serving in Kenya I did not plant any churches, though in the time we were in the country thirteen churches and a Bible institute was started. In the beginning I did everything that a traditional pioneer church planter is suppose to do. I preached, led singing, taught and created programs. Within our first two years we had three congregations meeting in different villages, but I wasn’t the pastor of any of them. I quickly learned that if the work was to multiply I had to give up doing things myself and let others take the lead in planting and growing the congregations. By the time I left Africa, fourteen years later, the only thing I was responsible for was what I am most gifted in doing…critically analyzing the context and giving guidance on how to do things differently and, hopefully, more effectively.

I am well aware that some people believe that the easiest thing to do is being a critic. However, when I speak of critical analysis it is not just finding fault, but rather finding weakness with suggestions on how to making programs stronger. As a missiologist, one who has been trained to analyze to view the church from the historical, theological and cultural context, my comments is borne out of unique set of lens that few people have experienced. My comments on everything from the role of national leadership to Western evangelical imperialism is not a part of an agenda, but is an honest evaluation based on on-going study and thirty years of living the mission experience.

Sometimes critical analysis bites. In an article entitled In Quest of Knowledge, Arnold Burron writes, “...among other impediments to critical thinking, [is the] unwillingness or fear to challenge socially acceptable ‘truth.’” When I write and say things like, training missionaries is a moral issue; short-term mission programs are primarily for the promotion of the American church; it’s okay for churches to die, etc., my comments are not meant to harm as much as it is for the church to think about why they do what they do and how can we do the job better.

As a missiologist I have been given an opportunity to view God’s work differently than most of my readers. That doesn’t make me smarter or more right, but it is a view that is not the norm. Critical doesn’t make it negative, it means the perception is from another angle that hopefully will add value to the task God has called us to do throughout the world.