Sunday, January 27, 2008

Level Two - Church Based Missionary Training

Level two mission service has the potential for being the most profitable, for both the national church as well as the intern missionary. Committing to a one or two year service shows a stronger sense of engagement in world missions than just a one or two week visionary trip. But, like all levels of cross-cultural ministry, pre-field training should be a part of equipping process.

Because the field assignment is longer, obviously the training should also be more focused as well as thorough. The subjects covered for short-term people, worldview, ethnocentrism, mission economics, x-cultural communication, interpersonal relationships, should certainly be taught, but in greater depth. In addition to these basic courses, the following should be a part their training program:

Cultural Anthropology
- A missionary intern truly has an opportunity to learn while on the field. Though they will have ministry responsibilities, it would be ideal if they could use their time to learn about culture, not just experience it. Pre-field training in basic cultural anthropology provides tools for learning culture. People often say to me, “I’d like to study and learn culture, but I don’t know how.” One area of my teaching is helping students learn the questions of culture and helping them understand how to apply what they have learned in presenting the Gospel. I’m not objective on this issue. I believe the study of culture is absolutely imperative.

Working With National Leaders – Style of leadership is a popular topic in America. There are more books written about leadership in business and the church than most any other subject. The challenges of working with leadership across cultures can be even more demanding. I have known interns who after a year on the field completed their assignment with satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. I’ve also seen the other side of an internship that left both the intern and national host unhappy, bitter and negative. The study of cross-cultural leadership will insure that time on the field is a positive rather than a negative experience.

Learning Your Role - The sub-title of my book, The Journey of a Post-Modern Missionary is, Finding Ones Niche In Cross-Cultural Ministry. To me, job satisfaction is a key to whether a person or family will be effective in their service for Christ overseas. One of the advantages of a one/two year internship has is they can use that time to find out where they are gifted and how they can fit on the field. However, before they go on a field assignment they should be coached on the role of an intern. Assumptions are usually the cause of misunderstanding as well conflict. A good pre-field study of status and role will be invaluable before launching out to regions beyond.

Having a coach or mentor on the field to guide the intern would be ideal. Unfortunately, there are not many situations where there are people on the field who can or will take on the task of a teacher. This reality makes pre-field training even more essential.

Though the day of the career missionary is almost extinct, if someone goes to the field and remains over 10 years it is an accomplishment. I still believe the most effective cross-cultural worker are those who make a long term commitment, and for those people there needs to be training for the long haul, which will be the subject of the next post.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Church Based Missionary Training: Make A Plan

Stanley Davies writes, “The fundamental meaning of effectiveness is the achievement of planned results.” So, the question is, what’s the plan for Church Based Missions (CBM) and Church Based Missionary Training (CBMT)?

In this discussion series we acknowledge that the trend of missions in the U.S. today are local churches depending less on denominational and para-church mission organizations in sending missionaries and instead sending their own. Whether the mission project is a ten-day excursion or sending out career missionaries from their own congregation, CBM continues to grow in popularity. It’s estimated that between 2 and 4 million American’s go on mission trips each year. It’s important that there be a plan for CBM, but setting that issue aside, today’s topic is developing a plan for CBMT. Though not exhaustive, the graphic above is a starting point in addressing what should be taught through Church Based Missionary Training.

Short-Term Missionary Training - Even if a person is going to a field for a week or a month, there are certain things everyone should be aware of before landing in a foreign country. First, a crash course in cross-cultural communication is imperative. Issues of male and female interaction, touching, tone of speech and even eye contact has cultural implications. Second, understanding how other people see their world is vital. Though on this planet of over 6 billion, we humans share common experiences, not everyone sees the world as we do in the West. How do others see their world and what difference does it make? Third, the problem of cultural bias is an important issue to address before going to another country. Ethnocentrism is a subtle attitude of superiority/inferiority. It’s a problem with career missionaries and therefore important to talk about if one is only going to visit a country for two weeks. Fourth, the issue of money is always a concern, especially if the short-term project is in a developing country. Should American’s be open handed in giving clothes, food and/or money to a national church? Can generosity be a bad thing?

Good training goes beyond a study of behavior. It’s not what people do in other countries that’s important, but why they do it. Good CBMT for short-term groups should be at least a 20 hour classroom intensive, spanning at least a month, with reading and research requirements. For the best CBMT find a trainer who has lived through the experience of field missions and not just a short-term expert.

The longer the period of time on the field, the more training should be required. We will look at the second level of training next time. In the meantime, I invite readers to weigh in on this topic. What training do you think is important for short-term missions? What model have you seen that works?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Church Based Missionary Training

Most of us in the U.S. are familiar with the Holiday Express commercials. A man enters the operating theater wearing the scrubs of a surgeon and dazzles the nursing staff with his expertise with a knife on the patient on the table. When asked about his credentials he confesses that he’s not a doctor, but he did sleep at a Holiday Express the night before. The commercial implies that if one gets a good nights sleep at the their hotel they will feel so good the next morning that they can perform any task.

Sometimes local Church Based Missions (CBM) reminds me of the Holiday Express commercials. Feeling good about taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth is not enough to qualify people to server cross-culturally. Surgeons need to be trained to cut open a body cavity, so too, does a missionary need training in presenting the message of Christ in a different cultural context.

For those who have read my book, The Journey of a Post Modern Missionary, you will remember my story that I entered the mission field without any cross-cultural training. I, like probably 95% of my colleagues, were trained in pastoral ministry, i.e. how to exegete the Scriptures, a few tips on evangelism (from a mono-cultural Western perspective), but with no idea of how to take that message and make it relevant to Hindu’s, Muslims or Animist’s. It is shocking to me that still today there are people sent out with little to no training in cross-cultural studies. If the trend is CBM, then there needs to be a concentration in Church Based Missionary Training (CBMT).

The standard questions of, Who, What, Where, Why and How is a good place to begin in this discussion of CBMT. We’ve briefly discussed the Why, now let’s look the other elements of CBMT.

WHO needs training? Everyone who is going overseas for a cross-cultural ministry. Whether a person is going for one week or as a career, everyone benefits from training. Obviously the longer time commitment for overseas work will necessitate more training, but even teen-agers and college students going out for two-week excursions need training.

WHAT should a training curriculum look like? Understanding culture, basics of cross-cultural communication, tips and taboos when going overseas should be the essentials. Other subjects, depending on the focus of the trip would include, the role of short-term missions, dynamics of religion, and interpersonal relations. For a church that is serious about training, a college level curriculum (semester or modules) can be developed which would include an in-depth study of social organization of a particular people group, epistemology and how to live overseas.

WHERE should training take place? Not all people want or need to attend seminary or Bible College. The time and expense of second-career people going to the few training missionary centers in the U.S. are often cost prohibitive. If a church is committed to CBM, they should also be committed to CBMT and need to develop a structure for equipping those they are launching into cross-cultural work.

HOW can it be done? Find the right people to do the training and create a budget to provide the needed training. Bring in experts in for a weekend, a week or two weeks for intensive training. It’s a great deal more cost efficient to find qualified teachers to do training in-house than require members to enroll in a program where the subjects are irrelevant or necessitates the family to leave their jobs and home for three months.

The main thing is DO SOMETHING in training for those going out from your local church. Missions is serious stuff and it requires more than sleeping in a Holiday Express to be qualified for the task.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Church Based Missions

Talking with a friend of mine last week, who has been a mission/church mobilizer for thirty years, the issue of Church Based Missions (CBM) came up. The traditional model of missions is a local congregation partnering with a denominational or para-church sending agency. Since the time of William Carey, sent out by Baptist’s in England and Hudson Taylor, who started the China Inland Missions, the model for missions for nearly three hundred years has been a top/down structure. Jungle pilots, Bible translators, church planters, medical doctors go to the regions beyond through the structure of a sending structure backed by local church funding. It’s a model that is slowly dying.

In this day of high mobility, easy travel, a sense of adventure and discretionary funds, the trend in missions today is for the local church to be their own sending agency. CBM are, in many ways, the Antioch model, which famously sent out from their own ranks Paul, and Barnabas to take the gospel to Asia. The “adopt a people movement” has been a catalyst for CBM as the local congregation targets a region of the world where they want to invest their global outreach endeavors. The characteristics of CBM is partnering with national church leaders and sending out short-term teams to directly be involved on the field. Is CBM a good idea?

The answer to the question of validity of CBM is a mixed bag. The sense of participation through ownership is a strong argument for CBM. For too long the local church has farmed out their Great Commission responsibility to sending agencies. Missions is easy when people can just give money to a cause without being personally involved. The CBM trend generates interest within the local congregation to get personally involved through prayer, focused giving and even going. Sending agencies, the old paradigm of missions, don’t have all the answers, are not always strategic and because of overhead are not always efficient. More than anything else, sending agencies are distant from the local church. The CBM model makes the task of world evangelism personal, and this in itself makes CBM very attractive.

It’s argued, by some, that CBM is more biblical. Perhaps, though I’m always hesitant with those who site biblical circumstances as patterns for today’s reality. Paul and Barnabas were exceptional individuals sent out for a unique task. If a CBM is going to use the Antioch form for their model justification they need to follow the other components of that model. For example, Paul and Barnabas were well trained and tested before the Antioch church commissioned them for service. Paul was a Jewish scholar and Barnabas was a seasoned and respected church leader. Before launching their boat for Cyprus and Perga, these men were already battle scarred in ministry. They were not weekend warriors and their commitment was not just a vacation with a purpose.

My moblizer colleague lamented that there is little thought among the leaders of the CBM movement on preparing people to serve cross-culturally. Whether the overseas initiative is one week or one decade, people need cross-cultural training. While it is laudable for churches to take ownership of their mission involvement, one component the CBM should institute is CBT, i.e. Church Based Training. My thought on CBT is the subject for the next post.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Not Despising Small Things

The trip to Kansas seemed longer than usual. The flat landscape looks more monotonous in the winter without the prairie grass, wheat fields and sunflowers. I knew that it was important for me to visit this supporting church, four hundred miles from home, but it seemed like such a long trip to speak to a congregation of no more than fifty. Though they have been supporting our ministry for over thirty years, I wondered if my visit was really vital in the grand scheme of things. I’m not sure what the grand scheme is, but talking to a group of people in a city of 2,500 with one church for every 300 people is certainly different than living in Delhi, where there is one church for every half a million. To say I wasn’t “pumped” to speak at this church is an understatement. However, over the six-hour drive, my attitude changed. As I made my way on I-35 my mind went back to a period that seems, now, another lifetime.

Thirty-seven years ago I pastored a church on the border of Texas and Mexico of less than one hundred people. It was my first pastorate and I tried to lead that little flock as though it was the largest church in town. We had revival meetings, VBS, pastor conferences and mission conferences. It was a full-service congregation with a budget that could barely pay their pastor, but we tried to compete in the religious marketplace in spite of our handicap.

I don’t remember every missionary that visited who us in Del Rio, but I do remember that anyone who visited had to make a special effort to come to our church. Del Rio is 150 miles west of San Antonio with little between but mesquite brush. No one passed through our town; it was a planned and deliberate journey. Though we didn’t have much to offer, in ways of accommodation, big honorariums or profound monthly support, those who came were appreciated. In hindsight, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t have more of a clue how to take better care of those who made the effort to minister to our little church. Sleeping in a camping trailer parked at the rear of the church was better than staying with some of the members of the church, but it was still hardly adequate accommodations for a visiting speaker.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the little Kansas church I noticed my attitude had a radical transformation. World evangelism is not just for the large and powerful churches with slick programs and big budgets, but for even the little churches stuck on the backside of the state…like the one I pastored in a dusty Texas many years ago.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Ethnic Cleansing and the Church

The battle between brothers is as old as Cain and Abel. Though the issue was not ethnic disagreement, the root motivation that caused the elder to kill his younger brother is with us millenniums later – jealousy, pride, and disobedience of the creation to his Creator.

I have personally observed the dark side of ethnocentrism for years. Idi Amin expelled the Asians from Uganda in 1977 because he felt the Indian population drained resources from the country. The minority Brahmin population in India subject the Dalits (untouchables) to bonded slavery because of a sense of superiority in a hierarchal caste system. In Bolivia Spanish church has hardly reached out to the indigenous Indian people, the Quechua, as they perceive them as inferior people. At long last, the Estonian’s have rule of their own country and can now oppress their former masters, the Russians, as they did to them for seventy years. The Shia and Sunni population of Iraq slaughter one another for no other reason except of ethnic/religious identity. My own country continues to suffer with racial tensions between white, blacks and now those coming into our country from south of the border. The snapshot of today’s ethnic hostility is just a carryover of centuries of brother hating brother.

When I first moved to Kenya in 1976 I quickly learned the lines of ethnic hatred. I worked with two tribes, the Pokot and Turkana, which historically have been enemies for centuries. The greatest ethic tension, however, was between the Kikuyu’s, the largest tribe, and the second largest tribe, the Luo’s.

When Kenya gained independence from England in 1963, it was a Kikuyu by the name of Jomo Kenyatta who became the first president. Kikuyu’s are, for the most part, industrious. Part of the reason for the success of Kenya as a nation is attributed to their work ethic and capitalistic market economy. Kenyatta’s rival, and the first vice president, was a Luo by the name of Oginga Odinga. Odinga wanted to fashion the Kenya government, as did Tanzania, after the model of Chinese socialism,. The present crisis in Kenya is due to this old ethnic rivalry. President Mwai Kibaki, is a Kikuyu and Raila Odinga (Oginga’s son) is a Luo. (Many Luo’s surnames begin with the letter “O.” Barak Obama’s father was a Luo.)

Kenya is a “Christian nation,” with eighty-five percent of the population claiming to be followers of Christ. In spite of their common faith, the clash between brothers is along tribal lines. Reminiscent of the tragedy in Rwanda, brothers and sisters were burned in church two days ago, (in a city I lived for four years) for no other reason than because of ethnic contempt.

Why do these ethnic clashes continue? The short answer is because of sin in men. The situation of ethnic hatred will never be eradicated, but I do believe the church needs to do a better job working with cultural diversity. Historically missions in Kenya, and many more places throughout the world, have concentrated on “church planting,” -- getting people saved, baptized and on the church membership role. Kenya is one of those places in the world where planting churches is relatively easy. What the church has not done well is crossing cultural barriers and discipling the church on how to serve Christ among their brothers. While ethnic bias and prejudice is a chronic disease that will never be totally abolished, the church should focus, not just on getting people into the kingdom, and spend more time teaching others that indeed, they are their brothers keeper.