Friday, March 28, 2008

Lessons Not Learned

This past week I have been engaged in another type of service, taking care of my aged parents. My 87 year old dad, who has early stages of dementia, has been in the ICU of the VA hospital for the past five days and I have been spending a great deal of time shuttling my mom back and forth to the hospital as well as sleeping each night at their house. In-between moments of crisis I have been trying to prepare for a six-week training project in India and Kenya starting next Thursday. Its been and interesting few days.

The cubicle next to my dad’s room there was a young man, I’m guessing in his early 30’s, who is dying of lung cancer. As he lays there moaning, begging for more morphine, his wife tells me he won’t be going home. His family comes into the room to comfort him, but leave with tears in their eyes all too aware of the inevitable.

Yesterday I walked outside of the hospital and noticed this young man’s relatives outside as well. I heard one woman talking on her cell phone say, “Right now he’s fighting for every breath.” What took me back was they were all out there for a smoke!

Human behavior is amazing. No matter how much we are warned about the dangers of smoking, over-eating, alcohol abuse or any number of destructive habits we hold onto, we seem bent on self-destruction. Even seeing the agonizing end of a loved one does not motivate us to change our behavior.

My dad, who is now out of the hospital, was fastidious about his weight, quit smoking fifty years ago and has worked hard all his life. He didn’t always do things right in life, but he did learn some important lessons, lessons some people never learn.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Good Friday Indeed

“Why do you call this Good Friday?” my Hindu neighbor asked me.

Evangelicals don’t recognize this day as much as Roman Catholics or Orthodox Christians. We certainly acknowledge the importance of the Crucifixion and death of Christ, but since we are a Sunday only lot, any religious activity that isn’t between 9 to 11 a.m. on the first of the week is outside sacred time for us. Thankfully the liturgical churches make a big deal out of ritual days (Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Pentecost), which gives the Christian church at least a few notable holy days beyond Christmas and Easter.

“Well honestly, it was not a particular good day for Jesus,” I replied. “This is the day that Jesus was tortured and then executed.” I didn’t go into all the gory details of that momentous day 2000 years ago; how that Jesus was beaten, mocked, hung on a Roman cross while the religious leaders of that day ridiculed him saying, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.”

“However,” I continued, “Christians, remember this day as being Good for all mankind. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of all people. While that Friday was not a good one for Jesus, it was a great day for all those who believe in Christ and have put their faith in Him as Savior.”

Mr. J. looked at me like my granddaughter does when I tell her something that she doesn’t understand. In the mind of a Hindu, the crucifixion is another myth about good triumphing over evil, with no real moral to the story. Then he said, “And Easter is the day he was reborn.”

“Not reborn, resurrected” I countered, knowing this story would be as ludicrous to him as was Good Friday tale.

“Jesus was not reincarnated three days after his crucifixion. While Jesus’ physical body expired He did not die, which is true of all people. Jesus resurrected His physical body three day later on Sunday, which we celebrate as Easter. His resurrection is important to followers of Christ because it demonstrates His power over death and gives us hope that we, too, will one day be resurrected. The grave is not the end of life or existence for Christians. Easter is the important day on the Christian calendar as it celebrates life, not death.”

Mr. J. passed away last December 11th, not really understanding the Gospel. Because of his question to me, I believe I will always hold this day even a bit more special. No, that Friday wasn’t a good day for Jesus at all, but it was a great day for all those who believe, even if they don’t totally understand it or can adequately explain it to others.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Defining Missions

The other day a former pastor wrote and asked me this question.

“How do you define ‘missions’”?

As I thought of a response, I realized that I have in the past defined what is a missionary, but not written much on what is missions. I have concluded that not everyone who shares the gospel is a missionary. They may be witness, a conduit for revelation, they may even be salt and light in a non-Christian country, but that doesn’t make them missionaries, in the professional sense of the word. But what about missions? What is it and how is missions defined?

If I am consistent that a missionary is a person who intentionally crosses cultural borders of ethnicity, language, religion, caste/tribe identification, then missions must also have those cross-cultural characteristics. I do not believe supporting a Bible College, youth camps, television programs or the local crisis pregnancy clinic is missions. Good causes indeed, worthy of church funding, but not missions.

Mission is different from Missions. Mission is rooted in Missio Dei, the Mission of God – making Himself known to all mankind, the process of establishing His Kingdom. Mission is Theocentric, to bring glory and worship to God alone through time and space, from every people, language and nation.

Missions, is a program of the church. And, like all programs, the activities of missions is as diverse as the church itself. Here is a sampling of missions:

Social Missions – Meeting the felt needs of people (feeding programs, orphanages, schools, etc.) The goal of the social missions is to demonstrate the love of Christ through works of social action.

Church Planting Missions – The deliberate act of going to an area to evangelize, baptize and disciple people and forming a fellowship where believers can intellectually and spiritually grow in their faith. This, by definition, is the basis for the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18ff.

Support Missions - Anything that supports the structure of missions, be it boarding schools for missionary families, language schools, Bible translation or administrators working in the corporate office. Team leaders, pastor to missionaries, mechanics, women and children ministries all fall under the category of support missions.

Facilitative Missions
– This is a new category of missions that has emerged over the past thirty years. Facilitative missions is specifically training national church planters and missionaries, helping them in their outreach to the least evangelized peoples of the world. I do not include pastoral training in this category, as most of those ministries focus on leaders of an established congregation rather than on outreach. To be sure, every church should be engaged in outreach, but growing a church is much different than starting a church.

While church planting is the stated goal of a majority of missionary activity, most missionaries are engaged in support or social ministry. I cannot pass judgment on any of these ministries as God can and does use all of it to bring people to Himself. It’s my opinion, however, that more emphasis should be placed on intentional outreach ministries if the majority of the world will ever have an opportunity to hear the Good News message of Christ Jesus. When the focus becomes Mission, rather than Missions, then, and only then, will the vast number of unreached hear the Gospel.

Friday, March 14, 2008

STM Survey

In the most recent issue of Missiology: An International Review, there is an interesting report on short-term missions entitled, “They See Everything, and Understand Nothing.” It’s estimated that over 1.5 million U.S. Christians travel abroad every year on short-term missions trips, primarily teenagers and young adults. This survey of STMs is unique in that it focuses on seminaries and their STM programs. I will only highlight the findings of this survey in this blog, but encourage those who want to know the details to get the January 2008 issue of Missiology.

1. Number of STM abroad taken by MDiv students: None 49%, One 22%, Two 10%, Three or more 19%.

2. Length of STM abroad: 10-14 days 34%, 7-9 days 27%.

3. Cost of STM trips: $501-$1,000 23%; $1,001-$1,500 19%.

4. Portion of Cost Paid by self and/or parent: 0-10% 37%, 91-100% 19%.

5. Month of Departure: June 27%; July 25%.

6. Size of Group of STM: 11-15 22%, 6-10 17%.

7. National Language of STM Trip Country: Spanish 57%, Non-Spanish 43%.

8. Top 10 STM Destinations: Mexico, Dominican Republic, Canada, Honduras, Jamaica, Guatemala, United Kingdom, Costa Rica, China, Peru.

I’m interested especially in point # 4 as it reveals that most of the money raised for the trip is through support raising outside the person or family. Point #8 is interesting as well, that most trips are, for the most part, in the Americas. What does these statistics say to you?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Dreadful Missiology

I occasionally visit a discussion group of some independent Baptist pastors. It’s interesting as well as educational for me to read the issues that face today’s American clergy. Quite honestly, I don’t know how they do it as our society becomes less interested in spiritual matters and churches compete for the few in this world who are seeking answers to the basic questions: How did I get here? What’s the meaning of life? What happens after I die? In the quest to be relevant churches must have a full-service program for children, youth, middle-age parents and senior citizens. On top of that, the church is charged with taking the Good News of Christ’s salvation to the four corners of the globe.

It’s when the discussion on this list turns to missions that I, of course, become most interested. The conversation generally is about missionaries, such as what to do with missionaries who have retired or perhaps a missionary project they feel is doing the best work. Last week I was appalled when one pastor made this statement.

“We are now supporting a good number of nationals in the 10/40 window, and getting a lot of bang for our buck. They are overseen by Americans, and the number of souls being saved is staggering.”

There are so many things about this statement that make me cringe. While I can agree with the importance of working with nationals and applaud the focus to the most unreached areas of the world, the missiology of this comment is ghastly, at best.

First is the assertion that supporting nationals is more valid because one can get more done with less money. Known as the big “bang for the buck” theory, this line of thinking is only legitimate to bottom line capitalism. Cost effectiveness is a purely Western concept, not a biblical principle. From the outrageous cost of building the Temple in Jerusalem to the unseemly honorary gift to Jesus by a former demon possessed woman (Matthew 26:7), God’s economy is not measured by ROI. I feel sorry for all those people who supported Jesus with their material possessions, believing He would usher in the Kingdom, only to be dispersed at the foot of a hill outside of Jerusalem and seeing their investment nailed to a Roman cross. For sure, we need to be wise with our money, but let’s not commercialize the Great Commission any more than it already is.

The second comment from this pastor that pushed me over the edge was the comment that the national work was being overseen by Americans, which, by implication, suggests that the church is getting more bang for their buck because it is managed by us, not them! That is an absurd statement at so many different levels. Paternalism was the sin of our mission forefathers and is, unfortunately, still a problem in many countries today. The attitude that since the missionary has the money he controls the ministry (the perversion of the Golden Rule, i.e. he that has the gold rules) is the bane of the modern missionary movement. On the one hand this pastor is touting letting nationals do the work, but only if there is an American that can manage the ministry. How anyone could come up with such a dreadful missiology is beyond my comprehension.

Whenever I read comments, like the one on this pastors list, I realize how much work that needs to be done in educating the American church in missions. Good missiology is more than emotion, much deeper than a well designed PowerPoint or DVD presentation. I wouldn’t presume to tell a pastor how to do his job at the local level, but it seems to be okay for just about anyone to be an expert in cross-cultural ministry.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Training vs. Education

My last post was about missionary training and how much (or little) agencies dedicate time and money toward cross-cultural preparedness. Unless you are with the IMB the chances are you have had little to no training at all for the task of going overseas and doing ministry as a church planter, educator or administrator in a cross-cultural context. Most organizations accept missionary candidates through the old grid of Bible College or seminary. If these people are mission majors it is assumed they have the knowledge necessary to do ministry overseas. The problem is, there is a big difference between education and training.

I am a trainer. In spite of my brother’s protest that “you train horses, you educate people” I maintain my stance as one who trains people for cross-cultural work, not just educate (though that is a by-product of my training). How do I train people for cross-cultural work?

Research – There is no way a person can effectively communicate the message of Christ until they understand the people who are the recipients of that message. You cannot give the answers until you know the questions…you cannot know the questions until you know how to do quantitative research. I teach/train/coach people on what questions they should be even looking for in the context of a particular people group. You can teach ethnography, but when you train people in ethnography it becomes an integral part of missionary preparedness, not just a subject.

Meaning - All research is irrelevant until you answer the most profound question of all -- So What? So what if the people believe in having more than one wife or go to the witchdoctor or astrologer for guidance? Interesting that they have a statue of Ganesh in their house or give an offering of fruit to their ancestors each morning, but so what? If a missionary can’t distinguish between what people do from why people do what they do, they will hardly be effective in their service for Christ. You can educate people on what people do, but it is through coaching and training people discover the why, which answers the so what.

Educators know that much of what they do is filler, as Allan Bloom wrote about 20 years ago.

"...colleges do not have enough to teach their students, not enough to justify keeping them four years, probably not even three years. If the focus is careers, there is hardly one specialty, outside the hardest of the hard natural sciences, which requires more than two years of preparatory training prior to graduate studies. The rest is just wasted time, or a period of ripening until the students are old enough for graduate studies. For many graduate careers, even less is really necessary. It is amazing how many undergraduates are poking around for courses to take, without any plan or question to ask, just filling up their college years."

Missionary sending organizations that depend on Bible Colleges or seminaries to prepare people for rigors of cross-cultural ministry need to learn the difference between education and training. If we seriously want to reach our world with the Gospel we need to put more time and money into missionary training.