Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Faith Versus Salary

Recently I visited a church that belongs to a large denomination that pays the salaries of their missionaries. As a result of the cooperative effort by associated churches, missionaries within this bureaucratic structure do not have to “pound the pavement,” i.e. solicit support from churches and individuals for support overseas ministry. An appointed missionary within this structure receives a salary, retirement benefits, medical coverage and everything on the field is paid for (housing, vehicle, etc.).

In contrast, myself, like the vast majority of missionaries on the field, function on what is called “faith support,” which means, that the individual missionary and family must raise their own support and whatever the budget is must go from church-to-church, home-to-home, finding people who will partner with them in their ministry. There is no cost efficiency in either one of the plans. Though the budget of faith missionaries may be slightly less than salaried people, the cost of doing business overseas is basically the same.

Secretly I have always envied salaried missionaries. I’ve often wondered what it would be like not to worry about inflation, rate of exchange of currency, finding affordable housing, purchasing a vehicle, insurance or donor attrition (trying to maintain support is a lifelong occupation). When you are in the faith support program it feels like you are asking people and churches to support “you,” whereas salaried people are compensated for the work they do.

Strategically I don’t believe salaried missionaries are any more effective than faith supported people. Indeed, as is the true of many bureaucratic structures, salaried people sometimes are less creative as they are placed in a job-to-do and unless they have seniority are unable to think outside the box until it goes through endless committees for approval.

The weakness of faith missions, though it does allow for more autonomy, is that there is often less accountability. Because so many people are not trained for cross-cultural work, programs and projects are often not well thought and tend to reflect the needs of the missionary than the needs of the host country. Evangelistic outreach, youth camps, feeding programs, schools and even partnering with the nationals sometimes is designed to justify the presences on foreign missionaries more than a strategy of missions.

Since we don’t live in a perfect world neither salaried nor faith missionaries has the advantage. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. What is important is that each missionary, no matter how they live and serve on the field, is that they be responsible to their calling. It truly matters to me what others may think about my job performance, but their evaluation is less important than my own assessment in missions. This self-evaluation can be deceptive as we all have a tendency to justify our work. Being faithful is important, but being faithful doesn’t mean I can just do anything (or nothing) and declare it a work of God. How one gauges effectiveness is often subjective, but it can’t be an excuse for not having a clearly defined role. At the end of each day the question has to be asked, “Have I done anything today, even if it’s as mundane as learning language, read an article or taught a class, to advance the Kingdom?” It’s a question that every missionary needs to ask, whether they are salaried or live on faith support.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Modernity and Missions

A pastor friend of mine sent me a book to review. Fortunately it was a book that was only 80 pages in length and lots of white space so I was able to go through it quickly. The author, who is the head of a missionary sending agency, was proposing a new missiological method for church planting; one that proposed universal rapid church growth. Though it has merit, there really wasn’t anything remarkably new and was short on particulars, but then again, what can you expect from a book that can be read in a couple of hours.

I reviewed this book on the heels of finishing a study on the Enlightenment which today philosophers call Modernity and their mechanistic view of reality. Most people in my generation grew up with this mechanistic worldview, which believes if we just find the right formula or technique we can solve problems and can create programs that will be efficient, profitable and give good return on investment. Hiebert asserts that (1) techniques led to division of labor with an increasing number of specialists who are experts in their field but know little of the overall process involved (2) requires quantification (3) is amoral focusing on the “how” not “why” (4) efficiency and profit are the supreme value (5) turn everything into goods that can be produced and sold.

My cautious reaction to the book my friend sent me, which really does have some good thoughts, is due to my own epistemological shift as a moderate post-modernist. I’ve seen and tried so many techniques down through the years that I weary with another how-to approach to world evangelism. I sympathize with churches and donors who have a heart for the world and who are frustrated with missionaries who seemingly spend a lifetime on the field with little to show for it. However, the answer to the needs of a world without Christ has never been nor ever will be reduced to a technique, whether it be power-encounter, Jesus Film, prayer walks or Short-Cycle Church Planting. The world is too diverse, issues of politics and religion too complex to suggest that mechanistic formula will bring about mass conversions and multiple church plants. My post-modernism tells me there isn’t a single answer. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore new ideas and new techniques, but my view is that success in missions will only be created within the context of the field, not an overlaid formula from the West.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Best Practices in Missions

A friend asked if I knew of some “good models” for missions/missionaries. Here are a few and the reasons why.

In Tanzania I met some folks who have been there over 10 years who have done some good work in planting churches and creating good solid training programs for national pastors. Tanzania is one of those countries that are not overrun with North Americans, a population that is significantly unreached with a high percentage of Muslims. Their roles have evolved over the years, less hands-on, more in facilitation. They still need to get away from the old church planting models and need think more about how to reach those who have no Gospel witness rather than the nominals, but they are making progress.

Some former students or mine are working with the youth in Mexico and Ukraine. Because they are focused on training national youth workers, it is a “niche” ministry that is important not only to local churches but also for the moral future of their countries they work in. I am assuming they have contextualized their training, as most youth work in the US is, for the most part, pretty superficial.

One dear brother in India is purely salt and light, working mostly with non-believers in business. He is not supported by any churches or individuals in the states and, does not ascribe to the “method” of BAM (Business As Missions). He and his wife live on the income of their business, pay taxes in the country, actively share Christ with their Hindu friends, attend church and even have Bible studies in their home.

The most successful models of missions are those who (a) understand their cultural context well, (b) have a well-defined purpose of why they are there, (c) understand their role, (d) generally are there to facilitate, (e) are relationship based rather than project based and (f) are committed to the task for more than a decade.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Learning Relationships, Not Techniques

The whole idea behind my training, and offering this training to North Americans in Kenya and India, is to teach others how to build relationships, not just a technique for ministry.

I’m wading through Paul Hiebert’s book, Transforming Worldview. In describing modernity he states, “Central to the mechanistic view of reality is the focus on technique. Technique is the rational mechanical process designed to produce the maximum results with a minimum of input by focusing on efficiency and speed.” Hiebert goes on to outline the salient points of techniques highlighting that, “Technique requires quantification…Techniques are amoral [focusing] on ‘how’ not ‘why’…Efficiency and profit are the supreme value…Technique turns everything into goods that can produced and sold.” Not surprisingly, throughout history modernity has led to capitalism, which has affected church and missions.

For the past 150 years the church has moved from a “body” of community relationships to a corporate structure based on “contractual associations.” Two distinct models, based on individual preference, evaluate the successful church or ministry in our modern society. The first is the high yield model, which is commercial in nature. Goaded by the business paradigm, competition for a share of clients in the community (church and unchurched souls) is the driving force behind multi-million facilities, attractive programs and thousands of dollars needed to stay in business. The second model is what I call the boutique or niche congregation. The assembly remains small and is not in competition with the high yield model as they are content because their outreach is to specific group of families, socio-economic or ethnic population. Both models are contractual as the basis of both groups is predicated on meeting the individual needs of the congregation. If those needs are not met either the leadership is removed or the individual members move to another church to have their needs met.

Apart from the philosophical or theological merits of this system, it nevertheless does determine how Western missionaries and missions are developed. Most short-term missions, the 10-day experience for world evangelism, are decidedly based on technique, not relationships. Whether it’s dispensing medicine, handing out tracts, giving a seminar on leadership or replicating a program that is currently producing the most bang-for-the-buck in America, the short-term teams know little about the people they are going to visit and don’t know much more about them after they have “served” them.

X-Cultural Live program is about learning how to develop relationships with people of other cultures. Our goal is not to give the answers but learn the questions. The “how’s” of doing ministry is discovery through learning the “why’s” of culture. Technique gives way to building trust through interaction; it’s Kingdom work, not a means of production.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

2009 Training Opportunities

Last year I extended an invitation for training in India. This year I am offering on-field cross-cultural training in two locations, Kenya and India.

KENYA: July 13 – August 1. Training will be in Kitale on the campus of the International Christian Ministries a two and half week intensive and research project. The student will learn the basics of social organization, cross-cultural communication and missionary life. Along with learning the dynamics of culture through interaction with nationals in a joint classroom/campus setting, out of classroom learning will be through focused research projects, which will include field trips into the community and nearby villages.

INDIA: September 16 – October 3. Classes will be held in Hyderabad on Carmel Campus TENT. The class structure is much as described in the Kenya training program, learning together with Indian cross-cultural missionaries.

ACCREDITIATION: If a student is already enrolled in college or university, they may receive academic for these classes. Through my academic credentials it is possible that these onsite classes could be applied to an undergraduate or graduate credits.

COST - The cost of both programs vary, but includes airfare to the county, in-country travel expenses, food, lodging and nominal training fee. We expect the cost will be $2,500 or less.

ENROLLMENT: If you are interested in these training programs, please contact drrglewis@gmail.com for an application form.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Limited Good

In 1965, George Foster wrote an article in the American Anthropologist entitled “Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good.”

By the “Image of Limited Good” I mean that broad areas of peasant behavior are patterned in such fashion as to suggest that peasants view their social economic and natural universes -- their total environment – as one in which all of the desirable things in life such as land, wealth, health, friendship and love, manliness and honor, respect and status, power and influence, security and safety, EXIST IN FINITE QUANTITY AND ARE ALWAYS IN SHORT SUPPLY, but in addition there is no way directly within peasant power to increase the available quantities…If “good” exists in limited amounts which cannot be expanded, and if the system is closed, IT FOLLOWS THAT AN INDIVIDUAL OR A FAMILY CAN IMPROVE A POSITION ONLY AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS (emphasis mine).

The theory of limited good is not confined to the field of anthropology but imbedded in the worldview of society, presented as a political philosophy and even in the realm of theology.

In India one of the reasons the caste system prevails is due to their notion of Limited Good. The low caste people may not like their station in life, but it’s their dharma, not everyone can be high caste, rich or powerful. Good is limited.

There is a political philosophy that believes that wealth should be regulated and distributed, as resources are limited. The idea is that the reason the rich get richer and poor get poorer is due to limited access to wealth and power and the best way to rectify this inequity is to redistribute wealth by taking from the rich and giving it to the poor.

Number three of Calvin’s five point theology (TULIP) is limited atonement. This theology proposes that salvation provided by God through Christ is actually not for all, but only for the elect.

If Limited Good was the worldview of the peasant society in the days of Jesus, where only those who took advantage of others prospered, perhaps the steward who turned his five talents into a profit of ten wasn’t the real hero after all.