Archive for August, 2009
I’ll readily confess that “Diapers and Missions” was not the original title of this post, but that title just takes the…(on to missions). This week I have had the privilege of meeting a number of church leaders in the Nashville area and beyond while working with The Upstream Collective founders. Each of these encounters have helped me get a little better understanding of the shifts that are underway at present in U.S. church and the actual or possible implications. All of the churches and leaders that we had the privilege of meeting were serious about being missional in the local and/or overseas contexts. Some things that were quite encouraging for me include:
- The community that Michael Carpenter is cultivating along with a number of other key people at Matthew’s Table, a church in Lebanon, TN. There are so many great stories here including one couple, Dwayne and Megan, that were recently married in the coffee house which also is where the church meets on Sundays and throughout the week. Lots of challenging and exciting things are happening in their lives right now like a lost job in the former category and, in the latter category, a sweet baby girl; a new business selling cloth diapers to feed a family and, Lord-willing, to provide future overseas mission funds and flexibility; a new part-time job at Java Joe’s for Megan; and awaiting baptism in a couple weeks for Dwayne. This family is just one of the stories of how God is showing his saving grace in this missional church plant.
- Meeting Gary Morgan and learning about Mosaic in Nashville–a church that is seeking to be sent missionally to the urbanites in the heart of the city. Like Matthew’s Table–the daughter church of Mosaic–they are living out throughout the week a level of honest discipleship that is guiding both believers and pre-believers to better understand and live what it means to follow Christ. He also shared with me about another church in the area, Christ Presbyterian Church, which is impacting the urban center through an arts school–Salama. It is my understanding that a number of families involved with the church moved from the suburbs into the urban / inner-city areas of Nashville in order to live incarnationally. That is cross-cultural missions in such a healthy way.
- The guys at The Journey Church are impacting lives in the Lebanon and Mt. Juliet areas while also sharing their facilities to advance the Kingdom of God for the glory of God. Running multiple sites, they are allowing Matthew’s Table to set up a coffee shop with an effort to have a church that can engage another cross-section of the population at the adjacent university. Simultaneously, they are exploring partnership opportunities in a couple different parts of the world. That’s cool. That’s missional. That’s encouraging!
- LifePoint Church in Smyrna is stepping-up to pioneer some new ground in having the church serve as missionary. Prepping two teams of multiple families from LifePoint to go and live in Bangkok and Belgium, the church is sending from the church body to plant churches overseas. More on this in the future, but this is advancing the development or the evolution of missions significantly. Press on Pat, Kyle, Tim, and so many others. Continue on course as the sending church.
The sizes of the above churches are different. The personalities involved are all over the map. The peoples they are working with both in the U.S. and overseas vary, but through all of this Christ is exalted. I look forward to seeing some of what God will do through His church as it is expressed in so many ways in central Tennessee and to the nations. We read the words of Christ: “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.” As His people and as His church, may we always be about His mission.
In the last post I expounded on five pitfalls that preclude effectiveness even after the requisite 10,000 hours have been invested. Here are six takeaways that we can benefit from in missions. (Obviously seven would be more spiritual, but….) Once again, much of this will apply to missional communities and living as well as church planting.
Start – Get experience. If it takes 10,000 hours of practice to attain some level of mastery, then starting in mission activity today is acceptable if you did not do so yesterday or last week. The clock is ticking, or rather it should be ticking. Practical ways for doing this in a cross-cultural setting include language acquisition, reading literature and history from your people group, and networking with people from the people group either with pockets of people around where you live and/or electronically via Craigslist, Twitter, FaceBook, blogs, etc.
Speed up – One very practical way to gain experience much faster is to learn from others. Personally, I have experienced failure a number of times in different mission attempts. However, there are so many things that I did not have to experience through my own personal failure because others had already put in the time and energy to fail ahead of me. Learning from them saved me time, energy, and resources (including the emotional investment). Thank God for these people and their willingness to be transparent!
Evaluate regularly – According to Socrates, the great philosopher of yesteryear, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To restate Mr. Socrates as a missiologist, one might conclude that the unexamined missional endeavor is not worth doing. An experienced coach will prove invaluable at this point. This person must balance an adequate cultural examination and the merit of a strategy based on a number of criteria while allowing for what the Spirit is directing to be done in a particular situation. (Remember that Jesus did at times direct for the nets to be thrown back out where there had been no success for hours…to a great result.) At times a coach may be able to identify strategies that are uncertain that will end in either success or a reasonably small failure. However, where a coach can see that the outcome based on the present course will end up far off base, then redesigning the missional endeavor to promote alignment between the time invested and the desired outcomes will prove invaluable.
Recalibrate expectations – No one plans to take on a huge venture for the purpose of failing. To do so would be ridiculous and a guaranteed waste of all resources. Almost as foolhardy would be expecting immediate, overwhelming success. Though no one is likely to complain if it does occur, when a person makes the impossible their expectation, discouragement is likely to set in early in the process. Returning to the 10,000 hour rule, it will be helpful to remember that the violinist with 4,000 hours did not perform as well as the one with 8,000 hours experience, who did not perform as well as the one with 10,000 hours of experience. There is a variable parabolic effect where the time continuum moves at a constant while the effectiveness grows from imperceptible to having significant jumps in growth. It will be helpful for the missionary, missional community, et al to recalibrate expectations of what is normal while praying for God to bless in even greater ways.
See it through – Don’t stop in the process at 2,000 hours of experience. Be faithful to the process and see what the Lord will do as you near the 10,000 hour quota.
Take it with you – Look for areas of crossover where experience can be transferred to new situations, missional pursuits, etc. Language, cultural understanding, one’s ability to dissect what is important in a culture, contacts and relationships, lessons in contextualization, cross-cultural survival skills, missions and/or church planting life practicum, leadership, working with people, etc. may be areas that will benefit you in other contexts. Do rigorous evaluations personally. Also, consider pursuing input from trusted others about your experience which may indicate transferable skills or learning to embrace.
With a strong correlation between mission results and fulfillment of the 10,000 hour rule, the reality begs the question, “Why does the correlation not hold true in all cases?” Five reasons are given in the previous post. Unpacking each a little may prove helpful. Throughout the following, it relates to a cross-cultural mission context. Additionally, all of this also relates to missional communities in the U.S. or other settings.
Moral (spiritual) failure – moral failure is commonly understood as someone being disqualified for sexual or lifestyle behaviors that are inconsistent with a mission organization’s interpretation of Scripture. Combined with this, there are times when people are choked out by the cares of this world, the difficulties of their context, etc. An event or just a stretch of time in a different context causes some to rethink their beliefs. This area covers a vast range of issues, all of which are real. This category entombs too many making them leave a mission field literally or figuratively. The individual who has put in their 10,000 hours but is struggling in this area will be unlikely to see meaningful results.
Living out or seeking to promote an ethnocentric worldview – when the bearer of the good news views the place and/or time where they came from as intrinsically better than the place and/or time where they land there are difficulties ahead. The ideal disciples and churches for the ethnocentric M will look like the place and/or time that is utterly foreign to their new context. This will limit result potential even after passing the normal time prescribed for a level of mastery.
Not investing in nationals – this category fits in many ways with the previous item in that it stems from an ethnocentric perspective. In a foreign missionary context where there are other foreign missionaries, it can be a struggle to not place primary emphasis or more on relating to other missionaries. Chances are, however, that these missionaries are already disciples of Christ. It seems to me that there are limited returns in discipling the discipled. Another challenge in this area can be relating primarily to expats that are on assignment with an embassy, international non-profit, or work assignment. A third challenge in this area includes working with nationals that are not the peoples to which one is seeking to minister. If an individual’s goal is to impact Swedes living in Stockholm, it may not be a success to have a Bible study with a Cambodian guy and Chinese lady. The person / missional community praying and working for success as they pursue their 10,000 hour level of proficiency will be honest in their evaluations and objectives or minimize their potential level of mastery that comes with experience.
Not pursuing relationships with either non-believers or with nationals that are heavily involved in the lives of non-believers – this happens too often in supposed missional endeavors. Most readers that have been involved in the evangelical church for some time have probably been in a situation before where the informal question is asked how many non-believing friends each member has. It is too easy for us to get so involved in the church that we don’t have time for those that Christ came to plant the church in the first place. So the next jump is that if we are not going to work with lost people at least we will work with believers that are going to work with lost people. (I think there are some challenges with this line of thinking, but that’s not the purpose of today’s post.) If we are going to pursue this path, then integrity requires that we do due diligence to find that the disciples we are discipling are reaching the lost. If not, a 10,000 hour investment will not have a meaningful impact on that individual’s / missional community’s level of proficiency or mastery of being missional.
Placing emphasis on supervisory responsibilities – reaching the 10,000 hours of proficiency in supervising missional endeavors is well and fine, but it is not a guarantee that the same level of mastery has been reached at doing missional activities. Ideally supervisors will have done mission in the same context in which they are supervising. However, when this is not the case, it will be helpful for the supervisor to be an encourager that is mindful and honest about his or her limitations.
In Outliers, Gladwell writes that “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” That is 10,000 hours of practice to get at some mastery level of proficiency. The author continues to share that this roughly breaks down to 10 years of experience. Some of his examples as well as simple calculations demonstrate that the experiential quota is viable in 5 to 6 years.
When considering missions, the 10,000 hour rule makes a lot of sense. Working in a cross-cultural context begins slow most of the time. The first year or years are usually spent in language and cultural acquisition. Being a student of language and culture is not over at that time, but it is well-advanced. Then more mission learning and experience are logged through a series of trials that are often associated with failure. Throughout all of this process relationships are being formed, history and trust are being built. Disciples are being made. Then after some period of time, those that have stuck it out will often begin to see some ways to advance their efforts have a foundation of key, healthy relationships, and have built requisite levels of trust to see healthy results.
In thinking through a number of relationships with M’s throughout Europe and beyond, I see that the 10,000 hour rule has a strong correlation with impact. With a range of paradigms and approaches, missionaries that have some 10 years of experience that is relevant to their culture and context are generally seeing greater results than those that do not have this level of experience.
Investing 10,000 hours in anything is not a guarantee for success, however. Some limiting factors seem to include:
- Moral (spiritual) failure;
- Living out or seeking to promote an ethnocentric worldview;
- Not investing in nationals;
- Not pursuing relationships with either non-believers or with nationals that are heavily involved in the lives of non-believers; and
- Placing emphasis on supervisory responsibilities.
There is more to come on this in some future posts, but I wanted to go ahead and throw the idea out there for stimulation and discussion.
Yesterday I had the privilege of being on mission with a wonderful group of people. I was amazed as this church worked to bless their community. While helping to break down the largest of the numerous tents, I asked the pastor what percent of the church participated in the event–knowing that it had to be a high number. He responded that probably about 80% of the church members were involved. One person helping had just joined the church this week.
In this missional endeavor, there was lots of sunshine, heat, blisters, language barriers, a fainting, and so much more. Raised blood pressure levels due to deadlines, roles and responsibilities, and natural mini crises were an inevitable part of the day. With so many focused on the mission, these were just speed bumps to be crossed. The purpose was so much bigger than any one person involved. The goal was for the further magnification of the glory of the Most High. As a result, this church was in partnership together way beyond the normal connotation of “community.” What they experienced through this may be more aptly labeled “communitas.”
Good job CHBC! You are a church on mission! Thanks for letting us be a part for the day!
It was a cookout. And I don’t mean the pretty kind on a gas grill in a backyard by a pool. It was just inside a dense forest outside a major urban center in Eastern Europe. There was fire, smoke, mosquitoes, mud, fallen trees used for seats…. There was no toilet, though there was (smile). No place to wash hands. Those who started the fire, both believers and non, had mud and rust and ash on their hands. Those who prepared the meat–one a believer for years, the other for days–had fat and marinade from the wrists down. All had clothes that smelled of smoke. All had a full sensory experience of the meat cooking, sizzling, and in places burning. All shared from the skewers as the meat was ready to be eaten. Some slightly burned their hands and mouths as they ate the meat that had just come off the coals. All could hear the birds singing and the passing of traffic just a quarter mile away. It was real. It was a wonderful time of being together!
Though our outing was not planned for this reason, I was reminded of Jesus’ time with His disciples at the end of His days on Earth. He cooked for them on a campfire. His clothes had to smell of smoke. Surely there was ash and the strong scent of fish on his hands. The subsitutionary lawn chairs were probably the ground or maybe some stones. For added ambience, it appears fish were probably flopping around on the ground. It was real. (John 21)
This was discipleship. It didn’t happen in a classroom. He didn’t hold conferences. What did He do? He walked with His disciples. They walked with dirty, dusty feet together. He ate with His disciples. They encountered both adoring crowds as well as angry religious leaders together. They lived life together. Jesus didn’t teach them about His heart for the lost until after they had repeatedly seen it lived out by Him. Then He sent them out. Then He returned to the Father. John shared that they had seen, heard, and touched Him. It was real. John challenged that if we are going to say “I know him,” then we must “walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 1-2)
This entry is not a call to roughing it, nor is it a challenge to ban gas grills (though I do prefer the charcoal variety for flavor). I am not calling for the halt of conferences. This is, hopefully, the beginning of a conversation about what discipleship is….