Archive for missiology
With the swearing in of the new Greek Prime Minister this past week, I heard multiple news pundits share that it was really strange to see such a strong religious aspect accompany a seemingly secular event. Many references were made to separation of church and state–yes, our separation of church and state. Some personalities seemed to imply that our less religious political transfers of power should be more of the norm for other western, developed countries. The commentary was often laden with ethnocentrism mixed with disbelief that others could be so different. Disbelief that others could be so elementary or even so wrong.
Just because there are religious leaders all over the place does not make Greece or other declared Orthodox countries super-religious. This is not too different for Catholic countries as well, but one peculiarity of Orthodoxy is the nationalism that it reinforces and generates. Without a centralized Pope, many Orthodox countries have their own Patriarch. There has been a multi-century symbiotic relationship between the state and the church in these lands which I would contend continues to this day. The state has relied on the church to confirm its voice or authority as the one designated by God to lead the people. As for those of the cloth, the church has relied on the state to keep its head and shoulders connected. Whether this is actually execution, state funding, and/or unique, favorable legislation, the mode changes, but the outcome is very similar. In addition to the nationalism that this codependent relationship fosters, it also often leads to a secularization of society. Everyone is aware that there are charades afoot and all are willing and expecting to play along. Once the ceremonies are over, however, all can return to normal.
So, methinks, maybe a little less ethnocentric worldview would be good in general and especially so for the sent ones. Also, methinks that there is much to learn about how another people think, worship, live, etc. Understanding culture is a never-ending incremental process that we would do well to embrace if we are to be the ones to announce and demonstrate in contextually appropriate ways that indeed, our God does reign.
There is a percolating discussion on the blogosphere about the mission of the church with the release and subsequent reviews of What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. I first learned about this from my compadres at UC and then this morning saw a pretty exhaustive list of those critiquing the book on Stetzer’s blog.
I wanted to add my 2 cents to the conversation. First, let me state the obligatory disclaimer that I have not read the book. So now for my critique…just kidding.
Second, I have decided that these discussions make me tired. Not because they are unimportant, on the contrary I think they are very important. Thinking through why these discussions make me tired, I thought maybe it was because the debate wasn’t done over a cup of coffee. Then I dismissed this as I took a sip of my coffee and still didn’t feel the conversation to be any brighter. Then I realized it tires me because it is not done with visible eyeballs. There is something about sitting around the table or campfire or wherever and drinking a cup of coffee or tea or whatever and talking about how these things impact our lives. So, carry on the discussion, I just wish it could happen with some of my buddies where theological discussions happen best: in person, in community.
Still, I do have something I would like to offer to the conversation. Here’s a clip with Frost’s take on the purpose of the church. This seems important as Gombis states that he is “not sure that the authors are familiar with the viewpoints of missional Christians.” Consider this guy as one of the voices among the missional tribe(s).
“I love you!” the grandfather said to his 4 year old grandson with Latin heritage aiding the grandfather in conveying the fulness of his love for the child. Impulsively, the child responded with an independent, “I don’t love you.” Without a pause or shift in his countenance the grandfather replied, “That’s OK. I love you enough for both of us.” Then, the process began again for the second of three iterations. “I love you!”….
I learned so much observing this family encounter some years ago. Both about the giving love of a wise one as well as the impulsive self-centeredness of a child-like mind. About the love of the Father and the reality of me.
As a continuation of the previous post a good bit wiser, this anecdote is to illustrate a bit more that “if they hate us, it is OK because we have enough love for both of us.” When the wise ones enter into relationships with others while permeated with the love of Christ, we are blessed to enter in with our eyes wide open. When confronted with the lovely or seemingly unlovable, we can move forward in confidence because of His goodness–because of His love.
A recent conversation with my pre-teen daughter about the latest happenings in her world at her new school where she is seeking to live as salt and light led to some healthy thinking and great conversation. (I really love talking with this kid and am thankful that I get to be her daddy.) Anyway, the conversation is an important part of what it means to live on mission.
In the gospels we see numerous times where the religious leaders came to trap Jesus with their sophistry. Following these encounters, the questioners would be silenced, red-faced, apoplectic. On the other hand, we see genuine questioners coming to Christ that were deeply impacted and changed or struggled with the answers he gave. Each encounter makes clear that he was the wise one. He seems to be thinking, speaking and seeing things on a higher plane. So, if we are sent as he was sent then….
The same goes for peace-making. Jesus didn’t make a let’s pretend to be nice ignoring the elephant in the room peace, but more often a reconciliation of relationships that were completely severed with no hope of making things right. For example, there was no way that Mary and Martha were going to have another minute with Lazarus on this earth until Jesus went and changed all that. If that’s a bit too extreme then how about the prostitute at the well that Christ restored to a healthy standing in her community. So, if Jesus was a peacemaker and we are sent as he was sent then….
We have such a privilege and I believe it is fair to even say a huge advantage in interacting with others. We are sent as the wise ones, the peace-makers. We go out from our homes into our community, the places where we connect, our workplace and our schools with our eyes wide open. There is a purpose behind who we are, a mission that propels us forward. We meet and relate to our neighbors to bless them. When they are kind to us, we in turn honor them. If they curse us, we in turn bless them. If they hate us it is OK because we have enough love for both of us. When they want to speak only of mundane or immoral things, we have the privilege of elevating our interactions to things that matter and are lasting.
Lately I have been seeing and hearing some amazing stories that are so impacting less because of what is in the story but more of what is not. These are stories of giving–it seems it just actually may be better to give than to receive. These stories are about emptying one’s self of what was of value, at least it was of value once upon a time. You know the time when the fairy tales seemed better than the real story ever could be. Back when heroes were dreamed of more than walked with.
You know the story of the house with the white picket fence that was where a family could grow up and close together. This safe place would be where kids learned to be a blessing and the parents would be blessed. Where the kids would learn to play football and soccer and the piano too. And where the kids of the neighborhood could go to be safe when away from their own white picket fence trimmed world. Ultimately it was a place for people that looked like, thought like, behaved like, worshipped like and even earned as well as spent like us. This utopia may have been called a community with shared values, but that was code for a whole lot more expectations than we could ever say in a politically correct environment. This is where we wanted to establish the roots of our lives as well as those that would come in our future generations.
Now I continue to come across those that are trading in this American dream for one of uncertainty. Often the life plan can be seen only months out or maybe a year or two where a person knows that for the here and now, this is how and where God is directing. With this move to a new place in life, safety may be a little less than what one felt before. Language, culture and worldview may be a world away from what once was shared. Square footage may be divided by a factor rather than subtracted by a digit. It’s different, but when it’s part of the calling to make disciples, it’s freeing. It’s the only way to live and move and adopt a nomadic faithfulness. This is essential for those that are listening for the voice that would speak in our ear saying “this is the way, walk in it.”
Another story that is up for revision as some are living it out today is the family name. There has been great concern over the centuries for the family name to be upheld. More than a few kingdoms have been rocked by the need for lineage that would carry on the patronymic. Also, more than a few dad’s hearts have been broken by children that did not uphold the integrity of the family name. But there are some that upon hearing a call to the nations have to go and Google their name to see what is publicly available on the inter-webs about their life. Seeing that they are clearly identified in a way that would not be acceptable to the government and / or people of the place where they are moving, they take legal action. They change their name so that they can live among those who are open to the truth and love of Christ, but are not able to accept some of the cultural trappings that we have used to self-identify.
These areas of abandon are just a glimpse of the One who emptied Himself. Ultimately, His tale is the one that is the creative genius of all the once upon a time fables, but His mission is also the beautiful calling for the heroes that are living it out today.
This past week I spent in New York City with my lovely wife. Though New York was the destination, I actually feel like I visited the world. We were in Manhattan, Queens and the Brooklyn burroughs. We traipsed through Central Park, Battery Park and Times Square as well as made visits to Little Calcutta, a Hispanic region, Little Italy, Chinatown and the Jewish Quarter. Everywhere we went was via public transport. There we saw ethnic peoples in proximity, often engaging each other and sometimes maybe needing to get engaged.
The first generation immigrants were obvious, but so was the clear rise of so many peoples that could be identified in appearance as being from another country though their functional language was English–without a foreign accent by the way. Also their clothing, piercings and tattoos–or the lack thereof–indicated that they were identifying with their host country rather than the one from which their parents came. This is the birth and rise of transnationals. These people are as at home or more so in these global urban centers, the New Yorks of the world, than they are in smaller, non-global cities in the country from which their parents came.
This development is a stretch for current prevailing missiology, but something that must be taken into account in the near future.
Late last night I saw a voice mail from a neighbor that said “we have big problems.” He wanted me to call him back. Instead, I walked next door to his house.
The short version of the story is the father who phoned and his oldest son were fighting. They didn’t see a way out except for the son to move out and for there to be a permanent break in their relationship. We talked for some time about life and about God’s forgiveness. After that, they humbled themselves and asked for forgiveness for all of the stuff they had been doing to each other. That humility thing was not easy. It is hard for all, and definitely hard for the people among whom we live. I was amazed at the beauty of a reconciled relationship. God was clearly at work.
So after a late night last night, I rolled out of bed somewhat early this morning to let the dog out and have our morning ritual of giving her food and water and have a few rounds of fetch. (Usually she brings me the frisbee, sometimes I take it to her.) While out there, my neighbor starts whistling at the missional pooch. Then he and I begin talking and he asks me to come over to chat. When I arrive on his back porch there is another man there waiting on me.
“You are a man of God?” he asked. OK, that was a first for me. It seemed like a frightening question for so many reasons. Based on his dress, I could not tell if he was a preacher or a businessman. Based on his leadoff question I guessed wrong, but it wasn’t important. The only answer I could give in those circumstances was “yes, i am.” Then he started to tell his story. Well, the story is not appropriate for family reading, but he was asking for help. We talked about a prodigal son who returned to be graciously received by a loving, forgiving father. We talked about the Savior and about giving our life to Him. No sooner had I offered that we could pray than he was on his knees on rough concrete steps on the patio in slacks and a tie. I knelt in my PJ shorts and t-shirt while my neighbor knelt behind us in his normal painters garb.
This man cried out to God. Tears and snot were in abundance–yes, that tie will be ready for retirement before another wearing. When we finished praying, he shared about the deep shame he felt for the first time ever. He continued to be hunkered down, humbled before God. I am humbled and rejoicing.
God is moving here among our people.
On recent travels (that I am one flight away from finishing up as I type), I had the privilege to provide some training and consulting for some international church planters in the Balkans. The stories there were encouraging and I am very excited to see what God will do there in the next year(s). For those from there that may be reading this post, know that I am cheering and praying for you!
So I finished up late one night and was headed to the airport before dawn the next morning. I was exhausted and, if honest, a bit proud that I had been able to share with others some of the things the Lord had been teaching me over the past several years. Then as I ambled toward the check-in line, I saw several children with a range of birth defects in the line ahead of me. Most of the defects were facial, though there were also crippled and severely autistic children. The ethnicity of the children was Roma. These gypsies are the outcasts of Europe. Discrimination against them is not just uncommon, but is expected. Leading these approximately 10 kiddos was a Bulgarian man and several ladies. These blessed servants were giving their lives away in anonymity to the “least of these.” It was beautiful. I was both touched and humbled.
While waiting for the plane, I saw the man–who was clearly the leader of the group and respected by both the children and the adults. He was interrupted as the youngest, who was sitting in front of him in a wheel chair with casts on both legs, wildly offered an empty paper cup. As the child gestured with the cup toward the man, he immediately stopped what he was doing and took a pretend drink from the cup. The child was elated. All the kids and ladies were smiling and laughing at the antics. This Bulgarian man was teaching the ways of Christ more than anyone else ever could have that morning to those kids, the ladies, and some other observers including me.
Maybe my time in the Balkans was a blessing to some others. Certainly, it was enriching for me. I learned a good bit about the ways of Jesus.
For some time I have followed the writings and blurbs put out by Justin Long with Mission to Unreached Peoples at his blog–The Long View. I would encourage those interested in mission to unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPG) to follow Justin on the Twitters or add his site to your RSS feed. One recent piece of his is, in my opinion, worth special attention due to the weight and timing of the topic and the swarm theory applied to the SBC he put into his piece entitled “2 major challenges Southern Baptists face in getting churches to engage the unreached.” Before reading any further here, go read his piece. If that’s all you get out of this post, then still it was probably worth your time. Seeing the Southern Baptist Convention as a swarmish entity is uber helpful especially in light of the daunting task of making massive change in default behavior. (Again, let me encourage you to read Long’s piece before going any further here.)
To restate Long’s two cautions in the referenced piece:
- Can Southern Baptists change the default of SB churches as it relates to international missions?
- Will Southern Baptists cooperate with others outside of the convention in the efforts to embrace UUPGs?
The first caution is a good question that I will not pretend to answer, but I will share that the desired change in default is, I believe, highly substantive and positive. It is encouraging to see that the language and expectations imb is holding out to SB churches is changing. Over the past several years I have seen imb be more open to the idea of the church functioning as a missionary–which I would credit my friends and cohorts at The Upstream Collective to a great extent for promoting and holding out this idea of the Sending Church. In the past I have seen imb consider sending churches as those that would do non-strategic or non-critical work to free up company personnel to do the strategic roles such as engaging new peoples and areas. Now, however, with the vision that Dr. Tom Elliff–the recently elected imb president–is conveying, it is a call for all to participate. All are to play critical, strategic roles in taking the gospel to the nations. Churches are being asked to partner with imb to embrace the unengaged. To be clear here, embracing a people is for the intended purpose of leading to engagement. To do this among one people is significant and challenging. To seek to do it among 3800 at one time is one of the more lofty and complex challenges undertaken historically in missions. It must be of God if it is to succeed at any level and the activity must be scalable and largely driven by a vast number of smaller swarms (as Long points out).
Exactly what the minimum default expectation and activity looks like is being ironed out as different leaders pose and grapple with this issue. These expectations should be public soon.
On the second caution, I strongly agree that the SB swarm is more likely to be effective in the end goal of engaging the UUPGs if the effort is not exclusive. It seems helpful to remember that this commitment to reaching UPGs and ultimately UUPGs was birthed 11 years ag0 at table 71. As part of a larger group of like-minded Great Commission Christian organizations, imb accepted the challenge to take the gospel to those that do not have access to it.
If one holds to the theology that once an individual from every nation, tribe, people and language has made Christ their Lord, then Christ will return, then it would be best to admit that mission is really about the existing followers of Christ rather than those that have not heard. In other words, if evangelicals can get one person from every people to pray a prayer of salvation, then those that believe can finally get out of here sooner. Were this to be a correct eschatological view, which I question strongly, then the task is not about reaching peoples, but reaching a person from each of the peoples. However, this view does not seem consistent with the whole of Scripture for a number of reasons including that we read of Christ’s guts churning when He beheld the masses that were “like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus consistently was concerned about individuals and masses. He spent his ministry years continuing to share primarily with one people group. His passion was about seeing people become followers of the Most High God. Regarding Revelation 7:9 and eschatology, Elliff states that this is not a cause and effect relationship. Instead of a causal situation, this can be viewed as coincidental in nature. Our responsibility is obedience to take the gospel to the nations. The timing of Christ’s return is known only by God the Father.
If this is about the peoples of each people group and not about a person from each group being compelled by the Savior, then it seems that partnershipping is of increased value and importance (please allow the word for extra emphasis). SB churches, entities and imb must be in partnership for this to work to fulfill the imb vision. Even further, partnership with other like-minded churches and agencies is essential to reach the peoples among the unengaged and unreached peoples. Elliff’s responsibility and station is to seek to influence the swarm that is SB. It is my hope that through the language that he uses and the messages–both overt and meta–imb sends this week and in the coming months that other swarms beyond the SB affiliated will be influenced and encouraged to see churches, agencies and networks be about reaching both UUPGs and UPGs.
Finally on this point, I want to reiterate Long’s point that others will believe because of the unity of the believers in Christ. While the instruction is simple yet often difficult for us to live, “they will know we are Christians by our love for one another.” Partnership is essential. And based on what I am hearing, it is welcomed by imb leadership.
In addition to Long’s concerns, I will offer two aspects that I believe will be critical for the Embrace effort to be successful. One of these is timeless in missions and the second a bit more specific to this vision.
First, churches must prayerfully seek to answer the question: “To whom are we sent?” The Embrace conversation may influence this significantly, but ultimately a people should go only as the Lord directs. Whether to a UUPG, a UPG, Dearborn, MI or even a town in the U.S. Bible belt, both the individual and the church would do well to go those to whom she is sent.
Second, Embrace is a commitment to see the effort through. If the church is going to those people that the Lord has sent them to, then the Embrace effort will not be contingent on the presence of the initiating pastor or other church leader. I envision a future question for staff hires including the senior pastor to be whether or not he senses that God is leading him to be sent to the people that the church has already embraced. This is a commitment to see the task through to fulfillment. At this point, the church would do well to calibrate expectations in terms of a decade or more rather than think in years. The call to Embrace is not a call for the preservation or development of imb or for the enrichment or ease of the church. This is a call to obedience. A call to be about the Great Commission. Embrace is ultimately a call to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
*These ramblings are my own and are not the official position of any person, agency or church. Where the arguments are lucid and helpful, there is a good chance that these points are influenced by other persons. Where they are unclear or unhelpful, there is a good chance that is mine.