Archive for missiology
There is a lot of great stuff coming out of the Verge Network right now. This video from Soma Community pastors Jeff Vanderstelt and Caesar Kalinowski is a great look at making disciples. I recommend you read the latter half of John 8 and then compare your understanding with what Caesar shares in the piece.
“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.
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.
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.
With the different wiring and issues facing the mission-oriented person (MOP) and the business-oriented person (BOP), there are several options for how to be about business as mission (BAM). The first option is to determine that one type of individual and resulting strategy is categorically right and the other is always wrong. There are a host of issues that make this a poor choice, so let’s put this choice aside for now. Second would be to allow that both have merit and each MOP or BOP should find his or her own way. I have seen cases where this has and is happening, but often with poor results. A third option would be for the church to come alongside the MOP or BOP person and resulting proposed strategy and speak into the conversation, process and strategy. This is, I am convinced, a super healthy way to move forward.
If mission belongs to the church, then BAM is a tool or strategy for the church to use. The church is uniquely positioned to be able to work with the MOP to bring some BOP(s) into a collaborative relationship to be able to speak into strategy and process. On the other side of the scale, the church can bring MOP(s) into a consultative relationship with the BOP person being sent out to provide balance and perspective.
The church that is seeking to take rightful ownership of the commission of Christ can as a healthy body help in addressing strategy in a range of areas including resourcing whether it be expertise, legal counsel, capital fund-raising, business plans, missional living coaching, etc. The church is key in seeing the gospel go forward. If she takes ownership of this responsibility, then she should also prepare to work in a range of ways and strategies including BAM.
As this happens, there will be a slew of new questions to address. At the base level, the church will do well to look to answer the question about her role both if and in BAM as a strategy for her people to reach out to those to whom they have been sent.
“Who am I?” and “Who do you think I am?” This seemingly innocuous issue seems to minimize and sideline an inordinate number of would-be missionaries and ministers. Identity is something that has been thought about, debated over and written on copiously over the centuries. The Greek maxim on this account, “know thyself” illustrates the importance and difficulty of settling this point.
I have spoken with pastors that share they don’t want their neighbors to find out what they do early in the relationship as it will impact the direction the conversation goes–or keep it from going anywhere. When pursuing an incarnational presence as profession in a missionary context, the questions and conversations can become even more bizarre. Not having the conversation makes this even worse as nationals can only speculate as to what secret governmental agency someone who simply studies language for x number of years could possibly be doing living in their country.
When entering a new context, a person needs to be prepared to answer the inevitable questions that point to who are you? The inquiries may be in various forms such as: What do you do?; Where are you from?; Where do your kids go to school?; What are your interests?; etc. This question will largely be informed by who have you been. Some may push for the opportunity or right to erase a person’s digital history–good luck with that. In the digital world, who you have been will lead to conclusions of who you are or what you may still be about.
It has often been said that “the way you go in is the way you stay on.” Identity should be dealt with even before early in the process. Communication in this area needs to fit who you were, who you are and who you are seeking to become. Your story is so much of your gospel presentation…those committed to modeling the presence of Christ must seek to tell it in a way that is both credible and understandable.
If God’s desire was only for a small, homogenous group to live in obedience to Him, the Old Testament would have been significantly different. For example, no mention or model would be found in Melchizedek. Neither Ruth nor Rahab would play a special role. The Ninevites would be left to their own devices and certain peril. Other altered stories would have included Balaam, Nebuchadnezzar and Darius.
If His plan was for only a select number from one ethnolinguistic people group in one geographic area to walk in the transforming love of Christ, then the New Testament would be radically altered–even more so than the Old Testament. If God’s desire was not for the nations, then Jesus would have dismissed the woman at the well, the Syro-phoenician woman, the Roman centurion and the thief on the cross. He would not have pointed to a good Samaritan as the hero in the story. The day of Pentecost would not have included God-fearing Jews from every nation. Peter would have had to refuse the invitation of Cornelius. Philip would not have stepped into the chariot with the Egyptian official. Paul would not have written his letters to the churches, as none would be outside of Jerusalem. He never would have gone to the Philippian jailer’s home because he never would have traveled to Philippi as a missionary called and sent out by the church in Antioch. And the church in Antioch would have looked nothing like it did. Jesus would not have spoken to the seven churches in Asia Minor. There would be no record in Revelation of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the lamb” wearing white robes, worshipping God.
These stories and others similar in nature are still with us. They are recorded in the Bible. The reason for this is simple. These stories are key to the plan of God. Removing the above stories would cause the loss of some incredible tales–a huge fish swallowing a man, a talking donkey, a sheet coming out of heaven filled with animals of all kinds, potential jail breaks and so much more. But if these stories were to be removed, it would alter history and eternity forever. The story of redemption would be incomplete. Stories such as that of Rahab and Ruth are more than interesting. The love of God demonstrated to these two ladies from other nations is key to the genealogy of Christ. Following His birth, the Messiah is visited and worshipped by humble, pungent shepherds from nearby and by wealthy dignitaries from the East, possibly from modern day countries like Iraq, Iran or Jordan. Even in the Christmas story God makes clear that He sent Jesus for the entire range of the socioeconomic scale and for the nations. The vast, far-reaching plan of God begins to unfold both prior to and following the coming of the Savior.
At the burning bush, Moses received instruction to go back to Egypt. Jonah learned that he was to go to the city of Nineveh. Philip left a movement of God, compelled to go into the desert. Paul, unable to go into Asia Minor, made a beeline for Philippi. God sent these men to these select places. The instruction was clear and direct, though each heard Him speak in a unique way.
When the church prepares to do mission, there are several key questions to ask. The first is, “To whom are we sent?” It is important before moving out to know where and to what people the Spirit is sending His people.
The people to whom we are sent may be similar to us like in the situation with Paul and the Philippians. Perhaps there will be some marked differences in language, culture and station such as with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. It is possible that we may be called to a people that we have disdain for according to the story of Jonah–though it seems a wrong understanding of the heart of God and his resulting disobedience greatly impacted his view of the situation and his fish bait outcome. It is possible that the Spirit will send us back to a people we have left as happens in the story of Moses going back to his own in Egypt.
It is a blessing to serve the sovereign God who, in advance, prepares good works for us to do. He is the one that sends us out. Because of this, before setting out on mission, a people will do well to seek God to learn from him: To whom are we sent?
We are not parting on bad terms. In fact, I appreciate how St. Arbucks has always been there for me when I could not find a quaint, local-flavor coffee shop that had a beverage that was at least as good. Though I am not a big fan of their normal coffee, I do enjoy a Starbucks frappucino, caramel macchiato, and mocha–especially with a bit of peppermint added. But my consistent patronage must end. I will still be able to come and see you from time to time when I am on the road, but no more visits in my hometown. This also goes for my other local coffee shop that has such amazing pastries. Though I may still stop by, it will be very, very rare.
As we move into another part of our town where Christ needs to be exalted among an exploding, low-income minority group, I don’t find any of your stores for miles. The roads that demarcate where my new people reside are still at least two miles from your kind, green sign. Though the future place(s) for my work on all things digital while interacting with the people on some level is not clear, I will find a spot where the language and culture reflect the people rather than my more accustomed, U.S. environment. My drink(s) of choice and normal fare will need to change as well.
Thank you Starbucks. I will see you in the future. But until then you can find me in….