Archive for paradigm
This brief talk has significant implications in both the disciple-making and the church-planting process. Thanks to Larry McCrary, a founder of The Upstream Collective, for alerting me to the video.
To move forward, it is first essential that we identify our Why?, How? and What? Though not the only options, some major options are as follows:
Why? – For glory. But a follow-on that each must wrestle with is whether it is about His glory and/or ours?
How? – Make disciples and/or plant churches. Also may include acts of justice, blogging, writing articles and books, speaking, etc. There is an interesting discussion on this going on at David Fitch’s blog today.
What? – So many options here. Perhaps a point for consideration begins with the video in yesterday’s post.
Are we starting with and maintaining focus on the Why?, the How?, or the What? What are the implications?
Both simply straightforward and overwhelmingly complex, the nature of God is comprehensible to a child yet ever fascinating for an adult (an idea fleshed out in “The Ethics of Elfland” chapter in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy). A range of books on the topic illustrate this fact as you can see this in books such as the children’s book What is God Like or adult classics such as J.I. Packer’s Knowing God or Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy–all great reads. One aspect of the nature of God that profoundly impacts an evangelical’s understanding of Scripture, worldview, life, family, etc. is the missionary nature of God. The Missio Dei or “sending of God” is key for us, I firmly believe, to “think rightly about God.”
This is a key theme that will receive space in this blog. The “sending of God” impacts church past, present, and future. The creation and implementation of Sunday School reflects the church’s understanding and identifying with the Missio Dei when it was instituted a few generations ago. The Willow Creek seeker-sensitive model also is consistent with the Missio Dei for its time and place. The future is now in the making. How we move forward will be consistent with how we understand God and our willingness to be passionate about the things he is passionate about (aka obedience).
Continuing to be impacted by this, I have been reading the Bible with Missio Dei as a filter for some time now. Recently, I had the privilege of sharing “The Missio Dei Story” (MP3 download) with the wonderful people at Northstar Church in Blacksburg, VA. This is available through their website (10/13/09) as well as on the mission resource page on this blog as a tool to further thinking about the “sending of God.”
There have been a number of interesting studies and articles lately that I think are helpful for the church to be aware of–and possibly a little bit more. A little bit more what?, you may ask. That, my friend, is a very good question. I’m glad you asked. I am even more interested in your thoughts. Here we go….
One piece of great interest deals with the increase of the “Nones.” Many interesting things here. One is that, “in terms of Belonging (self-identification) 1 in 6 Americans is presently of No Religion, while in terms of Belief and Behavior the ratio is higher around 1 in 4.” If I am reading this correctly, more people belong to some religious group than believe and behave differently. Experientially, this does not surprise me. That people recognize and communicate this fact IS surprising for me. A second point of interest for me on this report in a quick overview is that, “most Nones are 1st generation – only 32% of “current” Nones report they were None at age 12.” This seems to indicate a generational shift in belief and practice in the U.S. This is not surprising, but corroborates the ever-increasing post-Christian U.S. reality. It is both coming and it is here. This piece was twittered about a good deal and blogged on several sites including Ed Stetzer’s.
Another piece that is important for discussion but did not receive the same amount of attention is an article entitled: “Religious life won’t be the same after downturn.” The future will impact the outcome on this point. Though I am not a prophet nor am I making a prediction, I do feel that serious inflationary pressures in the future have the strong possibility to combine with very high unemployment at present (pushing 10% nationally and much higher in some states / counties), unseen foreclosure rates that still have upward pressure, and historically high credit card defaults, etc. to make things more difficult in the U.S. in general and for the church in particular. Notes payable on buildings have had serious consequences for some churches already and will bring about greater pressure for others. Even for churches that are not struggling with paying off a building, strains could be felt if economic and inflationary pressures continue to cause job losses and utility costs rise. It is possible that churches without debt could struggle just to pay the electric bill and payroll.
When the two issues above are combined, the challenges for the church increase, especially if inflation and employment concerns bear out. If so, the ramifications for U.S. church may require a shift(s) in paradigm and praxis.
One other note is that I will be at Catalyst this next week. Wednesday night I am looking forward to participating in a meetup for bloggers organized by Brad Ruggles. If you are around, I’d be happy to meet you. Drop me a note.
Happening again and again, the outcome is almost unavoidable. Individuals going on short-term international mission trips experience a significant level of disorientation due to the unfamiliarity of the location, language, food, culture, etc. Additional factors that often disorient include differences in worldview of the nationals; strategies of engagement and evangelism of on-the-field missionaries or ministers; previously unseen or unconsidered ecclessiology; as well as unbridled immorality and/or abject poverty, etc. Whether in a pre-Christian or post-Christian culture, the experience does not fall into line neatly with pre-meditated expectations or life in the place one calls “home.”
The disorientation process is naturally enhanced by experiencing so much that is “new” as a group on mission. Highly committed to the Commission of Christ for this period of time, group members that identify with each other bond and make fast friendships. The ethnocentric team member that is struggling with personal discomfort instead of fixing his eyes on the prize is oftentimes removed from the center of attention by the group. Through the process of identifying with each other and connecting because of the commitment to something so much higher and greater than ourselves, communitas is formed. This is deeper than community by far. The mission unites. Taking the gospel to the lost of the world is what drives the group. In this setting, friendship comes through living out a shared purpose, rather than a group of friends trying to find a purpose that they can share to become passionate about.
After a week or so, a person is preparing to return home or perhaps just returned. So many thoughts and questions may excite or may trouble a participant. Individuals and groups don’t want to let go of the feeling…of the mission. Whether the experience serves as the sole stimulant or a part of many influencing factors, individuals often realize there are questions to address. Well into the current Upstream Collective JetSet vision trip, Ed Stetzer tweeted: “Really need to go to bed since it is 3am, but ideas are racing through my head. I’m feeling prompted to risk something big for God. G’nite.”
How Should We Then Live? To have been on mission in a sea of lostness, how do I return with enthusiasm to an environment where I have few if any relationships with people that do not already claim to follow Christ? If front line work in this cross-cultural environment is fulfilling the Great Commission, is inviting people to church the equivalent in my home setting? Do I do annual mission trips to scratch the itch that living on mission requires and then devote the rest of my time to saving and preparing for an annual week of communitas?
“How Should We Then Live?” is a question not only for the individual, but also for the sending church. How should we then do church? How should we then live as a sending and sent church?
In the grocery store, a restaurant, the airplane, at church, at some time you just might have run into the deluge of questions that can comprise a young child. I have seen this used in two ways. One kid is working his “why.” His questions are used as challenges rather than as interrogative tools. Wise in his own eyes, this kid is asking mom or dad to justify the given instruction. To justify their ability to give the instruction. The second way to use the “why” is as a tool to learn. When a child comes and asks in earnest, “Why does the sun go down?” the parent would like to provide the right answer. Humility is a powerful thing to verbalize the lack of understanding of the learner and to motivate the adult to share at a level the child can understand. Yes, mom and dad and other caregivers tire of the constant barrage even when asked with humility in earnest, but….
Continuing with the Upstream Collective JetSet case study in Taiwan, it seems helpful to encourage us all, myself included, to be life-long learners in culture. (I am currently applying this stuff to my new culture in a city I have lived in years ago in the U.S.) While some of the areas have been touched on here this week in previous posts, I would like to offer some specific areas for formulating questions that will be helpful to ask yourself and often to voice to others–especially nationals in the culture. View these questions as a base of questions that are helpful as you participate in your understanding of culture and the process of narrative mapping (much of this is thanks to Thom Wolf).
Geographical distinctions? – Taking notice of bodies of water and rivers is helpful. In Taiwan, you have both the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. What role have these played in history? Religion on the island is distinct from that in mainland China. These large water boundaries have made it possible for Chinese folk beliefs to be close enough to cross over, but far enough to not be as impacted through the Cultural Revolution. What is the significance of the Keelung and Xindian Rivers in the history and culture of the city? Other geographical distinctions may include major intersections of roads or railways; boundaries; and physical landmarks.
Mosaic of the land? – Seeing urban centers as collections of groups of people should help provide understanding of a city. In Taipei, there is a breakdown of cities and townships within the city. Are these representative of different classes or ethnicities or moralities of people? Does each city or township break down into further subsets? How do these groupings of people or villages look as it relates to socioeconomic status? How do these different groupings live life? Form relationships? Celebrate holidays and special events?
Meaning? – What is the religion of each people group? How did this religion come here? What is of great importance to the various people groupings? Is there anything that this people treasure so deeply that they are willing to live for it? Teach their children about it? Die for it? What churches (may include religious buildings and/or groups meeting) exist in the area?
Going into and participating in a culture as a humble learner is invaluable. Humble, as a child, the missionary will do well to ask questions while trying to understand culture and find ways to contextually share the gospel with the lost.
Where there is persecution for following Christ, the church thrives. This is evident from the first diaspora until today in nations that are the remnant of Communist ideology. In an interview Ed Stetzer conducted yesterday on Upstream Collective’s JetSet Vision Trip in Taipei, Pastor Chen states that in 1966 there were 600,000 Christians in mainland China. Mao Tse Tung expected this number to disappear with the Cultural Revolution. Instead, the number of believers on the mainland has and is growing at an astronomical rate–this has been projected at 30,000 per day just a few years ago–and numbers in the millions of believers today (for a better understanding of the movement here, I heartily recommend The Heavenly Man).
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, the church today counts 5% as Christian if the Catholic church is included. Statistics in my last post point to numbers even lower than this. With a much greater openness to all things western and freedom to worship, the church has had only incremental growth. Seeking to reach out to their community, the church in Taipei is seeking to meet needs and engaging their community through creative ways such as a bluegrass concert.
Counterintuitively, persecution causes the church to rise up. Freedom and lack of oppression lead to a lack of explosive, viral growth and moves toward incremental movement up (or down). When lacking in effective external factors (e.g. persecution), then the church would do well to be on a mission greater than itself–consistent with the Commission of Christ. This mission can and does include living with our “eyes wide open” according to McManus. Of course social ministry and cross-cultural missions fit the bill here. One great expression of this zest for life and desire to impact the lives of others can be found in bluegrass music. This has effectively gathered crowds of people in countries from Spain to Russia. It is emblematic, I believe, of how a non-Christian society can be engaged by a people that love life. As followers of Christ, our lives have been changed. The joy that He brings to our life should translate to every aspect of our lives so that we are contagious people.
BTW – I am still planning to move forward with the case study in upcoming posts, just wanted to share these thoughts today.
- “Days went by, and I couldn’t seem to get over it. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t cry. I was all empty inside, but hurting. Hurting worse than I’d ever hurt in my life. Hurting with a sickness there didn’t seem to be any cure for.”
- “This is Saint Peter. The rock on which Jesus built His Church.”
- “We learn best in community. Our minds are sharpened and our consciences are deepened through conversation.”
Before you read further in this blog post, let me challenge you to take time to consider each of the three quotes above. Each is from a different, well-known book that you very possibly have read. Answer these two questions: 1) What book is it from? and 2) What is the story that surrounds this excerpt?
The answers are coming, but what if we didn’t have the answers? What if this is all there was for us to read from these three works? These famous books would have been nothing but a Tweet. Our effort in seeking to understand them would have boiled down to seconds instead of the hours we invested in learning these writings.
A holistic approach to presenting / studying Scripture is more than helpful when discipling pre-believers or young believers (while the same is true for mature believers, this is another discussion for another day). Examination of a single verse or passage, word studies, and topical teachings all have a time and place. Deserving, in my opinion, of an even loftier and more constant place in the discipleship process is Bible study that is in its full context.
To understand that Jesus could die on the cross, it is helpful to have examined Jesus’ humanity in John 1 and Philippians 2. All gospel accounts of the birth of Christ as the Son of God are helpful when considering the resurrection. Understanding the need for the Savior is greatly facilitated by studying Genesis through Deuteronomy as well as the history chronicles of the Jewish people and the books of prophecy. The Old Testament books combined with Hebrews, etc. prove helpful again when seeking to gain insight on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ as outlined in the gospels. And so on and so forth.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
As a stand-alone, John 3:16 is powerful. In context with verse 17, the love of God becomes clearer still for the reader as we learn why Jesus did and did not come into the world. Put into the context of the story of Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John, we understand better the heart of Christ. When adding John 19:38-42 for consideration, the reader sees yet a fuller understanding of the transformational power of the gospel and the deity of Christ. Placed into context of the whole of the gospel of John, the disciple gains tremendous insight into the unity and constancy of purpose of the triune God. Still greater understanding comes when John 3:16 is examined as a part of the New Testament and then of the whole Bible.
Whether discipling, teaching or preaching, examination of context is at least important. We would all do well to examine our methods and effectiveness as accountability for those that teach the Word of God requires us to do it well. The Great Commission Jesus entrusted to us holds disciple-making as the measuring line for efficacy.
As for the above quotes, the first comes from the last chapter in the children’s classic Old Yeller. The second is from chapter 58 of The DaVinci Code. And the last quote is from Day 39 of The Purpose Driven Life. How did you do? Does knowing the context make the quote more meaningful?
From time to time I will be posting original writings of guests from around the world. In this second guest post, Bob Royce, a missionary / church planter in Ontario shares a story that contrasts African and Western discipleship. For the past six years, Bob and his family have been missionaries in the Toronto area–one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Their heart is for awakening and revival at McMaster University and beyond. They have also been involved internationally in SE Asia, Pakistan, Kenya and other places as well. Thanks Bob!
Our family has enjoyed being involved in Kingdom work both in the States, around the world in places like Russia, SE Asia, Pakistan and Kenya, and have lived for the past 6 years in one of the most cosmopoitan cities in the world…Toronto. People from all over the world are here.
Our heart is for awakening and revival beginning with university students and then spreading out from there. At one of our home meetings this summer, we enjoyed getting to know a girl from Zimbabwe who just finished her first year in university.
She shared part of her story with us that night and that she was a follower of Christ when she arrived here. I asked her, “So would you say you have grown spiritually or shriveled some since you arrived here?” She admitted/confessed that her walk with the Lord had suffered. She said back home that they use to have all night prayers, and fasting was a regular part of their walk. Since coming to North America, it has been hard for her to grow because not many Christians are hungry and everything here is easy….
I had a sinking feeling that was going to be her answer. Friends, our brothers and sisters from around the world are anchored in a Kingdom reality that we know very little about. What if we discovered that we also need to be on the receiving end of missionary work…not just sending folks out? Something to prayerfully ponder….
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.