Who is Called for Missions?

john_eyres_4_15_2013_why_is_cold_calling_so_hardWe hear the term “Calling” a lot in Evangelical churches.

> God’s call to the ministry
> God’s call to “full-time professional Christian service”
> God’s call to “bi-vocational wholistic mission service”

I think it has had a very negative effect on Christian ministry. Here are some problems:

A. It is a great excuse NOT to minister. “I would love to serve God in ministry… BUT… I haven’t been called.” It’s an excuse that cannot be analyzed or challenged.

B. It is highly subjective. The Bible talks about calling in very concrete terms at times (eg. Moses and the burning bush). But today, despite words like “God spoke to me and said…”, people generally say they are “called” if they feel a strong emotional pull to do something.

C. It is used to justify bad decisions. Someone is completely unsuited for a task but keeps trudging along because he believes to change profession is to reject God’s calling.

D. Calling tends to be confused with profession. Now we don’t just get called to serve. We are called to a “bivocational youth pastorate in a cross-cultural context”, or a “professional minister of music in New York”, or a “Barefooting, tent-making, ESL Missionary in Peru”.

E. Worst of all, it is used to divide and deny. Many seminaries will not train people who will not describe some mediocre set of experiences that they describe as their “calling”. Mission boards and pastoral search committees will reject people who can’t describe something akin to a “call”.

It is an unconscionable thing that a concept that is supposed to enhance one’s ministry has become a tool to keep people unused and ignorant.

Many people look to the calling of Paul as a guide for how we are to look at God’s calling. It was real… it could happen again, but it is no sense normative. Paul’s conversion and calling was so dramatic because he would have listened to God no other way. We should not seek to live in such opposition to God’s will that we could only respond by such drama. The vast majority of passages in the New Testament on “calling” refers to the call to salvation, open to all. The few verses that do indeed refer to a call to ministry, have had a lot of strange theological baggage tied to them. So…

-I don’t see calling as (necessarily being) miraculous.
-I don’t see calling as a unique aspect of the clergy.
-I don’t see calling as a test of service.

I see calling as a path, and a relationship. When Jesus spoke to Peter, Andrew, and others on the Sea of Galilee, he did not say, “I am calling you to a job as a professional apostle.” Rather, he said “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It is like Jesus was saying,

“Be with me. If I go here, you go here. If I go there, you go there. Wherever you are will be home because that is where I am. Do what I am doing, where I am doing it, and it is enough.”

Critique on Evangelism. Part 3

Continuation… final part.

10.  Evangelism often is too dependent on proof-texting. Proof-texting is a lazy form of apologetics/argument. Cultic groups love it because almost any strange doctrine can be proof-texted if one rips a verse, sentence, or phrase from its context. I heard a preacher say on numerous occasions that one should not help the needy because Paul said that those who won’t work, should not eat. That passage was ripped out of one of Paul’s epistles and had nothing to do with caring for the needy. If it did, the Bible would be in severe conflict with itself. (Read II Thess. 3:10 within the entire thrust of the epistle.). Evangelism is not a series of verses strung together, or a list of counter-argument verses. Over-reliance on proof-texts puts us into the same game as cultic groups sharing their faith. If our faith is truly the living out of God’s whole revelation, we don’t need to rely on proof-texting. <Yes… perhaps proof-texting has its place at times… but we should not become dependent on it. We need to truly understand what we believe and why we believe it.>

11.  Salvation is often falsely advertised.  Jesus, Peter, and Paul say that following Christ can (and perhaps will enevitably) lead to suffering. We often describe salvation as the free gift of God (and it is). However, Jesus also says we need to count the cost of following Him. To place ourselves under the control of God, and recognizing Him as Lord of what we do and who we are… is no trivial decision. To suggest that salvation is all positive (or will lead to only good things happening to us) is deceptive. God is not the source of deception. We should not be either.

I believe that Evangelism needs to be:

-Holistic. It is the outpouring of our words, thoughts, and actions, both as individuals and as a community of faith.

-Loving. It is motivated by love for God and love for our fellow man.

-Hearer-focused. We share because we truly care for the hearer, and seek to ensure that each individual hearer understands the message as well as they can… leaving the rest in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

-Respectiful. It is built from a foundation of understanding those around us and respecting them enough to hear, and value, what they have to say.

-Lived. It is not, first of all, a thing we say but a life we live. The things we say are to be consistent with our lives, and provide context to our behavior.

-Knowledgeable. We are sharing God’s truth, and speaking of Christ’s love and faithfulness. This is not a series of verses, it is our own testimony in Christ.

Critique on Evangelism. Part 2

Continuation…

5.  Evangelism tends to be too focused on “the conversion event”. James Engel developed the Engel Scale to show conversion is part of a longer discipleship process that goes from complete ignorance of God to a faithful steward of God. Anything that moves a person from the low end of the scale to the high end of the scale should be looked at as evangelism. The study that showed that Americans who came to Christ later in life supports this.  On average these people heard the Gospel 6-7 times prior to conversion. If it takes 6 – 7 times of sharing the Gospel, then each of those times is an important part of the path of spiritual transformation in the individual. Pushing for a decision each time may be unnecessary… even counter-productive. In fact, I have known of people who have come back to an Evangelizer the day after angry because they felt pressured to say what the Evangelizer wanted them to say. It is unlikely that such pressure brings real conversion, but it is quite likely that such pressure serves as a barrier to their responding to the message.  Frank Gray developed the Gray Matrix that shows that not only is there a vertical axis (the Engel Scale) of cognitive growth, but there is a horizontal axis of affective (or valuing) growth. Anything that moves an individual from the left side of the axis (hostility to God and His message) to the right side of the axis (a favorable opinion) should be seen as evangelism. One might even add a third dimension for behavior. The behavioral conforming of an individual could also be considered part of the broader evangelism process. Some people would not care for this since it broadens evangelism to a point that it is hard to distinguish from other ministries… but why is it important to distinguish it. Shouldn’t evangelism be the natural outflowing of a Christian’s life.

6.  Evangelism is too disconnected from behavior. The old saying that goes, “Your actions speak so loud that I can’t hear a word you are saying” is quite relevant here. If we are unable to show genuine compassion for a person, why should our words be valued? If our lifestyle is inconsistent with our message, why should we be taken seriously? If our message and lifestyle make the Gospel message appear ugly… isn’t that like putting a millstone around the neck of another and tossing them into the sea (drawing from the imagery of Jesus). Paul told Titus about the importance of decorating or adorning the Gospel with our actions (Titus 2:10). Actually, one of the best ways of sharing our faith is by sharing what God has done in our lives (and not just the happy moment– but sharing a true testimony, warts and all). Post-moderns, for example, may not value “objective truth” but they value personal experiences. Our testimony in Christ is part of God’s message.

7.  Evangelism is too often tied to cultural or denominational change. Far too often I have had Christians come up to me to share their faith. As I let them know that I am a fellow believer… it becomes soon evident that they are in no way satisfied. That is because I am not “their kind of Christian”. They hardly take a breath before moving to why I am the “wrong kind of Christian.” I have also seen people sharing with unbelievers where the presentation of the gospel dovetails right into a presentation of their denomination or church. It is not clear whether the person sharing is able to tell where the Good News of Christ stops and the “good” news of their particular group begins. Related to this is the tendency to focus on cultural change. Some cultural things must change. But not all. We, when sharing the Gospel, must be able to distinguish between God’s message of repentance and our cultural imperialism. We as Christians often want to make others into our image, rather than Christ’s image.

8.  Evangelism is too often done without understanding the other person and what they believe. This is related to previous points. But our ignorance of what others believe hurts our ability to share the Gospel in a way that would be understood and appreciated. We should understand the religions or belief systems that others have. Many of them take the time to try to understand what we believe. By understanding where genuine differences lie (and surprising common ground) we are likely to be able to prepare the ground for sharing God’s message of hope.

9.  Evangelism does not give enough respect to the concept of “dialogue”. Consider four types of communication:  Preaching/polemics, teaching/didactics , Argument/apologetics,, and Dialogue/discussion. Evangelism is generally thought of as being the first three types, especially the first and third. Evangelism can be one-directional talking (preaching or teaching) or it can be two-directional. But the two-directional method most often used is argument. Preaching and Argument tend to start from an adversarial, and sometimes disrespectful, position. Argument actually commonly pushes people further apart in their beliefs, rather than bringing them together. There is a “backfire effect. Perhaps it is worth considering the possibility of dialogue as a method. Since dialogue (respectful sharing of thoughts) tears down barriers and lessens misunderstandings, it can open doors to effective sharing of faith.

End of Part 2.

 

Critique on Evangelism. Part 1

I have to admit that I might not be the right person to criticize “evangelism” as it is practiced today. As a student and teacher of missiology, and as an administrator of the Christian Counseling Center, evangelism (as it is presently defined) is something I only do rarely. (On the other hand, I have organized and participated in numerous evangelistic projects, and have taught evangelism as a seminar or course on occasion.) Regardless, perhaps my role as a bit of an outsider gives me a perspective that others might miss. I don’t know. You decide for yourself.  Here are a few concerns with Evangelism as it is understood and practiced today.

1.  Evangelism is defined too narrowly. It is often defined in such a way that it is limited to “proclamation of the gospel message so as to produce spiritual conversion.” In one sense, this makes sense. The Greek (“euangelizo”) from which evangelize is transliterated comes from roots that mean proclamation or speaking a good message. But David Barrett has shown in his book on Evangelism (“Evangelize! A Historical Survey of the Concept”) that the term was often used both in the Bible and in the early church to describe the entire process of discipling.  It has broadness in ministry and depth in process. This seems to be a reasonable understanding.

2.  Evangelism is too focused on the cognitive. Once again, this is understandable if one sees evangelism as communication (and receipt) of a message. In effect, evangelism becomes a part of Communication Theory and Cognitive Learning Theory. Yet the Bible definitely describes the transformation, the re-creation of a person into a member of the family of God, in more than cognitive (right thinking) terms. It also involves affective (right valuing) and behavioral (right action). Salvation is by faith, but faith expresses itself in thoughts, feelings/values, and actions.

3.  Evangelism tends to focus too much on either Input or on Output. This sounds weird, but think about this. Input-oriented Evangelism focuses on the presentation of the message. As long as one says correct things in a correct way, one has been an effective evangelist. We cannot control response so response is not important. As logical as that may be, there is a problem. Truth that is packaged to be unpalatable or culturally inappropriate is not good evangelism. Titus 2:10 describes how we are “adorn the gospel with our words and actions.” On the other extreme, output-oriented Evangelism focuses on the response. Whatever gets you the response you want is good evangelism. Here in the Philippines, one sometimes comes across the Dunamis method for evangelism that, to me at least, is nothing more than a method to “trick” Roman Catholic Christians into saying the “Sinner’s Prayer”. I cannot see how that could be called evangelism at any level or that the statistics from this method mean anything. (I have a friend who is a missionary in a Islamic nation whose friends almost managed to trick him into saying the Muslim declaration of faith (Shahada) three times, making him, in their minds at least, Muslim. Of course, he probably could have easily tricked them into “confessing Jesus as Lord” as well, if he was so inclined. Evangelism that doesn’t involve a genuine change of heart is not evangelism. I think we really need to have evangelism that is focused on the hearer. Our motivation may be God, but this motive expresses itself in love for the hearer.

4.  Evangelism is too method-driven. We see this with cultic groups who share their own “gospel”. They often have very regimented methods of sharing that tend to fall apart when the hearer does not respond to the questions in the way that the cultic member expects. (Sadly, Christians are often pretty predictable in what they will say when faced with these methods as well.) Christians also tend to be pretty regimented in our Evangelism methods. We may be trained in the “Romans Road”, or the “Bridge Illustration” or “The Gospel Hand” or “The Wordless Book” or other methods, but have no flexibility in our sharing. We have our favorites… but it is not about us. If we are to be focused on the hearer, our methods should vary… perhaps it is even incorrect to say that we have specific methods. For example a Muslim, a Buddhist, or a Secularist is not likely to be too impressed by “The Romans Road” since a presumption of this method is that the hearer has a high level of respect for the Holy Bible. The Camel Method may be effective with some Muslims, but really misses the mark with others. There is no evidence that Jesus or the Disciples had a one-size-fits-all method for reaching out to others with God’s message. They seemed to have different methods for Hebraic Jews, Hellenistic Jews, God Fearers, Pharisees, and Pagans. And once again, it may be incorrect to even say that they had “methods.” It seems as if they simply sought to express God’s message of hope and love in a way that the hearer could understand and appreciate.

Consider the example of someone trying to convince 5 people to stop smoking. These 5 smokers all have different values. Smoker #1 is worried about personal health. Smoker #2 is worried about personal beauty. Smoker #3 is concerned about saving money. Smoker #4 is a child and is concerned about his parents finding out. Smoker #5 is concerned about the effect of his habit and second hand smoke on his children. The way to give the basic message “stop smoking” needs to be distinctly different for each of these individuals.

End of Part 1

Quote from William Tyndale (1494-1536)

“I had perceived by experience, how it was impossible to establish the lay-people in any truth except the scriptures were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text… I wish that even the weakest woman should read the Gospel— should read the Epistles of Paul. And I wish that these were translated into all languages so that they might be read and understood, not only the Scots and Irishmen, but also the Turks and Saracens… I long that the husbandman should sing portions of them to himself as he follows the plough, that the weaver should hum them to the tune of his shuttle.”  

(Quoted by Lamin Sanneh in “Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture”, 2009 edition, page 105)

Another Kind of “Power Encounter”

Missionary Tom comes in and wants to start up a new ministry. Where does he go to get manned with the most competent, driven people? To other local ministries, of course. Tom has more money and so can lure the best people away from other local ministries. Maybe Tom’s group is effective, maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. Even if he succeeds, he has done so at the expense of other groups.

A mission strategy used in some parts of the world (useful in some places, a waste of time in others) is power encounter. A missionary goes into an area and shows that God is more powerful than whatever local gods or spirits the people have. (More often, it is really “Volition Encounter”… but that is for a different post.) Sadly, some missionaries go in and employ their own form, a new kind of power encounter with local Christian ministries. They use money, local connections, and international connections to draw away people (or even resources) from local ministries for their own work. Missionaries develop a parasitic relationship to local churches and ministries.

All missionaries can be tempted by this… and I think it would be fair to say I have fallen into this trap at times. It understandable. Capable, trained, and motivated Christian workers are rare in the Philippines and most of these are very busy. Training new people is a gamble. But I have seen some extreme cases here. I have seen some missionaries who are VERY aggressive in trying to draw competent people away from other ministries… or try to slap their own name on the ministry or church that is succeeding. Some missionaries even come back and try to hurt the local ministry or give discouraging words to local Christians who turned down the lure of the missionary’s work.

Missionaries should build up good local ministries. They should encourage their growth and be willing to take on a helping (rather than governing) role in their development. Working with local ministries can build them up. Discipling believers and training them to serve can increase the missionaries own work without drawing down on other’s resources. Missionaries are supposed to fill a need, not try to justify their existence. Hurting other ministries to ensure your personal success is completely without justification.

Indispensable?

Missionary Ron is a great organizer and a great planner. He has a good local network and is discipling them to be effective parts of the team. Good things are happening. The ministry is growing and missionary Ron is fulfilled in leading such a fine group.

But one day, Missionary Ron is gone. The captain has left the ship. Who is ready to take over navigating? No one. The finances are hurt or destroyed. The organization was centered on missionary Ron, and the rest of the group has been given no tools or training to fill the power vacuum. The connections are lost. The authority figure is gone.

A pastor of a church I used to attend believed that any Christian organization grows and succeeds by a single leader, and that same organization is destined to wane and collapse once that leader is gone. And, in truth, many do. Yet I see little evidence that it is destiny. In fact, the same leader whose great drive and vision made the organization great, was the same leader whose hubris and short-sightedness took that same organization down. Many groups have grown, and even thrived, through generational changes of leadership. The Salvation Army is a good example for over 100 years. The fact that it is organized in such a way to train up successors is not unrelated.

But here is the paradox. I worked at a camp where the camp director put up a note that said, “No one is indispensable.”  I know that is true… yet I would have liked to see that note with and addition.  It should say, “No one is indispensable, but no one is replaceable.”  The paradox. God has made us each unique. No one can truly replace us. But when we think that God “can’t do it without us” we are in dangerous territory.

One of the primary jobs of a missionary should be exit strategy. But that exit strategy should come into play from Day 1. Successors must be trained up, and systems need to be oriented to make the missionary eventually unnecessary. Ideally, the missionary should slowly transition from leader to support laborer.

But this is hard. Missionaries look competent when they are in charge of things. It is hard to step back. It is harder to walk away. Yet it is healthy. Ultimately, the missionary will be gone at some point in time. The question is not whether the missionary will be gone, but rather whether the team is ready for that transition or not.

 

Missions “Rule #2”

While in the Navy, I had to learn the US Coast Guard Rules of the Road. This provides rules for navigation of vessels on the water. I thought it was a masterful booklet. Part of its greatness is its brevity. It is not hugely detailed. It provides guidelines, with flexibility.  This Rules of the Road is not set up like the Code of Hammurabi (with extremely detailed specific rules) but like the Mosaic Law, which is mostly broad principles (not speaking of the heavily detailed rabbinical interpretations developed later).

What makes this brevity possible is Rule #2.  This is the “Responsibility Rule”.  It says:

(a) Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master, or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

(b) In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.

In effect, it says… sailors/captains are required to act in such a way as to protect their ship and other ships in their vicinity. There is no excuse for failing this protection. You are even required to break the rules of this document to avoid immediate danger.

Why is there Rule #2?  Because it is impossible to set up rules to cover every possible situation and give good guidance under each of these situations. For example, when more than 2 vessels approach each other, one must use wise seamanship and good communication with other vessels.

In missions, we need good principles… like the Rules of the Road. Why? Because it is impossible to come up with laws covering every possible situation in missions. We could set up some basic principles:

A.  Do not buy out or hijack local ministries.

B.  Do not create long-term dependencies.

C.  Develop self-generating faith communities.

List could go on.

But I believe that we also need a Missions Rule #2. I think it would take a considerable amount of thought and prayer to come up with just the right wording, but a possible form could be something like the following:

“(a)  Nothing in these Missions Rules shall exonerate any missionary, mission team, or mission organization from the consequences of neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of Christ-like ministry, or by the special circumstances of the case.

(b)  While these rules are created to prevent the shipwrecking of human lives, God’s mission, and God’s reputation in a culture, failure to prevent such disasters shall never be justified by refusing to depart from these Rules.”

Missions needs a “graduated absolutist” ethics for conduct. Mission groups have been developing “Best Practices” in recent years. But I think more is needed. We need to recognize that God is our ultimate captain and navigator. We also need to recognize the failure of a legalistic structure to provide all answers for every situation. Rather, recognizing what is closest to God’s heart, and our responsibility to conform to this ideal can give better guidance. It also provides us freedom that a a narrowly interpreted set of rules fails.

Critics Needed

No one likes critics… at least when the critic is leveling their critique at us. In theory, a critic can give positive or negative comments… be we tend to associate critics with negative comments.

Christians are often very thin-skinned about criticism in matters of faith. We often feel that criticism of Christians, Christianity, and faith, is the same as attacking God and the Gospel.  Even the most mild (and self-evident) criticism often leads to counterattacks.

Of course, Christians are not alone in that. From personal experience, I have come across SOME Mormons who will quickly level charges of “Mormon bashing” at almost any point of disagreement. Of course we have seen in the news outrageous responses to any comment or caricature that draws into question an idealized view of the founder of the Islamic religion. But Christians are to seek a higher standard, rather than aim for a “not as bad as” comparison with non-Christians.

The fact is, we need critics. We need people on the outside to point out issues that we are blind to. We need people on the inside to do the same.

From the outside, there have always been critics. They recognize how Christianity appears to outsiders. During Roman times, some charged Christianity with atheism, cannibalism, and incest. Why? Christians did not go to temples, involve themselves with religious festivals, would not bow to the emperor or any other idol. Christians also described themselves as eating and drinking the body and blood of their founder. Christians called each other brother and sister, and yet were married to each other. It is easy to see why outsiders would be greatly confused. This sort of outside criticism was very useful. It probably led to Christians being better at sharing their faith.

We do know it led to Christian apologists who wrote down explanations as to the Christian faith. People such as Aristides, Quadratus, and Justin Martyr, helped describe the Christian faith to be intelligible to outsiders. Attacks by Marcion led to a clearer understanding of what is (and is not) God’s revelation.

In recent years, international critics have leveled charges at Christianity for being immoral. Since Christians in the US like to call the United States a “Christian Nation” and the US is pretty much the leading producer of immoral (by almost any faith system) material to the world… it is not hard to see the confusion. Studies that show that insignificant differences in moral behavior between those who attend church and those who don’t add credence to this charge. It is useful to take these charges seriously.

Critics from the inside are also very useful. Yet they are often the most hated. Critics of the church, in the past, could be punished or even killed. On the other hand, critics could be great reformers. The monastic renewals came from insider critics of the church. The Protestant Reformation also came as the result of such insider critics. People such as Giovanni Boccaccio and Dante Alighieri used literary humor hundreds of years ago to point out failings in the church.

In more recent years, polemicists from within have used writings to effect change. Soren Kierkegaard attacked the lack of fervor and faith of the Danish church in the 1800s, while Dietrich Bonhoeffer did the same with the Reich Church during the Nazi Regime in Germany.  Bonhoeffer was rejected by his church, while many even today seem to think of Kierkegaard today as an “atheist” because of the harshness of his criticism.

We need critics. We need critics in missions as well. While there have been many inspiring missions and missionaries throughout history, we need to recognize and grow from failures. Some of these  in mission history include:

-Too close of a relationship between State, church, and missions.

-Cross-or-Sword conversions… Later Gunboat missions.

-Non-contextual mission work.

-Racial bias in missions.

-Ignoring groups (Muslims are the classic group here)

-Confusion of Gospel/”Civilization”/Culture.

The list can go on and on. And the list can go on and on today. We need critics to analyze present mission work (both from internal out external perspectives). Some that could use such analysis might include:

-Focus on relief-based missions

-Focus on quick conversion over discipleship

-Spiritual mapping

-“Signs and Wonders” missions

-Business-model missions

-Dependence-models of missions

-Short-terms missions movement (same with tentmakers)

As I said… the list can go on and on.  Critics are definitely needed.