Strudel Missions?

This is a true story, but intentionally vague on details.

Years ago, the church convention my wife and I are members of had a partnership with the Austrian Baptists. Many people respond negatively to the term “partnership” in missions because the partnership is often in word only. In practice, it can be simply unidirectional help. The one with the Austrian Baptists should have been that way as well. Why?applestrudel

-They were only 18 churches back then (they have grown since then).

-They are culturally divided. Half of the congregations are German, half are Romany.

-Their total membership as a group is less than many a single church in our convention.

-They were not even recognized by their own country.

On the other hand, our convention has over 1500 congregations. You can see how “partnership” could really become dependency.

Well, one day, the partnership coordinator of our convention received a message from the Austrian Baptists that they wanted to send a Strudel-making Team to us to help out our local ministries. The coordinator did not know how to respond. What would he do with a strudel-making team?

But, of course, one doesn’t want to say “NO”. That is part of being partners. They take us seriously and we take them seriously and seek to grow together.

So a few weeks later, the coordinator was having a meeting with various local ministriesministries. In an almost off-hand manner he says, “Oh yeah, the Austrian Baptists want to send a… ummm…. ‘strudel making team’ to us. So if you have any way to use them… let me know.” He wasn’t sure if anyone would have any use for a strudel making team. But to his surprise he got many quick responses.

One said, “Oh, sign me up for them! We can definitely use them at our student union.” Another one said, “Hey, they would be great for our coffeehouse outreach.” Soon the team from Austria had too many places to go. They came and had a successful ministry, and then came back the following year to finish what they could not do the first year.

What can one say to this?

-Everyone has something to offer, and everyone has something to learn. We need to simply be open to recognizing what we have and don’t have.

-The big can help the small and the small can help the big. It is not size… it is willingness to use what God has given you.

Missional Churches and Missionary Churches

Missional churches are churches that are driven to support world-wide missions through resources and manpower. Missionary churches are churches started by missionaries. Are they the same thing?

Protestant churches have only been in the Philippines (where I live) for a little over 100 years. A large number of Protestant churches are 1st generation missionary churches. That is, foreign missionaries started these churches. Once you have added 2nd generation and 3rd generation churches, you have a huge percentage of the churches here.

One might expect that churches started by missionaries should be missional. One would think that a church would in some way fit the mold of the founder. One is reminded of the church in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”. The church was founded and built by a former whaling ship captain. The building and the sermons was linked to the sea and whaling. This just makes sense.

But, Protestant churches in the Philippines ALMOST without exception, are not missional. They do not support missionaries, except as tentmakers (and do little to nothing to train, empower, and encourage such tentmaker missionaries). Those who want to go into cross-cultural missions are not supported and are, in fact, generally encouraged to stay in the church working on local ministry. (There are exceptions… but so few.)

Why is this? I would like to make a suggestion. This suggestion is consistent with some comments I have heard from other missionaries. Okay… here it is.

Missionaries did not come to the Philippines to create missionaries. They did not want to create missionaries. Missionaries are supposed to come from Western countries (or perhaps South Korea). Missionaries are not supposed to come from the Philippines. The Philippines is supposed to receive missionaries not send them.

So what were the missionaries doing in the Philippines?  They were seeking to create local churches that would create other local churches. They were seeking to create local pastors who would train up other local pastors.

So, in effect, the churches created did develop in the image of their founders. The churches in the Philippines created are focused on local church growth, local church multiplication, and local church leader development.

But sometimes it is best to leave the founders behind and for churches to make their own way. The Philippines is poised to change the world.

There is a “prophecy” given by a self-styled prophet that the Philippines will do great things in sharing the gospel to the world.

The Philippines IS poised to change the world, but they must stop grasping at self-serving quotations, and start making some real changes…. and these changes need to occur regardless of whether foreign missionaries will jump on board.

 

Six Areas of Missions Expectations Dissonance

Some of the following I have personal experience with as pertaining to missionaries and missions. Others I have heard from others. One major challenge in missions is the various expectations that come from others as to what your role and activities should be.  Here are a few (in no particular order):contradiction

1.  Money.  People on the mission field expect or at least strongly desire that the missionary give money without strings attached. On the other hand, those who empower missionaries financially, expect the missionary to be a good steward and overseer of the finances. Missiologists seem to disagree as to whether missionaries should control money, help others without controlling them, or avoid money as much as possible.

2.  Organization.  Many missionaries, locals, and supporters presume that missionaries should create their own organizational edifice. This may be an NGO, evangelistic organization, Bible school, church or other.  On the other hand, there is a growing thought among many locals and missiologists that missionaries should empower without taking over leadership. Is another organization always the answer?  Some local Christians see missionaries getting in the way… as unnecessary and even competition. (Often this is all too true.)

3.  Denomination. Supporters and mission boards expect the missionary to plant churches and/or disciple believers into the same denomination. On the local front, working with Christians of a number of different denominations is often a practical (and desirable) necessity. Missiologists tend to recommend that missionaries develop local Christians and churches in such a way as to allow them to develop their own distinctive characteristics (self-theologizing). This can create a great deal of conflict. Added to this, mass media and competitive religious groups tends to mean that if you do not guide young believers in your own denominational distinctives, the result will NOT be a distinctively local Christian faith. Rather it will be that of a competitive denomination (or cult).

4.  Primary Ministry. There is little agreement as to what a missionary really should do at the core of his/her ministry. Some options are:

  • -Evangelization (often mass evangelization)
  • -Church-planting (often church planting movements)
  • -Mission mobilization (training local leaders)
  • -Church growth
  • -Training
  • -Felt needs (social or wholistic ministry)

This is a short list. There are many more options. Options are not bad, but the problem occurs when supporters and partners do not value or even recognize the area of missional focus that the missionary is involved in.

5.  Information.  Mission boards and supporters love statistics. They want to know how many, how often, and how much. These numbers are often deceptive. The best missions often look bad on paper. Supporters like statistics but often are more moved by tear-jerker stories of tragedy and changed lives. At one time, there may have been little problem with all of this. But today, information flows so well.  A tragic story given to supporters in the US, may become a podcast or youtube broadcast spread around the world. The story becomes embarrassing gossip when it is picked up by people in the mission field. Stats sent by email can be forwarded and rerouted back to partners who could take offense at the self-serving nature of the reports, deceptive numbers, and lack of recognition of the partners.

6.  Spirituality.  Mission supporters expect missionaries to be pious… spiritually guided… and disciplined. Locals on the mission field may do more than expect it… they assume it… at least until they know the missionaries better. Missionaries, on the other hand, rarely are particularly spiritual (as it is commonly defined). Willingness and flexibility define a missionary better than spirituality. They have little personal discipleship.  They often have few that they are able to share fears, concerns, and doubt. This is partly because of distance from potential accountability partners. But it is also because sharing concerns can have negative repercussions vocationally. Missionaries are often expected to work in churches that they are uncomfortable in (because the church meets local needs, not that of the missionary). Missionaries are often expected to attend events or activities that do not meet their own spiritual needs. The disconnect between their outer life and inner life, can lead to crises of faith.

————–

This is probably a good place to stop. One could go on. Every job has its share of paradox, controversy, multiple leaders, and disagreements about goals, expectations, and procedures.  The importance of recognizing expecation disonnance is that the more that local partners, foreign supporters, mission boards, missiologists, and missionaries themselves understand the conflicts, the better we can grow, function, and prosper as willing servants of God.

 

Missions and Ambitions, Part 2

A friend of mine is a pastor of a church in Mabalacat, Pampanga. His church is going through the book of Joshua and using it as a guide for missional growth and outreach. It got me thinking a bit.

Joshua 5:13-15 has a great scene. Joshua sees a warrior. Joshua asked a very reasonable thing… “Are you for us or our enemies.” The response was, “Neither, I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army.”

Strangely, this reminds me of a Monty Python skit. The scene was in Medieval times… perhaps the 100 year war. Two kings are praying to God, asking Him to be on their side and bring them victory. In the skit… God looks down from on high, appears to be uncertain who to favor. In the end, He flips a coin and then sides with the winner of the coin flip.

As silly as that skit is… it is the way we are. We want God to be on our side. We know that if God is on our side… we have the most powerful, most awesome being in … well in all there is. If God is on our side, we will be successful… surely.

But that is not true, not really. Joshua discovered this. The warrior (or angel or theophany) made it clear… it is not whose side he is on, but who is on his side.

Joshua and the people of Israel were on God’s side in Jericho and were successful. They turned from God’s side to their own soon after at Ai.

What does this have to do with ambition?

1.  We want success… but success needs to be defined by our submitting to God’s work and plan. This sort of success may NOT FEEL like success. It may not impress others. It may not bring fame, wealth, or popularity.

2.  Trying to do things to lure God onto our side and into supporting our plan is foolish. It is pure hubris. It lessens God.

Luring God to be on our side has also been done for millenia. Isaiah 58 describes believers who were fasting to try to get good stuff from God. Isaiah made it clear that this was a foolish and selfish behavior. (This is especially poignant today as fasting has become a particularly popular recently as a way to manipulate God. Curiously, mourning, the partner of fasting, hasn’t gained such recent popularity.) Micah 6 talks about people doing sacrifices to impress God. In both passages they told to love God through caring for the needy and poor.

In other words, the people in Micah and Isaiah need to do what we need to do… stop trying to get God on their side, but move over to God’s side.

 

 

Missions and Ambitions

Missionary Sam was a machine. He could go into a new community, set up an event, form up the respondents, place a pastor in charge, and be onto the next community in a matter of weeks. After a few years of such stunning success, he wrote up his dissertation on his methodology, and “retired” to a life of being a church growth expert and professor.

Sadly, nearly all of his church plants failed within months of their creation. But it doesn’t matter.

Sam was a church planter, it wasn’t his job to maintain a church. His job now is to teach missionaries how to plant churches, not develop viable, self-sustaining, and self-propagating churches.

Missions is not just a ministry… it is also a career. A lot of great missionaries go through life with little that can be used to demonstrate success. Sadly, many mediocre missionaries are extremely competent at the career side of missions. This is true with most jobs. With some effort it is possible to separate the self-promoter from the faithful servant, but the ones most capable of making the judgment are the missionary and those that work the closest with the missionary. If it is about God… if it is about His kingdom… if it is about the people that God misses most… if it is about Jesus and his call for faithful servants— then it is NOT about awesome statistics… it is not about career tracks… it is not about accumulation of positions and awards.

The best missionaries often will live lives of obscurity and (apparent) mediocrity. But God knows the truth, as do many of those closest to them.

 

Amish Missions?

<This is not about traditional mission work done by Old-Order Mennonite or Anabaptist groups. Neither is it about other Christian groups that seek to evangelize the Amish (perhaps considering them to be too legalistic, or nominal in their faith). Rather this uses some of my personal observations of some Amish work and what we might learn from them.>

One of the annoyances I (personally) have in evangelism is the lack of separation between sharing God’s message and sharing one’s denominational message. Not only do Christian witnesses connect these two but often:

-don’t see the two messages as being different.  And…

-don’t see the inappropriateness of linking the two messages.

As I have noted in a previous post, I have had people share Christ’s message. But as soon as they realize that I am already a Christian, their message instantly changes to their own denomination’s message. The mild disappointment they exude upon learning that I am already a Christian switches to frustration and unhappiness  that I have no interest in becoming their type of Christian. Because I did not respond, they feel like failures.

One might assume that the linking together of God’s message and one’s denominational message is normal… even necessary.  Most Christian evangelistic methods target those who are a “different type of Christian”. For example “The Romans Road” and the “Bridge Illustration” targets people who were raised up in a “Christian” culture, already believe in Christ, value the Bible, and may even be active in a church. But they focus on Christians who are nominal (or perhaps) lacking in faith, or are in a Christian tradition that does not utilize the Sinner’s Prayer as a demonstration for conversion.

But can Christians point people to Christ without NECESSARILY pointing to their own church?  I would like to give an example of one such group.

I was raised in Upstate New York very close to a large Amish (Old Order Mennonite) community. While Amish communities vary, this one is quite conservative. They do not use cars or tractors, and they do not use electricity. They wear blue or black clothes of a 19th century rural design. Their livelihood is farming or providing services for farming community. They seek to minimize dependency on the outside world.

The Amish are a fairly closed society, and one might assume that like many closed Christian societies in the world, they have no interest in sharing the Christian faith. I cannot speak for all Amish groups, and I can’t speak for all of the members of this particular community. However, some do share faith, particularly in written word.

One might assume that if one read such evangelistic literature, one might see long arguments why outsiders (sometimes labeled the “English”) should become Amish. Actually, that is not what this literature says. Often their writings explain who the Amish are, what is their history, and why they act different than others. However, when they give the gospel message, there is no call to become Amish.

The reasons for this is simple.

  1. Amish Christians realize that their sub-culture is extremely different from the culture around them.
  2. Amish Christians realize that it would be very difficult for people to gain the life skills and priorities shift to make the cultural leap.
  3. Amish Christians understand that there is a difference between God’s universal call and message to all peoples, and the basis for their own sub-culture and denomination.

Therefore, these Amish believers who shared their faith did not ask people to become Amish… but become faithful followers of Christ within their own cultural context.

The Amish example is difficult in practice, if a person comes to Christ through their ministry, it is hard for them to do discipleship. Another problem is that linking Christ and denomination is so rampant. Here in the Philippines, American, Australian, and Korean churches send missionaries here to reach out to (mostly nominal) Christians. What type of churches do they start?  They make american, australian, and korean churches. And that is what the Philippines mostly has… poorly run american, australian, and korean style churches that mimic the home denominations. Very few churches make an honest attempt to contextualize to the culture. Most of the one’s who have culturally adapted end up with deeply flawed theology.

Why is this? Does contextualization necessarily produce heterodoxy?  I don’t believe so.  If the denominational message and God’s message is given mixed together, how does one know which is which?  It is hard to tell. People accept the full message… producing uncontextualized churches. Others reject the denominational message but, confusing it with the God’s message, ends up rejecting much of God’s message… creating their own message instead.

I think we need to learn from the Amish here. By separating God’s message from their own denominational message, people are more open to accepting God’s message. Additionally, people are less likely to be confused about what God’s message is.

As Christians come into greater contact with people of other faith cultures,

-Buddhists            -Hindus                        -Muslims            -Secularists

-Neo-Pagans            -Post-Christians            -Atheists            -New Agers

we need to remove the confusion between God’s message and our own. If we have trouble knowing the difference, so will they.

The Happy Missionary?

I have heard so many sermons stating that happiness is not something the Christians should seek, but rather, they should seek “joy”.  “Joy” is described as feeling good based on some sort of spiritual empowerment that transcends one’s momentary circumstances. “Happiness” is looked upon as feeling good because good things are happening. But maybe both definitions are incomplete. The definition for happiness lays too much strength on the NOW… the moment. Happiness is a brief upturn in an overall pointless rollercoaster ride. The definition for joy seems to be more of a Greek philosophical ideal rather than a Christian virtue. Joy is a disconnected abstract state of being. A lot of people who claim to have Christian joy sure LOOK unhappy much or most of the time.

So it was good that a group that calls itself the “Happiness Foundation” (www.happiness.org) provided a definition of happiness that appears to bridge the gap.

Happiness: The overall appreciation of one’s life-as-a-whole. In other words, how much one likes the life one lives.

The definition looks at one’s emotional state and well-being over a broad spectrum and time of one’s life. Therefore it does not fail by focusing on the momentary successes and failures that fill any particular day. On the other hand, it still is connected to the life we live. Additionally, it is perceptual. If you feel happy, it is pointless for someone to say “Oh, but deep down you are miserable.” Perhaps deep down you ARE miserable, but happiness describes a state that is recognizable by the individual.

Looking at the definition above, it seems as if one could use this definition for  “CONTENTMENT” or “SATISFACTION” as well. These terms might be used interchangeably. But an important question lingers:

Is it good to happy? Is it good to be content? Is it good to be satisfied?

1.  First Challenge.  Maybe happiness is self-absorbed… lacking concern for the misery around us??

We have certainly seen people around us who live their lives looking for the next thrill, the next adrenaline rush. They live their lives in seeming disregard of the concerns of others. But momentary thrill is not happiness/contentedness. Quoting from the happy people at the Happiness Foundation again,

“Most people feel that it is good to be happy but many moral philosophers have reservations. One of their qualms is that one can only be happy if one disregards the misery in this world, and hence that happiness depends on a distorted rosy outlook. Another misgiving is that happiness spoils and makes us lazy, uncritical and egocentric. Yet again, empirical research shows otherwise. Happy people appear to be more concerned with social problems and to be more apt to do something about that. There is also evidence that happiness activates and that it encourages social involvement.”

2. Second Challenge. Happiness is anti-progress??

Americans believe in progress. It is not surprising that Americans aren’t all that excited about Contentment. That is because many believe that change is fueled by discontent. However, discontent is not necessarily a good motivation for positive change. Discontent is more likely to lead to

  • Greed
  • Covetousness
  • Envy
  • Spiritual Compromise
  • Moral Failure
  • Anger
  • Quitting

Properly focused contentment leads to progress. Imagine you are a painter or a sculptor. You work on your piece of art until you are happy with it, satisfied, contented. Then you stop, set it aside and begin on a new one. Contentment should motivate one to be pleased enough to start anew. Discontentment/ unhappiness is more likely to cause one never complete a task, or simply give up.

God is a good example of wise contentment, of wise happiness. In Genesis 1 we see the mind of God. A pattern forms:

  • God spoke
  • God created
  • God was happy (contented/satisfied)
  • God repeats the pattern

3.  Third Challenge. Happiness (or contentment) is not Christian??

This is a big question. Is it good to be happy? It might be enjoyable, but is it a worthy goal? This is something to be left up to each individual reader. However, here are a few verses to think about:

  •      God modeled contentment/happiness        Genesis 1
  •      God gives contentment/happiness as a gift      Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, 5:18-6:2
  •      Contentment/happiness  is considered to be a virtue             Phil 4:11-13
  •      Contentment/happiness It is considered to be beneficial    I Timothy 6:6

The conclusion to this matter is in the theme of Ecclesiastes. Fear God and enjoy the life you live. Or as Paul said in I Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Both writers make it clear that happiness or contentment is not an inherent good, but is good when combined with godliness.

If the premise that a happy Christian is following God’s example, and makes he or she more effective… then we need more happy Christians. Better yet… Christians (and missionaries) need to learn to be happy by what should make us happy.

<CAUTION:  Nothing in the above post should be construed as suggesting that I accept ANY form of “Prosperity Doctrine” (a self-serving odd collection of beliefs eisegetically “drawn” from proof-texts from less than half of the Bible). I would be most UNHAPPY if this article would so misinterpreted.  Okay, you can join the real world now.>