Visions and Missions, Part 2 of 2

Thesis: Vision from the top. Round 3.

The Bible is all about vision from the top. God spoke to Moses, and protected him from others that sought to impose their own visions. God sets up and takes down kings. God speaks to the prophets. The people are supposed to submit to authority in both church and state.

English: Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afa...

English: Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in Numbers 27:12, by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gnostics and the Judaizers appeared to come from “false apostles” or people who had a partial picture of the truth and caused great problems in the church. It is the authority of wise leadership that kept the false visions of these apostates and heretics from destroying the church.

Antithesis; Vision from the bottom. Round 3.

The divinely envisioned in the Old Testament were usually not the ones in charge. Moses was a unique unrepeated exception (See Deut. 34:10-12). Commonly, the visionaries were prophets who were closer to the people than to the power establishment. Jesus was a visionary of the people not of the power establishment. Submission to God is unlimited, but submission to human authorities (be they government or church) in the Bible is always limited and cautionary.

In the NT church, visionaries did not seem to be fought against. Philip, a deacon, went out as the first missionary, apparently without official sanction. Long before Paul was sent out by the church of Antioch, he served God ministerially, and he liked to emphasize his lack of reliance on the 12 apostles to do so.

Thesis: Vision from the top. Round 4.

Even if the church did have renegades, the leadership had the authority and responsibility to support or restrain (see for example Acts 15). Leaders lead. They envision, and act. Such envisioning may give freedom for some to act, but may also prevent bad action.

The body/member concept of the church emphasizes the idea of roles. Some are to envision and some are to carry out that vision. The Bible cautions the idea that all members should share a common role.

Antithesis: Vision from the bottom. Round 4.

Joel chapter 2, verses 28-31, talks about God giving dreams and visions to all of His people, not just the leaders. This passage is often used to focus on eschatology and how “cool” dreams and visions are. Yet the key focus appears to be lost in this. The two key things are this:

  • Visions and dreams have a purpose… they are not meant simply to be spiritual entertainment. They must, certainly in part, be instructive as to what God’s peope should do.
  • The visions and dreams are universal. Whether one wants to see Joel 2 being applied to the present or primarily to the future, the passage certainly expresses a divine ideal. The ideal is that God’s envisioning is to all people, not simply top leaders.

Conclusions?

I don’t really have any firm conclusions. I tend to emotionally embrace the antithesis. I have seen far too many leaders who talk about vision yet are not visionary… or simply have bad vision. At the same time, the vantage point of leaders does allow a bigger picture that is needed for sound action in certain cases.

A few tentative conclusions follow:

  • Leaders do need to have a vision… but sometimes that vision may be to empower others to act on their own visions.
  • Leaders do need to prevent the excesses that comes from the pressures for change (from some) and the unhealthy maintenance of the status quo (from others).
  • People closest to problems and opportunities are OFTEN the best to know what needs to be done. They should not be supported unilaterally, but leaders should be ready to facilitate and empower action, and should encourage creativity.
  • Too much power in the hands of a visionary person is almost always tragic.

How does this apply to missions? Don’t know, but I believe that mission agencies must be somewhat visionary, but they should train, encourage, facilitate, and empower the vision of the local missionaries as well. They need to be open to the idea that the local missionary knows what is going on better than they do. However, the mission agency does need to maintain accountability and oversight. To much power locally can be as dangerous as too much power centralized elsewhere.

Considering how much difficulty we have with the issue of power (and recognizing that wisdom/vision is also a form of power), it is not surprising to me that the issue is difficult. Add to that human selfishness that seeks to accumulate personal power and execute personal vision, and I feel that an ideal solution is not likely to be found anytime soon.

But I welcome your vision on this.

Visions and Missions, Part 1 of 2

Attempting to block integration at the Univers...

Attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, Governor stands defiantly at the door while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)   Is this a good example of “visionary leadership” or bad?

<Note:  I am using a looser definition of “vision” than some would like. I am not assuming vision necessarily means “vision from God.” After all, those of us on the outside of the experience cannot say for sure that a positive view of the future is from God, or self or somewhere else.>

No, despite the name, this is not about Organizational Vision and Mission Statements. Actually, this is about the role of vision, or actually who is to be the source of vision, in missions. This post is a Thesis and an Antithesis without a Synthesis. Someday I hope to have a synthesis.

Thesis: Vision “From the Top.” Round 1

Vision from the top is in many ways the classic viewpoint. The king may not do all that much in his kingdom, but one thing he does is stand at the helm of the ship of state guiding the overall direction the people should go. When I took ministerial leadership class in seminary, I was told the same basic idea for the church. “The pastor is the visionary in the church.” In corporations, the Chief Executive Officer is often selected for leadership skills and vision, rather than familiarity with the business or product line. Denominational structures and Mission organizations tend to do the same thing.

In some ways this makes sense, and it seems foolish to consider another option.

Antithesis: Vision “From the Bottom.” Round 1

There are definitely those who question the classic thesis. The king may be at the top but he has two things that work against him as a visionary.

  • He is the most out of touch, in many ways, with what is “really going on” in the kingdom. He is shielded by levels of bureaucracy (and social stutus) that filter and shade the information that he has.
  • He has a strong vested interest in the status quo. His job security exists partly in not rocking the boat (to return to the ship analogy) too much.

Additionally, when vision is left to the hands of only the person(s) at the top, the visions of the vast majority are squelched. The Civil Rights movement of the United States, and the People’s Power Revolution of the Philippines occurred due to the vision of people who were not in political power. In fact, often the people at the top, the so called visionaries, are not visionary at all. Or their vision is self-serving. Or “their” vision is simply parroting the vision of another (who may or may not have good vision).

In this view, vision comes from the people who most understand the situation. Vision to right wrongs comes from those who are downtrodden or at least interact most with the downtrodden. Vision as far as direction comes from those who DO rather those who TELL WHAT TO DO.

Thesis; Vision from the top. Round 2.

The people at the bottom are too busy doing to take time to analyze. They have a firm understanding of the little picture, but cannot (or at have not had the opportunity to) grasp the big picture.

If people at the top want to maintain the status quo, the regular people often want change, but change without clear focus– change for the sake of change. The multiple visions often lead to chaos, and can make things worse than before. The clear vision of the lowly National Socialist party of Germany in the late 1920s into the early 1930s led to the replacement of a fairly incompetent government with a hugely destructive, diabolical power structure. The laissez-faire tyranny of royal France, led to a devastating poorly focused revolution and the ascedancy of another eventual tyrant. Putting vision into the hands of the people is not such a great idea.

Besides, even the positive visions “of the people” typically did not come from the absolute bottom. The People’s Power Revolution had as its two leaders, a member of a family with great monetary and political power, and the local leader of the Catholic church. With the American Civil Rights movement, the voice of positive change came, to a large extent from a major religious leader. A lot of the other voices from that period were far more destructive or self-serving.

Leaders must lead. They have the wisdom and perspective to see what needs to be done.

Antithesis; Vision from the bottom. Round 2.

Much of the problems listed above with grassroots visioning seem to come not from the bottom but from oppression at the top. When those at the topic see themselves as the sole source of wisdom, and sole wielder of power, pressure for change builds. If that pressure is not given a healthy path to relieve and work, such pressure can lead to dire results.

The problem comes from leaders who see their followers as tools to enact their own vision. Leaders should facilitate and empower others. Leaders should wisely disperse power not hoard it. They should encourage others to envision a better future.

Some thoughts on culture and communication, Part 4

Taking the ideas of Part 1 through 3 further (see links below), I would like to extend it to Incarnational Missions.  See the figure below (Figure 6)

Adjusted Model Figure 6.  Incarnational Missions Modification

In this case N, S, and C stay the same (natural world, society, and culture respectively). P again is the people group in that particularly moment. M is the missionary.

Incarnational Missions involves integrating into people group so as to impact them. This happens on three levels.

1.  Relocation. The missionary must relocate into the natural world of the people group he is working in.

2.  Societal Role.   The missionary must find a role in that society that will be accepted. This may be a learner, a teacher, a businessman, or something else. Failure to find a role that is understood and appreciated will greatly harm impact since it is likely that the society will find a different role for the missionary (foreigner, stranger, troublemaker).

Up to this point, the missionary does not have much impact because there is no change to the natural world nor the society of the people group. But this changes when we get to the third area.

3.  Counter-cultural Contextualization. The message of God is communicated in such a way that it is understandable to the people group and inspires change. I like the idea of counter-cultural since it is not anti-cultural (rejecting the culture). A message that rejects the culture is likely to be rejected by the culture. However, the message does not parrot the culture. The message accepts much of the culture but challenges it in certain areas. The message then would go towards “C Prime” rather than “C”.

In case this is confusing, lets go back to the game analogy.

1.  The individual must join the team (people group). This includes relocating physically to the team.

2.  The individual must abide by the rules set for the game… finding a role that is needed and appreciated on the team.

3.  The individual agrees with aspects of the objectives of the team (after all, he is now on that team), but may now challenge aspects of the objectives.

Of course, changing culture will ultimately affect society and the natural world (there is a fluidity to all of these things after all), but I would suggest that the message starts from culture and values of a people group.

Some Thoughts on Culture and Communication, Part 1

Some Thoughts on Culture and Communication, Part 2

Some Thoughts on Culture and Communication, Part 3

Counter-Cultural Contextualization

What do you have going for you?

I used to be big on Spiritual Gifts. I got training in them, read books on them, and led training on them. I have kind of dumped that to a large extent. Reasons?

Saint Francis of Assisi with Al-Kamil, 15th Ce...

Saint Francis of Assisi with Al-Kamil, 15th Century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  So much of doctrine of Spiritual Gifts is simply made up. How many spiritual gifts are there? When do you get them? Do they stay with you or come and go? Does God bring in new gifts and retire old gifts over history? How many spiritual gifts do each Christian get? Are they specifically necessary for a specific ministry role? How do gifts relate to offices? How are spiritual gifts different from talents?

If you have absolute confidence in the answers to any of these questions… you did not get them from the Bible. You got them from somewhere else. Yet so many are giving dogmatic answers to these things. This does not give me much confidence.

2.  It is such a small part of the picture of God’s work in preparing us for ministry. Why is it emphasized? I really don’t know. Maybe it is a correction for too little emphasis in the past. Yet many of the other items listed below have never really been emphasized either. Maybe spiritual gifts seem more miraculous. Not sure they are more miraculous and not sure that miraculous should be seen as more “God-given.”

What are some of these other areas that God has given us that are to be used to serve God (be it church, home, missions, work, etc.)?

  • Talents. Traditionally, talents (I am including what is sometimes called attributes) are considered to be given by God to all people in one form or another, while spiritual gifts are deemed to be given to Christians only. This may or may not be strictly correct, but it is a bit pointless. We are to use spiritual gifts to serve God, and we are to use talents to serve God. Therefore, any test that is meant to measure “spiritual gifts” while ignoring talents is extremely limited. It is okay to take a “spiritual gifts” survey (based on one of the proposed lists and definitions for these gifts), but a talents survey should immediately follow.
  • Passions. God gives us passions. For me this is interests tied to temperament. It is true that some passions may be unhelpful. I remember as a teen being told that our emotions lead us astray. Certainly they can. But God gave us emotions and gave us temperament and gave us desires. These need to be taken seriously. Certainly we should get away from the mindset that serving God means doing what you don’t want to do.
  • Skills. Skills are generally seen as things that we have picked up through training/education and practice. Consider this. I have relatives who are able to play the piano or guitar pretty much by ear… without formal lessons. I know others that have become proficient through hard work and practice. Suppose two individuals were equally good with the piano although they reached excellence by these two very different paths. Which one should serve God with his or her music? Which one should not? Its silly. BOTH should serve God with music. It is a flawed thinking to assume that skills (that come from circumstances) is less from God than the other.
  • Resources.  Resources here refers to special things that a person has that can be expended on ministry as a faithful steward. These can include monetary wealth, material goods, time, health, and so forth. Again, God gives all good things (is it safe to say bad things as well? I will leave that to you) so we must consider what resources God has given us.
  • Connections. We all live in a web of relationships. For each of us, this web is unique and each web exists in both time and space. Each of these unique webs give us unique service opportunities.
  • Circumstances. Just like connections, each of us have unique circumstances. Circumstances in this case apply not only to the snapshot of the present, but the whole photo album of our past. These circumstance not only give us opportunities, they in fact make us what we are. Even when our circumstances are full of mistakes and pain, they provide fuel and perspective for our role as a servant of God.

What have I missed? And what do YOU have going for you?

Contextualized Local Theology Quote

“Theology is always done with a ‘backpack.’ In this backpack we find all the things that our family and friends, our culture and tradition, our training and experience have packed for us. We have packed only a few things ourselves. We hardly know about all the things we carry. No question: it is a mess. Our backpack is full of things we do not use and it lacks other things we we need. It contains proverbs we have heard, the books we have read, our memories of people and encounters and experiences, and our favorite words and ideas. No two theologians have the same backpack.

… Jesus, human and divine, accepts the challenge of the local culture with its chances and limits. He raises his prophetic voice after having been introduced to the local culture. He does not start from scratch. Genuine prophecy has to use familiar concepts in order to have an impact. ‘Only a theology firmly rooted in a culture can be genuinely prophetic in that culture. …Prophecy is effective when it reorganizes knowledge already part of the culture. To stand completely outside is to be ignored. Thus, the more contextually rooted a theology, the more acute can be its prophetic voice and action.'”

              -Clemens Sedmak, “Doing Local Theology” pages 16-17

This quote is about contextual theology, but it clearly speaks to the missionary setting. Effective giving of God’s message (using the original idea of prophecy) requires utilization of a local theology. Who is best to develop local theology? Implicitly it is locals. Explicitly it may be the interaction of the missionary (hopefully trained in theology and developing theology) and locals. The worst occurs when a missionary has no explicit skills in theology and lacks the insiders implicit understanding for local theology. The end result is likely to be a foreign or failed message.

Three Views of Missions

I love teaching Missions. As a missions professor, I don’t have to be an expert in Biblical

The Arms of Serampore College founded by Ward,...

The Arms of Serampore College founded by Ward, Marshman & Carey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Studies. I don’t have to be an expert in Theology. That’s a shame since Missions should have strong Biblical and Theological underpinnings. Still, it is a bit freeing that expectations of others is low in these areas. Additionally, as a Missions professor, one doesn’t even have to be very knowledgeable in missions, since there is little agreement as to what missions is, and how it is to be done.

Consider the definition of missions, by their focus.

Focus #1.  Heathen. Historically, missions was based on the target. William Carey wrote the tract, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversions of the Heathens.” That title describes a common view. Missions is conversion of the heathen. Who are the “heathen?” Well, that term is now considered old-fashioned. But it essentially describes people who are not part of a Christian culture (or, perhaps, not part of a Christian or Jewish culture). So the separation between missions and other types of Christian ministry is whether the people group or nation is considered “Christian” or “Heathen.”  This view is generally replaced with one of two other choices.

2.  Culture.  More recently, the focus is on the culture. If ministry is cross-cultural, then it is missions. If the ministry is not cross-cultural, then it is some other type of ministry (such as evangelism or discipeship). Ministry is divided into E-0 (within the same faith group), E-1 (same “cultural” neighborhood), E-2 (similar but different culture), and E-3 (very different culture). In this, missions is considered to be E-2 or E-3. This is probably the most common understanding of missions.

3.  Church. Another view defines missions in terms of its relationship to the local church. Church ministry could be divided up into three basic categories. Category 1 would be ministry to its own members/congregation. One could call it “Member Care.” Category 2 would be ministry that seeks to bring people from outside of the local church into the same church. One could call it “Church Growth.” Category 3 would be ministry that the local church does outside of itself without the intent of bringing people into its own church. One could call that “Missions.” In this light, missions can be local, regional, national, or international. It can also be same sub-culture, different sub-culture, same culture, or different culture.

I, personally, prefer the third type… a church-based understanding of missions. There are several reasons for this.

A.  It is more in line with missions as we see it in the New Testament. Most of us would agree that Paul and Barnabas were missionaries going out on missions. Barnabas was from the Island of Cyprus, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. Paul was from Asia Minor, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. On their first missionary journey, the first place they went was Cyprus where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. Then they went to Asia Minor where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. From a cultural understanding of missions, it is not clear that Paul and Barnabas were doing missions. However, from a church understanding, they definitely were doing missions.

B.  It challenges the theology of “Missionary Call.” For some, that would be a bad thing. But I think that is a good thing.  If one reads Acts 13, we find that Paul and Barnabas were not called to missions. Rather, the church was called to send Paul and Barnabas on missions. There is actually little Biblical justification for a separate “Missionary Call” from the normal call for all Christians to follow Christ. Some (almost) violently disagree with this… but there IS little justification for a professional call that goes beyond a general call of all to serve. Generally, even those that strongly believe in a necessary “missionary call” will acknowledge the need for the church to “affirm” that calling. Perhaps it is better to see the church as taking a more active, less passive, role in sending missionaries. Why does this matter? If there is a clear and necessary “Missionary Call,” this implies that there is a “Non-missions Call.” It only makes sense. If a missionary must be called, then most people are called NOT to do missions. If the church sends, then the problem goes away. All churches SHOULD be involved in Member Care, Church Growth, and Missions, and guide it’s members in finding how they can fit into any or all of these roles.

C.  It de-professionalizes missions. Missions stops being the work of professionals. It is the job of the church. Obviously, the church needs help by experts and and mobilizing groups… but cannot leave it for “someone else to do.” Of course, there should be a continued role for professional missions… it just stops being something limited to the professionals.

D. It removes some confusions in what is or is not missions. Is diaspora (same culture) missions carried out in a foreign country really missions or no? Is local outreach to a different sub-culture missions or not?

E.  Related to what was listed above, if missions is a necessary aspect of church ministry, then the church can’t dump it off on sodality structures (such as mission agencies). Now, when I say this, I am not rejecting sodality structures. They are not unbiblical, and they can be effective. It is just that the church must take responsibility for missions and recognize sodality structures as partners.

F.  It can bring a healthier perspective to the missional church movement. This movement has promoted the role of the local church reaching out. But some don’t take cross-cultural or international missions seriously. PERHAPS it would be taken more seriously if it was seen as an integral part of the missional role of the church, not an add-on.

Let’s stop here. Does this matter… how one defines missions? Maybe, maybe not. But generally, an interpretation of missions that leaves it to professionals outside of the church, removes it from the concern of the common membership of churches. That is not healthy.

Don’t Pay Back… Pay Forward.

Suppose I needed to contact people but I had no load on my phone. It’s a problem because it is an emergency. Perhaps someone would come by and share a load with me, or give me money to get a phone card. I would be grateful but now I am in debt. So I offer to find some way to pay him back. But he says, “No… just pay it forward.” What that means is this. I don’t want you to give me anything back. Rather, you pay me back when you help someone else who is in need.

Consider this verse from the Bible:

“And what you have heard from me (Paul) in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  -II Timothy 2:2

Consider the chain of

Those before Paul  (Jesus of course… but also the Twelve… and Moses and the Prophets)

Paul

Timothy and witnesses

Faithful men and women

Others

And this is the pattern of discipleship. This is the pattern of paying it forward. Train up the next generation… and not just train the next generation but those who would be faithful to train others.

The church is always one or two generations from extinction. If a generation does not pass on the faith to the next… it will cease to be. And THAT has happened. In North Africa (present day Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria) the church died. It ceased to be back in the 8th century. In the 10th century in China, the church ceased to be. In both of those cases, there was persecution going on. However, in many parts of the world at many times in history, the church has grown and thrived in the face of persecution.  While the church was dying in Libya, the church was thriving in Egypt… even though persecuted. While the church in China died under persecution in the 10th century… it thrived under persecution in the 20th century.What happened? I don’t know. Persecution doesn’t seem to be a full answer. Ultimately, some churches stopped PAYING FORWARD to the next generation.

Paying it forward violates the typical understanding of indebtedness, but the Bible seems to place greater focus on paying forward.

Some look to verses Paul’s collection of money for the Jerusalem church for inspiration in a “PAY BACK” mentality. Perhaps the idea that from Jerusalem came spiritual care to the Gentiles, and so payback to Jerusalem with earthly things repays that debt. I have certainly seen that interpretation applied here in the Philippines. I have seen self-described “apostles” (using a revisionist definition of that term/role) train up Filipino “disciples” and then require them to pay a tithe back to themselves. I have seen a local church in the Philippines that was started as a mission action from an American denomination. The home denomination in the US demanded money to be annually sent back from the Filipino church. When that church refused, the denomination sent over people to set up a competing church. While that is not wrong (albeit distasteful), they actively pressured members of the local church to switch to the church that would PAY BACK. There is something seriously wrong with that. The church that refused to pay back wasn’t selfish. In fact it was very active in outreach. They paid back by PAYING FORWARD. I can understand why a denomination would not find that acceptable, but it would be nice to part of a denomination that would recognize that paying forward is BETTER than paying back.

To be honest, PAY BACK is not wrong. It is normal, fair, and human. But I believe it is not the normal way of Christ. I see nothing to think that the collection by Paul for the needy in Jerusalem was a “normal” or annual, or expected thing. Care is to be given for those in need, be they predecessors, friends, or strangers.

However, as it pertains to God’s mission, PAY BACK is clearly not the idea. It is PAY FORWARD. Paul recognized that he had the right to be supported by the churches he worked with, but chose not to do it. He did not want to give a wrong impression (in it for the money). He did not want churches to feel indebted to PAY BACK.

Churches here in the Philippines have a debt to mission work before. Our church here in Baguio City is West Baguio Baptist Church. It was founded as an offshoot of University Baptist Church with the assistance of the Gammages. The Gammages, an American missionary family, were able to serve in Baguio because of the foundation laid by Winston Crawley and others with him. The Crawleys were able to serve because of the financial structure inspired by Lottie Moon. Lottie Moon was able to serve because of the organizational structure set up through the vision of Luther Rice. Luther Rice was inspired by the writings and actions of William Carey. And one can go back century upon century back to Jesus.

Today, our church is supporting a missionary working in Southeast Asia, and is actively involved in a churchplanting effort. Our church is not looking to PAY BACK. Thankfully that is not being requested from those who have come before. Our church is looking to PAY FORWARD. I believe that is God’s better plan.