New Book FINALLY Published

Back around 2014 or so I began writing a book on Theology of Missions. I took some of those for a class I was teaching n Mission Theology. After completion of the class, I got all excited about finishing the book. However, then I was asked to teach a class on Interreligious Dialogue. Being in the Philippines, it is hard to find book resources, so once again, my answer was to put together things into a book. But as I was doing that, I began to scavenge topics out of what I had done for my book on Theology of Missions.

In the end, I finished my book on Interreligious Dialogue, and pieces of my work on Theology of Missions. That might have been where things would end, but then COVID happened, and I thought that there was a chance to work on this book.

Anyway, eventually I finished and put an electronic copy on this site. But a couple of months ago, I decided to make a paperback version so I put it available online yesterday.

I feel good about it. It is not comprehensive. If you want something broader, consider “Encountering Theology of Mission” by Ott, Strauss, and Tennent is a better choice. But I hope my reflections have some value. Now that it is done, I wonder why I did not include a chapter on Spiritual versus Social versus Holistic missions. It is one of my favorite topics. I guess, it did not really fit into the 3-part structure I set up.

Disobedient Christians Hanging Out Together Quote

The church exists for mission. As Christopher Wright says, ‘Jesus did not give a mission to his church; he formed a church for his mission.’ Without the mission, a church is not a church; it’s just a group of disobedient Christians hanging out. The church is a movement before it is an institution. And the number one characteristic of a movement is… movement. If something is not moving, it can’t be called a movement. And people who are not moving are not part of the movement, even if they are members of the institution.

—J.D. Greear. Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send. (Zondervan, 2015), 38.

I think this is a great quote. It is strange, then, that I am going to try to undermine it. One spot in the quote I think is an effort to be move clever than true. That is the statement, “Without the mission, a church is not a church; it’s just a group of disobedient Christians hanging out.”

The problem with it is that, in a sense, the opposite is true. Almost definition, The Local Church IS “a group of disobedient Christians hanging out.” I fully agree that it is good for the church to be in the process of becoming LESS disobedient over time. Before it was an institution, it was a movement. B ut before it was a movement, it was an organism— and organisms don’t always move, or at least move very fast.

I am saying this all not completely seriously, but not fully in jest either. I have seen churches (I have been part of at least one such church) over the years that was so focused on its mission, but it stopped looking at itself as an organism… the body of Christ, made up of many members, but an organized machine made of many parts— parts that can be tossed aside and replaced if they fail to do their job.

A church, no matter how driven to serve God, worship God, obey God, is not a church if it is not FIRST, a group of disobedient Christians hanging out together.

Maintaining Otherness. Why Do People Fail to Adapt to a New Culture?

I want to focus on one reason for failing to adapt to a new culture, but before I do, I suppose I should list some other reasons first.

#1. Unintentional Ethnocentrism. This is the belief that “Our Way is the Only Way.” This may be unintentional because the person comes from a monocultural setting, perhaps, where there is a homogeneity of beliefs and behaviors. I think this is probably a less common option today. The internet and increased travel makes experience with other cultures much more common. Additionally, when one moves to another culture, unless one is almost completely unreflective, eventually one will make decisions intentionally.

#2. Intentional Ethnocentrism. This is the belief that “Our Way is the Best Way.” In this, the person has thought about adapting but chooses not to because she or he thinks their home culture is better.

#3. Local Collaboration. I am making up this term, but I have seen this a lot. When a foreigner enters a local culture, the locals will often support maintaining the otherness of the foreigner. This is done especially in cultures where hospitality is strong. So locals will make a point of talking, or trying to talk, in the language of the foreigner, so that the person doesn’t feel uncomfortable and have to learn the local language. Other things may include making sure that the foreigner has spoon and fork,or is given a place to stay that conforms to the foreigner’s home setting, These are done to be helpful, but it slows down adaptation.

#4. Expatriate Bonding. Often when a foreigner enters a new culture. Often other foreigners will take the new people under their wing. This is meant to be nice, but it like the previous one. Thomas and Sue Brewster spoke of this sort of bonding for missionaries. Missionaries adapt faster if they don’t bond to missionaries in the field.

I am sure I am missing a lot of others, but I want to spend more time on one.

#5. Maintaining the Advantages of Otherness. With this one, the person is intentional in maintaining otherness, but not necessarily due to ethnocentrism. Rather, there are advantages seen in maintaining a form of foreignness. Some jobs are helped in this. If one owns an ethnic restaurant, is a practioner of ayurvedic medicine, or yoga, or martial arts, there may be economic advantages if one’s persona is is more foreign than local.

A rather unpleasant example is in the area of maintaining power imbalance. Lesslie Newbigin gisves a wonderful example of this in his book “The Finality of Christ” in a letter from a British Colonial governor in India dated 1798.

To preserve the ascendancy which our national character has acquired over the minds of the natives of India must ever be of importance to the maintenance of the political power we possess in the East; and we are well persuaded that this end is not to be served either by a disregard of the external observances of religion or by any assimilations to Eastern manners and opinions, but rather by retaining all the distinctions of our national principles, character, and usages.

Lesslie Newbigin “The Finality of Christ” (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1969), 13. The quote originally from a letter in 1792, is quoted by F. Penney “The Church in Madras, Vol. 1” (London, 1904), 419.

Essentially, the writer appears to be saying that the British can keep the natives under their control if they see the British as different, mysterious, and superior. If the British start adapting to the Indian culture, the locals might start seeing the British as “Just like us.” This letter is not a unique attitude. It was very much the advice of the day. It still can happen today when we don’t pay attention.

Religious leaders often support a certain otherness as well— dressing different, acting different, and such. After all, the pope throughout history has avoided being seen eating in publich NOT because he doesn’t need to eat. Rather, there is the goal to think of the pope as “not really like us” and sharing a meal undermines this.

Jesus actually was quite annoyed at the religious leaders in first century Judea, and this comes largely for their desire to maintain a false front before other people with the hope of that otherness will be interpreted as holiness.

Missionaries can fall into this as well. Ultimately, the example of Jesus was quite different. He was God with us in such a literal way that He was faollowed event though behaving in many ways as “One of Us.”

Book Review: Thriving in the City, by Aaron Smith

I recently finished reading “Thriving in the City: A Guide for Sustaining Incarnational Ministry Among the Poor,” by T. Aaron Smith.

Aaron and his wife Ema serve as missionaries to the urban poor in Manila, Philippines. Even though they serve in the Philippines as do my wife and I, we have actually not met in the Philippines, only in the US. They work with Servant Partners, which is a mission organization with focus on incarnational ministry to the urban poor.

I truly enjoyed the book. Part of it is because of its topic. Ministry to the urban poor is a vital ministry in pretty much every age, but even more so in this time. According to the World Bank, approximately 56% of people today live in cities, and by 2050 the percentage is estimated to increase to around 70%. This alone should lead missiologists to reevaluate strategies. For at least 5 decades, the focus in Evangelical (at least) missions has been on Unreached People Groups (UPGs) with the assumption that ethnic and language groups are the final frontier or “wave” of missions. This does not seem to be true, however, with some saying that we are in a new “Global Wave” of missions (to all from all). In my view (for what it is worth) the great wave of missions surging up right now is the Great Urban Centers (GUCs).

So how do we reach out to these Great Urban Centers around the world? The countless hours tracking different languages and people groups don’t have much meaning in this environment where class, sub-cultures, and unofficial castes have greater impact.

Aaron Smith puts forward his perspective of Incarnational Missions, following the guidance of Viv Grigg and others for reaching the urban poor. The book is heavily autobiographical and biographical as it explores the opportunities and challenges of living and ministering in slums and informal settlement communities.

I found the book both inspirational and refreshing. It is inspirational as one hears stories of changed lives and communities through individuals, families, and teams living with and ministering with the poor and the destitute in major cities. Although most of his work has been in the Balic-balic and Botocan communities in Metro Manila, he includes experiences of others both in Manila and in other major cities around the world. This broadens the usefulness of the book, as well addresses unique situations that are outside of the experience of the author.

The book is also refreshing. Some mission presentations focus on the “Praise God” aspects of missions while underplaying the “Oh my God” moments. Smith gives balance. In fact, some parts of the book almost feel more like, “Let me see if I can talk you out of incarnational urban missions.” I also found it refreshing that he looks at the ministry he does as one of many strategies. I have read far too many books on various strategies (frontier missions, never send money missions, only send money missions, CPM, and so forth) that appear to express the view that their form of missions is the only form. I appreciated the balance in this book.

For people who are interested in missions, but don’t know much about it, I think they will appreciate the early chapters more. These chapters are more biographical, and really can open up one’s eyes to what is involved in serving God sacrificially.

For people who are looking more seriously into missions, especially incarnational missions (if you want incarnational missions explained in more detail, read the book, especially Appendix A, or go to, the latter chapters may be more for them, especially as there are reflection questions to go over as far as whether they are ready for this type of ministry. It is also in the latter chapters where different flavors of this type of ministry are looked over, to help a prospective missionary to see where, if anywhere, he or she may fit into this broad category of service.

For me, since I teach missions, I tend to like chapters that add clarity to a topic that wasn’t there before (at least in my mind). I appreciated especially chapters 10, 11, and 13. Chapter 10 spoke of “Anchor Institutions”— those institutions that come alongside to support and guide the missionary. I like the terminology and the types of such institutions more than the way I normally hear them described. Chapter 11 was on choosing ministry approaches. Again, one size does NOT fit all and I found the options given here clear and helpful. Chapter 13 was on “engagement” and “disengagement.” As one involved in missionary member care, I appreciated the time here trying to help missionaries find balance in a ministry that can easily overwhelm.

I have very few complaints, and even the term complaint might be too strong here. I will note two minor things.

#1. In chapter 8 are two lists. One list gives positive characteristcs for self-evaluation to see if you as a future missionary should consider being an Incarnational Leader. The positive list is good overall. Some of them are a bit generic, more guidance for ministering full-time than specifically for International Leadership, but that is okay. However, the negative list I don’t think really relates to Incarnational Leader at all. It is a list of qualities that are bad for any full-time ministry not just Incarnational Leadership. Perhaps it would be good to have good and bad qualities for full-time ministry, and good and bad qualities for incarnational ministry in urban settings.

#2. My other “complaint” I give in half-jest. In giving his descriptions of some of the challenges associated with incarnational ministry to the poor (or cross-cultural missions in general I would add), he mentions a lot of things including challenges due to one’s own children. I would argue that the section of the challenges associated with children should be in all bold print. Raising our three children in Baguio was a challenge, when they were young, but I would say as they got older it became a lot more difficult. It became so difficult that we sometimes wondered whether we had sacrificed our children for ministry. All three of our children are grown up and doing much better now, but I still think we made some big mistakes. Smith’s children are still rather young. Time will tell what his perspective will be in the future.

Anyway, I would strongly recommend reading this book if you are interested in supporting Christian missions in any way, and even more so if you are considering serving in missions to the urban poor and destitute of the world.

Article on Narrative Theology

I am not a narrative theologian. I am not ever all that sure what training I would need to earn that title. However, I am interested in storying and orality and what Tom Steffen and William Bjoraker calls “oral hermeneutics.”

I have written a couple of articles in the last few weeks. One of them is on the localization of theology in a missions setting. That one is out there being reviewed to go in a journal. The other is a narrative theological reflection on the story of Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda. That one I directly put up on, and I plan to put it on this website directly as well. If you want to see it, click below.

Reflections on the Waters of Bethesda: A Narrative Look at John 5:1-9

Lessons in Missions History

I will be teaching a max-flex course in History of Christian Missions at Faith Bible College ( this Summer. Here are a few of the lesson presentations:

Lesson One: Mission Movements Overview (

Lesson Two: Missions of the Primitive Church. (

Lesson Three: Missions History During the Roman Empire. (

Lesson Four: Missions of the First Millennium (

Quote on “The Kiljoy Objection”

Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson describe the Kiljoy Objection to Professional theology in terms of a question: “Why examine everything? Why not just have simple faith? Aren’t we supposed to be like little children and not question everything?”

Their answer is excellent in my view:

Too many people confuse “simple, childlike faith” with “simplistic and childish faith.” Theology— enven professional theology– does not deny the necessity of humbe acceptance of God’s message to humankind in Jesus Christ and the scriptural narrative bout him. It does, however, push beyond blind and unquestioning acceptance of any and every interpretation of that message that happens to sound spiritual or comforting.

Emil Brunner, a great twentieth-century Swiss theologian, offered a marvelous illustration in answer to the Killjoy Objection in its various forms. He compared the gospel to fresh produce in a market. The frutis and vegetables are there to be enjoyed by the palate and to nourish people’s bodies, not to be cut up and examined by instruments in a laboratory. Yet no one objects to the fact that some of the fruit is so examined in modern laboratories! It must be examined to assure that the produce is safe and wholesome. The health department sends inspectors around to the markets to take samples back to their laboratories to analyze them for poisons, nutritional value, freshness and so on. In the process of being broken down and examined, they are necessarily destroyed— but all for the sake of the consumers’ health.

Likewise, theology may look as if it is destroying belief, but in reilty it is examining and testing Christian beliefs and teachings to find out if htey are conistent with good spiritual health. The ltimus test is Jesus Christ and the biblical message that centers around him. Just as engaging in laboratory analysis of food is no substitute for eating, so theological examination of beliefs is no substitute for a full-orbed Christian faith. The theologian— like the food expert— should be a connoisseur and not merely a critic. …

–Stanley J. Grenz, Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, IL:IVP Academic, 1996). ch.4.

Thoughts on Localization of Theology

I have been working on a couple of articles. One of them I decided to remove a large section. I will include it here. Most of it comes from parts of my books on on Interreligious Dialoge and Theology of Mission (using some of the work of David Hesselgrave, Stephen Bevans, and Paul Hiebert).

Theology that is not well-grounded in God’s revelation is untrue and irrelevant. Theology that is well-grounded in God’s revelation but not contextualized to the people will be misunderstood. Misunderstood is essentially the same as untrue, and thus also irrelevant. Bevans has also gone further and argued that a couple of tests of a good (orthodox) and healthy local theology are (a) it develops from the people in their local context, and (b) it is open to both challenge other theologies from other contexts in the universal church and accept critique from the same.

Paul Hiebert described three types of contextualization— non-contextualization, uncritical contextualization, and critical contextualization. Critical contextualization is considered the ideal type of contextualization, with the other two types essentially being to forms of inappropriate contextualizing. For Hiebert, critical contextualization occurs when there is an integration of a careful reading and understanding of the Bible with a sympathetic This is where Bible doctrines are “translated” into a new cultural setting through a careful study of Scripture and a sympathetic understanding of the recipient culture. While this appears to establish two stakeholders in the activity— the Bible and the recipient culture— there are, in fact, three cultures interacting. These are the recipient culture, the missionary culture, and the Biblical culture(s). A proper interaction of interpreting Scripture in light of these three cultures should, hopefully, lead to a good contextualized theology.

The other forms of contextualization occur when the process is unbalanced. Uncritical Contextualization places too much emphasis on the recipient culture. Too much of the recipient culture is essentially “blessed” that key elements of God’s message are downplayed or eliminated. In such a setting, the resultant faith may take on more of a mythic rather than parabolic role in that culture. That is, the resultant faith justifies the culture more than it challenges it. This is syncretism— an unhealthy mix of God’s message and culture.

The other form of unbalanced contextualization, according to Hiebert is non-contextualization. This is where the local culture is given too little value. Perhaps the thought is that since the culture is not considered Christian, all elements in which it differs from the missionary culture, thought to be a Christian culture, is bad. Hiebert notes that this often leads to the Christian faith maintaining a “foreigness” to it, and a faith that is often shallow. Below a thin layer of Christian behavior and answers to questions, is the unchallenged values and worldview of the local culture. Both Charles Kraft and Jackson Wu would note that this also is a form of syncretism. It is the unhealthy mixing of God’s revelation and the missionary’s culture. Often people express concern about contextualization saying that it leads, inevitably, to syncretism. In fact, the opposite is probably more true. If the local culture is ignored and the missionary culture version of the Christian faith is indoctrinated into the people, syncretism on some level has already occurred.

Earlier I noted the Three Culture Model speaks of interaction between recipient culture, missionary culture, and Biblical culture. One could argue that there is a fourth type of contextualization where there is an overemphasis on, or theological blessing of, the culture(s) in the Bible. This is true, and actually quite common, but functionally, it is essentially the same as non-contextualization. If one goes to a new culture and tells them, “Christians are supposed to wear white shirts and ties if they are male, and dresses if they are female” (because that is what we wear back home), there is no functional difference from telling them, “Christians are supposed to wear tunics and cloaks” (because that is what both men and women wore in the Bible).

Identifying the importance of balance in contextualization in no way makes clear how this is done. But each form of contextualization suggests a different strategy. These different strategies are described by David Hesselgrave. He applied these terms to a somewhat different problem, but they work here. Non-contextualization follows the Didactic Method. Didactic here implies one-way communication. The missionary enters a culture and takes on the role of teacher, and the people in the recipient culture embrace the role of student or learner. Good discipleship happens when people change a lot and missionary changes little. Uncritical Contextualization follows the Dialogic Method. I don’t actually care for Hesselgrave’s term here. He is using the term rather negatively, while I will be using the term Dialogue in a more neutral way later in this paper. However, I do understand the reason for his choice here. In the Dialogic method, little importance is placed on change. Dialogue is often seen as focused on two-way communication with the desired outcome to be mutual understanding rather than change of heart or behavior. Great importance is on interaction— Presence and Participation over Proclamation. <In the 1960s a divide formed in Protestant missions where conservatives focused on Proclamation of the Gospel with the goal of leading to radical conversion to Christ. On the other side, many liberals focused on missional Presence where Proselytization was seen as the “antithesis” of missions. The extreme of the conservative view would line up with non-contextualization, where the job of the missionary is to talk, and the job of the people is simply to listen and change. The extreme of the liberal view would line up with uncritical contextualization. The result of presence is generally to bless the best in the culture rather than inviting a call to change of allegiance.

Between these extremes would be a the Dialectic method. In this view there is dialogue (two-way communication) but the goal is a process where both sides challenge each other other with the goal of finding truth. Thus it is more focused on truth than what is described as Dialogic method. It is more focused on two-way conversation than the Didactic method. It also assumes the possibility that both sides may need to learn something. The Dialectic method also differs from debate or apologetics. The latter is interested in winning rather than finding truth.

Recognizing that syncretism is an anticipated risk for either extreme (excessive and inadequate contextualization of the faith), this suggests that the spectrum of contextualization may be viewed as a circle where critical (or balanced) contextualization is on one side (such as at “3 o’clock”) and movement away from that side, occurs either clockwise or counterclockwise towards its opposite (“9 o’clock”). Referring to Figure 1, Clockwise movement could be used to indicate movement towards more non-contextualization. This direction would involve giving more respect to the missionary culture in terms of contextualization, and less to the recipient culture. Counter-clockwise movement could be used to indicate movement towards uncritical contextualization. This direction wou involve giving more respect to the recipient culture in terms of contextualization, and less to the missionary culture. The two movements are shown as joining together at 9 o’clock because both lead to the opposite of critical contextualization— syncretism.

Figure 1

Looking at Communication

Instead of looking at the movement of the Gospel message into a culture in terms of contextualization, one can look at it as an act of communication. In most cases the presentation of the gospel to a new culture comes through a process of cross-cultural dialogue. There are different models of dialogue, but I prefer one that breaks things down into three general models. Different authors use different terms, but I will use “Apologetic,” “Clarification” and “Common Ground” models. The Apologetic model focuses on the differences. The missionary goal is to win the argument. The goal is to show the superiority of one’s beliefs, and the inferiority of the others. The ideal result of such an encounter is a full surrender to the perspective of the missionary. The other extreme in terms of dialogue is the “Common Ground” model. In this model, the missionary seeks to promote dialogue by emphasizing similarities and minimizing differences. In this situation, the missionary is not so focused on changing the others’ beliefs, but that “we all are pretty much the same.” Between these extremes is Clarification. Clarification seeks a certain amount of balance. Both the similarities and differences are valued.

Figure 2

Figure 2 shows a way of showing this. Figure 1 shows the movement converges on the left side since both directions end up with syncretism. Figure 2 can also be shown this way. As one moves from the right side (“3 o’clock”) towards the left-side one is moving towards less focus on truth. This is obvious from the standpoint emphasizing similarities in Common Ground Models. Common Ground Models can be described as relativistic. The goal is to make connection, breaking down barriers, ignoring issues such as what one believes. Emphasizing differences moving toward Apologetic models also lessens the importance of truth. In apologetics, the primary interest is on winning, not determining what is true. On reflection, this just makes sense since focusing on agreement versus disagreement with beliefs would mean less focus on the truth of beliefs.

Comparing The Two Figures

While there are clear similarities, it is worthwhile to address the marked differences. The biggest difference is that the two are dealing with two different spectra. The first is about the spectrum of strategies for contextualization. The second is about the spectrum of strategies for interreligious dialogue. And yet, the two are very much related. Both involve the interactions between people of different beliefs from two different cultures. The spectrum regarding contextualization is more implicitly missiological, but both involve conversations in a similar setting.

A more important difference is a comparison of what is going on at the left side (“9 o’clock”). In Figure 1, the left side shows a greater tendency to syncretism. In Figure 2, even though not explicitly marked, the left side expresses a lesser interest in truth. This in itself is not problem since each figure could emphasize a different thing. However, if the two figures are expresses a similar experience, presumably the two tendencies should be compatible. At first brush, they do not. Syncretism is not necessarily linked to a lesser emphasis on truth. That being said, syncretism is a result, not a motive. So if one looks at Figure1, the argument could be made that an unbalanced contextualization, either uncritical contextualization or non-contextualization, involves a lesser interest in truth. Critical Contextualization involves determining how Biblical truth can be established faithfully in a new context. Non-Contextualization and Uncritical Contextualization rejects critical faculties in determining truth. This does not mean that syncretism is a rejection of truth, but rather that setting something else as a priority over truth establishes a a setting where syncretism can develop.

The similarities of the figures outweigh the differences. Most importantly, the two establish three categories that line up fairly well. Clarification Models for Interreligious Dialogue (IRD) would involve a search of the truth through identifying similarities and differences with regards to two cultures (and potentially three cultures if including Bible culture). Such a search would ideally be dialectical rather than dialogic (in this case focusing those forms of dialogue that focus on common ground rather than on truth) or didactic (being primarily unidirectional). Critical Contextualizaiton should be harmonious with the Clarification Models of IRD. In a similar way, Apologetic Models for IRD line up with didactic methods relating to non-contextualization. Although Apologetic Models would utilize two-way communication, the similarity lies in the premise that the recipient culture has little to offer the sending (or missionary) culture. Common Ground Models for IRD line fairly well with dialogic methods related to uncritical contextualization. In these, the focus is on covering over differences and minimizing change in the recipient culture.

God Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves

I was looking up the proverb “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.” I was pretty sure that Benjamin Franklin originally said it. However, that eventually led me (as so many roads do) to the Wikipedia article and Wiktionary article, “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.”

There I found that Benjamin Franklin was not the first to say it. Algernon Sidney said it in its present form (Algernon Sidney (1698), chapter 2, in Discourses Concerning Government, volume 1, section 23, p. 298). However he was drawing from Greek Philosophers and a slew of others.

I found the Wikipedia article interesting because it talks about the widespread belief (at least in the United States) that the above proverb is from the Bible. It is clearly not in the Bible… but the question does remain as to whether it is a proverb based on good theology.

I really don’t think it is. As an American, I can relate to the cultural temptation to feel that the proverb is correct. I also feel as if one could put some brackets on it where it does hold true. It is arguable harmonious to the statement of James, “You have not because you ask not.” However, a truer statement is “God Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves.” This reminds me of the song by Paul Overstreet, “Love Helps Those (Who Cannot Help Themselves)”

I am presently working on an article based on the Pool of Bethesda story in John 5. Hope to have it done in a couple of weeks and then it will either be published to a journal here in the Philippines or I will simply put it up online. Time will tell. My argument is that the situation at the Pool of Bethesda is a great example of “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” but that Jesus went there and did exactly the opposite, helping one who absolutely could not help himself. I make the suggestion that the act of Jesus should make us pause and wonder whether what was happening at Bethesda was indeed from God. Does God really grant mercy and favor on the strongest, richest, most capable? With a few possible exceptions, the answer seems to be NO! Hezekiah was granted 15 years extension to his life, but the broader story undermines the act— Hezekiah in effect used his extension of life to put his country in greater danger.

Ten Common Missionary Roles

Gailyn Van Rheenen lists fen common roles or activites of long-term missionaries in one of his books on missions <Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, 2nd ed. (Zondervan, 2014), Chapter 6>:

(1) Traditional church planting in unreached areas (Pioneering)

(2) Training local church leaders in order for a church planting movement to be successful (a bit too specific, let’s just say leadership development)

(3) Providing theological education to national leaders by training them where they are (onsite theological development)

(4) Teaching advanced theological studies in Bible schools and seminaries (offsite theological development)

(5) Serving as Bible translators (Self-explanatory)

6) Helping the poor and the suffering by focusing on social transformational development (Community development)

(7) Responding to natural disasters, providing medical services, and taking care of orphans (Relief and Helps ministries)

(8) Serving as business missionaries who live out in terms of economic realities (BAM)

(9) Serving as ministers of international justice to advocate for the oppressed (Social Justice)

(10) Serving as missionary support personnel who serve other missionaries (Several things, really)

We could group these into three general groups:

“Spiritualistic” Ministries: Numbers 1-5

“Social” Ministries: Numbers 6-9

Support Ministries: Number 10

Now if you think about it, the one that fits what people often think missionaries do is #1. In truth, it is the one that Ralph Winter wanted to be the only one called missionary. I understand the simplicity of the definition, but missions is a team sport and because of that I believe the broader understanding is useful. Arguably, #5, Bible translation is also part of what is often thought of as

Next, Numbers 2-4 are all about training— Theological and ministerial training.

Numbers 6-9 perhaps are better viewed as Transformational ministries

Number 10 is too broad. It includes missionary member care

This gives us:

Traditional Missions: Pioneer Missions and Bible Translation

Training Ministries: Ministerial Training, Theological Training

Transformational Ministries: Relief, Social Justice, Developmental Ministries

Support Ministries: Missionary Member Care, Logistical Support, Administrative Support and Mobilization

They all are needed and all should be honored.