Actually— Sort of a Missions Sermon

I don’t preach missions sermons very often. Why? Well… as bad as many (most?) churches are in terms of missions, I rarely feel that that is the topic that is needed on Sunday. However, I am in the US right now, and preached this Sermon at one church, and will preach this same sermon three times this Sunday. So I may as well share it here.


Good Morning, We will be in Acts chapter 8 today, but I would like to start with a story. The story is called “The Three Little Pigs.” This is not the more common version of the story, with the house of straw, the house of sticks, and the house of bricks. It is more like a follow-on to the story.

In this story, the three little pigs are now wiser. They each have their own solid brick houses. One day the first little pig returns home after work. He opens his front door… and discovers that his house is now filled up with manure. Perhaps the family of the big bad wolf had done this as a malicious trick. Even though the three little pigs were… pigs… they did not really want to live in messy homes. They liked things tidy.

The first little pig was angry and unhappy but outside of griping never did anything about it. Every day he would come home to his filthy home that smelled worse each day. He would take pictures, put them on Instagram and complain about how this is proof that the country is falling apart.

The second little pig also returned home one day. He too found his house fool of manure. After thinking about it a bit… he rolled up his pig sleeves and got his pig shovel and pig mop, and began cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. He filled up a big dumpster and a truck came and hauled all of the manure away, Soon he was able to return to a clean house— as good as new.

The third little pig also came home to his own house and found it full of manure. He thought about it and thought about it and then got to work. Rolling up his pig sleeves and getting out his pig shovel and pig mop, He cleaned the whole house from top to bottom. As he did, he spread the manure on his garden. Soon he had a clean house and the best vegetables and flowers in the land.

Hold onto that story and please open your Bibles to Acts 8.

At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

This is a bad situation… a real problem. There is persecution. Perhaps you are like me and don’t like to use that term. So many have watered down the term so much that almost anyone can claim to be persecuted for almost anything. But this was real persectution. People were breaking into the homes of Christians and throwing them in jail. Stephen was actually killed, and certainly more might be added to that list. Things were so bad that those who were not yet in prision felt the need to escape the city. Many went into the surrounding villages in Judea. Some went into the villages of Samaria.

Things seemed so good in the first four chapters of the book of Acts.— almost perfect. It seemed so good that 2000 years later we will still talk about trying to recapture the spirit of the first century church. But I don’t think God wants the church today to embrace some unhealthy nostalgia of the past. After all, God inspired the writer of Ecclesiastes to warn people not to embrace the foolish notion that things were better in the past than they are now. So God through Luke showed the church in Chapters 1 through 4 as almost perfect, but then clarifies things in Chapters 5 through 8 showing that things were far from perfect.

Chapters 1 through 4 showed the church of Jerusalem growing in leaps and bounds. Chapter 8 shows the church of Jerusalem shrinking back to almost nothing. Chapter 4 shows generous selfless giving. Chapter 5 shows giving that was selfish and deceptive. Chapter 2 shows a joyous church praising God. Chapter 5 shows a fearful church, Chapter 2 showed a church receiving the favor of their neighbors. Chapter 8 shows a church hunted by their neighbors. Chapter 4 shows a united church. Chapter 6 shows a divided church. Chapter 1 shows a church started by resurrection and miracles. Chapter 7 shows a church suffering its first murder— its first martyr.

In many ways, the church of the book of Acts is like the church of today. A mixture of good and bad. Of great highs and great lows.

The wording of this passage suggests that the only ones still in Jerusalem (outside of those locked up in prison) are the Apostles— the Twelve. The rest of the church went to Judea and Samaria

But as we move to verse 4… we discover, surprisingly, that this is good news, not bad.

4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.

Now we need to look at the story from this new angle. The trials going on in Jerusalem were not destroying the church. Rather those trials were like a gust of wind hitting a dandelion seed ball. Whoosh… seeds scatter everywhere to start new plants wherever the wind sets them. The stronger the wind the further they go. Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. These were not necessarily professional ministers. These were most likely pretty ordinarily people. They preached God’s message of hope to those around them. Where? Wherever they were taken as they were fleeing the city.

And then we learn about Philip. He was one of the 7, like Stephen who died. Stephen’s death did not destroy the witness of these 7. As one went down another rose up. Philip goes to Samaria. Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses even to the ends of the earth. That is an awful lot of places. He specifically mentioned Samaria as one of the places to be a witness. Philip went to Samaria. Samaria is close to Jerusalem. However, Samaritans were very unpopular with the Jews. Samaritans were like the neighbors that we ignore, or wish would move away. But sometimes those are the very neighbors who were placed there for a reason. Or maybe we were placed next to them for a reason.

Philip did not wait for the Samaritans to come to him. He went deep into the heart of Samaria… and began preaching and healing. And they responded to the message and there was great joy.

I won’t keep going through this passage verse by verse for the sake of brevity. But word gets back to the Apostles in Jerusalem that something big is going on in Samaria… so they hurry up there. Persecution would not make them leave Jerusalem— but the excitement of seeing the Spirit of God do amazing things? Yes. They must see that. And they WERE amazed by what they saw. People were praising God and the Holy Spirit confirmed that they were God’s own. It says that Peter and John who had hurried up there… well, they then returned to Jerusalem. But on the way back they did not hurry. Rather they preached along the way in Samaritan villages.

That is pretty shocking. Consider John, for a moment. Only a few years prior John asked Jesus if He would give himself and James permission to call down fire on a Samaritan village that had not welcomed them in. That tells you a lot about the disciple’s view of Samaritans, I think. Jesus and the disciples were rejected in many Jewish villages, but there is no record of them asking Jesus permission to call down fire on them. God did not bring down the fire of judgment on the Samaritans. Instead, here in Acts, He brought down the fire of the Holy Spirit. Now John, as well as Peter, is caught up in the excitement of what God is doing.

So what are some lessons we might take from this.

Let’s return to the story of the three pigs. All three pigs had a bad thing come into their life. Each was in a bad situation… a problem… something that ruined their day. All three were given problems.

The first pig embraced a strategy I would call, “Resignation.” He resigned himself to the situation. In the Philippines, we use the expression, “Bahala na.” Hard to translate into English but something like. “It is fate… so you may as well accept it.” One may complain… but ultimately one does nothing substantive about it. The problem remained and grew.

I would say that the second pig embraced a strategy I would call “Restoration.” It means to restore… or bring back to normal. It is like a TV sitcom. Things are doing well. A problem springs up… craziness ensues. Eventually, someone comes up with a solution and everything returns back as they were at the beginning of the episode… all ready for a new situation next week. The second pig did this. He undid the problem. The problem is now gone. Things are back to normal. No worse, but also no better.

This seems like a pretty good strategy. It is the strategy of the fixit-man. Find problem. Fix problem. Not bad… but in the Bible, I think we find a better way. And that way is the strategy of the third pig.

I would call this strategy, the the strategy of Redemption. Redemption means saving or returning value to something ruined or broken. Usually it implies making things better than they were before. Can a problem be turned into a benefit. We often speak of God’s salvation in terms of redemption. When I was young, I was taught the memory aid for Justification— “Just as if I never sinned.” It is a good memory aid, but still inadequate. That is because, in God’s saving work, we get more… we get… “More than if I never sinned.” We are not just returned to the Garden— literal hedged-in place— called Eden… we are a part of a whole new creation… as joint heirs of this creation with Christ. We are not just receiving visits from God, strolling with Him in the cool of the morning. We will be dwelling with Him… Heaven and Earth joined.

The churchmembers of Jerusalem were certainly fearful and probably angry… and they could have simply embraced those feelings… effectively doing nothing. But this is not what they did.

Perhaps they could have aimed for the Second Strategy. Restoration. Perhaps they could have tried to work against the problems in Jerusalem and get everyone back into the city with the church as it was before.

But they went to the Third Strategy. Redemption. They did not do nothing. They did not simply reverse the problem. They embraced the problem. Under persecution they spread out over the land. The church was not crushed by hate, attacks, persecution. It grew— outward. Did they understand that they were carrying out Jesus’ plan to be witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, and even the ends of the world. I don’t know. Whether they understood it or not, God led them into that situation and they responded. Philip was only one of them.

Persecution does not automatically lead to good things. I teach missions history… and history is complicated in this area. In the first three centuries of the church, persecution appears to have fueled its growth. However, in 7th and 8th century in North Africa, the church disappeared under persecution. In other places like in Lebanon and Egypt, the church has not grown or dissolved under persection, but has faithfully endured. But even today, God has used persecution to grow His church. In modern-day China and Iran, persecution has led to great growth of the church. Why do some places grow and others wither under persecution? I don’t really know. And I think it is better to admit ignorance than to claim knowledge I don’t have. But I have to think that how one responds to it… must be part of it. The people fled Jerusalem, but they did not see themselves as fleeing from God. They understood that God was with them in persecution and they were bringing Christ and His message wherever they went. It is not wrong to run… it just depends on where and what one is running to.

Maybe that is something we can gain from the first century church. We live in a time of pandemic. We live in a time of nuclear, chemical, biological, and cyber weaponry. We live in a time of scary technology and environmental disasters. We live in a time of great suffering and immorality. Most of these things we cannot fix. The problems are too big, and we are too small. But we are not called to fix things… undo the problem.

We are called upon to redeem. To open our minds and hearts to God’s plan to transform… bringing hope and salvation to a broken world.

As a church, don’t look back at the first century church and say, “Oh we want to be like the 1st century church… perfect, and growing in leaps and bounds.” That was not the whole story. Rather, maybe we could say, “Oh we want to be like the 1st century church that responded faithfully to trials and tribulations and transformed what was evil for good… and in the process turned the world upside down.”We want to be like the church that embraced problems as potentially… good.

You have supported Celia and myself in serving God in the Philippines, training up Christians in Asia and Africa to serve God. These Asian and African Christians as we train them, often serve in places of great persecution. Sometimes as missionaries, sometimes as pastors, chaplains, or pastoral counselors. We thank you for your support and prayers, and pray that those we train will serve God fearlessly in dangerous places serving redemptively, flowers for ashes,… embracing the heart of Joseph who told his brothers who sold him into slavery— “What you meant for evil, God used it for good.”

CHALLENGES IN CHURCH-INITIATED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES

Long ago I wrote up paper on Christian Community Development based on my personal experiences, and interviews with acquaintances of mine who were involved in CCD in the Philippines. I wrote it because I was hoping to expand into a full dissertation for my Doctor of Theology. In the end, I went in a different direction for my dissertation.

I did not forget about the paper, but I certainly ignored it. However, I recently noted that an awful lot of people have been reading it. It is the most popular paper I have written (in the last couple of months) on Academia.edu. It also has had thousands of views and quite a few downloads. I do have to note I wrote this before I knew how to do Thematic Analysis. Still, I think the paper has some value… and certainly may be worth reading, so I am attaching a link.

ARTICLE IN ACADEMIA.EDU

The short version is a powerpoint based on the article:

Reflections on a Visitor

We are in the US right now, staying in an extended stay inn. It has been a fairly good place for us— decidedly unfancy, but we are decidedly unfancy people. Last night at 3am we had a visitor. We had a knock on the door… followed by more knocks. I ended up getting up and looking out of the peephole. I saw a man there who did not appear to be drunk but did appear to be a bit angry. He said he is back. He gave his name and said that he had stopped by earlier in the day (we did not recognize the name and had no visitors earlier). We I told him this he was thoroughly unconvinced and wanted to see my face to verify I was not the one he spoke to in the afternoon. I wasn’t going to open the door to anyone at 3am. I told him he had the wrong place. He seemed sure it was the right place and shared something rude that I had apparently told him. I don’t use that language and had never talked to him before.

I started mulling whether to call 911. I don’t want to be one of those people who escalates all unwelcome encounters into an emergency. This is especially true if my calling 911 reinforces in his mind that he has the right suite. I waited about 1 minute and then looked out the peephole again. He was still there but now using his telephone. Since he said that he had talked to “me” before by phone, I think he was trying to call to prove it was me. Whatever that call did, it immediately redirected him. He left hurriedly away to parts unknown.

Reflecting on this. I don’t know what his intentions were. I don’t know if he was a real danger or not. It is foolish not to see a situation like this as potentially dangerous. Again, however, it can also be foolish to assume danger so much that one escalates an interaction unnecessarily. “Stand Your Ground” rules, while meaning to protect families, have been used to protect people who doe exactly that sort of escalation. Clearly there is a healthy balance between “Stand Your Ground” and “A Stranger is Simply a Friend I Have Not Met Yet.”

The encounter did make me think anew about the safety of where I am. It feels pretty safe. However, this place has no on-sight management at night. The property can be freely accessed at night (an unimaginable idea if it was in the Philippines), and all of the suites open up to the open air. That means that there are definitely potential risks. The risks are not higher after our visitor, but those risks inherent in the set-up are more obvious and visceral now.

However, it is also quite possible to focus now so much on the risks that one forgets the aspects of safety. First, the main door is quite solid with multiple locks. It would be very difficult to gain access to the room without my assistance. Second, our suite is actually safer than most of the other suites at the facility because Neither of our windows are accessible. All windows there are designed to prevent access, but ours have the additional safety of only being accessible with an extension ladder. Most other rooms, the windows are much easier to access. Third, it is easy to dial 911 from our place. Fourth, we have neighbors here in such close proximity, that if a stranger escalates on his own, it is likely to wake up our neighbors, and they may be able to act on our behalf… at least contacting 911 if we could not.

We don’t think about safety usually, unless one is hyper-vigilant due to a traumatizing past, unless that view of safety is challenged. Some may think that because we live most of our lives in a developing country (Philippines) that we have dealt with much more problems with safety. In fact we haven’t. Perhaps this is because the Philippines normalizes many things associated with maintaining safety. Unless one is VERY poor, one has a courtyard with fence and gate. Commonly the fence has metal work on top to prevent climbing over (I remember in Brazil, there being shards of glass cemented on top of walls, something I have seen in the Philippines as well, but only rarely.) 24 hour security guards is normal for places that can afford them… and noisy guard dogs.

Only twice in all of my years in the Philippines have I felt being in any sort of danger. One time was back in 2005 when I was on a medical mission in a far corner of the Philippines. A guy who was quite drunk became very interested in me (as a foreigner) and kept trying to get me to leave the medical mission to go drinking with him. I (wisely I think) chose not to, and the other members of the medical team as well as our hosts appeared to agree. They told him to go home. The guy went home and beat his wife (a bad thing) and then our medical team tended to the care of the wife. The only other time was one time was I was in a bit of a back corner of the public market in Baguio, and there were four teenagers who “kept not looking at me.” It is a subtle thing, but one does start to get a feel for pickpockets who watch and follow you by appearing not to be watching and following you. I could be wrong about their intentions but I felt it best to move to a more public part of the public market quick.

But that is it. I am quite thankful that I haven’t had more reasons to be distrusting. Reality does not change but our perception of that reality does change. Finding the right balance between naivety and paranoia may mean the difference between being effective in missions and not.

The Missionary Journeys of Peter (Part 2)

In Part One, I talked about how much of the history of the early church was structured around the Acts 1 version of the Great Commission, with the missionary journeys of Paul providing much of the narrative. In Part One, I suggested that we may have enough information on the Mission Journeys of Peter to use these as the running narrative. Or perhaps it would be better to say that it had the potential to have been used that way.

First Missionary Journey of Peter (circa 35AD)— The Samarian Mission. Acts 8. Left Jerusalem to go to “a city in Samaria.” Second Missionary Journey of Peter— experiences the revival there and then returns to Jerusalem slowly, preaching in various Samarian villages along the way.

Second Missionary Journey of Peter (circa 35AD)— The Judean Mission. Acts 9. Heals and preaches in Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea. First Gentiles recognized as part of the church.

Third Missionary Journey of Peter (circa 50AD)— The Hellenistic Mission. Galatians 2. Paul speaks of a contentious meeting between himself and Peter when Peter visits the church of Antioch. It is also quite likely that he visited parts of what is modern-day Turkey. In support of this is that the epistle of First Peter was written to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Some have also theorized that he also visited Corinth. In I Corinthians, Paul speaks factions in the Corinthian Church— those who identify with Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ. Since both Paul and Apollos had a clear role in the founding or growth of that church, it is possible that Peter also had been there. On the other hand, some have suggested that Paul’s faction identified with Peter as a fellow “apostle” and the Apollos faction identified with Christ (not directly drawing from the apostolic line). Alternatively, perhaps there was a separate group following Peter, who identified with a traditional Hebraic rather than Hellenistic Christianity. So we don’t know if Peter went to Corinth. However, he did visit Samaria to see what God was doing there, and then went to Antioch to see how the Jerusalem Council affected things there.

Fourth Missionary Journey of Peter (circa late 50s or early 60s)— The Babylonian Mission. In his first epistle, Peter says that he was writing from Babylon. It is has been common to assume that Peter was writing from Rome since John appears to use Babylon figuratively to represent Rome, or the world system. However, that was decades later. The largest diaspora Jewish population was in Mesopotamia which is where Babylon was located. In fact, Jews called Mesopotamia ‘Babel.” Since Peter was often known as the Apostle to the Jews, it is quite reasonable that Peter did indeed spend time in Mesopotamia ministering there. Much of the most successful church growth actually happened along the boundary between the Roman and Parthian Empires. This is not that obvious from reading the New Testament, so it is understandable if people would take an Eastern location and assume that it is figuratively representing a Western location. Of course, we don’t know for sure. However, early church tradition identifies several apostles ministering Eastward, rather than Westward.

Fifth Missionary Journey of Peter (circa mid-late 60s)— The Roman Mission. The Roman Catholic Church has long identified Peter as its patron saint, seeing him as their founder. While it is pretty clear from the New Testament that Peter did not found the church in Rome, it is certainly quite reasonable to think he died there. There is excellent documentation supporting that he was martyred, and decent support that his death happened in Rome. It is hard to see whether he came to Rome through mission work or in chains. Either way, the story of Peter appears to end as does Paul.

Looking at these Five Missionary Journeys we see the progress of the church from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Judea, the the Hellenized World, to Parthia and finally to Rome.

It is a great way of showing the growth of the church. This, of course, does not undermine the structure of the book of Acts. It, however, is a reminder that history is the connection of moments— and one has the ability to connect many different moments. There is not a history of the early church— there are many many HISTORIES OF THE EARLY CHURCH.

The Mission Journeys of Peter would be ONE good way of doing this.

The Missionary Journeys of Peter (Part 1)

In Sunday School, and college, and seminary we studied the four missionary journeys of Paul. Of course the fourth journey was hardly a missionary journey, but I can see why it is called that because it completes the structure of the book of Acts (of the Apostles). Most of the latter half of Acts is structured on these journeys. Perhaps this was because Luke was developing background material for “Theophilus” in Paul’s defense in Rome. I don’t know. But the structure can lead some to see the New Testament church as being all about Paul. That is, of course, a discussion for a different website.

But it is an interesting thought exercise as to whether the Book of Acts could have been structured off of another Apostle’s journeys. Let’s consider a few candidates.

Option 1. Philip. Philip was one of the Seven. He was also PROBABLY one of the 70 and one of the 120, though that is not certain. His known ministry started in Jerusalem in Acts 6. His missionary journeys come up starting in Acts 8 and consist of two phases— a Samaritan phase and a Judean phase. It ends with him settled in Caesarea. Noting the structure of Acts built around Acts 1:8 (Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Ends of the earth), Philip had an important role in the early church but not enough “ends of the earth” to provide that structure.

Option 2. John. John was involved in the early church from the very beginning as one of the Twelve. However. we know little of John’s mission journeys with certainty. He was certainly part of the Samaritan Mission. Later, we believe he is in Ephesus. Some argue for two Johns (the apostle and the presbyter) but I will go with them being one and the same. The Didache speaks of Prophets (traveling preachers) choosing to change roles to Elder (Presbyter) in a church. The context suggests to me at least that this applied also to Apostles (churchplanters). As such, we may imply a second missionary journey, one that ended in Ephesus and the surrounding region. Unfortunately, that seems inadequate for us. Since we don’t know more, we must move on.

Option 3. Barnabas. This case seems more promising. Barnabas (Joseph) came from Cyprus to Jerusalem originally, but that cannot be described as a missionary journey. We first come upon him in Acts 4. We could see him as having a first missionary journey— The Antiochan Mission that started and ended in Jerusalem with his work in Antioch and a side-trip to Tarsus. His second trip could be seen as starting in Jerusalem or Antioch (and ending in either as well). This was his mission trip to Cyprus and Asia Minor with Paul (the “First Missionary Trip” of Paul). After that Barnabas and John Mark travel to Cyprus. It is hard to say whether this was his Third Missionary voyage or he was simply returning to his family home. If we accept Barnabas as the author of Hebrews (which does make sense to me in terms of theology, style, and target audience), then Barnabas knew Timothy, suggesting that his travels continued after his time in Cyprus. The apparent age of the “Book of Barnabas” and some similarities between it and Hebrews is suggestive, but we just don’t know enough with any certainty to take it further.

Option 4. John Mark. The challenge with Mark is that we don’t know how many Marks there were. Both John and Mark were common names. This is hardly a unique case. I already mentioned earlier about questions regarding the Apostle John versus John the Presbyter, and the early church often confused the Apostle Philip with Philip the Evangelist (especially since Philip the evangelist could clearly be labeled an apostle even if he was not one of the Twelve). However, I will discount the “Three Marks” and “Two Marks” and assume there is only one Mark. If so, there are tantalizing suggestions that he might make a strong candidate. He probably references himself in the Gospel of Mark, making him a young follower of Jesus and probably with the church from the beginning in Jerusalem. He eventually is in Antioch. Perhaps he joined Barnabas as part of his mission work in Antioch. Then he joins Paul and Barnabas in the Mission journey to Cyprus. If we take seriously early church tradition (and if we link the Marks together), John Mark joined Peter and wrote the Gospel of Mark based on the recollections of Peter. We do know that John Mark also helped Paul later in his life and that Paul sought for John Mark to join him in Rome. We have no idea whether he did indeed make it to Rome. Early church tradition suggests him going to Alexandria and establishing the church there. There is too much speculation due to lack of sources. However, if the speculation was true, what a great biography of his life would be, and what a great framework for understanding the early church!

Option 5. Peter. Peter, in my opinion, is the one person other than Paul that we have enough information about to provide a valuable structure for the history of the early church based on his missionary journeys. While some of it is speculative, I believe there is enough there that we could talk about the expansion of the early church through the framework of the missionary journeys of Peter.

You are welcome to go to Part 2 to continue

Training in Missions

On occasion I have thought about what topics should be covered in Missions Training. I looked at some stuff I put together in 2010. Looking it over, I liked a lot of it. The main lacking I think was not recognizing the importance of theology in missions. So I would like to divide missions training into three levels and three areas.

Missions Areas:

Missiological. This is a vague term, but relates courses that fit into a lot of the “practical topics” that fit into missions.

Theological. While many of the missiological topics could be described as being part of practical theology, this section involves very intentional theological rigor as it relates to Missions.

Sociological. This is that part of Missions that focuses on the social sciences… especially anthropology.

Levels:

Level One. Should be taken by all seminary or Bible school students. Or, for those seeking to g. o formally into missions, these may include courses that would be considered introductory… and perhaps taken in the first year or semester or module (depending on the structure of the training)

Level Two. Should be taken by all missions students— especially in the middle, meaty, part of the training.

Level Three. Electives or finishing courses for missions students.

With that in mind, the curriculum would break down something like this (I guess):

MISSIOLOGY

-Level One

-Introduction to Missiology

-Level Two

-Missions History

-Strategy and Planning of Missions

-Contemporary Issues in Missions

-Level Three (examples)

-Missionary Member Care

-Short-term Missions

-Urban Missions

-Community Development

THEOLOGY

Level One

-Biblical Theology of Missions (NOT “Biblical Basis for Missions”)

Level Two

-Missions Theology

Level Three

-Localizing Theology

SOCIOLOGY

Level One

-Introduction to World Religions

Level Two

-Cultural Anthropology

-Cross-cultural Communication

-Interfaith Dialogue

-Ethnographic Research

Level Three (Possible examples)

-Ethnomusicology

-Specific culture/religion-targeted missions

Of course this list presupposes other trainings that are more general but valuable to missions students. I am assuming that Evangelism, Discipleship, and Churchplanting are not seen as specifically in the Missions Department— even though in the areas above they would loosely fit under the Missiological section. Likewise, it is presumed that students would get Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, and Systematic Theology (along with Biblical Studies) from other departments. And in terms of the sociological side of things, it is assumed that students are trained in other departments homiletics, Christian education, music and worship.

Defining “Christian Missions” and “Missionary”

It is strange that I have been involved with full-time Christian missions for 17 years and have been teaching Christian missions for 13 years and yet I have never found definitions for “Christian Missions” and “Missionary” that I like. Some are too narrow. For example, some definitions for missionary limit to those who are commissioned or ordained by a sending church or agency. For me that is a too… vocational… understanding of the term. Others think of missionary in terms of calling. That would be okay I suppose if everyone shared the same understanding of what calling means. (Hint here… there is NO common understanding of what it means to be called by God.) In terms of Christian missions, some definitions focus on churchplanting, or pioneering, or being international, or being ‘cross-cultural.’ Those definitions I think were always too narrow, but in this time of globalization, I think they have easily reached the point of being— well — pointless. Other definitions are so broad that every Christian is a missionary and everything the church does everywhere is Christian mission. I must admit that there is a part of me that likes broad definitions. However, there are distinct features of Christian missions and serving as a missionary that deserve their own labels and training and study. Watering terms down too much make them essentially meaningless. They become like what has been happening with the term “worship,” where in emphasizing that everything we say and do is worship, effectively, nothing is distinctly hallowed in terms of worship.

So I thought I would try to throw out a couple of definitions today.

Christian Missions is the intentional work of the church to go outside of its normal boundaries to join God’s work where the CHURCH IS NOT, where the CHURCH HAS NOT, or where the CHURCH CANNOT.

Yes, this definition is pretty broad still, but I think it has key elements.

  1. It is intentional work. This is service… the expenditure of time, energy, and effort.
  2. The focus of missions is on the church. In other words missions is defined in terms of the church rather than culture or national boundaries. In terms of organization, missions may be built within a sodality structure or a modality structure, but in terms of organism, it is about the church— the assembly of the faithful.
  3. It involves going outside of its normal boundaries. That means it reaches beyond its own membership, its own community, its own normal sphere of influence. It is a sending out and going out.
  4. It is joining God’s work. As the saying goes, God is at work (everywhere) and invites us (the church) to join Him in that work.
  5. It may be in terms of where the church is not— where churches don’t exist. It would involve evangelism, churchplanting, discipleship, and leader development. This is pioneering
  6. It may be in terms of where the church has not— churches may exist but are not functioning well in some ways. It involve inspiring and training churches, church organizations, and individuals. This is empowering
  7. It may be in terms of where the church cannot. Some places churches may lack the ability, long-term, to do certain types of ministry work. This may include such things medical care, missionary member care, Bible translation, or radio ministry. This is a work of specialization.

Missionaries are people who intentionally embrace their role in Christian missions and identify themselves in terms of that role.

This definition also sounds pretty vague, and is essentially meaningless if not tied to the definition for Christian missions. Additionally, the term notes:

  1. It is people. This is obvious but when we say that Christian missions is about ‘the church,’ there is a risk of it becoming abstract. Christian missions may be related to the church, but it is carried out by people… individually and corporately, joining God’s presence and efforts in the field.
  2. It is intentional. It is intentional in the sense that avoids the “everything you and I do is missions”-sense. Individuals identify that what they are doing is Christian missions as is defined earlier. As such it has the characteristics listed earlier.
  3. The individuals self-identify themselves as missionaries. In other words, if you don’t identify as a missionary, in a very key and important way you are NOT a missionary. In a broad sense this has to do with calling. I am not totally sure that every people in missions has to have received some big unambiguous Isaiah 6 sort of calling. But there should be some sort of recognition that they have joined a brotherhood and sisterhood that is unique in focus and role within the church.

Are these definitions perfect. Of course not. In fact, I am not even sure if I fit into the definition of missionary that I have written. Maybe it is better to describe myself as a “Cross-cultural Minister.” Regardless, I do think that the definitions at least establish a more real world foundation for discussion of these topics.

But I welcome suggestions for improvements.

My Strength is My Temptation– Part 2

I suppose the term “Strength” is a bit of a loaded term. Very commonly what one may consider a strength another could consider a weakness. A strong desire to lead or dominate can be seen as a strength. When we think of great leaders in history, we think of their drive to lead as part of what makes them great. However, many of those with a great desire to leader lack competence, or have an unhealthy faith in their own wisdom. On the other hand, those with a “need to lead” may be in a position that does not allow them to exercise that quality— the trait expressing itself in insubordination.

Additionally, one strength can create a weakness in another area. One of the greatest basketball players of all time was Michael Jordan. He was also very good in baseball, and solid in golf. Perhaps he could have been truly great in baseball or in golf if he had not focused on basketball. Of course to some extent work in one athletic sport can help with other sports… but such focus in one would likely prevent reaching one’s potential in another. Even further, I doubt Michael Jordan is strong in Nuclear Engineering or Missiology. It is not to suggest that he couldn’t be (he seems like a smart guy) but his intense focus on basketball and other athletic endeavors ensured he would not be great in those other areas.

So I have been undermining the idea of “Strength” as it pertains to qualities or abilities in people. But that is not really to focus of this post. The point I am working toward is that STRENGTH IS A PERSONAL PERCEPTION.

We each identify in ourselves certain qualities or abilities as strengths.

It is these perceptions that open up temptations. A person who believes that they could never cheat on their spouse is open to manipulation, and ultimately falling. The person less likely to cheat is one who knows that he or she can cheat and determines not to. That person is more likely to establish personal taboos and boundaries to prevent it. Con-men and demagogues give their message in the language that speaks to the perceptive strengths of the target population. For demagogues, commonly they say something to the effect that, “What you think about yourselves and your greatness is correct. But you are being held back by ______________ (government, class group, racial group, political group, etc.)”

It is okay to identify strengths in yourself. It is okay even to identify strengths incorrectly. What is dangerous is to identify strengths in oneself without realizing that this opens to door to temptation and manipulation.

In missions this can be a common and serious problem. Some missionaries have a “Messiah complex.” They see themselves as hyper-capable and others as hyper-needy. This can develop dependent relationships. And that is one of the ‘better’ results. More seriously, this missionary may see themselves as indispensible. Some missionaries identify themselves as great leaders. Many see others as “born followers” in turn. These missionaries may not prepare for their own retirement or mortality. They may not train others up. They set up their work for failure. Some may see themselves as great preachers or evangelizers. Yet, in most cases, locals are actually better at reaching their own people. Focusing on doing all the work themselves, missionaries can hamper their work.

I hope I have made the point. One’s strength is one’s temptation. The fix for that is not to self-deprecate— to reject the idea of personal strengths. Rather, it is to be self-aware of what one’s strengths and weaknesses actually are— and to realize the strengths in terms of potential weaknesses, limitations and the potential as a temptation or area of manipulation.

My Strength is My Temptation– Part 1

I guess it struck me when I was talking about Love Languages (Gary Chapman) with my Pastoral Care Students (or maybe my wife’s CPE trainees… I can’t remember for sure). As I was talking about the five love languages <Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service>, I noted that each person responds positively to words or actions of another that lines up with one’s own affinity (love language). So, if my love language is “Acts of Service,” I am likely to respond positively to someone doing acts of service for me, and see such action as loving.

And that is good to know. To appear loving to someone else, I am most likely to be successful if I act in a way that aligns with their own love language, rather than my own personal love language. For me, I am a “Words of Affirmation” type. Although “Acts of Service” are nice, I don’t typically see them as acts of love. But if I want to show my love for a person whose love language is acts of service I must step out of my own affinities and adjust to that of the other. While Love Language is pretty simple, it can be pretty powerful in talking about relationships.

But there is a dark side to Love Languages. It also tells us how to manipulate others. If I know that someone’s love language is receiving gifts, I can use gifts to manipulate that person. The person is likely to see gifts given as a positive expression of lovingness– NOT as a selfish ploy to get my own way.

Of course, Strengths are subjective things. What one calls one’s strength, another might call one’s:

  • Need. This one is pretty obvious. Love language explicitly identifies itself neutrally— If one’s love language is “Quality Time,” it is a strength in that one is likely to be much better to demonstrate love through quality time over those of a different love language. However, since that is the love language one operates under, it is the demonstration of love that one desires/needs. A lot of other tests like this can be said to be similar. 9 Spiritual pathways expresses a strength in worship… but in so doing also expresses what one’s craves/needs. Murray’s Psychogenic Needs can also be described as personal strengths (or weaknesses… more on that later).
  • Treasure/Idol. Jesus stated that where our treasure is, there are heart is also. Strengths, needs, treasures, and idols then tend to be overlapping items. Christopher Wright speaks of idols as things we worship— that which inspires awe in us, that which we desire, that which we fear, and that which overcomes our fear.
  • Weakness. Strengths are our weaknesses? Well that is for Part 2.

In Part 2 is seeking to redefine strength and show how this relates to missions.

Missiology as an Academic Field of Study?

Missiology is a rather young field of study and there has been a question of whether it should be considered an academic study. And if it is an academic study, how should it relate to other academic disciplines. I get it. If one thinks about it, Missions sounds like a less than a real topic— perhaps  a closet in the house of Ecclesiology or Soteriology. Or maybe a religious wing to Sociology or Anthropology. I think, however, that we live in an era where interdisciplinary courses of study are given more respect, so perhaps the uncertain regarding Missiology is dated. Still, I think it is worth thinking about.

An interesting article is one by Peter F. Penner, “Missiology as a Theological and Academic Discipline.” (Theological Reflections Euro-Asian Journal of Theology, August 2018). Penner speaks of how Missions has often been built on a poor theological background (I think that is pretty well-known). He also pointed out that Missions has typically been built on a poor Biblical hermeneutic.  He notes what I have seen— the study of the “Biblical Basis of Missions” is commonly in no way about the basis of missions. Rather, missions already is identified and recognized as godly and good, and then people seek to find prooftexts and illustrationsin the Bible to support these views. He quotes David Bosch who references that attitude, “…we already know what ‘mission’ is and now have only to discover it in Scripture.”

But deciding that Missions should be established on a better theological foundation, and be drawn from Scripture (rather than reverse) does not answer the question, necessarily, as to whether it should exist as an academic discipline. Penner describes four attitudes in terms of relationship between Missiology and and other Academic disciplines.

#1.  Missions may be important in its relationship to the church, but is not really an academic discipline.

#2.  Missions is certainly important and should permeate and interact with all other (Christian) academic disciplines

#3.  Missions is a bit of an embarrassing topic that is not really to be dealt with in academics.

#4.  Missions so permeates all aspects of Christian experience and academics that it makes no sense to study it as a separate academic topic.

These all make sense, but I kind of feel like there is one missing. Perhaps I misunderstand the categories and the 5th one I would like to add somehow fits into the previous four.  However, if one looks at Missions (or Missiology) as a academic discipline that is interacting with other academic disciplines much like two cultures might interact, then one can look at it in terms of categories of acculturation.  Four major ones are:

  1.   Assimilation.  The first culture loses its identity in the second culture.
  2. Separation.  The first culture refuses to interact much with the second culture strongly maintaining its own uniqueness.
  3. Integration.  The first culture interacts strongly with the second culture affecting and being affected by the second culture.
  4. Marginalization. Ineffectual integration where the result is the first culture being less than functional in the second culture.

I feel the three of these line up with the four attitudes regarding Missiology.

Attitude (#2) lines up with (C), Integration.  Missiology can and should interact with other academic disciplines and should affect and be affected by other disciplines.

Attitude (#3) lines up with (D), Marginalization.  Missiology may exist as an academic discipline, but it is somehow seen as inferior or irrelevant in relation to other disciplines. As such, it is likely to be embarrassing and ignored.

Attitude (#4) lines up with (A), Assimilation.  Missiology may be relevant and important, but its unique identity is lost in other disciplines. It may show itself in other disciplines but doesn’t have a unique and distinct “culture” (much like a culture may not exist as a community within a broader culture, but may still show itself in terms of the culinary arts or visual arts in that broader culture).

That leaves one attitude and one acculturation strategy, but they don’t line up. The remaining attitude is that Missions is foundational in much of Christianity, but is still not an academic study. The remaining acculturation strategy is Separation.  

Separation (Acculturation strategy (B)) I think should relate to a fifth attitude regarding Missiology. It is a worthy topic of academic study but there is little interaction with other academic disciplines. This attitude is pretty common, I think. Many schools have a Missions department that doesn’t interact much, academically, with other departmetns. Happily, that seems to be lessening as training is becoming more interdisciplinary. However, there is the risk that it could go so far that it drifts into Assimilation (Attitude #4).

That just leaves us with one attitude (#1).  However, when one thinks about it, it should not relate to an Acculturation strategy. That is because the attitude rejects the premise that missiology should be seen as an academic discipline in the first place. The cultural equivalent is where one denies that a culture exists, in the first place, to interact with the broader culture.

Keeping this in mind then, I would rank the attitudes from best to worst. Needless to say, this is in my own biased opinion.

Best                                                #2

                                                 #4       #5

                                                       #3

Worst                                             #1

#3 and #1 could be reversed. From a practical standpoint, attitude #3 is likely to express itself in avoidance of missions. So that could be seen as worse. However, from an academic standpoint, #1 is worse since it rejects the premise of missiology as a field of study in the first place. Being “embarrassed or avoidant” of the field of study at least recognizes its existence. I can see how those two can be reversed.