The Counterproductive Missionary?

So… let’s talk about some well-known expansions of Christianity. One of these was the growth of the church in the Roman Empire, and adjoining territories during the first 3 centuries. The church grew rapidly. If I remember right (and am quite prepared to be wrong), the church averaged growth of around 20% per year. That is pretty huge. Both Islam and Christianity is recently growing around 3%, more or less, per year. Some smaller religions are growing at a faster rate, but 20% is pretty huge for any group.

China has been an area of great growth of the church (both “underground” and “above ground”) in the 20th century. In recent years, people have been writing about the apparent growth of the underground church in Iran, mirroring in some ways the growth of Christianity in the Iranian diaspora. Perhaps a fourth one worth mentioning is the African Indigenous (or Initiated) Church (AIG) movement.

What do these movements have in common?  One is that there was persecution. That cannot be discounted. However, persecution is not a magic growth formula. In fact, the Chinese church has undergone several waves of persecution going back to the 9th century AD. Of those waves of persecution, it seems as if the only that last of these resulted in growth (Maoist persecution).

Persecution can lead to resiliency, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee growth— perhaps nothing guarantees growth. But a few more things seem worth noting for these growth movements.  There Christianity is

  1.  …a religion of (relative) poverty. In some cases, Christianity in these movements was the religion of the poor, and the poorest of the poor. In other cases, Christianity is impoverished in terms of structure. Religious structure, in this case, refers to some things like complex organization, physical religious buildings, and paid clerical class within the church.
  2. … a religion of the people. It is started, expanded and propagated by locals, rather than foreigners, and often by laity rather than clergy.
  3. … a religion in which missionaries are not active. Or… if they are active, they are taking on a background, supportive role rather than a leading or controlling role. In fact, the AIC movement often found itself in conflict with missionaries. In China, the Christian church really began to grow after missionaries left the country. Successful missionary work done by foreigners there is now more often in terms of assisting with training or other support roles rather than leadership or apostolic tasks. Much of the early church growth in the Roman Empire happened in the 2nd and 3rd centuries when Apostles/Missionaries as a group were slowly fading away. By the 3rd century, they were barely recognized as a group. I would also suggest that the Iran church have thrived in the absence of foreign missionaries planting and leading churches, while in Iraq, the access of foreign mission workers has NOT been a boon. (Again, open to correction in this area.)

So suppose these three things are true? What does this mean for foreign missions? I would suggest three things.

  • Missionaries today seem to be selected wrong. Many mission agencies, including the main one in my denomination, tend to select missionaries based on their “evangelistic spirit” and sense of calling to plant churches. Maybe, however, this is NOT what is needed. Maybe we need missionaries who support locals who are called to be evangelists, apostles, and churchplanters. Perhaps missionaries should be selected on their passion to serve locals rather than lead, and support locals rather than replace.
  • Be very careful as to where missional churches send short-term mission teams. In many places in the world they can easily do great damage. And in places where they can go, they are more likely to be useful in supportive tasks requested by the receiving Christians, not doing the stuff that their sending churches think is needed.
  • However, missionaries, in the broader sense of the term, should be everywhere. The church is universal and we tend to remember this when we learn and grow with and from each other. Perhaps this means having people who are less thought of as “missionaries” (leaders, evangelists, churchplanters) and more as cross-cultural workers, supporting local work, as requested by locals.

This last point may seem a bit odd, but it is pretty straightforward. When Christians come to the US to serve, they do so without much “hoopla.” Some may pastor churches or be involved in various ministries, but there is no presumption that as a foreigner that they must have a very specific role of leadership or task. Rather, the assumption is that there are needs, and if that person can meet that locally-determined need, then they can serve. What makes sense in the US, should perhaps be recognized as making sense elsewhere as well.

 

 

 

Struggles with Short-Term Missions

A lot of Short-term Mission teams come from “The West” to the Philippines. And quite a few STM teams leave the Philippines to serve in other parts of the world as well.

And they can do genuine good. When they come in as genuine partners of local ministries, when they come in with welcome skills (especially) and resources, when there is a humbleness of spirit, such teams are great. The best teams, from what I have seen, are small… less than 10. Some of the best ones are just 2 or 3 people– there for transfer of specific needed skills. STM can also be a reminder that the church is not merely local, it is universal– it is not merely united, it is diversified.

But then there are other STM teams. They are a different story. There are many sub-stories in this, but I would focus on five groups. These groups are somewhat related and overlapping.

  1.  Churchy Vacationers. People who join STM often have jobs or school, and so are investing their limited vacations in the trip. But even though it is vacation time, it is still not vacation. Some focus on sight-seeing and creature comforts. Others are shutterbugs taking pictures of (exploiting) people who are struggling. It is tempting, and in many parts of the world, the rules of hospitality can make this attitude seem okay for STMers. At the other end of the spectrum, rarely, one can see the opposite where a STM trip was set up to work, work, work, and leave. However, a properly designed STM trip is more like work, work, fun, work.  Mixing a bit of fun with the work will also help make the work more fun.
  2. Cultural Critics. Some come as (very poorly trained) cultural anthropologists. They bring their ethnocentric views of their home with them, and can’t help but note how the food is not as good in their ministry location as it is at home– How the people are so “primitive”– How their houses are so crude, their clothes so odd, and their work so unorganized. Of course, a good cultural anthropologist would not come in and critique compared to one’s own culture. And in STM, one is not generally in a location long enough to critique competently anyway. Even if one is competent, it is commonly wise to keep one’s mouth shut anyway. None of us really enjoy outsiders coming in a disrespecting our country or culture.
  3. Unwitting Burdeners. Some STMers come in and want to help. But too many people helping too much can prove a very big burden on the locals. A team of 15, for example need to be fed, housed, and driven around. Even if the team comes with finances to cover the costs of their stay, the visit can still be a logistical nightmare, and a drain to time, and energy. When we have had short-term mission teams come, I have talked to my church here first, and let them know that it is likely that the STMers will gain more from the experience than the church. Is that okay? That understanding up front really can help. I have seen short-term mission trips where the host got the impression that the STM trip would be a financial and ministerial boon for them. It may or may not be true, but it is certainly not a healthy attitude regardless.
  4. Visionary Dominators. Sometimes, STM teams come in with a clear vision of what they want to do and what they don’t want to do. In many cases, the local hosts are seen more as means to accomplish their vision, rather than partners in ministry. Since locals are experts of what is needed, typically, the vision should come more from them. Often locals have a greater sense of what needs to be done, but are not able to bring that across to the STM mobilizers who are dictating what will be done.

Often STM is touted as a great boon for missions, or even a substitute for a long-term mission presence. Such views are far too rosy. A more realistic view is needed. On the other hand, some see STM as a problem, or at best a good way to inspire the members of the STM team to greater missions awareness. That may be true, but short-term missions can be far more than that.

Missions in Samaria Article

I wrote an article based on a series of four sermons I did back in 2012 that became four posts on this blog. If that was not enough, I am considering utilizing the article to develop a chapter of a book that looks at Acts 1:8, particularly structured on the four locations mentioned (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Ends of the Earth). If I do that, the goal would be practical for churches to think about missions from a local church perspective. Anyway, feel free to read the article, and tell me what you think. (If you are looking for a very deep article, this is not it, as might be determined by the complete lack of footnoting.)

https://www.academia.edu/s/632d893018/doing-missions-in-samaria-lessons-from-the-past-for-today?source=link

SB Missions, Churches, and Missionaries

Thom Rainer’s blogsite had a podcast on why it is important for churches to ensure that the missionaries they support have commonality of doctrine, vision, and focus. Associated with that post was a comment by a listener that appeared to be asking (paraphrasing and reading into it): “Why should churches select and support individual missionaries when they can (and should) be giving to the Cooperative Program?” After all, the International Mission Board is more competent to select and oversee missionaries than any one church. For those not in the know, the Cooperative Program is a collection from Southern Baptist churches for common support of international missions, regional missions, seminaries, and more.

i thought about responding to that comment on Rainer’s site, but decided to do it here instead. I don’t normally focus on denominational missions, but I will this once. 10248_orig

TWO DISCLOSURES

Disclosure #1.  My wife and I are Southern Baptist missionaries who are not tied to the Cooperative Program of the SBC. Relatedly, a lot of our support comes from non-Southern Baptist churches and individuals.

Disclosure #2. I believe that if your church is Southern Baptist, you really SHOULD be supporting the Cooperative Program. I really believe that. It is a good system, and the legacy of Luther Rice, Lottie Moon, and others, is worthy of admiration and continuation. Many of the best missionaries I know (or knew) are/were funded by the CP. That being said, I believe that every Southern Baptist church should directly support missionaries or mission organizations beyond the cooperative program.

Here are a few reasons.

  1.  Churches that don’t directly support missionaries become disconnected from missions. The Cooperative Program, as good as it is in so many ways, insulates churches from missions decisions, missions partnering, and missionaries. When churches are taken out of the loop… except as a money source, it is hardly surprising if it is difficult for church members to feel connected to missions or motivated to see themselves as part of the mission movement. Churches, ultimately, don’t want to “Just Send Money.” And rightly so.
  2. Churches that don’t directly support missionaries or missions don’t understand missions. I remember talking to a missionary who came home on furlough. He was invited to speak at a church that has no connection to cross-cultural missions. He noted that he was presented to the church much like one might present a novel archaeological discovery. That’s understandable since they did not know much about missionaries except images of missionaries trekking through jungles and mountains in the 1800s.  When a church doesn’t understand missions, they have trouble being effective if they decide to be involved in missions. I have seen churches all over the world who have repositioned their missions giving to short-term missions teams and projects. Unfortunately, they commonly don’t understand that short-term work is made effective through integration with long-term plans and connections. Few things are more frustrating than talking to church leaders who really don’t understand Christian missions (though most will mouth support for the concept of Christian missions).
  3. Sometimes the big organization is wrong. Sometimes, the individual church may have a clearer vision for missions that the top people don’t. A few years ago, the IMB decided to make drastic cuts of resources to the Philippines… especially in areas of theological education. This was horribly misguided. The Philippines has the potential to be one of the great missionary sending countries in the world. They need proper training, and empowerment. To remove Western missionaries from the role of training and empowering this potential mission force (something they are especially competent to do) and moving them mostly to cross-cultural pioneering (something they are less competent than locals in doing) was hugely flawed (yes… in my opinion). It was often other individual SB churches and groups that recognized this “error” and provided a well-needed corrective. A few years ago the IMB was “encouraging” missionaries to step aside who believe that women can be pastors. Since Biblically this is an uncertain (at best) issue… and the SB has a long history of “Bible women,” women serving in a pastoring capacity even if not embracing the title, it seems like a disturbingly arbitrary method of selection, and deselection, of missionaries. Ultimately, individual churches can SOMETIMES do things better.
  4. SB missions is able to leverage the dual benefits of collaboration and autonomy. Some denominations (and religious sects) tightly control and allocate resources for missions. This gives greater focus and ensures resources for priorities, but it also leaves a lot of gaps… areas that are not seen because those making decisions see the big picture, but not the smaller details such as local opportunities, and threats. Autonomy greatly broadens the vision by adding more people and perspectives to the mixture. However, it also can lead to a wasteful lack of cooperation, and failure to leverage the scale of the denomination. Ideally, bringing together both the cooperative program as well as state convention, local church and NGO missions brings the strengths of each, and compensates for each’s weaknesses.

In the end, SB churches do need to seek out missionary candidates and mission agencies in which they share doctrine, vision, and focus. They also need to collaborate through the Cooperative Program. Both are needed and neither should be ignored.

Growing Your Church in Four Dimensions

Delos Miles Church Growth

According to the North American Society for Church Growth:   Church growth is that discipline which investigates the nature, expansion, planting, multiplication, function, and health of Christian churches as they relate to the effective implementation of God’s commission to “make disciples of all peoples”

I taught a class in “Principles of Church Growth and Multiplication” here at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary (PBTS). The title of the course is actually a bit… not really deceiving… but open to confusion. The course is centered on the Church Growth Movement, CGM, founded by Donald MacGavran. However, ‘Church Growth” as the term is used by CGM is different from the way it is used in the course title. “Church Growth and (Church) Multiplication” is redundant, since Church Multiplication is a form of church growth. Does this matter? Not really. However, things can get confusing when one says that he wants church growth, since others may not be sure what that means. 110524

One of my students was doing a book critique on “Church Growth: A Mighty River” by Delos Miles. Although a somewhat old book (1981) it had a nice way of looking at church growth in four different dimensions:

  1.  Internal Church Growth. This is church growth that does not demonstrate itself in numbers. It involves the growing of the local church in faith and grace, in spiritual fruit and spiritual disciplines. It is the church moving towards “healthiness,” becoming closer to what God intended.
  2. Expansion Church Growth.  This is church growth of the local church through conversion. People are led to Christ and join that local church.
  3. Extension Church Growth. This is the local church planting daughter churches.
  4. Bridging Church Growth.  This is classic Kingdom expansion through missional church planting.

Miles separates Extension and Bridging based on people group and geography. If it is local and to the same people group, it is Extension. If it is distant or cross-cultural, it is bridging.

These four do not describe all of the ways a church can grow. The most popular way to grow is through transfer growth (pulling people away from competing churches). But of course, if a local church grows through another local church shrinking, there is no real church growth. Additionally, the designations presume that multicultural local churches don’t exist. (Sadly, they are rare, even today.)

Valid or real church growth assumes expansion of the Kingdom of God. Kingdom of God essentially means the reign or rulership of God, so

     #1 expands the obedience of God’s children to His rulership.

     #2, 3, and 4  expands the number of God’s children

Another way of looking at this:

     #1 and 2  involves growth within a local church

     #3 and 4  involves growth through multiplication of local churches

Or yet another way:

     #1, 2, and 3 involves intracultural growth of the church

     #4 involves intercultural growth of the church

For me, however, I like to divide local church’s ministry into “Member Care.” “Local Church Growth,” and “Missions.”  With those in mind, one gets:

     #1 (Internal growth) is an aspect of Member Care

     #2 (Expansion growth) is a component of Local Church Growth

     #3 and #4 (Extension and Bridging) are aspects of Missions.

I don’t like to separate missions based on culture. In my mind, whenever a church reaches out beyond itself to expand the Kingdom of God, without the explicit goal of increasing its own local numbers, that is missions. But that is just me. Other ways are at least as valid, and I see the value of dividing missions in terms of Extension and Bridging.

Ultimately, I believe a healthy church grows in all four dimensions: Internal, Expansion, Extension, and Bridging.

Missional “Surface Area”. Part 2

I like to take the idea of church impact as related to what I think of as “surface area”. In chemical reactions and heat transfer (to name two things) the rate is proportional to surface area of the relevant bodies (warm versus cold bodies, or reacting chemicals). This goes back to the organic idea. If the boundaries of an organism is its membrane, that is where it interacts with the outside environment. One might say that the church also has such a membrane. Take a fairly extreme case. Case A might be a communal closed society which interacts with the outside environment only through goods and services.

Case A,       Church Building Focused Ministry

Church AMinimal Interaction with Outside World

Case B.  Church with Modest Local Outreach

Church Building Focused Ministry  Moderate Interaction with outside World

Church B

Case B may be a more typical church. It meets at one place and has members that have a certain amount of interaction with neighbors and businesses. They may send money to local ministries or mission boards and such (as shown by the greater surface area).

Case C.  Multisite or Cell Group Church

Church C

Local church with outlying sites 1, 2, 3, and 4

Case C may be a multisite church or a cell group church or a church with members doing ministry work at a distance from the church.Church Multiple Local Points of Ministry Work Greater Involvement with Local Community

Case D. Church with Multiple-Levels of Outreach, Local, Regional, International

ChurchWe can take the case D where the church is actively involved in ministry work throughout the world.

 

Which case has more effective interaction with the community and world? All else being equal, it would be the one with the greater “surface area”. One can, of course, imagine exceptions, but Case D is set up to have more impact wherever it is.

Missional “Surface Area”, Part 1

<I wrote this something like 8 years ago. I think I still agree with it.  But I also now see the challenge of maintaining it. The greater the distance the harder it is to maintain connections. Even though we live in a “wired” age, most of us don’t think that way… we don’t feel close emotionally, viscerally, when separated by distance. That separation can lead to drifting apart of church and missionary whether or not there is a mission agency assisting (or getting in the way). Some things are… whether they should be or not. NOTE: The concept of “surface area” gets covered mostlly in Part 2>

I have been a big supporter of the Missional Church Movement. I am disappointed that missional churches have often chosen a path that is often anti-missionary. It seems ridiculous to me that it should be so. Some of the problem, in my mind, is “sociological” or “anthropological”. We have a tendency as humans to decide who is “US” and who is “THEM”. Churches, ideally, identify members serving on 1000, 5000, 10000 miles away as “US”… but the human tendency identify people so far away as “THEM” is powerful. The disconnection starts out subtly, relationally. Eventually, it drifts to financially and organizationally..

Yet Missionaries, historically, have been arms of the church… either being sent out by a church, or an association of churches. Paul and Barnabbas fit this type. Some missionaries have gone out independent of other Christian groups. Bruce Olsen (author of the book “Brushko”) would be one example, as well as tens of thousands of “tentmaker missionaries”. However, most often when we think of missionaries, we think of people who are not sent out either of these ways, but rather sent out by a parachurch organization.

Parachurch organizations are a beneficial alternative for sending missionaries. In some cases it can even be the ideal environment for a missionary, due to their experience and connections. However, I believe that it is ideal for a church to have missionaries who are sent out by the church.

Consider two options.

Option 1. “Local Community Church” (LCC) has 10 mission families that they support at approximately 20% each, sent through a mission agency. These mission families have never been part of LCC. But they get reports back on a regular basis, and they get occasional furlough visits.

Option 2. LCC has 2 mission families supported 100%. These two families are members of LCC. They get reports back and visits as well.

  1. Involvement. In Option 1, LCC has limited direct involvement with missions. Money leaves the church and goes to an external mission agency and goes to people who are not members of the church. In Option 2, LCC has direct involvement. Money does not actually leave the church since it is going to church members. Work done by the mission families is now actually the direct work of the church at a remote site. All members of the church can look at the mission work as their work, and they can be part of the team in a real way.

  2. Accountability. In Option 1, the missionaries are accountable to no one church. As long no single church provides too large of a monthly support, the missionaries are really accountable to the mission board. Likewise, no church is really accountable to missionaries, since they are minority members of the relationship. In Option 2, the missionaries are accountable to the church they are a member of. Likewise, the church is accountable to their missionaries/members. The relationship necessitates prayer and vigilance.

  3. Relevance. What is the church supposed to do. Take the following quote.

The Church in the West has sacrificed so much of what she is supposed to be about that her relevance is lost to the lost. Parachurch organizations, such as seminaries, mission agencies, Christian counseling agencies, and evangelistic ministries, have risen to accomplish so much of what God intended the Church to do. She expects others to do evangelism, leadership development, and social care.”      –by Neil Cole in “Organic Church” (p. xxiv)

I believe it is not just the lost that question the value of a church. Is the church a social club? Is it a fund-raising entity?

  1. Organic Relationship. This requires a bit of explanation. This goes back to Dr. Christian Schwartz and his work in the area of Natural Church Development. It also is related to the work done in small group networks and multisite churches. Consider a church like a living creature (maybe a tree, maybe an amoeba). A living has a surface where interactions take place between the “inside world” of the organism and the outside world. An animal takes in water, food, and air, and excretes various wastes across that interface. Inside that interface, oxygen, sugars, and nutrients are shared throughout the organism for its growth and health. Just as an organism is greatly different in its functions within itself and external to itself, the church is also greatly different in how it (ideally) functions within the body, and external to the body.

    1. Consider church planting. A church starts another church and provides help (money and an initial group of core members, for example). But in the case of multisite, a church starts something that looks like a new church. Its members are still part of the original church, and its leaders are still leaders within the original church. Its budget it part of the greater budget of the original church. Its success or failure is directly related to the success or failure of the church as a whole. With a church plant, often the original church eventually forgets that it had planted a church (the church historian would hopefully know). In that situation, there is not much concern about the long-term viability and growth of the daughter church (after the honeymoon relationship subsides in a few years).

    2. Consider missions. A church pays money to a mission board who supports a missionary. Whether the church recognizes this or not, this is strictly an external relationship. It is like paying the heating bill. One might even look at it like paying a company to come in and go door-to-door sharing the Gospel in the neighborhood of the church. A missionary falls? He can be replaced by another… there are lots of missionaries on deputation, correct? However, as members of the sending church, the missionary has ties that go back to the church that go beyond money. It is relational. It is organic. It is visional.