The Boundaries of Missiology

I periodically supervise seminarians in theses or dissertations. Usually, their papers are in missions (although sometimes I oversee other types of papers). A couple of the papers I oversaw in missions pushed the limits of what is considered to be missiological at our seminary. One had to do with process of contextualization of preaching for surrounding villages in a certain country. Since the researcher is from a similar culture, it could be considered not to be missions. Another was researching contextualization of training for a sub-cultural group of a larger culture that is on the other side of a national boundary. A third was researching the value of and understanding of “missional church” principles to church growth in a specific region in Asia. pushing-the-wall2

This third paper was the most difficult to get approved. This is because it is not, strictly speaking, cross-cultural, and the ‘missional church movement’ is sometimes seen as a competitor to missions rather than an ally (and therefore, not missiological). In defending the paper, I noted that my dissertation was on the use of medical missions in a region of the Philippines. It could be argued that it also is not “missions” because of its characteristics of being short-term (for those that see missions as long-term), social (for those who see missions as evangelism and churchplanting), and sometimes same culture (for those who see missions as strictly cross-cultural). My colleague stated that missiology has changed over the years so maybe my paper would not today have been accepted as being a missions dissertation.

That got me thinking a lot about what the boundaries or definitions for missions and missiology should be. My most recent one on this topic is HERE.

However, I struggle in this area. I prefer a broad definition for missions. On the other hand, if one makes it too broad, then everything in ministry becomes missions. I am not sure that all ministry topics should be “gobbled-up” by Missions. But there are certain functions and topics that seem to lap over the more narrow definitions for Missions. A lot of missions strategies function both cross-culturally and same-culturally. Should these strategies be researched by two separate groups of people due to a fairly arbitrary dividing point? Not sure.

But I am pretty sure of a couple of things.

  1.  If Missiology has changed over time to accept certain things as fitting into its realm and excluding other things, those changes have come due to the academic freedom to evaluate and change. In other words, if the changes are good, then the flexibility for those changes to occur is also good. Therefore, having research that pushes the boundaries of Missions should be welcomed.
  2. If the definitions for Missions and Missiology are “Perfect” today (if perfection can be identified), they will cease to be perfect as contexts change over the next few years. Therefore, again, research that pushes the boundaries of Missions should be welcomed, to anticipate and respond to these changes.

I don’t know, however, how much push is good and how much is bad. Good creativity comes in part from having good boundaries. But every now and then, the boundaries have to be tested, and moved.

 

Advice from Asian Missionaries

My “Missionary Member Care” Class at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary questioned missionaries here in Asia about some of their challenges in missions. I have 11 students, and they each asked 3 missionaries 12 questions and recorded their answers. All of my students are from South Asia, East Asia, or Southeast Asia. From the 396 answers, I asked the students to break up into three groups and each group come up with 15 especially relevant statements from the answers.

We listed them (as seen in the picture below) and then started sub-categorizing them. I took the challenges and advice, and created a common response. the other categorizing, I will leave for my students in another week or so.

Serving in missions is challenging. It is difficult to live in a culture unlike my own, and adjusting my living to be in many ways like those around me. It is hard to serve God in places where the people and government are not sympathetic to what I am trying to do. This becomes even more difficult when churches and people at home are inconsistent with their support. It not only makes it hard to travel and minister, but often makes it uncertain that I can care for my family, and educate our children. Team-members can be a great help, but often we find ourselves in conflict with each other. I want people to whom I am ministering to come to God, but often I am so busy and distracted that I find it challenging to spend time with God myself.

My advice to others considering going into missions is to take good time to take care of yourselves. Invest in a healthy diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep. Don’t get so engrossed with the busy-ness of ministry that you fail to spend time with God. You need to regularly take time to pray, study God’s word, and meditate. Also invest in your relationships with others, especially your team-members. Make an effort to fellowship and worship together. You need to learn to work with others– work out conflicts, and seek to live at peace with others, even including local governments. You need to take time to understand the culture, and embrace any opportunity to learn more about the people and about how best to minister to them.

Still, sometimes things seem to get out of control, and problems build up. You need to bring these burdens to God. You also need to have some close friends to whom you can share your problems with. Writing down your burdens, taking some alone time, and even a good scream or cry now and then can help as well.”

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Missionary Member Care, and the Didache

Been teaching a class on Missionary Member Care. I have enjoyed it— I make no promise that my 12 students share that opinion. After the student group presentation of Missionary Member Care in the light of the Carey Mission (especially as it relates to William Carey, John Thomas, Dorothy Carey, and Felix Carey), we had a bit of time left, so I handed out a reading from the Didache that relates to Missionary Member Care.  Here it is:didache_md2

CHAPTER 11 Travelling teachers — Apostles — Prophets

3 And concerning the Apostles and Prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the Gospel.  4 Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, 5 but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet. 6 And when an Apostle goes forth let him accept nothing but bread till he reach his night’s lodging; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.

7 Do not test or examine any prophet who is speaking in a spirit, “for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.” 8 But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behaviour of the Lord. From his behaviour, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known.

9 And no prophet who orders a meal in a spirit shall eat of it: otherwise he is a false prophet. 10 And every prophet who teaches the truth, if he do not what he teaches, is a false prophet.

11 But no prophet who has been tried and is genuine, though he enact a worldly mystery of the Church, if he teach not others to do what he does himself, shall be judged by you: for he has his judgment with God, for so also did the prophets of old. 12 But whosoever shall say in a spirit `Give me money, or something else,’ you shall not listen to him; but if he tell you to give on behalf of others in want, let none judge him.


CHAPTER 12 Travelling Christians

1 Let everyone who “comes in the Name of the Lord” be received; but when you have tested him you shall know him, for you shall have understanding of true and false.  2 If he who comes is a traveller, help him as much as you can, but he shall not remain with you more than two days, or, if need be, three.

3 And if he wishes to settle among you and has a craft, let him work for his bread. 4 But if he has no craft provide for him according to your understanding, so that no man shall live among you in idleness because he is a Christian. 5 But if he will not do so, he is making traffic of Christ; beware of such.


CHAPTER 13 Prophets who desire to remain — Their payment by firstfruits

1 But every true prophet who wishes to settle among you is “worthy of his food.” 2 Likewise a true teacher is himself worthy, like the workman, of his food. 3 Therefore thou shalt take the firstfruit of the produce of the winepress and of the threshing-floor and of oxen and sheep, and shalt give them as the firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests.

4 But if you have not a prophet, give to the poor.

5 If thou makest bread, take the firstfruits, and give it according to the commandment. 6 Likewise when thou openest a jar of wine or oil, give the firstfruits to the prophets. 7 Of money also and clothes, and of all your possessions, take the firstfruits, as it seem best to you, and give according to the commandment.

As I have said numerous times before, the term “apostle” appears to match up best with the modern term “missionary,” both in role and etymology. And that appears to be how it is used here– especially as a missionary who plants churches. The prophets appear to be traveling preachers who go from church to church, encouraging the brethren. I might still call them missionaries…. at least to the extent that they seek to empower the pre-existent local church to know and do what it did not know and do before. Regardless, however, of how you want to define them… they were Christians who traveled as part of their ministry.

Consider how an “apostle” is to be cared for:

  • Receive him (or her since we know there were female apostles)
  • Let him stay one day only… or maybe two
  • Feed him during his stay
  • Give him food for his journey, but no money

For the “prophet”:

  • Don’t test the message of a prophet if it is “in the spirit”
  • But verify if he is a REAL prophet
  • Do not give him money for himself
  • But give money if it is for his ministry

For those traveling “in the Name of the Lord”

  • They are to be welcomed and can stay two days… or maybe thre
  • If they want to stay longer, they need to work. Help him do so if need be.

The Didache is a very old book. Some parts of it appear to predate parts of the New Testament. Some of my students were wondering if I was saying that the member care of apostles and prophets in the 1st (or maybe 2nd) century describes what we should be doing today. No… for at least two reasons. First, this was probably one church’s way of dealing with this particular challenge… or maybe a regional group of churches. There is no reason to think that it expresses any sort of universal guidance. Second, although many restorationist and revivalist denominations think of themselves as seeking to restore the 1st century church; actually, we are supposed to create the 21st century church. The 1st century (as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, century churches) provides us with insight as a flashlight may give guidance, not constraint like shackles might give constraint.

But in the Didache we see a church that is struggling with problems that we still see today. They want to help, but they don’t want to be taken advantage of. They want to be trained and informed by people of Godly wisdom, but not fooled by charlatans.

So there is a time of PRE-EVALUATION.

It is a bit humorous here. If the person speaks in the Spirit, the message is not supposed to be questioned, but then the rest of the section appears to be, in fact, questioning and doubting. Perhaps it is a bit like today. If a preacher preaches the word of God, we in the congregation are not to question the word of God, but we can question the preacher, and his interpretation.

There is CONTINUED MONITORING:  The individual is cared for for awhile, but there is caution that they are not demonstrating the greed of a charlatan. As such, they are fed and lodged, but not too long. If they ask for money, it should be to help another, not themselves.

There is CARE GIVEN:  They are received as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They are fed and housed… but only for awhile. 1 day for an apostle… or maybe 2 perhaps. 2 days for a traveling Christian, or maybe 3.  When they leave, give them food to travel with, but not money.

There is the issue of SETTLING DOWN:  If a traveler wants to remain. that is okay as long as he has a craft that he can use to earn money. If he doesn’t have a craft, the church appears to be willing to help him be able to get a job… but not be a long-term burden on the church.

If a prophet wants to settle down, there is a time to verify that he is a “true” prophet. If so evaluated, he can be supported long-term by the church.

Perhaps the rules about a prophet apply to an apostle as well. (I like to think that John the Elder in Ephesus was John the Apostle after he settled down in later years.) Or perhaps the assumption is that an apostle would settle down in a church that he himself founds.

What we see is a church struggling to help without being hurt. To avoid the two failures (described by Kelly O’Donnell) of Coddling/Placating at one extreme, and Condemning/Punishing at the other. The wording of the Didache bounces back and forth between sounding a big rigid, and being a bit… wishy-washy. Perhaps, that is a good bit of guidance for us today– struggling in the tension between two unhealthy extremes.

 

 

 

 

Problem With Debating

At the bottom of this article is a link on Online Debating. It points out that it is better to seek clarification (understanding) than persuasion.

I like to think about 4 major types of conversation:

DialogueThe article points out that debate (or I listed as “apologetics/argument”) has problems. Positively, it is likely to be better than polemics/preaching because it at least respects the other person enough to listen to what they have to say. But seeking understanding rather than change has advantages. In the article below, two effects are listed: “Bias Confirmation” and ” Backfire Effect.” One can’t do much about the former, but backfire effect can be lessened if on focuses on understanding/clarification, rather than change.

Move toward Dialogue over Lecture improves things further since one is respecting the other person by listening to them.

I would like to suggest (without proof except anecdote) that missions is more effectively carried out through dialogue than the others. The next best is teaching. After that is a toss up: argument or preaching. While there is a lot of tradition in support of preaching… I see little evidence that it works now for much more than confirming what people already believe (preaching to the choir). I could be wrong.

Here is the article:

http://derekouellette.ca/will-almost-never-win-online-debate/?mc_cid=e4ba21a776&mc_eid=a5352fa8df

A Burst of Light and a Gentle Fading Away

I have been teaching Missions History this term in Seminary. Since I live and teach in Asia, I like to focus on missions history in Asia. Frankly, there is a lot more missions history in the East than the West anyway. In the first millennium, the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Edessa spread the faith throughout Mesopotamia, Arabia, India and Persia. Later the “Nestorians” spread it through Central Asia to China, Korea, and beyond. The second millennium has the Russian Orthodox sweep across northern Asia, and the Protestant and Roman Catholic moves into Southern and Eastern Asia. Finally, with the dawn of the third millenium is the incredible reversal with 2/3 world (global) missions going into Asia and coming from Asia. But a good question came up as I was talking about the “Nestorian” (or Church of the East) missions in the first millennium.

Why did the greatest missionary effort (prior to the 1800s perhaps) result in so little long-term gain?

Of course, it is popular to blame Islam, or xenophobic Chinese emperors. But neither truly answer the question. The Coptic church in Egypt has survived (and often thrived) with persecution (of varying degrees). The church has even grown miraculously under persecution (such as in 20th century Maoist China, and in the 3rd century Roman Empire). Some argue that the outreach never really went beyond the Trading centers (perhaps a valid point). Some argue that there was a lack of contextualization and indiginization of the faith regionally (perhaps true in some locations… but not in others). I don’t have a good answer… but always willing to suggest a good theory. I would like to think that there may be a wee bit of truth tucked away in it. Nestorian missions at its height, such as from 628-643 under Patriarchate of Yeshuyab II, was quite organized with a wholistic outreach at cities along the overland route of the silk road. Among the structures that would be set up include:

  • Monastery     (meet sociospiritual needs)
  • Church          (meet sociospiritual needs)
  • Trading post  (meet economic needs)
  • Hospital   (meet physical needs)
  • School (meet educational needs)

The Nestorian missions points were, so I am led to understand, centered on the monastery: Nestorian 2The Nestorians were not the only ones to do this. The Celtic missions movement of the first millenium was also centered on the monastery. But of course, they did not have to do it this way. They could have had the church as the center point. Nestorian 1If one looks at these diamonds, one sees a nice wholistic support system… educational, economic, physical, and sociospiritual. But one might wonder at the apparent redundancy of having two entities that were sociospiritual… the church and the monastery. But the two are very different. Some would describe the church as a modality structure and a monastery as a sodality structure. I guess, to avoid more fancy words, one could say that:

            Church   is centered on       People
            Monastery      is centered on     Purpose

A church exists as an assembly (and assembling) of local Christians. It exists for believers to worship, fellowship, support each other. A monastery is a handpicked group of Christians who have joined together for a specific purpose. For Nestorian missions… the monastery was a missional structure. What do we see when a missional sodality (or purpose centered) structure is the key? Very rapid growth of missions… a nice thing. We saw it in Nestorian missions and in Celtic missions. In fact, most missional movements were driven by sodality (purpose-centered) structures… at least at first. What do we see long-term when sodality structures remain the center? With the Nestorian movement, it eventually lost its missional vigor… and the movement faded (not disappeared… but faded). With the Celtic movement, it was swallowed up by the Roman structure (which was centered, ultimately, on the church, not the monastery).

So if this observation has any merit, what would that suggest?

Missions is driven (at least on the frontier) by sodality (missional purpose-centered) structures. However, to endure, the center should transfer to the church. The people (local people) are the key to longevity.