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.

Materials for EV-362 Students

Here are some resources for my EV-362 (Principles of Church Growth and Church Planting) students. I normally, put presentation materials in my Slideshare Account or on Scribd.com. However, some of this material was written by others so I did not want to put them there giving the idea that they were created by me.

Syllabus (Munson)

Church Growth History  (Culbertson)

Church Growth History (Russell)

Rapid Rural Assessment (Munson)

RRA/Ethnography (Munson)

NCD Overview  (NCD Canada)

Church DNA (Chandler)

COMDEV for Churchplanting (Gabaldon)

CPM Overview (Russell)

CPM 10 Universals  (Russell)

CPM Cases   (Russell)

Cultivating Innovation  (Chandler)

Diffusion Strategies for Change (Chandler)

Pillars of a Master Plan (Chandler)

Bonsai Theory of Church Growth (Munson)

Dissertations and the Quest for Boredom

I don’t really know why dissertations are so soo sooo boring. It seems to me that most dissertations (I have read enough to have an opinion… but not enough to be an expert) fit into one of two categories:

A.  Take an interesting topic and make it boring.

B.  Take a boring topic and make it intolerable.

I am not convinced that it has to be that way. “Boring” is created… it doesn’t just happen. The common format of dissertations as well as the style does often promote this quality known as boring. After all, books that have to survive and thrive based on their ability to attract interest NEVER utilize the styles and structures of classic dissertations.

It is argued that the structure demonstrates academic competence and rigor. It is a hurdle that must be overcome. It is not about the researcher… it is about the academic institution. Unique creativity is not the point.

But, maybe it should be the point. A couple of decades ago I took a class in college called “Modernist Literature.” I liked writings of Vladimir Nabokov. The rest was pretty unreadable. But I remember reading an article from a Modernist author who noted her difficulty (with some level of humor) in writing narrative. The work in becoming a modernist writer appeared to negate the ability to write narratively. But which is the true causation? Did some people write modernist literature and so forgot how to write narratively? Or did som lack the ability to tell a story, so they become modernist writers? Maybe boring writers write dissertations and then require dissertations to be structured in the same boring way. It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg quest.

But there are exceptions. Some schools expect the output of their doctoral research to be publishable. To me this is a welcome change. I am not seeking research to be become simple and sloppy. Rather, it would be nice to see good research with good creativity. After all, good research would be good to be known.

My Master’s Thesis, The Effect of Temperature and Physical Aging on Glass-Reinforced Polymer Matrix Pultruded Composites, was BORING. Yet it had some findings that could be quite interesting… even useful, to those who work with GRPs. But we will never know… because it is too boring to read. I can’t even talk myself into reading it.

My Doctoral Dissertation, Strategic Use of Medical Mission Events in Long-term Local Church Outreach: A Consultant-style Framework for Medical Mission Practitioners in the Ilocos Region, Philippines, is also boring. But its findings are even more potentially beneficiai (for those in church or missions work). But, again, I couldn’t talk myself into reading it, and could hardly ask anyone else to. For this one, I did rewrite it into a form that could be potentially read by others. I was too lazy to go through the entire process to the point where it is truly publishable. However, I gutted it and rewrote it to the point that it could be put up on http://www.scribd.com for those who might want to peruse it. I also made various blogposts and journal-style articles from it. But it is kind of a shame that one has to.

Every now and then an interesting dissertation comes along where the boredom was not injected into it. I am teaching a class on Church Growth and Church Multiplication at seminary here in the Philippines. One of my main resources is a dissertation.  It is “Post-McGavran Church Growth: Divergent Streams of Development” by James D. Tucker, Jr. Actually, I don’t the writer. But I was given a copy of the dissertation by my Missions Professor a few years ago. Despite the less than inspiring title, I find it both interesting and readable. It takes the highly complicated field of church growth and develops a model to describe its growth and changes in an understandable way. I found it quite useful to both understand the church growth movement, and to teach others.

It looks at the history of the church growth movement, and then into various “schools.” In this case the writer describes five major currents at the time of writing as:

  • Third Wave Church Growth Movement
  • McGavran Church Growth with American Focus
  • American Popular Church Growth
  • McGavran Church Growth with a Global Focus
  • American Neoorthodox Church Growth

Obviously, to make it more publishable, it would be nice to have more interesting titles for the groups, and to have images. I also liked how my former professor, Dr. Dan Russell (now a professor with Liberty University online), took that information and put it  into a form that is more “organic” for students to understand and remember. Still, it took a complicated topic and made it more clear.

That is something that any dissertation SHOULD do. I find it a shame that so much sloppy stuff is well-developed for regular readers, while good quality work has not been made accessible. There is something seriously wrong with this.

 

The Joy of Being Understood

I have been teaching a two-week course on Missionary Member Care. That is a broad topic and can focus on logistics, or life cycle, or

English: * This image is a png copy of Image:M...
English: * This image is a png copy of Image:Missionary_ship_Duff.jpg with reduced size and recoloured (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

fund-raising, or whatever. However, in part since I am an administrator of a Counseling Center, I have focused on the psycho-emotio-spiritual aspects or struggles in missions.

One assignment I gave was to ask the students to interview a missionary. The questions are the one’s Dr. Dan Russell used when I took his class in Missions years ago.

INTERVIEW SHEET

                                                   Student:                                                                                                 Missionary:

                                                   Place:                                                                                                     Date/Time:

Description of the Missionary:

How were you called to missions?

How do you have devotions? Include habits about both bible reading and prayer!

What problems do you face as a spouse on the mission field? (Optional)

How do you relate to your family back home?

What medical problems have you had in the country?

Do you exercise or have hobbies?

What are some security issues you have faced?

Tell me about your best local friend.

Why did you decide to go to the city or people you are serving now?

How did you raise support?

How do you keep in contact with your home or sending church?

How do you communicate prayer requests and other needs to supporters?

What mentoring have you received and given as a missionary?

Why did you choose your organization?

What is the size and ethnic background of your team?

How have you experienced spiritual warfare?

Can you share about a time when you wanted to give up?

What type of work have you done? and What is your current ministry?

How do the churches at home look at missionary work outside of the country?

These are good questions, and they are all good to ask missionary friends when you get a chance. But to get real answers there needs to be a foundation of TRUST between you and them. Missionaries are often ready to give the “Praise God for His Victory!” answers. But missions is full of at least as many struggles and hurts as there are joys and victories. Sometimes the joys and meaning flow from the struggles and hurts as much as anything.

Most of those interviewed were from NSC (new sending countries) and are serving in what is sometimes called the 10/40 window. Many serve with little financial support. Some/most are bivocational. If the rope is a symbol of missionary member care and support, for many of them, their rope is more like a shoe string. It is inspiring to read in their interviews NOT the victories, NOT the mountain top experiences, but the quiet commitment and perseverance. I feel a certain connection with them and thank God that they felt the confidence to share their experiences with my students. In reading their stories and trying to understand what they are going through, I feel understood as well. It sounds strange, but true. In some small (and not so small) ways, there is resonance between my experiences and theirs. As I have said before (as I was told by another) one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is to give them your full attention for a few minutes and TRY your best to truly understand what they are going through.

I almost wonder if I would like to teach a class in which the only tasks would be:

                      1.  Interview 10 or 20 (or so) NSC missionaries here in Southeast Asia

                      2.  Analyze the responses for common problems and concerns (ethnographic or GTA perhaps)

                      3.  Develop a prayer and support network for the missionaries.

Maybe that is not a good class project. Maybe it is a better Counseling Center project, or church project.

If you decide to ask a missionary the questions listed above: ensure that there is a trust between the two of you, encourage honest answers (not “churchy” answers), try your best to understand what they are really going through, and LISTEN.

Newest Article on Medical Missions

Changing Priorities in Christian Missions: Case Study of Medical Missions.

This is the third article based on research related to my dissertation.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3/changing-priorities-in-christian-missions&#8221; title=”Changing Priorities in Christian Missions” target=”_blank”>Changing Priorities in Christian Missions</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3&#8243; target=”_blank”>Bob Munson</a></strong> </div>

Missions Research and Practice, the Great Divide…

WARNING!! A technical story to follow… feel free to skip the blue section if you wish.

The cover page to Søren Kierkegaard's universi...
The cover page to Søren Kierkegaard's university thesis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many years ago, I was a mechanical engineering student. My expertise was in material  science, particularly as it pertained to material response to stress. I did my master’s thesis in the creep rupture response of pultruded glass-reinforced polymer-matrix composites and how they are affected by notch sensitivity and thermal aging (chemical and physical aging). Being a bit less technical, I took some specialized fiber glass, drilled different size holes in it and hung weights on them in different heating environments to see when they fail. I wrote my thesis. I was shocked to discover how little information was out their on the research I was doing (that is nice in a sense since I was supposed to be researching in fertile soil). However, the little research I found disagreed somewhat with my results. The other research came up with a linear (straight line) approximation of the results. Mine was more curved… exponential. And when I looked at the data the other researchers used, it was clear to me that their data was more exponential than linear as well. So I came up with an empirical formula to describe creep rupture.

Why am I telling you this?  That thesis is probably on a shelf in two or three places in the world and most likely read by no more than 4 or 5 people total in the last 13 years. The results actually would be quite useful if they could be verified. Follow-on testing might contradict my results (creep rupture tests are notoriously difficult and the data is extremely limited). But if my results could have been verified, the information would be useful in the polymeric composites industry and in safety/failure analysis.

But almost certainly, the thesis is gathering dust (perhaps rightly so) and not being added to the knowledge base of the engineering world. 

<Okay, it is safe to begin reading again.?>

I am mentioning this because I am reading a dissertation on short-term mission pre-field training. It is quite interesting (to me at least). However, I have seen so many dissertations earn their researcher a doctorate but then simply became dusty books on shelves.

Many theses and dissertations rightly deserve to become forgotten… used by a few researchers for obscure bibliographic references or to act as a guide for structure and formatting. However, some have something relevant to say and should be integrated into present thought and practice.

Of course, (and mentioning nothing new to anyone here) one problem is lack of value of theses or dissertations as a vehicle for change. The language and style is unappealing and its form of dissemination tends to lead to their obscurity. What to do?

A.  One can change the format to make it more popular or at least understandable by those without a highly technical background. However, to do this while maintaining the rigor and hurdles of the process is a question. Can the final output of doctoral level research be a popular book while maintaining the proper oversight and high research standards? A lot of popular books are written. Much are little more than propaganda of the writer’s opinions and agenda. Can a dissertation be understandable and easily adaptable to the real world while maintaining the high level of academic standards. (Doctoral programs and masteral programs have probably been “dumbed-down” more than enough already.)

B. One can maintain the dissertation as it is but improve accessibility. This is done a lot with accessibility of papers through electronic databases accessible via the Internet. However, the structure of the dissertation can still lead to its obscurity even if it is physically/electronically accessible. Even if put into a more accessible form (like book, video, digital presentation) it is possible the good can be lost amidst the mediocre. Additionally, a lot of good papers come from obscure corners of the world where electronic forms are not produced and disseminated.

C.  One can require that students produce both a thesis/dissertation and a more popular adaptation. This sounds good, but setting up a new requirements can stretch out the training process even longer than it already is.

I am not seeking to solve a problem here. Ideally, the graduate  (with support of the learning institution and mentors) will develop accessible, clear, and relevant versions of the research that can be utilized to affect change.

However, I think genuine improvements are possible. I have taught a class in church growth (master’s level) where I gave a doctoral dissertation on the church growth movement as a reading assignment. It was clear and informative. So, I think even the old musty dissertation can be made readable if it is allowed to be done creatively.

In Christian missions this is especially important where mission strategy and policies are often developed “intuitively” or empirically by committee with questionable basis (theologically or otherwise). Good missions research can be a big help if allowed to percolate into the broader discussions of strategy and best practices. Of course, that requires that missions dissertations be good as well. I have read more than one dissertation in Christian work where the conclusions seem to be simply the belief system of the writer because they seem to disagree with (or are at least unrelated to) the research findings.