A Modern-day Parable for the Church

I love stories that make you think. What do you think of this story” (You can click on the short-hand link below)


It is about a big factory that makes grease. Hmmm… strange choice of product. I wonder if that will prove to be relevant in terms of explaining how many churches function today?


A Rewind at the Love Feast

Have you ever wanted to do things over again— perhaps do something different, or something the same but better. I rewind things in my mind and try to “fix” whatever I did poorly, or not as well as I could have. One of the joys of blogging is the ability to do just that. Go back and fix whatever wrong-headed opinions I had` before, or perhaps simply say it better or with less grammatical or typographical errors.

There are stories in the Bible that I would love to see a rewind made. Obviously, I am not speaking of changing the Bible, but simply wondering if the participants in the bible story would like to amend their words or behavior. This is actually one of the wonderful things about the Bible that “heroes of the faith” are shown as humans, with both strengths and weaknesses. In the church age thinsg began to change when it became impious to show such people in ways that were not laudatory. This pattern of sanitizing the records of Christian saints was so prevalent that one argument for the early date of some Christian writing was willingness of the writers to show Christian saints “warts and all.”

One story in the Bible that I wonder if the participants would have liked a rewind is found in Galatians 2:11. The story, related by Paul says:

“Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he wold eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? …” (Galatians 2: 11-14 NKJV)

This passage is generally taken by commentators as an example of Peter behaving badly. I have a study Bible with me (“The Nelson Study Bible”). In the notes for this passage, the commentators say things like, “Given Peter’s immense influence, Paul had little choice but to point out the hypocrisy directly.” “… the behavior of Peter in Antioch was contradictory and hypocritical.” “Peter’s example was so divisive…” “Peter’s actions did not represent conviction, but hypocrisy.” “Peter’s hypocritical example implied that Gentiles had to behave like Jews in order to receive God’s grace.” Clearly, the commentators have taken a position that takes Paul’s actions and perceptions quite uncritically.

I struggle with this passage, and even more so with many commentators. First and foremost, I don’t see anything in the passage that indicates that Peter was guilty of hypcrisy. Perhaps it could be generously stated that he behaved in a manner that some would be tempted to interpret as hypocritical. Of course, perhaps he DID do something wrong, but if he did, the text doesn’t clearly indicate it. After all, adapting to the culture of those you are ministering to is considered a good behavior, not bad. Behaving as a Gentile with Gentiles and a Jew with Jews could arguably be described as good missiological practice. In fact, Paul did exactly that at times. Now some would argue that the fact that it is in the canon of Scripture it must indicate the truth that Paul’s charges are completely correct and Peter was completely in the wrong. However, often godly principles in the Bible are revealed through stories that are in themselves contrasting rather than supporting godliness, or containing ambivalent behavior. Also, the point of the story was that “all people are justified equally before God” NOT “how I was completely right and Peter was completely wrong.”

Secondly, even if you feel that the context suggests that Peter did something wrong, that doesn’t mean that Paul was in the right. In fact, even if you feel that the story must accurately indicate a failing of Peter (and don’t we all have failings?), there is nothing explicit (or I would argue implicit) in the passage that the Holy Spirit found Paul’s behavior without fault.

Instead of arguing that one must be completely right and one completely wrong, is it possible that both were right… and both were wrong? Real life is often muddy that way. Only rarely is one side of a disagreement completely right and blameless and the other side completely wrong and deserving of all blame. If this story is real, as the text indicates, most likely such muddiness exists here as well. And I have to wonder if one or both of them would have liked to have a rewind.

I might imagine such a rewind as being something like this:

Paul came over to where Peter was dining and said, “Brother can I speak to you on a matter privately.”

“Of course,” responded Peter. They went outside to a quite place and Paul spoke.

“Peter, I see you separating yourself from the Gentiles for at the love feast just now. In the past, you joined with all Gentiles and Jews to eat. I felt that you provided a great example to all parties that God is not a respecter of persons— all are equal before Him. But now associates of James from the church in Jerusalem visit and suddenly you are separating yourself off from the Gentiles. It seems hypocritical to me.”

“Paul, I don’t really see it as hypocritical. Here in Antioch there is a strong culture of accepting each other regardless of our background. That is something I really love about this place. But the church in Jerusalem is not like that. While all of the leadership understand that we are equal before God, there is still a strong sense that being Jews is a key part of their group identity. Many of them still go to the temple regularly and participate in many of the festivals and activities of the Jews. Perhaps their attitude is immature, but sometimes one has to adapt oneself to the immature because they are not ready yet for the more challenging things. It is not hypocritical to feed a baby, while expecting an adult to feed himself. One needs special care and another doesn’t.”

Paul responds, “Peter, I see where you are coming from. But I think you need to know something about Antioch and many of the churches that are up here. They are not as mature as you think. They struggle like a yoke of oxen with each ox trying to go in a different direction and a different speed. There is a lot of tension between Jews and Greeks, Rich and Poor, Slaves and Masters, and more. One thing I appreciate in the love feast is that it models, symbolically, what we are and what we are meant to be— one family of one God and Savior. You may be acting in consideration to our brothers from Jerusalem, but there is a cost. That cost is the confusion it causes here in Antioch.”

“Paul. I did not know the challenges you and Barnabas and the rest have here in Syria. I will talk to our brothers from Jerusalem. I think I can explain it to them in a way they would understand. This may be a good time for them to learn not just through words, but through actions.

Peter and Paul returned to the love feast and had a joyous time.

Frankly, I like the sound of this story better. Now you may not feel the same. You may feel it is unrealistic because people tend not to deal with disagreements in such a tranquil thoughtful manner. But I can’t help but think that Paul and Peter would have preferred this rewind if they thought about it. That is because in the first story, arguably, both Peter and Paul were wrong. Peter was wrong in that he adapted culturally to a small number of people from Jerusalem without understanding that it would be interpreted by people in Antioch as either hypocritical, or supporting a racist or separatist perspective in the churches of Syria. This would be quite consistent with the impetuousness that seems to be part of the personality. of Peter. He could definitely act in ways that failed to consider the repercussions on others. Paul, on the other hand, has issues with anger. That anger sometimes leads him to lash out. (Let’s be honest, telling Galatian church members that they might want to consider emasculating themselves certainly points to someone who struggles with anger management.) Paul sees Peter respecting the feelings of the churchmembers of Jerusalem while undermining, intentionally or not, the work of the leadership at Antioch. So Paul publically lashed out at Peter.

Both were wrong, but both were right. Muddy… just like real life.

Blog What You Love or Blog What They Love?

I don’t spend too much time trying to figure out what people want to read about. Sure, if I find a topic that people are reading and sharing more, I at least consider the possibility of writing more on the topic. But I prefer to write what I prefer to write about.

the blog

Still, I decided to look at some tips online about better positioning oneself in the meat market that Internet browsing tends to become. I won’t name the particular sites since they were Page 1 on the Google Search results. They speak a LOT about finding the popular keywords, SEO, and writing on topics that people tend to focus on.

All of that is fine.  My problem with that is that I have minimal passion for the topics that are most common. I simply don’t really want to write about leadership or cooking.

Then there are a lot of aids in how to share one’s posts through social media, emails, and other conduits.

And that is fine as well. But this aspect works better with following the advice of the first part. If one researches to the topics typical readers are interested in, then it makes a lot of sense to advertize to typical readers. There are processes that allow one to connect to the narrow band of people I am typically writing to… but I am not sure, at this time, that I want to go through the grief of setting them up… especially ones that include a price tag.

Another direction is to spend less focus on the numbers. This does not mean ignore them. But it does mean that numbers don’t necessarily control the content, nor the evaluation of success.

Preachers often will say that don’t choose topics to “tickle the ears” of the congregation, but simply share the message that God has given them. I must say that I have a lot of doubts about this. I certainly can see how it is tempting to suggest that everything that comes out of one’s mouth is directly from God. Regardless if that is true, I am pretty sure this doesn’t apply to me. I feel that blogging (and perhaps preaching) is more about self-discipline than about prophecy. (I will admit that when a preacher tells me that he must preach twice as long as a typical sermon because he must “share what the Lord has put on his heart,” I suspect the preacher has not developed discipline.

I feel that for me, the following guidelines are best.  (Some of this I got from Carey Nieuwhof in partaining to blogging).

  1.  Write what you are passionate about. Sure… if you are a chef, you need to cook what people want rather than what you want. However, unless you are financially dependent on your hitcount… you may as well write about what you are passionate about. Ultimately, blogging for most of us is a hobby. “A hobby is something you are willing to do badly.” That doesn’t mean you must do it badly. Neither does it excuse doing it badly.
  2. Discipline MAY be more important than passion. Ideally, you have both. But passion without discipline tends to end up with blogs that are left empty, often after a quick and active start. Discipline without passion is not ideal… but it establishes a pattern from which passion can grow and bear fruit.
  3. Writing inspires more writing rather than leading one to run dry. Writing more makes one better at writing, and aids thought and inspires new ideas.
  4. Let it flow. I must admit that although I mentioned the importance of a level of discipline, I don’t force a strict schedule. I do go 4, 5, or even 6 days without a post at times. But then sometimes, I suddenly have many ideas that hit me at the same time. Essentially, discipline is important, but discipline should not take away that fun. As the saying goes… “Moderation in all things, including moderation.’ Okay, I suppose that I am not using that saying in the right context… but it feels right, and sometimes that is enough. Let it flow.
  5. Discuss what people are asking more than what clever thing you have thought of. I am guilty of this. I think of something really clever… and I put it in to a post—- and it just lies there. Later on a read it again, and I wonder why I thought it was so fantastic. Instead, it is better to discuss questions that have come up in class. If some students think it is a good question, it is likely others do as well.
  6. Periodically read your old posts, and edit. Grammar is important (you probably would not guess I believe it from the way I write at times), so it is good to reread it, not just before publishing, but even months later. One reason for rereading is to learn. Things worth writing down once may be worth reviewing and relearning. I have read some of my old posts and feel very inspired by them. Some, well, do not. Review and reediting is part of the iterative learning process.
  7. Don’t write to be popular, famous, or rich. Write because you want to help others… including yourself.

Some Thoughts on Prosperity Gospel

I know this is a hot topic right now, and I have less to say about it than many others do… but as one who is in missions, it is a concern.

  • I see speakers from the US, Korea and other countries come over here to the Philippines and preach Prosperity Gospel.  Others, including some that have hardly deserved a cup and string, use microphones and cameras to beam their messages all over the world.
  • On one occasion we did a ministry project with a full-blown stereotypical Prosperity church, who saw our team as their way to God’s material blessing. It soon became quite obvious that we could not work with them ever again. More common than this type of church are the churches that are a bit schizophrenic. One day will say that we can name and claim any promise we want, and God will do it. Then on another day, will they will talk about endurance in difficult times and God’s sovereignty to bless or not bless. I used to be a member of such a church here in the Philippines. I recall one time my plan to preach on suffering (our call to follow in the example of Christ’s suffering). The senior pastor suggested I choose a different topic because “Here in the Philippines, people don’t want to hear messages like that.” While I am not a great preacher, my experience is that people want to hear messages that are true and hopeful, and also resonate with the world they experience.
  • Missionaries have been charged with promoting Prosperity Gospel, sometimes unwittingly, in places like Sub-Saharan Africa as well as some places in Asia. The tendency of past missionaries to connect (Western) Civilization with Christianity led many to see economic prosperity as tied to Christianity. The Cargo Cults of Papua New Guinea are perhaps the most obvious example of this. Additionally, there is often a tendency to OVERSELL SALVATION. This sounds crazy…. but if you listen to some evangelizers, you get this sort of message…. “All you got to do is accept Christ… just this one little thing… and EVERYTHING will be better.” Some Muslim evangelizers do the same thing. But what does “everything” mean? Hardly surprising if some think they will have more stuff.

But I want to make different points here.

First Point. My argument is that Prosperity Gospel (PG) tends to promote Wealth Disparity. After all, if PG states that Christians are more materially blessed than non-Christians, and Good Christians over Bad, then things break down if Wealth is pretty evenly distributed. Suppose, for example, that owning a cellphone is evidence of prosperity (God’s special favor), this view fails if everyone owns a cellphone.

You may think that it would also break down if there is a wealth disparity that does not line up with the tenets of PG. That can be true in some cases, but in many cases the disparity reinforces PG. I will get to that in the second point. But for now, PG really needs Wealth Disparity. As such, it can, at its worst, promote a certain “survival of the fittest” mindset where people who fail economically are getting what they deserve— the ugly side of unregulated Capitalism. Such a view make officially disparage it, but in practice support the quote from the movie, Wall Street, “Greed is Good.”

Point Two. As long as there is Wealth Disparity (and if one chooses to take Jesus statement in Matthew 26:11 prophetically, not just rhetorically, I suppose wealth disparity will always be with us) PG can be supported and justified as a Bed of Procrustes. That is, if good people become rich materially, materially rich people must be good. Yes, not all PG groups take it quite that far, but I have had many utilize their own success as evidence of their righteousness, and their rightness.

However, PG can break down when it comes to non-Christians. A rich Christian can be argued to have deserved their wealth over a less rich Christian. But how can one argue that a non-Christian who is rich is more “deserving” than a Christian (in this theological pespective).

Point Three. In its extremes, PG shows itself in ugly ways in addressing the issue of non-Christians having greater wealth than Christians. An interesting case study is in Spain in the early years of the Inquisition. When the last Moorish stronghold was driven out of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, Spain had to come to terms with its identity as a (governmentally) Christian people. Leon Poliakov in “The History of Anti-Semitism” in Volume 1 speaks of this time. Jews and Moors (Muslims) were discriminated against, and eventually expelled or forced to convert. Noble ranks were given to “Old Christians,” people who have no known non-Christians in their ancestry, while “New Christians,” people who converted to Christianity or have non-Christians in their family tree, were granted no such honor. In Spain, as well as its colonies, the land-distribution was done so as to ensure that people in power were Christians, not non-Christians.

Jews in Europe commonly could not be landowners because of their oppressive laws, so they went into trades that did not require land— particularly mercantile. And the mercantile business became the parent to banking. Since mercantile and banking are typically better at creating wealth than agriculture, it was hardly surprising that this form of discrimination actually resulted in many Jews doing quite well in Europe. This triggered new laws and discrimination that, as we know, grew rather in hatred and violence that is, frankly, hard to fathom.

Christians are not the only one’s to do this. Many Muslim countries have utilized the tax on non-Muslims. While, this is actually a matter of doctrine, it serves also as a way to work against the power of non-Muslims. In some Muslim countries, non-Muslims were required to dress in a certain way, or maintain a certain lifestyle that stigmatized them. Frankly, however, it is not my task here to convince you that, “They are worse than us.” I am concerned with how we as Christians live out our faith here and now, while learning from the past.

The point here is that the underlying theology of Prosperity Gospel:

  • Needs disparity of wealth for it to mean anything, and so often does little to promote a more economically just society. (I must note than many non-PG conservative Christians also do little because of the presumption that unregulated capitalism is part of the Christian faith. But that is a different conversation for a different time.)
  • Deals comfortably with seeming discrepancies when it comes to Christians. The wealth evidences their deservedness of that wealth. (“Trump has power, so he must deserve to have that power.”)
  • Struggles sometimes with discrepancies between Christians and non-Christians. Historically, and I would argue today as well, rich non-Christians has been an area of struggle for many of these people, and there is the temptation to “set things right” through bigoted laws, behaviors, and social structures.

I would argue that the Bible starts from the presumption that Christians are more likely to be poor and powerless than rich and powerful. That hardly means that it has to be normative. However, it seems like the doctrine of Common Grace, and the understanding of Genesis 12:1-3 that shows Abraham’s seed is responsible to act as a blessing to all peoples, serves as a better understanding. We bless as we are blessed.

…Then There are Days I am Glad I Don’t Know How to Raise Support (Part 2)

So why are there days I am glad that I don’t know how to raise support?

Number 1.  This is the main reason. I learned that God is faithful. Sure, that sounds like a saccharine-like aphorism. I can hardly say that God promises to have money fall from heaven to fund people who are too stubborn or lazy to build partnerships with supporters. I can say that we were able live on less, and have less regular support than I thought.Image result for bucket full of holes money

I just can’t think that people who practice high-pressure sales tactics truly see their God as one who supplies their needs (even if not their wants).  I still find it amazing that many Evangelicals describe this type of missions as “Faith Missions” because its participants are allegedly “living by faith.” It may not be wrong… but there is nothing about faith in it.

I am not here preaching a Corrie Ten Boom dogma against support-raising. One year she felt that God was telling her not to actively raise support. That is fine. But then she started going around and moralizing and absolutizing that decision. No Christian minister should do support-raising. I don’t see that. If I truly feel that God called me to close my business on Sunday, that hardly means that God has told all Christian businessmen to close theirs on Sunday as well. There is simply no connection.

Number 2.  It helps our relationships. It is hard to have healthy relationships with potential partners when it is known that every meeting is a request for money. I have dealt with people who were professionally needy. They had mastered the ability to appear pitiable. I don’t see that as a godly strategy, and we often felt the need to “duck” these individuals when possible.

Early on, I recall visiting a church we had left back in the US. The senior pastor (who did have some problems) was gone and the associate pastor (one we had greater respect for) was now leading a church recovering from crippling financial problems and community shame. The pastor was very much on edge during our visit, but tried to be friendly. It became clear to me (and I still think I got this pretty much correct) that he was waiting uncomfortably for us to go into our support spiel. I knew the church had no money and that there were political issues why we could not be financially supported as well. Looking back I wish I had said something to the effect:

“We are not here to raise money. But your church had an important role in our spiritual and ministerial development. So we justed wanted to come by and talk with you for awhile. Would that be okay?”  I think that would have removed some of the edge.

That being said, I have been known to go too far. I have had people ask how they can help us financially, and I would say, “It’s okay… we are doing fine.” A friend of mine, overhearing me on one occasion spoke to me later and said, “If God lays on someone’s heart the desire to help you… don’t tell them you don’t need or welcome their help.” Guilty as charged. There is a balance.  Still… when money is not the “elephant in the room that everyone is pretending not to see,” other forms of partnership and encouragement can be explored more positively in many cases.

Number Three. It helps creativity. The classic uninspired solution to a problem is “Throw money at it. But when one’s money is dear, but one’s calling is still broad, one must find more creative ways to solve things. We have a counseling center in the Philippines. That center takes up about 40 square meters of office space. We don’t have to pay any rental. This was worked out by the generosity of another organization… one that does not support us with money, but with free use of resources. We also help them through a formal partnership.

That being said, free stuff is not always valued. We do charge for some trainings so that people will value the trainings. It also allows some of our volunteers to get tangible help with their generosity of skill and time. But our volunteers commonly want to help the people who need help the most. Most of our primary target cannot pay for services, so offering them for free, funded by trainings that are paid for by people who can pay.

Creativity takes time. From my engineering days, we were told in the triad of QUICK, CHEAP, and GOOD,  we could design for any two. In Christian ministry… good is a must. So then one can choose for it to be quick… but that costs more money. Or it can be cheap… but it takes time. If one is spending less time on funding, one has more time to be creative. The alternative is a bit of a spiral.

                     I need money, so I spend time to raise money

                    I now have money, but I don’t have time

                    Because I don’t have time, I have to compensate by spending more money.

                    Because I have to spend more money, I need to use more time to raise money.

I hope you can see the pattern.

Number Four. It supports mutuality. I still say that mutuality is one of the clearest Christian virtues that Christians commonly ignore. The Bible is rather ambivalent on unilateral relationships, but quite strongly supports mutual relationships, especially in the church. Avoiding the patron-benefactor (or master-slave) relationship allows us to often have a more mutual relationship where we help another when the other needs help, and the other helps us when we need help.

Independence is not really a Christian virtue, and neither is Dependence. More Christian is Interdependence. We rely on each other as all of us rely on God.

Number Five. It allows me not to focus on my cynicism. Most of the best fund-raisers are not the best missionaries. This truth could make me bitter and cynical. I can be cynical of people in ministry who seem to have mixed motivations in ministry. I can also be cyncial of supporters or supporting churches who often have no discernment or strategy in their support than falling victim to the tricks of good salesmanship.

The above paragraph may sound cynical… and I suppose I am. But it does not dominate my thinking. That is because we are not competing with each other. I am not trying to get what they are going after. The main challenge I have is to discern which people will partner with us mutually, and which one’s seek to join more parasitically.

And yes, the previous paragraph still sounds a bit cynical. I apologize. I understand that cyncism is not really a Christian virtue… but neither is gullibility. Grace is given but Trust is earned. I am happy to have met many fine people in ministry in whom it is an honor to work with. I hope you have found the same. I have found others that I have concerns about… but I generally have found that I don’t need to stress about them. I simply need to maintain healthy boundaries.

I had a great aunt who was beseiged with letters from political and religious groups seeking her money. She did not have much money. She was a widow and going senile. She was on many political and religious “sucker lists.” After she died, my dad and I spent a long afternoon shoveling (yes, shoveling) hills of letters in her back room from various organizations. It really helped me develop cynicism for many religious groups, and pretty much ALL political groups. <For those of you who think that it is the OTHER political party that does bad things, all I can say is WAKE UP!!!>

We don’t have much money now… so we help a bit when we can… and when we can’t we don’t. But often, when we can’t, we actually can— perhaps with time, or resources, that don’t include money.  Our limited resources tends to keep away the more mercenary fund-raisers. That also helps me limit the symptoms of overt cynicism.

I think that sums up everything. At times I wish that I was better at fund-raising. But overall, God has been good, and I am glad to not be particularly skilled in this area.





…Then There are Days I am Glad I Don’t Know How to Raise Support (Part 1)

My wife and I have been involved in missions for over 14 years. In the early years we did not know much of anyting about raising support. We never went out on deputation. Our home church provided over 80% of our support. We did okay. I taught missions and sometimes spoke of raising support. I liked to note that in raising support it is not that important to focus on need… because everyone has needs. I made the argument that the three most important things are demonstrating:

  • TrustworthinessImage result for philippine money
  • Competence
  • Vision

Then close to four years ago we were notified that we were about to have our support from our home church cut off. Most all of the church leadership thought we knew what was going on in the church… but of the two people whose primary job was to keep us updated, one had left the church, and the other was in the process of being overwhelmed by personal problems and so had stopped updating us or answering our questions.

At this time I began to understand the problem we had. We were rapidly transitioning from 100% support to less than 20%. I did not really know how to raise support— and even less doing so from a distance. At that same time tax law changed in the US (or at least how existing tax law was being interpreted) so it was even harder to get support as an independent missionary. We did not have the resources to estabish a 501c3 organization in the country. (Americans tend to think that tax-deductibility of religious giving is a God-given right— no idea where they got that thought.)

I looked into other options, including going back to the US to teach or pastor— meager options indeed. Strangely, we discovered that we could continue. Another church began to support us, as well as a few others on a regular or occasional basis. We found that we were able to get by. Our cost of living was higher than our support, and our residual funds began to decline, but much more slowly than we expected. In the end, we think that we are able to persevere.

But this chapter had gotten me thinking more about support raising. I paid more attention to those who succeed in this aspect of ministry and those who don’t. I got some information from a person we know who was (he has stepped out of professional ministry) part of a Christian organization that took support-raising of its membership very seriously.  This organization had its members raise support in the same place where they are doing ministry (there are conveniences to this, I can see).

This organization would give its ministers a list of contacts. The contacts were not the only ones they were supposed to contact, but were certainly supposed to start there. They were given support goals, both overall support and weekly goals, of both monthly support and one-time gifts. Each minister was supposed to list everyone he (or she) contacted by email or phone, list which ones he was able to establish face-to-face appointments with, list the ones he was able to personally challenge to support, and what type and amount of financial support he received. Every week this report had to be turned in by each minister, the spreadsheets updated and new sheets with updated goals and contacts given out. Curiously, this particular group received considerable out-of-area support that went to the organization to support the individual ministers. Perhaps the support-raising process was to train members how to do that part of the work. Still the sheer number of hours needed weekly to do this, when it seemed as if it wasn’t all that necessary, makes me wonder whether the support-raising may have had a deleterious effect on their primary ministry work.

I have noted a number of independent missionaries who were especially dedicated to support-raising. On a positive side, they tended to have MASSIVE networking skills. I am still amazed at how some people we work with from very different denominations and ministry types were well familiar with certain missionaries and even were supporting them, or encouraged to do so. Negatively, often these same missionaries did less organizing of missions  than linking themselves to the mission work that others were doing. This is quite understandable. The hours needed for networking and support-raising can certainly conflict with the time needed in the visioning, planning, implementating, and evaluating of primary mission tasks. While it may be true that in a team success is shared, but in support-raising it is quite tempting to take a small role and give the impression of being indispensible.

I have also seen missionary websites that appear to be little more than an electronic  commercial for supporting their ministry. They seem to have taken their website design from some of the more notorious Christian TV personalities. I am thinking of one site in particular of a missionary over here whose website is especially intense in this. I only slightly know the person, so I can’t judge. I am concerned that some people I respect have especially deep concerns regarding their actions, as well as their lack of actions. Frankly, I have no clue whether these issues have merit. But one does have to wonder when money shifts from being a necessary part of mission ministry, and when it becomes an obsession.

I will continue this thought in part 2 and get to the reasons I am glad that I am not good at support-raising.

If you wish, you may continue onto PART TWO.



Thoughts on Joshua 24:31

I was listening to a Carey Nieuwhof podcast (CNLP 134) interviewing Carl George and Warren Bird. One statement struck me and then I lost the train of the interview as I mulled on that. My internal monologue/dialogue tends to be louder than my laptop speakers.

They were talking about how many church leaders take seriously training up the next generation of leaders. However, relatively few take seriously training leaders to train up the successive generation of leaders.

I have seen a great amount of this problem.  Consider the following diagram:


George and Bird noted II Timothy 2:22, and that the goal of training and leading is not simply to develop the next generation, but to develop the next generation TO develop the generation afterwards.

Even the first step is difficult to focus on. In the figure above, the left side feels right. We have seen many examples of this in the Bible. Jethro had to pressure Moses to develop leaders. The book of Judges appears to be a big collection of leaders who led without developing the next generation. Eli would have developed no one if God did not intervene with Samuel. Samuel would have developed no one unless God (or was it the people?) intervened with Saul. Elijah would have developed no one if God did not intervene with Elisha.

But some embrace the right side of the figure above and DO develop leaders. But often they develop a different kind of leader. The type of leader they develop is not trained to develop leaders. When I was listening to the podcast the first thing I thought of was the end of the book of Joshua.

Israel served the Lord throught the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done through Israel.  Joshua 24:31

Now I am not sure how to interpret the passage. Were these elders of the same generation as Joshua (or, I guess, slightly younger)? Were they his colleagues or trainees? Regardless, soon after Joshua died, the leadership broke down. Moses trained up Joshua and Caleb, but soon after those two died, things began to fall apart and we are into the cycle of Judges where everyone did “what was right in their own eyes.”

The leadership of Moses and MAYBE Joshua followed the pattern of the upper right figure. What was not done was the figure below.

Leaders 2

How does this happen? I can think of two ways.

First, they train but don’t empower those they train to train others. I am part of the CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) movement in the Philippines. People in this movement are trained and certified to supervise and train others. However, in the Philippines the desire generally has been to train pastoral counselors or clinical chaplain, but not so much to train others to train others. Often those that wanted to be trained from the third generation still had to go back to the first generation. It is not surprising that the CPE movement in the Philippines has been “sputtery.” It has struggled because the training often did not include the empowerment and certification to train others. The power of certification was often held by the originally certified.  Ordination in church can do the same thing. Ordained ministers train up unordained ministers but those unordained ministers are never ordained or empowered to do certain things. Thus, there is no repeatable process to succeeding generations. When the first generation is gone, there is no one to slip into the role… and they have to look for a 23 year old fresh out of seminary to take over the role. This is not a good system.

Second, they may train but for a different role. I have seen this also in the Philippines. Missionaries came to the Philippines to train up Filipino leaders. However, the roles they generally were trained for was not missions or higher level teaching. They were taught to pastor, lead worship, or plant churches. As important as these roles were, by not training Filipinos to be missionaries or seminary professors, the people became dependent on the missionaries. The problem is that while the church may endure, missionaries come and go, and sometimes just go. I have seen many a missionary refuse to leave a role because he believes he is indispensible. It may be true he is, but if he is, it is because he created the system to maintain his indispensibility. (It is quite possible that I have been guilty of this myself.)

Leaders need to do more than train up leaders. They need to empower these leaders to train up other leaders.

We can do better than in Joshua 24:31. We should do better than training up a generation to be faithful as long as they can remember us. We need to train up generations that have never heard of us.