Contemporary Issues in Missions– Part One

I will be teaching a class called “Contemporary Issues in Missions” at Asia Graduate Theological Seminary (ABGTS). Although I teach a lot of missions, and have been involved in a few types of missions, that doesn’t mean that I am on the cutting edge of the missions movement. For a number of years I had relied (at least on the undergraduate level) upon two books that spoke of trends and issues of recent years in missions:

Stan Guthrie Missions in the Third Millenium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

James Engel and William Dyrness, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? Downer’s Grove, IL:

InterVarsity Press, 2000.

The problem of each is that they were published 22 years ago (and researched and written before that). As such, some of the issues are not really issues anymore.

For example, one of the issues was “The Southern Shift of the Church.” Christianity has been growing strongly in Africa, Asia, South America and more. The “Old Sending Countries” of North America and Europe are sending out less missionaries, and the church in these places are seen as a bit stagnant (or worse). “New Sending Countries” have been taking up the slack and are gaining more influence worldwide. When I came to the Philippines in 2004, some of the wonder of this transition was still felt. American missionaries still had a strong presence but many were in the process of leaving. Many Philippine Christians were wondering what the future would hold. Although there were Filipinos who were going out to do missions— it was a great novelty.

But things have changed. I used to use Charles Kraft’s book on Cultural Anthropology for ABGTS. I felt pretty good about that until one year when my class (made up of students from Samoa, Myanmar, and the Philippines) started asking me why the book would say this and that. I found myself repeating myself. I would end up saying something like this… “Well, Kraft was writing this back decades ago for students in the United States who pretty much don’t understand Christianity in terms of other cultures.” The more I was explaining this, I began to realize that I should have let the textbook go (we use textbooks longer in the Philippines than in some countries). Even though Kraft was trying to break down biases that needed to be broken down, But these students don’t have these biases. And today, Filipinos that I talk to feel nothing strange about missionaries being Filipino, Asian, African or anything else. While there still is a lingering tendency to think that foreign religious leaders are a bit more experts than local leaders (a deeply flawed assumption— I stifle a scream every time someone I talk to express a theological opinion and then ‘prooftext’ their belief by quoting John MacArthur or some other self-styled expert). But even that is SLOWLY fading.

This doesn’t make the book by Guthrie useless, or the book by Engel and Dyrness. It is a snapshot of issues. It is like looking back at the missionary conferences of the IMC, WCC, and Lausanne movements. They identify the concerns and values of the time. I have the book “Understanding Christian Missions” by J. Herbert Kane from the late 70s. It deals with issues of the “Three Worlds” (first, second, and third world countries), the Cold War, and the independence movements that were removing the shackles of colonial powers. There is value in studying these… but the issues of the these different times disappear, are replaced, or morph.

Part 2 will look at the topics I am going to have in the class.

Contemporary Issues in Missions

Here is a presentation I did a couple of years ago that looks at a lot of different issues in Christian Missions today. It is part of a 3-hour presentation, so each topic is handled pretty briefly. However, hopefully it still gives some food for thought.

<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_10446944″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3/contemporary-issues-in-missions-1&#8243; title=”Contemporary issues in missions 1″ target=”_blank”>Contemporary issues in missions 1</a></strong> <div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”> View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/&#8221; target=”_blank”>presentations</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3&#8243; target=”_blank”>Bob Munson</a> </div> </div>

 

The Future of “4F” Missionaries?

What is a “4F” Missionary? This is the traditional missionary of the 19th and 20th centuries. I am going to start with 3F because it works better for a Venn Diagram… but we can add the fourth later.

F Foreign  (not community, local, or regional)

F Fully Funded (not bivocational, or self-funded, but financed by churches or Mission organizations remote from where the mission work occurs.)

F Forever (serve in one place until death or retirement. No moving around or short-terming it)

3F Missions

3F Missionary is the missionary of the “missionary call”. The missionary call is based on the belief that certain people are specially called to mission work and they must serve full-time, financed, and forever. Other people who are not called, cannot (or should not) be missionaries. But this understanding is changing.

Quoting from Alan Neely’s book “Christian Mission: A Case Study Approach” (Orbis Books, 1995), page 110:

“During the last half-century, however, a number of changes have ensued which have tended to diminish the traditional emphasis on being called to be a missionary:

(1) The decrease in the number of persons willing to offer themselves as vocational missionaries, that is, missionaries for life;

(2) The difficulty of obtaining permission for such persons to enter many countries as vocational missionaries and/or to remain there indefinitely;

(3) The new models of what it means to be a missionary;

(4) The inclination on the part of many young people today to ignore the traditional and “artificial division between mission in Jerusalem and mission to the ends of the earth”;

(5) The relative ease and speed of travel which is prompting an increasing number of individuals who think of mission work as a short-term task; and

(6) The increased readiness of many missionary sending agencies to depend more and more on short-term personnel.”

Looking at these six reasons, why has there been a growing change in attitude about the “Missionary Call”?

KEY #1. The world is changing (Transportation has made travel easier)

Key #2. The underlying theology of missions is being questioned . (Why is “ends of the earth” work thought fundamentally different from “Jerusalem” work? Why does being a missionary mean full-time, vocational, and one location?)

This leads to the 4th ‘F.’

F Full-time (not part-time, not short-term, not bi-vocational)

In the past, the first three ‘F’s’ implied full-time, but not anymore. Fully funded missionaries may still be bi-vocational… especially if that second vocation is part of their platform to serve.  Ease of travel and online activity now makes mission work part-time quite viable over time. Right now because of some change of circumstances, I could be called a part-time missionary. For the first 18 years I was serving in the Philippines full-time. Right now, I am serving there about 6 months out of the year and the other 6 months in the US. However, I am still doing a lot of my mission work involving the Philippines while I am in the US. I still teach courses in the Philippines while I am in the US. I can still take care of some missions business from a distance. I am now also teaching at a Bible school in the US… but even there I am teaching at the school when I am in the US, AND when I am in the Philippines. <This last paragraph I am adding  in 2022. When this post was originally posted, I was definitely full-time in the Philippines.>

RESULT. Many people are now looking to new flexible models of missions. These include short-term missions, bi-vocational missions, and even cyber-missions.

I believe that both Keys are valid and reasonable. The world is changing. The underlying theology of missions is under attack, but for good reason. Our theology must live in the tension between unchanging divine revelation and changing culture. The argument for only allowing the 3F Missionary is that unchanging revelation calls for it. But this is being questioned. Paul (whose call is often used as a reference for a missionary call) does not fit the 3F model. He was bi-vocational, he traveled from place to place, and it is even questionable whether the work he did was always missional (as is today commonly understood). The Apostle John appears to have been known later in life as John the Elder (yes, there is some argument about this). Since “apostle” essentially means missionary, this seems to suggest that John recognized his own change of role later in life as moving from missionary to church leader. Additionally, the fact that some individuals have been undeniably, miraculously called, does not mean that others weren’t. What was the calling for the 12 disciples? Was it “Follow Me” at the beginning of their ministry with Christ, or the Great Commission? If it is the Great Commission, William Carey (and many since) have shown that the wording makes it clear that it is a general calling for all believers to share the Gospel. If it is the “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”, then this sort of calling appears to be more like a path. The disciples were to go wherever Jesus did and would do what Jesus said. So changing roles (as John appeared to do) is not a problem. This hardly seems to fit the narrow understanding of a 3F missionary.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against 4F missionaries. Arguably I am one <Now in 2022, it is better to say that I have been one.  I am mostly self-funded, and am now part-time by some people’s definition.>. I serve in a “foreign land.” I am financed (under-funded, but still funded), and I hope to do this forever. And I see myself as full-time. I also feel like God called me in a very specific and pointed way to be a missionary. I also think that 4F missionaries are very useful in providing a healthy bridge between cultures in ministry. Short-term missionaries can often do more harm than good… especially if there is no one to guide them.

My point is that the world is changing, and people are (correctly) starting to see divine revelation with new eyes. This has led to new theology about missions. Good missions today is not either/or. It is both/and. Missions works well with 4F missionaries working with mobile missionaries, as well as short-term missionaries, as well as… well, you name it!

What is a “3F” Missionary? This is the traditional missionary of the 19th and 20th centuries.

F Foreign  (not community, local, or regional)

F Fully Funded (not bivocational, or self-funded, but financed by churches or Mission organizations remote from where the mission work occurs.)

F Forever (serve in one place until death or retirement. No moving around or short-terming it)  

One could add a fourth F:

F Full-time (not part-time, not short-term, not bivocational)

However, generally if one is fully funded and “forever” it would be presumed one is full-time.

3F Missions

3F Missionary is the missionary of the “missionary call”. The missionary call is based on the belief that certain people are specially called to mission work and they must serve full-time, financed, and forever. Other people who are not called, cannot (or should not) be missionaries. But this understanding is changing.

Quoting from Alan Neely’s book “Christian Mission: A Case Study Approach” (Orbis Books, 1995), page 110:

“During the last half-century, however, a number of changes have ensued which have tended to diminish the traditional emphasis on being called to be a missionary:

(1) The decrease in the number of persons willing to offer themselves as vocational missionaries, that is, missionaries for life;

(2) The difficulty of obtaining permission for such persons to enter many countries as vocational missionaries and/or to remain there indefinitely;

(3) The new models of what it means to be a missionary;

(4) The inclination on the part of many young people today to ignore the traditional and “artificial division between mission in Jerusalem and mission to the ends of the earth”;

(5) The relative ease and speed of travel which is prompting an increasing number of individuals who think of mission work as a short-term task; and

(6) The increased readiness of many missionary sending agencies to depend more and more on short-term personnel.”

Looking at these six reasons, why has there been a growing change in attitude about the “Missionary Call”?

KEY #1. The world is changing (Transportation has made travel easier)

Key #2. The underlying theology of missions is being questioned . (Why is “ends of the earth” work thought fundamentally different from “Jerusalem” work? Why does being a missionary mean full-time, vocational, and one location?)

RESULT. People are looking to new flexible models of missions. These include short-term missions, bivocational missions, and even cyber-missions.

I believe that both Keys are valid and reasonable. The world is changing. The underlying theology of missions is under attack, and for good reason. Our theology must live in the tension between unchanging divine revelation and changing culture. The argument for only allowing the 3F Missionary is that unchanging revelation calls for it. But this is being questioned. Paul (whose call is often used as a reference for a missionary call) does not fit the 3F model. He was bivocational, he travelled from place to place, and it is even questionable whether the work he did was always missional (as is today commonly understood). The Apostle John appears to have been known later in life as John the Elder (yes, there is some argument about this). Since “apostle” essentially means missionary, this seems to suggest that John recognized his own change of role later in life as moving from missionary to church leader. Additionally, the fact that some individuals have been undeniably, miraculously called, does not mean that others weren’t. What was the calling for the 12 disciples? Was it “Follow Me” at the beginning of their ministry with Christ, or the Great Commission? If it is the Great Commission, William Carey (and many since) have shown that the wording makes it clear that it is a general calling for all believers to share the Gospel. If it is the “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”, then this sort of calling appears to be more like a path. The disciples were to go wherever Jesus did and would do what Jesus said. So changing roles (as John appeared to do) is not a pro9blem. This hardly seems to fit the narrow understanding of a 3F missionary.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against 3F missionaries. Arguably I am one. I serve in a “foreign land.” I am financed (under-funded, but still funded), and I hope to do this forever. And I see myself as full-time. I also feel like God called me in a very specific and pointed way to be a missionary. I also think that 3F missionaries are very useful in providing a healthy bridge between cultures in ministry. Short-term missionaries can often do more harm than good… especially if there is no one to guide them.

My point is that the world is changing, and people are (correctly) starting to see divine revelation with new eyes. This has led to new theology about missions. Good missions today is not either/or. It is both/and. Missions works well with 3F missionaries working with mobile missionaries, as well as short-term missionaries, as well as… well, you name it!