This is essentially four sermons given a few years ago that have been jammed together into a single document. It still retains some of the aspects of a sermon, including the doubtful practice of alliteration.
I wrote an article based on a series of four sermons I did back in 2012 that became four posts on this blog. If that was not enough, I am considering utilizing the article to develop a chapter of a book that looks at Acts 1:8, particularly structured on the four locations mentioned (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Ends of the Earth). If I do that, the goal would be practical for churches to think about missions from a local church perspective. Anyway, feel free to read the article, and tell me what you think. (If you are looking for a very deep article, this is not it, as might be determined by the complete lack of footnoting.)
I love teaching Missions. As a missions professor, I don’t have to be an expert in Biblical
Studies. I don’t have to be an expert in Theology. That’s a shame since Missions should have strong Biblical and Theological underpinnings. Still, it is a bit freeing that expectations of others is low in these areas. Additionally, as a Missions professor, one doesn’t even have to be very knowledgeable in missions, since there is little agreement as to what missions is, and how it is to be done.
Consider the definition of missions, by their focus.
Focus #1. Heathen. Historically, missions was based on the target. William Carey wrote the tract, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversions of the Heathens.” That title describes a common view. Missions is conversion of the heathen. Who are the “heathen?” Well, that term is now considered old-fashioned. But it essentially describes people who are not part of a Christian culture (or, perhaps, not part of a Christian or Jewish culture). So the separation between missions and other types of Christian ministry is whether the people group or nation is considered “Christian” or “Heathen.” This view is generally replaced with one of two other choices.
Focus #2. Culture. More recently, the focus is on the culture. If ministry is cross-cultural, then it is missions. If the ministry is not cross-cultural, then it is some other type of ministry (such as evangelism or discipleship). Ministry is divided into E-0 (within the same faith group), E-1 (same “cultural” neighborhood), E-2 (similar but different culture), and E-3 (very different culture). In this, missions is considered to be E-2 or E-3. This is probably the most common understanding of missions.
Focus #3. Church. Another view defines missions in terms of its relationship to the local church. Church ministry could be divided up into three basic categories. Category 1 would be ministry to its own members/congregation. One could call it “Member Care.” Category 2 would be ministry that seeks to bring people from outside of the local church into the same church. One could call it “Church Growth.” Category 3 would be ministry that the local church does outside of itself without the intent of bringing people into its own church. One could call that “Missions.” In this light, missions can be local, regional, national, or international. It can also be same sub-culture, different sub-culture, same culture, or different culture.
I, personally, prefer the third type… a church-based understanding of missions. There are several reasons for this.
A. It is more in line with missions as we see it in the New Testament. Most of us would agree that Paul and Barnabas were missionaries going out on missions. Barnabas was from the Island of Cyprus, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. Paul was from Asia Minor, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. On their first missionary journey, the first place they went was Cyprus where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. Then they went to Asia Minor where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. From a cultural understanding of missions, it is not clear that Paul and Barnabas were doing missions. However, from a church understanding, they definitely were doing missions.
B. It challenges the theology of “Missionary Call.” For some, that would be a bad thing. But I think that is a good thing. If one reads Acts 13, we find that Paul and Barnabas were not called to missions. Rather, the church was called to send Paul and Barnabas on missions. There is actually little Biblical justification for a separate “Missionary Call” from the normal call for all Christians to follow Christ. Some (almost) violently disagree with this… but there IS little justification for a professional call that goes beyond a general call of all to serve. Generally, even those that strongly believe in a necessary “missionary call” will acknowledge the need for the church to “affirm” that calling. Perhaps it is better to see the church as taking a more active, less passive, role in sending missionaries. Why does this matter? If there is a clear and necessary “Missionary Call,” this implies that there is a “Non-missions Call.” It only makes sense. If a missionary must be called, then most people are called NOT to do missions. If the church sends, then the problem goes away. All churches SHOULD be involved in Member Care, Church Growth, and Missions, and guide it’s members in finding how they can fit into any or all of these roles.
C. It de-professionalizes missions. Missions stops being the work of professionals. It is the job of the church. Obviously, the church needs help by experts and and mobilizing groups… but cannot leave it for “someone else to do.” Of course, there should be a continued role for professional missions… it just stops being something limited to the professionals.
D. It removes some confusions in what is or is not missions. Is diaspora (same culture) missions carried out in a foreign country really missions or no? Is local outreach to a different sub-culture missions or not?
E. Related to what was listed above, if missions is a necessary aspect of church ministry, then the church can’t dump it off on sodality structures (such as mission agencies). Now, when I say this, I am not rejecting sodality structures. They are not unbiblical, and they can be effective. It is just that the church must take responsibility for missions and recognize sodality structures as partners.
F. It can bring a healthier perspective to the missional church movement. This movement has promoted the role of the local church reaching out. But some don’t take cross-cultural or international missions seriously. PERHAPS it would be taken more seriously if it was seen as an integral part of the missional role of the church, not an add-on.
Let’s stop here. Does this matter… how one defines missions? Maybe, maybe not. But generally, an interpretation of missions that leaves it to professionals outside of the church, removes it from the concern of the common membership of churches. That is not healthy.
- William Carey (1761 – 1834): A sample of the Gospel message from the great missionary to India (deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com)
- Missions vs. Missional? Why We Really Need Both (christianitytoday.com)
This last section looks at Missions from the standpoint of Missions practice. As such, it is not, strictly speaking, drawn from the theme “Walking With.” Rather it is dialogue between practice and principle. I believe that the basic principles flow from the Biblical understanding of “walking with.”
God (as drawn from the OT) relates to His own in terms of walking with. In this we are to be close to Him relationally, guided by Him, based on humility and love. Failure to walk with God in this sense is what we call “sin.”
Christ relates to us in line with God’s relationship with us as described in the Old Testament. The addition is that Jesus modeled this abstract concept with the incarnation. The call of Christ is to follow Him. We have the obligation to choose to follow Christ or follow the path of the world.
The Church is called upon to love the world… but rejecting the path that the world is on. Rather, the church is to follow the path of truth, righteousness, and peace while in the world. Our call is to proclaim the message of God, and prepare the way for Christ.
How can we relate this to missions?
1. God leads. This may be obvious. But God leads us in the paths of righteousness and the way we should go. God is on mission (refer to Blackaby and Willis in “On Mission with God.”).
2. We follow. As a disciple, we follow Christ. In joining God on His mission, we are sent out by Him… still being led by Him.
3. We go. We live led by God in the ways of righteousness, but in the world. As such, we follow the model of Christ in dwelling and interacting with those who are on the wrong path. We prepare the way for Christ in this world by inviting people to join us in following God… the straight path. As John Perkins notes with regards to Christian Community Development, relocation (as in moving into the community in which transformation is sought). It seems like this principle should be applied beyond the narrow bounds of community development.
4. We model. Invitation is not enough. The path of God is characterized by Righteousness, Love, Peace, and Truth. As we share truth, promote peace, practice love, and seek righteousness, we decorate the Gospel.
5. They choose. Regardless of one’s opinion about freewill and God’s election, from a human perspective… people choose. They choose the path that they desire. Ideally, as they see the path, process, and life Christians are on, they desire it, and follow you as you follow Christ. Hopefully soon they will understand that they are following Christ and you are only assisting them in that path.
Okay… this is pretty simple set of items… some might describe them as self-evident. But in missions nothing seems to be self-evident. I would like to suggest there are some aspects of missions that don’t fit into this set of principles.
A. Distance missions. Just send money is not missions. I am in missions so I certainly don’t mind if people send money. But missions is incarnational. It involves face-to-face and heart-to-heart experiences.
B. Propositional evangelism. It is okay to memorize the Romans Road or Evangelism Explosion or the Wordless Book. But truth is not enough. Christian missions is based on living out God’s path in a process. Propositional evangelism is of value only within the context of godly living in interactive relationships with others.
C. Futurist focus. Christianity is a hear and now religion. The path we were given is in this world. We can, rightly, be comforted in a confident future. But that in no way means we should minimize the importance of where we are, who we are, and what we are doing… here. Faithfully walking the path God has placed for us is more important than setting dates for His imminent (or perhaps delayed) return.
D. Militant focus. We may be justified in singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and I was in the military and believe that there is good in the military and in militaristic symbols. However, our relationship with the world should be more characterized by love, peace, and righteousness, than by militaristic (both offensive and defensive) metaphors.
E. Signs and Wonders, and Power Encounter. Christian missions is described best in day by day faithful living that relates to the world around us with truth, love, peace, and righteousness. This sort of living provides a considerable challenge to others when they compare it to the lies, selfishness, conflict, and sinfulness that surrounds them. Miracles certainly may have their place… but there “non-ordinariness” suggests that they are not part of the normal Christian ministry. In fact, sadly, sometimes miracles are done (whether actual works of God or works of chicanery) in place of truth, truth, peace, and righteousness.
F. Narrow definition of missions. Missions is following Christ and living out the path He has given. In certain circumstances it may be useful to define missions in terms of profession, in terms of cultural bridging, in terms of finance, or in terms of calling. But ultimately, we indeed are meant to be on missions and as long as we are alive on earth we are in the mission field.
This ends my 6 part (it was going to be 5 part) series seeking to look at missions theology through the theme of “walking with.” I hope it has some value to some.
- On the Theme “Walking With” : A Missions Theology. Part 5 (munsonmissions.org)
- On the Theme “Walking With”: a Missions Theology. Part 4 (munsonmissions.org)
- On the Theme “Walking With”: a Missions Theology. Part 3 (munsonmissions.org)
- On the Theme “Walking With”: a Missions Theology. Part 1 (munsonmissions.org)
- Christian Missions through the Lens of the 14th Century (munsonmissions.org)
- On the Theme “Walking With”: a Missions Theology. Part 2 (munsonmissions.org)
- The Righteousness of God is a gift, it is our armor, a pathway, a weapon for defense and our protection from the enemy -given to us through Christ Jesus (prepareforthelamb.wordpress.com)
Mistake #3. The Challenges of Dependency, Paternalism, and Stewardship
One of the first things I learned in missions is the danger of paternalism. A missionary should not amass control others but empower others. Therefore, one should not pass on resources with a lot of strings attached.
I also learned that giving can create dependency… so there is a risk in providing resources. One should focus on helping people discover and utilize the resources they have.
But problems come up.
When we tried to give without strings attached, sometimes we got burned. We forgot that one of our roles is a steward and we are responsible also to our supporters. This risks of paternalism are there… but the risk doesn’t justify bad stewardship. There is a tough balance here. Too much control can cause problems. Too little control can cause problems.
We provided help to people in need… sometimes it helped and sometimes it did appear to create dependency. And yet, some people when they were helped would take off and soar. Again, there is a stewardship issue here. Just as in the parable of the talents, one needs to find out how the person responds to a little help. Some rise up and some fall down. Again, I learned I needed to provide a certain amount of oversight to mentor the person. Generally, it seems like giving long-term to a group results in dependency. However, giving to individuals can empower or debilitate… it depends on their character and the nature of the relationship between the supporter and the recipient.
I read books on the dangers of dependency and of paternalism. However, in the end, these have to be balanced with the need for stewardship as well as the need to be a source for empowerment.
Some successes and some failures… but always learning. But learning only through books has its drawback, because it often takes real life situations for one to discover the nuances of ministry that are not really covered in books.
I am scheduled to teach a two-week course at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary (www.pbts.net.ph) this April as part of its Summer Institute. Basically, it is an 8-week course shoved into two weeks. I am not sure that “Pastoral Care and the Missionary” is the name the course will finally settle on, but I like it. There is a course at PBTS that deals with “Missionary Member Care” but traditionally it has focused more on logistical issues and relational issues (relationships with supporters, mission board, hosts, etc.). This is all good, but as someone involved in missions, and one who serves as the administrator of Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center (www.bukallife.org), I wanted to focus more on the psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of missions.
But let’s ask an obvious question. Why have a question that focuses on pastoral care for one profession? I used to be a mechanical engineer… would it make sense to have a class entitled “Pastoral Care and the Engineer?” <Hmmm…. that’s got me thinking…>
This is not a hugely well thought out post… hopefully by the time I finish prepping for the class I will have a clearer view. But here are some reasons to consider:
1. Cross-cultural Immersion. Most (classic) missionaries are raised in one culture, yet are expected to live and thrive in a new culture. Yet missionaries aren’t typically meant to “go native”… to become become completely enculturated in their new culture. There are a couple of reasons. Missionaries are supported by people from their home culture, and they still be able to relate to them. Additionally, missionaries aren’t supposed to simply become part of a new culture, but to connect counter-culturally, adapting to the culture while also challenging it.
Missionaries often feel “culture shock” as they enter a new culture. Yet, they never truly fit in. This feeling (conscious or unconscious) of being a “stranger in a strange land” provides considerable stress that must be recognized, understood, and dealt with.
2. Bomb in the Suitcase. I did not create this term… IMB has used it before, but I am not sure if they developed the term either. The idea is that when a missionary goes overseas, he (or she or they of course) carries baggage with him. Yet some of the baggage he carries he is not fully aware of. And that baggage has the potential of “blowing up” overseas. Here are a few items:
a. Anger. If a missionary has a bit of an anger problem in his home culture… he can probably deal with it because he has had decades to make his behavior culturally acceptable. But in a new culture, there will be things done differently that are very irritating (driving, food, the lack of privacy, whatever). Also, that which is culturally acceptable is different. Anger that could be dealt with at home may blow up on the field.
b. Sex. Family, friends, church, accountability partners at home may keep sexual problems under control. But in the field, much of that support network is gone. Additionally, the cultural landscape may be more relaxed sexually than home, and even where the culture is more conservative there are often things permitted that the missionary has not had to deal with before. It is easy to develop an attitude that “whatever happens in the field, stays in the field.” On the other hand, home supporter expectations may also cause problems. A single missionary at home may be encouraged to marry, but a single missionary in the field may be discouraged from this due to ethnic prejudices or mission board policies.
c. Financial Mismanagement or Laziness. Problems with money or time or work may not be too much of a problem in a company or organization with a great deal of oversight… where one’s boss’s office is just a few feet away from one’s cubicle. But when management is distant, work problems can flare up.
There are many more potential bombs but you get the idea.
3. Unreliability and Unrealistic Expectations of Partners. Missionaries are expected to be reliable, but sponsors and agencies are often less reliable. Missionaries often don’t know from month to month (certainly year to year) whether their support will continue to come in. Local hosts on the other hand may see missionaries as a cash cow. Supporters want to hear about victories more than struggles, big numbers over gradual transformation. Some supporters expect missionaries to suffer, Missionaries often are asked to host short-term missionaries… many of whom are great, but some are more like demanding and judgmental religious tourists. Many a missionary has gone home to be cut off financially, or to retire without a support system. Missionaries aren’t expected to have emotional or (especially) spiritual problems. And if they do… who can they go to? In some cases, there is no one to go to.
4. Failure. Missionaries are supposed to succeed. But success is often hard to recognize. Partnership failure, organizational or ministry failure, physical or emotional breakdown happens. These can happen with anyone… but the situation of many missionaries makes it difficult to handle these… especially if they have not been prepared for the vicissitudes of mission work.
5. Special Family Issues. Missionaries don’t just do their work and then join their family at home. Their family is also intimately involved with the mission work in the mission field culture. Children must be bicultural typically and educated to be able to function effectively in two different cultures. Many do no not have the flexibility and resilience for this. Additionally, missionaries cannot care for aged parents well from a distance. Yet, missionaries can’t (or at least should not) dump their family concerns on God… they are responsible for their family.
6. Adaptation. I have said that the two major characteristics of missionaries is Willingness and Flexibility. Spirituality is important, but often not the sort of spirituality that is appreciated by supporters. Spirituality is often shown in flexibility… adjusting to different ministry work, schedules, partnerships, locations, and so forth. Most people don’t deal well with changing schedules… most like a certain amount of routine. Even for those who like variety and change… it is still a source of stress. Burnout is easy… especially when willingness is not tempered by one’s own limitation.
7. Spiritual Warfare. Okay, I have to admit that I often don’t take spiritual warfare as seriously as I should (covering this more on a future post) but I do recognize that missionaries are in the front-lines of a battlefield that few people understand or are prepared for.
I will stop here. Anyway, I am looking forward to this class. The Philippines is an up-and-coming mission-sending country. But missionary care here is almost non-existent. Worse, it seems as if (sometimes) the senders seek to make the missionaries suffer more. That could be a mistaken impression on my part… but I do believe there is GREAT room for improvement.
Occasionally, I contribute to Answers.com. When I do, it is because I am really bored. This is one of my better answers I guess (although reading it, I probably should clean up the grammar sometime. Link and answer below:
A. The “Southern Shift” of Christianity. Even into the early 1900s, Christianity could justifiably be described as a “European/American” religion (particularly when speaking in terms of Protestantism). But things have changed. There are still some of other faiths who seek to label Christianity in terms of European or North American cultures, but that has long become meaningless. This is seen in several ways.
- The church. There has been a great growth of the church in places such as Sub-saharan Africa, and China (among other places). Some denominations that were very Eurocentric (The Anglican church is a good example) is now centered in adherents in countries that used to be described as “3rd World” and now “2/3 Word”.
- Theology. Christian Theology does not necessarily have a “Made in Germany” stamp on it anymore. Liberation Theology, 3rd Eye, various theologies within the African Independent Churches, Dalit theology, and more are becoming valid voices within Christian thought.
- Missions. Regarding Protestant Missions, the 1700s was dominated by Germany. The 1800s was dominated by England. The 1900s was dominated by the United States. But this new century is completely different. South Korea, Brazil, Nigeria, Ghana, the Philippines, and more are sending out missionaries all over the world. The same can be said within Catholic missions.
- Missions Strategy. The 1915 Edinburgh Conference on Missions was dominated by European and American missionaries, missiologists, and mission organizations/ societies. But times have changed. Not only have more and more missionaries come from 2/3 world countries, but mission organizations and mission strategies are also coming from these countries. The B2J (Back to Jerusalem) movement is a mission strategy born from the young Chinese church. OFW (overseas foreign workers) missionary strategy is being developed by the Philippine church. The Barefooting strategies of many of these organizations and churches vary greatly from those of more traditional churches and agencies.
B. Global Communication and Transportation. Global ease in transportation has produced the Short-term mission movement. This was nearly impossible before transoceanic flights. Ease in communication has created virtual missionaries. Those who minister in the virtual world that many around the world share. Since we are discussing Christian missions within a medium that can be read, analyzed, and edited almost anywhere in the world, this point seems pretty self-evident.
C. Pluralism. The ease of interaction and transportation leads to the interaction of people of different cultures and faiths. This leads to a number of new aspects in missions. First is that cross-cultural missions can happen without leaving one’s neighborhood. The growth of ethnic churches or congregations alongside (and sometimes within) traditional churches is one result. Additionally, missions often focused on unidirectional communication (preaching and teaching) but pluralistic societies lend themselves to more 2-way communication. This can include both apologetics and dialogue. The growth of dialogue (particularly) requires new training and strategies.
- Postmodernity and Christian Missions in Asia: An Essay (davidclemente.typepad.com)
There has been a lot of concerns about Christian missions and its role in RELIEF and in DEVELOPMENT. Much of this is in the area of perception. Here is some variety with regard to perspective regarding these forms of social ministry.
1. Perspectives regarding the relationship between these forms of social ministry and “spiritual” ministry in mission work. Jerry Ballard ( “Missions and Holistic Ministry.” In World Missions: The Asian Challenge: A Compendium of the Asia Mission Congress ’90, (Held in Seoul, Korea August 27-31,1990), 342-344) speaks of 5 basic perspectives. These are:
a) Spiritualist. Spiritualistic ministries (evangelizing, discipling, church-planting, etc.) are the only God-ordained ministries. Other ministries distract.
b) Social Gospel. Doing good, socially, IS doing Christian mission.
c) Convenience. Spiritual ministry is the only REAL ministry, but social ministry does not distract from REAL ministry as long as one has adequate time and resources. (It is nice to be nice)
d) Ulterior Motive. Social ministry opens the door for Spiritual ministry (which is the “real” ministry work of missionaries).
e) Wholistic (or holistic). Ministry is concern for the whole person in their social setting. Therefore, ministry must be holistic… social and spiritual.
The people I tend to work with tend to be either “Ulterior Motive” or “Wholistic”.
The problem with the perspective of ulterior motive is that it devalues the person (don’t really care about the person so much as “saving souls”). Additionally, it tempts one to do “bait and switch”. On the other hand, Jesus did social ministry because of compassion (holistic) and as a sign (ulterior motive). So saying what is the absolutely correct perspective is not cut and dry.
2. Perspectives of social ministry in the social sciences. Social ministry can seem like a no-win situation. Relief work can be perceived as charitable or paternalistic. Development can be viewed as transformational or as culturally imperialistic. The good news is that you simply can’t please everyone so you don’t have to. However, it is good to listen to both supporters and detractors. Relief can drift from an edifying work to a destructive work. The same can be true of development.
3. Perspectives of development and relief (from their own proponents). The biggest detractors of Christian relief tends to be from Christian community developers. To developers, relief disempowers, demotivates, and creates dependence. Of course, people doing Christian relief can point out problems in development. Development has a high failure rate, and is too slow to deal with immediate problems.
Focusing on the third perspective area, I (as usual) prefer a Both/And idea rather than an Either/Or.
The diagram above is the “Double Vortice Model” that was part of my dissertation on medical missions. It suggests that when outsiders come in, they have the resources and skills. Thus, initially, health ministry in a community is focused more on relief (although partnership and collaboration with local individuals and groups is still essential). One can see that as the right vortex being dominant… outsiders coming in, partnering with locals, carrying out wholistic ministry, and going away, with the possibility of repeating the cycle as necessary. However, locals have the cultural knowledge and the long-term presence, so to move from “healthy” relief to “healthy” development, there must be skills and resource transfer to the local population so that the left vortex will eventually dominate (with limited continuation of the relief cycle since there is no society on earth that is completely self-sufficient).
An unhealthy situation is where there are no skills or resource transfer to the local population (or no partnership). Jesus fed the 5000 as a relief ministry of compassion. This demonstrated His concern for their immediate short-term needs. That was good. But if he fed them every day… what was a wonderful expression of love and a sign of the Kingdom of God, would become damaging. This would create dependency and diminish local capacity to deal with problems. On the other hand, a complete absence of outside support lives in denial of our own interdependence. We are stronger as we share, learn, and grow with and through each other.
Dependence is not the ideal, but neither is Independence. We all need Interdependence.
I consider myself to be a missionary. However, my biggest single role is the administrator of a counseling center. There are forms of counseling that are distinctly evangelistic. But “normal” pastoral care, counseling, and chaplaincy typically works within the “faith context” of the client/patient, and assumes (to a large extent) that the person already has the answer they need inside of themselves.
This comes off as being distinctly in conflict with missions. And perhaps this seeming conflict is quite real. But perhaps before one jumps to final conclusions, analysis of the similarities and differences is valuable.
Similarities between Missions and Pastoral Counseling:
- Both are person focused. That means that both in missions and in pastoral counseling, the primary concern is the well-being of the client/respondent.
- Both are holistic (wholistic). That is, both are (or should be) focused on the whole person— physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
- Both are interested in correcting bad thinking, bad behavior, and bad relationships.
- Both reach out beyond the confines of the local church and the universal church.
- Both do (or should) be concerned with issues of Love and Justice. This means that morals/ethics are important to both.
- Both share the use of common tools such as religious symbols, rites, prayer, and more (especial in Pastoral Counseling within the context of chaplaincy).
But there are some obvious differences:
- Missions seeks a specific type of spiritual transformation (conversion to Christianity). Pastoral Counseling seeks spiritual transformation generally within the existing faith system of the client.
- Missions seeks a specific type of spirito-social transformation (member of a community of Christian believers). Pastoral Counseling seeks spirito-social transformation within the existing faith community of the client.
- Although both share religious symbols and rites, it is possible that a chaplain/counselor may be expected to use the symbols and rites of the client, not that of the counselor.
<In other words, Pastoral Counseling is not normally involved with proselytization.>
There are some apparent differences that are not differences at all. Particularly, there are a lot of differences in terminology/jargon. Much of this comes from the fact that the modern missions movement and the pastoral care and counseling movement grew up independently of each other as separate sub-cultures of sorts. Different terminology often makes one think that there are differences where there are none. There are also some differences in common theological stands. Missionaries tend to be more conservative in their theology (regardless of religion or denomination) while Pastoral Counselors tend to be more liberal in comparison. However, this is trend, not a necessity.
So are Missions and Pastoral Counseling compatible? I believe looking at the above points, the two are at least 80% compatible. But what about the final 20%? I am not sure I have the complete answer for that. But here are some thoughts.
- For clients within the same faith community as the pastoral counselor, the incompatibility with missions greatly reduces.
- Some missions methodologies start through working in and through the faith/cultural context of the potential respondent. The C4 or C5 models for church growth in a Muslim-dominant culture works within and through many things that are distinctly Muslim in symbol and rite. Another one would be in the area of redemptive analogy, where the myths, rites, symbols, and beliefs of the respondent are used in the missions outreach.
- Some counseling aspects come closer to missions. Part of counseling goes well beyond “finding the truth that is within”. Counselors also seek to reframe to lead to new realizations within mental, emotional, social, and spiritual areas. Since change, growth, and epiphany are all parts of the healthy counseling experience, pastoral counseling is (or can be) in some ways rather similar to missions.
- Pastoral Counseling utilizes non-judgmental dialogue, which breaks down barriers between two people. There is a growing realization that this is also valuable in missions.
Taking these additional points into account, the conflict between Missions and Pastoral Counseling may be reduced to approximately 10%. This 10% is important and should not be ignored. However, many missionaries, mission agencies, and churches reject pastoral counseling in a missions environment because of misconceptions about good mission work and about pastoral counseling.
Am I completely comfortable with my role in both missions and pastoral counseling? No, I still have the tendency to compartmentalize, or drift to one side or the other. I still wonder whether pastoral counseling would become more effective if it placed greater emphasis on conversion. I also still wonder whether missions would ultimately become more effective if it focused more on dialogue, relationship, and wholistic growth rather than on a quick allegiance encounter (statement of faith).
Hopefully a better understanding of each will lead to healthy missions and healthy counseling that both lead to wholistic health and healing of the whole person.
There is a big disagreement as to whether someone can “lose” their salvation. Jesus seemed to set up a stark separation between those that were in God’s hand and those where weren’t. John certainly expressed doubt that the elect could ultimately be deceived. On the other hand the writer of Hebrews seemed to suggest that perhaps they could.
I will leave that for the Biblical Scholars. Part of the problem comes from the fact that we cannot know who is saved. The Book of 1st John tells how we can know that we are children of God, but not how we can know that others are. Paul emphasizes that it is the outworking by God of our faith, but we cannot tell whether others truly have faith or not. James notes that faith without visible outworkings is not real faith. Jesus even noted that those who have some visible manifestations of faith (even miraculous acts) may not be saved or have ever been known of God. Evangelicals tend to focus on the “Sinner’s Prayer” as evidence, but it is not so much a Biblical requirement for salvation, as a formula of sound doctrine tied to a vocal declaration of faith. It does not necessarily express the working of the heart and mind. Therefore, it is not necessarily a good assumption that a person who has said the Sinner’s Prayer is saved, any more than it is a good assumption to believe that those who have not verbalized this prayer are not saved.
Rather than get into a fight over this… let’s simply accept the reality that some people we THINK are saved fall away into faithlessness or into false faith. This is a reality, regardless of what is truly going on on a salvific level.
How do we close the back door of faith? There have been many different methods.
1. Separatism. I was raised in a Separatist tradition. Those who believe are taken into the church and shielded, as much as possible, from outside influences. Extreme versions of this may be cultic in structure, if not in doctrine. Milder versions may be of value. Certainly, there needs to be changes and often it is easier for these changes to occur if old connections are severed.
There are, of course, problems with this as well. I already mentioned the temptation to want to control the lives of the members. Jonestown was simply the most extreme of a very common tendency to completely regulate and separate members. Also, removing influences from new members also removes the member’s potential to be an influence on others. Finally, there is a tendency of separatist groups to create their own sub-culture. This sub-culture is likely to have little influence on the broader culture around, and may gradually become irrelevant.
2. Emotional Event. I worked at a Christian Summer camp for several years. At the end of the week we would have what was called the “Burning Bridge” ceremony. We would gather in the woods at night around a bonfire. We would sing appropriate meditative gospel songs (“Pass It On”, “Seek Ye First”, etc.). Testimonies would be given. Then a call was given for those who are ready to give their lives to Jesus tonight, or have given it earlier in the week. They would get up and cross a small bridge that was built over a stream. The rest of us would keep singing. Next those who have “assurance of salvation” would cross next. Then those who dedicate (rededicate?) their lives to Christ would cross next. Finally those who are committed to Christ but have made no new decision this week would cross last. In theory those who have decided not to follow Christ would stay behind (can’t remember if that ever actually happened). We would sing “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus” as the bridge is set ablaze and eventually crashes into the stream (the ropes suspending the walkway were what actually burned).
Other methods can be used. Baptism can be used as a visible symbol, or First Communion. Other groups expect some sort of “miraculous” manifestation. These are meant to be visible and emotional signposts that one can grab onto to demonstrate to oneself and others one’s faith. One used here by some groups in the Philippines is EGR (Encounter God Retreat). It is a couple of days of lectures tied to some acts that are meant to be symbolic in the mind of the individual of spiritual change.
While these forms of events may be helpful for some, their problems hardly need to be noted (but will be noted). First, there is a tendency to confuse the act with the faith. That is why some groups will require people to go through one of these experiences even if they have demonstrated their faith and love for God in more reliable (and Biblical) ways. Second, since the act is not salvation itself, it can confuse and delude the people involved. It is not without reason that Jesus said there would be some “doing miracles” in Jesus name that He did not know, and others whose behavior satisfied a religious group but were considered unacceptable by God (see Matthew 25 for example). Often those who crossed the burning bridge one year for salvation would cross it for assurance the following year (because the emotions wore off over the year). Finally, some groups provide an experience that can do more harm than good. EGR varies from church to church here in the Philippines, but the standard version is of such poor quality theologically that one must wonder whether people may come out of it more damaged and deceived than anything else. Some groups looking for a physical sign leaving those who can’t muster up the sign and have too much integrity to “fake it” in a state of doubt and confusion.
3. Small groups. Small groups have been around for a long time. Monastic groups, Sunday School groups, Accountability groups, Cell groups, Growth groups, and Ministry teams are but a few. They provide the socialization of faith and (hopefully) the place for nurture.
I like small groups (particularly ministry teams and growth groups). But they may not be the best setting for a young believer. A group that may be supportive and helpful for a member of two or three years can be a very foreign setting utilizing an arcane lingo to new believers. Some fight this by making the groups more accessible to new believers, but the risk is then that the group provides no challenge for the new believer to spur growth. Either way, there is a gradual drift to the back door for many.
4. I would suggest that God judges the heart so we can’t, but we can work on the back door issue. My suggestion is that the best method is not separatism (although everyone needs a little help in breaking destructive relationships and habits). The best method is not emotional events (even though symbols and milestones of faith may be helpful for some). The best method is not small groups (although they can have value later on in the discipleship process). I believe that one-on-one mentorship with a mature and trusted (and trustworthy) member of the church is the best start. As time goes on, the new believer can be integrated into other groups (such as Sunday School, cell groups, ministry teams, and so forth).
At least that is my thought. The biggest problem is that churches have so few mature and trustworthy members who are able AND willing to take on this role.