Perspectives in Relief and Development

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.

Social-Spiritual Ministry Spectrum

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.

Double Vortice Model

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.

Is Pastoral Counseling Compatible With Missions

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Both are holistic (wholistic). That is, both are (or should be) focused on the whole person— physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
  3. Both are interested in correcting bad thinking, bad behavior, and bad relationships.
  4. Both reach out beyond the confines of the local church and the universal church.
  5. Both do (or should) be concerned with issues of Love and Justice. This means that morals/ethics are important to both.
  6. 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.

  1. For clients within the same faith community as the pastoral counselor, the incompatibility with missions greatly reduces.
  2.  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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The Back Door of Faith

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.

Missionary Methods: St. Barnabbas’ or Ours?

Cover of "Missionary Methods: St. Paul's ...
Cover of Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?

Roland Allen‘s classic book, “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?” is an important book that examines how we do missions. It certainly has good points. If I wanted to be honest about it… the obvious answer to the question of Roland Allen is “Ours”. That is because we always need to tailor our methods to the culture and time we live in. There is no way we should use St. Paul’s methods for missions anymore than we should Hippocrates’ method of medical treatment or Alexander the Great’s method of warfare.

However, this is misleading since Roland Allen wasn’t really talking about missionary methods (despite the name). He was talking about principles for mission strategy.

I would like to suggest, though, that we focus on the missionary methods (principles) of Barnabbas rather than (or at least in addition to) Paul. There are a few reasons for this.

1.  It appears that the major mission strategy was from Barnabbas rather than Paul. Paul appeared to be a disciple of Barnabbas in the early years and the early part of Paul’s first missionary journey appears to show Barnabbas as the leader. This is supported by the fact that the first missionary site sought Jews on the island of Cyprus. Barnabbas was a Jew from Cyprus. After this site was done, they went to southern Turkey to minister to Jews there. Paul was a Jew from this region. This suggests that Barnabbas modeled and Paul imitated at the beginning.

2.  Paul’s biggest innovation from a mission method appeared to be his decision to go directly to the emperor of Rome. There is a lot of difference of opinion as to whether this was God’s plan or not. Even Luke described Paul’s determination with a certain level of ambivalence. Regardless, the plan appears to have resulted in little tangible fruit.

These first two points are not that important. I certainly don’t wish to downplay Paul’s importance as an apostle, theologian, and writer. I am just suggesting that Barnabbas’ role as a missionary is seriously underestimated. And this brings up a third point.

3.  Barnabbas’ determination in developing people is an important aspect in missions. This appeared to be his primary role… thus his nickname– son of encouragement. Missions does not move forward by supermen. It moves by people following Christ’s example of discipling and modeling being a faithful servant.

John Maxwell describes 5 levels of influence. The lowest is position (listen to my job because you got to). The next is permission. Next is performance. Then comes people development. The highest is personhood. Personhood is not an uncommon result. However, Barnabbas’ influence was that he believed in people (such as Paul and John Mark) and developed them into being great ministers. John Mark later worked with Paul and Peter, and Paul followed Barnabbas’ pattern as one who disciples others to became great servants of Christ.

Missionaries would be wise to look to St. Paul for basic principles in missions, but don’t forget Barnabbas, son of encouragement.

Missions Starts at Home. Part II

Curiously, a previous post, “Missions Starts at Home” has gotten an awful lot of hits. The problem is, perhaps, that my title was confusing. Missions to me is a wholistic educative process of transformation. The Matthew version of the Great Commission says that we are to Make Disciples… or create learners. Part of this process is, teaching others to obey everything Christ has commanded. I decided to utilize the “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6 is part of a wholistic educative process of transformation. However, there are other ways in which Missions Starts At Home.

Here are some more:

How can children be prepared for Christian Missions?

1.  Food. Don’t just feed children on spaghetti and hamburgers. The world is full of good food. When a child is 2-4 years old (and younger), they are developing a palate. Don’t just give them what they like, help develop what they like. Go to foreign cuisine restaurants. Try a wide variety of cooking at home. Don’t become dependent on restaurants (especially fast food), or on the microwave.

This is an area we, thankfully, did well. Our children do great in this. They eat balanced meals. They appreciate nearly all cuisines.

2.  Money.  Practice financial self-control. Don’t seek to compensate lack of quality time with expensive gifts. Don’t live in debt. Practice frugal living and joyous giving to church, missions, and charities. Bad attitudes about money are definitely inherited.

3.  Education. If you as a family are really planning to be missionaries, it is good to homeschool at least a year to make sure you can do it as a family (both as parents and children). We found that we could homeschool, but one of our children was found to be very much of a social learner. Happily, when we got to the Philippines, we found a school for our children to attend… but in many parts of the world this is not possible.

Remember, EVERY CHILD IS HOMESCHOOLED in the sense that the education of a child is ALWAYS the responsibility of the parents. Parents may outsource some aspects of the education to a public school, a private school, a private tutor, a church program, and more. But parents must always recognize that they can pass on authority, but not responsiblity. Always add to education with various family activities and trips.

4.  Broaden your child’s perspective. It is tough for those in the US. Media in the US is very nationalistic. Few have anything that remotely constitutes an international perspective. But parents should try their best to broaden their children’s world. American culture has aspects of beauty and horror. So do every other culture. Having a distorted view of any culture (either excessively positive or negative) is destructive. Children need to learn to appreciate different cultures while still recognizing that each has its problems. America loves dualism. There is a tendency of seeing the world in Dickensian terms. People or cultures are either the good guys or the bad guys. Helping children to see all peoples with God’s eyes is a great blessing. Cultivate relationships with people of different cultures. Americans tend to confuse culture and color. They tend to focus on “Red and Yellow, Black and White,” but a lot of these designations aren’t that useful elsewhere. Culture is more useful to focus on.

5.  Spiritual. Pray for and with your children. Get them comfortable with home Bible study. I would, surprisingly, suggest not to overdo it.  I have seen children react negatively to overdoing “spiritualistic” behavior in the home. Seek a balance. Also seek integration. That is, integrate a spiritual perspective into one’s life rather than turning it completely off or completely on. Attend church, but just warming pews and singing songs has little to no impact. Be involved in ministry locally as individuals and as a family.

6.  Missions. Practice missions. Help those who can’t help themselves. Work with religious and secular groups that are seeking to do good. Pray for missionaries in an informed way. Email them and build relationships. Learn about other cultures. Buy an atlas and learn it. Find out how one can be involved in missions at home. Be involved in short-term missions… as a family if possible.

7.  Last Thoughts. Help your children develop a value system and ethical system in line with Christ, not the dominant culture. Find joy in simplicity. Spend considerable quality time with your children. Simplify your life so you can afford to spend more quality time. Teach your children skills in line with their interests (but this does not mean a constant handing them off to different clubs, tutors, teams, and external activities). Make your children recognize that they are a loved, and valuable, part of the family team.

That seems like enough for now.

In Search of a Real Missionary

Preaching from a Waggon (David Livingstone) by...
David Livingstone, 19th century missionary in Africa.  Image via Wikipedia

The following is an excerpt from Successful Mission Teams: A Guide for Volunteers by Martha Van Cise  (New Hope Publishers, 1999) Excerpt from pages 145-147.  A good book, definitely worth owning.

“When my husband and I were serving as full-time missionaries in Haiti, we took a group of volunteers to a remote area in Northern Haiti. Another missionary, who had spent nearly 30 years in the country, accompanied us because he knew the area and the congregation.

During the team’s stay, volunteers put up walls for a new church, gave their testimonies in church, and gathered each evening for a devotional and songfest with the local people. On one occasion, the team visited an American missionary couple who manned a transmitter for a Christian radio station. By the end of the tour, team members were excited about sharing missions in their home church.

On the way back to Port-au-Prince, …, one middle-aged woman said, ‘This has been a wonderful experience. I guess that I just have one regret. I brought several packages of gelatin to give to a missionary family, but I never did get to meet a real missionary. I really had my heart set on meeting a real missionary.’   …

Another visitor returned home to report the truth about what was happening in a mission organization. ‘Those people weren’t spiritual,’ he said. ‘Some nights the missionary families got together and watched videos that had no religious content in them at all.’   …

Some team members feel responsible to evaluate the performance of mission organizations and missionaries and report their findings to anyone who will listen.

Assessment of mission work made by team members are often inaccurate because regular field activities must be curtailed in order to care for the team. Furthermore, team members who who are trying to photograph the work of the missionaries forget that everything which is accomplished on the field cannot be photographed.  …

Few missionaries will ever measure up to the ‘real missionary’ image some volunteers bring to the mission field. In the past, missionaries could live up to the ideal image because their contact with supporters was limited to one or two hours during speaking engagements while on furlough. When supporters move in with the missionary for ten days, however, the true missionary is revealed. The realities of modern-day missions and missionaries often disillusion volunteers.

If mission teams are to be an effective link between the home church and the mission field, team members must go to the field with a realistic understanding of the modern missionary movement.”

Missions and Government

We have certainly seen the challenges of having too close of a friendship between Church and Civil Government. In the US, it shows itself in strange ways:

-Tax-exempt status for religious organizations (including churches) is related to not taking sides in elections. It seems strange that churches think it is acceptable to disconnect themselves from such a major part of life. On the other hand, churches in the Philippines are allowed promote candidates and often perpetuate the naive belief that electing people of a somewhat similar theology means electing a good leader (I think we have more than ample evidence to the contrary).

-Marriage. It has been the error of American churches to connect the Christian rite of marriage with the legal status also called marriage set up by civil government. In the redefinitions of marriage and divorce in US civil code, much of the tension that is occurring seems to flow from the idea that if the US government accepts a new definition for marriage, the church must (again naively) adapt itself to it. Now in the Philippines, this feeling is not as strong. Because of the unusual laws the Philippines has in some aspects, many churches make allowances that deviate from civil society.

-Some groups try to solve this by developing a concept of separation of church and state. In practice, this appears often to mean the “marriage” of secularism (an unorganized “faith” with many characteristics of a religion) with state. There is a question whether one can truly “divorce” civil government from religion. Maybe such attempts simply create a new state religion.

One could go on and on, but why?  This is about Missions and Government. The relationship has long been a challenge. At times, such as in the time of William Carey, government opposed missions because it might “make the natives restless”. At other other extreme (such as in Spanish colonization) there was often a “cross and sword” form of missions.

Today, many of the challenges still remain, although in few cases (outside of perhaps some officially Islamic countries) does government actively support missions of any faith. The challenges remain.

1.  In some nations, missions is illegal. In a few, even being a national Christian is illegal. Yet in these nations, Christian missions exist, Christian missionaries work undercover… illegally. Nationals are led to Christ and discipled… illegally. Historically, some countries would not allow the Holy Bible to be printed or brought into the country. Many countries still provide great hindrances to this. Christians would take on the role of smuggler. Are Christian missionaries justified to break civil law?

2.  In pretty much all countries where Christian missions is allowed, rules are set up to limit or guide missions work. This includes missionary visas, and rules regarding reporting and conduct of non-government organizations and churches. Violation of these rules can result in pulling of visas and licenses. Some missionaries believe that anything the promotes their short-term agenda is good even if it results in government repercussions. Others work very closely with the government even when it means hugely limiting their work.

What is the answer? I don’t know. I believe in testing the extremes.

Extreme #1. The government is rejected as a source of guideline and constraint for Christian missions. This appears to be be wrong. First, the Bible shows missions commonly occurring with some concern about government rules. God’s rules are given preeminence, but not to the negation of government authority. One can look at Jesus’ acceptance of civil authority (with some strong caveats) as well as that of Paul (including, of course, Romans 13). Second, whether one likes it or not, civil government is able to enforce some level of constraint whether one rejects these constraints or not.

Extreme #2.  The government has full authority. The church and Christian missionaries can only act on their God-given mission only to the extent that civil government graciously grants such permission. This appears to absolutize Romans 13 to the extent that a hierarchy of power is provided with no divine check or balance. However, one role of religious institutions and people in the Bible is prophetic reform. That is, to be the voice, hands, and feet of God in opposing evil and promoting good. The government’s right to crush this role must be opposed. This is even more true if the government is the source of that evil.

If the extremes are flawed, the truth should be somewhere between these points. Just as there is no solid systematic theological foundation for missions, there appears to be inadequate theological structure for the relation between the institutions of the church and civil government. (In truth, we are not alone. Speaking with some Muslims, it is clear that many or most of their understanding of this relationship is simplistic and inconsistent as well. Perhaps even more so.)

But we need to get a better grasp on this issue to effectively be light and salt in this world.