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.

Missional Churches and Missionary Churches

Missional churches are churches that are driven to support world-wide missions through resources and manpower. Missionary churches are churches started by missionaries. Are they the same thing?

Protestant churches have only been in the Philippines (where I live) for a little over 100 years. A large number of Protestant churches are 1st generation missionary churches. That is, foreign missionaries started these churches. Once you have added 2nd generation and 3rd generation churches, you have a huge percentage of the churches here.

One might expect that churches started by missionaries should be missional. One would think that a church would in some way fit the mold of the founder. One is reminded of the church in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”. The church was founded and built by a former whaling ship captain. The building and the sermons was linked to the sea and whaling. This just makes sense.

But, Protestant churches in the Philippines ALMOST without exception, are not missional. They do not support missionaries, except as tentmakers (and do little to nothing to train, empower, and encourage such tentmaker missionaries). Those who want to go into cross-cultural missions are not supported and are, in fact, generally encouraged to stay in the church working on local ministry. (There are exceptions… but so few.)

Why is this? I would like to make a suggestion. This suggestion is consistent with some comments I have heard from other missionaries. Okay… here it is.

Missionaries did not come to the Philippines to create missionaries. They did not want to create missionaries. Missionaries are supposed to come from Western countries (or perhaps South Korea). Missionaries are not supposed to come from the Philippines. The Philippines is supposed to receive missionaries not send them.

So what were the missionaries doing in the Philippines?  They were seeking to create local churches that would create other local churches. They were seeking to create local pastors who would train up other local pastors.

So, in effect, the churches created did develop in the image of their founders. The churches in the Philippines created are focused on local church growth, local church multiplication, and local church leader development.

But sometimes it is best to leave the founders behind and for churches to make their own way. The Philippines is poised to change the world.

There is a “prophecy” given by a self-styled prophet that the Philippines will do great things in sharing the gospel to the world.

The Philippines IS poised to change the world, but they must stop grasping at self-serving quotations, and start making some real changes…. and these changes need to occur regardless of whether foreign missionaries will jump on board.

 

Six Areas of Missions Expectations Dissonance

Some of the following I have personal experience with as pertaining to missionaries and missions. Others I have heard from others. One major challenge in missions is the various expectations that come from others as to what your role and activities should be.  Here are a few (in no particular order):contradiction

1.  Money.  People on the mission field expect or at least strongly desire that the missionary give money without strings attached. On the other hand, those who empower missionaries financially, expect the missionary to be a good steward and overseer of the finances. Missiologists seem to disagree as to whether missionaries should control money, help others without controlling them, or avoid money as much as possible.

2.  Organization.  Many missionaries, locals, and supporters presume that missionaries should create their own organizational edifice. This may be an NGO, evangelistic organization, Bible school, church or other.  On the other hand, there is a growing thought among many locals and missiologists that missionaries should empower without taking over leadership. Is another organization always the answer?  Some local Christians see missionaries getting in the way… as unnecessary and even competition. (Often this is all too true.)

3.  Denomination. Supporters and mission boards expect the missionary to plant churches and/or disciple believers into the same denomination. On the local front, working with Christians of a number of different denominations is often a practical (and desirable) necessity. Missiologists tend to recommend that missionaries develop local Christians and churches in such a way as to allow them to develop their own distinctive characteristics (self-theologizing). This can create a great deal of conflict. Added to this, mass media and competitive religious groups tends to mean that if you do not guide young believers in your own denominational distinctives, the result will NOT be a distinctively local Christian faith. Rather it will be that of a competitive denomination (or cult).

4.  Primary Ministry. There is little agreement as to what a missionary really should do at the core of his/her ministry. Some options are:

  • -Evangelization (often mass evangelization)
  • -Church-planting (often church planting movements)
  • -Mission mobilization (training local leaders)
  • -Church growth
  • -Training
  • -Felt needs (social or wholistic ministry)

This is a short list. There are many more options. Options are not bad, but the problem occurs when supporters and partners do not value or even recognize the area of missional focus that the missionary is involved in.

5.  Information.  Mission boards and supporters love statistics. They want to know how many, how often, and how much. These numbers are often deceptive. The best missions often look bad on paper. Supporters like statistics but often are more moved by tear-jerker stories of tragedy and changed lives. At one time, there may have been little problem with all of this. But today, information flows so well.  A tragic story given to supporters in the US, may become a podcast or youtube broadcast spread around the world. The story becomes embarrassing gossip when it is picked up by people in the mission field. Stats sent by email can be forwarded and rerouted back to partners who could take offense at the self-serving nature of the reports, deceptive numbers, and lack of recognition of the partners.

6.  Spirituality.  Mission supporters expect missionaries to be pious… spiritually guided… and disciplined. Locals on the mission field may do more than expect it… they assume it… at least until they know the missionaries better. Missionaries, on the other hand, rarely are particularly spiritual (as it is commonly defined). Willingness and flexibility define a missionary better than spirituality. They have little personal discipleship.  They often have few that they are able to share fears, concerns, and doubt. This is partly because of distance from potential accountability partners. But it is also because sharing concerns can have negative repercussions vocationally. Missionaries are often expected to work in churches that they are uncomfortable in (because the church meets local needs, not that of the missionary). Missionaries are often expected to attend events or activities that do not meet their own spiritual needs. The disconnect between their outer life and inner life, can lead to crises of faith.

————–

This is probably a good place to stop. One could go on. Every job has its share of paradox, controversy, multiple leaders, and disagreements about goals, expectations, and procedures.  The importance of recognizing expecation disonnance is that the more that local partners, foreign supporters, mission boards, missiologists, and missionaries themselves understand the conflicts, the better we can grow, function, and prosper as willing servants of God.

 

Missions and Ambitions, Part 2

A friend of mine is a pastor of a church in Mabalacat, Pampanga. His church is going through the book of Joshua and using it as a guide for missional growth and outreach. It got me thinking a bit.

Joshua 5:13-15 has a great scene. Joshua sees a warrior. Joshua asked a very reasonable thing… “Are you for us or our enemies.” The response was, “Neither, I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army.”

Strangely, this reminds me of a Monty Python skit. The scene was in Medieval times… perhaps the 100 year war. Two kings are praying to God, asking Him to be on their side and bring them victory. In the skit… God looks down from on high, appears to be uncertain who to favor. In the end, He flips a coin and then sides with the winner of the coin flip.

As silly as that skit is… it is the way we are. We want God to be on our side. We know that if God is on our side… we have the most powerful, most awesome being in … well in all there is. If God is on our side, we will be successful… surely.

But that is not true, not really. Joshua discovered this. The warrior (or angel or theophany) made it clear… it is not whose side he is on, but who is on his side.

Joshua and the people of Israel were on God’s side in Jericho and were successful. They turned from God’s side to their own soon after at Ai.

What does this have to do with ambition?

1.  We want success… but success needs to be defined by our submitting to God’s work and plan. This sort of success may NOT FEEL like success. It may not impress others. It may not bring fame, wealth, or popularity.

2.  Trying to do things to lure God onto our side and into supporting our plan is foolish. It is pure hubris. It lessens God.

Luring God to be on our side has also been done for millenia. Isaiah 58 describes believers who were fasting to try to get good stuff from God. Isaiah made it clear that this was a foolish and selfish behavior. (This is especially poignant today as fasting has become a particularly popular recently as a way to manipulate God. Curiously, mourning, the partner of fasting, hasn’t gained such recent popularity.) Micah 6 talks about people doing sacrifices to impress God. In both passages they told to love God through caring for the needy and poor.

In other words, the people in Micah and Isaiah need to do what we need to do… stop trying to get God on their side, but move over to God’s side.

 

 

Missions and Ambitions

Missionary Sam was a machine. He could go into a new community, set up an event, form up the respondents, place a pastor in charge, and be onto the next community in a matter of weeks. After a few years of such stunning success, he wrote up his dissertation on his methodology, and “retired” to a life of being a church growth expert and professor.

Sadly, nearly all of his church plants failed within months of their creation. But it doesn’t matter.

Sam was a church planter, it wasn’t his job to maintain a church. His job now is to teach missionaries how to plant churches, not develop viable, self-sustaining, and self-propagating churches.

Missions is not just a ministry… it is also a career. A lot of great missionaries go through life with little that can be used to demonstrate success. Sadly, many mediocre missionaries are extremely competent at the career side of missions. This is true with most jobs. With some effort it is possible to separate the self-promoter from the faithful servant, but the ones most capable of making the judgment are the missionary and those that work the closest with the missionary. If it is about God… if it is about His kingdom… if it is about the people that God misses most… if it is about Jesus and his call for faithful servants— then it is NOT about awesome statistics… it is not about career tracks… it is not about accumulation of positions and awards.

The best missionaries often will live lives of obscurity and (apparent) mediocrity. But God knows the truth, as do many of those closest to them.

 

Courage and Missions

Back in 2001, after the “9-11” incident, US President George W. Bush described the zealots (or terrorists) who flew the airplanes into the world trade center towers as “cowards.” This led to some interesting conversations. After all, people who fought off fear and self-preservation could hardly be called cowardly, right?

Part of the problem lay in the inadequacy of the English language in this area. The term “courage” implies two characteristics.  One of these is a lack of cowardliness or harmavoidance. The other characteristic inherent in the term courage or courageous is morality. What term does one use for a person who overcomes his own fears to do what is morally repugnant?

In English, many characteristics have a greater degree of subtlety. For example, the term “wisdom” or “prudence” also has a moral component. But for someone who is able to think clearly and “wisely” but without morality, could be described as wily or shrewd.  But courage is different. We rightly reject evil behavior as being courageous. In this sense, the President Bush was correct.

The Martial Virtues, courage, duty, and honor, have moral components. I have always liked the follow descriptions of these virtues:

COURAGE.  I DO WHAT IS RIGHT… EVEN WHEN I AM AFRAID.

DUTY.  I DO WHAT IS RIGHT… EVEN WHEN I DON’T WANT TO.

HONOR.  I DO WHAT IS RIGHT… EVEN WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING.

The morality of the behavior is foundational to these virtues. Within the Christian context, Jesus is thus the foundation of these virtues. We cannot describe courage (as well as duty and honor) outside of the context of Christ.

But what does this have to do with missions?  Well… consider the initial story, the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York. The people who did it, left their own people to do something that they believe their god desired them to do, to/for those who are outside of their faith. This, pretty much by definition, is mission work. Obviously, their mission work would only make sense within a very narrow branch of Islam.

But it does add a cautionary story for us. Within Christian missions, we have had Crusades (missions as warfare), gunboat evangelism (missions as armed threat), and Inquisition (missions through enforced conformity). Such work may be described as missions, but those who do this should not be described as courageous, dutiful, and honorable in their “service to God.”

Missions is not inherently good. A missionary that does dangerous, scary things is not necessarily courageous. A missionary who lives a public life conformed to his private life is not necessarily honorable. A missionary who follows orders and “does his job” is not necessarily dutiful.

Missions that is not grounded in the moral, ethical life of Jesus Christ is not really missions at all. Perhaps there is not even a name for it. But I think we need a name for it. So we can better avoid it.

Another Kind of “Power Encounter”

Missionary Tom comes in and wants to start up a new ministry. Where does he go to get manned with the most competent, driven people? To other local ministries, of course. Tom has more money and so can lure the best people away from other local ministries. Maybe Tom’s group is effective, maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. Even if he succeeds, he has done so at the expense of other groups.

A mission strategy used in some parts of the world (useful in some places, a waste of time in others) is power encounter. A missionary goes into an area and shows that God is more powerful than whatever local gods or spirits the people have. (More often, it is really “Volition Encounter”… but that is for a different post.) Sadly, some missionaries go in and employ their own form, a new kind of power encounter with local Christian ministries. They use money, local connections, and international connections to draw away people (or even resources) from local ministries for their own work. Missionaries develop a parasitic relationship to local churches and ministries.

All missionaries can be tempted by this… and I think it would be fair to say I have fallen into this trap at times. It understandable. Capable, trained, and motivated Christian workers are rare in the Philippines and most of these are very busy. Training new people is a gamble. But I have seen some extreme cases here. I have seen some missionaries who are VERY aggressive in trying to draw competent people away from other ministries… or try to slap their own name on the ministry or church that is succeeding. Some missionaries even come back and try to hurt the local ministry or give discouraging words to local Christians who turned down the lure of the missionary’s work.

Missionaries should build up good local ministries. They should encourage their growth and be willing to take on a helping (rather than governing) role in their development. Working with local ministries can build them up. Discipling believers and training them to serve can increase the missionaries own work without drawing down on other’s resources. Missionaries are supposed to fill a need, not try to justify their existence. Hurting other ministries to ensure your personal success is completely without justification.