“What is the Impact of Globalism on Contemporary Christian Mission?”

Self shot with Jesus, Rio de Janeiro
Jesus, Rio de Janeiro (Photo credit: kaysha)

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:

Question:  What is the Impact of Globalization on the Contemporary Christian Mission?

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.

  1. 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”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The “Outline” of Christ

I have often said that if I had not been raised in a Christian family and raised in a Christian church I would never have become a Christian. Now don’t get me wrong, I would not have become a Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, or anything else either. I doubt I would become a hard-shelled atheist either, for to be one would entail a religious faith that I doubt I would be willing to commit myself to. I would probably have been an open agnostic. I would doubt whether God exists, doubt whether others really knew for sure, but would hope one day to know for sure.

I probably would not have become a Christian because, from the outside, I see:

          -Angry, hypocritical Christians

          -Christians more interested in politics than in those who are suffering

          -Bigotted and anti-intellectual Christians

          -Christians who compartmentalize and rationalize all sorts of foolishness

Because I was raised by godly Christian parents in a church that sought to follow Christ (however inadequately), I could see the good as well as the bad.  Behind the layers of church-ishness (focus on attendance and money, decisions that center on member care, seeming interest in church growth simply for the sake of church growth) one could still see the outline of Christ… one who could be a model and guide worth seeking after.

But in Missions, one is commonly reaching out to people who have no positive experience with Christianity. Some have no experience with Christianity. Others have been soured to Christianity. What are some options?  I don’t know. Here are a few:

1.  Focus on NGOs. (sodality structures, ministry groups). Since churches generally welcome everyone and have a broad ministry range, they tend to have ministry that is somewhat mediocre and people of mixed motives and drive. Groups that are more limited in who are members and are more focused in ministry avoid this problem.

2.   Create “un-churches”. This term simply describes all of the different ways people try to form groups that don’t look like churches. Some may be small groups. Some may be stylistically different from traditional churches. Some may see themselves as a “different kind of church” while others may not describe themselves as churches at all.

3.  Revamped churches. The church stays essentially the same, but makes it look and feel more faddish or friendly to outsiders.

All of these have their place I suppose, but to me it kind of misses the point. The church is commonly not seen as a safe place to question and grow. Discipleship programs tend to focus more on quantity or exhuberance of traditional piety rather than on qualities of Christlikeness and love. Churches seek to pull people out of the community rather than inject them into the community.  Leadership in the church is narrowly focused, usually, based on formal education and certification rather than Christlike qualities and humanity.

It seems to me that it is the character of the Christian that needs to change more than the style of the church. If the character of the Christian allowed people to see the outline of Christ (regardless of how faint that outline might be), the style and structure of the church would not need to be artificially changed. In fact, much of the changes would happen naturally, while other ones would not need to change since they would no longer hinder others from seeing the outline of Christ.

Perhaps I am being naive. But let me tell you this. Our Disaster Response Team is on route to Cagayan de Oro to provide chaplaincy crisis intervention for families of those who died and those who have been relocated due to flooding. They have given up time between Christmas and New Years to do this. Their flight was diverted to Davao due to bad weather. Now they waiting in a van to take the 10 hour drive during the night to Cagayan de Oro, risking foul weather and landslides to do this. This is Christlike behavior. Even though our group is an NGO, it could have been a church or any other type of group. The outline of Christ behind the Christian should not be hard to see regardless.

Also see the following:

Undecided About God

Missional Living

Figure of a Missional Perspective
Image via Wikipedia

I know the term “missional” is a bit… faddish. But an obvious value in it is that it breaks away from the excess baggage attached some other terms such as “missions” and “missionary”. When we talk about missions, we start talking about strategies, and contextualization, and organizations. When we talk about missionaries, we start talking about calling, support, and methods.

Maybe “missional living” is a way around the morass.

Decide for yourself. Look at the article below… and the other articles on this blog.

7 Committments for Missional Living


Book Quotes

Two quoted passages from “Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church” by Reggie McNeal.

Quote #1 .  Page 93.  “The jig is up! Evidence of this is everywhere and growing both outside and inside the church culture. The program-driven church has produced a brand of Christianity that is despised, not just ignored, by people outside the church. Their antipathy for what we call Christianity exists for all the wrong reasons. Basically it comes dow to our failure to demonstrate the love of Jesus, passing by people not like us on the other side of the road on our way to building great churches.  Even among the self-defined committed, the evidence is clear that church activity is no sign of genuine spiritual vitality. The lifestyles and values of church members largely reflect those of the culture. A gnawing unease among church members about their own lack of personal growth has erupted into a growing disaffection and disillusionment with the church’s program approach. …”

Quote #2.  Page 6.  Quoting David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in the book UnChristian.  “No strategy, tactics, or clever marketing campaign could ever clear away the smokescreen that surrounds Christianity in today’s culture. The perception of outsiders will change only when Christians strive to represent the heart of God in every relationship and situation.”

Critics Needed

No one likes critics… at least when the critic is leveling their critique at us. In theory, a critic can give positive or negative comments… be we tend to associate critics with negative comments.

Christians are often very thin-skinned about criticism in matters of faith. We often feel that criticism of Christians, Christianity, and faith, is the same as attacking God and the Gospel.  Even the most mild (and self-evident) criticism often leads to counterattacks.

Of course, Christians are not alone in that. From personal experience, I have come across SOME Mormons who will quickly level charges of “Mormon bashing” at almost any point of disagreement. Of course we have seen in the news outrageous responses to any comment or caricature that draws into question an idealized view of the founder of the Islamic religion. But Christians are to seek a higher standard, rather than aim for a “not as bad as” comparison with non-Christians.

The fact is, we need critics. We need people on the outside to point out issues that we are blind to. We need people on the inside to do the same.

From the outside, there have always been critics. They recognize how Christianity appears to outsiders. During Roman times, some charged Christianity with atheism, cannibalism, and incest. Why? Christians did not go to temples, involve themselves with religious festivals, would not bow to the emperor or any other idol. Christians also described themselves as eating and drinking the body and blood of their founder. Christians called each other brother and sister, and yet were married to each other. It is easy to see why outsiders would be greatly confused. This sort of outside criticism was very useful. It probably led to Christians being better at sharing their faith.

We do know it led to Christian apologists who wrote down explanations as to the Christian faith. People such as Aristides, Quadratus, and Justin Martyr, helped describe the Christian faith to be intelligible to outsiders. Attacks by Marcion led to a clearer understanding of what is (and is not) God’s revelation.

In recent years, international critics have leveled charges at Christianity for being immoral. Since Christians in the US like to call the United States a “Christian Nation” and the US is pretty much the leading producer of immoral (by almost any faith system) material to the world… it is not hard to see the confusion. Studies that show that insignificant differences in moral behavior between those who attend church and those who don’t add credence to this charge. It is useful to take these charges seriously.

Critics from the inside are also very useful. Yet they are often the most hated. Critics of the church, in the past, could be punished or even killed. On the other hand, critics could be great reformers. The monastic renewals came from insider critics of the church. The Protestant Reformation also came as the result of such insider critics. People such as Giovanni Boccaccio and Dante Alighieri used literary humor hundreds of years ago to point out failings in the church.

In more recent years, polemicists from within have used writings to effect change. Soren Kierkegaard attacked the lack of fervor and faith of the Danish church in the 1800s, while Dietrich Bonhoeffer did the same with the Reich Church during the Nazi Regime in Germany.  Bonhoeffer was rejected by his church, while many even today seem to think of Kierkegaard today as an “atheist” because of the harshness of his criticism.

We need critics. We need critics in missions as well. While there have been many inspiring missions and missionaries throughout history, we need to recognize and grow from failures. Some of these  in mission history include:

-Too close of a relationship between State, church, and missions.

-Cross-or-Sword conversions… Later Gunboat missions.

-Non-contextual mission work.

-Racial bias in missions.

-Ignoring groups (Muslims are the classic group here)

-Confusion of Gospel/”Civilization”/Culture.

The list can go on and on. And the list can go on and on today. We need critics to analyze present mission work (both from internal out external perspectives). Some that could use such analysis might include:

-Focus on relief-based missions

-Focus on quick conversion over discipleship

-Spiritual mapping

-“Signs and Wonders” missions

-Business-model missions

-Dependence-models of missions

-Short-terms missions movement (same with tentmakers)

As I said… the list can go on and on.  Critics are definitely needed.

Missionaries and Apostles? (Part I)

Good scholarship of the term “apostolos” shows that the term appears to best fit what we now call missionaries. It should not be thought of as strictly position of the distant past. However, it also should not be viewed as a church office in any period of time, as the term is now used in the “Apostolic Movement” . (Instead of going through that, readers are encouraged to read the article on “apostle” in the ISBE (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). )

The Didache – living-faith.org

It is popular to define missionaries based on culture these days. Perspectives in the World Christian Movement describes missions and missionaries in terms of being cross-cultural. If one uses Ralph Winter’s “E” model for cultures, then missionaries are limited to working in (perhaps) E-2 and (certainly) E-3 situations. (E-0 is ministry within the local church, E-1 is ministry in the local community but outside the local church, E-2 is a similar or neighboring culture… maybe similar culture but different language, E-3 has considerable differences).

Should people be considered missionaries only if serving cross-culturally?  Consider Paul and Barnabbas, who we almost without exception consider to be early and successful missionaries. After their call to missions, Paul and Barnabbas started on what we describe as their 1st Missionary journey. Up to the time of the journey, they were serving in the church of Antioch. There they ministered within the church (E-0 evangelism) and presumably the local community (E-1). Upon leaving on their voyage, they first went to Cyprus, and began ministering to Hellenized Jews there. Since Barnabbas was a Hellenized Jew and was originally from Cyprus, this part of the journey would involve E-1 ministry. This then would not be considered missionary work by some. Then they reached out to Gentiles. These would probably be viewed as E-2, but only barely, since they shared the same language and broader culture with Barnabbas. Effectively, they were ministering from one sub-culture to another within the same culture. After this, the two apostles traveled to southern Asia Minor. This is the region that Paul was from. The same situation existed as in Cyprus, but with Paul reaching out to his own sub-culture and then to a different sub-culture within the same local culture. One could certainly argue that the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabbas was less missional than evangelistic outreaches to Cornelius, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Samaritans described earlier in the book of Acts.

The trouble seems to be in a faulty understanding of what is a missionary.

It seems to me that the problem lies in a culture-centered definition of missions. If one moved to a church-centered understanding of missions, the problem goes away. If missions (and apostleship) describes ministry that is focused outside the church (rather than church member care or church growth ministries), it is understandable why Paul and Barnabbas were missionaries. Paul and Barnabbas ministered within the church of Antioch. Then they were called and sent out (apostolos and missio) from the church to minister to those outside of the church. This also appears to agree with the Didache (perhaps the oldest non-canonical Christian book) that describes apostles as one of four groups of ministers (bishops, deacons, prophets, and apostles). Of the four groups, two were part of the local church (bishops and deacons) while the other two were outside the local church. Of those outside, prophets appear to primarily visit different churches and encourage and strengthen them, while apostles would do their ministry outside the church.

The Didache should not be seen as providing some aberrant understanding of the term apostle that contradicts its use in the Bible. Consider the many people in the New Testament who were called apostles (apostolos).

  • -Jesus Hebrews 3:1

  • The 12 disciples Luke 6:13

  • Matthias Acts 1:24-26

  • Paul I Corinthians 9:1

  • Barnabbas (and Paul) Acts 14:3-4

  • Andronicus Romans 16:7

  • Junias Romans 16:7

  • Epaphroditus Philippians 2 :25

  • Unnamed brethren II Corinthians 8 :23-24

  • Silas and Timothy (and Paul) II Thesalonians 2:6

Clearly, others beyond the narrow understanding of apostle were called apostles. Jesus, for example, clearly did not have the formal office of apostle, but did take on the role of missionary, from the Father. This and the fact that the apostles listed in the Bible appeared to have little authority within the church once the church is established suggests more of the role of a missionary/churchplanter than an authoritative officeholder within church. (Note that Timothy was called an apostle in Thessalonians when he was still a traveling missionary. However, Paul does not use that term for him when he is acting as the spiritual leader of a church in I and II Timothy.)

Continue to Part 2

Phatic Communion and Missions

According to Bronislav Malinowski, “Phatic communion serves to establish bonds of personal union between people brought together by the mere need of companionship and does not serve any purpose of communicating ideas.” This is sometimes call “small talk”, chit-chat, and terms and expressions of courtesy and social convention. In some ways phatic communion (or phatic communication) is the most important part of communication since it deals with belongingness and relationship.

In the West, some have decried “small talk” as a hindrance to communication… a failure to deal with the proper transfer of facts. In the Philippines, small talk (a form of phatic communication) is a necessary part of any business meeting. In fact, it may take up the larger part of the meeting.  If we accept that relationships are more important than information, than one should value phatic communication. Clearly, there are some people who use small talk as a way to avoid communication of facts and feelings, but any extreme has its problems. Ideally, it should open doors to further communication/communion.

An interesting thing I have found is in the communication (by email or texts) fromphatic missionaries working in countries where religious freedom and religious communication is restricted. One would expect these people to follow the advice of others to communicate in ways that do not put them at risk. So they would not talk missions… would not use Christian terminology, or “Christianese.” Yet, almost without exception, this is not followed. Pretty much all of them put in little catch-phrases that Christians are supposed to recognize and that non-Christians should not. I doubt if anyone is fooled. Some go further and go into a full sort of “church-speak” or the slinging together of Christian-ish jargon. (It is true that most of these missionaries I communicate with are newer on the mission field. I do not know as much about those who have been on the field longer.)

Being one who is not fond of “church-speak”, I tend to see this tendency of missionaries as problematic… sometimes (“shhhhhhh”) even annoying. Of course, I serve in a country where religious freedom and freedom of thought is actively permitted and practiced. Part of my concern is that I fear that the person trying to communicate with me is putting him or herself at risk (making me a passive part of the problem).

But I am sympathetic because I have a theory. These missionaries are in somewhat hostile (religiously) and alien environments. When they communicate with people of like faith back home they feel the need to say, “I am one of you. I may be in a far off, exotic, and difficult place, but we are still of one faith and one people.” This desire overcomes their desire to protect their work.

At least that is my theory. If phatic language is so important for missionaries… it must be also so important for respondents. We often focus on contextualizing the message of the Gospel. But we need to go further. To communicate with people of a different culture (or sub-culture or micro-culture)… we must go beyond finding the right word for “God” and “faith”. We must communicate in such a way as to show that we belong there, and Christ is just as at home among them as among us.

How can we help establish phatic communion between people and Christ?

See also:

The humanity of social networking technologies: phatic communication



Missions and “Time-setting”

It has been a hobby of Christians to set a date for the return of Christ. Even non-Christian groups such as “Jehovah’s Witness” fall prey to this lure. There is a long history of this. The church of Thessalonica in the New Testament had members who were so sure of the imminent return of Christ (not sure if they set an exact date) that they quit their jobs and relied on the working members of the church to provide for them. Paul told them that if they don’t work they shouldn’t eat (this passage has, unfortunately, been misused to justify being uncharitable).  1000 AD, 1848, 1914, and more have been used. Here in the Philippines, a group out of South Korea is using the movie 2012 as if it is a Biblically-based description of the end of the world. The group is using it, not surprisingly, to draw people to their own faith group. May 21, 2011 is being spread now by a group that uses the tagline “Noah knew. We can know.”  Technically speaking, it does not appear that Noah knew. He just did what he was told. But I suppose the point is not hugely relevant here.

Consider a personal experience I had. I was on an airplane returning from a business trip in the late 1990s. I sat down next to an Arab-American. He was a very nice individual, and I discovered that not only was he a Christian, but that he had a Christian radio program. After ascertaining that I was also  “born again”, thus not needing the plan of salvation, he asked me to open my Bible. He took me to several passages (I remember one was in Hosea). Using these passages, he attempted to convince me that Jesus was absolutely returning between 1999 and 2002 (he did not feel he could be more dogmatic than that). It is 2010 now, and it certainly appears that his conviction, and interpretation, was wrong. I wonder what affect this error has had on his ministry.

The question is whether date-setting is missiologically useful. I believe the Bible teaches that we won’t know and shouldn’t try to know… but I am aware that some verses in the Bible could be read as if some might recognize the signs of His approach. The question here I am bring us is pragmatic, rather than theoretical.

There seem to be two obvious justifications for date-setting from a missions standpoint.   <A> Setting a near date may cause some people to repent, believing that they have only a little time left. One need only look at the story of Jonah to see justification for this argument.  <B> Setting a near date may cause some Christians to be motivated to be involved in missions and outreach sooner… believing that answering the call is “now or never.”

But let’s consider the down-side.

1.  Many groups have been hurt by date-setting. The Millerites were hurt greatly when Jesus did not return in 1848. the “Jehovah’s Witness” religion has been hurt by date setting (1914 is their most famous one but they have set several dates). Their attempt to describe their literal failure as a metaphysical success has been less than convincing.  A nice little webpage listing some of these dates is http://home.intekom.com/jason/return.htm

2.  It draws into question the human source. The Bible describes a false prophet as one who claims a truth from God that is later demonstrated to be wrong.  Edgar Whisenaunt came out with the book “88 Reasons that Jesus Will Return in 1988” that lost interest after September 13, 1988 for obvious reasons. His sequel “89 Reasons that Jesus Will Return in 1989” did not draw much interest… again for obvious reasons. Should one, who confidently sets a date of Jesus’ return (and is then demonstrated wrong) be considered a false prophet?

3.  It often draws on questionable, even occultic sources for determining or confirming. Harold Camping uses numerology as his basis (back in 1994, and now for 2011). Some like to use ghosts or ghostly images for confirmation of a mystical return.

4.  It seems to lead to bad behavior. If Jesus was returning next week, why would you be selling your house, dressing up in white clothes, or stand on a mountain? But some did this, while others like the Thessalonians, abused the hospitality of others while waiting. Jesus said to be watchful, ready, and faithful to the end.

5.  It leads to sloppy missions. If Jesus was returning next year, perhaps it makes sense to simply spread the gospel thin and wide and pressure people to mumble “the sinner’s prayer”. <Perhaps> But if Jesus is coming in 200 years, what would be more effective? Developing reproducing, discipled Christians, planting 4-self churches, and perhaps transforming communities wholistically. If we don’t know when Jesus is coming, which path should we go? I believe the shallowness of short-term methods hurts the long-term growth of God’s kingdom. Sloppy, short-sighted methods should not be justified by date-setting.

6.  It makes us question our role here. Some say that we should spread the gospel to every people group so that Jesus will come sooner (based on a poor understanding of Matthew 24). It seems pretty doubtful that we can make Jesus come sooner by our own actions. But suppose we could. Is that a worthy goal? Quickly spread the gospel to the last “unreached people group”, thus ensuring that many billions in “reached groups” will be doomed? There seems to be a flawed thinking here. This thinking tends to make us “more heavenly minded” and “less earthly good”. If we are convinced that Jesus is coming soon, and so soon that what is going on here does not matter, then we shouldn’t care about poverty, the environment, disease, social injustice and such. But if we are faithful stewards doing what Jesus has called us to do every day (regardless of when the Master returns) we should care about our neighbor, our community, our country, and our world.

I believe that date-setting for Jesus return (whatever one says about whether it is possible) is missiologically unwise… at best. At worst, it is a destructive obsession.