Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Radical Idea: The Short-Term Ministry Staycation

Spring is here, and that means summer is almost upon us. In Christian circles, that means camping trips, BBQs, church soft-ball leagues and low attendance on Sunday mornings as families take weekend trips out of town.

Another sign of the season is summer short-term ministry* trip fund-raising--just about now you will begin to see the usual flurry of bake sales, rummage sales and car-washes all with the goal of raising money for these trips. These ministry trips often consists of one or two dozen people traveling internationally for a week to do a service project or lead a VBS. Globally, this has turned into a billion dollar industry (it is a business) and some have advocated the broader use of the term 'Christian tourism' to describe this trend rather than short-term ministry.

Belize, popular Christian tourism location.
I don't want to go on a tirade against short-term ministry, although I would encourage the church to consider more deeply how it stewards its resources and determines its priorities. What I do want to do is offer an alternative vision, a radical new idea!
A popular term that has popped up over the past few years is 'staycation,' meaning, a vacation taken locally or at home. Vacations cost a lot of money, especially ones that include international travel. With the economic downturn, more people have been opting to take their vacations locally and explore what their own communities have to offer in the way of leisure activities.

For two years I had the opportunity to serve with a ministry that worked among refugees in Chicago, each year we would have several short-term teams visit and we would give them the opportunity to experience what life and ministry was like for us. We emphasized learning and understanding rather than doing.

We took these visitors to mosques and Hindu temples, took them down to Little India for a day and had them prayer walk while they explored--often they would exclaim that they had never prayed so much in their lives. Sometimes we were even able to arrange it so that they could do home-stays with some of the refugee families that we were working among.

Chicago's Little India--opportunities in your back yard.
Never once did I hear anyone complain that their trip to Chicago didn't live up to their expectations--more often than not, these visitors were surprised at the rich diversity around them and went home excited to about the possibility of reaching out in their own communities to their new neighbors.

This kind of trip, to an American city is significantly less costly than traveling overseas--and in the case of these teams, the impact on them Spiritually and practically was often more significant than international trips that they had previously taken, because it hit closer to home.

Here's where my radical idea comes in. Continue to have the bake sales and car washes, continue to have the young people in your church scrimp and save their money, continue to have them send out financial appeals to their friends and families. But instead of using the money on themselves, teach them the joy of giving. Consider using the tens of thousands of dollars your church raises for short-term ministry each year, and pick a long-term missionary to invest it in!

Here's the rub, this isn't a new idea--churches used to have their youth raise money for global missions. Most of the time these youth would never travel internationally, but they would save their pennies for missions. Instead, we've inculcated into today's youth the idea that church fund-raising is about them--they're not raising for the mission of God, but for their own summer experience.

I was recently at a church that was planning several short-term international ministry trips for their youth. Each youth would need to raise over two-thousand dollars. In total, this meant over fifty thousand dollars would be needed just for that summer's trips--they had been doing these trips for years! The congregation didn't blink an eye-lash at the expense. However, that same congregation couldn't find fifty-dollars a month in their budget to support a long-term missionary working among an unreached people group and turned me away at the door.

Very few churches take into account how much they spend on short-term ministry because it isn't a line item in their church budget. They depend on those in the church to raise the money. At the same time, they are often very wary of missionaries making direct appeals to their church members out of fears that it will diminish giving towards the church.

In some cases, this creates a funny paradigm where long-term missionaries have to vie for a small amount of financial support through official channels while short-term teams can make direct appeals to church members and circumvent official channels and accountability.

What would happen if the youth leader at the church advanced a radical new idea--rather than raising money for a short-term international trip this summer, raise the same amount of money and give it towards long-term missions.

The youth group could then spend a week ministering locally. In the process the youth members would be required to study an unreached people group and learn about the long-term missionary they were supporting. They could skype with the missionary(s) and pray for them. They may even have a banquet at the church where they partake in a meal inspired by the food of the people they are praying for.

This would be a great way to do a short-term summer staycation--have it be focused on prayer and education rather than some amorphous experience.

To be clear, I believe that short-term international ministry trips have value, when done right--but we need to be discerning both in how we use our resources and how best to disciple those in our churches--both the adults and the youth. Short-term ministry staycations may be one way that we can become more healthy in all of these areas.

* I advocate the use of the term short-term ministry rather than mission. Ministry means service, whereas mission, properly understood has a much narrower definition of making disciples cross-culturally. Going to another country and painting a wall doesn't count as mission work.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A New Perspective on Paul the Missionary (Part 1)

While studying for my graduate degree at Wheaton College I had the chance to take a class entitled Mission in Acts. During that semester my seven fellow students and I read the books of Luke and Acts several times--we looked at broad themes like Jesus' prayer life and the actions of the Holy Spirit throughout both books--we zoomed in on the details, even going so far as to memorize the order of the cities visited on Paul's missionary journeys.

I spent an entire semester living with Paul, learning with Paul and growing with Paul. However, the Paul that I got to know along the way was quite different from the one I had encountered in numerous Christian books and sermons. Later, while serving with Trinity International Baptist Mission, we spent the better part of a year in Second Corinthians, and I became more deeply acquainted with Paul as he neared the end of his life--how he had developed as a servant through suffering and had grown in his grace and love.

This is my first post in a series I have entitled 'A New Perspective on Paul the Missionary.' There has been a lot of controversy over the past few years in regards to the rediscovery of Paul's Jewishness--I would like to consider what we can learn about Paul when we look at him through the lens of Paul the Missionary. I thought I would share a few things that I learned about Paul from my times with him in the scriptures.

Paul on the road to Damascus
Paul's Encounter with the Risen Lord Fueled His Ministry and Gave Him Direction

Paul was a man with an exceptional pedigree. He was born Saul of Tarsus--unlike many of his fellow Jews he was born a Roman citizen, which meant that his parents probably had considerable wealth and influence. In Tarsus he would have received the best education that the Greco-Roman world had to offer. A diaspora Jew, Saul later moved to Jerusalem to pursue his religious education, studying at the feet of Gamaliel, the leader of the Sanhedrin and the greatest Jewish educator of that period.

Unlike Jesus' other disciples, Paul came from wealth, education and influence--and unlike Jesus' other disciples, he became one through an extra-ordinary encounter with the risen Lord. In his zeal for his Jewish faith, Paul became one of the leaders in the first wave of persecution against the followers of Jesus. He received the permission of the high priest to pursue followers of the way to foreign cities and extradite them to Jerusalem to be punished.

While on one of these journeys to Damascus, Saul was knocked off his horse and blinded by a light brighter than the sun--then he heard heard the voice of Jesus. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Many of you will be familiar with Jesus's reply--in fact, this exchange is recorded three times in the book of Acts! Paul, on two occasions, in Acts 22 and 26 shares his testimony.

Paul's encounter with Jesus turned his life 180 degrees--from a persecutor of Christianity to its greatest apologist. At this encounter, Jesus commissioned Paul as an apostle to the gentiles. Jesus' laid out his plan before Paul while he lay on the ground that day, "But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,  delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Acts 26:16-18).

Paul knew that this commission would entail suffering--because he was told so from the beginning. "Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’" (Acts 22:10) After finishing his trip to Damascus, Paul was met by Ananias, who prayed with him and explained all that the Lord had said to him concerning his future ministry. Jesus had said to Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

For Paul, this encounter with Jesus and the commission he received became a reservoir from which he drew on for the rest of his life. Throughout all of his numerous sufferings, through physical ailments and persecution, he could rest in the knowledge that God had appointed and commissioned him. He understood and encountered grace and forgiveness in the person of Jesus. He became, "Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead." (Galatians 1:1)

No Paul without Barnabas
Paul had a Mentor and Advocate in Barnabas

Despite this clear commission, Saul's first attempt at at fulfilling it misfired.  After regaining his eyesight, he immediately went into the Damascus synagogues and began sharing his new faith in Jesus! He then went for a trip of undefined length and purpose to Arabia (the Greco-Roman conception of Arabia was quite large, the boundaries of which would not have been significantly distant from Damascus, however, some believe he may have went as far as Mt. Sinai) before returning to Damascus to resume his proclamation ministry (Gal 1:17). After a short time, some of the local Jews began planning to murder him. I am reminded of the time that Moses attempted to break up the fight between his fellow Jews and they turned on him. Saul had come to Damascus to stop the spread of Christianity and had suddenly become its most outspoken advocate. Saul retreated out of Damascus, fleeing by basket through a hole in the wall at night. He then made his way to Jerusalem. This trip to Jerusalem happened approximately three years after the events on the road to Damascus (Gal 1:18).

It was at Jerusalem that Jospeh called Barnabas, another diaspora Jew, and convert to The Way became an advocate for Saul. Saul attempted to join the other disciples in Jerusalem, but his reputation as a persecutor of the early Christian community was too fresh in their minds--Paul had only a short time earlier been breathing out threats against them, and had delivering some of their fellowship to their deaths. "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus." (Acts 9:27)

It was not Saul who spoke to the apostles (according to Gal 1:18-19 only Peter and James), but Barnabas on his behalf. Barnabas took a risk on Saul--he became his advocate. Barnabas became an intermediary between Peter and Paul, with whom Paul stayed for fifteen days. Barnabas, one of the original seven deacons, a man of incredible generosity, a man filled with the Holy Spirit, a good man,  a man called the Son of Encouragement by the twelve Apostles. This man took Saul under his wing. Saul, a man with a more than a questionable past--guilty of hunting down and imprisoning Christians. Saul, the man who had presided over the death of Barnabas' friend and co-deacon Stephen. This is an incredible picture of the grace of God--but also a picture of restoration.

Barnabas was in the business of restoration. He took a special interest in difficult cases and invested his life in them (as we will see later with John Mark). He saw the potential of Saul, and trusted the prophetic words spoken over him. As a diaspora Jew from Cyprus, Barnabas may also have had a desire to see a ministry begin among the gentiles, something that was still at that time unrealized. I doubt that it was easy for Barnabas to take Saul under his tutelage in this way, it was a huge risk. But I believe Barnabas did it because he had personally experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, and because he knew the impact that Saul and his testimony could have in advancing the Gospel among the gentiles!

This Saul became the man we know as the Apostle Paul in large part because Barnabas was willing to take a risk and invest in someone who was broken. Shortly after he arrived in Jerusalem, Saul found himself in danger again--he had begun debating with the men, the Hellenistic Jews, that had previously been in contention with Stephen. These men then conspired to kill Saul. The believers at Jerusalem arranged for Saul to travel to Caesarea and onto his home town of Tarsus (in Cilicia, modern day Turkey) via Syria (presumably by ship) where he might be more safe.

Paul Patiently Waited for God's Timing and He Served as Part of a Team

Taking advantage of the period of peace that came after the first persecution of the Christians following Stephen's martyrdom, the Holy Spirit, the one constant throughout the Luke-Acts narrative began to unfold the way for Paul's wider ministry among the gentiles. Up until this point, the Gospel had been confined to the Jewish community--even the Ethiopian Eunuch to whom Philip the Evangelist was transported was a gentile convert to Judaism before he made his confession of faith in Jesus.  (There were probably other gentile converts to Judaism that came to faith in Jesus besides the Ethiopian before the events of Acts 10, considering there is already a 'circumcision party' in the church in Jerusalem before Peter's defends the conversion of Cornelius' family and friends in Acts 11).

The Apostle Peter continued his ministry in Jerusalem and Judea, and through him men and women were healed and even restored to life. While at Joppa, Peter received a vision from the Lord--and God declared that He had made all animals clean (and by this, all men clean). Peter was then brought to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who had received an angelic visitation prior to Peter's vsion. Now Cornelius was a God-fearing gentile, and was already acquainted with the Old Testament, so the groundwork was laid on which Peter could present the Gospel.

Peter had to have some major heart surgery done by the Holy Spirit before he was ready to step out in faith, saying, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean." (Acts 10:28)  Peter then began to explain the Gospel to them and as he was doing so, the Holy Spirit fell on all of them that heard! Just as at Pentecost, the gentile believers began praising God in diverse languages as the Holy Spirit enabled them. These new believers were them baptized, and Peter stayed with them for a time to instruct them more deeply in their new faith.

This is one of the most significant turning points in the history of Christianity--for the first time the Holy Spirit had moved upon a group of gentiles. It was important, I believe, for Peter, the leader of the apostles to partake in this critical juncture. Had this experience happened to anyone else, there might have been some question of its legitimacy, but Peter's participation in the first significant conversion of gentiles to faith in Jesus was instrumental for the advance of the Gospel to the nations! Peter, the apostle to the Jews, paved the way for Paul, the apostle to the gentiles to begin his ministry.

Simultaneously something extraordinary happened in the city of Antioch. Some of the Christian diaspora that had been scattered in the first wave of persecution against the church had been sharing their faith with the Jewish diaspora. These Christians had spread into modern day Turkey, Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon. But at Antioch (in modern day Turkey), independent of Peter's interaction with Cornelius, some of these diaspora Christians began sharing their faith with Greek gentiles (presumably with no prior knowledge of Judaism), "But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord." (Acts 11:20-21)

Eventually, word of this independent mission work began to make its way back to the church at Jerusalem (about 400 miles away), who had already been primed by the Holy Spirit that something big was on the horizon. In order to investigate the validity of the claims being made, they sent one of their most trusted men--Barnabas. Now, it should be noted that the accidental missionaries were Cypriot and Libyan Jewish converts to Christianity--and thus were probably well known to Barnabas, they may have even been his disciples in Jersualem, so it was only natural that Barnabas, a Cypriot himself would investigate this news.

When Barnabas arrived at Antioch, he found that it was just as had been reported, "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord." (Acts 11:23-24) His presence in Antioch served to strengthen and grow the new Christian community there! But, he saw that there was much work to do--and he had the perfect partner in mind.

Because of the increase in the size of the Christian community at Antioch, there was a need for additional leadership--thankfully, as providence would have it, there was a man only a stone's throw from Antioch capable of helping to disciple the new believers there, "So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch." (Acts 11:25-26a) There is no mention of how long Saul had been in Tarsus, but we know this is more than three years after his initial conversion--and somewhere between 11-14 years before the events of Acts 15 (According to Gal 2:1). So Paul could have been waiting in Tarus for the better part of a decade. This once again parallels Moses' experience in the wilderness--or Jesus' decades of life prior to his baptism. God uses periods of preparation in order to shape us into useful vessels through which His Spirit can work.

Tarsus, where Paul had been laying low, was in the same general vicinity as Antioch--both of them are located in modern day Turkey, only about 150 miles apart from each other. On foot, this journey may have taken a couple of weeks--however Barnabas may have traveled by sea, which would have significantly shortened the trip.

Saul became part of Barnabas' team to strengthen and establish the church at Antioch, "For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." (Acts 11:26b) Barnabas and Saul became significant leaders of the new gentile Christian community at Antioch. I imagine that the name Christian was given as a derogatory term, being that Jesus was the only thing that these disciples seemed to want to talk about. In time, the Antioch church began to have a gravitational pull that brought additional leaders from Jersualem to Antioch, including a number of men with prophetic gifts.

One of these prophetically gifted men, Agabus, who shows up twice in the book of Acts, predicted a coming famine in the land of Judea. Concerned for the church there, the new Christian community in Antioch, without compulsion, took up a love offering to aid those in the Jerusalem church. Barnabas and Saul were then sent with this relief aid to Judea, cutting short their initial stay in Antioch. It was at this time that another persecution broke out against the Christian communities in Judea--taking the life of James, the first apostle to be martyred.

After the death of Herod and the end of the second persecution, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, this time with Barnabas' cousin John Mark (the author of the Gospel of Mark) in tow. Barnabas and Saul's team was beginning to form! Saul began his ministry as a member of a team, and an in-depth study of the New Testament will reveal that Paul, over the course of his ministry had numerous companions. Over thirty individuals are listed by name as his fellow travelers, minister, co-workers and supporters! Some of the most well known are Silas, Aquila and Priscilla, Luke, Titus and Timothy. It is easy for some people to become so enamored with the Apostle Paul that they miss this critical factor, Paul didn't minister alone--he always worked as part of a team.

The only picture I could find with a black guy!
Paul was Under Authority--Both Temporal and Spiritual

I love the way that Acts 13 begins! The church at Antioch had matured significantly and there was a plurality of Spirit-filled leaders with teaching and prophetic gifts. Rather than keep these gifts to themselves, the Spirit gave them a vision of multiplication. "Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off."  (Acts 13:1-3)

Of the five elders at Antioch, two of them were set apart for a new missionary enterprise! (Thats 40% for the math challenged). There is also a beautiful diversity among the names of those listed--African, Greek, Jewish, a diversity of gifts and backgrounds brought together by the blood of Christ.

Tangent: One really exciting possibility is that the Simeon called Niger mentioned in this passage may be the same Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus' cross as mentioned in the synoptic Gospels! Cyrene was located in modern day Libya, and the word Niger (black in Greek) was often used to distinguish those with dark skin color of African origin. We know that at least one of the founders of the church at Antioch was from Cyrene (Acts 11:20) and that Simon of Cyrene's sons Alexander and Rufus were well known to the early Christian community. A Rufus and his mother are mentioned by Paul in the greetings Romans 16:13--it is possible that this Rufus was the Rufus mentioned in Mark 15:21--which could possibly be why John Mark, who had just come to Antioch is able to mention them all by name (albeit with an alternate spelling) in his Gospel account.

There is great significance in the fact that Barnanbas and Paul were commissioned and sent out at the direction of the Holy Spirit and with the prayers of the Antioch church--they were under spiritual and temporal authority! Many, I believe, in the Western church need to re-examine their tendencies towards individualism. As I have already showed, Paul worked as part of a team, but he was also under the authority of his sending church. Throughout the rest of his missionary career he would report back to the church at Antioch.

Paul was a Practitioner Before He was a Theologian

Beware the gravitational pull of the Ivory Tower! There are many young men pursuing graduate degrees and PhD's in Christian institutions of higher education that will spend their lives studying theology, but will never have the power with which the Apostle Paul ministered. Keep this in mind, before Paul was a theologian, he was a practitioner. I believe one of the significant dangers facing the contemporary church is the wall that has been constructed between theological studies and the work of missionary and ministry practitioners--between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

After being commissioned and sent out by the Antioch church, Acts chapters 13 and 14 record Barnabas and Saul's first missionary journey. John Mark accompanied them at the beginning of this trip. Their first destination was Cyprus, the island on which Barnabas was born.

Something significant happened on this first leg of the journey. Barnabas and Saul were summoned by the local proconsul Sergius Paulus, "When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God." (Acts 13:6-7) Barnabas and Saul would have to vie with this false prophet, Bar-Jesus aka Elymas, for the heart and mind of the proconsul--who was clearly desirous to hear the word of God.

Elymas the Sorcerer and Sergius Paulus by Raphael
Despite the clear indication in the text that Sergius Paulus was an intelligent man, this confrontation would not be a theological debate or doctrinal dispute--something more profound happened. To signify the importance of this occasion, Luke, the writer of Acts for the first time addressed Saul by the name Paul, "But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at [Elymas]"

Paul sized up Elymas--this man clearly wanted to prevent he and Barnabas from leading Sergius Paulus to faith in Jesus. This man was clearly a person of spiritual power--a magician. And like Moses' confrontation with Pharaoh's magicians, this was going to be a situation that required more than words! Paul didn't rely on his Greco-Roman education, or his training as a Pharisee by Gamaliel, this was a power-encounter, and all of his best theological arguments wouldn't do him any good in this situation.

Paul exercised dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit to win the hour! "Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?  And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand." (Acts 13:9-11)

The amazing thing in this passage is Sergius Paulus' response to this power encounter, "Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord." (Acts 13:12) Without the power of the Holy Spirit, even the best theology would fail to convince the hearer of the truth of the Gospel, we are reminded by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 "Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."

In many senses, this is a kind of graduation for Paul the Apostle. His name was changed from this passage onward from Saul to Paul. From this point forward, any time that he is mentioned in relation to Barnabas, his name will appear first.  I believe that the special filling of the Holy Spirit and the miracle by which Paul defeated the false prophet (paralleling his own blindness on the Damascus road) signify that Paul has fully entered upon into the ministry for which he was commissioned. Barnabas knows that Paul no longer needs protection under his wing, and thus lets Paul step out in front. Barnabas continues to support Paul, but has succeeded in his ministry of restoration. It only took a decade or so to do.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Missional Drift: Defining the Role of the Local Church in Diaspora Missions

Fifteen years ago a book by Darrel Gruder, a Princeton Seminary professor introduced the word 'missional' into the Christian lexicon. In the broader history of the church, this is like saying, "last Tuesday I heard someone use a cool new word." The word 'missional' has a short and complicated history, but it is a word that Evangelicals have increasingly become invested in--and one that many have developed an emotional attachment to.

I became intimately acquainted with this deep attachement to the word 'missional,' when I touched a nerve with my recent critiqued of it in a post entitled Is Everyone A Missionary? Yes and No.

It was not my intention to begin a conversation on the use of the word missional, in fact, I almost left the word missional out of the original post. I added it back in after having deleted it because I initially wanted to limit the conversation to the word 'mission.' I was quite surprised that so many people have not only read the post in its entirety, but that their discussion of it with me has centered around my use of the word missional.

I want to reiterate what I said in the aforementioned post: words have meanings, and we need to use them discerningly. The word missional was originally coined to describe the fact that the church of Christ is a missionary. Jonathan Leeman does a great job discussing the history of the word missional in a journal post at 9marks, so I don't necessarily feel the need to rehash that here.

I agree with the original definition of missional as it relates to the corporate nature of the church as a missionary. However, I take issue with its use as it applies to individuals or small/cell groups within the church. I believe that the use of the word missional among Evangelicals causes misunderstanding about the true nature of mission and individual people's place in the global advance of God's Kingdom.

The word missional is often used by its proponents to distinguish between churches that are attractional and those that are more focused on outreach in their community--the way that many of them go about becoming more 'missional' is to start small groups in the community with specific focuses on geographic or demographic niches that may or may not be represented in the church. However, as I spent time stating in the previous post, this isn't 'mission' as described in the bible unless it is actively seeking to establish new manifestations of the body among different ethno-linguistic groups in the community or abroad.

Missional churches by and large reach out to those same demographics represented in their church already. They talk a big talk, but often don't walk the walk. They establish small groups where Christ followers and pre-Christians can interact more comfortably. But here's the rub, they are still using an attractional model, they are just doing it on a smaller scale! For all of their antagonism against attractional models, very few 'missional' churches have taken steps to equip their church members in personal evangelism skills or challenged them to reach out to people significantly different than themselves!

The word missional used this way is just a synonym for outreach, saying a church is missional is not significantly different than saying a church is outreach-oriented. It is a new word (and not a very good one) for an old thing. The average missional church is young, white, college educated, middle class and uses missional terminology as a way to feel good and alleviate some of their post-colonial guilt. It often has more to do, subconsciously, with the style of music the church band plays and possibly the presence of couches and candles in the sanctuary.

We're all connected, internet traffic visualized.
In my mind, this is a waste of a the term missional as it could be used among Evangelical Christians! There is already a lot of debate about what the word missional really means, and I hope to offer here an alternative definition. Imagine if being missional meant actually being aware of God's global mission to reach the diverse ethno-liguistic peoples of the world with the Gospel and how that was being realized both globally and locally!

There are many opportunities to be truly missional in our local communities--one of the fastest growing segments of missiology (the theology of missions) is diaspora missiology. God is on the move, and so are the peoples of the world--we are increasingly living in a globalized world, and our local communities reflect the rich diversity of the global community. God is in charge of this global movement of peoples, in Acts 17:26-27 it says that He determines the times and places that people live with the purpose that some of them might come to know Him!

That means that God is moving people into our communities in order for us to share the Gospel with them! Mission is no longer only about sending men and women from predominantly Christian nations to share the Gospel with non-Christian peoples, but God is also bringing non-Christian peoples from all over the world into our communities where they may for the first time have the opportunity to hear the Gospel!

Our local college campuses, public schools, hospitals, businesses, restaurants and government offices already reflect these changes--there are hundreds of different languages being spoken around us. In communities around the country there are mosques and temples being established for the worship of foreign gods. However, the ministry and outreach to the tens of millions of new immigrants coming to our shores has often been relegated to the hands of a few.

What would happen if the church, the whole church, would wake up and see what God is doing in bringing the peoples of the world within our borders?! What would happen if our church members became 'missional' in regards to reaching out to the Middle Eastern, Asian, African, European and Latin American immigrants increasingly coming to our nation? Instead of a small group of volunteers giving ESL classes, or a lone campus minister reaching out to international studies, what would happen if everyone in your church was suddenly moved to share their lives with the stranger and the alien?

I don't like the word missional as it is currently being used, but I can envision a proper use for it. I hope that increasingly churches become missional as they engage in the mission of God to reach out to the people's of the world with the Gospel, as God is increasingly moving those people into our midst.

If you are interested in learning more about Diaspora Missiology, the Lausanne Movement has set up a website at They have also released a short booklet on Diaspora Missions entitled Scattered to Gather(pdf) which is available for free. Please pray and consider how you and your church may become involved in reaching the peoples that God is bringing into our midst.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to Read and Preach the Old Testament

The Old Testament is not about you--it is about Jesus. Few things get me wound up quite as much as listening to a sermon preached on the Old Testament that is primarily viewed through the lens of self.

If the sermon you heard (or preached) this past Sunday could have been preached in a Synagogue or a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, odds are the person preaching mishandled the text. We are Christians because we make much of Christ; even when studying out of the Old Testament, seeing how the passage points to Jesus is of primary importance!

Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to preach a sermon out of the Old Testament--or for that matter how read it for your own personal devotions. Here are a few general ground rules to consider:

Rule 1. The Bible has a historical context. Much of the Old Testament is narrative--and as such, is not directly applicable to our contemporary (or personal) lives. One book that helped me to learn this was How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. We can learn some themes and ideas from narrative, but it is dangerous to use narrative to make too many applications! The first obligation of a preacher or pastor when giving exposition from the Old Testament is to explain the historic context of the passages being studied or preached from.

Pastors, show your work!
When answering a mathematical equation in primary school, one always had to show the work with which one solved the problem. Many pastors can preach eloquently from the Old Testament, but fail to show  their work. If church were just a spectator sport this would probably be OK, but we want to reproduce disciples, so one of the main jobs of a pastor is to help their congregations ask appropriate questions (who, what, where, why, when, how) of the text and help them discover them discover the answers themselves.

Our Christian faith has its roots in the Judaism, and a proper understanding of the history of the Old Testament and the lives of the people that we read about is paramount to the rest of these rules.

However, I would like to make one addendum--Pastors, keep your Greek and Hebrew to yourself! If you want your disciples to grow in their faith, don't explain the meaning of every word. Most of the members of your church will never learn Greek or Hebrew, and if you want them to make disciples of others, show them how to come to the same theological conclusions without having to understand a dead language! Following the same math-problem illustration, to be a good teacher, you must make sure that those you are teaching are able to understand the equations you use!

P.P.S. There is a difference between preaching and leading a bible study. It is important to establish context while preaching, but the purpose of preaching is to exhort the hearer to worship. Therefore, establishing context should only take at max twenty-five percent of your sermon's length!

Rule 2. All passages in the Old Testament have a context within redemptive history. The second duty of a pastor or preacher is to show how the passage related to God's story of redemption, that is, fall, redemption and new creation! Simply put, the Old Testament points towards Jesus.

The Creation, the Fall, the Patriarchs, the promises, the Covenants, the Law, the Promised Land, the Judges, the Kingdom of Israel, the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices and the Prophets all point towards Jesus. These are all necessary for establishing the foundation on which the Good News is really good. The duty of a preacher is to show how each of the different elements of the Old Testament is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the New Covenant and New Creation.

God worked through the men and women of the Old Testament, through the nation of Israel to bring about our salvation--we are the olive branches that have been grafted in. We need to become big picture people!  The Old Testament teaches us a lot about God, and through it we can learn how God had set about to bring us salvation through his own Son.

Rule 3. The Old Testament should create a hunger for the New. While we can learn some general lessons from the men and women of faith in the Old Testament, there is a sense in which we can learn more from their failures and shortcomings than from their successes. The duty of any person teaching from the Old Testament is to show the futility with which men and women attempted to serve God out of their own strength.

The heroes of faith from the Old Testament are in some senses tragic heroes, they were looking forward to God's redemption, but did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit giving them the power to live according to the high standard that God had set for them. For example, Paul states that the Law was given to show that we could not obey it. In this sense, one of the greatest lessons that can be taught from the Old Testament is the futility of trying to follow God apart from the Holy Spirit and the necessity of faith.

The Baptism of Jesus by He Qi
Rule 4. Make much of Jesus! Even when preaching from the Old Testament, our duty to our congregations and disciples is to help them fall more and more in love with Jesus. We are called Christians because we see the Old Testament not through the lens of self, but through the person of Jesus! The Gospel changed everything, especially how we read the Old Testament. As Augustine famously said, "Grace, Concealed in the Old Testament, is Revealed in the New.

A good sermon, whether from the New Testament or the Old will be one that helps us not just to gain information and understand the bible or ourselves better, but one that makes us fall more deeply in love with Jesus! I never realized that this was the mark of good preaching until I began reading the sermons of Robert Murray M'cheyne--as my eyes welled with tears, and my heart rejoiced in my Lord and savior I came to recognize what preaching was really supposed to do!

Rule 5. Only if all of the other rules have been followed can you then make general or specific applications to yourself or your church. Once again, the bible isn't about us, but it is for us. Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

First, we need to be taught by scripture--that is why I believe understanding the context and place in redemptive history are so important. Secondly I believe that we need to be confronted by the Word, that is why we must see it with Jesus as the lens, and let the Holy Spirit convict us of sin and spur us on towards holiness through it.

Finally it is for training in righteousness--any personal application from the Old Testament that we apply to ourselves shouldn't be general, but should be specific. If our desire is to be equipped for every good work, we need to apply the scripture to our lives--I believe this means speaking the Gospel to ourselves. We're called to put on the Lord Jesus Christ--to imitate be imitators of Jesus, and only as men and women in the Old Testament reflect Christ are we to emulate them.

Pastors, here's my last word on sermon applications: at max, only have one of them! Your job as a preacher of the Gospel is to bring the hearer into the presence of the Lord. He's the one that does heart surgery. Keep your do's and don't to yourself. If you must give an application, be specific and keep it simple. If your sermon has six or more applications, you're doing something wrong.


Don't settle for Gospel-less preaching! Even if your pastor is preaching out of the Old Testament, it is not an excuse to preach a Christless sermon! Preaching is a great responsibility--the bible warns that teachers will be held to a higher standard at the judgement. It is therefore of utmost importance that we are clear on this point. A preacher who takes a passage of scripture from the Old Testament and doesn't use it to preach the Gospel is like a major league baseball player striking out while at bat. A single strike-out doesn't seem that important, but it is quite important if that strike-out happens in the last at-bat of the playoffs. Every opportunity that we have to open up the Word to others may be our last, it may be the last for one of our hearers, it may be the only opportunity someone has to hear the Gospel--therefore, make much of Jesus!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Is Every Christian a Missionary? Yes and No.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time you have probably heard the oft repeated phrase, "All Christians are missionaries" or "We're all called to be missionaries wherever we are." Whenever I hear these kinds of statements something doesn't sit right with me. So in this blog post I want to explore why I think that the bible teaches that individually all Christians aren't missionaries and why that is OK!

Defining Mission as Illuminated by the Trinity

The first thing to do is to establish a Trinitarian definition for mission--for the sake of this blog post I will attempt to keep it simple. Our English word missions stems from the Latin word missio, which means 'to send.' This was the word chosen to translate the Greek word from which we also get the word Apostle, which means, 'one who is sent.' Therefore, mission has to do with sending.  In John 20:21 Jesus says, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."

A traditional symbol for the Trinity
Appropriately defining missions means that we must understand Missio Dei, the missionary God. We serve a missionary God; the Father sent His own Son across the greatest divide imaginable, to become a man and live among us. The Father and Son then sent the Holy Spirit to indwell the people of God at Pentecost, this is the bedrock on which we must build any biblical understanding of mission.

Some people may have difficulty understanding our God as a missionary--possibly because they only see sending as it relates to two persons of the Trinity. The Father was not sent, but the Son and Spirit were. Anyone who has taken to studying the Trinity understands that the relationships and roles within the Trinity are not uniform. The Father is not the same as the Son, and the Son is not the same as the Holy Spirit. There is only one God with three distinct persons, who's roles and relationships are not the same.

God's essence and attributes (e.g. Holiness, Justice, Love, etc.), however, cannot divided up between the different persons of the Trinity. This is one of the main areas of contention with the idea of Missio Dei. The late Missiologist David Bosch wrote in his book Transforming Mission, "mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God." (pp.389-90) I love this quote, but it is potentially untrue. If we only consider being sent as mission, then mission cannot be an attribute of God, because the Father was not sent--that is why I believe that mission is a corporate activity that involves sending and being sent.

The other main contention some theologians have with the concept of Missio Dei would be whether it is an eternal attribute of God--and in order to keep this blog post simple I will have to save that discussion for another time. Whether or not you agree that mission is an attribute of God, you must agree that it is something very close to God's heart, and central to God's interaction with mankind.

Understanding Mission as both an Individual and Corporate Activity

Therefore, our understanding of mission is illuminated by the relationships within the Trinity and must include both the sendee and the sender.  Within the Body of Christ, the Church, there are those that are sent, but also those that send them--both are participating in mission corporately as  commanded by God. The church corporately is a missionary as it is empowered by the Holy Spirit--and individuals within the church are set apart by the operation of the Spirit and sent out to bring about new manifestations of the church in different geographic locations among different peoples, thus advancing the Kingdom of God.

Before we can go deeper into understanding the corporate and individual aspects of mission as they relate to the church, we must consider how mission, being sent, is a unique calling and separate from the general command to proclaim the Gospel, that is to do evangelism.

Being sent means that there is a geographical element to mission--for Jesus this meant moving from Heaven to Earth, for the church in the first century it meant traveling from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the End of the Earth (see Acts 1:8). Judea and Samaria--and for that matter much of the Mediterranean were reached in the time of the first Apostles, we have yet to accomplish the task of taking the Gospel to all peoples, that is, the ends of the earth.

Mission, therefore, means crossing ethnic, linguistic and cultural boundaries with the Gospel. The great commission includes the command to make disciples of 'all nations,' but these nations aren't the same thing as the nation-states that we think of today (e.g. Russia, Canada, Denmark, etc.), but instead nations in this context refers to ethno-linguistic people groups (e.g. Russians, Canadians, Danish people, etc.). Within any given nation-sate, there are multitudes of people groups. In Russia for example, Joshua Project has identified at least 170 distinct people groups--of these, 85 are unreached with the Gospel, meaning that less than 2% of the people in those groups have a relationship with Jesus.

John Piper wisely distinguishes between evangelism and mission in a recent article entitled, How Much Is Left to Do in the Great Commission:
"Missions is not the same as evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the gospel with any unbelievers, and that work will never be done till Jesus comes. Missions, on the other hand, relates to people groups, not just people... missions is crossing a culture, learning a language, and planting the church through preaching the gospel among people groups that have no churches strong enough to evangelize their group."
With this further clarification of the definition of mission in mind let us consider the corporate and individual roles within the church.  The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth spells out how he believes that different Christians are given different gifts and callings and that they work together for the glory of God.
"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts." (1 Cor 12:27-31)
Paul wrote a similar list in Ephesians 4:11-12: "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ."

We're not all the same, even if we're wearing Uniqlo

He starts by helping the reader to understand that we are individually part of a corporate body, the church. Corporately 'you are the body of Christ,' and individually you are 'members of it.' I think this is a helpful distinction to keep in mind--and it as an especially difficult distinction for many individualistic Westerners to understand.

That means that there are actions taken on behalf of the church that we are corporately involved in, even if we are not directly involved in them. Within the corporate body of the church, God has given a diversity of gifts and callings--which according to Ephesians 4:11-13 are for equipping the saints for the work of ministry in order to build up the body of Christ.

Paul is clear to point out that these different callings have been appointed by God, and they are not static, some gifts are grown through service. Other gifts are learned through training (equipped). But he makes another thing clear, not all people are equally gifted or called to the same ministries. At the front of both of these lists is the word apostle.

The Apostles of the first century were not the last of the apostles (it is important to distinguish between big 'a' Apostle and small 'a' apostle)--in fact, apostles are a specialized group within the church that have been called to certain geographic areas and ethno-linguistic groups to establish churches, think of them as a highly trained strike-force. The twelve Apostles, were specially called by Jesus and equipped to establish the church in Judea and Samaria among the Jews--in the case of Paul, Barnabas, Silas and others named apostles in the New Testament, it meant going to the gentiles throughout the Roman Empire.

So to recap, the church is corporately a Missionary--if you are a member of the church of Jesus Christ, you are part of the invasion of the Kingdom of God on earth. Individuals within the church have different roles, given to help build up the church--only some are called and equipped to be apostles, that is, missionaries. According to Paul, becoming an apostle is something to aspire to when he says, 'but earnestly desire the higher gifts.' The highest gift according to the Apostle Paul is to be called into missionary service for the King.

Additional Insights and Applications

We don't do missions alone--even those called into full time missionary service are an extension of their local church. Without the prayers, encouragement and financial support of the body of Christ, missionaries would be unable to do the work to which God has called them.

One trend within contemporary missions that concerns me is that most missionaries are sent out by para-church organizations, and increasingly are raising their support among individuals rather than churches. Some of these missionaries go into countries and do not actually work towards seeing an indigenous church planted where they are ministering--in my mind, this is weak and dangerous ecclesiology. Missions that are cut off from the life of the church are not glorifying to God.

One bible story that I think illustrates this valuable lesson is of David's wisdom in Samuel chapter thirty. While pursuing the Amalekites, who had kidnapped their wives and children, some of David's men were too exhausted to continue the chase. David wisely left them by the river to defend their supplies. Upon returning from the battle victorious, David's men set about dividing the spoils--however some contention arose about whether those two hundred men deserved anything because they did not go and fight. But David replied to his men, "You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us... For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike." (1 Sam 30:23-24)

We're not all called to go
David properly identifies the victory as belonging to the Lord--even though they had individually either fought or stayed behind, corporately they were victorious because of God. The same is true for mission, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, all our efforts towards advancing the Kingdom are fruitless. In the case of modern missions, there are some who go and there are some who stay and support--each one is rewarded the same as long as they are faithful to the role that God has given them. We are victorious corporately as we each serve in the roles that God has given to advance his Kingdom on earth.

Missions is the activity of the whole church, but I am personally responsible for my role in it. Many people have never asked the Lord how He would have them be involved in His mission. Aside from tithing to their church many are not directly involved in the primary work for which the church exists on earth. This is tragic, it is like being part of a professional sports team but never leaving the locker room!

As Paul points out, there are many different callings in the body of Christ, not everyone is called to be an Apostle--but we shouldn't be content to be where we are. Paul encourages us to aspire to greater gifts of service to the body of Christ. One step you may consider is taking the Perspectives class.

There are some that are called to use their gifts to help administer, or show hospitality--but that doesn't give them permission to be ignorant of what others in the body are doing. In fact, Jesus teaches us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt 6:10)

In addition to awareness, we are responsible to use our resources, time and energy to advance the Kingdom of God. You can support missions with your prayer, with your money and with advocacy.

Missionaries have an obligation to have a strong ecclesiology (a theology of the Church). I believe it is my responsibility to represent the local manifestation of the body of Christ through my mission work in another place. I am not just a loan missionary, but a representative of English speaking churches in North America--and more specifically of Converge Worldwide churches in the Pacific Northwest, and even more specifically of the Christian church in Olympia Washington.

I am individually a representative of their corporate prayers, giving and advocacy. Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the church in Antioch, and they continued to represent the Antioch church throughout their years of missionary service--reporting back to Antioch after each trip to share what God was doing through them.

Additionally, the churches planted through the missionary's service in another country become an extension of the local church to which the missionary has been sent by. There should be an ongoing relationship of fellowship and mutual prayer and encouragement. When the church in Jerusalem was suffering from famine, Paul raised resources throughout the churches of Asia to benefit a church with which most of them had no direct connection to.

When I cross over a geographic boundary, I am no less a part of the corporate body that I have been sent out by. I think this is one area that many missionaries struggle with, both in relation to their sending churches (if they have any) and in relationship to the church in the nation where they are ministering. I believe that modern missions in general has a weak ecclesiology and this is something we need to repent for.

Winning, only possible with losing
We need to be more careful in how we discuss missions and use words such as 'missional.' At the beginning of this message I shared my frustration with the oft repeated phrase, "we're all missionaries." The truth is, that while this is an appropriate comment as it pertains to our corporate life in the church, it is not true individually. We are not all called to be apostles, we are not all equipped to be apostles--not everyone is an apostle, so lets stop saying that everyone is a missionary! In fact, I think this actually causes more confusion about what mission really is than anything else.

Words having meaning, and how we use them effects the world around us. The words we use influence our worldview and perception of reality. For example, consider little-league sports, when everyone gets a trophy and there are no losers, then there are really no winners either. It is the potential of losing that makes victory so sweet. By corollary, if everyone is a missionary, then no one is really a missionary.  The fact that we have recently been using the word 'mission' so undiscerning has the potential of causing significant problems for the advance of God's missionary enterprise.

Language that diminishes the high calling of mission, I believe, dishonors those men and women that have been called into cross-cultural missionary service by belittling their sacrifices and suffering. Your two weeks overseas last summer does not make you an apostle, so stop calling it 'short term missions.' I want to advocate for the use of the terms like 'short term ministry' or 'international vision trip,' or 'Christian tourism.' Stop misusing the word mission!

For that matter, stop using the word missional to describe your local congregation or the members in it--unless your church (or a large part of it) is intentionally reaching out to other people groups in your geographic area. Do you have a Spanish language outreach, or an ESL ministry, or a outreach to International Students, or a Refugee ministry? If not, then  your church is not missional, and neither are your church members. The truth is, even in churches that have these kinds of ministries, usually only a handful of the members are actually actively involved in them, which is really rather disheartening.

If your church loves sharing the gospel, then I would encourage you to use the term 'evangelical.' If your church loves reaching out to hipsters with trendy music and appropriate facial hair, then by all means use the word 'relevant.' But let us reserve the word mission for the high calling of apostolic ministry. The universal church, the body of Christ is a missionary--your local congregation is a part of that body, that is the context in which any church is truly missional.


Is Every Christian a Missionary? Yes and No. As we participate in the body of Christ we are all part of the global advance of Christ's Kingdom. Each one of us, individually, contributes to that advance as we are faithful to the calling that God has put upon our lives. Each of us is encouraged to pray and use our resources to equip and send those that God has called to take the Gospel cross-culturally. We are not all given the same calling, each one of us has been given different talents and gifts with which to build up the body. In this, we see how the Trinity illuminates our relationships within the church.

Mission doesn't seek to bring uniformity to the cultural, linguistic and ethnic differences we see around the world--but instead to see God glorified through the myriad of different cultures, peoples  and languages. Just as there is one God with three distinct persons, so the church together worships and serves one God in a diversity of beautiful pageantry: 
"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”" (Rev 7:9)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Missionary God and All the Families of the Earth.

This morning I was working a blog post and dug into my old Perspectives reader looking for some insights on a point I was hoping to make. In the process I came once again to an excellent article written by the recently promoted theologian John Stott entitled, "The Living God is a Missionary God."(pdf) Here is an excerpt (emphasis mine):
The nations are not gathered in automatically. If God has promised to bless "all the families of the earth," he has promised to do so "through Abraham's seed" (Gen 12:3; 22:18). Now we are Abraham's seed by faith and the earth's families will be blessed only if we go to them with the gospel. That is God's plain purpose.

I pray that these words, "all the families of the earth," may be written on our hearts. It is this expression more than any other which reveals the living God of the Bible to be a missionary God. It is this expression too which condemns all our petty parochialism and narrow nationalism, our racial pride (whether white or black), our condescending paternalism and arrogant imperialism. How dare we adopt a hostile or scornful or even indifferent attitude to any person of another color or culture if our God is the God of "all the families of the earth?" We need to become global Christians with a global vision, for we have a global God.

So may God help us never to forget his four-thousand year old promise to Abraham: "By you and your descendents all the nations of the earth shall be blessed."

Friday, April 5, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions about My Future Ministry in Japan

I am well aware that most people rarely read 'frequently asked questions'--but I considering the frequency with which I get asked most of these questions I thought it might be helpful to write a blog post addressing them. But don't let this discourage you from asking me any of these questions yourself!

Why Japan? Does Japan need Missionaries? 

Less than one percent of Japanese people know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Despite over a century of mission work in Japan, there is still much pioneering mission work to do!  Japan is within the 10/40 Window and the Japanese are one of the largest Unreached People Groups in the world. An Unreached People Group is a people group with less than 2% following Jesus--this means that the indigenous church is insufficient to the task of evangelizing the entire population. There are still over six thousand UPGs in the world, and the Japanese represent one of the most resistant to the Gospel--so yes, pioneering missionaries are still needed!

When are you going to Japan? Are you in Japan yet?
Unfortunately I am not in Japan yet--I get this question more often than you might think. I will be deploying to Japan as soon as I have raised 100% of my monthly support goal (at the time of writing this I am at about 14% of my goal).

I am hoping to have all of my support by the end of 2014! But if I were to be at full support within the next couple of months it would be possible launch out to Japan before the end of 2013! I am trusting in God's sovereignty and provision to dictate when I will be headed to Japan. If you have not already, please consider partnering with me to reach the Japanese.

How much support do you need?
My support goal has been set by my organization and is currently set at about 6600$ a month (updated 7/25/13). This amount covers my base salary, ministry funds, cost of living adjustment, housing, organizational overhead, taxes, medical insurance, retirement etc.

This may seem expensive, but consider that Japan is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. There are 'coffin apartments' in Tokyo that can cost as much as 600$ a month. There is an unfavorable conversion rate between the dollar and yen. There are also many of the hidden costs that most people take for granted because their employers pay for their benefits and half of their social security and medicare. In addition to this, there are one-time start-up costs that include language school and transportation within Japan.

How can I support you? Would you prefer to receive monthly/annual commitments?

Unfortunately I don't get these question as much as I would like. Please pray for me and consider partnering financially with me  to help me get to Japan and keep me there. Converge Worldwide has a policy of only sending missionaries that have reached 100% of their support goals. These support goals rely on monthly and annual financial commitments. That means that I will need to have 100% of my 6600$/month support goal actually coming in before they will send me out!

I have been very fortunate to have some supporters give generous one-time gifts, but I need supporters to make monthly and annual commitments to actually get me to Japan and keep me there! I am fortunate to already have some churches and individuals supporting me at amounts of 25, 30, 40, 50, 100 and 200$ a month. Currently I am at about 25%, which means I have only about 1,650$ (updated 7/25/13) a month in monthly and annual contributions coming in. You can set up a monthly or annual commitment online!

How do you pay for your expenses now? Do you have a job in Olympia?

I am currently living out of my savings account. I am reimbursed for expenses related to support raising out of my account with converge--which means that I am living off of the support that is already coming in. Once I get to a more significant amount of support (around 25%) I should be able to start drawing a small stipend on my support. It takes money to make money--and in the case of support raising, I have had to spend a lot of money on traveling, printing and training. Once a month or so I submit a reimbursement form for my gas and expenses and replenish my savings account (however the general trend has been a decline).

To be honest, I am wary of seeking a part-time job in Olympia for two reasons. The first is flexibility, I am currently able to devote myself to support raising full time, and spontaneously meet with potential supporters and be involved in local ministry. In a week I will be going to Minnesota for a training, and if I had a job, even a part-time one, it would be much less likely that I could have found time to go to this training for a week.

The second reason is that while I was in Chicago serving with Trinity International Baptist Mission, I took a part-time job because there was a lull in my support. I believe that taking the job at the library sent mixed signals to my supporters--some of them may have felt that I was not serious about my ministry among the refugees. The result was that the part-time job I took to make up for short-falls in my support actually led to a much steeper decline in giving. So much so, that it was eventually untenable to stay in Chicago, because I could no longer afford to live there even with the job at the library (I ended up having to take many additional odd jobs, like doing landscaping). The truth was that I didn't take a break on my ministry obligations, and was on the verge of burning out mentally, emotionally and physically because I was giving 100% to ministry while working more than twenty hours a week just to pay the bills.

How long will you be in Japan?

I have been appointed with Converge Worldwide as a career missionary to Japan. This means that my first term in Japan will be for four years. This first four year term will be followed by a furlough of one year and then hopefully a lifetime of fruitful ministry among the Japanese. The Billy Graham Center Scholarship which I received from Wheaton College stipulates that I need to serve at least four years overseas as a missionary--this is really the minimum amount of time I will be ministering overseas unless the Lord calls me home or to a different field.

Why not somewhere less expensive/more needy?

 Many people associate missions with starving children and developing nations--but missions is about extending the Kingdom of God to where it has not yet gone. There certainly are many places in the world that one could go cheaply as a missionary, but in truth, many of the places that we continuously send missionaries have already been reached with the Gospel and have churches of sufficient size to reach their own peoples. A focus on Unreached People Groups shifts our thinking away from merely thinking about under developed countries to unevangelized peoples.

Consider that the Apostle Paul grew up in Palestine, one of the poorest and most backward regions of the Roman Empire--despite his education in Greek and Jewish thinking, he would have been considered by many to be a country-bumpkin. Yet he had his eyes set on taking the Gospel to Rome, the most powerful and culturally significant city in the Western world. There was even a famine in Jerusalem at the time of his ministry, and he ministered to people who were economically, intellectually and culturally his superior. A view of missions that is paternalistic and only focused on reaching those 'below' us is not only unbiblical, but also historically naive.

We have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations--I believe that if the Apostle Paul were alive today he would still want to work where he was not 'building on someone elses foundation' and Japan is such a place where there is so much work to be done in making disciples.

Aren't missionaries supported by the church? Why do you need my money?

Unfortunately and fortunately the mission funding paradigm has changed. It started with men like Hudson Taylor in the 19th century who created para-church missions agencies and began seeking support from individuals as well as like-minded congregations. Many deoniminational missions agencies continues supporting there missionaries directly from the church budget until after WW2 when there was a surge of mission sending--today very few organizations have this structure, the Southern Baptists and the Christian and Missionary Alliance being notable exceptions.

For the most part missionaries are expected to raise their own support from churches and individuals. Thirty years ago a missionary could expect to get a lion's share of his support from churches and to a smaller extent directly from individuals--but now that has completely flipped. Most new missionaries get 70% or more of their support from individuals, and if they are lucky the rest from churches.

Unfortunately, many churches have maxed out their missionary budgets--and unless a missionary retires or dies they are unwilling to consider adding anyone new. Churches also have committees and budgets--and it takes a lot of time and effort (and phone calls and appointments) to even be considered. I have gotten many doors shut in my face by churches. The truth is, that Evangelical Christians on average only give about 4% of their income in tithes to the church, and of that only about 2% goes to international missions, out of that, less than 2% goes to unreached/underreached peoples. The majority of money raised for missions in the church now goes to short-term missions and Christian tourism.

These are some of the factors that have contributed to missionaries seeking more support from individuals rather than churches. But it has also discouraged some people from perusing missions as they would rather not 'beg' for money from their friends and family.

Why not get a job in Japan? Can't you serve bi-vocationally?

The truth is that jobs for expats are not only rare in Japan--but getting a job in Japan would most likely keep me from being fruitful in the ministry that God has called me to. 

Most foreigners who live and work in Japan either work with mutlti-national firms or teach English. Most Japanese companies do not hire international employees except as translators. So in order to work in Japan I would need to be hired by a multi-national company (Boeing, GE, Barclays etc.) and hope to be sent to Japan (odds are slim), teach English or learn Japanese to a sufficient level that I could work as a translator. So basically the only option available for me with my extensive humanities background and Masters degree in Intercultural Studies is teaching English.

While some missionaries go this route as a platform to be in Japan and be bi-vocational, I have already seen how difficult it is to minister bi-vocationally. My desire is to learn the Japanese language and minister in the heart language of the people God is sending me to serve among. Working as an english teacher would not only limit my time to master the Japanese language, but it would also discourage me from fully understanding the Japanese culture and making friends with those who are not studying Japanese. Put simply, it would be extremely limiting.

In my view, many people take this short-cut to get to Japan, without thinking about the long-term ramifications on their ministry. There are unfortunately many missionaries in Japan who have never mastered the language or culture--who live isolated from their neighbors because they have been stuck in an English-speaking bubble.

There are of course people that are called to this ministry, and God knows that we need as many Christians in Japan as possible, extending the presence of the Holy Spirit in Japan by a ministry of presence--but that is not the call that God has put on my life. I don't only intend to be present, I hope to be fruitful.

Can't the Japanese Christians evangelize other Japanese better than missionaries?

I asked a question very similar to this to Ralph Winter when he taught a session of the Perspectives class in Seattle a few years before his passing. There has been over the past couple of decades a huge push to support native missionaries because of their cheapness and their understanding of the language and culture. I once supported a well known native missionary organization very generously--and had imbibed this very philosophy. However Ralph Winter's answer knocked some common sense into me.

Firstly, he said something to the effect that one needed to be faithful to the call that was put on their life--God called us to make disciples, not write checks. Western Christians should support native missions as far as the Lord leads them, but that didn't let them off the hook to going themselves. It wasn't a choice between either-or, but of both-and. Until Ralph set me straight, I had never considered God's call upon my life.

Secondly he called into question whether many 'native missionaries' were really doing 'missions,' that is, whether they were ministering cross-culturally. He also questioned whether a cultural-insider was automatically an expert on their culture and language. The truth is, there are very many Americans who are not experts on American culture and the English language--their familiarity does not necessarily make them effective in reaching out to other Americans. This is true for someone from India, Africa or Japan--simply being Japanese does not necessarily mean that that person would be more effective at reaching other Japanese with the Gospel. The truth is, that in Japan in particularly, foreigners can be some of the best evangelists because they are not expected to live within some of the stricter social norms. Gaijin can be much more direct than the average Japanese Christian and usually get away with it.

Thirdly, he called into question the book that I had mentioned by name which I had received for free from the organization that I had been supporting--he said that the book was very one-sided and perpetuated many myths about missions and unfairly characterized western missionaries as wasteful and unfruitful. These three insights revolutionized how I saw world missions. He was correct, and I had never seen native missions in this light before.

We certainly should support indigenous ministries and partnerships when it doesn't develop unhealthy dependencies.

Do you speak Japanese? Will you be studying the language?

I don't yet know Japanese. My first two years in Japan will be spent in intensive language and cultural study. I have lived and ministered in both Korea and Japan in English and have found how limiting it can be not being able to speak a person's heart-language. I feel that it is critically important that I take seriously the task of learning the Japanese language. Some missionaries desire to jump into ministry immediately and don't take time to properly understand the language--but this makes them less effective in the long-run.

In Japan, the language and culture are so tightly intertwined that understanding the Japanese worldview absolutely requires understanding the language--it is therefore of first importance that I gain a working knowledge of the Japanese language.

Where in Japan are you going to be serving?

Most likely I will be serving in central Japan. Converge Worldwide has been ministering in Japan since 1948, and in that time has concentrated its church planting efforts from in the Kansai, Kanto and Chubu prefectures, along the Shinkansen train route and South to the coast. In that time more than sixty churches have been planted as part of the Japanese Baptist Church Association--with whom I will be partnering. This area of Japan is where more than 40% of the Japanese population lives.

Unfortunately at this time I cannot be more specific--my first two years will be spent in language training, after that I hope to partner with either a Japanese pastor or another missionary to help plant new churches.

What will you be doing in Japan? Will you be working with anyone there?
What is your vision for your future ministry in Japan?

My desire is to be used by the Holy Spirit to help catalyze a church planting movement among Japanese young people. I am hoping to work with like-minded people--pastors, missionaries, Japanese and international Christians to establish new churches that have multiplication and transformation in their DNA. 

In order for every Japanese person to have an opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel, we will need to plant tens of thousands of new churches. This can only happen if we move beyond addition to multiplication. But if anyone has been following my blog, they will know that I am quite per-occupied with the biblical study of multiplication. It is not only possible, but it is the desire of the Holy Spirit to multiply our work--some thirty fold, sixty fold, one hundred fold. (Matt 13:23)

Converge Worldwide's main partner in Japan is the Japanese Baptist Church Association (the Rengo)--currently there are about sixty churches as part of the Rengo--can you imagine what could happen if we would take the Lord at his word and believe that he could multiply these sixty churches one-hundred times over! 

Why are the Japanese so difficult to reach with the Gospel?

This post is getting pretty long--and I believe that I have written a little on this elsewhere--but this is a question deserving of its own blog post, one that I should probably write sooner than later.  To Be Continued!