A couple weeks ago I wrote nine short kernels of potential articles—I found this exercise very rewarding and received generally positive feedback. However, I found that as soon as I had cleared those ideas out, there were others I realized would be ideal for this format as well. So without further adieu, here is the second installment of my micro-blogging experiment!
In my previous post I wrote about how some of America’s strongest cultural values are efficiency, expediency and cost effectiveness. This is manifest in virtually every area of life in America—-however there has begun to be a backlash against our ‘fast food’ culture. This movement is called the ‘Slow Movement,’ which advocates for among other things a return to more natural rhythms of life as a contrast to the obsession with getting the most, in the shortest amount of time with the lowest investment. I believe that there is a place for this in missions. We must explore the ways in which our own culture of efficiency, expediency and stinginess has impacted the way that we do missions! If we find that we have been syncretistic, are we willing to repent?
Investment in Missions and the Alabaster Jar of Ointment
One of the areas that I have found American Culture seeping into the way that we think about missions is manifest in the way that we speak about missions—-namely in economic terms! Instead of talking about sacrificing we talk about investment. You’re not ‘sending’ a missionary, you’re ‘partnering’ with them. Churches increasingly want a return on the ‘investment’ they are making in foreign missions—-they want to have some benefit to their congregation beyond the joy of giving to the Lord. There is a sinful selfishness behind much of this! Behind this investment language is the subtle sinful refrain, “What is in it for me?” When we encourage people to give towards world missions, we should point them to the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment! She gave it as a sacrifice and the story of her love gift is recorded for posterity. Recently a church made an incredibly large commitment to my future ministry—immediately I began to share with them all of the ways in which I could serve their church. The Pastor replied, “there are no strings attached to our support!” That only made me want to be a blessing to their church even more!
Jesus was Not a Victim
Something that has begun to concern me recently is what I can only, for a lack of a better term, call a victim complex among American Christians. Around the world Christians are being persecuted, some of them even facing death for their steadfast belief in the Gospel! In American, on the other hand, Christians by in large do not face significant persecution—however, you wouldn’t know that based on the rhetoric! I believe we have identified with the blasphemous criminal on the cross rather than with Jesus! Jesus was not a victim. He knowingly and willingly submitted himself to death on the cross. We could stand to learn from him and imitate him. Are we willing to be crucified by our media, by our culture, to go quietly as a sheep to the slaughter. Do we need to defend our rights? Jesus knew that in submitting to the cross he was actually the victor—-we need to die to our rights, to our comforts, to our desire to represent and defend ourselves.
Evangelism and Rape
I have actually started writing a blog post on how the way that we have learned to do evangelism in the west—direct, confrontational, without regard to relationship is tantamount to spiritual rape. I have begun writing it, but it is such a sensitive topic, I haven’t found the energy to engage it deeply. But think about it this way, if you were to meet someone of the opposite gender, and attempt to enter into marital bliss with them after just one conversation, it would either result in rejection, rape or a one-night-stand. Now, I want to be clear, Jesus is a gentleman, he is going to force himself on anyone—but in our own zeal for others to know Jesus, are we guilty of forcing love before it’s time? I would say that we have been, and there is no wonder that so many people respond to evangelism with such disdain and revulsion; both inside and outside of the church. We need to re-think evangelism in terms of the wooing of courtship rather than the pursuit of a one-night stand. This may also explain why we have so many ‘converts,’ but so few disciples! They had a tryst with Jesus, but didn't get the engagement ring.
Missionaries as an Extension of the Church
I believe that missions, rightly understood is the pursuit of making disciples and establishing churches across ethnic, linguistic and cultural divides. Therefore, a missionary is in his very nature a disciple maker and church planter. That means that many things in done in the name of missions are not in fact missions. With this in mind, I believe that to rightly understand the missionary, we must understand them as a ‘elder-at-large’ of the local church. Paul and Barnabas were sent out, authorized, by the local church in Antioch, of which they were local leaders. Their ministry was not significantly different than their local ministry of making disciples and planting churches—-but they were being released to do that ministry in a different geographic and cultural context! Do our missionaries however look like local-church elders-at-large? I believe that we need to return to this paradigm! We need to think of sending missionaries as sending an extension of our own local body. When missionaries return from the field for furlough or retirement, are they treated as church elders and leaders, what is the expectation, what is your experience? This paradigm shift I believe would help both the cause of missions and the health of the local church!
Too Big to Work Together
It has been my experience that churches of a certain size—-usually a thousand or more people tend to cease to work together with other churches in advancing the Gospel strategically either through cooperative missions sending or regional association. Rather than ‘too-big-to-fail,’ there are many churches that are ‘too-big-for-unity.’ I believe that this grieves the Lord! They do their own local ministry initiatives, and may invite others to contribute money or volunteer, but they don’t share leadership or invite others to leadership. They send their own missionaries (because they can) and have their own missions initiatives without the cooperation of input of other (usually smaller) churches or local associations. There is a tipping point where this begins to manifest, and I believe it is the subtle work of the enemy to divide the work of the Lord. Smaller churches tend to understand the necessity of working together, because of their limited resources and manpower; they need to develop strategic networks of cooperation. Whereas larger churches tend to be lulled into a sense of sufficiency—where they don’t need anyone else, in fact, they could probably do wonderful ministry apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Pursuit of unity in itself is a heart cry for the touch of the Holy Spirit.
American Individualism and the Non-Denominational Movement
The title kind of says it all—our culture values the individual! We tend to think that the normal unit is not the group, but the individual. Despite the idea of ‘unity in diversity,’ or ‘unity out of many,’ we have long forsaken the collective understanding of what it means to be an American. For this reason, it is no wonder that newer churches have largely abandoned formal cooperation through denominations, associations and networks. There is a lack of accountability, transparency—-but more disturbingly, it is actually a litmus test for the selfish independence of the average American Christian. It is a picture of our own isolated Christian lives. As American Christians with this pre-disposition, we must understand that the pursuit of unity, the pursuit of cooperation is actually counter-cultural. The enemy wants to divide and conquer. Cooperation and unity are hard, but worth pursuing!
Unity and Blessing
While at Wheaton College I read J Edwin Orr’s book, ‘Campus Aflame,’ namely because of the burning image of Blanchard Hall on the front cover. The basic thesis of the book is that in order for a Christian College to stay Christian, it needed to experience periodic revivals. One of the interesting side-effects of these revivals, other than keeping a campus faithful, was that they produced a zeal for missions. What I learned was that an interest in missions either preceded or proceeded from a spiritual awakening among students. Meaning, that one could potentially prime the pump for revival by renewing an emphasis on global missions. I believe this is true, in part. What I have only recently seen is that one of the reasons that God blesses an emphasis on missions, is because in order to accomplish the great commission, churches and individuals need to work together in unity; and God blesses unity. In fact, it was Jesus’ high priestly prayer that finally put me on to this! Jesus is praying that we act in unity to accomplish the mission for which we are here on earth, to make disciples! When we work together towards this goal, God opens the flood gates of blessing. I have even seen this in my own life!
The Double-Edged Ministry of Missionaries
With the preceding in mind, I believe that missionaries are in fact agents of renewal and revival in the local church! While developing my support to launch out to Japan, God has been using me to prophetically challenge the local church and believers to a deepened faith in the Lord Jesus, to live and give more sacrificially; to take the great commission seriously. So many pastors are protective of their pulpits, and missionaries are often the worst offenders —-they can be boring, they can be long winded, but they could also be a great source of spiritual renewal and revival for a congregation! Through developing relationships with churches and individuals, missionaries can actually do a great deal of good for the local church.
Making Evangelism Sexy
Last year I did a whole series of blog posts on fruitfulness. I have a lot more material I could write about on this topic, but one idea that has come up again and again is the idea that the true sign of Christian maturity is the ability to reproduce. I believe that there is a clear parallel in the scriptures between making disciples and making babies (fruitfulness in the original sense, aka sexual reproduction). If that is the case, then a natural outflow would be that there is some tie between evangelism and intercourse (I already made the missionary dating joke). I believe that we need to do a better job helping new believers understand how exciting it is to share one’s faith with another person. Of course you’re going to get cold feet, of course there is going to be rejection, of course you’ll say embarrassing things, of course you’ll get butterflies in your stomach. That didn’t stop you from asking your significant other out on a first date! For some reason we’re able to muster up the courage to break the ice when it comes to merely human interactions, but when we want someone to be born again from above we tend to clam up. Blending together two of the earlier mini-blog posts, maybe a new paradigm for evangelism would be courtship (slow missions + wooing); rather than getting a person to make an on the spot (one-night stand) commitment to Jesus, inviting them into a discipleship relationship with Jesus where they begin to get to know Him at their own pace with the ultimate end-goal of a wedding. Maybe that whole ‘Jesus is my boyfriend,’ thing isn’t too off base?