Category Archives: glocal

Smart Minds & Big Words

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2016_annual_logoI spent a recent weekend with a 350 really smart people who use really big words. Most, it seems, are PhDs or in the process of earning a PhD. They come from and have ministered on every continent of the world, with the possible exception of Antarctica. They are pastors and missionaries and university professors; anthropologists, sociologists, linguists.

I felt … not out of place, but out of my league—like a weekend soccer player taking the field with  the likes of Lionel Messi, Rolandinho, Neymar, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Evangelical Missiological Society gathers these academicians and missiologists each year to share research and practice around a central theme. This year’s theme was Missions and the Local Church — a matter close to my heart as a pastor, a missionary kid, and a missions practitioner and advocate.

Truth be told, I went for my own fifteen minutes of fame: I was invited to present a paper I had written about how a church I pastored sought to shift how and what we did in missions. But I have to confess: I also went with low expectations of the weekend; academic researchers are not always known to be dynamic presenters, and their papers are not always compelling subjects for guys like me who just want to lead a church to make disciples at home and somewhere around the world.

My low expectations were vastly exceeded. So much so, in fact, that I needed to take a break from the presentations that have greatly encouraged and challenged me in order to put some thoughts down on paper. (Or a computer.) A sampling:

In The Burden of Healing: How Pentecostal Believers Experience and Make Sense of Chronic Illness, Shelly Isaacs shared the stories of men and women suffering from chronic illnesses, whose burdens were made heavier by the unfulfilled promise and expectation of divine healing. The stories hit close to home, as I could relate each one to my own friends who also hoped, prayed, and had faith to be healed … yet never received the expected and desired answer.

Steven Weathers, a PhD student, shared research about ideologies that inform evangelical perceptions around Black Lives Matter. His words were often hard, and challenged me (as a white evangelical man) to again confront my own implicit biases—that is, those that I am not even aware of lurking sometimes deep in my heart and sometimes just under the surface. A couple statements worthy of noting:

Evangelicals are not countercultural, but call for personal change that leaves systemic cultural norms in place. [from Emerson & Smith; source unknown]

Black Lives Matter won’t matter to white evangelicals if we think individually; we need to think systemically. [Weathers]

These are particularly damning statements. They suggest we are willing to change ourselves just enough to be comfortable, but we won’t fight against the cultural realities that lie at the root of Black Lives Matter (or the civil rights fight of fifty years ago).

Some final thoughts from Ed Stetzer’s keynote address on Priorities for Churches in Missions: the decline of denominationalism and the rise of non-denominational churches has not been a neutral influence on cross-cultural missions. Historically, missions had a voice at the table with denominational leadership, and there was a clear and intentional pathway to missions through denominations. With the growth of non-denominational churches (400% since the 1980s—and now the largest evangelical bloc), “innovation is now a higher priority than missions awareness and engagement.”

Within evangelicalism, “missional” has grown while “missions” has declined; gospel demonstration has increased (a good thing), but gospel proclamation has taken a back seat (not so good).

We must no longer merely give lip service to balancing demonstration and proclamation; we must actively practice both.

In my own paper about engaging the local church in global missions, I included this statement from a book by three missiologists: “the center of gravity in missions has moved from the agency to the local church.” I think that’s a good thing; but Stetzer brought a tempering perspective: Churches are vexed about the nations, but don’t have the connections, training, or constructs to engage well and effectively.

The great charge to the Church is to make disciples of all peoples, everywhere. One of my great burdens is to help local churches do that well and effectively … whether it means engaging with the Black Lives Matter movement, offering hope and healing to the chronically ill, serving refugees, rescuing victims of human trafficking, or preaching Jesus where His name has not yet been heard.

Isolationism Revisited

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I had a very interesting experience a couple weeks ago. In desperate need of a haircut, I decided to try out a new barber in town. I’d seen his business card and website and his tagline had intrigued me: “Changing the world one haircut at a time.” I was curious what that meant, and how haircuts might be able to change the world. I got my answer!

During the course of my hour in the barber’s chair, I got an earful as “Bowtie” passionately talked about all that was wrong with our nation, its politics, its direction, its finances. Three other customers came in and sat down during that hour, readily engaging in a loud and sometimes contentious discussion. It was humorous, intriguing, and at times even educational – and not at all for the faint of heart or delicate of disposition! I left with conflicting feelings: that I needed to wash out my ears, and that Jesus – or at least Paul – would probably get their haircuts there just for the conversation!

What I learned was that Bowtie had two underlying philosophies that would “change the world”: first, get money out of politics; the president, congresspersons, and even local politicians ought to serve out of the goodness of their hearts, not for pay. Second, the US should get out of every other country and focus instead on our own interests.

I’ve heard the arguments before. The first fails to recognize that all humans are “desperately sick” (according to Jeremiah 17:9). The second is, frankly, naïve. From the very beginning, humankind was made for community, and I believe Scripture shows that that extends to the community of nations. Isolationism has never been good politics.

Calls for an American isolationism may have had their impact in the past, but they have been effectively silenced by the unavoidable fact of a world community that is linked by intricate economic ties, instant communication, complex and speedy transportation systems and the fear of nuclear destruction. (Reid, Daniel G. et al. Dictionary of Christianity in America 1990)

Isolationism has never been good discipleship, either. Yet I often hear calls for what amounts to a Christian isolationism. I hear questions like, “why are we going to Ethiopia or Mexico or India when there are so many needs here at home?” They’re not bad questions; they deserve thoughtful consideration. The simplest answer is this: “We go because we are called – to make disciples of all peoples, to be witnesses of Jesus Christ here, near, and far.

So now I have a question for you: As you are going – to work, to school, to the gym, on vacation – how are you “making disciples” of the people you come into contact with?

Short-Term Missions

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Welcome, MMI readers! Thanks to Todd Rhoades of MMI, I read a good Washington Post article about the changing face of short-term missions. You can read Todd’s post and the followup comments here, as well as link to the WP article.

What I’d like to hear is what your churches are doing in the way of missions…specifically short-term missions (STM). Hear are some things I’d love to know; feel free to go beyond these questions, though:

  • How does STM fit into your broader mission strategy? (Does it? Do you have a broader strategy?)
  • Do you have an ongoing relationship/partnership with a western/US-based mission agency through which you implement your STM strategy? Who/what? What is the focus?
  • Do you have ongoing relationships/partnerships with non-western agencies or churches?
  • Do you have a particular focus area? If so, how did you identify that?
  • What is the nature of your involvement? (e.g., relief, development, evangelism, medical, etc.)
  • How do you select and prepare short-term missionaries/teams? What do you do “post-field” with your team, the people you visited, the senders/supporters, etc.?
  • How do you seek to get your whole church engaged, versus merely the “mission zealots” (my term!)?

Finally, what is the one thing you wish you did better?