Missions Misunderstood

Posted February 28th, 2006 by E. Goodman

Don’t you hate when someone starts a discussion with “You know what your problem is?” They should just say, “You’ve got a problem, and you obviously don’t know what it is, so I’m going to tell you.” Either way, everyone is a critic (even me).

Some of the IMB’s most vocal critics are a group of folks within the SBC who are concerned about the theology of the Board and the missionaries it sends. Our president, they say, is too charismatic. ILC (MLC) training, they charge, is theologically weak. CPM, they claim, leaves too much room for heresy to sneak in. I’m not exactly sure who “They” are, but “They” are concerned that we’ve got a bunch of liberals in the mission field. That’s why, even though the Board requires that all missionary candidates be members-in-good-standing of a Southern Baptist Church, and that career personnel have seminary training, we all had to sign the BFM 2000- to prove to “Them” we weren’t liberals. Somehow, our signatures didn’t help ease “Their” concerns, so “They” had the trustees adopt some new policies that would keep liberals out of the ranks. Now, Southeastern Seminary students are organizing to collect evidence against IMB personnel who might be labeled liberal. (Ok, so maybe I do know who “They” are.)

If you’ve read any of my posts here, you know that I, too, am concerned about the strategy and missiology of my coworkers. But I’m coming from a different direction. I’m not worried about chasing down liberalism, or defending the faith. Because they are in different cultural contexts, and because they are seeing God move in different ways, most of our personnel who have been overseas for very long would seem liberal to many of “Them.” It might also have to do with the fact that most of our M’s in the field don’t get Fox News…

The churches that we are planting (or working to plant) are not drowning in watered-down theology. They are being suffocated by our models and worldview.

If you were to ask me (and yes, I realize that you didn’t), the best thing that the IMB could do to further our church planting efforts would be to stop hiring and sending Missionaries. I’m not talking about slowing the flow of personnel to the field; we need all the businessmen and artists and chefs and computer programmers we can get. What we don’t need is more Missionaries. Most of the people sent by the Board are pastors (who end up pastoring the churches they plant), youth ministers (who tend to build strong seeker-friendly youth groups instead of churches), or ministers of music/associate pastor types (who are all about new programs and events). It seems to me that the best way to avoid the influence of the American Christian religion and subculture on the churches we plant is to stop exporting it through our personnel.

I agree with those who say we need to rethink our understanding on missions and the church. We need to send people who are well-trained and qualified to plant churches. But the solution to our struggles isn’t a liberalism witch hunt, it’s in open dialogue.

Speaking of open dialogue, what do you think?

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted February 24th, 2006 by E. Goodman

At the beginning of the Iraq war, I heard an American military analyst on CNN talking about how young American troops had a major advantage over their enemy due to the fact that most of them grew up playing video games. He went on to say that training time for pilots and drivers had been drastically reduced since most of the military machinery (fighter jets, tanks, etc.) had been outfitted with interfaces and controls that mimicked the those of video games. I thought that was interesting. It also makes me glad that Japan is an ally- those kids play video games in their sleep!

I wonder about that element of desensitization, too. You know, when a kid sees however many thousand acts of violence on TV before he reaches the age of twelve, it’s bound to make him flinch less when he sees people being shot. From a parent’s perspective, this is an outrage. From a military strategist’s point of view, however, it can actually be a good thing. It means that your soldiers aren’t going to be distracted from the job they’ve been assigned to by the violence it requires. Of you’ve seen it in “Saving Private Ryan” and “blackhawk Down,” you’re going to expect it in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Which brings me to the meeting we had the other day. Our leadership team was going over the information we use in training new personnel before they come to the field. One of the hardest things about preparing folks before they come is getting them ready for the postmodern Western European worldview. We assign books like Stan Grenz’s “A Primer on Postmodern” that teach about postmodernism, and we have them check out websites like Andrew Jones’ blog. But we still have people come over who have no concept of life beyond their modern rational worldview. So I put together a list of movies that do a good job of showing postmodernism as we seen it in Western Europe. The list included movies such as Fight Club, American Beauty, and Vanilla Sky. Oddly enough, almost all of the films on my list came out between 1999 and 2001. Unfortunately, all of them are rated R.

Even though there are many films that do a great job of illustrating postmodernism, we will not be sending this list of movies to new personnel. There is no way we can even suggest, much less assign, an R-rated movie as preparation and training material for new missionaries. The reasons, I think, are obvious.

I think there is value in studying the culture and those things that influence it. What if we could get our people used to European culture before they got here? The problem, of course, is that so much of the culture is defined by it’s sin. There is value in being exposed to the relativism, anti-consumerism, and cynicism that define this culture. But how can we expose ourselves to those attitudes without sitting through the foul language, sex, and violence that usually accompany them?

On the one hand, I want to say, “Watch the movie. Life and ministry in Europe (and the States, for that matter) requires that we be exposed to things that are not God-honoring. If you’re going to be offended by lost people doing lost people things, how are you going to spend time with them? That’s what the spiritual armor is for.” But on the other hand, I would say, “We’re surrounded by sin. We see it every day. What good can come from exposing ourselves to any more of it?”

So the question remains: How can we be PG people and yet minister in an R-rated world? I guess my answer would be that if we equip our people to be in tune with the Holy Spirit and to be students of the culture, we can be incarnational without becoming carnal.

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted February 22nd, 2006 by E. Goodman

There is an ongoing discussion within the convention about the Emerging Church Movement. Originally, it was seen as a mostly harmless group of “younger” leaders who pushing for authenticity and social involvement. Since then, due to the ambiguous nature and “more questions than answers” style of emergent authors like Brian McLaren, popular opinion has changed. Now, the label “emergent” is equated with “liberal” (or worse). People who are sympathetic to emerging church ideas are accused of abandoning truth in order to make our faith relevant to the world.

I admit that my worldview is different from most of my fellow missionaries. This is due in part to the fact that I am younger and that I was raised outside the Bible Belt. It may also be that living in Western Europe and investing my life into studying the culture and integrating into the community has led me to adopt some of their worldview. Either way, I am not typical.

Unlike most of my coworkers, I have yet to see a contemporary expression of our faith that I am comfortable with. I am tired of labels. I believe in God’s sovereignty, but I can’t stand the arrogance of most Calvinists. I’m open to new ways of doing church and living missionally, but I don’t want to be written off as “emergent,” “Generation X,” or “Postmodernist.” I can’t even grow a goatee. If I were to have a conversation with a member of the Board of Trustees about politics, they would most likely label me a liberal. Theologically, I’m very conservative, but our style of ministry would make many church members back home scratch their heads. I have a hard time trusting institutions; even the one that sends me. I believe that the Bible is without error, but that none of our interpretations is. I believe in truth, but I don’t believe any of us have it contained in a formula, book, or study guide. I am not Purpose Driven.

All of this is to say that most of my questions here are not born of any desire to make the gospel “cool” or “relevant” or “easier to swallow.” I understand that the Truth is offensive, and that it always runs counter to both human nature and the flow of culture. No, my questions aren’t about me making things work for them, I’m trying to make it work for me. (Philippians 2:12,13)

So even though a lot of my posts sound like sermons, and I tend to state my opinions as though they were fact, the purpose of this blog is for me to work out my salvation- my calling and ministry- by asking questions, exploring ideas, and being critical. I appreciate those of you who read, and those who take time to comment. That’s why I’m doing this, um, publicly; to hear from others who might be able to encourage and challenge me.

I want to understand my faith, and to be able to share it with others. I want to plant churches that are free of the modern American religion that I’m having such a hard time with. Marty Duren wrote an excellent post on this at SBC Outpost. If you haven’t read it, you should. I think many of us can relate to what he says about legalism.

One thing I’m becoming aware of is how negative some of my posts may sound. (All of my posts?) In my next couple of posts, I’m going to try to propose some positive solutions for making sense of things for myself and the culture I live in. Please feel free to add your own.

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted February 13th, 2006 by E. Goodman

We’re always looking for churches that are interested in partnering with us as we plant churches here in Western Europe. God has been good to provide us with mission-minded churches that participate sacrificially in what God is doing around the world. Sometimes we go looking for partner churches. Every once in a while, one comes looking for us.

Recently, we were contacted by a well-known megachurch in the Convention that was looking for opportunities to plant “postmodern” churches in Western Europe. For us, that’s a pretty big deal. It’s like landing a big account, picking up a high-profile client, closing a big deal. Or some other corporate term that means “good for us.” Having big and rich partner churches means an unlimited volunteer pool, round-the-clock prayer support, and a few items crossed off the unfunded needs list. Immediately we started planning vision trips and prayer materials for our new partners. It wasn’t until we met with the church leadership back in the States that we realized things we’re going to work out.

Their idea of church planting was to reproduce their successful stateside model in other countries. They explained to me that they had been hard at work putting together resources that would make it easy to implement their strategy. All I had to do was join their church planting network, and for $250 US per year they would send me recordings of their pastor’s sermons and some study materials. My membership also qualified me to shop in their church planting network resources store, where I could buy a state-of the-art sound system, a video projector, and padded seats in one of three tasteful colors. That’s right, they wanted to sell me church in a box.

Picture it: a mini-megachurch in the heart of Western Europe. Weekly sermons, already translated into national languages, ready to be shown on the big screen. A video of inspirational, seeker-sensitive worship music, complete with a powerpoint presentation of the lyrics. The package even included advertising materials, such as professional-quality brochures, vinyl banners, and pre-recorded radio spots.

When I told the church leaders that we were trying to start churches that would be a little more indigenous, they stared blankly. When I asked if we could try something that was a little more culturally appropriate, they offered to take a hundred dollars off the cost of my membership to their church planter’s network. When I outlined our strategy, they laughed. “We’re not going to get involved in anything that won’t let our people see immediate results,” they said. “Our model has been proven to work here in the U.S., and we’re just looking for someone to do it overseas.”

Looking back, the whole interaction sounds silly.

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted January 29th, 2006 by E. Goodman

This is a follow-up to my last post, Back Burner.

I believe that relationships are the context in which the gospel should be shared. Real relationships. This means that the only filter I apply to my ministry is my trust that the people that God brings our way are the people in whom He is working. I pursue natural friendships with these people that don’t depend on them becoming believers. I intentionally take every opportunity to speak into their life. I walk with them through the daily grind and I’m there for them when the big things come up. I don’t believe there’s any higher calling or better use of my time.

I refuse to buy into evangelism economics. I’m tired of counting numbers and measuring success by visible results. There aren’t any formulas for getting the most bang for our ministry bucks, and I don’t want to pimp out relationships like some sort of Amway salesman. Artificial relationships that have strings attached make me feel fake. I’m sick of hearing “But we aren’t here to make friends, we’re her to plant churches” as though the two were mutually exclusive. I think that “broad seed sowing,” as it is commonly understood, requires dilution of the gospel, something I’m not willing to do. I know that an American Christian has coming to share the “plan of salvation” with a Western European does not necessarily mean that the gospel has been communicated, and so I’m not willing to “move on” if someone doesn’t respond the way I want them to.

I have a good friend, a national, who calls himself an agnostic. He does not believe in a personal, “knowable” God. In the beginning of our relationship, I was encouraged every time I had the opportunity to share my faith with him. I prayed that he would show interest in spiritual things, and that he would come to know the Lord. Even after years of sharing life together, he showed no signs of faith. He knew what I believed; I’ve never been shy about the fact that my life is founded in Christ. He just didn’t want any of it. My ministry seemed to hit a plateau; no “progress” was being made. I went through a time of really questioning things. Was I wasting my time with an unresponsive individual? Was it time to “move on?”

One day, my friend and I were having coffee when an acquaintance joined us. The conversation turned, as it often did, to spiritual things. The guy heard me mention my faith, and asked me what I believed. Before I could respond, my friend jumped in and, in the most articulate way, explained exactly what I believed: that Jesus is the only way to God, and that there is no spiritual life apart from Him. That a person is saved by grace alone, regardless of his or her deeds. He even mentioned “life more abundant!” Here, my unbelieving friend was sharing the good news to someone I hardly knew.

Who knows? Maybe this is how God is going to do things in Western Europe. Maybe He’s leading us to “waste time” on “unresponsive” people that He sees fit to us in the cultural translation of the gospel. Does my friend’s “gospel presentation” lack the power of the evidence of a changed life? Yes. Is my friend, who does not have a relationship with God, in a position to disciple others? Of course not. Maybe that’s why I’m here. Either way, I’m going to continue to invest my life in the lives of the people God brings to me, however inefficient that my be.

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted January 29th, 2006 by E. Goodman

Sometimes missionaries struggle with the reach of our influence. In their efforts to start a church planting movement, they see it as a good thing to interact with as many people as possible. This is the basic mentality behind most of the “broad seed sowing” activities our people do. Tracts, door-to-door visits, and drama in the park are all efforts toward sharing the message of Christ with as many people as possible.

But how does this play into a strategy that doesn’t include distribution or public events? If a person can only have so many real friends, and my ministry is intentionally limited to personal relationships, how can I “reach” a wide audience?

I’ve been asked these questions several times by different people. In fact, this seems the be the one issue that most people have with our “strictly relational” approach to church planting. It just isn’t a good use of our time, they reason, to spend it with people who are closed, indifferent, or hostile to our message. Strategists have come up with all kinds of solutions to overcome the limits of our relational reach. The IMB trains us in the use of programmed “filters.” These are built-in means by which we can find those people who are spiritually searching, and screen out the people that are less open to accepting the gospel.

One example is a change in the traditional use of the “Jesus Film.” Rather than passing it out indiscriminately, our strategists now recommend sending out invitations to receive the movie. This, they say, saves lots of time, effort, and money, by focusing on those people who are already interested enough that they would put forth the effort to answer an invitation and request a film. Having identified the people that are spiritually “good soil,” the missionary doesn’t have to waste time on people who may never respond to the good news.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had colleagues express concern over our short-reaching influence. And each time, their advice included the Front Burner/Back Burner analogy. Their take is that sure, it’s ok to be relational, but that we need to be discerning in how much we invest into those relationship. Those relationships that seem to be “going somewhere” (the person is showing interest in coming to Christ after we share the gospel with them) are the ones we need to put on the “front burner;” those are the ones we need to pour our lives into. But if we have a relationship with someone who, after repeated contact still do not show signs of interest, we need to put them on the “back burner.” They wouldn’t say that we should ignore these uninterested people, but we would recognize that our time might be better spent elsewhere.

After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that I really don’t like the “Front Burner/Back Burner” strategy. It’s basically a “filtering” technique, applied to relational ministry, and I think it misses the point.

Look for part two in my next post.

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted January 27th, 2006 by E. Goodman

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is how very dependent ministry tends to be on authority. Pastors preach with the authority given to them by their calling, position, and seminary education. Church planters operate out of the authority of the Great Commission and of the agency that sends them. We teach our people to evangelize out of the authority of scripture. What I’ve come to understand, though, it that I don’t actually have any authority. Not only that, but I’m better off without it.

Pastors who lord spiritual authority over their church members end up being resented. I know this because I once had a pastor who knew ancient Greek. To him, this secret knowledge made him the authority on all things pertaining to the scriptures. His sermons were long, boring lessons in parsing Greek verbs and ancient etymologies. Anyone who questioned the pastor’s interpretation was answered with, “But you don’t understand the original Greek.” The attitude of the entire church was affected by the pastors “authoritative” influence. Members eventually gave up trying to search the scriptures, because they felt inadequate.

When I was a kid, we went through evangelism training that focused on the authority of the Word of God. “Don’t share the gospel out of your own experience,” I remember the teacher saying, “only the Word of God has any authority in evangelism.” At the time, we agreed, because, as we had memorized in week six, it was “the power of God unto salvation.” The idea of having authority was empowering to us. From then on, when we were made fun of for trying to share the Roman Road with the cool kids at school, we comforted ourselves with, “They aren’t rejecting us. They’re rejecting God.”

Church planters often cite Matthew 28:19-20 as the passage of scripture God used to call them to the mission field. The verses speak to the subject of authority with Jesus saying, “All authority in heaven in earth is given to me. Therefore go…” I always took this to mean that He was the boss, and therefore we, as His followers were obligated to obey. Maybe that’s where we get the idea that we need some sort of authority in order to do ministry.

Authority is a funny thing, though. It has to be given by someone higher up in order for it to be legitimate, and it has to be honored by the people under the authority in order for it to be any authority at all. The scriptures, for example, are indeed authoritative. But there are millions of people who do not respect that authority. Their disregard doesn’t make the Bible less true, but it makes its authority a moot point as far as they are concerned.

So in sharing the gospel with people, we could assert the Bible’s authority (or our own, as professionals), but it seems that what people need to hear is the usefulness, or the beauty, or the power of the Word. Rather than “Because it says so, that’s why.” (Did your mom ever pull the “Because I said so?” How did you respond?) We might instead share our personal stories, even though we have no authority at all. We could even ask permission to speak to certain issues, and follow cultural norms in order to get to a place where we can share personal spiritual experiences in appropriate ways. I know. My Evangelism Explosion teacher would be very disappointed with me.

I know what you’re going to say: “The Bible is our authority, and it’s theirs too, whether they like it or not.” And then you’ll say,”The gospel is offensive. You shouldn’t water it down or candy-coat it in some lame attempt to make it attractive.” While you may be right, I would probably just delete your annoying comment because, well, I have the authority to do that sort of thing around here. Even if you post in ancient Greek and quote lots of scripture.

I’m kidding. Mostly.

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted January 24th, 2006 by E. Goodman

I’ve had plenty of time now to think though the Board’s new hiring policies regarding baptism and tongues. I’ve decided that I don’t like them, but it’s probably not for the reasons you might think.

The trustees have made it clear that the new restrictions are not retroactive; that is to say, they don’t apply to those of us that are already on the field. But the new policies nonetheless affect me directly. How? I’m glad you asked.

I have a job request on the books. The new policies shrink the pool of candidates from which this job will be filled. “But that,” you might say, “is the point.” I understand that the trustees were trying to keep people certain people from being hired by the IMB; namely, those who speak in tongues and anyone who was baptized by someone with bad theology. Though I’m not aware of any place where we’ve got charismatics in the field, I understand that the trustees want to be sure their missionaries share the Board’s interpretation of certain scriptures. My problem is that these decisions essentially guarantee that I won’t get the type of church planters I’m looking for.

I’m not looking for people who speak in tongues or who might have been baptized by someone outside the SBC. I am looking for people who would defend the service of such individuals. I’m looking for people with a real understanding of what the Bible actually says about things like baptism and tongues. You see, our church planters often fall into the trap of teaching interpretations of scripture rather than the scripture itself. Our concentration on church forms and models has led to us planting churches that are hardly indigenous, and our focus on teaching our interpretations is like replacing the scriptures with an SBC-approved commentary.

So the new guidelines don’t just rule out the Charismatics. They rule out anyone open to a different understanding of passages like Acts 8:36, when the Ethiopian asks Philip a pertinent question:

“As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

How would I answer the Eunuch’s question? I probably wouldn’t be able to say, “Well, we can’t baptize you here and now because, well, the two of us don’t count as a church, and because I’m still not sure you fully understand the ramifications of eternal security.”

A byproduct of the change is that the type of person we’re looking for is so tired of the politics, infighting, and bullying, that they’re not applying to be sent by the IMB.

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted January 23rd, 2006 by E. Goodman

A couple of days ago Ryan DeBarr blogged about an IMB couple that was asked to resign over something they wrote that stated their disagreement with the new IMB policies. I’m suprised that I haven’t heard anything else about this.
Anyone know anything more?

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted January 20th, 2006 by E. Goodman

I haven’t posted anything about the newly adopted IMB policies concerning tongues and baptism of missionary candidates. If you want some background on this issue, check out SBC Outpost, Wade Burleson’s blog, or the Associated Baptist Press.

For the record, I am against them. What’s more, I have yet to find any IMB missionary on the field who agrees with them. But you won’t be hearing any dissent from within the ranks. The current attitude out here is “If you want to keep you job, keep you mouth shut.”

No, there haven’t been any threats (that I know of). And no, the new policies do not apply to personnel already on the field. But with the Board of Trustees voting to remove trustee Wade Burleson for voicing his opinions on the new policies and the politics among trustees, everyone is being extra careful.

Last week, the R. Gordon Fort, IMB Vice President for Overseas Operations sent a memo to all personnel “clarifying” the new policies. It was this “clarification” that has prompted me to write about the issue. Because the memo is presented as “the specific wording” of the policies, I’m assuming that this was not intended to stay “in house.” I post the main text of the memo here:

The specific wording of the policy on Tongues and Prayer Language and the Baptism Guideline are as follows:

Tongues and Prayer Language

That the following policy regarding tongues and prayer language of missionary candidates be adopted:

GLOSSOLALIA

1. The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered to be a legitimate language of some people group.

2. The New Testament expression of glossolalia as a gift had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.

3. In term of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia. Therefore, if glossolalia is a public part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.

PRAYER LANGUAGE

1. Prayer language as commonly expressed by those practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia.

2. Paul’s clear teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding.

3. Any spiritual experience must be tested by the Scriptures.

4. In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as “private prayer language.” Therefore, if “private prayer language” is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.

APPLICATION1. This policy is not retroactive.

2. Any exceptions to the above policy must be reviewed by the staff and the Process Review Committee.

Baptism Guideline

That each candidate’s baptismal experience be examined, during the application process, in light of the Baptist Faith and Message statement and the points listed below:

BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE: ARTICLE VII – BAPTISM

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior; the believer’s death to sin; the burial of the old life; and the resurrection to walk in the newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

POINTS TO BE COVERED DURING THE APPOINTMENT PROCESS:

1. The Individual

a. Believer’s baptism by immersion

Baptism by immersion follows salvation

b. Baptism is symbolic, picturing the experience of the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ.

Baptism does not regenerate.

2. The Church

a. Baptism is a church ordinance.

Baptism must take place in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer.

b. A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches.

3. The Candidate
The candidate is responsible for meeting this doctrinal commitment to the above points.

4. The Consultant
While the candidate consultant should have a working knowledge of many denominational groups, he is not expected to investigate every church.

APPLICATION1. This guideline is not retroactive.

2. Any exception to the above guideline must be reviewed by the staff and the Process Review Committee.

So here’s my initial concern: No scripture to support the new guidelines. What do you think? I’ll post my thoughts soon.

Filed under:Uncategorized