Missions Misunderstood

Posted March 6th, 2008 by E. Goodman

From the early days of television through the 1970′s, there were three television networks. They had no competition and total control over what Americans watched on TV.

Then came cable. 24 hours a day of news. Sports. Movies. Weather. Home shopping. Music videos. They focused on smaller markets, but gave people what they wanted to watch. Suddenly, people had choices. Satellite expanded the television universe to micro markets. The soap opera network. The game show network. Do-it-yourself home repairs. Extreme sports, classic sports, international sports. Poker.

Now the internet. YouTube. iTunes. Sidereel. Anyone can watch whatever they want, anytime. And not only watch, but connect with other fans and create their own content.

This is happening with mainstream Christianity as well. Splinters, spin-offs, and startups dot the landscape of American Christianity and provide an infinite number of ways for churches to connect and cooperate. Exclusivity is passé; most of the churches involved are aligned with multiple networks. “Loyalty” is redefined; churches maintain these associations only as long as they serve their intended purposes. Christians used to connect via centralized “broadcasts” such as denominations, personalities, or geography. Now they’re connected via the “cloud;” allowing them to partner with others according to their beliefs, worldview, practice, politics, and interests. Some are pretty unique. Others are nearly identical.

The Southern Baptist Convention is NBC in the 1960′s. Now there are hundreds of ways for likeminded believers to connect with one another. The Founders movement. Purpose Driven. Mosaic. Allelon. Acts 29. Glocal. The Missional Church Network. CBF. New Baptist Covenant. Emergent. The Antioch Church Network is a new channel to watch.

Why does all this matter?

Because it all comes down to influence. You don’t need to be the president of anything to change everything for some people. Steve McCoy is a nobody in his church’s denomination. To artistic, reformed-leaning, music-loving, post-denominational bloggers, he’s a rock star. Follow his blog for a little while and you’ll understand.

And because if you’re dependent on one of the old broadcast TV-style networks, you need to find some new ways to connect.

Filed under:Christianity, Internet, Trends Posted March 4th, 2008 by E. Goodman

Sure their computers are prettier and crash a lot less than everyone else’s, but Mac users are more than just adopters of an alternative operating system. They’re members of a club. If you’ve ever been evangelized by a Mac user, you know what I mean. It’s more than a computer, it’s a way of life. Mac users look at the world differently than PC users. They dress alike and hang out in coffee shops. All it takes for entry into the club is a thousand dollars (the cost of a MacBook). 

Apple isn’t just selling hardware and software; with every shiny new iPod and Mac they’re selling identity. 

Mark Driscoll is selling the same thing (for a lot less, though). You can see his admirers and devotees planting churches across the country. They’re bold, they’re sarcastic, they’re unashamedly reformed. They major on the majors, like good theology, social action, and character. They drink, smoke cigars, and watch a lot of movies. They have iPhones, blogs and Flickr pages. They are unimpressed by denominations and traditions, and there are likely one or two of them planting churches in your area. 

Sure, you could call members of Driscoll’s tribe or the Mac Club “followers.” You could criticize them for not being unique or original. 

I say, why aren’t more of us providing identity? People are looking for a way to make sense of their world, a way to understand who they are in relation to everything else. In Christ, we have that identity. 

I think that would be good news for a lot of people. 

Filed under:Christianity, Culture, Evangelism Posted February 25th, 2008 by E. Goodman

So there’s a homeless guy that you see around town pretty often. One day, he approaches you on the street, asking for money. You compassionately give him a couple bucks.

You know, the “least of these” and all that.

The very next day, you see that same homeless guy sitting on a park bench, obviously drunk, with a beer in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. He’s still begging, but since he’s intoxicated, he’s pretty aggressive about it. Do you ever give him more money?

Surely someone would claim “stewardship,” saying that it wouldn’t be very responsible of us to continue “wasting” money on someone who obviously doesn’t use it wisely.

Do the actions of others ever release us from our responsibilities as Christ-followers? Did the homeless guy deserve our help this first time, but not the next? Can accountability exist outside of a personal relationship? What is our motivation for generosity?

I believe that missional living requires that we demonstrate what it might be like to live in a right relationship with the world around us. The proper way to relate to sin it to confess it, repent from it, and run from it. The right relationship with all people is love.

What is the right relationship to a stranger in need?

Today I gave 20 euros (which, considering the current exchange rate, is something like $600 US dollars) to a homeless man who “lives” around our neighborhood. He was drunk, and had a cigarette in one hand. Giving felt like the right thing for me to do, but it really bothered me that the man didn’t seem to appreciate it.

Filed under:Ministry, Relationships, Social Action Posted February 20th, 2008 by E. Goodman

Seth Godin says that all marketers are liars. If that’s true (I think it is), then whoever produces those infomercials is the worst of them. I’ve never seen an infomercial that didn’t insult our intelligence at every level- from the poor “acting” to the pseudo-talkshow format, it just reeks of disingenuousness.

The worst part of an infomercial isn’t the lie they tell (namely, that for five easy payments of $19.99, whatever garage sale fodder they’re hawking will make your life easier, healthier, and more effecient), it’s the lie they don’t even bother to tell: that the testimonial of their “celebrity” spokesperson is anything more than a paid advertisment.

Why does a paid endorsement mean less than one that is volunteered? Why is it considered an ethical issue when an author of a review fails to disclose his relationship to the product?

Sometimes I feel like my life is an infomercial for Jesus.

Filed under:Missions, Relationships Posted February 15th, 2008 by E. Goodman

I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking with leaders of small, nontraditional churches in major urban centers in the United States. Many of them are just getting started in ministry and planting churches. I understand that starting a church takes time and energy.

So when I ask these guys about their vision for involvement in international missions, their answers tend to be something along the lines of,

“We’re just getting started. Once we’re a little more established, we’ll launch into something like that.”

or,

“We’re small and don’t have the resources that those big seeker churches do. For now, we’re just going to stay local.”

What do you want your church to be about? What message are you sending to your people by putting off missions off until you’re older? Do you really think it will be easier for your people to get a vision for global involvement when you’ve been established for a while? Are resources an obstacle for God?

I say, start now. Start a church by rallying support for an international missions endeavor. Prayerfully select a place, a people group, or a missionary who is already on the field. Work together to develop a missional strategy to engage people with the gospel. If you don’t have money, come part-time, associate with other churches and groups, or come and get jobs. Intentionally engage people on vacation, in the States, or online.

Start with global ministry, and watch what it does for your local ministry.

Starting now will establish missions as a priority for your church. It will help keep your focus outward, and give you something to work toward that has lasting kingdom significance. Not that you’re “attractional,” but global involvement is appealing for the kinds of people your church is meant for.

Besides, you’re who we need in Western Europe. Forget the big churches who want to set up franchises around the world. We’re looking for missional, relational believers who have some understanding of ministry in a post Christian culture. We need people who are creative, teachable, and anti-establishment. You’re perfect for the job, so what are you waiting for?

If you were waiting for an invitation, here it is.

Filed under:Church, Missions Posted January 30th, 2008 by E. Goodman

A key part of our ministry is building relationships with the people God brings to us. God has often used us in ways similar to His use of Joseph in the Old Testament. Not so much in the “Pharaoh-naming-us-Vice-Pharaoh” sort of way; more in the sense of “I had a dream, what do you suppose it means?”

Our friends often confide in us concerning their struggles, fears, and dreams. This confidence gives us the opportunity to speak into their lives from (what we hope is) God’s perspective. Like Joseph, we try to give God the credit for any insight we might have to share.

One thing that strikes me about Joseph’s story, and about ours here in Western Europe, is that God doesn’t always communicate by speaking truth to His people and sending them to tell other people that truth. Sure, that is a common occurrence throughout history (God told Moses to tell another Pharaoh…, God told Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh, all the prophets, etc.) But here, God reveals truth to Pharaoh, who in turn seeks out God’s man for some help in interpreting that truth.

Joseph had built a reputation (at least in the cupbearer and baker communities) as someone who could interpret dreams. God used that to put him in a position to speak to Pharaoh. Many of the conversations we’re having now are not resulting in individual salvations or churches being planted. Instead, they are being used to build our reputation as God’s people in this culture.

“You want to know who has some insight into that sort of thing?” I imagine them saying behind our backs, “you need to talk to those believers.”

God is revealing truth to them. Within the culture there is a great conversation about these truths- life, death, guilt, love, peace, justice. These are deeply spiritual issues that aren’t being forced on them by outsiders. Unfortunately, like Pharaoh, the people of Western Europe do not recognize that the truths they struggle with have been revealed to them by the Most High God, the Author of all truth. That’s where we see God using us; people are asking us for our opinions about life-changing truths.

Research and immersion put us in a position to recognize and call attention to truths in the culture. Relationships put us in a position to participate in the conversation. I like to think of it as “Prophecy by Proxy.”

Filed under:Communication, Culture, Incarnation, Missiology, Truth Posted January 26th, 2008 by E. Goodman

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Filed under:Uncategorized Posted January 25th, 2008 by E. Goodman

When it comes to promoting missions and mobilizing missionaries, we rely on photos. In casting a vision for what God is doing around the world to bring people into right relationships with Himself, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Or, in my case, about four blog posts.

It’s unfortunate, but we often fall into the trap of resorting to stereotypes to illustrate our work. You’ve seen the photos; a thin, wrinkled old man, whose dark skin contrasts with his cotton beard, reaches for the Bible offered by a tall white fortysomething in khaki pants. A small group of smiling black ragamuffin children playfully hug a white lady with her hair in a bun.

I would love to see missional churches pay to send poor, inner-city believers from the States to minister to poor, inner-city families in other parts of the world.

I think that if we were serious about incarnation, it wouldn’t be so easy to tell the difference between the “Missionary” and the “heathen” in a picture.

Filed under:Incarnation, Missions, Strategy Posted January 20th, 2008 by E. Goodman

We often have people express interest in coming for a visit to “see” our ministry. Some are church planters from the States, some are pastors of existing churches, some are missionaries in other places. We’ve had seminary students write papers on us, journalists write articles about us, and at least one grade school kid interview us for a class project. We’re thankful when anyone shows interest in our work here, and flattered with all of the attention. Nevertheless, everyone who comes to observe our work first-hand sees pretty much the same thing: not much.

Our ministry is entirely relational. How many American pastors and missionaries can I introduce my friends to before they really start to feel like projects? We don’t identify ourselves as missionaries. How many creative ways are there to explain how I know these strangers who are always passing through?

We spend time with friends in parks and cafes. Since we’re planting simple churches, we don’t have a building. We likely never will. We don’t have an office (though we could really use one). Our team meetings take place in our homes.

Like I said, there’s not a whole lot to see.

Some people understand that there isn’t much to see. Some leave disappointed. At least two have accused us of “hiding” our ministry from the “public;” one praising us for protecting and nurturing our fragile relationships, the other criticizing us for avoiding accountability. It wasn’t some conspiracy to keep people from seeing our work- there just nothing to see.

Filed under:Ministry, Planting, Visitors Posted January 18th, 2008 by E. Goodman

Acts 28:28 “You may be sure that God wants to save the Gentiles! And they will listen.”

This verse in Acts really bothers me. Paul is being quoted here, and it just doesn’t seem to make sense. It doesn’t make sense because of the passage that comes just before it, where
Paul quotes Isaiah the prophet:

“You will listen and listen but never understand. You will look and look, but never see. All of you have stubborn hearts. Your ears are stopped up, and your eyes are covered. You cannot see or hear or understand. If you could, you would turn to me, and I would heal you.”

So I’m trying to get this straight- God wants to save the Gentiles. The Gentiles will listen. They will never understand (it actually says that part twice!)

Here’s why I dislike this passage so much- I have seen this to be true among the people of Western Europe. God wants to save people in Western Europe. He has brought us here to minister to them in love. He has a plan for them.

They listen. I’ve sat down to coffee with a national and talked about my faith for literally hours. They listen!

They do not understand. “That’s great, for you” they say. “I guess that’s one way of looking at it.” “We have tried Christianity- look where it got us!”

If they could understand…
So many times I see hurting people who are desperate for healing. If they could understand, they could be healed. But they don’t, so they aren’t.

This verse bothers me because, despite all of my efforts, it is true.