Missions Misunderstood

Posted December 19th, 2007 by E. Goodman

Many of us on the field are active recruiters. We are always looking for people who would be especially suited for ministry in Western Europe. Many strategists find new partners by talking about their people group. They describe the beauty of the culture, the proud history of the people, and the great spiritual need among them. The idea, I suppose, is that God would use the stories to stir the hearts of listeners and get them excited about being part of ministry overseas. 

To most American churchgoers (even the really spiritual ones), people groups are all pretty much the same. Missionaries should be constantly talking about and advocating for their people group. That’s how we raise support and awareness. 

But as a recruiting and raising support aren’t the same thing. Telling stories of a people group’s plight can tug at the heart strings, but as a recruiting (and filtering device), it only helps us find the most sensitive and emotional members of our audience. 

Recruitment is a funny concept, really. Are we looking for people to serve our people group or are we looking for people to join our team? In order to find people who are called, enthusiastic, and qualified to work with us, I believe we need to be casting a vision not only for local cultures and people groups, but also for our teams and strategies. A team that works well together and is committed to one another is worth a thousand that can’t get along but really love their people group. 

Filed under:Missions, Strategy, Team Posted December 14th, 2007 by E. Goodman

As I talk with other Christians about life and society and current events, it strikes me how suspicious we are of everyone. The atheists have taken over the public school system. The homosexuals want to turn all boys gay. The Mexicans are invading. The Muslims want to outlaw Christianity. Universal health care is communism. Don’t watch The Golden Compass. The Mormons own Coca-Cola.

We’re certain everyone is out to get us. Everyone surely has an ulterior motive and a hidden agenda. 

Of course I’m aware of the scriptural warning about the dangerous activity of our spiritual enemy. I know that we aren’t safe. We have good reason to be watchful, wary, and wise.

But I’m also wondering if our paranoia might be due, at least in part, to that fact that we aren’t always the most up-front about our agenda. Maybe we distrust the people and organizations around us because we have a long history of misleading people about who we are and what we really want from them. 

We’re not just knocking on your door to say thanks for visiting our church; we want you to pray a prayer of salvation. You’re invited to our fellowship, but we’ve carefully planned it as an entry point for you to join our church. We ‘re only giving out coats and blankets as bait to get you to sit through a sermon.  

Why is it okay for us to do it but scary when others do? Does it make a difference just because we’re right?

I wonder what would happen if we were totally up front and honest about our agenda. What about giving up our agenda altogether?

 I suspect it might lead us to abandon many of our methods, approaches, and techniques. 

Filed under:Christianity, Communication, Evangelism, Relationships, Truth Posted November 27th, 2007 by E. Goodman

How are you involved in international missions? In the past, mission agencies gave you three options: pray, give, or go. Hopefully, you’re doing at least one of these things.

I’d like to invite you to a fourth way to participate in what God is doing around the world. You may not be aware of this, but there is a way for you to build a personal relationship with an unbelieving person from an unreached people group that is free, requires no training or time off work, and doesn’t require you to learn another language.

You can be a pen pal.

Thankfully, the internet has taken the old idea of corresponding with a complete stranger on another continent and made it, well, faster, cheaper, and more fun. Here’s how you can get started:

1. Visit an international classifieds website like kijiji.com, craigslist.org, or tribe.net
or a social networking site like facebook.com, myspace.com, or any of the hundreds of similar sites listed here.
Classified sites tend to be a bit easier to manage (London’s gumtree.com, for example, actually has a section titled “pen pals.”) and are especially good if you already have an idea of what people group or city you’d like to connect with. For now, let’s assume you’re using kijiji.com.

2. Scroll to the bottom of the site, and select the local site of your desired country. Many countries have classified ad sites, but it people in Western Europe are so web-connected, these countries are a great place to find someone who is likely to correspond with you.

3. Register a username and password, if necessary.

4. Search through the classified ads to find someone with whom you have something in common. Amateur authors in Wales? A guitar player in Spain? How about moms in Dublin?

5. Post a response to an ad. Or, post an ad of your own. Maybe you’d like to swap recipes with someone in Basel or find a pen pal in Berlin who likes NASCAR. (Good luck with that one). Just be yourself! Remember: for you, this may be a strange and frightening way to make friends, but for them, meeting people online is a pretty normal thing to do.

6. Wait for someone to answer your ad. Many of theses sites will email you when you receive a response. Be sure to keep security in mind as you introduce yourself and get to know the person. Don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep.

7. Share life with your new friend. Don’t treat this as a confrontational evangelism tool- let the person get to know you. For many Western Europeans, you may be the only practicing believer with whom they’ve had contact. Even those who know about Jesus are unlikely to have seen life in Christ lived out before them. They need to hear what a follower of Jesus thinks about all sorts of things. Tell your stories. Listen to theirs. Send photos. Have a voice conversation on Skype. You may eventually get to meet your pen pal in person some day.

Now, this isn’t for everyone. If you’re the type who can’t stand to talk with someone with whom you disagree, please don’t bother. If you’re not willing or able to personally invest in a “virtual friend,” this isn’t for you.

I think there are a lot of believers out there who didn’t even know this is an option. I imagine many of you that don’t have the time or money or desire to go on a mission trip may be intrigued my the idea of meeting someone online for the sake of sharing life intentionally.

Who knows? God may use you to start an online church planting movement.

Filed under:Internet, Ministry, Missions, Relationships Posted November 24th, 2007 by E. Goodman

We’re always looking for opportunities to interact with people here. I think one of the neatest things is how God continues to bring us to people who are willing to interact with us on a deeper level despite the fact that we are foreigners.

One weekend not long ago, we were invited by a friend to visit them in their family’s “country home,” where they like to spend most of their summers. They have a child the same age as ours, and they love to play together. Of course, we recognized this invitation as a great opportunity to spend time with nationals. We consider it an act of God whenever someone actually wants to be around us. This was an even bigger deal, as we were invited into their home, something people here just don’t normally do. Our entire relationship started when my wife, desperate to find a friend, and friend, walked up to this woman siting on a bench and just started talking to her. It was a great opportunity.

I didn’t want to go.

I feel bad that I didn’t want to go. Really. How terrible of me to not even be the least bit excited about building a relationship with these nice people. But I felt fake. I have nothing in common with these folks. The husband is twice my age. It felt so forced, so fake.

We drove the hour-long half hour’s drive in silent anticipation of that awkward feeling we’ve felt so many times before. In my head, I was scripting the dialogue that would inevitably take place. How do you like the weather here? How is work? Did you hear about the new movie theater they’re building? I wanted to add, “Why did you invite us?” or “What’s the point of all this?” I knew I wasn’t really going to ask those questions, though, because I probably knew better than they did what prompted them to invite a family of foreigners to spend the day with them.

Filed under:Ministry, Reflections, friends Posted November 5th, 2007 by E. Goodman

As a missionary, I am tempted to lie on a regular basis. It may or may not surprise you to read that statement, but it’s true nonetheless. What’s more, I find the temptation strongest when I’m talking with a coworker, partner, or supporter. It all starts out innocently enough; someone asks, “How is your ministry going?” or “What are you seeing God do among your people groups?” For some reason, it’s always difficult for me to know how to respond to these questions. And for some reason, I’m often tempted to offer a less-than-honest answer.

The lies that pop into my mind aren’t usually grandiose- I’m not talking about making up a church planting movement or a new great awakening. No, my temptation is to elaborate with, um, ministerial hyperbole the things that are actually happening. You know, for effect. Perhaps what I’m tempted to offer isn’t a lie, per se, but the result is the same. The only examples I share are those I’ve carefully selected. Certain details are emphasized. Some information is conveniently left out. Our small seeker group of four suddenly becomes a viable church plant of six. My casual interaction with national leaders grows into a full-blown partnership. I find myself taking credit for the successes of others by frequent use of the collective “we.” Everything suddenly becomes over-spiritualized.

The temptation isn’t limited to embellishing our successes. There’s something super-spiritual about suffering on the missions field, so I often feel the urge to overstate the modest struggles we face in Western Europe. Poor customer service becomes enemy opposition, and a hard time at the immigration office is persecution. If life here is too easy, my obedience is somehow less pleasing to God and fellow believers.

Maybe the temptation to stretch the truth is rooted in our performance-based culture that encourages us to value activity over identity. Maybe it’s my desire to be important or well-known. Whatever the reason, exaggerations and half-truths are trouble. Lying is one of those sins that tends to have the “snowball effect;” the liar quickly finds himself having to compose bigger, more elaborate, and (if it were possible,) more deceitful lies to cover the first one.

It occurs to me that a great deal of the misunderstanding is my own fault. How can I expect others to know and relate to my experience if I’m not being completely forthright? Besides, God’s constant and protection and provision for my life means that there is always a truth to be told.

Filed under:Missions, Personal, Planting, Truth Posted October 10th, 2007 by E. Goodman

Statistics. Demographics.Lostness. Evangelization.Need. Opportunity.Resources. Support.Trends. Movements. Reaction.Creativity. Good ideas.Common sense.Duty. Tradition.Ease. Difficulty.Guilt, pity, fear.Passion, compassion, desire.

Love.

We are constantly tempted to allow these things to dictate our missions activities. In many cases, these are the motives that were used to recruit us into sacrificial giving and to service. We all participate in different ways and for different reasons, but the things listed above can easily get us “ahead of God” and out of tune with what He is doing. As far as I can tell, the best- the only- sure foundation for how to know what missions is and how it ought to be done in my context is this:

Step-by-step obedience to the Spirit of the Most High God.

Filed under:Missiology, Missions, Strategy Posted October 5th, 2007 by E. Goodman

God called me to missions in Western Europe by giving me a vision for what He could (would?) do among the people here. I was excited about being part of God’s interaction with the postmodern, postchristian people of Europe. I really believed that God was going to start a church planting movement here, and I trusted that He was going to use me to somehow be part of that. That certainty of calling and purpose is what has kept me on the field.

But something is bothering me.

We still haven’t seen it. Despite our efforts, prayers, and desires, we have yet to see God move in the ways we envisioned years ago. No city-wide house church networks. No major unity movements among the believers here. Years of studying the language and culture, sowing the gospel, building relationships, and speaking truth into people’s lives hasn’t produced the kind of fruit I thought we were called to.

Don’t get me wrong; I know that the work isn’t something that we do, and that God will do His will in His sovereign timing. Please don’t remind me of William Carey or Adoniram Judson. I’m not discouraged about the number of people who are being saved.

I’ve spent months in introspective prayer and meditation, asking God if there might be sin in my life, or if my actions might be disqualifying me from His service. I’m begging Him to use me. I’m open to whatever He has for us.

I guess I’m just a little disappointed, that’s all.

Filed under:Missiology, Missions, Planting, Strategy Posted September 28th, 2007 by E. Goodman

I often hear believers decry the postmodern focus on experience concerning matters of faith. They usually decry the subjective nature of personal experience, and encourage people to look to the scriptures alone for divine revelation.

But life in Christ depends on “experience.” Sin is realized when God’s Spirit convicts. We realize scripture to be true, authoritative, and inspired by God when He illuminates it to us. Faith comes by hearing the word of truth. Salvation is being born again. All of these are experiences.

The Bible is a collection of human experience with God. Personal encounters, like visions, dreams and miracles. Calling. Rebuke. Incarnation. Revelation.

Our experience doesn’t make truth true, it makes truth true to us.

Posted September 13th, 2007 by E. Goodman

I recently read an interesting thing about Wal-Mart. It seems that in cities across the country, Wal-Mart stores are up-sizing from their regular old large retail centers to shiny new extra-large “Super Centers.” In many cases, these new stores are right next door or across the street from the old stores.

The problem is that the distinctively Wal-Martian building design and layout (you know, gray and blue big-box warehouse with two main entrances and a chain-link fenced-in “garden center” on one side) makes it difficult for any other retailer to use the old buildings. So the old stores are sitting empty.

Some communities are now requiring that new Wal-Mart stores be built with future use in mind, with store designs that are more easily subdivided for varied uses should the current Super Center ever vacate to build, I don’t know, what’s bigger than a Super Center?

For some reason, this reminds me of church buildings.

Western Europe is home to thousands of church buildings. Cathedrals, basilicas, chapels, and temples that were once full of devout religious people now sit empty in every part of the continent. In the U.K., Some have been converted to pubs. In Italy, many are used a museums. At least European church buildings are pretty to look at.

In one hundred years, what will have become of your church building?

Whenever I try to encourage Americans to be church planters, they almost invariably say something like, “There’s already a church on every corner.” The problem, of course, is that these people are mistaking “church building” for “body of believers.”

We certainly don’t need more church buildings.

Filed under:Culture, Planting, Wal-Mart Posted September 1st, 2007 by E. Goodman

Immigration is a huge problem here in Western Europe. Europeans fear (with good reason) the extinction of their own cultures through dilution with immigrant ones. Gone are the days of leaving one’s home culture to adopt a new way of life in a new place. Turks are moving to Frankfurt and living as though they were still in Turkey. Moroccans in Paris are setting up Muslim prayer rooms and markets. The Chinese in Barcelona aren’t bothering to learn the local language. These groups are already here in significant numbers, and they’re demanding the right to build schools and places of worship.

In the flood of foreigners, Europeans are finally asking some good questions. What happens when the immigrant population grows to become the majority? Won’t they want representation in local government? How long until they begin to impose changes that threaten the existence of European cultures? Not only are they asking questions, Europeans are also searching for solutions. A wall? Stricter controls? Exclusion from social services? Pour money into poor countries of origin? International identification databases?

All of these questions and proposed solutions, however, seem to ignore one major truth: the Indians, North Africans, and Latin Americans that enter the Union every day aren’t invading, they’re coming home. European immigration is unique in that these immigrants are coming from lands that not so long ago were colonized and exploited by European superpowers. The Spanish, British, and French sent “Explorers,” “Missionaries,” “Traders,” and “Pioneers” to far-off places in an effort to expand their territory, discover wealth, and conquer potential enemies. They pillaged the land, plundered the goods, and raped the women. Now, generations later, their offspring are coming home to claim their birthright.

I wonder how immigration policy would change if we started to see the situation in this light. I bet it would lead us to send more money to developing and emigrant countries.

Call it “generational child support.”

Filed under:Culture, Politics, Uncategorized