So the Upstream Collective is leading another of its Jet Set Vision Trips, this time to Prague and Budapest. I encourage you to follow along over at the Upstream blog, and on Twitter under #js2011.
Vision Trip, or Missions Tourism?
But I want to mention something that the trip leaders aren’t likely to. Something that most field workers would like to say, if they weren’t worried about offending churches or losing partnerships or support:
Churches, you’ve got something to prove. And no pressure, but this might be your last chance.
See, missionaries on the field are skeptical of your supposed interest in the work. And not without reason.
Nevermind the Great Commission. It takes a celebrity to get you to come to the field. You’ve been ignoring the Holy Spirit’s guidance for years, but when Ed Stetzer or Michael Frost come calling, you’re all in. And what happens when the next trip is to Tokyo? You forget all about Prague, Budapest, and the missionaries you met there.
Which brings me to another point: Rome? Marseille? Barcelona? London? Paris? It’s not hard to find pastors who would be willing to sit around in coffee shops in these European cities. Try Bangkok or Mumbai– those cities will get you out of your comfort zones. If the goal is to challenge the way you see church, God, and mission, these are the cities you need to visit.
Let’s be honest, there have been some complaints about the attitudes of past Jet Set Trips toward the missionaries who hosted you. Kind of a know-it-all condescension. No doubt this comes from your “success” in planting and leading churches in the United States. But surely you recognize that “what works” back home doesn’t necessarily “work” in other contexts. Even if your methods did actually work here, the truth is that we really don’t want to import a spectator, resource-intensive, attractional American megachurch model. Setting up franchises is not our goal.
Missionaries around the world are watching these vision trips, looking on with curiosity and cynicism. They hear you say that you want to be actively involved in all aspects of the mission, from selection to training to strategy. But no matter what you say, those missionaries don’t believe you. The truth is that they haven’t actually seen churches doing those things (at least not very well, anyway). So forgive them if they’re a little jaded, but they’ve heard all this before. Now, they’re just looking for reasons to write you off.
So you see, dear pastor and church leader, you’ve got something to prove. You say you’re serious about God’s global mission, but we want to see it. We want to see you lead your churches to think and act like missionaries, so that when you do come to the field, you come as peers– partners on mission– rather than as consumers, shopping for the next big thing.
Everyone’s heard all about your “missional” approaches to ministry. About how you’re concerned with incarnation and contextualization. But it’s time to put up or shut up. If you’re truly serious about your role as sending and being sent, let’s see it. We want to hear you asking the difficult questions. Let’s have some informed discussion about world events. Let’s consider together how we might engage people in redemptive relationships and proclaim the gospel to all.
You want to be on mission? Prove it.
Sharing a hookah. Smoking a peace pipe. Drinking to a toast. Dressing in ceremonial robes.
Missionaries constantly face the edges of contextualization. Incarnation requires that she constantly ask herself: “What should I do to minimize the difference between myself and those to whom I want to minister?” Every cultural difference hinders the communication of the message, and serves to emphasize the “foreign-ness” of the faith.
Of course, contextualization means looking for ways to say and to show, “I’m like you, but different.” I’m like you— in that I’m human, sinful, and in need of a savior, but I’m different— in that I’m in Christ and therefore have purpose, hope, peace, and salvation.
Some cultural adaptations may not be the most comfortable, but are expected for the missionary. These are rarely controversial. Most missionaries eat local food (in public, anyway), learn local language, follow social norms. In Europe, they greet with a kiss (or two, or three). Western believers living in the Middle East often wear a burqa or head covering. In Asia, they avoid open conflict, show respect, and eat with chopsticks. These things say, “I want to join your culture.”
Other customs are avoided by most missionaries because participating in them would only validate the lies, idolatry, and sin within the culture. Missionaries do not participate in ancestor worship, sexual rituals, or pagan ceremonies. (Neither should they ride those little scooters through the dangerous streets of Bangkok, but that has more to do with sanity than contextualization.) Doing these things would undermine the vital differences between life in Christ and life apart from Him. Conspicuously abstaining shows what redemption within culture would look like.
Which brings us back to the edge.
The Bible isn’t silent about these “edge” issues. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul teaches the church about the contextualization problem of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. Though idols have no real power, he says, we should not eat food that has been offered to idols if it would cause someone else to think that by eating the food we were somehow honoring those idols.
The principle is the same for other “edge” practices that we may not have any particular conviction about. Though you have every “right” to kiss your wife in public, don’t do it if that’s considered sinful in your context.We can see pretty clearly that contextualization of the gospel is likely to require us to deny ourselves of some things that we otherwise would be free to do.
But contextualization works both ways. It sometimes (often?) requires us to do some things that we may not otherwise do. Some of those things, like eating rotten cabbage or growing a beard are simply matters of taste. Others, however, aren’t so cut-and-dried. Should a follower of Jesus prostrate himself alongside Tibetans? Bow toward the East during the call to prayer ? Pay a bribe? Does it matter how these things are interpreted by local society?
And this is where things get sticky: when someone presumes to know the cultural meanings and spiritual implications of particular actions in a context they know nothing about. The truth is, finding the edges of contextualization is a difficult, energy-intensive endeavor. It can be fun, scary, and dangerous. Some people do, in fact, fall over the edge of contextualization, and this is very unfortunate. But being a missionary is a dangerous thing. Jesus likened it to being lambs sent to the slaughterhouse.
I’ve been watching an interesting, if asymmetric, discussion on Ed Stetzer’s blog about MissionShift, the book he co-edited with David Hesselgrave.
Participants were given copies of the book and asked to post their thoughts on their own blogs and discuss them in the comments section of Ed’s post. We started by reading the first section of the book, written by Chuck Van Engen, and the accompanying response essays written by various missiologists and theologians.
The book itself is a thoughtful discussion of mission past, present, and future. It begins with an exploration of the definition(s) of mission. Though it seems like a simple thing to do, defining the mission has proven very difficult for evangelicals to do; interpretations of “therefore go” have ranged from social justice work with no gospel proclamation to open-air evangelism with no contextualization to baptized syncretism with no transformation.
Some reject the idea of missions. Others carry on under a new title (Van Engen refers to a church that replaced its “missions” program with “global outreach”). Others still hold tightly to the word, but apply it to everything from feeding the homeless to cleaning up the local schools.
What’s a missionary to do?
Part of the problem in defining the mission is that we’ve elevated it to something that is, for most of the church, (and, ironically, for most missionaries,) out of reach. As an academic discipline, missiology sits somewhere between theology, sociology, anthropology, and communications theory. The words we use to talk about our motivations and methods in mission can be pretty intimidating. The result is a church that has a fuzzy picture of what missions is or else doesn’t talk about it at all.
For some time now, more culturally-aware churches in the U.S. have been talking about being “missional.” This conversation has, for the most part, happened without any meaningful input from practicing missionaries on the field. The missional church has therefore been left to learn the hard way, missiological missteps and all.
It’s time for a more accessible missiology. It’s time to stop using lofty words that prove we know more than everyone else and start wrestling with what God is currently doing around the world and how that fits into our understanding of the scriptural mandate to “go unto all nations.”
I’m thankful for Ed Stetzer (don’t tell him- it’ll go to his head) and what he’s doing to further the conversation by bridging the gap between academic and armchair missiologists. I’m proud of all the missionaries who are mindful to share lessons from the field with the people in the pews.
You don’t have to be a scholar to talk about God’s global purposes or how you fit into it all.
Most missionaries see themselves as having been sent to a particular people group or population segment. This makes sense, as each subculture requires a unique methodology to church and gospel translation.
Most missionaries establish themselves as advocates for their people. They promote their work by highlighting the needs, both spiritual and physical, of the group. They present statistics demonstrating their “unreachedness” and relative separation from Christ.
I’ve written before about the need to love your city. But I would love to see missions advocacy take a more positive turn. Why not set up a website promoting what your people group has to offer the world? Rather than focusing on their great need (let’s face it, the vast need is overwhelming), emphasizing the potential contribution of your group?
Perhaps your long-lost tribe in the Amazon could teach hunters in Arkansas a thing or two about bow hunting. Or maybe the women in your village in Sudan would give a mean seminar on basket weaving. The Yi of southwestern China are expert nomadic cattle herders, and could advise on land-sharing initiatives. From art to cooking to justice to living in balance with the environment, every people has something to offer humanity. Why not advocate for your people group by promoting their assets rather than lamenting their lostness?
To be clear: I’m not talking about exploitation; you should not be making money off of your people group. I’m not talking about starting business ventures, either. Some groups may be interested in this sort of thing, but many entrepreneurial Westerners have sold out their people in the name of community development.
Instead, I’m talking about establishing a platform from which those who do not know your people group might be able to relate to it. If you were to promote your work among the gemu otaku in Tokyo as having a tremendous ability to build and interact in virtual worlds, you’re building bridges for interested churches to connect with them. The Adyghe in the Northwest Caucasus all carry swords yet live peaceably with one another. Churches could ask them to speak into the U.S. gun control debate.
Leading with the need may raise awareness and pull at the heart strings, but advertising a people’s skills provides a starting point for dialog. It would truly serve the church on mission if advocates would help them see people groups not at projects, but as people.
Now that it’s 2011, many missionaries have embraced the 2000s and started blogs. Fortunately, there are hundreds of opportunities to stay in touch with what’s happening on the field. I try to monitor lots of these blogs in order to know what God is doing around the world (and so that I can make fun of missionaries).
As I scan the missionary blogosphere, it seems like they tend to take one of four distinct approaches to blogging. I summarize each of them here for your information and entertainment:
1.) Newsletter blogs. In the missionary snail mail era (pre-2004), missionaries took great pains to fire up Microsoft Word and put together a collection of thoughts, updates, Bible verses, clip-art and low-resolution photos. They would then print these out, fold them into thirds, and mail them to everyone in their address book (which, back then, was an actual book). The newsletter served as a sort of “don’t forget about us” message that hardly anyone read, but nobody had the heart to opt out of receiving them.
So when email came into regular use, workers everywhere started sending electronic versions of their newsletters (sometimes literally printed out and scanned back in to the computer). And when Geocities started offering free web hosting, missionaries around the world jumped at the opportunity to save some postage by transitioning their newsletters into map-themed websites with large hit counters and animated GIFs.
You can still find these sites, but now most of them use Blogger. The idea is the same– snapshots of the missionaries and their eight children, eating strange food, singing during a worship service, celebrating a birthday. The stories included are carefully selected to show that the need is great, they’re making progress, but the work isn’t done yet. They almost always conclude with a list or prayer requests and a reminder of where to send a check.
Look for blog names like: “Come 2 (Country Name),” or “ (Country Name) for Christ,” or anything with words from the local language.
2.) Every post is a theological treatise. These missionary blogs are easily identified: no images (with the exception of the occasional stock photo to illustrate a point) and lots of theology in a sea of text. Maybe it’s because they used to be preachers and still need to put together a sermon each week; maybe they’re working through a personal study of the book of Ecclesiastes and just thought the world would be interested. Whatever their motivation, treatise bloggers use their blogs like long-winded preachers use their pulpits– to bore their audience with content that we’d feel guilty to disregard publicly.
It should be noted that Missions, Misunderstood has always fallen into this category. Nine-part series. Lots of scrolling to get to the end of a post. Preaching to the choir. At times, even I was bored with my posts.
Look for URLs that include Ancient Greek, the name of an obscure Biblical place, or a veiled scriptural reference.
3.) Diary blogs. Sadza and cabbage for dinner. What the kids got for Christmas. The contents of a recent care package.Diary bloggers spare no detail to give you a front seat in the action of their daily lives. They want you to feel the frustration of a trip to the post office and to know the humiliation of language mistakes. These blogs walk the fine line between and LOL and TMI.
Look for blog URLs that include the word life– as in “Life In Ecuador,” or “The So-And-Sos In Someplace“.
4.) Devotion blogs. Somewhere between the Treatise blogs and the Diary blogs are the Devotion blogs, where every interaction is an object lesson and every life experience has deep spiritual meaning. Posts start out as an entertaining account of some daily-life experience, but then quickly take a turn for the spiritual, where the author reflects on what happened and how God must be using it to teach him something. Finally, Devotion blog posts end with a prayer, scripture, or both.
Look for blog titles that include the words: ramblings, musings, rantings, thoughts, or something to do with coffee.
To find all types of missionary blogs, visit the appropriately-named missionary-blogs.com, where you’ll find lists of missionary blogs according to country of service. Also, be sure to follow the link-trails from one missionary blog to another. Missionaries’ blogs are part of an ongoing conversation among workers around the world. The more missionary blogs you follow, the more you’ll be able to see the big picture.
…or is it Pepsi?
Surly you’ve heard this rumor repeated as evidence the the widespread and subversive influence on American culture. It was repeated to me recently during a conversation about missionary businessmen. Several church leaders were talking with a young man who is starting an internet research company so that he and his family could live wherever God sent them without having to raise support or look for a job. A noble concept, for a businessman. As soon as he’s up and running, I’ll post a link to this entrepreneur’s website.
The church leaders were intrigued. The idea of developing a business that would make money while fulfilling the Great Commission seemed like the silver bullet to “getting the job done.”
That got me thinking. If the rumor that Mormons own Coke was actually true, how awesome would that be for, you know, the Mormons? A single share of the Coca-Cola Company is worth over a billion U.S. dollars. That would buy enough white shirts, black ties, name tags, and bicycles to put pubescent Latter-Day Saints elders in every city in the world (with enough left over to keep their families in trampolines and special underwear).
The biggest problem in missions today isn’t a lack of willing workers. In this economy, any eight-year seminarian would jump at the chance of a full-ride to missionary superstardom. Nevermind what the Bible says, the problem isn’t people, it’s money.
Missions would be a lot easier of the churches didn’t hold the purse strings. Churches who get no say in what happens on the field, or even who is sent, but are expected to bankroll every initiative missionaries want to push– clearly, they are the problem. If churches are too stingy to fund strategic requests (church planting among some people groups require a Range Rover), I say we go Silicon Valley on them.
Why not start a business (or network of businesses) that would support the work around the world? Something that would fund missionaries while allowing them the flexibility to travel, plant churches, and disciple nationals. A legitimate business that would secure access into closed places and help develop community in positive ways without requiring them to do any actual work. Something like Google, but without all of the programming; like Coke, but without the overhead. Like Amway, but respectable and not so predatory.
Insurance comes to mind.
Why don’t we own anything that might help fund our missionary ventures? Why don’t regular old missionaries get in on the business-as-mission game? Banking, for example, would be an obvious choice. Or stocks– shares of Google, Apple, or even The Clapper, would buy a lot of plane tickets and ship a lot of peanut butter (everyone knows that Skippy is the key to retention of field personnel).
The answer is simple: most missionaries on the field today (and nearly all of the students coming out of the seminaries) are not business people. Many are talking about business as mission. It’s a great way to show businesspeople that what they do can have kingdom value. Whether it’s coffee shops, agricultural irrigation specialists, or pharmaceutical consultants, we need more businesspeople on mission. Folks who run and own companies naturally think strategically. They tend to be very good at networking (business often depends on it), and, except for the occasional used-car salesman or investment banker, they understand the need for a good work ethic.
Missionaries, not so much.
“Start a business” is not the answer to decreased giving, a right relationship to the sending church is.
This is my 7th post in a series on developing a new missiology.
Previously: Yeah, But…
In the Old Testament, we read about Noah and his sons. Through a violent global flood, God reset humanity by destroying all but this one faithful family. Then, through this same family, God repopulated the Earth and kept His promise to prosper the Hebrew people. After the flood, Noah’s sons each set out in different directions, establishing tribes that would eventually birth all the people groups of the world.
Psalm 105: 23 (“Israel also came into Egypt…the land of Ham.”), leads us to believe that Ham, Noah’s youngest son, was the father of the Egyptians and other African peoples, including the Ethiopians and Libyans. Ham’s name meant “black.” From Shem, the eldest son (whose name meant “dusky”), came the Persians, Arabs, and Palestinians. The middle son, Japheth (“fair” or “light”), established the line that would become Armenians, Greeks, and other Mediterranean peoples.
All the peoples of the world are related. This is especially evident if we look at our neighbors. Usually, cultures are unique combinations of neighboring ones. Mix Afghan and Indian cultures, and you get something that looks a lot like Pakistani culture. Russian and Chinese? Mongolian. Look at Syria and Greece to get an approximation of Turkish culture. They would never admit this, but France + Germany = Belgium.
Forgive these generalities. I’m not saying that cultures are produced by their neighbors; only that they influence one another. Years of war, trade, and marriage can make a culture rub off on another. It also has to do with geography; coastal regions have similarities, desert peoples often have much in common.
In missions, these are referred to as “near cultures.” neighbors tend to share similar worldviews. This is why we can talk about an Asian worldview versus a European one. The Japanese and Koreans have very distinct histories and traditions, but they have much in more in common with one another than they do with Brazilians. Their proximity and history make them near cultures.
The missiological value is that near cultures offer fewer barriers to the spread of the gospel than distant ones do. Information and influence flow more freely between cultures that are similar to one another. This is a big part of why we raise up local leaders to translate the gospel into their culture and the cultures around them.
According to mission organizations that track these sorts of things, there are around 6,500 unreached people groups in the world. The missions community has organized itself around identifying, finding, engaging, and “reaching” each of these remaining groups. Could it be that the best way to make disciples of a people group might be to make disciples of a people group who are culturally near to them?
Why not develop a missiology based on this “family tree” understanding of humanity? Why not see each people group as responsible for the evangelization of the peoples who are culturally near to them? You want to reach the Muslim world? Why not pour into the Hispanic peoples who have so much in common with them? North Korea is closed, but not to South Koreans. Turks are not Arabs, but they have much more influence in the Arab world than most Westerners do.
If people groups are important enough to be preserved, they are valuable to the Great Commission. If it truly is God’s desire to see an indigenous expression of His Church among every tribe, tongue, and nation, perhaps it is through a global wave of neighbor-to-neighbor interaction that He will establish that Church. If this were the case, then it wouldn’t be a bad thing that God is calling faithful people from the West to pour people, prayer, and resources into certain places.
This is post #6 in a series on developing a new missiology.
Some of you, upon reading my last post, Callsourcing the Mission, might have disagreed with my proposal that we use a crowdsourced report of God’s calling, rather than people group taxonomies, as a foundation for our missiology. You may have seen some shortcomings of my theory, some holes in my logic. I’d like to address the concerns that I anticipate, and you’re welcome to post others in the comments section below.
“We can’t depend on God’s calling on people’s lives because they are lazy, disobedient, and stupid. They won’t hear do what God tells them to do, and they couldn’t possibly figure out how to do it correctly.”
This is the same argument that professionals have used for centuries to justify their attempts to control, coerce, and manipulate. Don’t get me wrong, people are lazy, disobedient, and stupid. But God continues to use us, His people, as the means to accomplish His purposes in the world. He gives us everything we need to accomplish what He’s told us to do. Can we mess it up? Yes, we often do. I believe that the church needs to be educated about and mobilized to missions. But I also believe that God “gets it right” through His people. He doesn’t speak only to the educated or the informed. If the church isn’t doing what you think they should be doing, there are really only two options: either they are being disobedient to God, or He is not calling them to do what you think He is.
“Before anyone hears the gospel twice, Unreached People Groups have the right to hear it once.”
At first, this perspective sounds like compassion. People deserve to hear about Jesus, right? If some people aren’t going to respond, shouldn’t we stop wasting our time (shake the dust off our feet and all that)? But who are we to assume that anyone has heard the gospel presented in a way that they can understand and respond to, unless we’ve spent the time to dwell among them and demonstrate the power of the message? Statistics show that Western Europeans who come to faith do so after hearing the gospel message seven different times. Leaving after we’re pretty sure they’ve heard it once is irresponsible.
Furthermore, does anyone have the “right” to hear the gospel? Of course this is the most important thing– more serious than any matter of life and death– but a “right?” Humanity does not deserve to be saved, not even to hear about the hope of salvation. When we prioritize one group over the other, we begin with our strategy rather than with God’s direction, which often runs contrary to human wisdom and logic. Remember when Jesus told his disciples not to talk to anyone along the way as they headed out on mission? Remember when God pared down Gideon’s army to far too few to win the battle? Remember when Paul was prevented from going into several unreached regions and redirected by the Spirit to “reached” places?
“Resources are limited. A mission agency has to set some strategic parameters in order to be good stewards of what they’ve been given.”
So your organization wants to focus on unreached people groups in the 10/40 Window. Praise God for His direction. That calling to you may be God’s salvation for these peoples. But now you’ve got to raise the support and find the personnel to go live among them. How will you do it? Awareness? Guilt? What happens if God isn’t raising anyone up to go to the people to whom you’ve narrowed it down?
To the average person in the pew, a people group is a people group. Unless, of course, there is some connection. Maybe a group of them live in your housing addition. Maybe you work with some who immigrated here a generation ago. Let’s not forget that God is orchestrating His global activity. If we value effectiveness, engagement of people with whom we already have relationships should take precedence over cold-calling people we don’t know.
“So you’re okay with unreached peoples going to hell?”
No! This has to be the most frustrating argument against, well, anything. Would that salvation would come to all people! Yet missions strategy means making decisions about where to go and where to allocate resources. Sending missionaries to each and every people group is neither the most efficient nor the most expeditious way to “reached” all the “unreached.”
I am NOT saying that missions should focus on the harvest fields. I’m not saying that missions should focus on the unreached. I’m saying we should let God show us what to do by leading us step-by-step.
There is a difference between a direction and a destination. Typically, the church will hear clearly from God concerning a direction, and then assume the destination. “If God is calling some of us to UPGs, then He must want us to reach every last one of them so He can return.” Three steps ahead of God is never a safe place to be.
“If we leave people to do what they feel called to do, they will all end up in the easy places.”
Though the perspective has become commonly held in Western missions, God did not tell us to “Go and reach the unreached people groups.” If He had, it would make sense to consider it a “calling” on the whole church, and we really wouldn’t need a whole lot more in the way of guidance or direction from Him. But Jesus deliberately left the bit about Him being with us always in the Great Commission. He continues to call people to places that are not in the “10/40 Window.” Surely that would not be the case if He clearly wanted us to focus on that part of the world.
“People need to do research to see what unreached people groups are out there.”
Let’s not forget, the concept of the UPG is relatively new, and while we could reasonably read it into scripture, I don’t think we should assume that Jesus, Paul, Luke, or John saw the world and mission in this light.
That small people group in the highlands of China? The cannibals along the Amazon? Sure, they’re obscure, distant, and hard-to access for you. But to someone else, these are next-door neighbors. For more on this one, look for my next post, “A Global Wave.”
This is post #5 in a series on developing a new missiology.
Human-sized hamster ball. Dunkin’ Donuts locations. Double Rainbow. At any given point in time, web analytics can show us what topics are “trending” in social media. An uptick in Google searches might indicate breaking news or a YouTube video going viral. Twitter trends give a real-time glimpse into what people are talking about right now. The value of this data is immense; marketers know what audiences are looking for, and social influence can be tracked through hyperlinks and re-tweets. The information isn’t limited to a single source, it pours in from the crowd.
Likewise, people are tapping into the collective knowledge and skill of their social networks to make things happen. Social websites invite user-generated content, which builds community ownership and grows the pool of participants through virtual connections. Open source software is the ever-evolving product of volunteers working together. Product development ideas are “crowdsourced” to (mostly) anonymous contributors who are compensated only in the pleasure of the work.
This should be our model for missions.
Throughout scripture, God uses “calling” to let His people know where He’s at work and how they can be part of it. The itinerary of Paul’s missionary journeys was determined on the fly by the Holy Spirit. God’s direction for an individual, confirmed by his local church, should be our model for selecting and sending missionaries. Say God is calling white, middle-class suburbanites by the dozens to “evangelized” Mexico. There is no better place for them to go, and no better place for us to send them, than to Mexico. The advent of their calling (again, confirmed by their sending churches,) should serve as an indicator of God’s activity in the world.
There are different types of “calling.” We usually think of calling as that which God plants in us and builds internally until we can’t help but do something about it (we often refer to it as a “passion”). This kind of “call” is often quite specific, and can usually be traced to a time when we clearly heard from God. You know, like “Jonah, go to Ninevah” or “Steve, move to Thailand.” Paul once had a dream of a man from Macedonia begging him to go there, and other times, the Holy Spirit “prevented” him from going where he thought he should.
Of course, not everyone gets explicit directions from heaven. Sometimes, God uses external influences to give us direction. The chance to do something important, something of eternal value. The joy of serving where gifts, skills, and ministry intersect. The pleas of the oppressed, the plight of the neglected. These are the needs and opportunities that move us to action. These “calls” may be more general, but they’re no less significant for mobilization to God’s global mission.
I propose that we build a new missiology based on “callsourcing” our strategy. If unreached people groups in certain regions of the world “trend” in our collective consciousness and prayers, that’s God leading us. If our next-door neighbors make us aware of the spiritual need in their home countries, that’s the Holy Spirit giving us direction. We, the church, can know the will of God for our missionary efforts by listening to His call.
The resulting direction would be vastly superior to our categories and statistics. “Callsourcing” forces us to start with utter dependence on the Holy Spirit for guidance and leadership. Jesus instructs His disciples in this vary matter in Luke 10, when He sends them out on a mission trip. He gave them no objective criteria for strategic planning other than the Spirit. He tells them that they’ll know where to go and with whom to speak by blessing people. If their blessing “returned” to them, they were to move on. This spiritual guidance should be the foundation for our every missionary turn.
Reliance on the calling would build ownership in the mission. Rather than say, “If you want to be involved, we’ll find a place for you,” we would mobilize people by asking them to weigh in on what they see God doing among the nations. The line between the professionals and supporters would be erased. Unity, not resources, would be our commonality.
Certainly, there would be some objections to Callsourcing as the foundation of our missiology. What if nobody is called to certain places in the world? What if everyone wants to live on the beaches of Barcelona or in the alpine Switzerland? Can we trust the ignorant masses to “get the job done?” In my next post, I’ll examine these and more.
This is post #4 in a series on developing a new missiology.
In my last post, I summarized the origins of the current popular understanding of missions. People group thinking, as I call it, hasn’t been all bad. But neither has it been all good. This, I suspect, is due in large part to the fact that is isn’t entirely biblical.
For starters, the concept of “people groups” is easily read into scripture, but may not be explicitly found there. Sure, one can make a case that when Jesus told His disciples to go to “all nations,” He really meant “all ethno-linguistic people groups.” But did Luke mean the same when he wrote about Pentecost in Acts 2:5, saying that there were “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” present? Surely not.
When Paul and Barnabas were sent out by their church, (First Baptist, Antioch, naturally) Acts 13 says that they were sent by the Holy Spirit “for the special work” to which He had called them. There was no mention of people groups or um, reaching anyone. Their strategy was to follow the Spirit’s leadership. As they were led, they proclaimed the good news. Even after they shifted their focus from Jews to gentiles (again, per the Spirit’s direction), their strategy never resembled the “adopt an unreached people group” approach so common today.
My point is that “all nations” is not necessarily a firm foundation on which to base our missiology. Other than Greeks and Jews, there is little evidence that Paul and the other apostles used the concept to organize their missionary endeavors. Furthermore, if people group thinking is based on a “new” understanding of the ancient Greek, (and far be it from me to disagree with John Piper… but), it’s one that ignores the reality of a dynamic, changing social structures. The reality is that people groups die out, merge, and emerge all the time. More and more, formerly “reached” groups are falling back into the “unreached” category. Unfortunately, people group thinking doesn’t have room for anything but a static world.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that people groups are a great way for us to organize our missionary efforts. I agree that different peoples need different kids of ministry and communication. The concept certainly isn’t anti-biblical, but it isn’t explicitly biblical. We put people groups into categories of “reached” and “unreached”– categories not found in scripture. Furthermore, the professionalization of missions has led to the development of complex taxonomies that measure “reachedess,” “receptivity,” and “degrees of evangelization.” Jesus concluded the Commission with the promise to be with us always, but we really don’t need Him because we’ve got it all figured out.
So the missions community is busy trying to convince people that no, God isn’t calling them to South America or to Western Europe, and are they sure God didn’t mean Indonesia? We talk about “engaging” people groups as though they were squares on a chess board just waiting to be occupied by the missionaries we move about like pawns. We allocate resources to the “hard places” because we expect God to work there, nevermind where He may, actually be leading us to go.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of people group missiology is that it replaces the Great Commission mandate to “make disciples” of the nations with “reaching” them. This subtle difference has has widespread ramifications. Now, we talk about missions as though the goal was to “reach” people or to “finish” the Great Commission. The mission is not to “reach unreached people groups,” it’s to “make disciples of all nations.”
The truth is that our responsibility to go does not end. Not when the last people group is “reached.” Not when every city has “enough” believers to take responsibility for their own. Not when everyone has had a “chance” to hear. No, our calling is to nothing less that ongoing, radical obedience to the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, it’s not our job to determine what course of action will bring God “the most glory.” God has lets us know what He want from us, and it’s not measurable, finishable, or easily managed. He wants us to obey Him. When His leadership contradicts our strategies, I say we should go with God.
To be clear– I appreciate the work of the missiologists and practitioners who have gone before. I don’t in any way claim to know more than they. But the Unreached People Group philosophy held by groups like the Joshua Project and others isn’t the only way to understand missions. In fact, I think there is a better and more biblical way.
NEXT: If not Unreached People Groups, then how should we go about doing missions? What is the mission, and how might we organize ourselves for obedience? My solution? Callsourcing.