Posts Tagged ‘foreign missions’

imitastionBecause of internet issues, this post is coming out two days after returning from Honduras! Sorry. mw

I’m in Tegucigalpa, Honduras today, teaching in the Baxter Seminar at the Baxter Institute. Baxter Institute was founded in the mid-sixties and has served Latin America faithfully as an institution of higher learning since then. In addition to the college-level theological education offered to their students, a medical clinic has been opened on the 19-acre campus in the heart of this capital city in order to show the love of Christ in the community.

I’m here at the invitation of Stephen Teel, the fifth president of Baxter and a former missionary to Argentina. Let’s Start Talking worked with Teel in the mid-90s in one of our first works in Buenos Aires. His invitation to teach at this Seminar—which, by the way, is attended by over 200 Latin church leaders from not only Honduras, but also El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, and only a handful of us Gringos from North America—was very intentional.

Steve and I were talking this morning, and I was telling him about the great interest in LST that I saw in the class I was teaching. He was delighted and told me that he wanted me to emphasize how the LST strategy of helping people improve their English was especially valuable in Latin America because it tended to appeal to people who perhaps were a little better educated, a little more professionally ambitious, a little better connected to the world—in general, a group of people that have been more difficult to penetrate with the Gospel.

I recognized this need from previous conversations with missionaries in Brazil, in Ecuador, in Chile, and other Latin American countries, where many of our churches are quite poor and lack strong national leadership—mostly because of lack of education and resources for developing leaders among a social strata that is never called upon to lead.

Then, however, Steve surprised me a little by saying that too many of the churches that he is familiar with know no other way to evangelize than to knock doors, and hold gospel meetings, to which they find great resistance (naturally!), so they have tended toward medical clinics—to which they find much more receptivity (naturally!) because they are giving their neighbors something they really need.

Furthermore, Teel said that the churches here have not seen other types of evangelism like LST, so they can hardly imagine it.

I’ve heard that before in many other countries as well. People learn by imitating what they see, not by reading brotherhood newspapers or attending lectureships. When they see it in action, they can decide if it is worth imitating—or not.

I’ve often wondered why so many mission sites seem to be stuck in the 1950s! Their theology, their worship, and their activities seem all to have been inherited from the missionaries who first taught them and who first modeled for them the way to do things. That seems to be the obvious reason for a kind of spiritual stagnation that knows no political boundaries.

I have often wondered why these wonderful—usually small—mission churches have not continued to grow and to mature—all of which would, of course, imply changing—YIKES!

My single working theory for many years has been that the early missionaries taught them a formulaic Christianity. One pattern, one way of worshipping, one acceptable way of living, dressing, acting—all of which, of course, was the pattern and formula that the missionaries themselves believed to be true and appropriate at the time of their greatest influence on that church.

Now, however, I think I’m going to add another reason to my working hypothesis, that is, that these small mission churches have not had enough contact with either more mature Christians, or with Christians who have had different or “newer” experiences in faith. And, I’m afraid that when they did, they were so fearful of breaking the pattern that they were given that they labeled false and heretical ideas and actions that were simply different.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As I was sitting in the devotional this morning with 200+ people singing their hearts out in Spanish (of which I could only pick out a few words), I thought to myself. If these were African Christians, somebody would be up moving with the music (otherwise known as “dancing.”) If these were almost any large gathering of North American Christians, someone, if not many, would be raising at least one hand in praise. If we were in Asia, the singing would be too loud. And they did not sing a single song that I recognized as translated from English—something pretty rare all over the world among Churches of Christ.

The danger is not the diverse expressions and words of these global Christians; the danger is the breach of fellowship when anything but the familiar is witnessed or experienced. Instead of fearing that person who sings a different song, who introduces a “better” understanding of familiar scriptures, who wants to do something different, we who travel between such churches, we who support these works, we who do short-term works in these churches need to encourage growth and maturing, to encourage learning, nurture good changes.

The best way to do this may not be to hold a weeklong seminar on “Changes That You Desperately Need” as if we are the Perfect Ones and they are the Ignorant Ones, rather to go in a spirit of humility and gently act out our faith—act out our worship—act out our new ways of evangelizing—act out our new ways of serving—and let them follow Paul in leaving the bad and holding on to what is good.

Thank you, brothers and sisters in Honduras, for teaching me this. I am going to do things differently in the future because of what you have taught me.

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_foreignmissions2 (1)In Part One of this blog, I reviewed briefly our history of foreign missions in churches of Christ and then listed characteristics of our efforts, which were

  • We only have the stamina for harvesting, not for planting and nurturing.
  • We believe we should be able to work everywhere else in the world cheaper than in the U.S. 
  • Our mission work is dependent on how many self-motivated missionaries surface in our fellowship as opposed to a strategic global vision.
  • We are not by nature collaborative.
  • Our missionaries tend to be “lone rangers! 
  • We have been and are still too often negligent in caring for missionaries on the field, but especially when they return.

Click here, if you would like to review the comments that went with these points.


I suggested at the end of the last post that these particular characteristics would not serve us well going into the near future of foreign missions, so in order to become more effective in carrying the Gospel to the whole world, we are going to have to work differently.  In this and the next post, we will explore these two ideas.

Churches of Christ are represented in a little over 90 of the 196 independent countries of the world with probably around 1000 American workers outside of the United States. We have a lot of work to do—and the challenge of world evangelism is growing. Let me outline why I say that:

  • Americans are less well-liked in the world. After WWII, Americans were welcomed as defenders of liberty. Even into the 60s (our second big wave of mission efforts), Americans were relatively popular because we had defended the world against Communism. That glow was slightly tarnished by Vietnam, but re-polished in most parts of the world through the Reagan era and the collapse of the Soviet Union (another big Mission Wave).  Most of that global popularity has been lost.  Look at this map, charting those who have a favorable view toward the U.S.


What you see in dark blue are those countries who like us. Even the other bluish countries have fewer than 50% positive responses.

My point is not about U.S. politics and its participation in the global community, rather that being an American abroad is, at best, no great advantage and, at worst, can be outright dangerous—none of which is really good for the future of foreign missions from the U.S..

  • The world is now urban and becoming increasingly more so!  In 1900 there were only 12 cities of 1 million population or more, but these 12 became 400 by the year 2000. You probably aren’t surprised that Singapore is 89% urban, but Congo is 41%–that’s surprising!  Forty cities in the world boast populations of 5 million plus—and 80% of those are in poor countries, so it is not just the industrialized world where the flight to cities is dramatically changing the landscape.

We Americans have had good rural churches, and now we have good suburban churches, but urban churches are a challenge we have not yet figured out at home, much        less abroad.  Global urbanization is making missions more challenging for us.

  • Poorer countries are getting wealthier. (“The Whole World Is Getting Richer, and That’s Good News,” Charles Kenny, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 29, 2013).  Just ask Google if poor countries are getting richer and look at all the evidence.   If we accept this as true, then here are my conclusions for foreign missions:

o   There are no cheap places in the world to go!! The most expensive city for expatriates in the world is Luanda, Angola—did you expect that? Number four is N’Djamena in Chad. New York City is #32 and the only U.S. city in the top 50!

o   If poorer countries (like African countries) are getting more urban and wealthier, then they are going to be less and less impressed by our humanitarian approach to foreign missions.

To summarize, globally speaking, the people that US–sent missionaries would want to approach view Americans less favorably, they are typically living in very large cities with costs that Americans can hardly afford to live in, and even the poorer places are climbing out of poverty and need our benevolence and services less and less.

These are the challenges in foreign missions for churches of Christ in the near future.


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I spoke yesterday in chapel to about fifteen students at South Pacific Bible College in Tauranga, New Zealand.  These are students from all over the world who have committed at least two years of their lives to studying Bible and ministry from great teachers. Some even stay for a third year of practicum—not an academic year, but a year of guided practice in using the knowledge and skills they have received in the previous two years of classes.  I love that!

Sherrylee and I arrived in New Zealand after a not atypical day with international travel. At 8am, we left our hotel in Kuching, Malaysia, in order to arrive at the airport two hours before departure—only to find out that our flight had been cancelled—which is why you always arrive two hours early for international flights!

A very nice woman took our passports and information, disappeared into an office and came back in about twenty minutes with new tickets that required us to fly first to Kuala Limpur, then to Singapore, arriving about two hours before our long, overnight flight to Sydney. So no real damage to our plans, just an additional stop and more time in the air.

We boarded our flight from KL to Singapore right on time—then sat on the tarmac in a very hot airplane for over an hour because two passengers who had checked bags did not show—so their luggage had to be found and removed from the plane. I’m ok with good safety precautions, but it was going to really push us to make our connection in Singapore.

With less than an hour now after landing in Singapore, we had to clear immigration and customs, pick up our suitcases, change terminals, check-in at the British Airways counter to get board passes, check our luggage, clear passport control again to leave Singapore, and go through security.

But we made it, boarding our 747 for Sydney at 8pm, twelve hours after leaving our hotel in Kuching and with time even to get ready for our 7-hour overnight flight—you know, pick out movies to watch, get our books out, and hope for a little sleep.

The plane backed out of the gate—stopped—waited 10 minutes—then pulled back into the gate!   A cargo hold was overheating, so they were going to try to cool it down, but if they couldn’t, then . . . . Oh boy, here we go again! But after 45 minutes they got it cooled down, so we took off just about 90 minutes late. . . .

Which meant we missed our connection in Sydney, Australia! Now airlines are pretty good about booking you onto the next flight when you miss your connection, but because of the way we had booked our tickets, our names were not on the roster of those making connections, so we had again a short wait while they worked out our connection—all of this happening at 6am in the morning in Sydney—before coffee!

Finally around 11:30am, we boarded our Qantas Airways flight to Auckland, New Zealand, and arrived only about four hours later than originally scheduled—not a bad result for international travel any more.

Steve Raine, principal (president) of South Pacific Bible College and a very good friend, met us in Auckland and drove us two hours through the beautiful green countryside of New Zealand’s north island to Tauranga, which is our last stop on this Asian mission trip. Steve and his wife Gill have been guests in our home often, so we are thrilled to be able to spend some time in their home and get to know their work for God better.

After chapel at SPBC, Sherrylee and I joined the students on a special outing they were having, and what a pleasure it was. We spoke German with Lukas, who is here from Switzerland; we found common friends with Marcellus and his wife who are here from Santiago, Chile. Of course, the three or four students from Thailand all knew about RCC and Patinya, with whom LST has worked for many years. One girl from New Zealand told us her story of her parents being Christians, then leaving faith and divorcing, then at least her dad finding his way back to God. All of these students are here because they love God and want to be trained to serve Him better.  This college is a bright light in the South Pacific, but serves the kingdom of God all over the world!

The icing on the cake was to discover our friends Curt and Deborah Niccum here, who are just finishing a month of teaching at SPBC. Curt is a professor of Religion at Abilene Christian University and perhaps the best biblical language scholar in our fellowship. The students at SPBC are truly getting the best of our best!

Early Monday morning Sherrylee and I will leave New Zealand for home!! This is one of those crazy flights where we will fly 15 hours and arrive at DFW 20 minutes after departing—because of crossing the international dateline.

But getting home is always the best part of any journey! Hey, that sounds like there is a sermon in there somewhere, doesn’t it!

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Separating money and power is the most critical action that Churches of Christ need to take to fix its broken model for mission work. That the current model is broken can be disputed, but is very difficult to refute in light of the following:

  • Too few new hopeful missionaries are willing to become full-time, church-supported, church-overseen missionaries.
  • Many new and current missionaries are replacing church oversight/support with funds from individuals and private foundations to sidestep the current  church/oversight model.
  • Many churches are moving to mission efforts that are more “controllable”—which means they are either exclusively short-term missions, or much closer to home where local leaders can oversee more actively, or they are some form of humanitarian aid rather than missionary-centered evangelism .

A missionary society is one way that other churches attempted to solve this problem, but it is not an acceptable solution in Churches of Christ.  In fact, another center of financial authority is really no solution at all, so I am not suggesting anything resembling a missionary society as a solution.

My suggestion for a new oversight/support model  is based on the following primary characteristics:

  • Division of power
  • Division of responsibility
  • Gift-oriented tasking
  • Covenanted relationships

My suggestion is a tripartite model. Two of the parties have already been described at length: the Missionary and the Co-Mission support group. (See previous blogs for those descriptions!)  These two begin and have their core identities within our congregational structure.  Because the third member of this triad has no authority and exercises no oversight, it will work better as a missionary service organization outside of local church structures.

The single task of this third entity is to serve the Missionary and the Co-Mission group by carrying out their financial instructions.  This organization would receive funds on behalf of the missionary and disperses funds to the missionary as instructed.  I can also imagine that this organization could be extraordinarily helpful to Overseers and Missionaries by offering financial information like:

  • Cost of living information resources for specific countries
  • Best practices for banking in specific countries
  • Information of health insurance
  • U.S. tax information for missionaries
  • Foreign tax information
  • Best practices for accounting/reporting for contributions to missionaries

In no way is the missionary service organization involved in oversight or raising support, so there is no authority or control issue as with a missionary society. On the contrary, because of its neutral position in this triad, it is in a great position to serve those who oversee, those who support, and the Missionary equally well.

You may be a bit surprised that I have introduced the words oversight and accountability into our conversation.  If I have not said it explicitly enough yet, let me say that I do not believe it to be biblical or wise for anyone to be without accountability in the body of Christ, not elders, not preachers, not members, and not missionaries. I believe strongly in the mutual submission prescribed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ!”

What I am describing is a chord of three strands: the Missionary, the Co-Mission group, and the service organization (to be named later!) These three become accountable to each other by means of a mutually agreed upon Covenant, a Covenant which is built in stages.

Stage One of building The Covenant would be the commitments that the Hopeful Missionary makes with those he gathers into the Co-Mission group.  And each time a new person is added, they would need to prayerfully commit to joining in the Covenant. As the First Decisions are made, the Covenant changes—but not unless both parties agree! How can two walk together unless they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)

Stage Two begins when it is time to start fund raising and when the services of the missionary service organization become essential.  At that time both the Missionary and the Co-Mission group sit down with the service organization and create new descriptions of both financial commitments and service commitments. In others words, the Missionary and Co-Mission create the financial instructions to the service organization, and the service organization commits to the services it will provide and describes any financial responsibilities or tasks that either the Missionary or the Co-Mission group takes on .

The Covenant then becomes the physical description of the relationship into which these three parties have entered for the mutual benefit of all.

Perhaps in another forum, I can expand on what kinds of things should be in a Covenant, and later, I’d like to talk about the kinds of financial covenants that work best between supporters and missionaries, but for this series, I’ve said enough to get the broad parameters of a paradigm shift into the public arena for discussion.

I would like to conclude this series by suggesting a few very concrete actions in which some of you might be interested. If you will respond, then I will follow up in the future with action:

  • I would be happy to sit down with church leaders to talk about shifting their paradigm.
  • I would be happy to organize an exploratory meeting of some kind for open conversation
  • I would be happy to make an edited and expanded version of these thoughts available in print, so that they might be distributed and read by more people.

I look forward to your response—privately or publically.




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The person who desires to become a full-time missionary supported by churches of Christ has an extraordinarily difficult mountain to climb—unduly difficult—before they will ever reach the mission field. Many never attempt to climb the mountain, and others fall off the mountain in the attempt.

 The current support/oversight paradigm among churches of Christ discourages both potential and existing missionaries. The results are too few long-term missionaries which means less mission work and fewer souls hearing the story of Jesus—none of which can possibly be pleasing to God!

I want to challenge us to rethink the oversight-support model for long-term mission work from churches of Christ and look together at a different model of oversight/support that will lead, I believe, to more missionaries who stay longer and can reach more people more effectively.

Let’s first work our way through the whole process of becoming a missionary as it generally happens among churches of Christ.

First Decisions

 When someone is motivated to become a missionary, he/she/they usually will go through a series of decisive steps before they actually can begin their work.  The basis for all of these decisions is usually the point of first inspiration.

  • If they were inspired by a short-term mission experience, then they want to return to the field they first experienced and work in a similar manner to the missionaries with whom they have worked.
  • If they were inspired by a teacher/mentor, they will make their choice based on the teacher/mentor’s experiences.
  • If they were inspired by a challenge or a public presentation, they will look for an expert (mission professor, missionary, preacher, mission organization.) to help them proceed.
  • Decisions about the field of work are most often driven first by inspiration, followed usually by short-term mission experience in a field or a short survey trip. The experiences and information gained are then supplemented with interviews with current and past missionaries to whom the potential worker might have access.
  • Decisions about the type of work are more difficult.  
  1. First plans are often very broad plans, such as church planting, strengthen the local church, campus ministry, even community outreach.
  2. Some plans are method specific; for example, potential missionaries might decide to start house churches, or do children’s work, or do media-based evangelism.
  3. First plans made by mission teams are often very personality and role specific. For example, the team might have one couple that likes children, so they will plan to do children’s work, while another team member wants to preach, so they will plan for public preaching. Overall their plans still tend to be broad.
  • Decisions about means and types of preparation depend mostly on those advising the future missionary.
  1. Undergraduates/graduate students at Christian universities may begin by taking general mission courses and seeking contact with mentors in mission study groups.
  2. Some desiring to do mission work may seek out higher level mission training, for example, through ACU Summer Mission Seminar, SIBI Advanced Mission Training.
  3. A few parachurch ministries offer mission training.  Continent of Great Cities and Missions Resource Network come to mind right away.
  4. Other people will look for short-term internships on the desired field, if possible, with a current missionary.
  5. Many will work with American churches—often required by sponsoring congregations– and learn to work with and evangelize through an American model.And there are those who will go with little or no specialized training other than their own life/church experiences. This is especially true of those who are a bit older when they decide to become missionaries.

If you haven’t already, go back through this first section and notice the following:

  • All initiative and initial actions come from the person desiring to become a missionary, who is most often untrained, inexperienced, perhaps not completely educated, but highly motivated.
  • While capable professors, mentors, and friends are available for guiding potential missionaries, the number of options for fields, types of work, and for training are enormous. In my experience, most go along a path of inspiration and least resistance rather than a strategic path.

And this is the easy part! Next, I want to lay out the ways we in churches of Christ have typically supported and overseen foreign mission work—and why it is an unsuccessful paradigm.

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