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Posts Tagged ‘mission work’

Quartet424-424x283Sherrylee and I saw a delightful movie last night, Dustin Hoffman’s directing debut film Quartet. The story revolves around about fifty residents of a state-run retirement home in England. All of these residents were once renowned musicians, but are now reduced to trying in their dotage to put on a gala fundraiser to save their home.

What makes this film unique among a growing number of films about paleo-aged people is that it is not about dying, not about dealing with long-term disease, and not really about dealing with a world that has passed them by.  It is about living!

One day the most famous operatic star (Maggie Smith) of her time steps out of the minivan to enter the home. She brings her reputation as a diva as well as her personal history into an established group of her former peers, which stirs up old rivalries as well as old passions.

Her colleagues need her to recreate her part in the Quartet from Rigoletto by Verdi, along with one patient whose mind is slipping (Pauline Collins), one who continually crosses social boundaries of propriety (Billy Connolly), and her ex-husband (Tom Courtenay)—and therein lies the tale.

You’ll laugh, cry, be mildly embarrassed, but mostly be touched by the joy, the love, the drama of these extraordinarily talented people.  And you will love the music!

What do we do with old missionaries? Sorry, I couldn’t help but going to this question.

Most of the old missionaries that I know have gone down one of three paths:

  • The most fortunate old missionaries have found a Christian college that gives them an office and an occasional class, where they can share what they have learned and experienced with students barely able to appreciate it.
  • Some are able to preach for a church—usually a small, rural church. These churches are often older people, so they don’t mind the slower pace of an older preacher—and they don’t mind the stories of other places.
  • Some just vanish!  Yes, they just disappear.
    • Occasionally they quietly return to their foreign home, where they work very quietly, living on social security checks or very small support from many small churches who remember their reputation for greatness.  And they live there until they die.
    • Others vanish in the States. They have no retirement, maybe not even social security since they lived out of the country for so long. They live with children or on charity. I’ve heard that a few Christian retirement homes make places for them.

We have finally awakened to the need for missionary care, both for those workers currently on the field and those who have recently returned, but are we not missing a great opportunity to draw on years of experience and continents full of wisdom and hearts full of love for lost souls?

In Quartet, these ancient musicians pooled their remaining talents and produced a splendid evening of entertainment.

What would God’s people do if our ancient missionaries’ talents were pooled? What could we learn? What would we attempt? Where would we go? How much faith would there be in that room?

Enough to move mountains!

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In 1969, four young American couples committed to go to Germany to do full-time mission work. Why did they choose Germany? I know because I was part of the team.

We chose Germany because a professor at Harding invited us to accompany him on a trip to Europe during Christmas vacation, so that we could visit with European missionaries from various countries. We visited personally with workers from Italy, Switzerland, West Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of whom made some effort to recruit us to their field.

That entire year on campus at Harding, we had been visiting with every missionary from every country that came to campus. By February it was time to make a decision. We had statistics and interviews enough. Of course we prayed for wisdom, but in the rearview mirror of forty years, I think we decided on Germany because we just wanted to go there!  My great-grandfather came from Germany and another team member had been stationed with his parents in the Air Force in Germany. Our three-day visit in Germany convinced us of what we already wanted to do!

I wonder how many missionaries have chosen their fields as haphazardly as we did?

Even though today’s missionaries are better prepared, my experience is that most are still guided by inspiration rather than any kind of strategic thinking about how to fulfill the Great Commission! 

And congregations are no different. Occasionally a congregation will select a field and then search for the right workers, but usually a potential missionary appears on their doorstep first. If the congregation likes the worker, then the field is of somewhat secondary importance.

How do we as a fellowship expect to ever go into all the world without a plan? How will we go to the Muslim world? Who is going to the countries in Africa that most Americans have never heard of? Who is going to Scandinavia or to the outposts of Russia? What are we going to do about Tokyo with 33 million people?  Osaka (16.4million)? Jakarta, Indonesia (14.2 million)? Cairo (12.2 million)?  What is our plan? Where is the inspiration for the really tough fields??

To make a strategic plan, we as a fellowship need different criteria for site selection!  If we have used any criteria, it has tended to be either receptivity or bang for the buck (I cringe to even write that!) We need a new criteria for what makes a site important to God! 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” James 1:5. I believe God has given us a great deal of revelation to permit us to be wiser, but we have not gathered it together into a coherent picture.  We need centralized information will inspire us to see new opportunities. Fortunately, we already have a wonderful organization in our fellowship whose mandate is to be a network for missions resources, ala Missions Resource NetworkMy vote is that this wonderful ministry continue to be and expand its role as a repository for the information churches and missionaries need to strategically select mission sites.

Here’s the picture I’m seeing:

We need a Wikipedia-like site for mission information, preferably one where every country of the world is listed and where our fellowship can share our combined knowledge and experience publically.  This would be a place where the people who love geography could describe the country of Burkina Faso and the handful of people who have done mission work in Denmark can relate the history that only they know. Current workers in Osaka, Japan, could describe the religious climate and what they are doing there, so that the rest of our fellowship can see that Osaka could use a hundred missionaries, not one or two!

Then we need to publish/create some lists of ranked priorities to inspire and captivate congregations and workers looking for a mission field. What if all our churches were made acutely aware of even just the following lists—many of which are already available:

1.            Countries most restricted to Christians

2.            Muslim countries most open to Christians

3.            Countries with the fewest Christians per capita

4.            Countries where no known churches of Christ are meeting

5.            English-speaking countries with the fewest Christians

6.            Countries with the greatest response to Christian broadcasting

7.            Richest/poorest countries with the fewest Christians

8.            Countries with greatest internet access and the fewest Christians

Can you see congregations and potential missionaries using such lists for inspiration—using these lists to pray over, listening for guidance!  Then they get a complete picture of the countries they are drawn towards until God makes clear to them the country/city/continent they should commit to.

I also think it would be good to hold a national conference for all living American missionaries with the goal of producing a list of mission priorities for which American missionaries would be especially appropriate—acknowledging that Christians of other nations are better suited for some parts of the world than Americans–and the list of those places may be growing!

Possible Results

So if we had both congregations seeking mission opportunities for all of those members that they have inspired, as well as members of congregations, inspired by and re-inspiring their congregations, going to such a repository of both information and inspiration, is it possible that the body as a whole would begin to think more strategically?

Is it possible that two congregations, one in Connecticut and one in California  who are both wanting to work in Turkistan might discover each other, then talk to each other, certainly develop a relationship and perhaps even work out a cooperative plan—which might inspire other congregations who then join them in that work!

Is it possible that congregations would check the site information and see that 250 congregations are considering summer mission works in Honduras, so maybe they would choose a different country?

Is it possible that some congregation would learn that the Muslim country of Senegal is very open and that one African brother has started five congregations there in the last eight years—and they might start exploring ways to help him?

Is it possible that congregations would use their businessmen who travel abroad as scouts for new mission opportunities?

If our churches were prayerfully but strategically inspiring their members to go literally, purposefully, into all the world, then finally we would have begun to get a hint of what it means to fulfill the Great Commission!

And, by the way, our team’s decision to go to Germany was Spirit-led! We had a blessed work, and we loved Germany and the German people. Never doubt that God uses us in our weakness and ignorance!

I want to explore next the first decisions about the type of work and then follow that with thoughts on preparation.

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Building a new airplane is easier than changing out an engine while the airplane is flying! For existing churches, shifting to a new model for doing mission work is more like the latter than the former.

I recently had a lengthy conversation with the minister of a new church plant about how his church could adopt a new paradigm from the beginning of its existence; I also have been approached by a person wanting to do missions that would like to explore establishing a different way of doing support/oversight.

I’m eager to continue these conversations and work on the very practical questions that arise when building a new plane—but I’m also scheduled to talk to a couple of established churches in the near future who have established mission programs, but who feel the need for re-thinking the way they do mission work.  This is the more difficult–but not impossible— task!

A Plan for Transitioning

Step One:  Reach consensus on the desire for a better model for the church’s missions program.  If the call for change is coming from the elders, perhaps the preacher, then it is easier for the mission committee, the current missionaries, and the members of the congregation to be persuaded.  The lower in the church hierarchy the call for change begins, the more difficult it will be to reach consensus.  The most resistant person/group is likely to be where the most ownership/control of the mission program currently lies—unless they are the ones calling for change! 

Step Two:  Establish the goals and the broad parameters for the new model.   For instance, if a church wants to adopt a greater member-driven, relational model as I have been suggesting, then the goals might be something like these:

  1. 80-100% of the total membership of the church will be actively involved in mission activities, including local outreach of every kind, short-term missions, youth missions, internships, and co-mission groups that support missionaries with prayer, oversight, and financial support.
  2. All future missionaries will be raised up from among our members.
  3. Current missionaries will transition to support from a Comission* group over the next three years.
  4. More members will contribute more funds to support more missionaries than ever before.
  5. The church’s Mission Committee will be transformed into a group whose sole mandate is to achieve the mission goals of the church as stated above.

Step Three: Begin to educate and to implement!  Start by reconstituting the Missions committee—perhaps with new people, but not necessarily. The most critical factor in reconstitution is that the new Mission team is 100% on board with the new model.

This is the team who is now responsible for educating members, for instance, about Comission groups. These are the people who will need to work with the preacher and ministers, and especially with the youth and adult education program to encourage a vision and a desire for missions of all kinds from all members.

It might be that those on the earlier Mission committee who are closest to the established missionaries would be enlisted to help them understand the change and to assist them in developing a plan/strategy for building their Comission group.

Yes, there is a process of deconstruction that is occurring; the old engine has to come off. The biggest fear, I suspect, is that in the process of attaching the new engine, the plane crashes, that is, the current missions efforts disintegrate.

Here are some of the bad scenarios that could occur:

  1. The people with power won’t give it up! It could be an elder or elders, it could be a missions committee chair or person, or it could be the missionary the church has supported for thirty years!  If they cannot be persuaded, then either they have to be removed from their position of power or the plan to change has to be abandoned.  There is no workaround here!
  2. Supported foreign nationals are virtually unknown to the local members.  National evangelists on American support have to be put in a different category from American missionaries on church support. We cannot lightly abandon people who have no other obvious means of support. The American church has a moral obligation to help their national worker find a new means of support and to continue helping them until they do. (This is one reason I’m almost always opposed to national preachers getting American support.)
  3. Members are not willing to support a current American missionary.  Since we are talking about moving to a relational model of support/oversight, an American missionary that has no relationship with Christians in the U.S. is going to have great difficulty building a Comission group.  Since relationships were not originally a prerequisite, I do believe a church would have to provide a missionary ample time and opportunity to establish new relationships before moving them out of the budget.

I’ll close with some lines from Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll that seem somehow appropriate here:  How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle! 

Next, I want to address one of the strongest criticisms addressed to me in the course of these latest posts: “Mark, you have a very low opinion of the church!”  What do you think?

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In 1969, four young American couples committed to go to Germany to do full-time mission work. Why did they choose Germany? I know because I was part of the team.

We chose Germany because a professor at Harding invited us to accompany him on a trip to Europe during Christmas vacation, so that we could visit with European missionaries from various countries. We visited personally with workers from Italy, Switzerland, West Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of whom made some effort to recruit us to their field.

That entire year on campus at Harding, we had been visiting with every missionary from every country that came to campus. By February it was time to make a decision. We had statistics and interviews enough. Of course we prayed for wisdom, but in the rearview mirror of forty years, I think we decided on Germany because we just wanted to go there!  My great-grandfather came from Germany and another team member had been stationed with his parents in the Air Force in Germany. Our three-day visit in Germany convinced us of what we already wanted to do!

I wonder how many missionaries have chosen their fields as haphazardly as we did?

Even though today’s missionaries are better prepared, my experience is that most are still guided by inspiration rather than any kind of strategic thinking about how to fulfill the Great Commission! 

And congregations are no different. Occasionally a congregation will select a field and then search for the right workers, but usually a potential missionary appears on their doorstep first. If the congregation likes the worker, then the field is of somewhat secondary importance.

How do we as a fellowship expect to ever go into all the world without a plan? How will we go to the Muslim world? Who is going to the countries in Africa that most Americans have never heard of? Who is going to Scandinavia or to the outposts of Russia? What are we going to do about Tokyo with 33 million people?  Osaka (16.4million)? Jakarta, Indonesia (14.2 million)? Cairo (12.2 million)?  What is our plan? Where is the inspiration for the really tough fields??

To make a strategic plan, we as a fellowship need different criteria for site selection!  If we have used any criteria, it has tended to be either receptivity or bang for the buck (I cringe to even write that!) We need a new criteria for what makes a site important to God! 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” James 1:5. I believe God has given us a great deal of revelation to permit us to be wiser, but we have not gathered it together into a coherent picture.  We need centralized information will inspire us to see new opportunities. Fortunately, we already have a wonderful organization in our fellowship whose mandate is to be a network for missions resources, ala Missions Resource NetworkMy vote is that this wonderful ministry continue to be and expand its role as a repository for the information churches and missionaries need to strategically select mission sites.

Here’s the picture I’m seeing:

We need a Wikipedia-like site for mission information, preferably one where every country of the world is listed and where our fellowship can share our combined knowledge and experience publically.  This would be a place where the people who love geography could describe the country of Burkina Faso and the handful of people who have done mission work in Denmark can relate the history that only they know. Current workers in Osaka, Japan, could describe the religious climate and what they are doing there, so that the rest of our fellowship can see that Osaka could use a hundred missionaries, not one or two!

Then we need to publish/create some lists of ranked priorities to inspire and captivate congregations and workers looking for a mission field. What if all our churches were made acutely aware of even just the following lists—many of which are already available:

1.            Countries most restricted to Christians

2.            Muslim countries most open to Christians

3.            Countries with the fewest Christians per capita

4.            Countries where no known churches of Christ are meeting

5.            English-speaking countries with the fewest Christians

6.            Countries with the greatest response to Christian broadcasting

7.            Richest/poorest countries with the fewest Christians

8.            Countries with greatest internet access and the fewest Christians

Can you see congregations and potential missionaries using such lists for inspiration—using these lists to pray over, listening for guidance!  Then they get a complete picture of the countries they are drawn towards until God makes clear to them the country/city/continent they should commit to.

I also think it would be good to hold a national conference for all living American missionaries with the goal of producing a list of mission priorities for which American missionaries would be especially appropriate—acknowledging that Christians of other nations are better suited for some parts of the world than Americans–and the list of those places may be growing!

Possible Results

So if we had both congregations seeking mission opportunities for all of those members that they have inspired, as well as members of congregations, inspired by and re-inspiring their congregations, going to such a repository of both information and inspiration, is it possible that the body as a whole would begin to think more strategically?

Is it possible that two congregations, one in Connecticut and one in California  who are both wanting to work in Turkistan might discover each other, then talk to each other, certainly develop a relationship and perhaps even work out a cooperative plan—which might inspire other congregations who then join them in that work!

Is it possible that congregations would check the site information and see that 250 congregations are considering summer mission works in Honduras, so maybe they would choose a different country?

Is it possible that some congregation would learn that the Muslim country of Senegal is very open and that one African brother has started five congregations there in the last eight years—and they might start exploring ways to help him?

Is it possible that congregations would use their businessmen who travel abroad as scouts for new mission opportunities?

If our churches were prayerfully but strategically inspiring their members to go literally, purposefully, into all the world, then finally we would have begun to get a hint of what it means to fulfill the Great Commission!

And, by the way, our team’s decision to go to Germany was Spirit-led! We had a blessed work, and we loved Germany and the German people. Never doubt that God uses us in our weakness and ignorance!

I want to explore next the first decisions about the type of work and then follow that with thoughts on preparation.

Read Full Post »

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