Posts Tagged ‘Pepperdine Bible Lectures’

missionsMidterm sounds like I’m talking about a political election topic, doesn’t it!  Not true!

This last week at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Let’s Start Talking and Missions Resource Network announced a new initiative for carrying the message of Jesus to the world more effectively.  With this initiative, we believe we can help make better use of time, resources, and people when sending Americans overseas on the mission of God.

Let’s start with the most common current approach to new missions:  Most of our missionaries first participate in some kind of short-term mission. Many of these trips are either compassion missions—medical, disaster relief, construction, poverty-related, or children/orphans—or they are “survey” trips to better understand what needs to be done to prepare for a long-term mission.  A few short-term missions could be categorized as evangelistic, though all of them are intended to share the love of Jesus.

Usually young couples, some young single professionals, or an occasional family then makes the commitment to long-term missions.  By this, we usually mean a complete move to a foreign location for five years or more.  You sell your house and your car and move to a foreign place, spend probably two years learning the language and acclimating to the new culture, perhaps working with an established congregation or, if not, laying the groundwork for establishing a new congregation—mostly “house churches” today.  The sponsoring church is willing to invest a huge amount of money to move these new workers and spend two years preparing them because they expect to get at least  three more years—maybe longer—of excellent service from them.

So here are the unfortunate facts that drove LST and MRN to stop and think about an alternative strategy for churches to send Americans overseas on mission:

  • Most Americans stay on average just over 3 years on their mission site—regardless of what their commitment was.
  • In three years time with two spent primarily in preparation, it is very difficult to accomplish any of the initial long-term goals. Planting self-sustaining churches with national leaders which survive the departure of the American missionary in essentially one year is really a completely unrealistic goal.
  • The supporters and sending churches look at their investment in this failed effort and feel as if they have been burned, making them less interested in ever doing something similar again.

Instead of simply wringing our hands and bemoaning the current situation, MRN and LST sat down to pray and talk, asking God for wisdom to see a new path.  Why these two ministries?

Missions Resource Network was begun to help churches send missionaries and to help care for them better while on the field.  Because of that mandate, potential missionaries began coming to them for training which they then received from highly competent missions experts. In recent years, MRN has begun focusing also on training foreign churches to be sending churches and not just receiving churches.  Let’s Start Talking has always been focused on sending short-term workers (2-6 weeks) on evangelistic missions.  We also send a few interns each year on 6-12 month missions, usually following up an LST project.

So, after months of prayerful conversation and much collaboration between our two ministries, we would like to offer our churches and potential workers a new strategy– our Midterm Missions Initiative– that we believe will be better for the workers, better for the sending churches, better for the global church being served,  therefore better for the Kingdom!

Key components of this new initiative are

  • Planning to stay for 2-3 years. If this is how long people will stay, then let’s not pretend that they will stay longer; rather, let’s plan a work with goals that are reachable in this midterm timeframe.
  • Planning to avoid many of the upfront expenses of a long-term work, such as moving whole households, investing heavily in language study, start-up costs for new church plants (including buildings), etc.
  • Focused training for midterm work, not overtraining them for tasks they will not be there to do.
  • Working in English, taking advantage of the world-wide interest in English in both industrialized and developing countries allows workers to go where they are called and to begin working effectively the day after they arrive.
  • Through specific training in making disciples, they will be able to expand the vision and presence of the global church, working for multiplying growth, but not creating dependency on their presence.

Here is the path as we currently see it:

  • A global church requests help and is willing to invite a midterm missionary or couple.
  • Potential workers are identified or identify themselves and contact MRN or LST.
  • Workers make application and do some preliminary testing to determine readiness.
  • Workers then commit to an LST project, probably to the site where they will eventually be going. In conjunction with their project, they receive complete training in the LST approach.
  • After successfully completing their LST project, they are coached by MRN through specific tasks including finding a sponsoring church as well as preparing themselves to implement a disciple-making   This period may take 3-6 months.
  • When ready, they return to their mission site and begin working with the local church in two specific ways:
    1. First, they will follow up with people contacted through LST and will continue reading the Gospel story with them while helping them with their English.
    2. While doing this, they will begin looking among their Readers for those people who are seeking faith AND who are willing to share what they are finding with other people in their network. When they identify such a person, they approach them about beginning a Discovery Bible study—a very simple and intuitive approach to finding Jesus—in their home or at work.  One of the big differences is that it is not the American worker who leads this, but the person at the center of this network. He/She shares just as much as they have learned the week before from the American worker.  As they share with their friends, this first Person is also encouraged to look for seekers among them who will begin a new group in their home. That second person shares what they have learned from Person #1—and so it grows and multiplies.  As people become believers, then Christians, they are either integrated into the local congregation or they collect themselves into new churches.  Either way, the Lord has added to those who are being saved!  And when the American leaves in 2-3 years, the work has far outgrown him/her and is not dependent on their efforts to continue.

And our sending churches in the States will love this.  They will have shorter commitments with more reachable, tangible goals which can be achieved at much less expense. They can send their own members to do LST, thus helping their midterm worker. They will have the cooperation and partnership with MRN and with LST to walk beside them.  What is there not to like about this!!

And some of these midtermers will become long-termers—and  some lifers!  But the process of making these major decisions for both the workers and their sending churches will be much more tested and proven before those kinds of commitments to each other are made.  And that’s good too.

Let’s get started!  What global church wants to invite a midterm person or couple?  Who wants to go for 2-3 years?  The harvest is ripe!  Contact MRN or LST and we will be glad to help you get started.

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missions2If you are committed to evangelism—you’ll notice I did not use the word missions for fear of being redefined—and if you believe that the mission of members of the Kingdom of God is apostolic (bearers of a message) not just diaconic (servants), then you are a little concerned about the trend lines that I have suggested in the two previous posts.

If you believe that faith comes from hearing the Word of God and that people have trouble hearing the Word without someone to preach it—as Paul argued in Romans 10:14—then you are also concerned that being salt and light in the world is our mission as Christians, but if those seekers who discover the salt and see the light don’t know what to use it on or where the light is leading them, then they could remain hopelessly lost.

No one can come to the Father except through the Son, and no one has found the Son without knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is raised from the dead. They have to hear the Gospel story.  No amount of good that they receive in the neighborhood will communicate the Good News unless those who serve also share the Story.  “We believe, therefore, we speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13)!

The projections of the last post based on the trends and tendencies in my first post could be taken as discouraging—but only if there were no hope!  Trends and tendencies, however, are not prescriptions!  Our God is victorious, so any defeats are just momentary. Even a valley of dry bones can be resurrected to life—and we are not dry bones yet, so there is much we can do to reverse what might seem to some as inevitable.

We need to relentlessly pursue holistic missions! Jesus went about preaching and healing (Matt. 4:23;9:35). We should do the same.

What would happen in our churches if those proposing every evangelistic effort were asked to show how they were going to tangibly show love and compassion to their audience? No evangelism without a compassion ministry component.

What would happen in our churches if those who planned and/or executed every service project, benevolent work, and every relief effort were asked to prayerfully consider and propose an appropriate time and means for introducing the Message to those benefited by their service?  No demonstration ministry without a plan for proclamation.

There is no competition between social justice and evangelism; it should be one and the same.

We need to find our urgency of mission.  Out of almost 7 billion people in the world,  2 billion claim to be Christians.  If we don’t believe in judgment, if we don’t believe in Satan, if we don’t believe in Eternal darkness, if we don’t believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—then we can relax because there is no urgency.

If we believe that Jesus came “to seek and save the lost”(Luke 19:10),  then we can’t relax any more than Jesus did. We have to work—while it is still Day (John 9:4). The Night is coming!

We need to raise up an Army of Youth to fight for the Lord of Hosts! This may require intervention—because our young church leaders/ministers are of the same generation as our children and grandchildren as far as evangelism goes.  This may be a great time for elders to shepherd their youngest sheep!

I would like to see young children learning the heroic and inspirational stories of great Christian saints, then in middle school we should intentionally work with them on sharing their faith—verbally. What do they tell their friends who ask them why they believe in God or why they believe Jesus is the only way.  Group evangelism is especially appropriate for these young teens.

By high school then, having learned and practiced their mission at home, they would be ready for going other places, experiencing perhaps real poverty of both wealth and faith.

During college, they would then want to continue speaking the Name and doing Good in the world, and some—many more—would want to do internships and apprenticeships after college. And those who do not feel called to make it their life, would go into their marriages and their careers with a completely different framework—a missional framework—for every day of their lives.

We need churches who can imagine that God can use their resources to do things they can’t even imagine! 

  • Which churches among us will pick up the list of unevangelized countries and build their mission strategy around that information?
  • Which churches are ready to take on the Muslim world?
  • Which churches have the capacity and endurance to commit to work in the highly industrialized, yet predominantly secular countries?
  • Which churches will choose the nations where it is time for seed-sowing, not for harvesting?
  • Which churches will use the wealth of their congregations in places of extreme poverty, serving and proclaiming, at the expense of their own comfort?

And finally, we need courageous mission efforts! Let’s ban any sentence that starts with

  • “I’m afraid, if we do that . . . .”
  • “I’m afraid we don’t have the . . . .”
  • “I’m afraid our members won’t want to . . . .”
  • “I’m afraid it would take away from . . . .”
  • “I’m afraid someone might think that  . . . .”
  • “I’m afraid that’s bigger than we can . . . . “

The Revelation is clear that the “cowardly” are not at the banquet of the Lamb (21:8).  The  Witnesses are!


 One brother who attended this class at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures raised his hand and said, “Mark, you’ve been too negative. Give us something positive we can feel good about.”

I replied, “If you hear this as negative, then I’ve failed to communicate. While there are trends and attitudes that concern me, I have no fear for the Kingdom of God and great hope for Churches of Christ.

Our churches are living, dynamic expressions of the body of Christ and filled with His Spirit. We are human, therefore flawed, but not without His grace and His blessing, so where we are weak, He can make us strong.

And I’m certainly 100% positive that the Kingdom of God will prevail against the Gates of Hell.  Led by our Redeemer on a white horse, we will continue to attack the fortress of Evil until the final battle is accomplished.  The Victory is won!

I really want to win my little portion of the Great Battle for the glory and honor of Jesus. Don’t you?

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missions2Yesterday, I suggested the following about the current state of foreign missions in Churches of Christ:

  • Greater tolerance has produced less urgency for evangelism.
  • Missions are being redefined as social justice activities at the expense of evangelization.
  • Churches are turning toward more domestic mission projects
  • Churches are depending on missionary organizations more.
  • More older Christians and fewer younger Christians are involved in foreign missions.
  • Churches are opting for safe and successful missions.

If you believe that the above statements are true—even mostly true—then what does the near future look like for missions from American Churches of Christ?

These churches will do less and less evangelistic work, both in the U.S. and especially in foreign countries.  Why?

  • Historically, most of our mission force has come from recent college graduates and young families.  Since this demographic is now the product of greater tolerance (less urgency) and has replaced  evangelism with social justice, fewer will have the motivation for foreign missions.
  • Those who do go overseas will more likely be involved in humanitarian activities than church planting.

As older church leaders become less able to travel themselves and because fewer younger people are evangelistic, churches will outsource their foreign missions and evangelistic work even more. This suggests that independent ministries will continue to grow until the older church leaders give up their leadership to a younger generation of leaders.

If present trends continue, the independent relief organizations and ministries focusing on social justice will increase both in number and scope, and as younger Christians grow in influence and wealth, more funds will flow from evangelistic missions to these serving ministries.


One of the difficulties of even discussing this is trying to avoid posturing evangelism against social justice—or vice versa!  Jesus went around preaching and healing—and we should too.  Unfortunately, however, in our humanity we are much more likely to swing with the pendulum than to look for harmony.

That’s what I want to do tomorrow.  In the next post, let’s talk about not about what is, or what is likely, but what is needed and how things could be with regards to missions in Churches of Christ.



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missions2Today, I’m teaching a class at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures entitled “What’s New and What’s Needed in 21st Century Missions”  The things I want to say will be something that you will be interested in also, so I want to share them with you. My plan is to divide the hour-long class into three written parts for you and publish them all this week.


As most of you know, Sherrylee and I have been involved in foreign missions in Churches of Christ since 1968, with my first survey trip to Europe, trying to determine where God wanted us to work. This led to our spending eight years in Germany, working with two other couples, planting a new church.

Upon our return to the States (which had been God’s idea, not ours!), we began the Let’s Start Talking ministry, which now 33 years later has taken us to 70 countries where we have visited and worked beside literally hundreds of missionaries and national evangelists and seen as many mission churches from our fellowship.

Our work has also given us two other fairly unique touch points which allow us a sense of the pulse of our fellowship.

First, recruiting workers and raising resources among Churches of Christ has given us opportunities to speak to many of our churches—most often with the mission committees and/or mission elders/deacons in those churches.  Many of our impressions and insights come from these conversations.

Second, almost all long-term American missionaries from our movement have a short-term mission as the experience that launches them on their life’s path. Both our work in recruiting, training, and sending thousands of students as well as our association, often partnership, with other short-term mission groups, and having had this vantage point for over thirty years, allows us to speak from firsthand experience about what has changed or not changed in our lifetime.

So, for today’s conversation just remember that I’m speaking from experience not research and that I’m speaking from the context of American Churches of Christ and our foreign mission efforts, not broader Christendom and not global churches.

What’s Now?

Churches of Christ are more tolerant. Most of our churches no longer preach and act like we are the only ones going to heaven!  We have discovered God’s graciousness and admitted our own infallibility, but it has made us a little unsure of who we are or why we should try to persuade others of anything.  We are less urgent about evangelizing because many of those we “evangelized” years ago, we are less sure that they really need it.  Our earlier evangelism had been persuading someone that they didn’t really know what they were doing when they were baptized, so their previous baptism was invalid.  We probably still disagree with them on the biblical teaching about baptism, but we are no longer willing to deny fellowship to someone whom God has offered His gracious forgiveness of their errors as He continues to forgive ours.

The meaning of mission among Churches of Christ is being redefined. Again, this was a needed correction. It was always a mistake to think that the mission of God was always somewhere else—probably overseas—accomplished only by special people. We now talk about missional churches¸by which we mean churches who encourage all members to live their daily lives, confessing Christ in word and deed. But in making this adjustment, a whole generation in our churches now thinks that missions is painting houses, building church buildings, serving the poor, playing with orphans, or any act of what is most often called social justice ministry.

Of course, missions ARE all of the above—but it is also telling the story of Jesus to those who don’t know Him, bringing the Word and the Light to people in ignorance and darkness.  While many have gone on mission trips, very few in our churches under 40 years old have actually shared the Word and told someone the Good News.

Church leaders are looking for mission work that allows greater involvement by their members.  For this reason and others, our churches seem to be looking for more domestic mission sites. Cost, oversight issues, and maintaining relationships all are more difficult with foreign mission points—and don’t we have growing unbelief in the States anyway!

More older Christians and Boomers are involved in foreign missions, through supporting it, but also in going on short-term missions projects. This is a terrific development, occurring mostly because of the changing demographic in our churches. These people are old enough to still be evangelistic, and now they have the funds to do what they have always wanted to do.

One interesting corollary of this is that many, perhaps most of our missionaries are finding their financial support from wealthier individuals instead of from our churches.  Churches are considered too bureaucratic, too self-centered, and too capricious. Getting support from an ardent supporter is considered vastly superior than to run the daunting and often fruitless gauntlet of trying to find supporting churches.

Churches are relying more on independent ministries for missions.  You may see this as either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your own ideas, but I think it is a good thing to admit, at least.  Notice this list:

  • Great Cities   – Latin American missions
  • Eastern European Missions  –    Bibles, literature. and resources for Eastern Europe
  • China Now/China Vision   -placing Christian teachers in Chinese universities
  • Mission Alive    – Church Planting
  • Kairos  –  Church Planting
  • World Bible School/World English School   –  Correspondence courses
  • Let’s Start Talking    –   Short-term missions,
  • FriendSpeak  –   English Outreach in the United States
  • Sunset  International Bible Institute  – training of missionaries and mission internships
  • Missions Resource Network  –   missionary care, missions education, center for                                                                      missions information

Churches are only interested in successful missions.  And why should anyone support unsuccessful missions!  But successful is a tricky word. What most of our churches mean is that the mission is

  • Affordable
  • Accessible
  • Quantifiably impressive and motivating for the local church
  • Safe

So, taking this picture of missions in today’s churches of Christ, what do you see happening in the near future?  That’s tomorrow’s blog—and it won’t be this long, I promise!

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Sherrylee and I are leaving Seattle tomorrow for Malibu and the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. PBL is the last great Christian college lectureship among Churches of Christ. The main force  behind the lectureship for almost three decades has been the director Dr. Jerry Rushford. This is his last lectureship; he has passed the baton to Mike Cope and Rick Gibson, who assume the responsibility for the future of PBL.

I think they will do a great job, but maintaining the quality while updating the format is a daunting challenge. As great leaders should, they have already begun asking and receiving input from a broad spectrum of people who have vested interest in the welfare of the lectures. 

I pray they do well. We need this forum for our conversations.

Dr. Dan Rodriguez

On Wednesday, we will be discussing the current state of missions among Churches of Christ, and on Thursday, we will go forward to what Churches of Christ need to do to have effective mission efforts in the next fifty years.  I think it will be an exhilarating conversation with these men who are passionate and informed about missions.

Dr. Dan Bouchelle

I hope to provide at least a summary of the two classes on Wednesday and Thursday for you to read—perhaps even an audio file for you to be able to listen, but today I thought I would give you a copy of the handout I will use on Wednesday.  You’ll recognize it as a summary of the blog series I did on “Re-Thinking Mission Work.”  If you want more explanation and detail to flesh out these thoughts, you can find that series in the side panel.

Even if you can’t come to the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I hope you can enjoy a portion of it vicariously through these next posts. 

Overview of ”Re-thinking Mission Work in Churches of Christ”

By Mark Woodward

The current model for sending, supporting, and overseeing missionaries from Churches of Christ needs to be re-thought for the following reasons:

  1. The selection process is mostly self-selection with only minimal help from experienced missionaries or those who have skills or information that could guide the selection process.
  2. The choice of mission sites too often is an uncoordinated, non-strategic choice with little input from experienced or engaged persons.
  3. The preparation for mission work, if any, is not readily available for most people who would like to become missionaries.
  4. The support gathering system among Churches of Christ not only discourages the vast majority of potential missionaries from even beginning, but also most of those who do attempt to work their way through it.
  5. The “sponsoring church” system neglects spiritual oversight, is occasionally about strategic oversight, and mostly about financial oversight.
  6. The role of either elders or general mission committees to oversee missionaries/mission churches puts the decisions about mission work too often into the hands of well-intentioned people who have little or no personal experience in missions, and little or only secondhand primary information about how to do missions.
  7. The relationship between the missionary and his/her overseers is generally an employer/employee relationship with financial arrangements being the most important control mechanism.

Some of the changes that I would like to suggest that Churches of Christ implement in order to change our paradigm for missions.

  1. Mission committees should be restructured to have as their sole responsibility, implementation of strategies for raising up and surfacing  missionaries from their congregation.
  2. Hopeful missionaries should be expected to seek experienced and skilled help, either inside or outside of their home congregation, for making all of their First Decisions (Should I be a missionary? Where should I go? Who should I go with? How should I prepare?)
  3. Primary oversight of a missionary should be in the hands of Christians who know the person intimately and care about the proposed work, who likely are even personally involved.
  4. Every Missionary Hopeful should be expected to spend two years in an apprenticeship on the field with a Master Missionary before they are supported to work independently.
  5. Financial support and oversight control need to have more separation, so that both are in the hands of Christians who love the missionary and care about the work.

You can read the expanded blog articles on “Re-Thinking Mission Work” at www.markwoodward.org.

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Opening Night of the Pepperdine Bible Lectures is why it is still alive when virtually all other Christian college lectureships have faded!

Opening dinners start at 4:00pm, one for the women sponsored by Associated Women of Pepperdine and one for the men.  I suspect this gender-divided agenda is a fossil remnant once required so that the many women leaders who raised over $250,000 for Pepperdine last year can stand at the microphone, and so women like Emily Spivey, the dinner speaker for the AWP Dinner, can speak the Word of the Lord as powerfully as the preachers I have heard at the men’s dinner.

No one really sees this as an issue at Pepperdine—because the people who are looking for fights don’t come to Pepperdine Bible Lectures. 

Helen Young continues to grace the dinner and the lectures with her godly presence. She is a continuing inspiration and a link to the past that reminds us that there have always been gracious, forward-looking people in our fellowship!

In a matter of minutes after the dinner, I had short conversations with national evangelists from Senegal and The Gambia, with church leaders from Greece, and with Christians from Rwanda and New Zealand. With each of these, we had true koinonia—true fellowship in the gospel—hugged, shook hands, whatever was appropriate and talked about the work of God in their country.  This is why we and thousands of church leaders come to Pepperdine.

I especially loved the moment when Dennis Okoth, an African evangelist of the first order, led the thousands of saints in prayer, beginning with these words, “Brothers and sisters, let us believe and pray!”  Oh, yes! Let us believe and pray!

I don’t know how many people were at this opening service, but I would guess about three thousand, Christians from all over the world and from across the United States. We have already been with friends from Michigan, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas (of course), Oregon, Washington, and Florida—just on the first day—oh, and California too!

My personal moment to remember though was every voice singing Great Is Thy Faithfulness, the great hymn written in 1923 by Thomas O Chisholm. I was introduced to this hymn by Owen Olbricht in 1966 when I was a part of Campaigns Northeast. We used it as our theme song, so we sang it often. Sherrylee and I adopted this hymn as ours and have certainly sung this song with each other more than any other hymn, I’m quite sure, so to sing it with the Pepperdine crowd was very special.

The theme for this year’s Lectures is “God’s Unchanging Faithfulness” based on the Psalms. The program  variety is huge! The number of classes so many that hard choices are made all week. The singing groups are the best in our fellowship. There is nothing missing from the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

But what truly sets these lectures apart is a sense of fellowship!  In years past, Christian college lectureships were known for their “Open Forums” where Bible professors would pontificate on every conceivable question.  Other lectureships were known for “defending the faith.”

Make no mistake, the Pepperdine lectures have not avoided the hard questions. On the contrary, probably most “hot” topics are discussed here—but they are discussed in an arena where people are respected, not ridiculed, and where at the end of the day, we join hands across the aisle and sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You!”  It’s the spirit of a fellowship on the mission field where fellowship is precious—where fellowship is unity!

I’m not sure the lectureship format will last another generation—but if it does, Pepperdine’s Bible Lectures will be the shoulders the future gatherings stand on!

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