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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.

Introduction

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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The 69th Pepperdine Bible Lectures were outstanding—again! In spite of my good intentions to post during the lectures, especially to keep you current on the class that I led, it was just impossible! Too many people, too many conversations, too many outstanding teachers to take in, and too much late night pie and coffee with friends!

I hope you believe in “better late than never,” because with this post, I’ll try to fulfill my intentions.

I had really wanted to post audio recordings, at least excerpts, from the two-day class which I led on “What’s New and What’s Needed in 21st Century Missions,” but I was stymied on two fronts: by technology from doing my own recording and by copyright issues as well, so the best I can do for you is to give you the link where you can purchase the CDs of the class http://www.purelogicvideo.com/page.cfm?pageid=13737.  They really should make it possible to download these files, but I didn’t see that option.

One of the reasons PBL has continued to thrive and grow while other lectureships have failed is because young preachers are given big platforms! 

Jonathan Storment, a friend and the terrific young preacher for Highland in Abilene, opened the PBL on May 1. Jonathan has always been a dynamic and entertaining speaker, but the depth and courage that he now brings with his preaching is a special blessing to those who hear him.  Aaron Metcalf and Josh Ross are two more younger preachers who keynoted before any of the older, established speakers were given the pulpit.

Almost 250 classes are held during the three full days of PBL.  And the range is from textual to philosophical, from field reports to marriage/family, from the best known teachers like Randy Harris, Mike Cope, Rick Atchley, and Jeff Walling to the fully unknown but people with something important to say!

“Lively” would be the word I would choose to describe our class.  I invited Dr. Dan Bouchelle, President of Missions Resource Network, and Dr. Dan Rodriguez, professor of Religion and Hispanic Studies at Pepperdine, to join me in discussing issues surrounding foreign missions in churches of Christ.  We had a great time talking about each other’s ideas.

I’ve given you in the last post the summary of what I was going to deliver. Dan and Dan responded to my ideas and contributed their own. Dan Bouchelle suggested that while I addressed the current situation in American churches creatively, that perhaps I had not addressed the deeper problem that our churches as a whole must become more deeply and completely missional before they will do foreign missions well.

In addition, he said that for the 21st century, we Americans must surrender our patriarchal attitudes toward foreign missions and become co-workers, partners, with existing foreign churches who will more likely know what their part of the world needs better than we Americans could conceive.

Dr. Dan Rodriguez also supported the general tenor of my suggestions, but his personal message was that American churches need to cooperate with each other enough to strategically reach into parts of the world that no single congregation will probably ever have the resources to penetrate—especially those countries in the 10-40 window, which contain the fewest Christians and the largest portion of the world’s population.

I really appreciate so much what both of them said, and they were both quite kind to my rather subversive suggestions regarding the way we do foreign missions.  Don’t forget that you can get the entire discussion through this website: http://www.purelogicvideo.com/page.cfm?pageid=13737.

Dr. Jerry Rushford

Without question, the most spectacular moment of the lectureship was the last night when Dr. Jerry Rushford, director of the PB L for thirty years, passed the baton to his successors Mike Cope and Rick Gibson.  As President Benton said, Rushford could have chosen any number of career paths; a historian, a writer, a preacher, or a professor. But very early in his life he chose to direct the lectureship because he saw a chance to effect a whole fellowship of Christians.

For thirty years, he has been encouraging new preachers by giving them a chance to be heard; he has given foreign preachers and missionaries a classroom or a stage to expose American churches to the needs of the world; he has provided a stage where issues could be discussed with love and respect.

Thank you, Jerry Rushford, for a lifetime of serving the Kingdom in a way that few could have taken to the mountain tops as you have.  And thank you for leaving the Bible Lectures with integrity, passing it on to men of great heart and stature in our tradition.

The theme for next year’s lectureship (April 30-May 3) is “Can I Get A Witness? Faithfully Following the Lamb in Revelation” and promises continued excellence.

I hope to be there. Won’t you come too?

 

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