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Posts Tagged ‘world missions’

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!

Conclusion

 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.

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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Campus ministries are perhaps the most undervalued area of kingdom work in spite of having the greatest potential for kingdom growth.

In the last week, Sherrylee and I have visited three different campus ministries. In a normal year, Let’s Start Talking will work directly with 15-20 different campuses. In our history we have probably worked with as many as fifty different campus works.

Here’s what you find on almost every campus that offers such great potential for the kingdom:

  • Thousands of impressionable people searching for who they are and what they want to become.
  • Hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign people who are eager to learn everything they can about American culture, including Christianity.
  • A whole community with a lot of discretionary time. (I know they don’t think so, but going to class 15 hours a week  in addition to preparations rarely comes up to the 40 hour work week, and they usually do not have family obligations.)
  • A whole community in a learning and experiencing mode.
  • A whole community in the age of challenging the values they received from home.

To me, all of the above describe a great mission field! If all of the above is true, then why is campus ministry such a neglected area of ministry?

One reason for neglect is that campus ministry is poorly defined! We aren’t sure what we are supposed to be doing—or what the best approach would be! Is the purpose of campus ministry

  • the protection of Christian students who might find their faith attacked by higher learning?
  •  outreach to Christian students who don’t attend your church?
  •  outreach to foreign students?
  • in-depth Bible study for the nurturing of believing students?
  • provision of a Christian environment for students?

Another reason for neglect is that there is no specific educational path to become a campus minister. Virtually all of our Christian universities have majors or emphases in Youth Ministry, I know of none who have such a program for campus ministers.  This absence may be because of lack of demand, but I suspect it is something else. The result, however, is that potential ministers don’t know how to become one and churches don’t know who is qualified to be one—not a promising situation.

These questions are all inter-related, aren’t they! If a church doesn’t know what they really want the campus ministry to do, then they don’t know who to hire. The potential ministers don’t know how to prepare, and the colleges don’t know what to offer—if anything!

In the meantime, thousands of students are left on their own spiritually. We vaguely hope that those who are seeking will come to our church on their own, find a group of peers that they will like and who will like them, and listen to our sermons.  That seems a pretty poor way to reach out to what could be the most receptive community of people in our neighborhood!

And my worst fear is that we are negligent in this area because of the economics of campus ministry. Students have two big black strikes against them:

  • Students have little money, so they do not contribute; they just take.
  • Students don’t usually stick around to become long-term members of the local church, so they are a poor investment.

So why should a local congregation invest in reaching out to them?  Of course, you will recognize right away a business model for growing a congregation, not a Spirit-led model for growing the kingdom of God!

Students are also a little messier. They test values, they challenge tradition, they lack “proper” respect for authority, and worst of all, they don’t dress appropriately!!

Here are a few suggestions for your church to think about:

  • If there is a campus near you that does not have a campus ministry, at least determine the demographic of the students and see if you don’t currently have resources enough to do something with some part of that campus!  If there are international students, could you start a FriendSpeak program to help them with their English and share the story of Jesus with them?
  • If you see great potential on your campus, contact one of the churches with a vital campus ministry and ask them to mentor your leadership!  Do this before you go out and just try to hire a campus minister. Know what your purpose is first.
  • If you have a campus ministry and/or a good campus minister, make part of his/her job description to mentor emerging campus ministers.  Provide the necessary time and money for this task of multiplying and training new workers.

The common statistical wisdom is that most people experience conversion to whatever religion they will choose between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five!

 If this is true, we Christians have no choice but to focus on all those unchurched people in this age group—and lots of them are in college.

Going into all the world is pretty easy when the whole world is next door to your church building on a local campus! 

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The towers had fallen, the Pentagon was on fire, but no one knew what was going to happen next. We had a small TV at the LST office, and as much as we tried to work that day, we all kept drifting back to the TV to watch the reports. 

We didn’t express our personal fears at first, but eventually someone voiced the question of who will want to get on an airplane and fly to a foreign country now? What impact did these terrorists make on the willingness of Christians to go into the world?

I had just finished writing the lead article for LST’s Fall newsletter. It was no longer the right tone, so I sat down and wrote the following:

September 11 re-shaped the world in which all of us live.  Our priorities have shifted as individuals and as a nation; the same is true at Let’s Start Talking.  This newsletter was ready on September 10—but some of it was no longer appropriate by the end of the next day.  If we took a little longer in saying to you what is on our hearts, we knew you would understand.

After the initial shock and outrage came a longer period of deeply felt grief. So many dead and missing, so much destruction, our shattered sense of security at home—the horrific reminder that this world is ruled for a time still by the Prince of Darkness—what could we do but grieve!

While grieving, however, we learned something about how to respond to tragedy and darkness.  You too probably noticed the many people running for their lives, running away from falling buildings, from death and destruction.  Everyone was running away—except for the Rescuers!  In the midst of the crisis, hundreds of firemen and police ran towards death and destruction in hopes of saving a few!  The actions of these men and women changed the future for many others.

The metaphor is powerful.  As Christians, we wear the badge of Jesus Christ, serving as Rescuers for God!  We cannot stay home and protect our own interests; we dare not retreat from going into all the world; we must not isolate or insulate our churches, our outreach, our missionaries, or ourselves in the face of darkness and destruction.  Because of the badge God gave us, because of the Name He lets us wear, we must run towards the darkness, into the danger, and look for those few that can be saved.

We at Let’s Start Talking will not forget the example set by the firemen and other rescue workers in New York.  We are calling on God to make us strong and courageous this year. We need you to go with us and support this army of God more than ever!

For those who wear the badge, the job is not yet done! Ten years later, people are still dying in darkness, buried under steel rafters of Sin. No one worried about cost, distance, or duration. Whatever it takes, wherever they are, however long it takes–those were the parameters on 9/11!

We wear the badge. We have only one choice—only one desire:  to run toward the ashy darkness with the hope of leading one more person out of destruction into light! 

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