Tag Archives: language learning is communication is ministry

Books for beginning missionaries

I’m hardly a seasoned veteran yet, but I’ve now spent over five years learning some of the basics of mission work and helping a lot of new apprentices on the field.  In that time, I’ve developed the following working list of books I think are great for new cross-cultural church planters to read.  This list doesn’t represent an exhaustive library of missiology, and I think certain vital elements are better taught through discipleship than books, but I think these are a great start, hitting on many of the most important issues:

  • A Vision of the Possible by Daniel Sinclair – This is a good book for a team to read before going on the field as it gives a great overall roadmap for cross-cultural church planting.  It’s very practical, dealing with such issues as team formation and leadership, preparation, entrance and residency, language learning, spreading the gospel, discipleship, raising leaders, and church multiplication.
  • Bonding and the Missionary Task by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster – This one should also be read before arriving on the field.  If there is any book I want a new missionary joining us to read, it’s this one.  This short booklet gets straight to the heart of one of the biggest mistakes missionaries make – not bonding with the local people and culture – and gives practical direction on how to bond effectively.
  • Language Learning IS Communication IS Ministry by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster – The companion to the Bonding booklet, this one presents language learning as the first important ministry the missionary should have in the host country.  We don’t learn language so that we can minister; rather, our language learning communicates powerfully to the locals and is itself an important ministry.
  • Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan – This excellent books deals with what the job of a cross-cultural church planter is and isn’t.  Through Donovan’s personal experiences as a Catholic missionary to the Masai of Tanzania, he casts a wonderful vision for mission work.  The vision is that missionaries should carry out the simple task of delivering the gospel message, trust the Holy Spirit to reveal the gospel’s application, make disciples, and then do one of the most important things they’ll ever do – leave.
  • Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen (available free online from Google books) – This book, overlooked for decades, has gained popularity in recent times.  Vincent Donovan was heavily influenced by it, so it’s a great read after Christianity Rediscovered.  Christianity Rediscovered casts the vision, and Allen’s work lays out the framework of thinking behind that vision – getting rid of extra baggage and simplifying our work to the type of ministry that allowed Paul to establish churches all over Asia Minor in just a few years.
  • Organic Church by Neil Cole – Organic Church gets at the heart of what the Church is in its simplest form and how God intended it to reproduce organically.  I like our new missionaries to read it to give them a clear and simple vision of Church, because complexity kills.
  • Church Planting Movements by David Garrison (either the full-length book or the concise booklet available free from the IMB) – Based on research of movements on several continents, Garrison’s work lays out characteristics common to every movement of rapidly multiplying churches as well as discussing factors that hinder them.  It hits on important topics such as the importance of prayer, broad sowing of the Word, lay leadership, and avoiding restrictive, authoritarian structures.
  • Two Ears of Corn: A Guide to People-Centered Agricultural Improvement by Roland Bunch – I recommend this book not because I think missionaries have to do agricultural development, but because its principles carry over very well to church planting work.  Two Ears of Corn deals with important issues like dependency, reproducibility, and simplicity.

What do you think?  If you were making your own list, is there anything you would add or subtract?  Those of you helping new missionaries entering the field, what are you recommending to them?

Points 2 Ponder #1 – Jesus and acculturation

During our mission trips this year, we’re sharing thoughts to chew on with trip participants during a segment of our program called Points 2 Ponder. These are things we’ve been learning/wrestling with/thinking about over the past year or so. Normally, you would have to pay US$450 for a 10-day mission trip to get to hear these sound bites. Now, though, just for being a reader of my blog, you get them in written form completely free! What a deal, huh?

Here’s the first installment of Points 2 Ponder:

One of the most important jobs of any cross-cultural missionary is to be a learner. Consider this: Jesus was on the earth for about 33 years, but his public ministry only took place in the last three years of his life. That means he spent 30 years, or over 9/10 of his life, not in public ministry. To quote Alan Hirsch in a recent post, we should find that “profoundly disturbing”. For 30 years of his life, no one really noticed Jesus. He didn’t stick out. He didn’t do anything spectacular. He was part of his culture, working a normal job, doing normal things. Only when the time was right did he begin his public ministry.

In a talk at the 2006 National Short-Term Mission Conference, Paul Borthwick pointed out that, while Jesus waited 30 years to engage in his public ministry, when we get into cross-cultural mission settings, we often can hardly wait 30 minutes to get going. After all, we’ve raised a lot of money, people back home are expecting to hear great reports, and “we’re on a mission from God”.

When we think about the humility and servanthood exhibited by Christ during his life on earth (Phil. 2:1-11)–his cross-cultural ministry, you could say–how does that impact our ministries? What if to be Christ-like ministers we have to get past having all the answers for everyone from Day One and simply become learners? Tom and Betty Sue Brewster, in one of their excellent books, drive home the point that “language learning is communication is ministry”. In other words, even when we’re not saying anything, we’re already communicating. Working hard to learn the language of the new culture communicates something–the kind of humble love that characterized Jesus’ ministry. Being ready to teach and having all the answers from the get-go also communicates something. Unfortunately, the drift people catch from that strategy is usually the air of arrogant superiority the rest of the world sees in the Western world. Like it or not, that’s how people perceive us when we don’t first establish ourselves as learners.

Will there be a time for public ministry and for providing answers to problems? No doubt. But that time may not be during the first week or month or year. The wait didn’t seem to bother Jesus too much or hinder his ministry. We cross-cultural ministers in the name of Jesus would do well to take note.