Tag Archives: missionary

What one newly forming simple church wants

In the past couple of weeks we have found ourselves in the middle of a new church group that is suddenly coming together. I described one of the first meetings in my last post, “Cool stuff about Wednesday’s meeting“. We met on Sunday, and I asked the group to share their vision of what they want the group to be all about. The most common theme in the discussion is that they really want to reach people who need to know God. They recognize a number of reasons that many people won’t ever become part of a traditional evangelical church. They’re not critical towards traditional churches, but they want to do something different that will connect with people outside of traditional churches. Here’s a list I made during the meeting, based on their responses. It is written in the voice of the group:

  • There should be a change in our lives. We will first and foremost focus on our own spiritual growth. Seeing us changing for the better is what will draw new people into the group.
  • After I shared that we missionaries are only there to support and empower the group and not to lead or control anything, the group agreed. One woman said, “When people see foreigners up front leading a church, they say, ‘That’s a religion of foreigners. We don’t want that, because they already conquered us.'”
  • We want to help people who are hurting and have problems and needs. Lots of people won’t ever go to a traditional church, but they will come to a meeting in someone’s home. For this reason, we’re not particularly interested in building a church building or having rigid, formal meetings.
  • We don’t want to create a strict regimen of religious rules and lots of pressure to show up at every meeting. Instead, we want to have an internal commitment with one another and most of all with God that impels us to participate and do things.
  • Our schedules can make showing up to church meetings very tough. We want to schedule these meetings at times when people can come, and we want to keep it flexible and change the time and location whenever we need to in order to accommodate people.
  • Church people tend to get labeled by those on the outside. Outsiders say things like, “I don’t want to be part of that, because then I’ll be an ‘Alleluia'”. This is because we sometimes do strange things or use strange language that people on the outside don’t understand. As much as possible, we want to use simple language that people understand, and avoid doing things that unnecessarily separate us from people.
  • We want to have a humble attitude. We don’t want to be proud and stuck up with people who don’t know God.
  • We want fellowship and conversation to be defining characteristics of our meetings. We don’t want to just sit quietly and listen to one person preach all the time and not ever talk to the person sitting next to us.
  • We want to create an atmosphere where people feel like they’re with family and feel like they can ask any question. For example, lots of people have questions like, ‘I worship the Virgin Mary, but does she have power?’ We want people to feel like they can ask those types of questions, and we’ll be able to guide them as we go along.
  • Dave, Rhonda, and I emphasized one more point, which is this: Everything we do will be based on the Bible, as taught to us by the Holy Spirit. The Bible contains the truth of God. Without the Spirit to teach us the Bible, we’re just dealing with man’s interpretations, which is what leads to so many different religions who all say they practice the Bible. Each person in the group will be equipped to study the Bible and hear from the Holy Spirit. We will not depend on one certain teacher; everyone at different times will be able to teach others something, based on revelation given by the Holy Spirit.

We’re pretty excited about this list. It’s not quite a comprehensive expression of all that a church is and does, but it’s a great start for a simple new church that is being founded on some really good desires.

A crisis of identity

Or at least that’s what it feels like I’m having right now. We on CPT have been taking more care the past year and a half with the answer to the million dollar question asked by locals: “Why are you here?”

We have stayed away from saying, “We’re missionaries.” This because what we mean by the term ‘missionary’ and what locals understand by it are two entirely different things; their understanding carrying quite negative connotations. So officially, we belong to a non-profit community service/development organization that is here to meet the physical and spiritual needs of our region.

People always want to know where we get our money from. Saying something like, “Well, people back home send us money to live off of and then our job is to go around and talk to people all day,” has never seemed an entirely satisfactory answer for them. It makes us come off as somewhat rich and lazy in the eyes of the locals. We do try and work jobs in keeping with the mission of our community service organization (and hopefully in keeping with the kingdom of God). That’s what has three of us trying to start a water filter business right now and Pam teaching English classes. The problem there is that the 10-20 hours of “real work” we do each week is still a far cry from the taxing 60-hour-a-week schedule many of our friends here have.

These complexities have me and the rest of CPT asking some tough questions right now about exactly what our role is here and what our identity in the community should be. Add to the mix a number of tough challenges and considerations (a number of which I’ve shared on this blog) coming out of our reading of Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered, and we’re not exactly sure which way to turn.

  1. We could completely discard any attempt to have a legitimate, respectable identity with the people and spend all our time preaching, teaching, and praying. That’s something close to what Donovan did among the Masai of Tanzania, and some might argue it’s close to what the Apostle Paul did.
  2. We could continue on as we are doing, making a bit of money and establishing something of an identity through community development/tentmaking jobs, and then preach, pray, and make disciples on the job and with our time outside of work.
  3. The economic problems have been hurting some of us financially. We could truly focus on trying to earn a significant portion of our finances through some type of job (which would probably have to be online). This would satisfactorily answer the questions people here have about how we support ourselves, but it would also cut into discipleship time.
  4. Maybe another option exists that we haven’t considered?

Contemporary wisdom on multiplication and church planting movements says we should never minister in a way that cannot be easily reproduced by our disciples. If that’s the case, we wonder if living fully off of missionary support and spending all our time in prayer and meetings can ever be easily replicated down here, or if locals trying to adopt that model would hinder a movement. Dabbling in “work” a few hours a week and then doing a lot of discipleship outside of that also doesn’t seem very reproducible, though it is expedient. Working a full-time schedule and getting in what disciple-making work we can on the side is what most or all of our followers here will probably need to do. So in that respect, the model can be replicated. But one can ask whether our role as outside missionaries should be different, even if it’s not reproducible.

I really don’t know, but I think I need some answers.

(Above photo courtesy of Pizamanpat)

Vincent Donovan’s summary of the role of a missionary

The following passage from pages 120 and 121 of Christianity Rediscovered provides a good outline Donovan’s understanding of the role of a missionary, developed throughout his book. Read it, cross-cultural missionaries, and reflect on it. It has been challenging me greatly, though I do not yet know what the outcome of that challenge will be:

But before dreaming of world evangelization we would have to change our approach to young mission churches. [Protestants can substitute the Protestant equivalents in the following sentence:] Today before we count our work finished in the young churches, we feel compelled to leave with them a staggering complexity of buildings and institutions and organizations; church buildings and their accouterments, seminaries to train candidates for the priesthood, catechetical centers to train teachers, novice masters and superiors to begin religious congregations, lay organizations, diocesan and chancery structures and a promise of continued financial assistance and subsidies.What if instead of this unending process we considered our work a truly finishable task and left these churches only what St. Paul left them? At first sight, this seems much less than we feel compelled to leave with them. In reality, it is more than we dare to give them.As you sit watching the sinking sun you wonder if there were still time for missionaries, somewhere, somehow to be able just once to carry out missionary work as it should be carried out:To approach each culture with the respect due to it as the very place wherein resides the possibility of salvation and holiness and grace.To approach the people of any culture or nation, not as individuals, but as community.

To plan to stay not one day longer than is necessary in any one place.

To give the people nothing, literally nothing, but the unchanging, supracultural, uninterpreted gospel before baptism.

To help them expand that gospel into a creed and a way of life after baptism.

To enable them to pray as Christians.

To leave them the bible towards the day when they can read it and use it as a living letter in their lives.

To insist that they themselves be their own future missionaries.

To link them with the outside church in unity, and the outside world in charity and justice.

To agree with them that baptism is indeed everything; that the reception of baptism is the acceptance of the total responsibility and the full, active sacramental power of the church, the eucharistic community with a mission.

To encourage them to trust in the Spirit given at baptism, and to use the powers and gifts and charisms given to the community by the Spirit.

And then the final step.

The final missionary step as regards the people of any nation or culture, and the most important lesson we will ever teach them–is to leave them.

(Above photo courtesy of Will Pate)

Vincent Donovan on what the job of a missionary is and isn’t

Last year, on the recommendation of a friend, I read Vincent Donovan’s excellent book Christianity Rediscovered. It is one of the very best books I have read concerning cross-cultural mission work. I am now re-reading it, and will probably be sharing a few excerpts from it in the coming weeks.

Donovan was a missionary to the Masai people of Tanzania, east Africa. In the following excerpt from pages 23 and 24, he discusses the convictions he came to regarding what should and should not be the work of a missionary. I have been challenged a lot by the ideas he shares. I, too, have a growing conviction that we missionaries are messengers. Our responsibility is to deliver the message, not dictate the response to that message. Here’s what Donovan has to say:

Going back to the New Testament, to that original mandate which sent missionaries all over the world, we find the command of Christ to preach the gospel to all the nations of the world, to disciple, make disciples of, to evangelize all the nations. The words used in the Greek Testament for “all the nations” are panta ta ethne. In fact, every time it is mentioned the word “nations” is translated by the Greek word ethne. I do not believe that the bible knew of nations in the modern political sense of the word, like the nations of America and Canada and Tanzania.Ethne would refer more to ethnic, cultural groups, the natural building blocks of the human race. While the political nation of the United States might have very little to do with salvation as such, the Masai culture or a Hindu culture or the cultures that make up America might have very much to do with salvation…

…The gospel must be brought to the nations in which already resides the possibility of salvation. As I began to ponder the evangelization of the Masai, I had to realize that God enables a people, any people, to reach salvation through their culture and tribal, racial customs and traditions. In this realization would have to rest my whole approach to the evangelization of the Masai.

I had no right to disrupt this body of customs, of traditions. It was the way of Salvation for these people, their way to God. It was one of the nations to whom we had to bring the gospel–bring the gospel to it as it was. In those customs lay their possibility of salvation.

Christ himself said, “I did not come to do away with the law (the Jewish culture and religion) but to fulfill it” (Mt 5:17).

Everything concerning a nation (an ethnic cultural group) has to do with salvation. It is the job of the people of that nation, it is their affair to respond to their own call of salvation. It is not the sphere of the evangelist, of the missionary. If we would be consistent, I think we would see that the field of culture is theirs. Ours is the gospel.

An evangelist, a missionary must respect the culture of a people, not destroy it. The incarnation of the gospel, the flesh and blood which must grow in the gospel is up to the people of a culture.

The way people might celebrate the central truths of Christianity; the way they would distribute the goods of the earth and live out their daily lives; their spiritual, ascetical expression of Christianity if they should accept it; their way of working out the Christian responsibility of the social implications of the gospel–all these things, that is, liturgy, morality, dogmatic theology, spirituality, and social action would be a cultural response to a central, unchanging, supracultural, uninterpreted gospel.

The gospel is, after all, not a philosophy or set of doctrines or laws. That is what a culture is. The gospel is essentially a history, at whose center is the God-man born in Bethlehem, risen near Golgotha.

What discipleship is not

As I have been learning more the past year and a half about what good discipleship is, I’m also learning what it is not:

It is not a class

The end goal of discipleship must always be obedience. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says that discipleship is “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (emphasis mine). James 1:22-25 underscores the importance of doing the word, not just listening to it. “Discipleship” that focuses only on gaining knowledge and correct doctrine with little practical application is not true Jesus-style discipleship at all.

It is not control

Jesus did not make all his disciples’ decisions for them. Disciples must be free to act according to their own volition and, sometimes, to mess up. Failure can be a great teacher. Disciplers who don’t give their disciples room to err may be stunting the growth of those under their care. Overcontrol can cause a disciple to have an unhealthy level of dependency on his/her discipler.

It is not a 12-week program

Discipleship is ongoing. Because the goal of discipleship is obedience to Christ, and because obedience to Christ takes a lifetime to live out, no believer ever graduates from needing discipleship.

It is not an activity to be performed by an elite few

Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples, so if you’re a disciple you must be making new ones.

Is there anything you would add to this list? Who are you discipling, and who is discipling you?

Points 2 Ponder #2 – Scaffolding vs. Building

This is Part 2 in a series of Points 2 Ponder that we are presenting to our mission trip participants this month.

Read the first post in the series here.

Our church planting coach, Rob, explains that as cross-cultural missionaries, we are the scaffolding, not the building. The function of scaffolding is support. Scaffolding is temporary, and once the building is done, the scaffolding is moved elsewhere to work on another building. The scaffolding goes; the building stays behind. For a building to stand, therefore, the scaffolding cannot be a part of it. If bricks or support columns or parts of the foundation are built on top of the scaffolding, then when the scaffolding is removed, the building will crumble.

This analogy holds important truths for the cross-cultural minister. New churches must be self-sufficient. They must be built upon the foundation of Christ, not the foreign missionaries. Cross-cultural church planters should plan on serving among a people group for a finite amount of time and should have a clear exit strategy. It can make us feel good to be in control and have positions of leadership and authority, but doing this puts the churches we plant at risk of crumbling when we leave.

This belief is having a lot of practical implications these days for GFM and the way we minister. For example, in the short-term, it might be helpful for us to provide salaries for local pastors. What happens when we leave, though? Or can we ever leave if we have an arrangement like that? At some point, church leaders we raise up will have to be financially self-sufficient, rather than dependent on foreign funds. It seems a whole lot easier to help them be self-sufficient from Day One, perhaps by working with them to develop new businesses, than to get them dependent on us and then try and cut those ties later on.

Also, when a new church begins to meet, we have the new believers run all aspects of the meeting almost immediately. We disciple them outside of the meetings, but in the meetings we generally won’t do or lead something after about the third time the group gets together. This includes teaching. As long as we are properly discipling the converts, they should have something to teach right away. And after all, to teach something, you don’t have to know everything, right? You just have to know one thing.

By understanding our role as scaffolding, we are able to encourage, support, and disciple, without being the primary pastors or leaders. This allows new churches to quickly mature and become self-sufficient, rather than being weak and dependent on outsiders for years or even decades.