Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Missions Disrupted – Some more questions

A review of “Missions Disrupted” – Part 2

missional professionals

In my previous blog post, I began a review of Larry Sharp’s new book, Missions Disrupted: From Professional Missionaries to Missional Professionals. I noted that while I agree with much of what the book is saying about missions, I do have a few questions and cautions. In this post, I will continue to explain my concerns.

Negative view of church planting

I am mystified by Sharp’s apparent dislike of church planting.

However, if one looks at mission as being God’s endeavor, we will see ourselves as going with him into the world. It is first and foremost his work to make disciples, rather than the ecclesiastical framework of today’s missionary efforts, which focus on getting people into the church and on church planting, the mantra of nearly every missionary agency today. From the viewpoint of the rest of the world, this is proselytism and conversion and hardly what the term missio Dei has in mind.

Missions Disrupted, pp. 27-28.

As in the case of the “missionary” terminology, maybe Sharp is more concerned with the words we use than with the work of starting new churches.

Long-time mission agency leader and president of Peace Catalyst International, Rick Love, prefers to use the term “gospel planting” as more biblically accurate. He asserts that nowhere does the New Testament imply that we are to plant a church. He suggests that the term “church planting” implies that we bring the church from the outside.

Missions Disrupted, p. 34.

Nevertheless, in one of many examples of BAM in the center of the book, he notes that church planting occurred as a result of the business enterprise. But he is quick to clarify that this did not happen because the practitioners had a “church planting strategy”.1 (p. 106).

models of evangelism

Models of Evangelism

I needed a different model

I have never seen myself as an evangelist. Maybe that is a strange admission for someone who has been a cross-cultural missionary for more than 35 years. I enjoyed leading evangelistic Bible studies when I was a church planter in the Philippines. I found great delight in crafting and sharing a brief Gospel message at the end of each of our TESOL nights at the Central Baptist Church in Kyiv a few years ago. But just walking up to random strangers and initiating conversations about the Gospel has never fitted my personality. Nor did it seem particularly effective. My own distrust and avoidance of salesmen is probably part of the problem here. I would prefer a different model of evangelism.

My problem was further compounded by the amount of time I devote to interacting with other cross-cultural workers. The longer I have been in mission leadership roles, the fewer opportunities I have had to share the Gospel with those I meet on an ongoing basis. I needed a model that fit the new realities in my mission assignment.

As the years passed, my guilt due to my lack of evangelistic involvement prompted me to look for a different way of evangelizing. I thought maybe I should find a model that would play to my strengths in technology. I think I can also say that this was the leading of the Spirit.

collaborating prayer

Co-workers through prayer

Ukraine has been our home for the past 12 years. I would love to be back there now, if not for the ongoing military conflict in that country. But currently, we are back in Canada and we do not know when we will be able to return to our home in Ukraine. How can we continue to participate in ministry in Ukraine if we are located thousands of kilometers away? There are many good answers to that question. Some of them can be found on our mission organization’s webpage on Ukraine. In this post, I would like to focus on intercessory prayer.

Praying for Ukraine

For the past several months, my email signature has said “Pray for peace in Ukraine” with a link to our mission webpage. That webpage gives a couple of resources to guide our prayers for the crisis in that country. Using the PrayerMate app, I have been using the prayer list entitled “SEND 40 Days of Prayer for Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the World.” I also have a reminder set on my phone that dings a few times throughout the day to remind me to pray for Ukraine.

Many of you are also doing something similar. Frankly, I have been amazed at the number of people that have assured me that they are praying for Ukraine. I hope that we are not simply praying for a military victory for one side of the conflict or the other. My prayers are for the safety and spiritual resilience of the believers who have fled and those that remain. I pray that the vision of mobilizing Ukrainian believers to the unreached peoples of Eurasia and Europe will become reality. I pray that God will turn this horrible tragedy into something that will bless the world.

Do my prayers matter?

But is praying for people in another country, particularly if we don’t know them by name, all that significant a help? I mean, don’t the prayers of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters reach the throne of God with even more passion and urgency than my prayers? Why is it necessary that I also participate in this practice of presenting the needs of Ukraine before our loving and sovereign heavenly Father?

receptivity
Photo by Paz Arando on Unsplash

Should we go to the most receptive?

As a young missionary candidate about 40 years ago, I considered various countries as possible destinations for my future ministry. One of the main criteria I used was receptivity. I wanted to go to a place where the church was growing rapidly. I was attracted to the harvest. In a harvest field, I reasoned, there would be a greater need for training of national workers, which was the area of missions I was most interested in. So, I chose the Philippines and the lowland work among Roman Catholics in particular.

Experiencing the harvest

Given that I was still in my early 20’s when I arrived in the Philippines, I realized that I first needed some experience and credibility before I could begin training others. My wife and I enjoyed ten years of wonderfully fruitful years in church planting and training in the Philippines. We were part of the harvest. The Filipino people are amazingly hospitable and very receptive to the Gospel. The evangelical churches were growing so quickly that within a few years, I realized that the percentage of evangelicals in this country was going to surpass the percentage of evangelicals in my home country of Canada. I also came to understand that the Filipino church in the lowlands soon might not need expatriate trainers like myself.

In this journey, I came to understand the urgency and importance of going to those that are least reached. But it also became apparent to me that those who were least-reached were also most often the people groups that were not as receptive to the Gospel, at least not initially. It would not be as rewarding or fulfilling to serve in the places where the harvest had not yet begun. Working in places where there is limited receptivity can be very wearying and discouraging. Although our next ten years of serving in Far East Russia were also fulfilling in many ways, I experienced discouragement and a loss of heart there that was quite different from what I experienced in the Philippines.

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels

Finishing Well: Cheering the Next Runner

What would you think of a relay runner who went to the locker room right after completing his or her lap? Perhaps you would think the runner had suffered an injury or had some other health concern. Aside from that, we would question their relationship with the rest of the team. A healthy relay team recognizes that success depends on the performance of each runner. Therefore, each member of the team who has completed their leg stays on the field and cheers on the remaining runners. They stay off the track and cheer from the sidelines.

In this series, we have been using the analogy of a relay race for finishing well in a ministry assignment. So, how do we cheer those who follow us as we complete our ministry assignment? How do we keep from getting in the way of their performance? Our relationship with those who follow us in ministry shapes our cheering for them as they run their lap.

Relationships Matter

Yes, it would be strange for a relay runner to go directly to the locker room. Similarly, it would be tragic for church planters to cut off the relationship with the local church leaders who succeed them in leading the new church. Tom Steffen wrote:

The seventh and final component is determining how church planters can maintain good relationships after the phase-out. They work themselves out of a job, but not out of a relationship. Continued fellowship includes prayer, visits, letters of challenge and encouragement, sending other people to visit, and cautious financial assistance.

Tom Steffen, Passing the Baton, p. 18.
baton transfer

Finishing Well: Transferring the Baton

We are finally getting to the finishing part in our series on finishing well in a ministry assignment. In a relay race, transferring the baton is crucial to finishing well. For example, the US 4 x 100 meter relay team was disqualified in the 1988 Olympics for a late handoff. In a similar way, how we transfer responsibility and leadership defines to a large extent whether we finish well in a ministry assignment.

The incoming runner has the primary responsibility for the transfer of the baton. Specifically, he/she places the baton so that the outgoing runner can grasp it most efficiently. In a church planting assignment, the missionary is directly involved in the training of emerging leaders. However, in administrative assignments, there is usually less involvement in selecting a successor. Nevertheless, one can leave behind a “Policy and Procedure Guide” or a step-by-step manual for the next person filling that role. So, what characterizes a good transfer when we finish our ministry assignment?

The Transfer is Intentional

Throughout his book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting that Empowers, Tom Steffen emphasizes “a comprehensive, phase-out church planting model” (p 7). From the very beginning, the church planting team intends to transfer responsibility and leadership. In other words, this transfer plan guides the whole process of church planting.

Likewise, in an administrative role, we recognize that others will follow us in the role. We are intentional in passing the baton to those who follow us. Successfully transferring responsibility may include cross-training others in the office prior to our departure. 1Cross-training is the practice of training your people to work in several different roles,2 or training them to do tasks that lie outside their normal responsibilities (from Cross-Training – Team Management Skills From MindTools.com). Furthermore, putting together an up-to-date procedural manual will contribute to a smooth transfer. Of course, we also need to spend adequate time in the transition zone. More about that later.

running well
Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Finishing Well: Running Your Leg of the Race

Let’s continue thinking about finishing well in a ministry assignment. In our last blog post, we talked about receiving the baton well. So now we are running our leg of the race. We are now fully engaged in our ministry assignment. Furthermore, we have a working knowledge of our host language and culture. Yes, we will want to continue to grow in these areas as we serve. But it is now our turn to run well with the baton we have been given.

How we run our leg of the race will significantly impact finishing well. Of course, we want our ministry to further the progress of the gospel. We want to make a contribution to the contextualization of the gospel in our host culture, building on the progress of those who served before us. In the New Testament, Paul and the author of Hebrews use the race analogy to describe ministry and the Christian life. At the end of Paul’s life, he writes, “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). So, what gave him a sense of finishing well? I see four ways we can run like Paul to finish well.

We Run with a Clear Purpose

Paul’s life was guided by a clear purpose. We see this in passages such as Acts 20:24, 1 Corinthians 9:23, and Philippians 3:14. In Acts 20:24 he describes his life as “my course” (the same word translated in 2 Timothy 4:7 as “race”). Notably, Paul identifies his purpose as completing his God-given work of faithfully “testifying to the gospel of the grace of God.” This goal drives him forward.1 1 Cor 9:23, Phil 3:14 He is focused on the prize awaiting him at the finish line. Eckhard Schnabel writes in his commentary on Acts,

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