Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Missiology Page 1 of 10

Is the era of professional missionaries over?

A review of “Missions Disrupted” – Part 1

Larry Sharp definitely knows the mission world. He served with Crossworld (then Unevangelized Fields Mission) in Brazil for over two decades. In 1993, he returned to the USA and became the Vice President for the mission in the home office. He is now Vice President Emeritus and serves as a business consultant for Crossworld. Prior to leaving his executive role with the mission agency, he founded IBEC Ventures. This organization focuses on serving missional professionals who want to engage in Business as Mission. He continues in a training role with IBEC to this day. I have met Larry in intermission gatherings and have known his siblings since my college days. So, when I heard that this seasoned missionary leader had written a book on the demise of the missions movement, I wanted to know what he had to say.

Many great BAM examples

missional professionals

The book is entitled “Missions Disrupted: From Professional Missionaries to Missional Professionals“. It focuses on how business professionals can extend the kingdom God in the world of business. In this valuable resource, Sharp gives us multiple succinct examples of missional business ventures. These ventures have proven effective in making disciples of the nations while at the same time addressing significant material needs in their local communities. I count 27 such case studies. They tell the stories of business professionals who have decided to use their skills to bless the nations. They are truly inspiring examples of both large-scale and small-to-medium-scale business start-ups, all with the goal of living out the Gospel in cross-cultural contexts.

teaching in another language

What I have learned about teaching in another language

David Benzel has served cross-culturally in both Russia and Ukraine for 30 years. After studying the Russian language in Kyiv, Ukraine, he and his wife moved to Khabarovsk, Far East Russia where he taught for more than a decade at the Far East Russia Bible College. Then in 2008, the Benzels moved to Kyiv and David began teaching at Kyiv Theological Seminary. In the early years in Russia, David taught with the help of a translator. But he has now been teaching and preaching in Russian without a translator for well over twenty years. David is highly respected as a teacher and as someone who loves God’s Word. He will be greatly missed as he transitions to life and ministry back in the United States this year. The SEND U blog editor asked David to share what he had learned about teaching in another language over these many years.

I was asked to share what I have learned about learning and teaching in another language. I can’t say if other approaches work or don’t work. In fact, I don’t know if God has used me because of my approach or in spite of my approach.

Biblical examples

Let me start by recognizing that our faith has a long history of teachers teaching in a language other than their native tongue. Much of the NT was written by non-native speakers of Greek. These non-native speakers were at different levels in their proficiency in communicating in Greek. Anyone who reads even a little Greek knows that John is much easier to read than Luke. Paul is much easier to read than Hebrews.

We also need to acknowledge that biblical leaders and teachers were not always confident in their mastery of a particular language. Even Moses felt he couldn’t communicate well in Hebrew, perhaps because of growing up in Pharaoh’s house.

organizational involvement
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

Resilience: What part does the organization play?

We have been discussing the need for resilience among cross-cultural workers. In the last post, we talked about how God develops resilience through suffering. But what is the mission organization’s responsibility in supporting their workers in these times of crisis and stress? How does the organization determine its level of involvement in caring for its missionaries?

These questions are not easily answered. Cross-cultural workers vary widely in their desire for and expectations of organizational involvement. Some only want their organization to provide receipts to their donors and make sure the missionary receives the support on a regular basis. Others want a full range of services, including health insurance, training, pastoral care, leadership, and supervision, conferences and retreats, risk assessments and security training, and IT support.

SEND International is one mission that has sought to better determine what level of organizational involvement it should provide for its members’ well-being. Here is the story of what one region in SEND has done to find answers to these questions.

A survey of field missionaries

In 2019 SEND International established a workgroup to study the feasibility of designing and implementing a regional “hub” structure for the Eurasia region. SEND had already worked in this part of the world for a couple of decades, but we wanted to strengthen the services we provided to our missionaries serving there. One of the mandates of the workgroup was to protect what works well in Eurasia (strengths) while improving what is not working well (gaps). To learn more about the strengths and gaps of our organization in this region, the workgroup created a questionnaire and a list of possible interviewees.

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.

Teaching and Learning: a review of two great books

Two great books on teaching and learning have been published in the last two years. They complement each other well. In 2020, Duane and Muriel Elmer’s The Learning Cycle: Insights for Faithful Teaching from Neuroscience and the Social Sciences was published by IVP. And this year (2021), Baker published Craig Ott’s Teaching and Learning Across Cultures: A Guide to Theory and Practice. The authors bring both extensive research and experience to the discussion of teaching and learning.

The Learning Cycle by Duane and Muriel Elmer

The Learning Cycle book

In a sense, this book is a capstone of Duane and Muriel Elmer’s writings and ministry.1 Many of Duane Elmer’s books have been foundational training materials for cross-cultural missionary service. See a review on this blog of one of his books, Cross-Cultural Servanthood. Duane created “the learning cycle” as part of his doctoral research at Michigan State University (p. 6). Subsequently, Muriel added the “barriers to change” to the cycle. Furthermore, they have both practiced the model throughout their teaching careers in various contexts. The insights from neuroscience do not dominate the text and come from “the more stable insights from the brain literature.” (p.11)

The Learning Cycle Model

mission drift

Avoiding Mission Drift – part two

I have been looking at how a non-profit organization can avoid mission drift. You can find Part One of this series at this link. My mission organization, SEND International, says our mission is “to mobilize God’s people and engage the unreached in order to establish reproducing churches.” Recently, we have adopted the theme of “kingdom transformation.” We want to broaden our ministries to more than just spiritual needs. In so doing, we want to strengthen our evangelism and church planting among the unreached. We are not in any way changing our mission statement.

Historical examples of mission drift

Nevertheless, as I noted in my previous blog post, this new theme raises the danger of mission drift. This has happened many times in the past. Organizations that were focused on one thing gradually changed until their work in no way matched what they originally set out to do. For example, the Puritans of New English who founded Harvard University stated it’s purpose in this way:

mission drift
Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

Avoiding Mission Drift

It happens every day. I have a project or task in mind, put it on my schedule, get started on it, but then get distracted. My thoughts and then my actions drift off in another direction and I begin to work on another project instead. The same thing can happen to organizations. We call it “mission drift.” We have a stated purpose, but we are no longer doing what we said we are going to be doing.

Boundary markers

Over the years, I have adopted a few tools to get me back on track through the course of the workday. Keeping track of how I use my time on Toggl is one such tool. See also my blog post on “Deep Work.” I have also developed a few warning signs or boundary markers to prevent me from permanently drifting off course. My personal mission statement and my job description are two really important boundary markers. I review my alignment with these documents every quarter. My monthly goals prominently featured on my to-do list is another such boundary marker. What are the boundary markers for a non-profit organization to avoid mission drift?

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