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Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Can we put too much emphasis on healthy teams?

Sometimes it seems as if most of my conversations with other missionaries are about teaming. To some extent that might be because I am facilitating two training courses for team leaders right now, and am preparing again to teach on teaming in our upcoming pre-field training. But the conversations go beyond interactions with my students. Missionaries tell me about their frustrations and joys with their previous and current teams. They share their dreams and desires for future teams. They compare their teams with teams of which they have heard in our areas. Particularly for our first-term missionaries, the quality of the teaming experience seems to be a major criterion for deciding where they will serve and whether they will continue to serve in a particular location.

As mission leaders, we can easily come to the conclusion that forming and nurturing healthy teams should be one of our top priorities to attract new workers and help current workers to flourish. There is no question that there is much that we can learn and improve in our mission teams. I am passionate about strengthening our mission teams and training team leaders.

But we also need to recognize that too much emphasis on teaming can be unhealthy. Dick Brogden in his Global Trends presentation at a recent Leadership Connexion workshop noted that teams can become the new missionary compounds.

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Book Review: Against the Darkness

How long has it been since you read a theology book? I lament that reading theology does not appear to be a priority among missionaries. In Mere Christianity, C .S. Lewis comments on the importance of theology and doctrine:

 . . . if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayer and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who have lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

Mere Christianity, Kindle loc. 1601.

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Book Review: Evangelism as Exiles

Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission As Strangers In Our Own Land by [Clark, Elliot]In March 2019 The Gospel Coalition published Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land by Elliot Clark. The Gospel Coalition does not publish a lot of monographs, so this one caught my attention. I had also been thinking a lot about Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (see earlier post). Clark has served a number of years in a central Asian country where Christianity is a very small minority, so he has lived as a stranger. The book is focused on the church in North America in light of its diminished standing in the public square. Often reflecting on his experience in central Asia, Clark encourages us to see ourselves as exiles and strangers in our own land.

The book draws principles from the book if 1 Peter.

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Exploring Spiritual Formation: Attitude

Strolling through gift shops one summer, my husband George and I spotted a T-shirt which said, “Sometimes I wake up Grumpy, other times I let her sleep.” Wise husband that he is, George did not buy the shirt. Alas, my husband is a happy morning person, and each morning presents a major challenge: how will I respond to my husband’s innate cheerfulness? Will love or grumpiness win the day?

It may sound like a simple problem to overcome, but feelings are tricky things. They often show up unbidden and, if left unexamined (and unchecked), may morph into attitudes. And habitual attitudes often result in character qualities displayed for the world to see.

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Who spurs on the missionary to love and good deeds?

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking about what it means for missionaries to be both disciples and disciple-makers. I recognized that we can easily make the mistake of assuming that at some point in our Christian life, we graduate from being disciples to become disciple-makers. But through an in-depth study of the Gospel of Matthew, it became clear to me that we never stop being a disciple of Jesus. We never graduate from his school of discipleship.

In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard said

First of all, it is clear that, if we would make disciples, we should be disciples. … To plan on making disciples, we need to know what one is and how people become disciples. We need to know these things by personal experience, as did the first generation of Jesus’ people. They had been made disciples. And we need to be standing in the position of Jesus’ students and co-workers, so that our efforts in making disciples will be appropriately guided and strengthened by him. They are, after all, to be his disciples, not ours. So we are, then, disciples in disciple making. We learn from Jesus how to make disciples as he did.”

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (p. 328). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

So what we can do practically to help one another continue to learn from Jesus? How do help one another be diligent students in Jesus’ discipleship school? Does each disciple just have to figure this out on their own? Or can we learn together in some way?

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Do the Work of an Evangelist

In Paul’s final charge to Timothy, he instructs him to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). The word “evangelist” only occurs three times in the New Testament: Acts 21:8 as a description of Philip, Ephesians 4:11 as one of the gifts to the church, and here in 2 Timothy 4:5. There is not enough data to conclude that there was a distinct office of evangelist in the New Testament. What is clear, though, is that the evangelist proclaimed the gospel. “Evangel” represents the Greek word for gospel. Speaking and living out the gospel was essential to Timothy’s and to our ministry.

In a 1992 article in Evangelical Quarterly, Alastair Campbell explores the meaning of “doing the work of an evangelist.” He examines each of the passages above. He notes that in each case the evangelist explained the Scriptures. Philip explained Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The evangelist in Ephesians 4:11 is one of the gifts to the church for equipping, building up the body of Christ towards maturity. In 2 Timothy 4:5 the work of an evangelist is mentioned in the context of Paul’s charge to Timothy to preach the word. Campbell concludes his study:

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Suffering for the Gospel without Shame

Most people want to avoid suffering. Yet, in this fallen world it is a reality of life. Suffering is a significant theme in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Commentator, William Mounce, writes, “the theme of suffering ties almost all of the epistle together” (Pastoral Epistles, 474). Each chapter of the letter has something to say about suffering. The suffering Paul writes about is suffering for the gospel associated with persecution.

Shame is often associated with suffering, but Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed when suffering for the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). How is it possible to suffer for the gospel without shame? It is by the power of God. Timothy’s sincere faith (2 Tim. 1:5) together with fanning into flame his spiritual gift (1:6) empowers him to not be ashamed. God has given us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1:7). Timothy can suffer for the gospel without shame because God’s power is displayed in the gospel. Paul writes to Timothy:

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