15 December 2009

That thing missionary speakers do

by Dan Phillips

Listening through John Piper's Desiring God on audiobook (which I've also read more than once), I heard the good brother go on and on about missions, urging... well, apparently, every reader to go out to The Mission Field. Piper particularly leaned on pressing the point of taking the Gospel to people who had never had a Gospel witness before.

This passion is expressed by Paul in Romans 15:20-21, where the apostle says "I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation,
but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.'"

And I wondered, as I always do when I hear such talk, "Why do missionary speakers so seldom tell of doing that?"

Here's what I mean. I remember the very first missionary speaker I ever heard as a Christian, 35-36 years ago. It was in a Bible Presbyterian church. They were talking about a mission in India. What do I remember them sharing? They shared about a tiger attack... and about teaching the kids to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

That's right: Indian kids, in India, learning the American flag salute.

Over the years, I've heard missionary speakers go on at length about visas, landing strips, diet, diseases, and various social projects.

One missionary talked about how important it was to regain what we had lost at the Reformation (!) — by which he meant monastic disciplines. You know, learning to be silent, to listen for God's extra-canonical voice in the stillness. We were too obsessed with the Bible, demanding that practices be found in the Bible.

(I talked with him afterwards to make sure I'd heard him right. I had. He was also a huge Blackaby fan. Surprise! Ideas have consequences, and horrible ideas have horrible consequences.)

The man did mention a boy becoming a Christian, but that was just in passing. It wasn't his focus.

What I have almost never heard a missionary talk about, in thirty-six years of churchgoing from both sides of the pulpit, is preaching Christ in foreign cultures, to people who had never heard of Him.

This has been consistent, in my experience. When people (like Piper) are trying to pressure folks to go "to the field" (i.e. not-America), it's all about preaching Christ to those who have never heard. But when I hear missionaries in church telling us what they actually do, it is virtually always about anything but that.

Why the disconnect?

It's an odd thing. I have the minority view that any church not located in Jerusalem is a missionary church. It isn't a "not where Christ has already been named" church, but it's still a mission. Those pastors and workers preach Christ all the time. When (say) folks like Ray Comfort share about their work, they don't talk about how hard it is to get a driver's license or how high taxes are. They relay stories about telling sinners of Christ, and pointing them to the Savior.

But when a missionary gets a pulpit... well, do you think I've just been in the wrong place? Almost always? For thirty-six-plus years, including Missions Week at Biola University? Has your experience been different from mine?

See, if I'm going to participate in some missionary endeavor, I'm going to ask myself some questions. One big consideration is going to be, "Why do you need to travel ___ thousand miles to do that? Aren't there people there, indigenous folks, already doing that? Wouldn't it be wiser just to send them money to do what they're already doing, than to relocate a person or a family to duplicate labor?"

One response might be that these tales of odd clothes and visas are meant to involve hearers in the details of the mission's work.

It seems to me however that, given the brief opportunity missionaries have, the time is better spent talking about preaching Christ to those who haven't heard. Isn't that what the mission is about? Are they doing that? It isn't supposed to be a travelogue, right? The goal isn't to inspire people to want to see the world, right?

Isn't a talk about preaching Christ to the lost likelier to stir Christian hearts to want to support a ministry that isn't merely building clean bathrooms or teaching English, but is actually preaching Christ?

This isn't an attack. It's a question, a thought, and a concern.

Discuss.

Dan Phillips's signature

97 comments:

David Rudd said...

"This isn't an attack. It's a question, a thought, and a concern."

and it's a great question, an important thought, and a concern that needs to be addressed!

well done, Dan!

Benjamin Nitu said...

Amen, Dan!

Carl Henry shared your concern: "The content of church proclamation is therefore not just anything and everything. The church's message to the world is not about the energy crisis, pollution, white or black power, detente, the Israeli-Arab conflict, ad infinitum. It is the very specific Word of God. The church is called to proclaim what God says and does. Unless it verbally articulates and communicates the revelation of God, the church has no distinctive right to be heard, to survive, or to even exist. Nor is the Christian minister anything and everything- a fund-raiser, marriage-counselor, pulpit orator, public relations specialist, ad infinitum. He is primarily the proclaimer of God's revealed Word. Unless he declares the revelation of God he has no unique vocational claim and standing."

SandMan said...

I do not have as extensive experience as you mention in your post. I think that my experience has differed from yours a bit, not in substance but in scope.

I have witnessed missionaries showing slides of this or that native of the country that was an orphan, or a runaway in (Philippines comes to mind right now, but I've heard others), who they shared the gospel with and now he is studying to be a Pastor and wants to plant a church in his hometown.

I am not countering your argument. It is a valid one and I have seen it plenty. And, I get weary of the cultural details, travel log, etc., too.

I think it speaks to the reputation the American Church likely has, and the broken system of missionary work that exists in some circles.

What I mean is that missionaries work hard for years in a foreign land encountering all of the difficulties (that you can recount from years of listening), and then many of them come home for a 1 year furlough only to go on a whirlwind tour of the U.S. with one 30 minute session at each church to try to make them "care" enough to contribute to the work financially. This is where the American church's reputation for loving entertainment may get the better of the missioinaries' sensibility. Can I grab them in with a story of the gospel being preached, or should I tell them a sensational story of tigers, or gypsies, or surviving machine gun toting jihadists, etc.?

This comment is getting so long... so sorry to everyone.

Last thing... more home missionaries gaining the majority of their support from their home church will "cure" most of this. They are your people, so you know what reigns supreme in their hearts, and you allow them to come home and furlough in one place without begging for cash. They can plug in to S.S. classes and encourage others to join the work as God leads, etc.

G N Barkman said...

You must be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I regularly hear missionaries talking mostly about preaching the gospel and seeing people coming to Christ by God's grace. We just finished "Missions Month" at our church, and conversion was definitely the major theme of the seven missionary presentations we heard.

Bob said...

Reading this causes me to appreciate all the more the terrific leadership at AABC, Lexington, KY. Our church is working to plant a church in Cordova in the Andes mountains of Peru. I know the names of people who have made professions of faith, seen video of a baptism in a mountain stream and hear regularly of the people who are being confronted with the Gospel. I really can't tell you much about local customs, currency or clothing that cannot be picked up from hearing the stories and seeing the pictures of the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. I am blessed in this. We're an imperfect church, but I've never seen another one that cherishes the Gospel like this one. I'm glad they continue to let me be a part of it.

Derek Joseph said...

Two thoughts (coming from a missionary, by the way, who sometimes speaks at churches)

1) I have heard many missionaries tell stories of conversions. I do think there may be a time/place thing going on here.

That said, given that the tendency is for doctrinally rigorous men with good understandings of regeneration to stay and pastor in the states and more 'passionate' (read: emotional) men to go to the field, I do wonder how many conversions are real at times.

The fact is that Americans want quick results and to be entertained by the missionary speaker. That leads to point 2...

2) If a missionary hasn't seen much as far as conversion is concerned, there is a fear that he'll be judged on the basis of his performance - as if he could cause conversion and missions didn't take a ton of time. Unfortunately, that fear is probably at least partially valid. So he gives in to the congregation's felt need to hear a fun story. And tiger attacks are entertaining.

Paul D said...

Aren't there people there, indigenous folks...? Wouldn't it be wiser just to send them money... than to relocate a person...?

I think this is a terrific question. Obviously, this is not always the case, but its got to be 99% of the case. I think the answer comes down to trust.

olan strickland said...

Interesting that you should bring this up Dan. We will be having an On Mission Celebration in February in the churches in my association. We do this once every five years. The last time we had it we had three different missionaries speak throughout the services of the day. Only one really had anything of any substance to say.

As a Southern Baptist, mostly all we get from missionary speakers is what you have described along with the added 850,000 prayed THE PRAYER.

It's like what Conrad Mbewey said about America sending missionaries to Africa claiming that so many thousands got saved and after the missionaries have left, "we can't find any genuine converts even with a telescope."

Kitch said...

Regarding "Why do you need to travel ___ thousand miles to do that? Aren't there people there, indigenous folks, already doing that? Wouldn't it be wiser just to send them money to do what they're already doing, than to relocate a person or a family to duplicate labor?" ... I recommend Dr. Robertson McQuilkin's article: http://www.missionsfestinternational.org/articles/article01.html

James said...

This is an excellent post. I am glad to hear that I am not the only one out there who feels the same. I suppose it's equally bad when you sign up for prayer letters and newsletters from missionary speakers. I have heard one or two great messages about the proclamation of the Gospel and even former PLO terrorists coming to know Christ, but...those are typically missionaries that pastor's don't want to give their pulpits to.

I am with you on this one, why do we spend so much money to send missionaries on expeditions and create a whole industry for 'tourist evangelism' when the money can be better used for those already there? You see this same mindset propagated in our youth programs when they are sent to Mexico to build an outhouse for the glory of Christ...

Thats another story...

olan strickland said...

Btw, some of the best missionary speakers I have ever heard have been at the True Church Conference in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

DJP said...

James: "You see this same mindset propagated in our youth programs when they are sent to Mexico to build an outhouse for the glory of Christ"

James, can o' worms. Can o' worms, James.

Derek Joseph said...

As for funding indigenous people - that's great. In places where there are indigenous people. Don't forget that there are still over 6000 unreached people groups - with no indigenous witnessing church.

Why this isn't one of the highest priorities of every local church and missions agency is beyond me.

DJP said...

Obviously I'm not speaking of funding indigenous people where there are no such people to fund. Or, I hope it's obvious. But (to take James' example) there aren't Mexicans in Mexico who can build the outhouse for 1/5472th of what it'd cost to send someone down.

Phil said...

The post has that uncomfortable ring of truth to it which tells me it's got a very good point to it.

I wonder if it's because the social gospel has become Christ's gospel, ala the Manhattan Declaration, to the point we can no longer tell the two apart. "I'm going to preach Christ by not mentioning the Bible but showing love!"

Associate-to-the-Pastor said...

Olan beat me to it by pointing out the conference Muscle Shoals. Also check out HeartCry Missionary Society, which is a ministry of that same church. Paul Washer was an IMB missionary to Peru who founded HeartCry, and I have heard him say the exact same thing. Paul became famous/infamous for some YouTube clips of his sermons. However, HeartCry is a fantastic organization which takes what you are saying seriously by primarily training indigenous missionaries while also sending Americans overseas. Many times they send pastors over to train the indigenous workers, and I know they have sent at least one guy (Romanian I believe) through Southern in order to train him.

HSAT, I do enjoy some of the other stories. I think they should spend more time talking about the 'Main Thing' and then tell stories afterward.

ff4Christ said...

Somebody has probably already said it, one exception: Paul Washer.

Kurt said...

Dan, this is exactly what I've been pondering of late. I've know people who claim to have been "called" to go and be "missionaries" in a faraway land, but when I ask them what they actually want to DO, they want to teach English, help the poor, tend the sick, etc., but the main focus doesn't seem to be preaching the gospel to the lost. Instead of a heartfelt desire to save souls, it seems to be motivated by the excitement of moving to an undeveloped, exotic place for the sake of filling a perceived non-spiritual need (although I grant that such non-spiritual needs can aid the meeting of spiritual needs, e.g. literacy enables the reading of tracts and the Scriptures).

While I understand the above ambitions (all noble and necessary facets of Christian ministry to the world, I hasten to add), why call it "missionary" work if evangelizing isn't the central, driving goal? The reply seems to be to an appeal to a broader definition of "missionary" than I would subscribe to. But then, maybe I'm confusing the word "missionary" with "evangelist." But then, I don't think the word "missionary" can be found in the scriptures, either. Maybe this is part of the problem.

On a related note, I've never personally been on a "missions trip," but it's interesting to talk to people who went on them or want to go on them. Usually the go to build something, "love on" some orphans, "develop closer relationships with the global church," or help with a vacation Bible school. This isn't always the case, of course, but these usually expensive, time-consuming trips seem somewhat uneconomical to me, as well.

On the flip side, I have heard from lots of missionaries in our church who are actively evangelizing the natives as well as building and overseeing the development of the church in foreign lands. In many of these cases, the Christian nationals seem to be doing a lot of the front-line evangelism, with the American missionaries doing training in the Scripture and church planting and administration until the fledgling church can stand on it's own feet with a trained national pastor. These activities seem to be part of Paul's modus operandi, and thus included in the role of "missionary."

On a related note, I'd love to hear about the missionary who went to his local pagan temple and disputed with the local philosophers and religious leaders. Anybody know of areopagus-style evangelism happening overseas?

Finally, Dan, are there any Team Pyro posts on the differences between Paul's apostolic missionary work and today's non-apostolic missionary work?

Everyday Mommy© said...

"Aren't there people there, indigenous folks, already doing that? Wouldn't it be wiser just to send them money to do what they're already doing, than to relocate a person or a family to duplicate labor?"

This is why our family gives to Gospel for Asia, which allows you to directly sponsor Native missionaries.

Why Native Missions?

mike said...

speaking from personal experience only, and not to project this onto anyone elses church...
i am fairly involved in the taking of people to mexico to build outhouses style ministry, because in the community i live in our churches are as great a mission field as Mexico.
we take people to get them (hopefully) to see and hear that the economy of man (especially californian man) is not in alignment with the economy of God.
then it is between them and God.

we preach the gospel to the ones we bring, and allow the Mexican pastors who we work with to preach to the Mexican people.

DJP said...

Kurt, I think many of the same things.

I also noted this when I was at seminary: many or most of those who intended to go to The Field were not, themselves, involved in evangelism right where they already were.

Chuck said...

I don't disagree with your observations, but I tend to think there are a couuple of dynamics behind what any of us may hear from missionaries.

1. If you are in a "calvinistic" church of any kind, there may be a general mindset that wants to avoid the appearance of the Arminian tendency to boast about their ministry in terms of conversion or baptism statistics. Some people are highly suspicious of claims that sound like, "We had 10 people accept Jesus last month."

2. The other major reason, I think, is that most Americans are largely/mostly curious to know "what is it like over there? What are the people like? What is your typical day like?" Sad to say, but most people "here" might be a little bored if the missionary just said, "We've been teaching through the Gospel of John and the WCF this year... and, so far we have 10 people that keep showing up to listen."

I'm sure this doesn't totally explain your observation, but I think it is a part of the explanation.

Citizen Grim said...

Everyday Mommy - thanks for posting that link. I've been keeping my eyes open recently for a good missions organization that targets Asia and the Middle East in particular, with a significant reliance on local/native missionaries, and that looks like just what I had in mind!

Dan - I think the last two chapters in Desiring God (Missions and Suffering) are the best in the entire book.

Anyway, my cousin and her husband are missionaries in Grenoble, France. They live in a neighborhood with a large Muslim population, and it's greatly encouraging to hear how they have been successfully reaching with the gospel everyone from jaded French communists to devout Algerian Muslims. One of the most surprising things is how little knowledge of Christ otherwise educated, middle-class French people have - it's next to nothing. They're practically an unreached people group in their own right.

maddog said...

I don't wonder if part of the problem is that many missionaries are "sent" by churches who don't preach the gospel themselves. Preaching the true gospel in America is almost as much of a need as preaching it in a foreign land. The argument could be made that a great number of Americans have never heard the actual gospel, either.

Sir Aaron said...

Dan:

I can't really share your experiences. My church, which is very much concerned about local evangelism, also supports two groups of missionaries (or rather helps to support them). We have one missionary family in England and one family who is reaching native tribes in Venezuela. We get regular e-mail updates, and have heard the UK missionary speak on rare occasion. I've never had the experience you speak of. Almost 100% of their discussion is about sharing the gospel and discipling new believers in their chosen mission fields.

That said, such work is often extremely slow and laborious. As such, sometimes the most visible and immediately apparent result of the mission field is building buildings, feeding the poor, etc. I think this is especially true in areas where you must learn some rare language just to share the gospel.

Frankly, in my experience, sharing the gospel with strangers you'll never see again is easy. Sharing with family, friends, and co-workers is much more challenging. When I travel overseas, I'm bold like Stephen. But when I'm at home, I'm like Peter just before the rooster crows.

Tom Chantry said...

I do think you may have always been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Among confessional Reformed Baptist Churches I have never heard any missionary talk about anything but gospel work. Likewise in seminary I had the opportunity to visit (along with a missions class) an Presbyterian missionary in Tiajuana, and all he talked about was recognizing the distinct challenges to gospel preaching in every culture and attacking them with the gospel.

The modern missionary movement was an almost entirely Reformed movement at its inception (the only early exception being the Moravians), which is an interesting commentary on Arminian criticism of Reformed theology. Reformed missions have always focused on three phases: preaching the gospel, building churches, and training indigenous leaders for those churches. Modern evangelicalism, however, has allowed the concept of missions to be defined by mainstream liberalism. The result is a missionary corps that is something like a baptized Peace Corps - long on social work, short on gospel.

Nonetheless Reformed churches continue to engage in gospel-oriented mission work throughout the world. The one missionary that our church has been blessed to support writes letters every month about preaching the gospel in villages where Christ has not been named. Over the course of a lifetime of ministry he has seen dozens of churches planted and has trained many indigenous pastors to take up the work which he has begun. That model of missions is exactly what the Reformed churches of old considered biblical, and it is still carried out in some circles.

The pressure is great, however, to allow the “mission” to drift into social work: building roads and hospitals. Evangelicalism at large has so focused on this type of mission work that it requires fortitude and determination for a church to sharpen its focus on gospel work.

We are seeing wonderful work of God in America through which so many evangelical churches are coming to a Reformed understanding, but this is an area in which churches must still reform. It is one thing to have a Reformed (gospel-oriented) ministry at home, but we require also a commitment to Reformed (gospel-oriented) ministry in the mission field.

Sir Brass said...

mike, that's BRILLIANT! Wonderful, in fact. And honestly, the "We built these roads and loved on these orphans" stories bore me to tears.

If I am listening to a missionary on MISSIONS, then tell stories about the lost men that God brought to salvation and the extraordinary story of their conversions that you [the missionary] were privileged to be a witness to.

Tom, good to hear, actually. I see the same pattern at my church (unsurprising considering my church is a confessionally reformed baptist church, 1689), and while I was still ignorant that how we did things was more widespread than I knew, I thought, "now THAT'S a good way to do missions."

Funny how our EFFECTIVE tactic of training indigenous guerrilla fighters mirrors the reformed method of missions. Our Green Berets are primarilly trainers, training indigenous people to fight and to convince them to fight for us (USA). Funny how the image of them now is more Rambo (which is a bit more like modern evangelicalism is on missions: WE AMERICANS have to do this ARRRGH!). Which model is seen as strategically smart, and which is strategically ridiculous. Our own military (when looking at the history of Special Forces) has a smarter sense on how to communicate effectively with people we want to work with than most modern evangelical missionaries do.

JG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JG said...

I agree. Far too little is said about domestic "missions." My church, a very missions-minded church traditionally, talks about foreign missions all the time - and if that is genuinely where God has called an individual or family, then yes, they should absolutely follow it. However, never in my life have I heard a message about answering God's call to pastoral ministry. Why is that, and how do you think that has affected the current crop of pastors - and subsequently, the flocks they lead?

Tynes Tales said...

My experience with missionaries is independant baptist and the WBF. I know many of them personally and not only in the pulpit but in their personal conversations they speak of winning souls, baptising them, training them and developing them into a local N. T. church. They talk of the natives taking over the churches as Sunday School Teachers' Deacons and yes even as Pastors. They talk about these churches sending missionary throughout the world and even occasionaly to the U. S. I have watched many of these missionaries over the years and they are consistant. This is true missions and the reason we should do it is the command and example from the N. T.

Matt said...

DP, there is a lot of truth to the question you are posing. I did have a recent exception to the 'rule.' This past weekend our church had Rosie Martinez, a missionary to Mexico city share about the ministry in Mexico city during the Sunday school hour. What followed for an hour was an abundance of stories about Roman Catholic women who she's been evangelizing hearing the gospel and some coming to faith in the Lord. She was invited to teach a bible study with 20 Roman Catholic women and is now mostly attended by gospel-believing sisters (through conversion) who keep bringing their RC friends. Story after story continued of conversations with RC woman hearing the gospel. Even her doctor has been converted through her speaking the gospel to Him! When she goes back she plans on being part of a team to bring the gospel to street kids. So there are missionaries out there doing gospel work. Hope this is an encouragement.

David said...

My $.02:

The word "missionaries" is too broad a label for what the church sends.

There is nothing at all wrong with sending a doctor to another country to heal people. Or a team of kids to build an outhouse. But do we expect a doctor or a team of kids to be a faithful preacher of the gospel?

But God gave some as evangelists. Not all. And no matter how many times we say, "We should all be evangelists!" God said "some." That means that we should be what we are, and not what we are not.

stratagem said...

I do regularly see and hear missionaries who are presenting on their actual evangelistic work. I wonder if some of what you've experienced might be specific to some segment of evangelicalism?
Or, maybe it is because the missionaries generally only come to present in order to raise support in the first place, so they tend to focus on the things that take money, such as building projects, water projects, etc.?

Sir Brass said...

David, we're all evangelists in the sense that we have been given the great commission and we are to ALL have a defense for the hope that is within us.

BUt yes, only SOME were called as THE Evangelists.

David said...

If everyone is special, then no one is special.

Maybe if we stop saying that everyone is an evangelist (which, where does it ever say that [in specific terms] in the Bible?), then we can better go about our business as doctors, musicians, and outhouse builders to the glory of God, even in lands afar.

And those whom God gives as evangelists can go about evangelizing without being hindered by those Christians who don't know their gospel from a hole in the ground.

DJP said...

Matt, that's a terrific tale of a terrific ministry.

Rachael Starke said...

The comments about youth groups and outhouses and missionaries working in pagan temples reminded me of a defining missions trip I took while in the College department at Grace Community to encourage a small evangelical church in Salt Lake City. As part of our trip we took a guided tour, with other tourists, of the Mormon Temple (no one knew we were Christian "missiionaries" - yet). During the tour, we stopped at a statue of "Jesus" and listened to some audio from John's gospel. Then, our tour leader invited some of us to "share our thoughts and feelings" about what we'd just heard, and offered the mike to one of the guys from our group, who providentially happened to be a student at TMS. He smiled, took the mike, and spoke firmly and loudly about the statue being a violation of the second commandment and the dangers of taking God's name in vain by using His words to preach a false gospel.

The tour guide went white as a sheet, and murmured something about "people often have very different responses - thank you for sharing." Then we were quietly ushered off on our own "private" tour, and when more questions and confrontations with truth ensued, we were escorted off the premises.

Best. Missions. Trip. Ever. :) It ignited a hatred for the false gospel of Mormonism and a love for people ensnared in it that I have to this day.

So I concur with David et al on missions/evangelism being kind of an umbrella term for all kinds of work to advance the gospel. But, I do agree that a lot of missionary speakers can get caught up in the tangential elements of their work, which then leads to kids and others going "Cool! I want to wear sparkly robes and eat crunchy bugs for Jesus too one day!"

stratagem said...

When church-goers start supporting Christian doctors, musicians, and outhouse-builders (rather than just evangelists) who go overseas, then I suppose those folks won't feel it necessary to pretend that they are also evangelists in addition to whatever it is they are actually called to do?

David said...

I recall Dr. Richard Stagg, a missionary doc to Bangladesh, preaching/testifying at our church from John 1, "there was a man sent from God whose name was..." and then he named a Bengali convert and told his story. He told the stories of at least a half dozen converts. It wasn't great exegesis, but it was memorable. That was at least 30 years ago, and I was a child. I have often wished to hear more of this from missionaries.

SandMan said...

"...hindered by those Christians who don't know their gospel from a hole in the ground.

Isn't that the thing they build the outhouses over?... oh, never mind.

Seriously though, I hear what you are saying... but if I am reading you right, I disagree.

It sounds like you are saying that unless I am ONE of the elected evangelists, then sharing the Gospel is not my problem. I think you probably do not mean that, but that is how you are coming across. It is true that some are uniquely gifted to evangelize... like others are gifted to show mercy, etc. Obviously, the rest of us do not get a free pass on showing mercy if that is not our particular gift.

donsands said...

"Has your experience been different from mine?"

For the most part yes. My missionary friends in Nepal have been sharing the Gospel with Nepali people who have never heard the name Jesus.

In Katmandu there are many churches my frind tells me, but they are not Gospel focused, and the pastors are taking in the money from the Western churches who send the money, and then preach how they are saving many souls in Nepal.
It's a mess.
And yet the lord is saving souls in Nepal as well. But the churches in the big city need to have missionaries who understand the Gospel and preach it to the congregations there.

I have a friend in China as well, and she is in an area that is overwhelming Muslim.

I have friends in Indonesia who are alos sharing the Gospel with a tribe that has never heard the Gospel. They are living there and translating the Bible into their language.

There certainly are many who go through the missionary motions, and what a shame. Perhaps from presssure, they try to impress their denomination? I don't know.

Good subject to post on. Thanks.

John said...

You've been in church longer than I have been alive, but in my church all we ever have is gospel-freak missionaries. In fact, it seems like most of the time I want to hear more about the culture, becaue all they talked about was the frustration of going through language school and not knowing the language well enough to share the gospel. Not as sexy as being chased by cannibals, but effective gospel work. On the other hand, do we as churches ask our missionaries to present gospel work? Or do we set up missions conferrences with special booths for snake-skins and bows and arrows, and shaman trinkets?

Interestingly, my word verification is "amencend" - a homophone for "amen, send". What do the Blackabys think about that?

David said...

This is what I love about you guys, your willingness to say what I have been curious about on so many topics. However, given that I have no theological 'training' and have no followership, I look like mean spirited cynic if I say such.

DJP said...

David - I run the risk, so you don't have to.

(c;

stratagem said...

John - what is a "gospel-freak" missionary? I didn't quite understand that. Tks.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

It's a good question... but I've seen the other side. I've just been reading our friends' blog. (They're missionaries in Zambia. If you're interested, www.aliveinafrica.com )

Yes, there are often things on the blog that are daily life things... their kids get sick frequently, they're adopting an orphan and the legal red-tape is exhausting, the dad is hard of hearing, and most of the family has celiac, so eating is challenging, cobras turn up in the yard, etc.

BUT, he (Steve) is there primarily to strengthen and train Zambian pastors. He's teaching them to do inductive Bible study, to do expository preaching, and training them to use LOGOS on donated computers.

And earlier this month they (the ministry team) took several of these pastors out into the bush to a place called Chikinkata (and I probably spelled it wrong), to several villages - some of which had never heard of Jesus. The goal being to share the gospel, to evangelize, and to try to identify any potential elders with the hope of planting churches.

WOO-HOO!

And I received an email from other missionary friends in Papua, who are nearing completion of translating the New Testament into the Kimyal language.

They're proclaiming the gospel... but it took years of what might appear to be "non-gospel" effort alongside of preaching the gospel to create a written language and teach people to read it!

I'm with you on the tragedy of neglecting the gospel to be a do-gooder. But... when Amy Carmichael was criticized for spending so much time taking care of children she rescued she said, "One can't save and then pitchfork souls into heaven...Souls are more or less securely fastened to bodies... And as you can't get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together."

I agree that things like teaching kids the American flag salute has not purpose in furthering the gospel, but some things are part of the process.

Stefan said...

Dan (or anyone else who can answer):

Please forgive me for this tangential comment, but it is spurred by something Dan wrote.

Where does that idea of the "still, small voice" come from? 1 Samuel 19:12? And even if so, why that phraseology?

Steven said...

Thanks Dan for kicking me off my soapbox so that you could stand on it a while.

Not long ago during a Sunday morning service my pastor showed a video (different soapbox, but nonetheless . . .) of a local missions opportunity to feed homeless people here in my hometown. The couple in the video that were pitching the "missions" opportunity said that one of their main goals to was to "be able to share a Coke" with the homeless. Never in the pitch was there any mention of preaching the gospel.

My opinion is if a group of atheist would join us in a church mission trip then we are not doing missions; we are doing social work.

Steven

olan strickland said...

Well, if the missionaries that are coming to share with us in February do "that thing missionary speakers do" then I am going to plug in and play EE TAOW! The Mouk Story from New Tribes Mission.

Kyle Mann said...

@Olan:

Just showed that to a study I teach on Wednesday nights. I tear up every time, despite the cheeseball production.

Jim Pemberton said...

There is a benefit to international missions: "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household."

Also, it is my observation that Americans have no idea how abnormal our society is compared to most of the rest of the world. While it's true that we have vastly influenced the other cultures of the world so that there is an atmosphere of western culture in most places, Americans don't know how spoiled we are. Unfortunately, the Bible is more understandable when you experience some the poverty, harshness, lack of order, and lack of privacy in much of the rest of the world. Western culture has blinded us to much of the truth in the Bible.

While many American missionaries a generation ago (and even many today) were theologically ill-suited for mission work, they were likewise ill-equipped to communicate their work in the culture where they found themselves to congregations who had no common frame of reference.

Properly prepared, even short-term missionaries will benefit from the immersion in one of the more typical world cultures. But there is still the challenge of culturally translating their work into a presentation that an American congregation can understand.

So mere social ministry without the presentation of the gospel and discipleship of Christians is by no means worthy to be considered a fulfillment of the Great Commission. However, in too many places, the need is so great that you can't go in without meeting some need and bearing the gospel through through the significant development of relationship with the local people.

For example, the Yukpa Indians in Venezuela are a difficult people group to reach. The missionary couple my wife and kids got to work with there have been proclaiming the gospel to them, but they only earn the respect of the people as they join in with the daily life and work of the people. Even then, it took 4 years to be able to share the gospel the first time. (What did the missionaries tell people they were doing after the third year?) Now, several have come to faith, but most have not. It's an extremely slow process, but one well worth undergoing if only for a handful of brothers and sisters in Christ.

stratagem said...

Good points, Jim. Those might be some legit reasons why a missionary isn't sharing all the gospel preaching they are doing: In muslim countries, you aren't allowed to share the gospel, for instance, so it has to be done very slyly. "Preaching" it? Openly? Forgeddaboudit.

olan strickland said...

@ Kyle:

Amen Kyle! If that doesn't light your fire then your wood is wet!

Michael said...

Postmodernism also affects the mission movement, and to some extent this happens independent from and outside the awareness of the sending church.

Many "evangelical" (and that's still a good word in Australia) missionaries no longer talk about preaching the gospel. It's all 'incarnational'

I heard one person organising a trip of young people talking about it in terms of we are going to Thailand to be Christ to them. Not to preach Christ but to be Christ.

That's a huge shift in missiology being reflected there.

You are not going to come home and talk about gospel preaching when it's not at the core of what you aim to do there.

In short I strongly suspect that some missionaries don't talk too much about gospel preaching because they don't do much of it anymore.

Michael Hutton,
Ariah Park, NSW

Tom Chantry said...

Stefan - the wording "still, small voice" comes from I Kings 19:12 - in the KJV. It is one of the most variously-interpreted and applied comments in the narrative Old Testament. (What is the "still, small voice"?)

Michelle said...

Stefan, it is 1 Kings 19:12, "a still small voice" (KJV).

John MacArthur has an audio clip answering the question "Does God give us personal direction through a still small voice?"
www.gty.org/Resources/Questions/QA001

Michelle said...

Oops, didn't see Tom's reply.

NewManNoggs said...

hmm. Sounds like church growth, worldly marketing strategizing to me. JK

There are a few points in here I would like to make a comment on.

Firstly, I have to say, I have heard that very talk - many times. And, yes, missionaries probably would be more effective in raising funds, if they spoke about gospel proclamation and conversions. However, I know these guys. They are not professional fundraisers. I can say that, because I am a professional fundraiser. Maybe they need to be told that it's okay to "sell" a little; that “selling” is not necessarily evil. That informing people about the aspects of your work they are most interested in and offering them an opportunity to support that work is not prostitution. We, as Christians, want to hear that the gospel is being proclaimed and that people are being saved. We, as donors, want to know our giving to the Kingdom is going to Kingdom building work. ‘nuff said.

Secondly, am I the only one that walks away from one of these Piper sermons feeling like I’m totally failing Christ by being a father and husband and working at my 9-5 job in American working-class opulence? I mean, every time I hear him do one of these types of sermons, I want to tell my wife, “let’s go to the mission field, we’re wasting our lives!” ‘nuff said.

Lastly, thanks for making the point that I can throw 20 rocks in every different direction and I will hit a non-believer, and not only that, a non-believer who has never heard the true gospel before, and not only that, but a non-believer who has only misconceptions and straw men to reference when the subject of Christ comes up. I was 37 before I heard the gospel. We have a great big, fat (obese?) mission field right here at home. ‘nuff said.

I hope I can say all that and still have it be understood that I support missions and missionaries.

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

Sorry, Michelle, but MacArthur's answer is vague and nonsensical at the end...

Basically he says the Holy Spirit can impress things on our mind/heart, but we can't know for sure if they are from the Holy Spirit until much later!?!?

Nice try.

Jim Pemberton said...

Tom, I haven't checked out the MacArthur material but I wouldn't have a problem with your summary of a closing statement of his if I understand you correctly.

As an example, I doubt few new believers yet have the idea that their new faith came from the Holy Spirit. And while we live on this side of the judgment, there are surely many things that the Holy Spirit sets up in our hearts throughout our lives that we don't have a thought of him doing at the moment. He is, after all, in the business of constantly growing us and building us into a spiritual house, many of the means of which, including our own hearts, we only vaguely perceive as though observing the world through a polished, beaten, metal mirror obliquely.

TAR said...

Good thought piece.. usually when lay people go on missions they do some physical work in a church plant and then sight see.

As for the regular missionaries, one missionary wife visiting my daughter in laws church in the twin cities was telling the women how she was missing the housekeeper and gardener she has on the mission field..

My daughter in law now wonders exactly what is the sacrifice that many are making?

My PCA is planning a "missions trip " to Mexico.. meanwhile back at our church we are bleeding members.

Go figure

DJP said...

My PCA is planning a "missions trip " to Mexico.. meanwhile back at our church we are bleeding members.

Go figure


Word.

thog said...

There are definite dangers to just sending money and let the indigenous people do it. There are a lot of people who figure the system out quickly. It becomes a means to a paycheck. In parts of Africa and India, the Church has been crippled because they think they can't do anything without overseas funds. (there are also a lot of Godly, men and women there, doing God's work- don't want to give the wrong impression)
So yeah- if your just building an outhouse, you could probably just send money (but even that is a more complex issue than you might think, because of dependency issues). But American M's can provide valuable training and direction. I am an M in an area I won't disclose. I have had some people I directly shared the Gospel with say they believed. None of these have taken baptism, most of them have disappeared. The nationals I train and work with are much better at eveangelism with their own people. And the training we have helped them with has led to an exponential increase of people coming to Christ and churches being planted.
I always like to talk about what God is doing when we speak at churches we talk very little about culture except as it relates to difficulties or opportunities in people coming to Christ, but we usually have a question and answer time and it is rare to get a question about the work. Instead, it is about food, clothes, weather, stores, etc.
All that to say - good questions, no easy answers.

candy said...

William Carey was compelled to go to India despite opposition from other Christians. Not only were there no converts for the first seven years, he suffered through financial hardships, his wife was mentally ill, and he seemingly saw no fruit for a long time. His was a holistic ministry. Not only did he preach/teach, he taught methods of agriculture/botany, and fought against certain customs that were horrendous in the Indian culture, such as widows being burned in pyres alongside their deceased husbands. He was an incredible influence in Indian society and drastic changes were made because of his influence.

I think we have to understand that God may call Christians to other countries in his sovereignty, and He may require some of us to minister in our own neighborhoods. Are we faithful to evangelize in our sphere of influence before we criticize someone else for traveling elsewhere to evangelize or even build an outhouse? Perhaps building an outhouse will be the very thing that triggers a love for sharing the Gospel in a young person.

Kathy said...

Another recommendation: Partners International (http://www.partnersintl.org) is a missions organization that ministers in the least Christian regions of the world (i.e. Middle East, Asia and Africa) through Christian nationals who have integrity, effective ministries, and a passion to share the Gospel. They sometimes use a holistic witness such as building hospitals and reservoirs, but the Gospel is always preached.

They are an organization that has been around for over 60 years and has great accountability and integrity. We have supported their national missionaries and joined with them in a couple of short-term missions. I would highly recommend PI as an organization worthy of support.

Our church gives a few missionaries full or nearly full support. This frees them up to do what they want to do most, which is to share the Gospel overseas.

We also have a few short-term missions trips each year, but they involve sharing the Gospel directly (even on a building project), and they usually work with our missionaries or churches who will be able to do followup.

The hope is that from all those who go on short-term teams there will be some who sense the call to be full-time missionaries, and those who don't will have an increased desire to pray and give to mission work, so the investment is seen as worth it.

donsands said...

"William Carey..." -Candy

He's a hero of the faith. A good example for sure.

And yet there is the going through the motions missionary stuff, that will most likely always be with us.

I have met genuine missionaries, and when I have, I always have been encouraged, and humbled. They have a real love for God, and a fervent love for the lost. They understand the Gospel of grace in its depth and beauty, because they know how sinful they are.
They have the gift of an evangelist, which is given from the Lord to the church (Eph. 4:11).

Ian said...

"it's all about preaching Christ to those who have never heard. "

Where are these places? Where hasn't Christ already been named? Honest question.

The Doulos said...

Dan, I've seen and heard missionaries on both ends of this spectrum. And based on which end of the gospel ministry < > no gospel ministry continuum they fall, I support them (or don't). The best ones explain the cultural context, the challenges of living and ministering in the location they have been called to, etc - and then talk about how the gospel is being proclaimed and bearing fruit in spite of those challenges.

Stefan said...

Tom and Michelle:

Thanks for your replies.

Dan:

Chalk my church up as one that does Gospel-centered missions work as well—and pastoral training, to raise up local teachers.

Paul said...

My old church must have 15-20 "Partners in Mission".

Of these, around 6 of them are frontline teaching, evangelising, church planting types. The majority are (at least primarily) meeting social needs somewhere hotter than rainy England.

donsands said...

"Where hasn't Christ already been named?"

The 10=40 window has great need for the Gospel to be proclaimed. http://www.joshuaproject.net/10-40-window.php

I know a missionary family who is living with a tribe of people in Indonesia who have never heard the Gospel, up until now.
I would say for the most part, most people groups in this 10-40 area have heard about Jesus, but are still considered unreached for other reasons.
I'm not an expert, but the website does have a lot of the details.

Jim Pemberton said...

"Where hasn't Christ already been named?"

donsands, the 10-40 window is a great example.

Another one is in the mountains of Nepal. We have a few gents that have gone a few times to hike the Annapurna trail north of Pokhara. There are many short-termers who do this, but they rarely leave the trail. There are countless hundreds of villages off the trail that have never heard the gospel.

The first trek our team made they noticed trails leading off the main trail and asked their guide about them and ended up going up one to the village there. The chief of the village came out to meet them and when he heard that they had brought a message from God, he came with a special piece of fabric which he used to handle the Bible presented with great care. Then the team began to share from it the gospel of Christ. These people had never heard the gospel before and were amazed at the teaching. I don't know how many trusted Christ then, but the word is now in one little village among so many others that have never heard.

greglong said...

Hmmm...

Dan, I can't really identify with your experiences. The vast majority of the missionary reports I can remember involved sharing information about efforts to share the Gospel, people who have trusted Christ, and people for whom to pray.

DJP said...

Wellsir, Greg, I'm happy for you and everyone else whose experience is like yours.

Mine's been consistently different.

John said...

Good post Dan!

Much of this has already been pointed out in other comments however, I might add that there is an increasing "push" by many churches for people to go on a short-term mission trip. Not having been on one myself, I'm not going to judge the motive or hearts of those who have however, just a few observations...

I've been to churches where adults and/or youth come back from these short-term (1-2 wks) mission trips to S.America, Mexico, pureto Rico, etc. and they will have "Missions Sunday" to share their exerience.

They share about the work they did, building houses, talking or playing with the children or planting gardens. They talk about the extreme conditions or maybe even about the local churches in that region and the orphans they take care of. But, they have rarely spoke of actual Gospel sharing examples. Again, I'm not saying it doesn't happen and, I'm not saying it's not a nice thing to help poor people BUT, I am saying that there seems to be more emphasis on the SOCIAL GOSPEL rather than the Gospel that saves.

One reason for this could be the lack of Gospel preaching in our own American churches. People who believe themselves to be Christians because they raised their hand or asked Jesus into their hearts. Never having really heard the Gospel preached, they respond to the emotion of the moment and then decide to do good works by helping poor children in tropical places. They bring back tearful stories and plenty of photos & video to show those who didn't go as sort of a way of saying, "Hey, look at me and what I did". The chuch even honors these Weekend-Warrior missionaries during the Sunday service.

I'm not saying what they did was wrong. I'm not saying lives were not touched but I am saying there should be more emphasis on the Gospel and less on the social stuff.

Perhaps if Pastors here in America would preach more Gospel, there would be more Christians desiring to live out the call to do the same; at home and around the world. Instead, we have Bono, Bell, Warren and the Emergent movement pushing their moral/social agenda as if THAT were sharing the Gospel.

DJP said...

Again I say, "Word."

Mike Riccardi said...

Dan,

I was banned from the internet while traveling all day yesterday. Just read the post now. And the response that wells up in me is: AMEN! and THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS!

As I (extremely quickly) peruse the (beginning and ending) comments, I'm very happy for those who haven't had these kinds of experiences as the norm. I'm grateful to God for that. But what you write resonates all too much with me.

I've often thought, as I've sat through these reports (?), that if God should ever bless me with missionary work, and give further grace such that I'd be able to visit dear brothers and sisters who are sacrificially giving to send me where I am, that I would want to allay any uncertainty about whether or not their money is going to Gospel ministry.

Hopefully many read this who need to read it.

Thanks brother.

1Cor1031 said...

I've had the same experiences with Missionary's who have come to speak at my church, or past churches.

You won't find that kind of speech from Paul Washer though.

www.heartcrymissionary.com

Seth Meyers said...

As a missionary for the last 5 years among the Tsongas of southern Africa, several thoughts immediately come to mind.

1. Missionaries don't talk about preaching Christ because the Great Commission is so often interpreted as social work instead of churchplanting. See WORLD mag, every issue.

2. Missions in general has a lot of fuzzy thinking from the financing to the actual task that missionaries are supposed to be doing to the need for theologically trained missionaries—not just anyone who’s willing.

Jim Pemberton said...

What I have found more often than not in longer-term missions that short-termers miss out on - and you NEVER hear in mission presentations - are the spiritual difficulties missionaries face. I don't mean the little doubts and trepidations they go through or even the persecution from non-Christians, but where Christians in local churches or even various mission organizations present challenges.

Not unlike the American Church, local churches are filled with sinners who yet have sins to mortify and have levels of instability as missionaries try to work through them. Also, mission organizations with whom the missionary is aligned, or even other mission organizations with whom they cooperate or encounter, may have differences in vision or incompatible administrations or mission philosophies.

For example, we have a church we have been doing church planting with. The pastor there has recently decided that he wants to rule his church without the accountability of deacons or elders. We have been working through an indigenous missionary who has been working with his church doing church planting. Feeling threatened by the missionary's success, he has decided to ban the missionary and change the nature of the church planting mission of his church such that it's nearly impossible for us to work with the new Christians and help them get started as a church. We have another church nearby we can work through for other similar endeavors, but it's a bad situation where we can't follow through with a new church plant as it has been usurped by a man whose spiritual state is increasingly not conducive for growing a new church. He's tearing his own church apart spiritually and preventing this new body of believers from developing and forming.

In the 10-40 window, we have a missionary who has been operating across the border and occasionally gaining access to the country of his people group. His opportunity to live in-country is becoming more likely from a political standpoint, but he has a roadblock now from his own mission organization.

These kinds of stories are more common than not. But you never hear them until you get involved on a longer-term basis. But these are also a blessing in that you know the struggle is ultimately worth it one way or another. For example, we got into doing church planting because a mission organization we were working with had some financial issues and we were forced to find another way to minister to the people in the area.

Paul went through many similar struggles and we should expect no less.

candy said...

The most recent dismal missionary video I saw somewhere, can't remember where, involved people from Saddleback Church going to South America to work on stuff and taking boxes of the Purpose Driven Life instead of Bibles to hand out to the villagers.

GUNNY said...

"Wouldn't it be wiser just to send them money to do what they're already doing, than to relocate a person or a family to duplicate labor?"

This has become my attitude where short-term missions are concerned. Unless it's an exploratory trip to test drive a missionary lifestyle, I think they're probably ill advised.

Full-time missionaries often mention that the teams aren't all that effective and often create new problems.

I think there's benefit to the heart of the person who goes, typically, and that may lead to that person's increased interest in funding missions. But, I thinking that's about it and I still wonder about the allocation of resources.

For example, a team is going to India with about 20 folks going for just over a week. Their costs are over $3,000 each. I wonder, would the indigenous people be better off if they just received $60,000?

Michael said...

About short term mission trips- to be fair, a lot of the organisers will admit it's as much (or more) about the growth of the participants than the impact in the target country.

But, short term mission can be done well.

I went on a short term mission to a country that missionaries get kicked out of. Long term workers kept a low profile and worked on discipling and training leaders. When they came there was no local indigenous church (all purged). An important part of their strategy was to use short termers to do the high profile (more risk of exposure) work and then carefully pass on any fruit to be discipled.
One time one short termer got kicked out early and went home. If a long termer (with family and discpling etc) got kicked out it would be much more of a setback.

This was an excellent way to talk to these people in darkness about Jesus and it bore fruit. There is a church there now, so noticeable that it is being persecuted and publicly slandered in the newspapers etc.

Praise God

Michael said...

Gunny,

Perhaps the example above worked because it was an initiative of the long termeres devised as a part of their strategy, not a bunch of teen tourists imposing on them for a fun time.

Trust me, it was no fun time but all about having conversations and talking about Jesus. I rememebr it being petrifying and punishing, but also rewarding and rich in fellowship and growth.

But it came from the long termers.

Michael said...

A related question, but one I've wondered about but never bothered to actually research. Everyone uses speeches and experiences and quotes from Paul to promote cross cultural mission.

Has anyone ever wondered whether Paul was actually cross cultural?

As a Hebraic Jew and a Roman citizen fluent in Greek and raised in a cosmopolitan city, wasn't he bicultural himself?? Wasn't everything he did from Jeruslam to Athens within his own cultural zones?

How does this impact our missio understandings of "all things to all men" etc...

So my question chould there be gospel creep rather than gospel mission? Should the gospel cross over neighbouring zones rather than across the world.

Maybe across the world cross cultural mission is doing it the hard way. Should we be gospelling those closest to us who gospel the ones just a bit farther away.

Although there will be places, and mayber there's hundreds of them where there is no one close and there is no other way.

Scott said...

What a great question to consider! My work has me indirectly supporting evangelistic efforts around the world. The past year I've spent a lot of time pondering how much of America Christianity uses its money.

My brief summary is: A lot of churches and missions agencies should at least reconsider how they can best use their money. Americans can still play a vital role in worldwide Christianity. Howeve, it takes a huge amount of money to send Americans overseas, but natives a small fraction of the cost. At times we should reconsider sending missionaries and instead send our support.

Just my $.0002 cents.

John said...

I've been thinking about over the past year or so. Had a conversation with a "missionary" who said that in six years they had finally made some friends. Made some friends? Did you tell them about Jesus? Well, I don't want to derail the friendship. A friend of mine who heard the same talk was livid and pulled his support. Why should I pay to support that, he said? It was hard to argue with him.

Last week I was doing some reading about the Global Contextualization/Insider Movement that is being employed is supposed outreach to Muslims. Has anyone else seen this nonsense? It seems to be more of the same stuff that Dan was talking about.

It seems like this stuff is becoming more and more the norm. What is going on, anyway?

donsands said...

"It seems like this stuff is becoming more and more the norm. What is going on, anyway?" -John

There's some bad missions ministries for sure. But there some very fine ministries as well.

I saw some incredible missions labor after the tsunami by the EFCA missions. George Verwer and Om is still reaching all over the world with the Gospel.

The Gospel is what it's all about, but it does depend where you go. If you go to Australia, then it will be less dangerous, then if you went to North Korea, or Syria. So missionaries have to be wise as snakes and harmless as doves.
And most of all, they have to want to see God glorified, and the Gospel proclaimed. Those will be the true evangelists and missionaries. And they will also have a tremendous love for the people they are going to. i have seen this time and time again.

John said...

I don't doubt that there are good ones out there, but I'm not personally seeing a lot of it these days.

jigawatt said...

Why do missionary speakers so seldom tell of doing that?

I myself was blessed to hear Elias Medeiros speak at my church in Baton Rouge. He talked about his pioneer church planting among the unreached in Brazil.

I also was blessed to hear Rodney and Pam Kinch at my church in Little Rock. They have spent years living with and teaching the (previously unreached) Yuriti people of Columbia.

Jim Pemberton said...

These days, it's simply too dangerous to be open about many good missions since many of them are happening in the 10-40 window. What is incredible to hear is what God is doing that simply can't be broadcast.

General trends? The heart of the primary religion in that area is in trouble. There is a large closed country in the east from which large numbers of Christians are going westward with the gospel. Christ himself is appearing to individuals and even groups of people at the same time and as a result vast numbers of people who must remain in secret from now are coming to faith. When we one day see all that has happened outside of our perception, we're going to be utterly amazed at our own ignorance.

So There are plenty of examples of good mission endeavors. What it seems many fail to realize are that even the best ones tend to involve considerable relationship building. This involves some things that look like social ministry.

What do missionaries have to say, however, when they go back to the states? First, there's no way to give a cultural context because we Americans typically have no clue. Second, it's truly not about numbers. Numbers are nice, but how long does it take to give out numbers? "We shared the gospel 436 times last year and 127 people professed faith in Christ. 84 of them are consistently coming to church now and we are actively discipling them." The end. Let's sign our checks and go home.

No. Most people are more interested in the details of how precisely this is all done. So we talk about helping the local agricultural community in the fields, feeding the street children, giving former prostitutes a place to live, helping local families find help to pay for their childrens' education or finding a way to get water to a village that has none. All while sharing the gospel with the people we are with. Not interesting enough? Too dry? Maybe the Americans would like a tiger story or two. And whatever you do, don't whine about the difficulties you face with the local Christians and your mission organization, although some mention of outside persecution might be helpful.

And one other thing: money is not the issue. We must seek to be good stewards, but God never fails to provide all things for his work. While we must concern ourselves with the details, we must not fail to trust in God's provision while keeping our focus on his work.

one busy mom said...

I've really noticed both cases mentioned in missionary presentations. Sometimes it seems like nothing more than social work; but other times like many hard, faithful years spent preaching the Gospel.

What I've always wondered about though has been the short term mission trips - wondered but never had the gall (courage) to bring up. I mean - seriously, if 40 folks from our church who don't speak Spanish, and some prolly can't effectively share the Gospel even in English, each spend about $1800 to spend 2 weeks in Central America visiting orphans; exactly how cost effective is that? I'm sure there are missionaries in that area who could really, really use that $72,000. It might even fund them for quite awhile.

Someone once explained the rational for these trips by saying that "once someone went they'ld be more willing to give to missions in the future - so they're neeeded to keep missions funded". Whether that's true or not I don't know - but I always wondered if anyone ever really thought these things through.

Just my 2 cents.

Dave said...

Dan, I remember you saying some of the same things about missions when we were at Talbot in the 1970's. Almost seems like a deliberate lack of understanding of the difference between environments in which we must preach the gospel. My experience has been exactly the reverse in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. By the way, I always coach the missionaries who speak in my church to preach the word of God to us, not just share cultural stories. But we need to hear both, because that's what missionaries do: speak languages we don't speak, live places we don't live, and talk to people to whom you and I have no access.

DJP said...

Weird, huh? Twenty-five years hasn't changed what I had experienced then.

I don't think I was unclear in the post, though. It isn't difficult, I think, to grasp the difference between a travelogue and a narrative of the Gospel breaking into a foreign culture. There may be overlap, but the core and burden is very different. Even talking about how Christless and Gospel-deprived a culture is... okay, but what are you doing specifically to penetrate it with the Gospel? Tell of things you've done, roadblocks you've encountered, how you've dealt with them? What is different about your preaching the Gospel there, versus preaching it here?

Don't just talk about other cultures and give travelogues. Those might excite wanderlust. That isn't supposed to be the focus, right?

Talk about the Gospel, and your bringing it to that culture.

Assuming that's what's going on.

Brother said...

Kurt said, "On a related note, I'd love to hear about the missionary who went to his local pagan temple and disputed with the local philosophers and religious leaders. Anybody know of areopagus-style evangelism happening overseas?"

I can attest to this sort of thing happening often with those of us working among the Muslims of China. And I'm sure it must happen in other Muslim countries around the world. Or maybe China is peculiar in the sense that the Muslims are a distinct minority and tend to be more open to dialogue with other religions, instead of trying to violently suppress them.

Also, love the questions Dan. I am always challenged and burdened when its my turn to speak in US churches about our work in China. It would be easy to entertain a crowd with stories, even stories about conversions. But so many in our pews aren't true converts themselves. I always end up preaching the Gospel "to the choir" so to speak. I figure the more Americans who get saved, the more ppl that God will likely raise up to come and work alongside us in reaching the unengaged of western China.

The O'Neill's said...

I am working in a clinic in Belize for 3 months. Your points in your post are well taken. However, I do have a response. A lady here has spent 3 years here. She left to return home yesterday. One book she is reading to prepare herself for home is called "Re-entry:Making the transition from missions to home life". Much of the book deals with how to deal with an uninterested church in America concerning spiritual and physical needs around the world. It talks about how much you have been changed, but not to expect the people at home to change with you. It is amazing to me to see the needs here, again both spiritually and physically, and to know that most people in the American church give very little and rarely involve themselves in the work of established churches or in establishing churches in foreign countries.