Tag Archives: Missions

Bible Translation: the unforgivable sin

I was chatting with a friend of mine who works as a robotics engineer and I began to express my passion for Bible translation.  In fact, I got a little over-excited and exclaimed, “I have the best job in the world!”  He looked at me sideways and said, “I thought I had that job.”  Well, OK. Being a robotics engineer sounds pretty cool, too. 

Having recently come back from Pakistan after another month of translation, let me share with you one of the gems that I picked up along the way.  One of the joys of translation is the discipline it demands to understand what the passage means.  The act of representing the meaning of the original text in the forms of a different language does not permit the translator to “blip” over the phrases that don’t seem to make sense.  It is that search for the sense of the author’s original communication that provides those “aha!” moments, as the meaning of some apparently obscure or difficult passages is clarified.

For example, in Mt 12:30-32 Jesus speaks of the “unforgivable sin.” The context of this verse is the previous account of Jesus’ releasing a man from the bondage of demon possession.  The response of the Pharisees is not one of praising God – a reaction reflected in comments of the common people – but rather an attempt at political “spin” to disparage the miracle: “He is doing this by the power of Beelzebul, the king of the demons!” (Mt 12:24).

Amazed at such a blatant attempt to twist truth into falsehood, Jesus responds with the quote about the “unforgivable sin,” that is, “blasphemy against the Spirit will never be forgiven,” (vs 31). Essentially he is saying to the Pharisees, “You are hopeless! When you see God in action bringing salvation and healing in people’s lives and call it the work of Satan, then there is no possibility for you to take part in that salvation.  Any other sin can be forgiven, for the recognition and acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s working means that you are open to God’s rule, and that you have a desire for him; repentance and turning to life is possible.  But without that initial and sincere orientation to God, there cannot be repentance and salvation.  A denial of what God is doing because of adherence to religious norms is a blindness for which there is no cure.”

That is, the “unforgivable sin” is not a reference to a solitary act, as if there is one thing a person can do which dooms them forever, despite any change or repentance on their part.  Rather, it is an ongoing attitude of denial of the Spirit or essence of God’s work in bringing restoration and healing, a rejection of God’s action in making things right.

it is important to understand the context and point of Jesus’ teaching in order not to miscommunicate

When translating verse 31, it is important to understand the context and point of Jesus’ teaching in order not to miscommunicate.  That is, the translator must not only choose the appropriate words, but must also use a grammatical form within the target language that provides the reader with an equivalent understanding.  For example, when Jesus says, “blasphemy against the Spirit will never be forgiven,” (vs 31), the reader needs to make the connection between the Pharisees’ denial of the work of God described in the previous verses and the “blasphemy” referred to.  It is also important to make it obvious to the reader that Jesus is not speaking against one solitary act, but against an attitude of disregard for the action of God in bringing healing and salvation.  Taking care to communicate clearly in Bible translation prevents the spiritual harm that can occur through misunderstandings caused by an unclear translation.

And that was just one verse.  We completed most of Matthew’s gospel during that month of translation!

See also Sindhi Bible Translation

God’s mission: Emmanuel

Emmanuel is my favorite Christmas word, partly because it is also a missions word.  God is a missionary God and provides us with the greatest expression of missions in and through the Christmas event.  The reason why the shepherds could accept the angel’s invitation was because God had come to earth: “Let us go and see” (Lu 2:15).  The reason why Jesus could say, “Come to me everyone who is tired and burdened” (Mt 11:28) was because he was living in the same world with the same demands, discouragements, obstacles and opposition that we face.  The reason why the apostles were so confident in their faith was because they had seen “the Life” with their eyes and touched it with their hands (1 Jn 1:1-2).  Missions (pl) is our part in God’s mission to redeem the world.  Jesus was sent into the world as the greatest act of that mission.  Our participation in God’s mission happens when we play a role through the ongoing sending of the Spirit: either by going ourselves or by becoming the means for sending others.

Emmanuel, God with us

Emmanuel, God with us, is the proclamation of the missionary God. God speaks the eternal Word and it becomes a baby lying in a manger, a man on a mission, a sacrifice on a cross, the resurrected savior, the ascended Lord.  But the proclamation of Emmanuel does not end at the ascension.   Emmanuel does not become “God no longer with us.”  Jesus said, “I will be with you always” (Mt 28:20) and this is not just a comforting metaphor or a pretentious sentiment, but a living reality.  The act of Emmanuel continues with the explosion of words and languages at Pentecost – the Spirit of Christ beginning to blast the message of Emmanuel out to the four corners of the earth.  It is not the principles and instructions of Christianity that are the essence (as good as they are for living well), but it is the presence of the living Christ impacting lives around the world – Emmanuel, God with us. Words are weak and limited, but the experience of the living Word continues on, and it is our faith in Emmanuel that drives us to be part of that movement, the mission to cross barriers, to face obstacles and to show love for the sake of Emmanuel. The God who came to earth continues to be with us, Emmanuel.

Resolving Intercultural Tensions 4: Law’s “Mutual Invitation”

NOTE: A companion workshop to these articles is available to multi-ethnic churches that provides information, exercises and interaction to encourage the implementation of those disciplines that promote healthy intercultural relationships. Please contact Mark via the form below.

Whose rules rule?

card handIn the innovative cultural simulation game, Barnga, created by Sivasailam Thiagarajan, groups of people play a simple card game without realizing that each person has been given slightly different rules to the game. The participants are not permitted to speak to each other or to communicate by writing. It doesn’t take long before there is some banging on the table and grunts of disgust as the game does not proceed as expected. 1 Because the point of the game is the same for all, one conclusion drawn by the players is that some of the other participants are either cheating or did not properly read the rules.

HPD = High Power Distance LPD = Low Power Distance

Similarly, when people from different cultural backgrounds congregate for discussion or decision making, the overall context can be so familiar that each cultural group believes that their assumed "rules" of interaction will be followed as the norm. When the cultural groups have contrasting low power distance (LPD) versus high power distance (HPD) orientations, the result can be frustrating with the participants misattributing2 the motives of others according to their cultural perspective of what is normative behavior. When someone speaks "out of turn," they are judged as "rude" or "aggressive," rather than recognizing that some people are "playing by different rules." In the first article of this series, the concept of power distance was introduced with illustrations that showed how the contrast between high and low power distance causes tension in intercultural relationships. The second article dealt with leadership dynamics when dealing with high and low power distance cultures. As a means of resolving these tensions, the third article described the important skill of speaking each other’s "language of respect." In this final article in the series, we will explore Eric Law’s innovative method of "mutual invitation"3 as a method of developing productive interaction in order to bridge the power gap between HPD and LPD cultures. READ THE COMPLETE CROSS-CULTURAL IMPACT ARTICLE

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Helping CHURCHES do MISSIONS better

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“Thank you for the great workshop.  Our missions focus is struggling and we found it to be so helpful and encouraging. The questions and exercises were well thought out and gave us good direction, as well as the prayer focus throughout.  We found it time well spent as it enabled us to focus well right there.  We have a good plan, I think, to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”

This was one of several positive comments received from the participants of the Best Practice for Church Missions Workshops held in Victoria (March 1) and on the TWU campus, Langley (March 8).  While organized and sponsored by Fellowship International Ministries and Northwest Baptist Seminary for our FEBBC/Y churches, the facilitators who participated were from Outreach Canada, Center for World Missions BC, YWAM, Fellowship International Ministries as well as others who represented a wealth of missions experience.  Each of the 13 church groups that participated was provided with a facilitator who guided them through the exercises designed to stimulate conversation and lead to consensus and direction for church missions teams.

One of the facilitators comments:

“These workshops … have exceeded my expectations.  Not that I had low expectations but the level of relational building, prayer, and planning was very good from what I saw.  My time with [the church] leaders was very significant … and some real progress was made. I felt honored to help them through the process.

The number of people that came from the churches was also very significant.  To have 5-10 people from the same church (including pastoral staff) together at the table for 7 hours discussing Global Mission is truly remarkable.”

This one day basic workshop for doing missions in churches focuses on vision, strategy and planning.  Five one hour sessions encourage each group to discuss and shape their missions team in the following areas:

  • Clarifying the ROLE of the missions committee and determining priorities
  • Assessing the HEALTH of the missions in the church
  • Identifying people resources according to GIFTING
  • Setting strategic GOALS
  • PLANNING and assigning tasks

Read about this workshop with more comments from participants

For information concerning further opportunities to participate in this workshop contact Mark via the form below

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WordPress Plugins

WordPress is a great CMS (Content Management System) platform for a church website and web design as it is extremely flexible and very easy to use.  Part of this flexibility comes from WordPress’ ability to take advantage of the programming skills of people from around the world who have designed various small add-on applications for WordPress called plugins. There are many hundreds of plugins to be found in the WordPress Plugins Database. A web search for specific plugins will open a long list of possibilities. If you need a particular functionality on your website the chances are that someone has already designed a plugin for it. There are also sites which list the top plugins (here are a couple – Top 50 and Usefull WordPress Plugins )

I have spent considerable numbers of hours researching the net and searching for just the right plugins for the Northwest site. The following is a list of some of my favorites and a short description of their function.

  1. The WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin.
    WordPress is continually being improved both for functionality and security.  This plugin allows the webmaster of a WordPress powered web to easily update to newer versions of WordPress, automatically taking care of backing up the site first and then updating the WordPress code.  This plugin makes the webmaster’s life a whole lot easier.
  2. The Author Image plugin.
    On a website like the Northwest site where we have multiple contributors and authors – it is a valuable feature to have the author’s photo automatically linked to their article or blog.  This plugin facilitates that.
  3. The word processing plugin "Deans FCKEditor".
    The word processing editor that comes packaged with WordPress is a somewhat "bare-bones" editor.  This plugin expands the functionality of the editor so that it acts much like a normal word processor.
  4. The Event Calendar plugin.
    Northwest always has some sort of up-coming event.  This plugin help to keep track of those events via the WordPress web interface.  Adding a new event can be done by any of the regular contributors to the Northwest site by adding an Event Calendar activated post.
  5. The FormBuilder plugin.
    Forms through which people can respond to you (i.e. ask questions, submit prayer requests, comment on items on the site etc.) are a normal part of creating a website.  Forms need to be secure and able to filter out junk and spam.  This plugin allows one to create any number of forms on a site and have them all share the same security features.  This plugin rates special mention as it is designed and maintained by my son who is a web programmer with Power to Change.
  6. The Google Site Map Generator plugin.
    This plugin creates a sitemap for your website and informs search engines of any changes or additions.
  7. The NextGen Image Gallery plugin.
    Putting images on the web in an orderly fashion can be an onerous task and if you want them to be displayed in fancy ways requires knowledge of web scripting languages.  This plugin takes care of the details and allows you to add galleries and albums of photos to your web.  The header on the Northwest site is powered by this plugin.
  8. The Role Manager plugin.
    The Northwest website has a number of people who use the site to post their articles and edit their information on the static pages.  User levels of permission are designed into WordPress and this plugin gives the webmaster greater flexibility in assigning those permissions.
  9. The Simply Exclude plugin.
    Sometimes it is desirable to keep a particular category of posts (articles) from appearing on the front page of the website.  Yet they need to be accessible some other way.  This plugin allows one to designate categories to be excluded from the front page.
  10. The Themed Login plugin.
    The default WordPress login page is very plain and merely displays the WordPress logo.  This plugin allows one to use one’s theme as the login page.  If you click on the login link you can see what it looks like.
  11. The Search Pages plugin
    WordPress uses both ‘Pages’ and ‘Posts’.  Pages are static while ‘Posts’ are the blog part of the site.  WordPress search function only searches posts. This plugin allows one to search both posts and pages.

These are just 10 plugins.  There are many-many more.  There are e-commerce powered plugins which would allow you to add a "shopping cart" to your site.  There are mailing plugins which would allow you to manage users in a mailing list.  The list of possibilities is virtually endless.

Installing and using these plugins is as simple as uploading the plugin folder to the correct spot in your WordPress powered website and then activating it.  Usually each plugin comes with complete instructions as to how to use it.

If you are using WordPress for your church website – let me know – send me a link to your site.  Share what techniques you have learned or what hasn’t worked for you.

If you are interested in this topic don’t forget to read the other articles that I have written on church websites.

 

 

It’s NOT about the Information

I am slow. I have come to the realization – at least a full decade after more perceptive and observant thinkers – that we are no longer in the information age; we are in the networking age.  Facebook is not about information, but about connecting. Due to the ease of access and overwhelming quantity of knowledge, information is no longer a priority nor a valued commodity per se.  What is valued is the networking with others that directs us to the quality and relevance of knowledge that is required to fulfill our goals.  An obsession with gaining personal knowledge about a particular subject in this age is self-defeating because as individuals we cannot absorb, process or evaluate all the available information.  On the other hand, gaining skills to evaluate and use knowledge in relevant ways is important.  Moreover, the ability to connect synergistically with those who have different skill sets exponentially increases the ability to apply knowledge to tasks and problems considered significant.

With respect to seminaries, Dr. Edmund Gibbs was probably accurate in a statement made during the NBS “Between Gospel and Culture” conference held on the TWU campus in March, 2007: seminaries should not sell knowledge or information, but give it away freely.  The cost will be in the mentoring relationships and guidance to apply the right knowledge in the right situation.

What is required is the teaching of Old Testament and New Testament RELEVANCE to the lives of the believers

The implication of this shift for missions is quite profound.  A common approach in missions has been to teach a “survey of the Old Testament” or a “survey of the New Testament” to new believers. As an attempt to increase the quantity of biblical knowledge, it does little to build up the body of Christ.  The amount of knowledge available is beyond the ability of any one person to access, let alone absorb and utilize. Moreover, the knowledge gained from such courses is generally easily accessible when needed. What is required is the teaching of Old Testament and New Testament relevance to the lives of the believers. It is insufficient and misguided for missionaries to provide general Bible teaching as if any and all biblical information is equally worthwhile. Rather, a primary concern must be to work out the relevance of God’s revelation within that particular cultural setting.  This requires the development of a network of people with a variety of skill sets rather than a one way dispensing of knowledge from the teacher.

As an example of the importance of networking in missions, consider Bible translation.  The task is too vast and complex to be trusted to one person.  However, by utilizing the skills of a variety of people – translators whose mother tongue capability allows them to communicate the message coherently and fluently, scholars who are able to consider the accuracy of meaning, consultants whose experience leads them to ask penetrating questions – the final product has a level of quality and significance that would not otherwise be possible.  

Significant Conversations

Five aspects of evangelism common to our churches that need to change if we are to make a gospel impact in our communities:

a.    The individualistic nature of evangelism.  People commonly view Sunday worship as their expression of church, while the rest of the week is lived without church involvement. For example, I have seen written over the exit in some churches: “You are entering the mission field.”  While the focus on missions is laudable, the understanding for many is that while we are in the building we are part of a congregation, but when we leave, we are on our own!  The common assumption is that those who “do evangelism” with their acquaintances, do it by themselves.  This perception is inadvertently advanced by the testimony of those who are gifted evangelists because the interaction is often presented as a private affair.  But this approach ignores the great potential for developing a support network with other believers.

b.    Defining ministry as church based activity. The ministries of the church are usually understood as the activities that are on the ledger (teacher, usher, maintenance, etc.), and the personal spiritual interaction that people have in their every day relationships are not viewed as church ministry. This perspective needs to be reversed.  Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives, while the tasks associated with church programs are support ministries.

Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives

c.    Evangelism as the task of the church.  At one level this is true, but the emphasis often results in downplaying the reality that it is God who has a mission to the world and it is his Spirit that changes hearts.  Salvation does not depend on our ability to convict and convince.  Rather we need to discover what God is up to in people’s lives and have a conversation. We look for where God is working and explore the significance of that spiritual interest with them.

d.    The guilt aspect. In light of people on their way to hell, we feel enormous pressure to give people a gospel message – like medical staff in the emergency room.  However, in my experience this perspective actually works against the effectiveness of motivating people to the task.  We need to trust that God will do what is right with each individual and not put more responsibility for a person’s eternal destiny on ourselves than is warranted by Scripture.  A more appealing and less intimidating paradigm is the view that we are on a spiritual journey and want to walk with others who are also on a journey.

e.    The program approach to evangelism. Very often the plea is “bring your friends to church or to our evangelistic outreach” with the implication that “the expert” is best equipped to tell the gospel.  However, any one who is a true follower of Christ has a gospel message inside them that their friends are more than likely willing to hear and which would make a greater impact.  In the long run, a more productive focus will be to develop a support network so that believers can explore the spiritual joys and challenges of engaging the significant people in their lives.

I would like to suggest a simple grassroots approach to evangelism that relieves the pressure on believers to “present a gospel message” and replaces that with a freedom to enjoy significant conversations with people. This approach creates a conversational space where there are no winners or losers, just people who are able to express what is significant to them.  For the true believer, this is opportunity for Jesus to shine. 

The SISI system is designed to mitigate the weaknesses noted above.

Download the SISI brochure in which the process is explained together with important assumptions and / or contact me at via the form below. 

You are also invited to read the CCI article entitled “Why I don’t do ‘Evangelism’” which chronicles my own spiritual journey in coming to this position of seeking significant conversations.

 

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Moving from STM to Career

I received a good question from Missions Catalyst e-Magazine.  Shane Bennett writes,

So, how have you seen short-termers transformed into long-termers? I’m thinking of good examples in which sharp people end up in significant, well-fitting roles. I’m imagining non-manipulative methods in which people are invited to recognize their gifts, are provided with proper stepping stones to long-term commitment, and are shepherded into a successful cross-cultural career.

This is an excellent question and one that a lot of missions agencies (including Fellowship International Ministries) have discussed often.  If you have any ideas or experience in this, please let me know.  Do you know someone who went from short term missions to career missions?  If so, how did that transition occur?  Can we discover a pattern or a means for greater impact that would encourage people towards a long term investment in international ministry?  If you have any ideas, drop me a line via the form below.

One concern that I have is that the strong cultural emphasis on individualism in our churches mitigates against the possibility of a communal decision to appoint someone to missions.  We have personal decisions, a personal walk with Christ, personal devotions and a personal calling to ministry.  When pastors decide to move on they make a personal decision and then involve the church in the process.  All major decisions are personal, and while professional advice is often sought, communal involvement in personal decision making (job, spouse, education, etc.) is unusual.  I am not opposed to this system; it is a reflection of our cultural orientation and comfort zone because, as Canadians, we are quite reserved about having direct involvement in those aspects of other people’s lives considered "personal".
 
However, the downside of this is the reticence we have to provide others with direction and insight for a calling into cross-cultural ministry.  As churches we give general invitations, but rarely identify individuals as capable of international service and challenge them in that direction.  Perhaps this lack of input in people’s lives keeps them unaware of their potential to serve God in missions.  The general sense in that anyone can go on a STM trip, but in our context it feels presumptuous to take the initiative in proposing a career in missions for someone else.

Do you agree with this assessment or are there other, more important factors?

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Around Our Table

Our house has been a-hum with guests most of this month. But as busy as we’ve been, the joy has been greater. Sitting around the crowded dinner table laden with good things this week, I’ve been reminded of how many times in the past my family and I have been the beneficiaries of God’s great kindnesses through the generous hospitality of Christian acquaintances and friends. One never loses in the act of hospitality. The act is always overwhelmed by returning gains—personal, relational and spiritual.Dinner Table

 What binds us to these guests around our table is a golden thread that stretches back to the years 1987 through 1992, when our family lived in Aberdeen, Scotland while I pursued a PhD. 

 Maureen and her son Joel are at our table. She and her husband Mark were among our first friends in Scotland. They opened their hearts and their home to us when we were Christian strangers just newly arrived, helping us in many ways to settle in to an unfamiliar environment. We were overwhelmed.  Joel was only 3 or 4 years old then; he’s 24 now and looks remarkably like his dad, who passed away just this year. Joanna’s at our table too. She and our daughters became best of friends in those five golden years as did our respective families. The Atlantic has been crossed several times to maintain the connection. As I listen to her news of mom and dad and sisters, I recall wonderful memories made during our five years in Scotland. Peter is at our table and so is his friend Andy. Peter’s uncle Philip was the teaching elder in the small Christian fellowship where we worshipped. They love the Lord Jesus and both are pursuing meaningful professions and expressing their Christian commitment in them. 

 Hospitality, it seems, has always been a peculiar distinctive and calling of the people of God. The Old Testament patriarchs set food before strangers on divinely ordained missions. In Luke’s Gospel, two disciples prevailed upon a fellow traveler to stay with them and share a meal on the road to Emmaus, discovering later that they had given hospitality to their risen Lord. In the Book of Acts early Christians were known for signs and wonders, but also for breaking bread from house to house. And believers continued to be challenged in the book of Hebrews to inexhaustible kindness in hospitality, lest they miss the potential of entertaining angels unawares. 

 The saints are sitting around our table. It’s been a wonderful summer thus far!

Here They Come…

In the February edition of the Leadership Connections newsletter, I recorded the results of some research that I’ve been doing on emerging leaders: [When Emerging Leaders go BOOM! http://leadership.nbseminary.com/ncld_011.htm – check it out.]

Twice this week, the issue has come up as both the Seminary – and our Churches are beginning to witness this phenomenon. So, for what it’s worth, I’ll repeat the details in part … with one distinct conclusion: if the Boomers don’t’ find meaningful expression in their church – they will go elsewhere…

“Over the last three years as I’ve been seeking to create instruments to empower home-grown leaders, I’ve noticed that the greatest personal interest being shown comes from people of a certain age. Let me share an example: ‘I am an engineer, 50 years old, chair of our church board … my wife and I have been praying about our future plans to devote ourselves to full-time ministry in the next 5 years.’ 

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to discover a cultural phenomenon that is creating a huge impact in the church – the Baby-Boomer generation in transition. … While Boomers have been sometimes branded as the most selfish generation, there is evidence that as they age they are proving to be much different. A study from the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2005 revealed that Boomers are not only more active in volunteer participation, but fully expect to extend their volunteer commitments to more mature – even career – levels. This surge is being felt in a number of arenas. It has created an impact in the world of missions. In late 2005, Wycliffe Bible Translators built a volunteer mobilization center in Orlando, Florida in an attempt to keep up with their largest sector of missionary growth. Since the year 2000, Wycliffe has experienced an average of 40% annual increase in the number of “Boomer Missionaries.” Martin Huyett, Wycliffe’s vice-president for volunteer services explained, “these people have a certain amount of freedom and control … they want to do something significant, not just write checks.” …

One organization, The Finisher’s Project, was founded by Nelson Malwitz as a way to match Boomers with the growing list of ministry opportunities provided by Mission agencies. Currently, the Finisher’s Project is working with 100 organizations, has placed over 1,000 people in full-time missions, has 1,000 people in process, and has an additional 1,200 people expressing their intention to make a transition in the next 2 years.

Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity said, “Most mission agencies are trying to work with this trend … that 20 years ago was unwelcome.” … As I reflect on the growing body of statistics generated by the explosion of the Boomer generation, I find myself almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of implications. Apart from the fact that many of them are intensely personal [since I, too, am a Boomer] each seem to have a consequence for the future of the church.

Let me share one quick discoveries:The Boomers are ready – use them or lose them: Jim Hughes of the Abilene Christian University writes, “many churches look to younger people to fill significant roles, leaving older adults to trivial tasks.” Many Boomer post-retirement plans are being built around significance, mission, and impact. With their proven record of life-skills and initiative, if their Church won’t match their intentions in a serious fashion, they will find other avenues to influence their world.”

Interested in more: check out www.finishers.org/ and www.finisherscanada.ca/

How do people belong?

How do people belong? This is an important issue in missions, particularly for a church planting mission such as Fellowship International Ministries: What does it mean to belong to a church? There are many different ways to express and value belonging, and these vary from culture to culture. A college student from Azerbaijan informed me recently that “Canadians are very friendly, but they don’t want to be friends!” In other words, the level of belonging and the expressions of that belonging she was used to in her own culture, were very different in Canada. She expected friendliness to lead to a more intimate relationship, but quickly realized that she was imposing on boundaries they wanted to maintain.

While in Pakistan my wife, Karen, and I had similar experiences. Our concept of ‘friendship’ was different from the expectations in Pakistan. To be invited into a home as a couple to sit with both men and women indicates a level of ongoing commitment that we, as Canadians, reserve for our immediate families!

So what about church relationships? When planting a church, what is the expectation of commitment? One person may view the community in terms of family loyalty, while another may see this particular interaction with other believers as only one avenue of relationships among many, without the need for deeper commitment. Some may consider the church activities as central to their Christian development. Others may be content to participate at one level (e.g., attendance at worship, small group, worship team), while finding fulfillment for other needs (e.g., teaching, guidance, fellowship) in venues outside of one local church.

Should church planters seek to bring all people to a particular level of commitment that fits with one cultural model of church, or should they adjust their expectations to the realities of the connections that people prefer for themselves? If the goal is to help people develop their commitment to Christ within the level of commitment and relationships that they believe are important, then what will Christian community look like?

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Musings on belonging

Is it just me or has the concept of “belonging” to a church become more fluid lately? I remember growing up in a churched context and it was very obvious who was “in” and who was “out”. Membership was an important concept and there was a sense that unless a person became a “member,” their relationship with God and other believers was not as it should be. Each local church, even if its building was located across the street from another similar church, encouraged a deep level of commitment to their particular communal expression of “church”. Of course, I grew up in a church planter’s home, so that understanding may not reflect the perspective of the average person in the pew.

…it seems that belonging for evangelical believers today has more to do with significant connections with other Christians, than with a commitment or loyalty to one specific expression of Christian community.

However, today, unless it is only my own perception, that view seems to have morphed into a more flexible and complex understanding of belonging. Perhaps it is partly due to the western emphasis on individual rights and responsibilities. Perhaps there is greater tolerance of diverse theological views. Perhaps the perceived need of “a church experience” has changed. Perhaps it is due to the many opportunities that people have to belong to a variety of expressions of Christian community through the radio, TV, small groups, “parachurch” organizations, missions teams, concerts, etc. Whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, it seems that belonging for evangelical believers today has more to do with significant connections with other Christians, than with a commitment or loyalty to one specific expression of Christian community.

As someone who has a missionary mindset, I seek to understand and conform to cultural trends in order to present faith in Christ in a relevant way. Such a change (if I am correct) is neither to be rejected nor unquestioningly embraced. Instead, the question is, what does relevant and impacting Christian community look like in such an environment?

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Defining the role of a church missions team

Just what is a church missions team expected to do? Because of the way church missions has developed in recent years this question has become increasingly important for those who desire to be effective mission mobilizers. In some churches the missions committee’s primary role consists of passing on the prayer letters of missionaries to the congregation. However, other church missions teams are playing a far more complex and influential role. This is evident in the “Design your Impact” workshops1, in which the role of the missions team is presented as shaping and overseeing the overall missions purpose and strategy of the church, both locally and globally. In addition, the rise of short term missions can make the duties of missions teams quite demanding, often requiring the services of a full time missions pastor.

… the role of the missions team and the parameters within which it is called to function must be clearly defined. Unfulfilled expectations and a lack of clarity concerning the vision and responsibilities of the missions team quickly undermines its effectiveness.

During my interviews with pastors and key missions committee personnel for the purpose of discovering ways church missions can be improved, one pastor shared the parameters that he uses to define the role of the missions team within his church: The missions team is responsible to facilitate all outreach partnerships outside of the local church’s programs. In this perspective short term mission teams or local evangelistic efforts – intra-cultural or cross-cultural – are not the responsibility of the missions committee. Instead, their role is to monitor and facilitate the partnerships of the church with those missionaries and other workers who have a primary responsibility to another organization (such as a missions agency). Whether or not this is the position taken by a church is of secondary concern. What is obvious is that the role of the missions team and the parameters within which it is called to function must be clearly defined. Unfulfilled expectations and a lack of clarity concerning the vision and responsibilities of the missions team quickly undermines its effectiveness. Coming this fall a “Best Practices for Church Missions” workshop will be offered to assist church missions committees as they define their role and purpose within the broader vision of the church. Let me know if you are interested. Have you discovered some creative ways to highlight missions in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team.

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Missions and the Heart of a Dad

I said goodbye to my baby girl this week. Becky and I, along with a number of other friends and relatives saw her off from the Seattle airport in the wee hours of Monday morning as she and her team of 7 began their missions odyssey to Thailand. She is only 23 and from this dad’s perspective “far too young” to have committed herself to a three-year stint involving a year of language study and two years of church related ministry in the Golden Triangle area of Northern Thailand.

Ever since she returned from that first journey to Thailand we knew this day was coming. We had seen it in her eyes, heard it in virtually every conversation. My daughter had lost her heart to her God and to the people of Thailand – and we were delighted. But that did not change the things that were happening to my heart on Monday.

The drive home from the airport was a blur. Fortunately my friend Jon had been tasked with the responsibility of keeping me awake so that I would get us home safely – at which he did a superb job. After an all-too-short sleep, morning came, and with it an odd mixture of thoughts and emotions. I found myself thinking that she was just in the other room. I would walk into the kitchen and half expect to still see her sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the fire place working on her computer or reading a book. When the front door would open my ears half expected to hear her cheery “Hi! I’m home!” It’s not as though she had never been away from home before. At 19 she did a year in Europe and at 21 she spent 9 months in Thailand. But somehow this was different. She had made a specific commitment of time to serve as a “full-time missionary”. Ever since she returned from that first journey to Thailand we knew this day was coming. We had seen it in her eyes, heard it in virtually every conversation. My daughter had lost her heart to her God and to the people of Thailand – and we were delighted. But that did not change the things that were happening to my heart on Monday. In the intervening year, since she had returned from Thailand, we enjoyed a delightful time of getting to know our youngest as she lived at home while preparing herself for this adventure. The three of us shared many delightful evenings together and both Becky and I felt that we got to know our daughter in a whole new way. We took in movies together. We enjoyed meals together along with many cups of coffee. We debriefed the joys and struggles of our days together. We teased each other and grew in love and respect for one another. Now she was gone and a corner of my heart was gone too – I believe it followed her to Thailand. There is another emotion in my heart – deep gratitude to my Heavenly Father. I remember a time when Becky and I wondered and worried what would ever become of our willful youngest child. But God, in His boundless mercy, got hold of that will (and of her heart) and she surrendered her life to Him. Now she was on an adventure with Him – following her Lord where ever He might lead. So we celebrated her departure. There were no regrets. At some point last week we all had a chuckle together as we realized that we probably would not shed any tears at the airport – that is just not how we do it in our family. We might shed them later, privately! But even those tears are not tears of grief over missed opportunities or unfinished business or unforgiven grievances. We were able to see her off with no regrets! We are just plain and simply going to miss her. As I pondered these conflicting emotions in my heart I paused to ask, “I wonder what happened in the heart of the Father when he sent His Son on the ultimate missions trip?” Is it in any way possible for me as a human dad to comprehend the heart of the Heavenly Father? I took a few moments to considered the depths that lie behind the statement “For God so loved that he gave …” (John 3:16) This experience has made me appreciate Galatians 4:4 a little more. “In the fullness of time, God sent his Son …” There is an unfathomable vastness to those simple words. The Eternal Son, who throughout that eternity had never left the Father’s side (John 1:18), was now stepping into time and space and into the human experience to undertake the greatest missionary adventure of all as He “…came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) It is comforting to know that my daughter is following in His footsteps.

Visit my daughter’s blog and read of her adventure with Jesus

Keeping missionaries and Mission Agencies Accountable

I have been spending some time interviewing pastors and key missions committee personnel to discover the areas they would like to improve in the area of missions One frustration that a number of people expressed is in knowing how and when they are to keep mission agencies and missionaries accountable. One pastor provided the following insight:

The prayer letters that missions personnel send to the churches are often very different in content to the reports that they are required to provide their mission agency. In order to monitor their missionary and be privy to important decisions being made the missions team of the church may wish to request these reports be sent to them as well.

There are, of course, confidentiality issues that need to be taken into account. However, if the missionary grants permission for the report to be passed on to the church missions team and the team does not pass on that information without permission, such difficulties can often be overcome.

The benefit of such a request is that both the missionary and the missions agency become directly responsible to the sending church. The missions team in the church is able to ensure that the missions agency is providing the support and direction required and that important issues are being dealt with. They are also able to more clearly understand the difficulties and frustrations the missionaries face which they are not free to publish in their public newsletters.

Have you discovered some creative ways to be an effective missions team in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team. We are working on a workshop to support churches as they seek to join in God’s mission both locally and around the world. Information on this will be posted on the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage as it comes available.

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Keeping Missions from becoming a number in the budget

People committed to supporting cross-cultural missions, whether locally or globally, recognize the essential role of missionaries who have dedicated years to learn the culture and language of a particular people group. It is through their expertise that bridges for the gospel are discovered and churches planted. However, missions mobilizers serving in churches are often frustrated and discouraged at the overwhelming task of keeping people interested and committed to the support of missionaries over the long haul. There are so many legitimate activities and alternative ministries that staying the course with one family whose ministry requires slow and steady progress, rather than glamorous leaps, is difficult. Support sometimes becomes reduced to a budget item that is “rubber-stamped” each year.

As a result people no longer give to the church generally and think about their financial commitment to missions once a year. Instead, a focus on missions giving is highlighted weekly along with giving towards the church’s general needs.

One church in our Fellowship has developed a creative approach to the support of their missionaries that, even though only a small adjustment, has helped provide a stronger focus for missions in the church. Each year they designate part of their budget to the support of their missionaries, as is common practice for most of our churches. However, funds from the general offering cannot be applied to this commitment. Only those funds designated “missions” are used to fulfill this responsibility. As a result people no longer give to the church generally and think about their financial commitment to missions once a year. Instead, a focus on missions giving is highlighted weekly along with giving towards the church’s general needs. Secondly, the deacon in charge of missions is responsible to keep the church informed of their commitment and when giving has fallen short, he or she reminds the church of the importance of these ministries and the role the church plays in advancing God’s mission. Furthermore, when giving exceeds the budgeted commitment, and this is not uncommon, they are able to apply these extra funds to special projects such as the Fellowship International Ministries 2007 “Blessing the Nations” project. Have you discovered some creative ways to highlight missions in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team. We are working on a workshop to support churches as they seek to join in God’s mission both locally and around the world. Information on this will be posted on the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage as it comes available.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

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Unitask Living in a Multitask Universe

Christians aspire to the kind of unitasking Christian focus of the apostle Paul when he declares, “For to me, to live is Christ….” The reality, however, is that we live in a world that shouts from every corner, “Multitask!” Life is full of commitments that urgently cry out and distractions that enticingly call out for our attention. The Corinthians could identify. The good news about Jesus had caught them up in its net as they stood in the midst of the complexities of their lives—some were married and others not; some were free and others slaves; some were wealthy and well positioned and many others were not. Now they were confronted with a great question: “How does one live a unitask life in a multitask universe?” Paul advises the Corinthians that living with consummate focus to honor Christ is called for because there is urgency. Live that way because “the time is short” (1 Cor. 7:29), he says. Paul denies that time yawns out and meanders before us without end. There is an abrupt focal point—it is the second coming of Christ. And Paul sees a kind of compression in the time between our “now” and the “then” of Christ’s return. The Christian life is lived with focus because it is lived in light of the end. Paul is also realistic about multiple demands; he admits their presence and that we do have to answer to them. But he counsels an intense resolution through those multiple demands to live life “as if not.” Paul explains it this way:

“From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.” (1 Cor. 7:29-30)

An “as if not” life is calculatingly deliberate; it is focused to honour Christ. Where others are involved, it negotiates through to permissions and synergies that free up energies and time to honour Christ. An “as if not” life goes through the great ups and downs of human existence, but returns immediately from wild emotional gyrations to the magnetic north of honouring Christ. An “as if not” life acknowledges the requirement of things but disallows entanglements to them, preferring to see things as means to honour Christ. When Christian philanthropist Maxey Jarman reflected that he had only lost what he’d kept, but that what he’d given away was safe, he was acknowledging an “as if not” life through multiple demands (Fred Smith, “What I Learned from Maxey Jarman,” Leadership 2.1 [1981]). The “as if not” life should be energized, Paul reminds, by the sober conviction that “this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:31) Live in light of the end. Live “as if not.” It makes good, God-honouring, Christian sense.

When Emerging Leaders Go BOOM!

Over the last three years as I’ve been seeking to create instruments to empower home-grown leaders, I’ve noticed that the greatest personal interest being shown comes from people of a certain age. Let me share an example: “I am an engineer, 50 years old, chair of our church board … my wife and I have been praying about our future plans to devote ourselves to full-time ministry in the next 5 years.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to discover a cultural phenomenon that is creating a huge impact in the church – the Baby-Boomer generation in transition. Over the last month, it has not been hard to collect a significant amount of research. This movement has been tracked by researchers for over a decade.  Consider a few of the details:

  • 1 baby boomer retires every 7 seconds in the US.
  • Baby Boomers [those born after WWII through early 1960’s] make up 25% of the total population of North America.
  • Baby Boomers in the US number 82 million. In 2001, the leading edge of this group turned 55.
  • Financial planners have recorded a significant shift in retirement planning indicating a significant rise in early-retirement, and active retirement.
  • Baby Boomers have the highest volunteer participation rate of any demographic group.
  • There are 12 million self-described Evangelical Christian baby boomers according to the Wall Street Journal.

The age wave is beginning to break over society with surprising impact. While Boomers have been sometimes branded as the most selfish generation, there is evidence that as they age they are proving to be much different. A study from the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2005 revealed that Boomers are not only more active in volunteer participation, but fully expect to extend their volunteer commitments to more mature – even career – levels.

This surge is being felt in a number of arenas. It has created an impact in the world of missions. In late 2005, Wycliffe Bible Translators built a volunteer mobilization center in Orlando, Florida in an attempt to keep up with their largest sector of missionary growth. Since the year 2000, Wycliffe has experienced an average of 40% annual increase in the number of “Boomer Missionaries.” Martin Huyett, Wycliffe’s vice-president for volunteer services explained, “these people have a certain amount of freedom and control … they want to do something significant, not just write checks.”

Along with Wycliffe, many mission organizations have begun to realize the value of the Boomer generation as the most healthy, well-financed, and highly educated retirement generation in history. According to Martin Huyett, “today’s 60-year-old is mature and needs far less training in living skills than his or her younger counterparts … a person in his or her 50’s and above has triumphed through their productive years and has built-in strategies for success.”

One organization, The Finisher’s Project, was founded by Nelson Malwitz as a way to match Boomers with the growing list of ministry opportunities provided by Mission agencies. Currently, the Finisher’s Project is working with 100 organizations, has placed over 1,000 people in full-time missions, has 1,000 people in process, and has an additional 1,200 people expressing their intention to make a transition in the next 2 years. Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity said, “Most mission agencies are trying to work with this trend … that 20 years ago was unwelcome.”

Engaging “seniors” [according to Win Arn, Boomers prefer the title “middle adults”] in ministry may have been “unwelcome” 20 years ago. Now, they appear to be absolutely crucial to the life of the church. Jim Hughes, professor of Aging at Abilene Christian University, has questioned several conventional thoughts that may stand in the way of propelling Boomers into service. One has been the emphasis on youth ministry – with the conventional wisdom being that youth are the most open to faith commitments. Considering the level of interest in “significance studies” reflected in books like Bob Buford’s Half-Time, older adults are proving to be extremely responsive to issues of faith.

Another idea is that age, for older people, equals inertia. The reality of the Boomer generation is that there is an eagerness for change. Life passages such as retirement, the “empty nest” syndrome, are no longer viewed as debilitating. Instead, Boomers are proving to value mobility and the freedom to pursue creative options. Nelson Malwitz of the Finishers Project described this attitude: “as you hit 50, you no longer count your years from the time you were born, but you count the amount of time you have left. The BIG idea [of the Boomers] has to do with finishing well.” Backing up his comments, a survey sponsored by the Finishers Project among 600 evangelical Boomers reported that 61% are planning to retire early [as soon as possible as no later than 65] and pursue a second career. 54% said that they would consider a second career in missions. 81% expect to be able to pursue this service together with their spouse. 

As I reflect on the growing body of statistics generated by the explosion of the Boomer generation, I find myself almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of implications. Apart from the fact that many of them are intensely personal [since I, too, am a Boomer] each seem to have a consequence for the future of the church. Let me share three quick discoveries:

1. The Boomers are ready – use them or lose them: Jim Hughes of the Abilene Christian University writes, “many churches look to younger people to fill significant roles, leaving older adults to trivial tasks.” Many Boomer post-retirement plans are being built around significance, mission, and impact. With their proven record of life-skills and initiative, if their Church won’t match their intentions in a serious fashion, they will find other avenues to influence their world.

2. The Boomers are capable – adapt and enjoy: One of the things I have noticed as I’ve sought to empower emerging leaders is that very few of them have aspirations for what the church would consider conventional ministry. Very few 50 year olds are eager to become Senior Pastors. Instead, one of the reasons that they are considering a more mature level of ministry is that God has stimulated a burden in their hearts for specific ministries – some of which are unique and exceptional. Todd Johnson, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary reports that the Boomers are more interested in being active than just giving money. They have a passion to “start NGO’s, orphanages, business centers, health clinics, all at local levels.”  Churches that strategically empower Boomers are discovering themselves suddenly engaged in ministries beyond their imagining.

3. The Boomers are passionate – put them at the nozzle: I discovered one subtle, but profound, comment that revealed the Boomer attitude. Their vocabulary reflects a difference in generational attitude. When it came to management and administration, Boomer’s parents would frequently use the word “delegate.” On the other hand, when Boomers speak of management and administration, they more frequently use the word “empower.” The difference between the two words reveals, I think, the key to mobilizing this generation in the local church. Since they already possess a history of initiative and responsibility, when it comes to initiating Boomer ministries – they should be set free to identify the target and aim the flow of ministry.

Those are just three quick, off the cuff reflections. You may have more – and I’d love to hear them. Better yet, maybe your church should hear them too.

Sources: Articles:

“Retirement: Retirees May Become Ministry Cutting Edge”, Andy Butcher, Christianity Today Online, 16 June 1997  [http://ctlibrary.com/1140]

“A Boom for Missions” John Kennedy, Christianity Today Online, February 2007 [www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/February/18.20html]

“Boomers: The New Wave of Volunteer Missionaries” Alex Coffin, Christian Newswire, 14 November 2007 [www.christiannewswire.com/new/356371502.html]

“Issue Brief: Baby Boomers and Volunteering: An Analysis of the Current Population Survey”, Corporation for National and Community Service, December, 2005 [www.nationalservice.gov]

Books:

FutureThink: How To Think Clearly In A Time Of Change, Edie Weiner and Arnold Brown, Pearson Prentice Hall, Toronto, 2006.

Organizations:

Finishers Project: www.finishers.org