Would you be surprised if told you that Americas are increasingly inhospitable to international visitors, and that Christians can thank God for that? One university reports that 80 percent of their international students never see the inside of a local U. S. home. Longer-term immigrants seem to fare little better.
I know this Christian named “Guy.” An out-of-town friend once sent him a thank-you note that read something like, “Hey, Guy, I’m so glad you were willing to help support the missionaries from my church when they came through your town. You know, we ought to support missionaries like them because when we do we partner together for the gospel.”
Contextualization is perhaps one of the most controversial things that all of us do in our churches every day. At its most basic level whether we will contextualize our church is not really an option – anyone here speak fluent Aramaic or Greek, for example? But will we do it wisely, biblically, in the fear of God or will we let our fear of man become the controlling principle?
Thanks for your recent post on missiological humility. Those were good words as we consider how to think critically about missions without succumbing to pride. So I'm curious, as you look at some of the currently controversial issues in missions, what would it look like to think deeply about one of them with humility?
I'd love it if you and/or one of the other "missions guys" would choose just one topic, maybe from the list in your article, and help us see how you would think through it biblically and where you might land.
Looking forward to learning from your responses.
The recent July/August 9Marks 9Marks Journal devoted to the topic of international missions received a surprising amount of reader responses from all around the world. As a result it became even more clear that church planters overseas struggle with many of the same issues as their stateside fellows. Moreover in that same 9Marks Journal Conrad Mbewe reminded us from Zambia that some of the worst aspects of American religion are sadly among the main exports to the rest of the world. Clearly missionaries and churches overseas also need help to think with biblical discernment about the work of planting and growing churches.
But while many of the root issues are the same, there are differences. The work of evangelism and planting churches outside North America has special challenges unique to each context. And the body of literature and conversations about international missions differ somewhat from the questions routinely addressed in North America and on this blog. So we’ve invited four additional friends to begin posting to the 9Marks blog specifically to help us think more biblically about cross-cultural missions. Let me introduce them to you. Ed Roberts is a mission strategist who has lived and labored in Central Asia for almost 15 years. He has worked in evangelism/church planting and in the training of both local leaders and foreign Christian workers. Ed is one of the most well-read, careful thinkers that I know, especially on the topic of building up the church and her leaders in other cultures. I'm delighted to have him contributing to the 9Marks conversation on cross-cultural Christian work. His wisdom and insights have been a blessing to many people, including me. Greg Turner serves a sending organization as the leader for mission work in Central Asia. He too has been working in that region for more than 15 years and was one of the pioneers opening up work in a highly-restricted country in that area. Greg is perhaps the most fascinating "commando meets nerd" hybrid I've every encountered. He's a passionate reader of the Word, theology and history. It's been a delight to count him as one of my friends and personal instructors in missiology. Doug Coleman is the strategy leader for a Muslim people group that spans Central Asia and the Middle East. He has both the qualities of careful student of the Word and ongoing ground-level experience in church planting and team leadership. Doug brings the experiences of one tasked with advancing a focused people-group strategy, but is also a man who never seems to lose sight of the larger biblical principals that guide his labor. Jonathan B. recently returned to the United States after years of work in two different Muslim countries. He now has joined his cross-cultural experience with the responsibility of helping pastor a local congregation here in the States. And like the other men on this blog, he is a careful reader and student of the Word. I especially look forward to his reflections on how local churches can think more biblically about the global mission of the gospel.
So these are the “new guys on the blog” here to help us think about missions from a biblical perspective. Yes they bring significant personal experiences but even more they each realize that God's Word, not their experiences, is the first and final authority in missions. That more than anything else promises to make their insights uniquely valuable.
The July/August 9 Marks 9Marks Journal on missions went out a week ago. And, frankly, I’ve been a little discouraged by the flood of “encouraging” agreement from missionaries who read the article "Pragmatism, Pragmatism Everywhere." That article warns of the replacement of Biblical faithfulness with pragmatic results as the new measure of missionary success. Thus far we’ve gotten appreciative emails from Turkey, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, India, "East Asia," Bangladesh, Australia, the United States, and even from Texas. Many have added their own anecdotes illustrating the 9Marks Journal's assessment that "whatever gets immediate, visible results" has become the new authority for many in missions. All of the responses have meant to be encouraging and thankful, I think. And I really have appreciated them. It’s good to know that folks are glad we're raising these difficult issues.
But frankly I’ve found myself a little depressed by them all the same. When you essentially suggest that someone you love (Western missions) has a cancer the last thing you really want is lots of agreement, especially if many add that things are even worse than you suggest. I think I was honestly expecting (or at least hoping) to get several cranky emails saying “Andy, you’ve totally missed it. Every missionary I know in my country is primarily concerned with faithfulness to the Bible’s teaching. I’ve never seen large numbers of missionaries chasing after immediate, visible results - indifferent to Biblical instruction on missions and church planting. You’re way off base!”
Of course I know silence doesn’t mean consent. I’m sure there are many folks on the mission field who must have a different experience and opinion. Somewhere? And I suppose such folks might simply not be regular readers of the 9 Marks 9Marks Journal. Still the immediate and broad-based agreement from all around the world has been something of a shock and, frankly, a bit of a downer. It’s certainly made me redouble my efforts to pray for a resurgent confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture among Western missionaries…and to hope for a little disagreement about the overall premise…just to cheer me up?