• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

How Missionaries Lost Their Chariots of Fire

Jay Weaver here.    During David & Rebecca’s well-earned vacation, he has asked Chuck Sutton and I to foster some interchange here at our blog site.   Thanks for YOUR part!   Have you read the Wall Street Journal article, “How Missionaries Lost Their Chariots of Fire”?    We’re grateful for Dave Dougherty pointing it out.  Click on the link to read it now.  It’s a bit amazing to find this candor and insight into evangelical causes in a world-class business paper.   We invite you to reflect and comment on what we learn and how we minister in light of this article.  Some starter questions:

  • In what constructive ways can we wield influence as missionaries in the churches who send us out (or among whom we serve)?
  • How do the cited trends compare to what you are seeing in the churches where you live and serve (if available)?
  • Is this just a USA phenomenon?  To what extent to these trends differ in churches from Canada, Australia, Europe or other sending countries? 

4 Responses

  1. This article reflects a contemporary dilemma in missions: how to resolve the complex tensions between:

    1. The absolute that Jesus is the only way while the world around us believes there must be many ways.

    2. The proclaimed and cognitive gospel (which touches on future hope but is less in touch with the here and now), and holistic or integrative gospel of the kingdom (which transforms believers for life in this world as well as giving hope and assurance for the world to come).

    According to this article, it seems that the western church is tending to take the easier route and is erring in the opposite direction from our colonial forbears.

    The gospel of the kingdom demands both incarnation and proclamation.

    But perhaps there is another issue: a biblically illiterate church which sends missionaries who don’t know how to study and pass on the teaching of Scripture.

    This is the challenge to missionaries in David Sills’ book “Reaching and Teaching”.

  2. (submitting a comment from Mark Swallow)
    1. This article provides a good and necessary challenge for us. Herein lies the challenge: ” ‘Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.’ But research suggests that non-Christians often miss the message without the words.” It could take several emails to name the sub-challenges that arise from this summary statement, but that would be a profitable exercise. One point to get that discussion started: are our workers, in the language of the culture they are reaching, prepared (and constantly being prepared) to use the words?

    2.”The overwhelming majority of American missionaries today are ‘vacationaries.’ Joining mission trips of two weeks or less…” What is even more scary, in my opinion, is when the vacationary mindset settles in with vocational mission workers. It seems to me the church needs to address this mentality in discipleship, i.e. the nature of Christian mission is to integrate it so deeply into one’s life that there’s no such distinction between short term and long term, in fact there are no terms at all. Our commitment to Christ’s mission lasts our lifetime.

    3. I get Livermore’s point but it ends with the usual flip generalization I do neither like nor agree with. ““The work these missionaries do reflects a paradigm shift—from spreading Christianity, to living it, says David A. Livermore, executive director of the Global Learning Center at Cornerstone University. ‘In a postmodern context it goes against the grain to go in and do hard-core proselytizing. To millenials, it really feels like al Qaeda in Christian wineskins.’ And ‘that’s a good shift,’ he adds, because ‘it’s caused us to see it’s not enough to say Jesus loves you and then jump on a plane and go home.’” Has there been some of the ‘ Jesus loves you’ , then jumping on a plane? Sure. But not nearly as much as is often suggested. It’s been my experience at World Team, for example, that our colleagues are trying very hard, in tough environments, indeed environments of Satanic ground to proclaim the Lord Jesus in word and deed for long, long periods of time. I admire their faithfulness.


  3. (The following comments were received from a leader in WT, who will not be named in this open forum because of the ministry context. The writer is known to the blog moderators.)
    I appreciated the article and the viewpoint of the author. It surprised me that the WSJ editors allowed such a conclusion: “The reality is the Church should be doing both: serving the needy and spreading the gospel. This is what makes the humanitarian work of Christians different than that of the American Red Cross. Both are motivated by the desire to help others, but Christians are spurred by that Jesus thing.”

    This paragraph especially caught my attention: “Scott Moreau, a missions professor at Wheaton College, estimates that two decades ago half of his graduate students believed building churches abroad was their top priority. “Today, it might be 10%,” Moreau says. “Fighting trafficking, orphanage work, HIV-AIDS, poverty—that is probably 50%.” (Those remaining have a variety of primary interests.)”.

    My wife and I are heavily involved in holistic ministries (“serving the needy”). However, our top priority is definitely building the Church; we fit the 50% of two decades ago and the 10% of the present graduate students.

    I trust that we at WT appreciate and uphold our purpose, core values, and vision. Anyone looking at them can deduce that “building churches abroad,” i.e., “fulfilling the Great Commission,” is WT’s top priority. There are serious implications for us in our recruitment.

    1) We must have a recruitment program that highlights, through multiple means, WT’s purpose, core values, and vision statement.
    2) We must recruit to attain the ten percent who believe our top priority is building God’s Church. We need to communicate such that the ninety percent will only glance at our message and seek another agency to pursue their interests.
    3) We must tailor our holistic ministries in such a way that the “Jesus thing” remains in the limelight.
    4) We must, in our pre-field training of our interns and appointees, teach and demonstrate clearly the relationship WT maintains between “serving the needy and spreading the gospel.” We need to make sure there is no incongruity between WT’s philosophy of ministry, pre-field training, and field ministry.

  4. This article speaks to a number of items we are currently wrestling with in our context.

    In a recent leadership meeting, the issue of “abundant sowing” was raised. Garrison refers to “abundant sowing as one of the necessary components of church movements. What does “abundant sowing” look like in the context of our church-planting ministries in Spain?

    The article refers to “vacationaries,” people “doing good” as part of their travel plans. An organization founded by one of my nephews captures this idea in it´s name, “Beyond a Vacation.” As noted in the article there are pros and cons to these concepts and ideas.

    One of the basic issues behind some the struggles we face is a common human trait… we throw the baby out with the bath-water. Seeing hard core evangelism as being linked to colonial attitudes and methods, people shy away from anything akin to this, and move, enmass, to approaches much more palatable to our new world views.

    The challenge for those of us involved in cross-cultural church planting is to work within these new realities, capitalizing opportunities, and seeking to minimize those “opportunities” that can simply be a waste of time, money, and personnel.

    I´ve often wondered how best to utilize a short-term, mainly English speaking team in a long-term mainly Spanish speaking context. My recent experience with a COOL Team (out of the World Team Filipino churches in Toronto) allowed me to include a variety of aspects into a short term experience. The team came to serve… they painted our training centre. The team came to learn… they were exposed to the Spain Team vision, and the need for more churches in Spain… they were exposed to a variety of ministries in Spain… they were challenged with the Gospel for believers in our daily team devotions. The team came to share the gospel… they were involved in street evangelism in Madrid. (by the way, these Filipino believers are VERY evangelistic… little wonder the churches are growing in Toronto!)

    Curiously, during the final day debrief of this team of Filipinos… the street evangelism and a clear understanding of Spain´s need for more churches were considered “trip highlights.” Our 2010 interns expressed similar, but differing conclusions, (influenced by their different experience) placing street evangelism as one of the least positive experiences… but placing holistic evangelism (sharing their faith with pilgrims on the “St. James Way” in the context of serving the pilgrims with water, supper, and a place to sleep) as a highlight.

    I whole-heartedly agree with Greenburg´s conclusion: “The reality is the Church should be doing both: serving the needy and spreading the gospel.”

    How can we best serve the “needy” in our local contexts, AND spread the gospel… allowing “vacationaries” the opportunity to be challenged beyond their 2 week experience? I believe that in doing so, we will not only attract the !0% currently in line with our vision, but we will also become influential in growing that group of individuals!

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