Myths About Missions

The following article about some prevailing myths surrounding the world of missions is worth the read. I found it quite thought-provoking.
Dave Shive

FIVE SECULAR MYTHS ABOUT MISSIONS
By Trevor Johnson

April 1874 – the British Empire’s treasury pays £500 for the missionary David Livingstone’s funeral (around £38,000 today). A steamer carries his body to Southampton where he receives an artillery salute. His body lies in state at the Royal Geographical Society’s offices for two days and crowds throng to pay their respects.
David Livingstone died after contacting many remote tribes for the first time and opened up Africa to commerce. But his primary objective was always to tell them about Jesus. He was hailed as a hero.

November 2018 – a medically trained young man, John Allen Chau, was killed trying to go ashore to reach the unreached people of North Sentinel Island among the Andaman Island group. He is heavily criticized and even mocked online.

This is one metric of how far the West has fallen.

As Western civilization pulls away from its Christian moorings, we see a rising anti-missionary sentiment. Those who identify as Christians are not much different. Many professing Christians also criticized Chau. What is more, a recent Barna survey showed the shocking conclusion that, “Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong.”

Attacked in the press by a Russian photographer

This anti-missionary sentiment was brought home to me in a very personal way in September of 2018. While recovering from a swollen liver, spleen, and gallbladder from my 23rd bout with malaria after 12 years of service among the remote Korowai tribe, I was shocked to read this bold headline, “Ancient Tribe on the Brink of Being Wiped Out by Christian Missionaries.” In another newspaper I read these further accusations, “Fight for Survival: Ancient Jungle Tribe of Super-Strong Hunters Close to Being Wiped Out by Christian Missionaries.”

The Russian photographer Maxim Russkikh traveled 15 days throughout Korowai territory and documented his journey. During a mere 2 weeks Russkikh, who does not speak the local or the regional language, saw some abandoned houses and concluded that the missionaries must be wiping out the tribe. Because of the sensational nature of the photographs, several Western media outlets published his reports, which slandered my missionary work among this tribe.

Despite the Korowai being highly mobile and often possessing two houses (one in their jungle garden and another in the village) and despite Korowai sagu grub feast huts being abandoned after use, Russkikh falsely concluded that the empty houses were evidence that the tribe was dying off and that the missionaries were forcibly removing the tribe into reservation-type settlements. In reality, the Korowai themselves have organized several villages on their own initiative, have invited us missionaries in to help them, and are, in fact, increasing in population due to a decrease in mortality, a result of the work of the Papuan churches and missionaries. But nevertheless, these slanderous accusations by Mr. Russkikh have been read and believed by tens of thousands.

And all this time I thought I was helping! We’ve planted churches, built a school, ran a clinic and then built one, and supplied teachers and nurses. We’ve immunized the entire region. We’ve spoken to the Indonesian Government on behalf of the Korowai and even successfully fought the illegal gold mining that was exploiting their land. But all along, according to this online article, I was actually committing genocide. Reading the comments online is always “enlightening” – especially when it consists of hateful libel directed at me and my work (a work which has almost killed me several times already).

I have responded to this slander, but my voice will never be as loud as that irresponsible reporter’s voice.

In this blog article below, I’d like to briefly list five common myths about missionary work. More appropriately labeled, these are five common lies often told about Christian missions.

Myth 1. Missionaries destroy cultures.

While it is true that missionary work often leads to the abandonment of some tribal practices, what is objectionable that we missionaries are trying to eliminate? The past cannibalism – should we preserve that? The clan warfare and witch-killings – should we preserve those? We are trying to end child-marriages – should we preserve 8-year-old girls being forcibly taken and given to 40-year-old men? The occasional infanticide of unwanted children – should we preserve that? Illiteracy and rampant disease – should we preserve those as well? What exactly are we destroying that is objectionable?

In addition, we missionaries are working to increase literacy, preserve their language, provide education, improve health, decrease infant mortality, promote peace and unity among the clans, and even train some Korowai in job skills. What is objectionable about those goals?

The truth is that missionaries have blessed many parts of the world. In the Christianity Today article, “The World the Missionaries Made: The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries,” we read the following:
“Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.
In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary.”

(The missionary Don Richardson, who served among another remote Papuan tribe, the Sawi, also wrote this rebuttal, “Do Missionaries Destroy Cultures?”)

Myth 2. Missionaries coerce local people into Christianity.
An alternate way of wording this would be to accuse missionaries of helping poor indigenous peoples only as a means of introducing Christ to them. This just isn’t true.

We provide medical care and aid regardless of who needs it or what they profess. We help people, not in order to gain a hearing for the Gospel. We help people because they need help. We help people who absolutely reject any spiritual counsel that we happen to give them. We give medical aid to people who threaten us even. Why? Not merely to promote an agenda; but simply because they need medical help.

While I love the Lord Jesus and I come to help bless the Korowai because of the great blessings first given to me from God, we have never tied our work in with any obligation to profess faith in Christianity. We help people because they need help. People must always be free to choose or reject our faith. A forced belief is no belief at all; there is no coercion.

Myth 3. Missionaries bring deadly pathogens which decimate tribal peoples.
With the death of the missionary John Allen Chau, many internet critics asserted that he endangered the health of the tribal people by his mere presence. “What about the pathogens the tribe could have been exposed to?” they asked.

In the case of Chau, who was a trained wilderness medic, he quarantined himself for a time before making any contact. Now, in contrast to Chau’s careful regard for the health of the tribal people, contrast this with the actions of an earlier exploration party led by anthropologist T.N. Pandit who made first contact with the tribal peoples of the Andaman Islands:
“Pandit remembers that the contact party left gifts in the empty huts: plastic buckets, bolts of cloth, packaged candy. He remembers the festive air of the occasion—half military mission and half school picnic—and how, despite his protests, the policemen and naval officers took as souvenirs some of the household goods the Sentinelese had left behind: bows, arrows, a basket, the painted skull of a wild boar.”

Had this been done by a missionary, let alone an American missionary, the press would probably have portrayed it as, “Missionary takes armed party, leaves diseased blankets for the tribe and steals their needed goods as souvenirs.”

No criticism of this anthropologist Pandit exists online, despite the semi-military nature of his mission and despite the theft of tribal property.
Further, let us consider:

(1) The “What about the pathogens?” argument, if applied broadly, would condemn all missionary activity throughout all of history in every new land.

(2) The risk is not as severe in our day. The Andaman Islanders had already been exposed by Pandit and others before Chau arrived. Good medical care also would further minimize the risks, and Chau was a trained wilderness medic.

(3) Tribal peoples ALREADY suffer many diseases, and missionaries are often trained in medicine. The risks of exposure to the tribe are less than the benefits of good medical aid that is rendered by such contact.

(4) For Christians who believe in an eternal soul, what is more important, a small chance of infection from an unfamiliar pathogen, or a Christless eternity?

(5) Finally, we must ask how many remote tribes are actually left in the world so cut-off from outside contact that they actually suffer from this danger of pathogens? The answer: an almost infinitesimal fraction of the world’s entire population exists in such a state in the year 2019. Only several thousand out of 7 billion such people even exist.

Now, what about the Korowai tribe that I work with, and their danger from pathogens?

The Korowai are listed as one of the world’s most remote remaining tribes in the world. But even they have been trading with nearby tribes for years. Outsiders (including tourists and reporters) have penetrated the region in years past as well. And these tourists and reporters have never brought medical aid to the people. Many Korowai have also trekked out to town. We have seen colds and flus and measles spread throughout the broad region (none have originated from us, but started in other areas), and we’ve done our best to stop the spread and have nursed dozens back from the brink of death. But we have not endangered the Korowai due to our foreign pathogens any more than Mr. Russkikh the reporter has done.

Myth 4. Tribal people are more pure and innocent and exist in harmony with nature.

Another myth is that tribal peoples are pure and innocent while Western missionaries are greedy and zealous. The myth of the noble savage is alive and well and often propagated in the Media.

I responded to this myth in the Aquila Report article, “Are Missionaries Wiping Out The Closer-To-Nature Ways Of Life In Remote Tribes?” In the original source, Alyssa Duvall quotes me as follows:
“…Johnson rejects the “derogatory” terms critics of missionaries use to describe peoples like the Korowai, such as “primitive” or “Stone-age”. “They are humans just like us, and they have desires and agency to act upon their desires. This has led them to petition the government for help. This has caused them to ask for missionaries.”

As for perfect harmony with nature, Johnson says it’s “a common Western lie.””

A common trope among Western tourists visiting tribal peoples is to remark how these tribal peoples “live in perfect harmony with their environment.” I must ask: “How did these tourists pick up on this “perfect harmony with nature”? Did they perceive it from the chronic cough and the drawn, tight, tuberculoid features of the older Korowai? Did they learn this from the yellowing or even balding heads of the young people from malnutrition? Did they learn this from child-brides silently inhabiting Korowai treehouses? Did they perceive this “natural-ness” from the dirt and grime-smeared babies? These babies ARE, indeed, closer to “nature,” I suppose, if you mean mud and earth.

In reality, the Korowai fight nature tooth and nail. And in the end, they almost always lose.

Now that we live among the Korowai, we have often given foodstuffs to them during times of famine and hunger. What do they do with the plastic packaging? They throw it on the ground and in the creek and river, and they litter terribly even though we instruct them to burn the plastic to keep the jungle clean. The Korowai are the worst litterers I’ve ever met. They are not “more natural” and “closer to natural” – they’ve merely lacked the means to destroy their jungle because they’ve been ineffective at technological progress.

What does it mean to be “more natural” anyway? If natural means basic and common to mankind, then the Korowai are not natural. They are an historical oddity, since steady historical progress is natural. To advance is natural. And so the Korowai are not natural. In the slow advance forward, these people have fallen out of the march and some have even wandered backward and degraded. The Sumerians, Egyptians and ancient Greeks steadily built new inventions and musical instruments and composed great works of art, even thousands of years ago. The Korowai, on the other hand, merely try to survive – even in the year 2019. Therefore, no, the Korowai are not natural if natural means to be common to mankind.

Or does natural mean more earthy and close to nature? And if this is so, then, yes, the Korowai are more natural. But why is this a virtue? I would not praise my son for eating with his hands if I had forks and spoons for him to use. Simple is not necessarily purer. The natural world is simpler, and yet brutishly cruel. The Korowai, lacking guns, murdered one another with alarming regularity for decades using arrows. The Korowai lacking sophisticated abortion equipment have often simply left their newborns in dirty holes, dug for that reason, to abandon their babies to death.

While their architecture is impressive with their tall treehouses becoming an icon of remote Papua, let’s remember that the motivation for building these tall treehouses was borne out of a superstitious fear of witches. The same modern secularist world that disdains religion also admires these treehouses, yet these structures were borne of their religious/spiritual worldview.

Myth 5. Secular reporters are unbiased and objective and report on these issues truthfully.
Perhaps the biggest myth of all as it relates to missions is this: those in the media who criticize missionaries are the voice of unbiased reason. The secular media are merely objectively reporting the news; that is perhaps the biggest lie of all.

What should we do in light of these criticisms?

In the beginning of this blog article I mentioned the missionary to Africa, David Livingstone. He, too, received criticism in his day. Here is his response explaining the reason and his encouragement for us: “It is hard to work for years with pure motives, and all the time be looked upon by most of those to whom our lives are devoted as having some sinister object in view. Disinterested labor – benevolence – is so out of their line of thought, that many look upon us as having some ulterior object in view; but He who died for us, and Whom we ought to copy, did more for us than we can do for anyone else. He endured the contradiction of sinners. We should have grace to follow in His steps.”

For a look at what is really happening among the Korowai tribe, view this link to the Heartcry Missionary Society video of the work.

Trevor Johnson serves the remote Korowai tribe of central Papua, Indonesia as a missionary with HeartCry Missionary Society. He is married to Teresa and has four children.

Mobilizing African-Americans for Missions

Missiologists have long fretted over the small percentage of African-Americans currently involved in the World Christian movement. For example, only 27 of the over 4,000 missionaries in the Southern Baptist Convention are African-American.

Or one could focus on the small financial contributions to world missions by African-American congregations (forgetting for a moment the shameful record of predominately white congregations when it comes to missions giving). Take the African Methodist-Episcopal Church. This denomination gives $250,000 annually to global missions in spite of having 3 ½ million members and 8,000 congregations. That works out to 8 cents per member or $31 per congregation.

Those facts (obtained from African-American pastor, Thabiti Anyabwile) are indisputable, though the reasons behind these statistics are complex.

Writing in “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader,” David Cornelius argues that an absence of African-Americans in missions should not necessarily be attributed to disinterest in missions. He goes on to catalogue the remarkable activities of American slaves in early American history who, against great odds, achieved extraordinarily in the work of missions. Other authors have also taken finger to keyboard to expand on Cornelius’ list.

But progress is happening on this front. One recent encouraging development has been the establishment in 2014 of NAAMC (National African-American Missions Conference; go to http://www.thenaamc.org/ for complete details.) Due to the missions vision and dedicated efforts of David Perrin, this conference emerged as one of the key tools of the Church for the mobilization of the African-American community to a vision for reaching the nations.

Bishop Perrin is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA, (M.T.S.), and has done doctoral work at the Howard University School of Communications (A.B.D), Washington, DC. He is presently the Senior Pastor of Christ Kingdom Church of District Heights, Maryland.

June 21-23, 2018, will mark the fifth consecutive year that the NAAMC conference will have been held at the facilities of McLean Bible Church (8925 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA). The theme this year is “The Power of Partnerships” and the plenary speakers include Karen Ellis, Bobby Gupta, and George Verwer.

In 2013, while Bishop Perrin was dreaming about the first NAAMC conference, another African-American with a passion for the nations, Bonnie Adams of Lynchburg, VA, was also responding to a strong sense of calling. The emergence of “Fishers of Men” (https://www.fishersofmeninc.org/) was Bonnie’s response to her strong passion for reaching the nations.

Bonnie obediently answered God’s call to apply her understanding of the biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic perspectives on missions by forming Fishers of Men, Inc., a non-profit missionary sending organization focused on mobilizing African-Americans for world missions. Its mission is to facilitate an indigenous, self-replicating, church-planting movement among unreached, unengaged people groups around the world where Christ is not known by committing financial, educational, and practical support to missionaries and mission agencies.

Bonnie even owns a B & B in downtown Lynchburg. “Lydia House” provides a platform for Bonnie to not only provide for personal income but for hosting visitors who are engaged in mobilizing African-Americans missions.

Recent developments in the mobilization of African-Americans and African-American churches are incredibly encouraging. A fresh momentum for reaching the nations among any demographic segment of the Church is God’s answer to the prayers of Jesus’ disciples who “pray to the Lord of the harvest to raise up laborers for the harvest” (Mt. 9:38).

Surprising Discoveries from the Battlefield: Encouragement for the Lord’s Servants

(What follows has been excerpted from the November 1 edition of the monthly newsletter my wife and I e-mail to friends and supporters. We hope we can encourage you with these thoughts. – Dave Shive)

Sometimes I think I’m at an age where I should be fully prepared for spiritual warfare. But the hits keep coming and I still frequently fumble the ball. Most of the attacks come when I’m least prepared.

Every significant war, battle or conflict is characterized by surprise attacks. The enemy looks for the unguarded moment, a chink in his opponent’s armor to launch an assault.

A recent skirmish came in the form of technological failures in the midst of a flurry of ministry activity. Though my computer-savy son might disagree, I don’t think I’m completely technologically hopeless. But significant upgrades to my laptop were long overdue and I had to bite the bullet and jump into the abysss. (I will spare you the details.) Though I’m still in the midst of trying to find my way through the mess, I have found some grace. Perhaps you will find some encouragement here, as well.

One difficult aspect to spiritual attack is the feeling of helplessness we experience. The enemy knows how to attack at a point of weakness where we will feel most vulnerable and unable to fight back. This is frustrating until we realize that we are powerless to resist and our response must take another form.

A second facet is that the enemy attacks at such inconvenient times! At the conclusion of Jesus’ temptation in Luke 4:13, we are told that the devil “left him for a more convenient time.” It was Satan’s intent to come back to continue his harrassment of Jesus, but his return would be at a time convenient to Satan, not to Jesus. Jesus’ next encounter with the devil will not be a conveniently-scheduled appointment, and we should expect nothing less than an attack at the most ill-timed moment.

Finally, spiritual attacks generally come as a surprise. I was not expecting a bout with the enemy, particularly one that focused on my laptop and software. Where do you expect an attack to come in your life? Well, get ready, because the enemy is already looking to surprise you with a whole new means of assault!

These three aspects of spiritual warfare often converge, as they did with me. The attack not only was directed at a point of personal weakness (technology), but it came at a time when I felt that I could least afford the distraction and interruption (a busy time of ministry), and I was blindsided.

For those experiencing these kind of battle fronts in their own lives, C. S. Lewis’ thoughts contained in his Screwtape Letters may prove helpful. It is in that volume that we find “demon Screwtape” teaching his demonic apprentice, Wormwood, to be aware of what God wants of his followers so that Wormwood will know how to launch his attack on a new Christian. The “Enemy” mentioned is God. Says Screwtape:

“He [God] wants them [new Christians] to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Typical C. S. Lewis as he nails it with a few well-chosen words.

But then there is serendipity: an accidental and pleasant discovery. In the midst of the assaults of the enemy, there is a metamorphosis. A flower bursts through the pavement in a parking lot. Beauty can emerge from ashes. Mourning is turned to dancing. A candle transforms the darkness. The ugly caterpillar mutates into the beautiful butterfly. And hideous infirmity and weakness is serendipitously transmuted into a work of grace and joy. It’s as if God is just waiting for the most unlikely of opportunities to reveal himself.

When Paul was bedeviled by his “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12), serendipity occurred. Grace showed up to diminish a perceived liability to Paul’s ministry. Infirmity becomes strength. That is so much like God, isn’t it?

Paul’s dialogue with God in prayer in II Cor. 12 was the turning point, as it was for me and can be for you. The solution for these attacks is renewed prayer. The helpless gain power through supplication. Alertness readies us for the “more convenient time” when the enemy will inevitably show up. Persevering in prayer guards us against those surprise attacks that catch us off guard.

May grace show up in your life today.

“When Everything is Missions” – The Final Review (Part VIII)

“When Everything is Missions”
by Matthew Ellison and Denny Spitters
Copyright 2017 Pioneers-USA & Sixteen:Fifteen
(A review by Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz)
This is the last of eight posts reviewing Ellison and Spitters’ timely volume. In this post, we examine Chapter 7: “Now what”? (chapter written by Matthew Ellison and Denny Spitters)

In the first six chapters, the authors have been compelling in their assertion that, unless we extremely dilute Jesus’ Great Commission mandate, not everything can be missions, and not everyone can be a missionary. While they previously have given a few practical examples to show how wrong thinking in this area leads to negative outcomes, chapter seven is where Ellison really puts poor thinking about missions “in his crosshairs” (p. 92).

The authors jump right into Acts 1:8 and the “heresy of sequentialism” (as David Garrison refers to it). Acts 1:8 states “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What many have done is treat Acts 1:8 as a model of outreach where we minister in concentric circles, sort of like what happens when you throw a stone into a pool of water. The thinking is that we start with those geographically closest to us and move on out from home base. So, a church leader might say, “we are on mission right here in our back yard, our Jerusalem, and when we grow more disciples here and our church is bigger, we will go to our Judea and Samaria, and someday we will go to the end of the earth” (p. 109).

We have witnessed this application of Acts 1:8 in many churches. The authors suggest that, if this were the way that verse was supposed to be interpreted all the “ands” would be replaced with “thens.” “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.”

There is some validity to this, but it should not be pressed too far. [Feel free to zone out with the following brief excursion into the Greek.] The Greek “te…kai…kai…kai” implies a “both…and” relationship. This construction can then be interpreted/translated as neither linking the geographical places together sequentially, nor prioritizing one over the other. [OK. Wake up. Greek lesson over.]

The “heresy” of sequentialism is basically breaking Acts 1:8 into its component parts and doing them in sequence rather than all at once. Garrison is quoted (p. 109): “You shouldn’t eat a cake… one element at a time: flour, eggs, vanilla and then baking soda. The real enjoyment occurs when every element is present in every bit. Global missions is part of God’s essential recipe for discipleship, not something you get to only in Christianity 401. It ought to be present in the first bite.”

But there is an additional reason for not taking Acts 1:8 in the normative way many evangelical churches do when they suggest that Jesus was thinking that the disciples should develop ministry within their own comfort zone at home, then and only then strategizing how to move out cross-culturally into regions like Judea, Samaria, etc.

The problem here is in equating Jerusalem with our home base and deciding that we should start with our home area and then move out from there.

Now if your church views the allusion to Jerusalem as telling congregations to start their missions efforts at home, you may be wondering, “What’s wrong with that?” Steve Hawthorne answers that question in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, p. 138, when he says: “Telling people not to leave town may seem like a strange way to launch a missionary movement. But one fact, often overlooked, will help: Jerusalem was not their home! These men were from Galilee…Jerusalem was the most dangerous place on the planet for them…No wonder Luke records that he told them to stay in Jerusalem. If he hadn’t, they might have drifted back into the comfort zone of their homes in Galilee.”

Not only was Jerusalem not home for the disciples (Galilee was), but the religious leaders were quite hostile to the disciples in Jerusalem, so much so that the disciples felt like they needed to hide.

We were a little confused by the section on Pentecost and how it related to the thrust of the chapter. Still, it had some great points. Ellison is addressing a sentiment being heard more and more frequently, that is, now that mission efforts from outside the West and North have matured, it is time to “hand off the baton to the global Church of the South and East and get out of the way.”

The authors point out that handing off the baton “implies we are no longer in the race” (p. 111). Sadly there are far too many leaders in the West who are quite happy to acquiesce by either appealing to the “we are empowering the national by pulling out” argument or the “God has brought the nations to our shores so we’ll just reach them here” argument. While this may sound great at an elder meeting, it is wrong-headed and has many unintended consequences that the authors have already addressed.

If you have been looking for some new quotes to exhort people for missions involvement, go no further than pp. 112-113 where a missionary named David Hosaflook (a name that would make Winkey Pratney proud) is quoted. It is powerful and compelling stuff that really gets your attention and prepares the reader for the antidote that the authors prescribe. The antidote, by the way, is a seven- step solution (“Foundational steps toward implementing our mission,” p. 114) that can be applied both personally and corporately.

In discussing Matthew 28:18-20, Ellison quotes David Mays (who left this world far too early and we really miss him): “The object of ‘disciple’ is ‘all nations.’ Jesus did not say to disciple, or to disciple your family, or disciple whomever happens to be near, or disciple people in your community, or disciple the people like you. He said to disciple ALL NATIONS, i.e. all peoples, all ethno-linguistic groups. ‘Make disciples’ cannot be divorced from ‘all nations.’ It is not fair, not legitimate, not biblical to claim the Great Commission for your church purpose and neglect the nations. It is to use the Scripture like a drunk uses a lamp post, for support rather than illumination” (p. 119).

As we finished this book we found an appendix chock full of great application questions. This is just the kind of book a church missions leadership team should read and discuss together. The discussion questions in this appendix would be helpful both for personal application as well as group study.

In closing, let us say that we hope that these chapter summaries/reviews have been helpful. When we started this endeavor, we did it mainly because we knew and respected the authors. As we got into the book however, we really saw that this is a book that is incredibly timely and feel that Spitters and Ellison have accurately discerned some serious missions issues confronting the church and have faced them head on. We have purchased multiple copies that we’re going to be using with key people we work with. Our guess is that there will be future orders.

So, a big “thank you” to the authors for taking the time and energy to produce this valuable additional to current missions thinking. Those who read and use it will not be disappointed.

Serving God In the Midst of Struggles: When Anxiety Takes Over

This post has been excerpted from Robin Barnes’ blog “Spiritual Grit” (spiritual grit.com). It is a brief telling of the story of my experience with extreme anxiety while in the midst of ministry.

While in seminary in the early 1970s, I was the part-time pastor of a small church. A dear, godly, woman in my congregation was struggling with a sense of anxiety. Things were not right for “Connie,” but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what was wrong. Thinking this was a sin or spiritual problem, she was desperately applying herself to biblical disciplines, but with little success.
I did my best to help her in spite of my limited understanding of her needs. Having had little experience with emotional problems, my only framework for counsel was my seminary training. And so I talked with her about prayer and trusting God.

But nothing I said had the slightest impact on her struggles. In spite of excellent seminary training, I lacked the ability to help people like Connie. And, since I had never personally had to deal with those problems myself, I didn’t even really understand what they were going through.

A few years later I was surprised to receive a jubilant letter from Connie. Her doctor had diagnosed her as hypoglycemic (low blood sugar). After medical and dietary solutions were implemented, her symptoms quickly disappeared. Regretting my failure to give her the most basic guidance, I was nevertheless delighted with this outcome. But I learned a powerful lesson through that ministry “failure,” a lesson that would stand me in good stead in my own time of personal crisis.

All that was to change years later. Fast forward to June 2015 when, for the first time in my life, I was blindsided by a smothering cloud of anxiety. It came on the heels of a very busy few months that ended with a stressful missions trip to Asia. When I got home, I found myself psychologically paralyzed. I was unable to function on the most basic level. Though it only lasted two days, such crippling anxiety was very distressing. I was relieved when the symptoms quickly went away and life returned to normal.

But in early March 2017 the debilitating fist of anxiety got its grip on me on a second occasion, this time with a vengeance. This was an engulfing 24-7 tidal wave of crushing angst so distressing that life seemed unbearable. Nothing escaped my “worry radar” as I found myself in a state of constant anxiety about every conceivable thing. After the symptoms lingered for a week, I sought medical help.

I was fortunate to have a sensitive, caring, and knowledgeable doctor. She listened patiently, ordered a battery of tests (which showed no evidence of medical abnormalities), and prescribed a low dose of a mild medication. After a few weeks, I stabilized. Now, six months later, the symptoms have not returned, and I am grateful.

From Observation to Empathy:

When it comes to anxiety, most people can be divided into at least two major groups. First, there are those who have never been seriously impacted by emotional imbalances. I spent the first seven decades of my life in this first group.

The second group would be made up of those who have anxiety on the level of “a disorder.” This is worry on steroids. After sharing my struggles in an April 2017 newsletter, I learned that there are far more in this second group than I could have ever imagined. Though I only joined their ranks for a couple of months, I have learned that there are no guarantees.

I’ve also learned that, whether anxiety grips us like a vise or we are giving care to others who are struggling, it is essential that we take the challenge seriously. Advice like “pray more, read your Bible, confess your sin,” and “go to church,” are helpful when the struggle is spiritual in nature, perhaps the result of sin. But when the problem is physical or emotional, the sufferer must shift into a different gear. Since those who deal with anxiety are usually already crying out to God and dealing with sin problems, simplistic remedies are inadequate.

But this does not mean that there are no options. In my case, getting my physician involved was a no-brainer. In addition to medical causes, there can also be dietary issues, hormonal imbalances, results of stress , sleep deficiency, genetic factors, and even spiritual warfare to impact our emotional well-being. In my case, my physician was very helpful, so I did not pursue counseling or therapy. However, if the problem had persisted for very long, that would have been a logical next step.

Getting Help:

The combining of physical, emotional, hormonal, dietary, and stress factors with spiritual warfare can make one dizzy with confusion. To this day, I cannot confidently state the exact cause of my brief skirmish with anxiety, though I know that stress was a factor. Nor am I certain what action I took that ultimately led to my return to normalcy, though I do believe medication, prayer, and a lightening of my schedule all played a role.

I’m not trained as a counselor or as a medical professional. But my experience has led me to four practical suggestions for those who are in the throes of such difficulties:

◆ Visit your doctor and have a complete physical checkup.

◆ Temporarily scale back your ministry to allow time for rest, recreation, reading, and renewal. This may prove to be of immense help.

◆ Don’t hesitate to take a medication prescribed by your doctor or psychiatrist. Whether for the short-term (like me) or the long-term (like many), this can often help to stabilize you so you can function normally.

◆ Learn to anticipate, recognize, avoid, and defuse stressful situations that may trigger your symptoms.

Jesus the Greatest Empathizer:

For those engaged in intense ministry, engagement on the front lines of battle is an invitation to stress and attacks. As a result of my hitting the wall in April, I have discovered that many full-time Christian workers as well as other believers are experiencing a virtual avalanche of disorders and phobias. This is a great strategy of the enemy to neutralize the effectiveness of those serving the Lord.

Recently I was having breakfast with missionaries whom my wife and I support. I was surprised to discover that the wife, a normally joy-filled and vivacious person, had recently come through a devastating season of anxiety that was virtually identical to my own recent experience. Her case was so severe that she had been admitted to the psych ward of her local hospital. The person we might think least susceptible does not have an exemption from this affliction.

Whereas previously I would have commiserated with her but would have been unable to identify with her struggle, I realized I had a newfound understanding and admiration for people like her who battle any kind of mental or emotional imbalance. Before I had opinions (what one Bill Bullard called “the lowest form of knowledge”); now I have empathy (“the highest form of knowledge, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world”).

Of course, the greatest “empathizer” is Jesus, who suffered in a body like ours. We take great comfort in the knowledge that he sits at the Father’s right hand, making intercession for us because he truly “has lived in our world.” Certainly his “troubled soul” (Jn. 12:27) and his agony in the garden (Luke 22:39-46) provide needed comfort that, when we are grappling with emotional disequilibrium, he most assuredly understands.

One final suggestion is I would make is this: During your affliction and after you are delivered, be willing to talk about your experience with trusted people. If God was gracious enough to intervene in your life to protect his reputation (Psalm 109:21), he deserves to have your story shared so that he can get the glory he deserves.

“When Everything is Missions” – A Review (Part VII)

“When Everything is Missions”
by Matthew Ellison and Denny Spitters
Copyright 2017 Pioneers-USA & Sixteen:Fifteen
(A review by Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz)

This is the seventh of eight posts reviewing Ellison and Spitters’ timely volume. In this post, we examine Chapter 6: “So what”? (chapter written by Matthew Ellison)

To this point, the authors have been compelling in their assertion that, unless we extremely dilute Jesus’ Great Commission mandate, not everything can be missions, and not everyone can be a missionary. While they previously have given a few practical examples to show how this wrong thinking leads to negative outcomes, in this chapter Ellison puts poor thinking about missions “in his crosshairs” (p. 92).

As Matthew squints through his rifle sight, he spots his prey: “We had been talking for a few years to explain why churches weren’t doing missions well and felt that one of the primary reasons was that they were not thinking about missions well” (p. 91). Go ahead. Read that quote again. His one sentence salvo goes for the jugular. We are not thinking well about missions, and the consequences for the Church and missions are staggering (as his practical examples will illustrate).

For Ellison, sloppy thinking about missions has led to the “broadening of the definition of missions, which has inevitably led to a philosophy that says that every follower of Christ is a missionary” (p. 92; Spitters tackles that same issue in chapter 4). For Matthew, a Chinese proverb highlights the dilemma: “When two men own a horse, it will starve; when two men own a boat, it will leak” (p. 99). We marginalize the cross-cultural task of taking of the gospel to the nations when we lump it in with every other good thing followers of Jesus are called to do.

If you have read the book or followed these reviews (or both), you may have noted a recurring theme that challenges a popular missions tune. The well-known lyrics suggest that all of the church’s good works and evangelistic efforts can be construed as misssions. While not denying the importance of deeds of mercy and works of justice, Ellison (and Spitters) contends that our faulty thinking must be replaced by a perspective that sees the entire Bible as requiring the church to view missions as cross-cultural.

As hinted above, Ellison helpfully supports his argument by discussing several examples of mission organizations, mission leaders, and church philosophies that illustrate his concern.

With his first example, he takes on the whole native missionary movement most commonly associated with “Gospel for Asia” (p. 93-94). Ellison sees this organization, led by K. P. Yohanan, as plagued by “faulty missiology.” Because of this, it serves as a classic illustration of how “poor thinking about missions can lead to problematic results.”

As an aside, we must point out that just a few years ago financial scandal (not missiological flaws) forced Yohanan to resign as CEO of Gospel for Asia. But was the financial crisis actually due to faulty missiological thinking? Not necessarily. Ellison may not be blaming the financial crisis at Gospel for Asia on faulty missiology, but the wording of the first paragraph on p. 93 seems to leave the door open to allow for that possibility.

At any rate, undergirding Ellison’s comments is the idea that, to be biblical, missions must be cross-cultural. Yohanan became well-known by touting the economic and logical pragmatics of westerners funding “native missionaries” rather than sending western missionaries eastward. While Ellison makes it clear that he is not opposed to indigenous ministries expanding the church within their own culture, he also sees that the glaring problem with Yohanan’s approach is that these “native missionaries” are actually “indigenous and local” (p. 93), typically not cross-cultural.

Financial matters aside, Matthew is spot on with his assertion that it cannot be assumed that indigenous, local, native pastors are necessarily doing the work of cross-cultural missions.

The second example is “Christian Aid Missions” led by Bob Finley (p. 94). Finley went far beyond Yohanan in “arguing that there was no biblical case for sending foreign, cross-cultural missionaries at all.”
Finley is quoted as defining the rationale behind this movement: “It makes no sense to spend $60,000 of God’s money annually sending an American with his family to live as a missionary in a poor country where hundreds of local citizens have been called of God to reach their own people and have no personal support. Any one of them, already knowing the local languages, would be ten times more effective than the foreigner…In many countries the support package of one American could supply the support and ministry needs of 50 native missionaries” (p. 94).

Finley makes a pretty strong case for “native missions.” Joe and his wife have even supported some themselves, only to discover that native missionaries were not, in many cases, breaking new ground for the spread of the gospel among India’s thousands of unreached people groups as the literature suggested (p. 94).

Ellison sees a two-fold negative outcome to Finley’s way of thinking: (1) Donors who redirected their giving away from sending Western missionaries were not told that “these so-called native missionaries were not missionaries, sent-out ones, at all. Rather, they were local workers (more precisely “local pastors) subsidized to work among their own (reached) peoples.”

(2) Large numbers of churches in the West, convinced that they could better fulfill the Great Commission by supporting non-Western workers, were “manipulated to buy missions ‘on sale’ and write checks rather than send their own sons and daughters. The multi-million dollar native missionary empire was born” (p. 95).

Many of us may have served on a church missions leadership team. We have been awakened to the need for every people group in the world to have a witness. We look at our small part in seeing that happen and reason that we can get to the target much faster if we just send our funds to these organizations and they will make it happen. Everybody wins right? The gospel gets preached faster and more effectively AND we get to spend those funds on other things.

In refuting this kind of thinking, Ellison quotes Robertson McQuilkin: “God never called us to send others in our place. He called us to go!” Of course, while recognizing that this has a strong ring of truth, it must be held in tension with an example like the Antiochean Church in Acts 13. There the majority sent others in their place while staying home to support them. The history of missions, from the first century to the present, has been about “sending others in our place” while not allowing our sending to simply be a substitute for our going.

Ellison should not be construed as rejecting the concept of “missions sending,” however. We know that Matthew recognizes our caveats to McQuilkin’s theorem: (1) While Ellison gives the quote in the context of a discussion of paying “foreign native workers” by proxy, McQuilkin was not speaking to that point; and (2) like us, Matthew and Denny are also primarily mobilizing senders. In fact, the bulk of their (and our) lives have been devoted to sending and mobilizing, not primarily going.

Ellison goes on to say: “I am coming to believe that when we sponsor proxy soldiers to advance the global cause of our King, we forfeit one of the highest privileges of following Christ and we ourselves are among the casualties. No local church should miss out on the encouragement and nourishment that will come to it by sending its best people” [p. 95]. This is something that church missions leaders urgently need to consider. What is the cost to our own soul when we buy missions on sale and have others we don’t know, will never know, do the work? What great joy do we miss when we don’t encourage our own sons and daughters to be part of God’s plan to make disciples of all nations?

A third surprising example is the former (now-defunct) Mars Hill Church, once led by Mark Driscoll (p. 97). Mars Hill (mega-church in Seattle) solicited monies for their global fund but actually diverted those resources to domestic ministry.

While a mushy definition of missions may have played a part in this issue, it seems to us that the bigger problem is just outright deceit. If there is a “global fund” that is being mostly spent locally for same-culture ministry, one doesn’t need Nathan the prophet to call this dishonest. Having said that, though, in these times with our failure to biblically define missions, Mars Hill could have just as easily called it their “missions fund,” thus freeing that money for absolutely anything they wanted to do, and thereby avoiding dealing with lawsuits.

A fourth example is “College Scholarships as Missions” (p. 99). Ellison mentions that he once worked with a church that was using its missions budget to pay for college scholarships for students attending their denomination’s university. It’s easy to see how this can happen when everything is missions.

We have run into the same problem in coaching church missions committees. For many churches “missions” is just another name for “miscellaneous.” In other words, if there is an expenditure that doesn’t naturally fit a specific category, it just gets labeled as “missions.” David Mays used to say, “it’s really hard to get a congregation excited about ‘miscellaneous.” Many of us grew up in traditions which viewed missions as “doing something good for someone who is somewhere other than where we are right now.” Ergo, everything is missions.

The fifth example is the generic approach endemic to many churches of viewing “Children’s Ministry as Missions” (p. 100). While Ellison is not disputing the importance of ministering to children, he contends that there is no credible definition of missions that allows for the labeling of children in an evangelical church in America as “unreached.”

A sixth example is the evangelical penchant for seeing “Christian radio in the US as missions” (p. 101). However, while Matthew is right in saying that the reputation and history of American Christian radio is primarily as an outreach to Christians, we recognize that those trends are changing as more and more Christian stations are doing less overt Bible preaching and beginning to play Christian music that is palatable to the ear of unbelievers. Nevertheless, that it is doubtful that most Christian radio stations in America are crossing cultural barriers to reach the unreached is a point well taken.

More disturbing are the statistics given about what percentage of our declining workforce of missionaries are working with the world’s 2.7 billion unreached individuals (less than 10%), and how much church spending is focused on the unreached (.5%). These figures seem to take the air out of the argument that calling every Christian a missionary will elevate the spread of the gospel. Global outreach among the unreached seems to be the primary casualty of our failure to be biblically rigorous in positing a clear definition of missions.

So, to circle back to the original purpose of this chapter: “So What?” Ellison’s paragraph really says it all: “I contend that one of the key misunderstandings that brought us to this point is the teaching that every follower of Christ is a missionary. Poor missions thinking led us to poor missions practice. If everyone is a missionary, then local Christians ministering to their own communities overseas are missionaries. In fact, all of us in America are native missionaries. In fact, you’re a native missionary, I’m a native missionary – absolutely every follower of Christ is a native missionary” (p. 95).

Definitions really do matter. While the “everyone is a missionary” thinking may not be the only reason we are seeing a decline in the number of missionaries sent from the west, it is definitely a contributor.

Matthew closes the chapter in the same way he opened it (with Rev. 7:9). Here is a picture of heaven where a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, stands before the throne and before the Lamb. This is where the whole Christian enterprise is headed… to see “every nation” before the throne and in large numbers.

We concur with Ellison’s contention that prevailing thinking and definitions about missions isn’t going to get us to Rev. 7:9 unless something changes. Definitions matter. Does calling every Christian a missionary “lead to more missions work being accomplished or less? The answers to these questions matter. They matter in significant, serious and eternal ways” (p. 106). We couldn’t agree more.

“When Everything is Missions” – A Review (Part VI)

“When Everything is Missions”
by Matthew Ellison and Denny Spitters
Copyright 2017 Pioneers-USA & Sixteen:Fifteen
(A review by Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz)

This is the sixth of eight posts reviewing the contents of Ellison and Spitters timely volume. In this sixth contributioin, we examine Chapter 5: “How are missionaries sent?” (chapter written by Denny Spitters)

The chapter opens with a real life example of two young men who went on missions trips to different remote locations and document, all for a video documentary series. They went to an area, shared the gospel through a translator, and then moved on. Who knows if anyone genuinely came to Christ through this short adventure, and if so, what happened to them afterward?

Spitters uses this (admittedly extreme) example to contrast the difference between evangelism/conversion-counting (p. 83) and the real making of disciples. Certainly this is a problem today in the missions world and we’re glad it is being tackled here. However, the title of this chapter is “How are missionaries sent?” Our curiosity has been piqued as to how this example ties in. We’ll report our exciting findings at the end of this review.

The vital issue of calling and how missionaries are raised up is on the table in this chapter. Is a calling to do missions just a transaction between God and missionary? Or does the church have a role in the process beyond the familiar riposte “pay, pray and get out of the way?”

Spitters backs up his assertion “If missionaries are sent-ones, they don’t just go to the lost and unreached, they are sent to the lost and unreached,” (p. 83) by pointing out that Acts 13:1-4 clearly demonstrates that the leaders of the Antioch church, after prayer and direction from the Holy Spirit, set apart Paul and Barnabas for missionary service. Whether this is prescriptive (as Spitters maintains, p. 83) that churches at all times are expected to follow this example in sending missionaries, or illustrative (a good pattern to model one’s sending activities after), clearly Acts 13 worked and has much to commend itself as a “model” (Spitters term, p. 83) for 21st century churches.

In the first paragraph on p. 83, Spitters appears to blur the lines between two important issues. The first is the importance of discipleship and establishing new disciples into local churches (which is the apparent emphasis of the paragraph). The second is this matter of “ecclesial centrality” in the process of discerning a call and sending missionaries (which is the apparent emphasis of the chapter). These are two different and crucial themes, but it seems to us that introducing the first muddies the waters in this chapter. It should be made clear that the second is the focus of this chapter, not the first.

Partnering with a church is clearly fundamental. Many entering missions service see this as a transaction between them and the Holy Spirit, with the church being little more than cheerleader and a source of funding. This shouldn’t surprise us since America is a highly individualized culture and thinking of calling as a group activity is counter-cultural.

Just yesterday Joe met with a young man who, though he hadn’t graduated from high school, had already decided to be a missionary and had figured out where he should serve. On the one hand, we rejoice that missions service is on his heart. On the other hand, it is clear that the church did not play a very important role in this most crucial decision.

On p. 87, Spitters comments: “The home or sending church and the community are to play a crucial role in the identification and confirmation of missionaries and pursuit of viable cross-cultural ministry. The partnership between candidates and the sending church described in Acts 13:1-4 is brief but sufficient to provide an accurate and adequately defined process for a robust sending relationship.”

We agree with the authors regarding the vital role of the church in the sending of missionaries. We also appreciate their treatment of Acts 13. Too often, when we think of Paul’s calling, his more dramatic Damascus road experience gets more mileage than a church leadership meeting in Antioch as recorded in Acts 13.

After reading the helpful analysis of the role of the church of Antioch in the sending of Paul and his team, we began to wonder whether this chapter might have been strengthened by including a brief analysis of Paul’s partnership with the Philippian church as detailed in his epistle to the Philippians. We do get the sense that the “sending process” should involve more than just “sending” (Antioch) by a local church to also include “partnering” (Philippi) with churches along the way.

It certainly seems that Antioch played a vital role for Paul in sending him on all three of his missionary journeys. However, by the second and third journeys, the partnership he cultivated with churches that he had planted seem to be playing a more significant role in his ministry efforts than was Antioch. Rather than contradicting Spitters’ thesis, this two-fold sending/partnering concept serves to further buttress the idea that calling and missions is truly church-centered.

Spitters elaborates on how partnership between church and agency and missionary should work at its healthiest (p. 88-90). Figuring out how the biblical missionary/sending church/partnering church triadic relationship works in harmony with the extra-biblical mission agency requires the wisdom of Solomon, or at least the genius of Einstein. There are no easy answers, but we’re glad the subject was broached.

After reading the entire chapter, we concluded that the example of sending missionaries captured in the opening paragraphs (p. 81) does fit the chapter title, though we might wish for a more specific example, one more clearly related to the difficult problem of finding churches that truly send and missionaries that are genuinely sent.

The chapter closes with the following paragraph: “When local churches, regardless of size or capacity, embrace an intentional vision of discipleship that promotes the affirmation and confirmation of those whom the Holy Spirit is raising up to be sent ones while they engage with trustworthy partners to help facilitate that vision, both agencies and churches can discover the joy of making disciples of all nations and experience what it means to be ‘blessed to be a blessing.’” (p. 90)

Though this is a wonderful conclusion to the chapter, there is, of course the other side of the coin: the situation of the missionary candidate who wishes to be sent by the church, but who is part of a congregation that does not appreciate its responsibility in raising up and sending “sent-ones” to the unreached. We hope that, at some point in this book, the authors address this incredibly important and common problem.

“When Everything is Missions” – A Review (Part V)

“When Everything is Missions”
by Matthew Ellison and Denny Spitters
Copyright 2017 Pioneers-USA & Sixteen:Fifteen
(A review by Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz)
This is the fifth of eight posts that examine the ideas and analysis found in Ellison and Spitters timely volume.

In this fifth post, we examine Chapter 4: “Is Every Christian a Missionary?” (chapter written by Denny Spitters)

Answering the question posed in this chapter’s title is, of course, predicated on more basic questions posed in previous chapters that orbited around the issue of “What is missions?” In other words, figuring out who is a “missionary” will be partially decided by one’s definition of “missions.”

Spitters starts the chapter by recounting two statements made by speakers at a conference on becoming a strategic sending church. One speaker used John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you,” to support his claim that every believer is a missionary. Then another speaker suggested that, by saying that “when a church calls certain people missionaries, …the rest of the people in the church are disenfranchised.” (p. 65)

The author uses a number of verses to answer the chapter’s question. First he quotes Scripture to show that all believers are “on mission” for the proclamation of the gospel. Then the big question is raised: does being “on mission” make someone a missionary, or is being a missionary “in any sense unique or set apart as pastors and elders are?” (p. 66)

One could naturally get the sense that Spitters is drawing the conclusion that, while all missionaries are Christians, not all Christians are missionaries. But then he quotes a number of famous Christians (Spurgeon, Von Zinezendorf, Alan Hirsch) and one not-so-famous Christian (Winkie Pratney… though with a name like that, he should be famous), who seem to make the case that all Christians are missionaries.

However, the crucial point each of these luminaries of varying luminescence is trying to make is that all Christians should be active in evangelism where they are. But does saying that every person should be a witness (evangelism) mean that every believer is a missionary (cross-cultural missions)?

Spitters notes Justin Long’s definition of “missionary:” “(a) sent (b) across a boundary to where the Gospel is not (c) to see a church planted (not just converts made) that (d) can reach everyone in that place without the missionary being present (through the work of witnesses, evangelists, pastors, etc.). (p. 69)

Our first thought when reading that is, “There sure are a lot of parentheses.” Our second thought is that Long’s definition would actually rule out quite a number of people who go overseas to do missions. Why do we say this? Well, sometimes missionaries go to places where the gospel is already being shared and the church is already planted. And it is vital for that to happen.

Denny acknowledges that the term “missionary” doesn’t appear in the Bible, though that doesn’t necessarily make it “extra-biblical.” Quoting Kevin DeYoung, Spitters concurs that, basically, “a missionary is someone who has been sent.” There are plenty of examples of people being sent, such as Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13. Quibbling over whether or not “mission” or “missionary” are biblical is like arguing about the legitimacy of Trinitarian theology, since the term “Trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, either. Nevertheless, the ideas of “missions” and “Trinity” are thoroughly biblical.

“Apostle,” as the author points out, is used in two different ways in the NT: (1) as simply a messenger or (2) as a means of referring to the inner circle of Christ’s disciples charged with primary leadership responsibilities in the 1st century church. He says that, for our purposes in these times, apostle should mean someone gifted with the role of the advancement of the gospel where it is not. Spitters then connects “apostle” with the word “ambassador,” which means an authorized messenger or representative, II Cor 5:20. (p. 70)

So, the bottom line is that, in the same way that not everyone is gifted or called as a teaching elder or a pastor (though all believers have the capacity to do some teaching and shepherding), not everyone is a missionary (though each Christian is sent on mission).

Before we started reviewing this chapter, we thought we had a good handle on the definition of the word missionary. What this chapter has revealed is that there are a lot of opinions on what is and isn’t a missionary. We would suggest you not get into an argument in your Sunday school class about this. There has been a lot of ink spilled on this and it won’t get settled in a five-minute after-church discussion.

Additionally, in trying to define “missionary,” we got a little nervous when we saw that the next section was dealing with “calling” (another term that gets thrown around way too much). The author wisely points out that saying “God has called me” can be a real conversation stopper because it prevents the church from being able to test “character, preparation,” or clarifying one’s calling. (p. 72)

Overall, we do appreciate the discussion and find ourselves agreeing with the authors that not everyone is a missionary. As Greg Wilton is quoted, the term “missionary is too precious and vital to what God in His sovereign plan intends to do throughout the world” to generally apply to all believers. (p. 74)

While wrestling with whether it would make more sense to just drop the words “missionary” and “missions” altogether, the author wisely concludes that this is probably not a helpful solution to the problem. He says “we also believe it is time for the Church to recover, reclaim, and restore the amazing God-inspired role of the apostolic, cross-cultural missionary for the sake of God’s kingdom purposes and for the soul of the church.” (p. 75)

To those who think the term “missionary” carries negative connotations from the past, Spitters helpfully alludes to Robert Woodberry’s ground-breaking research (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/january-february/world-missionaries-made.html) that indicates that, even though missionaries have made mistakes in the past, by and large the impact of missionary presence has been overwhelmingly positive. So, those involved in missions don’t need to be afraid of the term “missionary.” We are inclined to agree, even as we sometimes find it necessary to rattle off a list of caveats when we use certain terms.

This closing quote helps to summarize the point of this chapter: “When we stretch the definition of missions and missionaries too far, missions in any traditional sense is marginalized. We believe this will only be remedied when the entire body of Christ is focused on Great Commission obedience that includes the thrusting out of workers to the ends of the earth.” (p. 80)

Dangerous Missions Shortcuts

I love to highlight agencies and ministries that offer especially helpful tools for churches that are seeking to mobilize their members. Ellen Livingood’s “Catalyst Services” deserves such recognition.

The most recent “posting” (the website is www.catalystservices.org) is a perfect illustration of the value that Ellen’s work brings to the table. Titled “Dangerous Missions Shortcuts,” this posting gives a helpful list of seven “hazardous temptations,” (i.e., shortcuts) that churches and church missions committees should avoid if a healthy, robust, dynamic, forward-looking missions effort is to be in place.

The entire post can be found at –
http://catalystservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Shortcuts.pdf.

Here are the seven shortcuts to be avoided:
1. Mobilizing without discipling
2. Making missions giving easy
3. Avoiding saying “no” or “no longer”
4. Allowing personal relationships to override strategic decision-making
5. Limiting missions to “the ends of the earth”
6. Separating “serving” from “saving”
7. Outsourcing global missions responsibility.

These are each great topics and worthy of consideration.

In addition, under each of the seven, Ellen lists four topics related to the shortcut. These are:
a. the worthy goal – Why do we take shortcuts? There is usually an admirable objective behind the shortcut.
b. the dangerous shortcut – What exactly is the shortcut and why is it dangerous?
c. where the shortcut has taken us – Here Ellen gives us a succinct summary of what to expect if the shortcut is not avoided.
d. getting back on the road – Helpful suggestions are given to practically guide a church back to where it needs to be.

I can’t recommend highly enough Ellen’s work, her website, and in particular, this posting.

The Great Commission is The Abrahamic Covenant Applied to Jesus’ Followers

Having taught a large number of missions classes in a wide variety of settings over many years, I have arrived at one firm conviction: members of the evangelical church are overwhelmingly unaware of the presence of missions in the Old Testament (OT). Often when teaching, I might ask the class members to quote a Bible verse on missions. Almost without exception, Matthew 28:19-20 is the go-to passage (with Acts 1:8 coming in a distant second).

However, when I follow up with, “Ok. Now how about an OT verse on missions?” I am generally met with blank stares. This suggests that most churches are not teaching missions as the thread that holds Scripture together. Rather, missions is almost a biblical after-thought appended to the gospel accounts after 39 OT books which are presumed to be basically silent on missions. The tragedy of this is seen when one realizes that ignorance of the trajectory of the OT effectively robs the Bible’s cohesive emphasis from Genesis to Revelation.

This false assumption unfortunately can lead to the idea that Jesus just “invented” missions right before his ascension. Such a conclusion is natural based on our inability to see the theme of mission woven through the fabric of the OT and into the NT. I sometimes surmise (with tongue in cheek) to a class that today we “…imagine Jesus, preparing to ascend to heaven in the accompaniment of angels, only to say, ‘Whoa. Hold on, guys! I almost forgot to commission my disciples to go to the nations. Whew. That was close. There, now, I’ve introduced missions into the Bible. Ok. Let’s go, angels.'”

Of course, such a hypothetical conversation is absurd on any number of levels, especially when a careful comparison is done between Genesis 12:1-3 and Matthew 28:18-20.

R. T. France, in “The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew” (p.1114), is one of a legion of scholars who recognize in Matthew 28 “…the echo of the promise to Abraham in Gen. 12:3…”

More precise is Christopher Wright, who helpfully comments on the correlation of Matthew 28 and Genesis 12. Alert as always to articulate fresh nuances on familiar texts, Wright (“The Mission of God,” p. 213) highlights the correspondence between the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and the Abrahamic Commission in Genesis 12: “The words of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, the so-called Great Commission, could be seen as a christological mutation of the original Abrahamic commission – ‘Go…and be a blessing…and all nations on earth will be blessed through you.'”

Where Wright sees three specific connections between the two passages, I will highlight his while adding two more to give a total of five reasons to believe that Jesus used Genesis 12:1-3 to commission his Jewish disciples who would have at least a passing acquaintance with Abraham’s commission.

1. “Go.” In both passages, the obedience, compliance, and responsiveness is assumed (both Abraham and the disciples). And this is the opening idea of both commissions.

2. “Be a blessing” (Genesis) and “make disciples” (Matthew). In both cases, a command is given and a task is assigned. That different verbs are used should not surprise the reader. In Genesis, the concern with blessing is paramount if one traces the flow of ideas through the first eleven chapters.

In Genesis 1-2, we find that God “blessed” (to enrich, enable, or empower) his creation on Days 5, 6, and 7. But we see in Genesis 3-11 that the creation was sabotaged and the world was brought under a curse due to the sinful pollution of Jesus’ universe.

After that disaster, what could be more logical than for God to reintroduce the restoration of blessing in Genesis 12? Abraham and his descendants (Paul fully develops this thought in Galatians 3) are to be the conduit for God to re-establish Jesus’ universe as a place of “blessing” (that is, a site where all things will be able to achieve their full potential in Christ).

However, when commissioning his disciples, Jesus doesn’t use “bless” but rather assigns the task of “making disciples.” This is an intriguing command. While the noun “disciple” occurs 268 times in Matthew-Acts (no occurrences in Romans through Revelation!), the verb “make disciples” only shows up four times in the NT (Matthew 13:52; 27:57; 2819, and Acts 14:21). Clearly it is natural that Jesus would use the term “make disciples” in his commission since that idea of “disciple making” (rather than the act of “being a blessing”) is the heart of his ministry.

Nevertheless, there is logical correlation between the two terms. Ultimately both ideas (blessing and making disciples) are focused on drawing people to Christ. Paul points out in Galatians 3 that ultimate blessing is found in Jesus and, of course, those whom Jesus’ followers bring into a “discipling” relationship are expected to be devoted followers of Christ.

3. “All.” The scope in both passages is all-inclusive. This highlights the biblical theme of the comprehensiveness of the work of missions. “All” things are to be under Jesus’ feet (I Cor. 15). “Every” knee is to bow before him (Phil. 2). Representatives from “every” nation, tribe, tongue and people assemble to worship the lamb (Rev. 5:9; 7:9).God created a large universe with large potential. He is passionate that every corner of his creation display his glory. As Abraham Kuyper declared: “There is not one square inch of the creation over which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!”

4. “Families of the earth” (Genesis) and “nations” (Matthew). Here two different (yet comparable) terms are used to indicate that the focus of the heart of God is essentially ethnic in nature.

“Families” (“mishpachah”) is the appropriate word for Genesis 12:3 since that is a favorite term of the compiler of the table of nations two chapters previous (in Genesis 10).

The term “nations” (Hebrew “goy”) is ubiquitous in both OT and NT (there it is “ethnos”). As opposed to the modern usage of “nations” as a geo-political entity, the Scriptures use it quite often of ethnic groups.

And, because of its prominence in the Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the OT in missiological texts like Isa. 42:6, “ethnos” is a natural term for Jesus to use in the Great Commission of Matthew 28.The primary target of the mission of God to bless and to make disciple is ethnic.

5. Finally, there is the promise in Genesis 12:3 of God’s blessing to those who bless Abraham in his missions efforts, and to curse those who disparage Abraham as he carries out his commission. No one wants to be sent on a challenging mission without adequate “backup.” So this is God’s assurance to Abraham his descendants that they will not be abandoned without divine assistance to carry out this challenging mission. The OT is replete with examples of God both calling his servants and guaranteeing his accompanying presence for those who comply.

Likewise, in Matthew 28, Jesus assures his disciples that “I am with you always…” In other words, divine presence is guaranteed to all who engage in God’s mission, whether they are going in obedience to the Abrahamic Commission or the Great Commission. This is a logical “bookend” to Matthew which began with the declaration in 1:23 that the Messiah’s name would be “Immanuel” (“God with us”).

As France states (“The International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew,” p. 1119), “…The presence of Jesus himself among his people (cf. 18:20) ensures that it is not simply a relationship of formal obedience. In context this assurance is focused not on the personal comfort of the individual disciple but on the successful completion of the mission entrusted to the community as a whole.”
From beginning to end (and in the middle – see Matthew 18:20 where Jesus assures his followers that he is in their midst), Matthew’s Gospel is the Good News account of the “I am with you” Savior.

These five ideas provide the “glue” that binds Abraham’s Commission in Genesis 12:1-3 to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. We are assured that the entirety of Scripture is the story of God on mission. And as the people of God we are reminded that the Bible is the story of God’s people on mission.