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 –

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.

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

“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 fourth of eight posts that will examine the ideas and analysis found in Ellison and Spitters timely volume. In this fourth post, we examine Chapter 3: “Why are we Involved in Missions?” (this chapter written by Matthew Ellison)

Building his argument around five main points, Matthew does an excellent job of answering the question posed in the chapter title. His argument centers on the five assertions and then culminates with a restatement of the chapter’s purpose by asking the question: “Do these five foundational motives for missions offer any clues about what to prioritize and how to pursue a global outreach effort?” (p. 63)

Though at first glance it may not be completely clear to the reader what role this chapter plays in a book titled “When Everything is Missions,” after carefully analysis we realized that the church is in need of consistent reminders of the reason and motive for doing missions. We imagined Ellison pondering the thoughts of an imaginary senior pastor who is thinking to himself, “All I have to do is be faithful and make disciples in my own congregation.” If Matthew is writing for that senior pastor (and for others who think similar thoughts), then we need this chapter. Obviously he is writing for all of us who long to follow Jesus.

Let’s take the five motives one by one:

1. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because God’s heart beats for the nations.

Here Matthew does a fine review of the biblical texts that highlight Jesus’ Great Commission. We especially like his observation that the Luke 24 conversation with the disciples actually draws from the Law and the Prophets. Here Ellison wraps OT missiology into Jesus’ commissioning as a reminder that the threads of mission are in both testaments. Though we might prefer that he (and Spitters) avoid reliance on the disputed Mark 16:15 passage, the church needs a constant reminder that beckons us back to God’s motivations and passions.

2. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because salvation is found only in Jesus.

Though this idea is central to a biblical missiology and considered by classical Christian theology and history to be too important to overlook, the uniqueness and centrality of Jesus is all too often misunderstood in our pluralistic society. Ellison admits to being concerned that so many evangelicals argue vigorously for the reality of hell and for salvation only through Christ while seeming “to pay so little attention to the unreached who sit in darkness and under the shadow of death” (p. 53). This first point highlights a crucial matter that demonstrates the integration of theology with missiology.

For further reading on the relevance to missiology of Ellison’s concern, note the useful articles in the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” text by Charles Van Engen, (“The Uniqueness of Christ,” ch. 30, p. 176-182) and Ajith Fernando (“The Supremacy of Christ,” ch. 31, p. 183-192). Also in Christopher Wright’s “The Mission of God,” ch. 4 (p. 105-135) is titled “The Living God Makes Himself Known in Jesus Christ.” There is a world of material available to the budding missiologist to buttress Ellison’s second reason as to why we should be involved in missions.

3. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because our churches can’t afford not to do missions.

To argue this point, Ellison gives a case study of a Michigan church that became dynamically involved in Senegal (pp. 54-56). This is one of the highlights of this chapter as it gives a practical window into how a local church can get radically engaged in reaching out cross-culturally. Matthew makes a compelling case as to how sending missionaries (from Michigan to Senegal, in Ellison’s example) has greatly benefitted the local ministry in which the church was already engaged in Detroit.

We agree with Ellison when he says: “I believe that some of the sweetest and most profound joy available to God’s children this side of heaven comes when we sacrificially participate in His mission to make disciples of all nations. Missions brings life to the nations. Missions brings life to the church.” (p. 56) To which we say “Amen!”

4. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because we are called to know God and make Him known.

Here Matthew expands on Isa. 6:1-8, a text we have both heard him preach. He states that Isa. 6 is “…one of the most significant mission passages in all of Scripture” (p. 57). We can attest that this is Ellison’s heartbeat.

Arguing that “…we do not commend what we do not cherish…” (p. 59), Matthew (using helpful quotes from Tozer’s “Men Who Met God”) challenges the reader to pursue a true encounter with God. Missions must always start with God and progress to the people of God who are jealous for God’s glory if a “healthy missionary zeal” is to be achieved.

For further reading on this vital theme, we recommend (in the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”) Steve Hawthorne’s “”The Story of His Glory” (ch.8, p. 49-63). Hawthorne argues that we need to “deepen our motive base to “a love for God’s glory,” and to “define the task as expanding God’s glory” (p.63).

Also, in the same text, Tim Dearborn’s “Beyond Duty” (ch. 10, p. 70-73) goes for the jugular when he makes the case that focusing on obedience to the Great Commission is the wrong starting point as it locks us into a human-centered perspective (70). His insightful quote clearly underscores the point Ellison is making here: “It is insufficient to proclaim that the Church of God has a mission in the world. Rather, the God of mission has a Church in the world” (p. 70; echoed by Wright in “The Mission of God,” p. 62). If we are to develop a vigorous, biblical missional ethos, the Church must begin with our love and worship of the Lord.

5. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because the Lamb deserves His reward.

Any reader who has been around missions for very long will recognize the source of this fifth motive for doing missions as coming from the ethos of the 18th century Moravian missions movement founded by Count Zinzendorf. As their first missionaries departed for far off places, their cry drifted from their ship back to shore: “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward for His suffering!” Ellison does a great job of telling of the central role that the worship of Christ played in launching one of the most phenomenal missions movements in church history.

This Moravian slogan welcomes the church of the 21st century back to its historical 18th century missiological roots. What difference would it make to the American church today if our motives focused on “the Lamb getting the reward he deserves”?

A valuable contribution to this fifth motive is Matthew’s sharing his own personal experience with the uneaten portion of the communion elements in a Mexican church. The Mexican pastor used the remnants of the communion service to passionately illustrate to his congregation the reality of unreached peoples who have yet to eat from this table.

Chapter three is an extremely valuable contribution to the tools available to help churches get on track in missions. Every church missions committee chairperson would benefit by using these five points to remind the team about the committee’s (and the Church’s) raison d’etre.

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

“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 third of eight posts that will examine the ideas and analysis found in Ellison and Spitters fine volume. We are posting a review of a new chapter every week or so. In this third post, we take a close look at Chapter 2: What is our mission? (by Denny Spitters)

Noted missiologist, J. D. Payne, states of Ellison and Spitters’ book: “Brief, powerful, and provocative book that should be read by every North American pastor in the next 12 months. Spitters and Ellison write, ‘When every Christian is a missionary and every ministry is missions, I contend that we gut the mandate to reach all nations.'” We heartily concur with Payne’s opinion!

If you have read our first two reviews, you should be on the edge of your chair in anticipation of this third post. Will the authors finally get to the heart of the issue in chapter two? The simple answer is “yes,” but that answer calls for clarification. The topic of defining missions is no small thing in the current climate. That may explain how we end up with a chapter that is twice as long as either the introduction or chapter one. And we will try to avoid being simplistic and yet attempt to simplify things here!

On p. 36-37 Spitters lists and defines five terms: (1) Missio Dei; (2) Mission; (3) Missional; (4) Missions; and (5) Frontier Missions. (We wonder if a definition of the oft-abused term “missionary” wouldn’t be helpful, as well. And indeed, we are pleased to note that the title of chapter 4 is: “Is Ever Christian a Missionary?” Can’t wait!) However, rather than attempting to deal with all five definitions in a short review, it would be easier to boil this chapter down to essentially the two primary models of missions to which Spitters devotes the bulk of the time. The first would be what Spitters would call the “Missio Dei” (36).

Echoing God’s declaration in Num. 14:21 (“All the earth will be filled with My glory”), Abraham Kuyper once 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!'” The model of the “Missio Dei” points our thinking to this grand scheme of God’s intention to ultimately see that “everything is summed up in Christ” (Eph. 1:10) and “all things are placed under the feet of Jesus” (I Cor. 15:25).

The “Missio Dei” focuses on the overarching narrative of Scripture that portrays mission as the very center of God himself. It is comprehensive in scope because it includes everything God has ever done and ever will do to elevate and display his glory. It signifies that “all that God does in the world and all that He is doing to accomplish His objective is the complete exaltation of the fame of His name: ‘I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth’ (Psa. 46:10)” (Spitters, p. 36)

Spitters sees authors Christopher J. H. Wright, author of the volume, “The Mission of God,” and David Bosch as representatives of the “Missio Dei” model. He is clearly concerned that these two authors (in particular) advocate the “Missio Dei” model to the minimizing of biblical cross-cultural evangelism. [However, we maintain that a broad reading of the writings of these two authors can alleviate any concern about the trajectory of their missiology. More about these and other authors in “For further reading and review” below.]

The fact that (in our experience) American churches’ seem to rely solely on an over-simplification of the “Missio Dei” model leads Spitters (and Ellison) to their concern that once everything (ie., “Missio Dei”) is missions, nothing is missions. That is a valid concern.

In chapter two Spitters emphasizes a second model as a corrective to what he perceives as a philosophical imbalance. Our experience with coaching church missions committees lead us to agree that such an imbalance exists, a corrective is necessary, and we are grateful for this emphasis.

So it is that we encounter what Spitters would simply call “missions” (p. 36-37). This is the endeavor of the church to bring the Good News to the nations to address the problem of human rebellion against God and the subsequent lostness of humanity.

The biblical mandate that requires the church to cross cultural barriers to penetrate ethnic groups beyond the reach of the Gospel with the Word of God is a vanishing aspect of missiology in evangelicalism today. We are profoundly grateful that Spitters makes the case for the biblical basis of “missions” as the proclamation of the Gospel across cultural barriers to penetrate unreached people groups. This kind of thinking is rarely found in many evangelical churches and amongst most believers today.

For further reading and thinking…

Concerning Christopher J. H. Wright: We feel that the quoting of Wright from the writings of Ferdinando, instead of going to Wright’s original writings, inadequately represents Wright’s missiology. While Spitters is concerned that Wright “…blurs biblical distinctions about the mission of God and the mission of the church” (p. 42), a broader reading of Wright’s voluminous writings can alleviate such worries.

Also, a careful reading of “The Mission of God,” especially the 40-page section in which Wright develops a full-blown comprehensive biblical hermeneutic for missions, would lay to rest the suggestion that “…Wright gives little biblical hermeneutic to support his case…” (p. 43).

Wright’s writings also indicate that, while “Missio Dei” includes traditional mission efforts designed to evangelize, make disciples, plant churches, or penetrate unreached peoples, the “Missio Dei” also transcends the traditional view of “missions” to include creation care, social justice, ethical conduct of God’s people, and compassion ministries without neglecting the proclamation of the Gospel. For example, in his volume, “The Mission of God,” Wright tackles the danger of “social action without evangelism” on p. 286f.

Again, on p. 316 in “The Mission of God,” Wright states: “Even if we agree that biblical mission is intrinsically holistic and that Christians should be involved in the whole wide range of biblical imperatives – seeking justice, working for the poor and need, preaching he gospel of Christ, teaching, healing, feeding, educating, and so forth – isn’t it still the case that evangelism has primacy in all of this?”

And in his companion volume to “The Mission of God,” “The Mission of God’s People,” Wright addresses on pp. 273-278 the “wholeness” of evangelism and social action. To Wright, it is not a case of “either/or” but “both/and.” Every whole, healthy, balanced, biblical missiology must integrate the “Missio Dei” with “cross-cultural ethnically-focused missions.” We are positive that Matthew and Denny agree with this assessment.

Another fabulous wealth of material for further exploration of the focus of chapter two and the authors quoted can be found in the text for the course “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.”

For example, ch. 5, p. 27-33, titled “Mission and God’s Earth,” gives a fuller explanation of Wright’s “Missio Dei” missiology

Again, in the Perspectives text, Steve Hawthorne (ch. 8, p. 49-63), in an article titled “The Story of his Glory,” suggests that a resolution of the ongoing tension between social responsibility and proclamation of the Gospel is gained by focusing on God’s glory: “Glory comes to God by Gospel declaration or a kind deed done in his name.” (p. 62)

Finally, David Bosch’s, also in the Perspectives text (ch. 12, 78-82) titled “Witness to the World” reveals his sound biblical thinking on the issue of the Christological foundation of missions.

As a closing suggestion and tangentially related to this chapter, we would recommend the interested reader consider taking the course “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” (www.perspectives.org). We know that Ellison and Spitters are familiar with this course and would highly recommend it as well. We (Dave and Joe) have not found any one tool that is quite as effective as this 15-week course to help the budding missiologist begin formulating a biblical missions hermeneutic.

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

“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 second of eight posts that will examine the ideas and analysis found in this little volume. In this second post, we give our reflections on Chapter 1.

Chapter 1: Do Our Definitions Matter?

We (Dave and Joe) have some experience in working with churches to help them move forward on God’s mission. And more than once we have been flummoxed as we realized that we were going to have to confront the “everything is missions” mentality if we were going to help a church gain traction. So we certainly share Denny and Matthew’s concern about the implications of failing to properly define terms.

The theme of this chapter could be summarized this way: “If we are concerned about the progress of God’s mission in the world, then how we define terms matters. And the term ‘mission’ is in desperate need of defining in the 21st century.”

The unease about words and their meanings by both authors undoubtedly arises out of the difficulties they have experienced while working with churches. It’s problematic for a church to have a coherent missions philosophy and policy if there are fundamental disagreements or misunderstandings among its leaders over the basic meaning of words like “missions, evangelism,” and “Great Commission.”

This first chapter, written by Matthew, has two main points. First, there is great confusion in the church over the most important thing the Church is supposed to be doing. He starts off by asking an unusual question (p. 26): “How much confusion is there in the Church about the meaning of the Great Commission?” And again on p. 28, he ponders whether Jesus has left the interpretation of the Great Commission up to individual churches? We thought it a little odd that even before the authors define the meaning of the term “mission,” they appear to be conflating the terms “mission” and “Great Commission.” This is an easy thing to do and may prove to not even be that big a deal. (If your response is, “Wait a minute! Why are we already using a word, ‘missions,’ that doesn’t even occur in our English Bibles?” then be patient. That question is addressed in chapter 2.)

One might respond, “Of course we conflate them. Missions is the carrying out of the Great Commission and vice versa.” But when the authors spend a good amount of time arguing that definitions really do matter (to which we would definitely agree), and then terms are used interchangeably before definitions are agreed upon, the reader can easily get confused.

We might pose our concern this way: “Is ‘missions’ biblically synonymous with the Great Commission?” The need for clarity is highlighted on p. 28 as the authors inquire: “Does God expect us to pool our good ideas and pursue the things we care about, or did Jesus intend to convey objective meaning and purpose when he gave His final marching orders?” Yes, does Scripture give objective content to the thrust of God’s mission? Or is the term “mission” a good term to use to describe everything from going to live among an animistic tribe to translate the Bible into their own language to taking some teens to Appalachia to repair the roof on a church building.

Perhaps a more helpful approach might be to remove the word “missions” entirely from our vocabulary and then ask whether the argument is really about whether the church is really taking the Great Commission seriously? Or conversely, perhaps we should be talking about the topic of “missions” without bringing the Great Commission into the conversation at such an early point.

Second, there is great potential danger when we fail to define terms. This danger is illustrated on p. 29. At (and after) the Edinburgh World Missions Conference of 1910, a deliberate decision was made to prevent conflict or controversy by avoiding any discussion of theology or doctrine. The authors cite missiologist David Hesselgrave who calls this the “Edinburgh Error.” Hesselgrave argues that the seeds of the collapse of a great missions movement were planted early on by this decision. Not only did the participants avoid doctrinal examination, but they resisted any attempt to define mission by Scriptural standards. The resultant struggles of the Student Volunteer Movement are well-documented. Whether or not Hesselgrave overstates this “error” while neglecting other issues (like the two world wars that diminished the availability of potential young volunteers) can be left to the missions historians to debate.

On a personal level, as we were going through Chapter 1, Joe had flashbacks of memories of team meetings from his short time on the mission field. The team would gather and the members would go around the room reporting on what they were doing. Then one of the senior members of our young team would, with annoying (though necessary) regularity, exhort us to “make sure you can articulate how what you are doing is contributing toward church planting!”

With a lack of agreement on the definition of their team’s purpose, the team was doing “good things” but then trying to retrofit them into a church-planting paradigm. It was simply assumed that “church-planting” was the team’s raison d’etre. In like manner, most churches are trying to do many “good things” in missions with little biblical definition and with little agreement on the approach or goal.

We re-read the Stephen Neill quote on p. 28: “The mission of God cannot be the catch-all that includes everything from folding bulletins, to picking up trash on the highway, to coaching a ball team, to the gospel infiltrating a previously unreached people.”

We had to ask ourselves, “Do we agree with Neill?” To that we would add, is there not a danger in conflating “missions” with “church planting”? Or “the Great Commission”? Or making “missions” synonymous with “working in a soup kitchen”? We know sincere Christians who dig wells or bring medical care or construct church buildings, but some of these efforts seem to be an end in themselves. We also know missionaries who do these same kinds of things in order to make inroads to an unreached people group. Perhaps it is a matter of intent.

In summary, we quote Scot McKnight’s helpful observation (p. 31-32) in full. Under the heading “Mission Work Has Become Social Work,” McKnight muses: “What will become of us? Missions, international missions and foreign missions are now engulfed in NGOs and global justice and water projects and infrastructure. Evangelicalism was once built on church-planting pioneers. Always, or at least nearly always, such missionaries were fully engaged in church-planting as well as compassion and provisions so far as they were able. But they were there to preach and teach the gospel and win people to Christ. That’s evangelicalism.”

McKnight continues: “A friend of mine, a missionary, told me that in the last 15 years in his corner of the missionary world he has seen not one new missionary concerned with church planting and evangelism; they are all NGO types. Giving to NGOs is on the rise; giving to church-planting is on the decline. Organize a day for evangelism training and you will be alone or close to it; organize a day for some kind of social action and you may see more than for a Sunday morning service.”

In a Central Asian context, a similar observation was made by a Korean missionary when he said that “when Korean missionaries come they plant churches. When American missionaries come they start NGO’s.”

The chapter ends with a worrisome question: “Have we drifted from our God-given mission?” The book appears to be headed toward a “yes” answer to this question, and the reason seems to be that we have failed to adequately define our key missiological terms. Stay tuned…

“When Everything is Missions” – A Review

“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 first of eight posts that will examine the ideas and analysis found in this little volume. We hope to post an evaluation of a new chapter every week or so. In this first post, we take a close look at the “Introduction.”

We believe that this little 144-page book is long overdue. Tackling as it does fundamental missions issues that are bedeviling the church and missions community, it fortunately doesn’t duck the tough questions as it challenges current trends in missions.

Denny is the VP for Church Partnerships for Pioneers USA and Matthew is the President and Church Missions Coach at Sixteen:Fifteen. We know both of the authors fairly well, we recognize that they clearly love the church and want to see her be the fullest expression of what God wants it to be. We are also aware of the fact that they are interacting with churches on an almost daily basis. For this reason, their impressions about trends in the church should be taken seriously, even where data may not be available to back up their ideas. They have earned the right to have their voices heard.

Denny and Matthew have taken on a formidable challenge. We are certainly hopeful that they are up to the test, but whenever you attempt to get people to redefine a word or words or rethink a common idea, you are usually swimming against a pretty swift cultural tide.

The introduction opens with the story of a church that wrestled with its missions philosophy. The church had stagnated in growth and was floundering in its efforts to make disciples and do missions (whatever that means!). Enter a new senior pastor whose philosophy could be summed up as “Everything is missions and evangelism are essentially one” and the recipe is right for an interesting book.

The authors highlight a fundamental problem in churches: that “many churches find themselves at a loss to define their global mission” (19). This is due, in part, to the fact that the time required to study and think through a coherent missions philosophy is not available. “…Many churches do not do missions well because they do not think about missions well” (19).

Ellison and Spitters go back to basics when they tackle the fundamental issue of definitions of terms: “If words have meaning, then their definitions and uses matter. When everything is missions, some of the most central aspects may be lost or buried…“ (p. 20) The “central aspects” they have in mind include ideas like churches sending their own people, making disciples, and crossing cultural barriers. The authors consider the issue of definitions to be so critical that they have devoted the entire first chapter of the book to it (our next post will review chapter one). So their desire is to get people to define missions differently, or perhaps with greater specificity.

The down side of missing these “central aspects” is that “an over-emphasis on getting bang for our buck may also lead us to ministries that make us feel good or seem to provide a greater return on investment. Some of our churches leave missions to our denominations and networks or partner with ministries that offer us low-cost opportunities to sponsor missionaries or projects far away. Yet does outsourcing missions come with hidden costs, perhaps at the expense of our own souls?” (20)

So it is that the authors clearly declare that “…we will directly challenge some assumptions surrounding the growing assumption or conviction that ‘every Christian is a missionary and every ministry is missions.'” (21)

It seems that Ellison and Spitters are really addressing two issues here. First, our definition of missions has become rather squishy. They quote Stephen Neill who throws down the gauntlet: “If everything is mission, nothing is mission. If everything the church does is to be classified as ‘mission,’ we shall need to find another term…” (9) Second, we have become so utilitarian about the Great Commission that we contract the cross-cultural piece out in the name of efficiency. They are correct that, in some way, we are damaging our souls by doing it this way. We are also contributing to a serious decline in interest and support for apostolic, pioneering missions activity. (23) We suspect that this second concern really has less to do with the definition of missions but more to do with the way we go about it. And, of course, one has to wonder whether there is any data to back up this claim or whether it is just an impression the authors have gotten (either way, their suspicions seem well-founded).

We were particularly alarmed to consider the implications of the new direction in missions: “Yet we are concerned that an uncritical use of words, and in particular a lack of shared definition for the words ‘mission, missions, missionary, and missional’ has led to a distortion of Jesus’ biblical mandate, ushered in an ‘everything-is-missions’ paradigm, and moved missions from the initiation and oversight of local churches to make it the domain of individual believers responding to individualized callings. ” (23)

With this summary paragraph, Matthew and Denny provide a clear sense of direction as to where they are headed. The pendulum has shifted to a new generation’s approach to mission: “In defining missions poorly, past generations of Christians have sometimes made missions about money, power, and counting converts. In our own generation, a strong embrace of the ‘everything-is-mission’ paradigm has sometimes resulted in an humanitarian mission devoid of the gospel. While ‘everybody is a missionary’ thinking has been intended to level the playing field for greater participation in making disciples, has this inclusivism had another unintended result, at times? Has it led to a serious decline in interest in and support for apostolic, pioneering missions activity?” 23)

It’s safe to say that we’re interested. We look forward to getting into the book to see the causal connection between an “everything-is-missions paradigm” and how that leads to making missions less the domain of the local church and more the domain of individual believers. We hope they can accomplish what they have set out to do! Stay tuned!

A Festive Gathering of Myriads of Angels

Getting old has its tensions. The grip of earth intensifies as good things – children, grandchildren, ministry, friendships – bind our hearts to life here and make us want to stay as long as possible. Life is full of goodness and we all have a plethora of reasons for wanting to hang around a little while longer.

But each of us faces the reality that “the end” is coming. Notice how we describe death: “the end.” Frank Sinatra sang of “the final curtain.” Must we approach this certainty we call “death” with a sense of finality, fear, and gloom?

And what does this potentially depressing theme have to do with missions? I think a lot! We proclaim a Gospel that says that Jesus, on the Cross, defeated the one who has the power of death and who holds people in bondage to the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Surely a deep confidence in the Cross must lead believers to increasingly approach their earthly demise in a different manner than those who do have not experienced the liberating power of the Gospel. And if God’s people, who are called to be engaged with his mission, are negatively preoccupied with our eventual demise, our pessimistic approach to departure from this earth actually belies the Gospel message we proclaim as true.

The author of Hebrews would have none of this nonsense. There is a palpable sense of exhilaration as the letter crescendos from chapters 2 through 12 in a tsunami that celebrates a single thought: Death is not “the end” but a continuation of what God has already begun!

One clear example of this is found in Hebrews 11. While we are accustomed to highlighting the characters in that great chapter who “lived by faith,” we may be inclined to give short shrift to those who “died in faith.” And yet the earthly passing of four characters – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph – actually emphasizes their dying by faith, not how they lived (Heb. 11:17-22).

Much could be said about those six verses in Hebrews 11 – maybe a topic for a future blog. But suffice it to say, the entirety of chapters 11 and 12, reveals the secret of dying by faith. Those who live by faith view themselves as exiles on earth and have their hopes invested in their actual country, their heavenly city, their eternal homeland. It is there that all of the adversity and affliction in life will be put in perspective as we join in with myriads of angels in a grand “panegyric.”

“Panegyric” (a “festive celebration”) is an English term that comes from a Greek word that occurs a handful of times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, usually in reference to both legitimate and illegitimate festal occasions. But it is used only once in the New Testament (Heb. 12:22). In that text, the writer is valiantly attempting to describe the excitement awaiting us in eternity:

“You have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to countless hosts of angels in festive celebration, and to the assembly of the firstborn ones who are enrolled in heaven… “(Hebrews 12:22-23)

God loves a good party, and he has hard-wired into all of us a love of good music and cuisine, celebrations, sunsets, laughter. All of these experiences capture a little of the flavor of the “festive celebration” in Hebrews 12:22 to which we are invited as “members of the assembly of firstborn ones enrolled in heaven.” This is one more incentive that the Gospel provides to encourage us to approach our deaths in faith and hope.

One of my favorite movies, Babette’s Feast, is a story that captures this heavenly panegyric spirit. Babette is a famous French chef who flees from counter-revolutionary activity in Paris and arrives as a refugee at an austere Danish religious village where she offers to serve the community as a housekeeper.

Of course, the elderly members of this dwindling congregation have no idea of the amazing talents of their visitor as they assign her the tasks of a menial servant. They even instruct and correct her as she prepares various meals! And she patiently endures their “lessons.”

Babette serves this community for 14 years. Though these pietistic Danes are reluctant to admit they find pleasure in any of the five senses, gradually Babette earns their grudging respect.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, a friend has continued to renew Babette’s subscription to the French lottery. One day she receives the news that she has won the lottery! Babette secretly decides to spend the entire sum on an elaborate feast, a “panegyric,” if you will, for the community of twelve.

With elaborate preparations under way, the leaders of the community fret that this event may appeal to their baser desires and foment an inappropriate spirit of revelry. But once the participants begin to eat and imbibe, their resistance fades away. The amazing cuisine and buoyant atmosphere lifts their hearts and they find themselves emotionally and spiritually renewed. Old hurts are forgiven and superstitions are dispelled. And they realize how they have devoted a lifetime to suppressing the enjoyment of their God-given sensory pleasures.

After the dinner, it is discovered that Babette had spent her entire fortune on the “panegyric” and is once again destitute. A Parisian who had coincidentally attended the feast, declared: “But this is not the end, Babette. In Paradise you will be the great artist God meant you to be.” He then embraced her with tears in his eyes saying, “Oh, how you will enchant the angels!”

This is how this delightful story ends. This is also the “final” note that the Scriptures leave us with as well. Not the dismal expectation of “death,” but the eager anticipation of a wildly exuberant panegyric event the likes of which none of us can imagine. We will be as we were meant to be. In attendance will be a myriad of the heavenly hosts as well as all of the saints who have gone before us.

Our Groom will be there, for this festivity is a unique wedding party, a veritable jamboree that will overwhelm us with joy and gladness. Death is not “the end” but the start of a great panegyric!

As the old hymn declared with exuberance: “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!”

Church Growth: A Solution Looking for a Problem?

According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the median size American church has 75 participants on Sunday morning. That means half of American churches are smaller, and half are larger.

However, if we were to talk about average church size (the mean), the number “soars” to 186 attenders. This number is skewed to a degree due to the influence of very large churches.

Another statistic indicates that 90% of all American churches have less than 350 members. And statistics can be very confusing to people (like me) who have a hard time understanding algorithms and complex statistical analysis. But we may summarize (as one blogger puts it): “While most of the churches in America are small, most of the attenders go to large churches.”

The other night I was having a conversation with a wise member of a very large church (2,000-3,000 attenders on a weekend) who bemoaned the perceived obsession with church growth. His concern was that there is a price to pay when numbers increase. First, budgetary concerns are aggravated as new funding will be needed to minister to these new people.

Second, growth can make it increasingly difficult to focus on the primary job of the church, to build mature followers of Jesus.

Third, this problem is exacerbated by the reality that often these new members arrive for a multiplicity of reasons, but not always because they want to grow in their faith. People can be attracted by size, good programs, excellent care of their children, high quality music, or excellent preaching. None of these are necessarily wrong, but the old adage says that “what you attract them with is what will keep them there.”

Yes, the “notoriety” of the modern “mega-church” can breed a new unhappiness with the size of our congregations. I am a member of a church that (without me counting heads each week) probably approaches the median size for an American church. But I hear voices in our congregation that express concern about our size. “How can we grow?” they ask. “Why aren’t we growing? What would we do if we had dramatic growth?” I don’t recall these questions dominating the conversations of church leaders before the advent of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, Saddleback, and Rick Warren. Perhaps the “successes” of some have spawned the seeds of our discontent.

Though I understand these concerns, I also wonder if they reflect a wrong assessment of the situation. I haven’t expressed my opinion on this topic with members of my church, but I have held some firm opinions on the subject and have been giving it a lot of thought lately. And so an article by Karl Vaters immediately caught my eye as it accurately articulated my thinking:


In this article, Vaters ponders: “We’ve invested a lot into the art and science of church growth in the last 50 years. It makes me wonder. After such a massive output of time, energy, research and money, have we become like the proverbial man with a hammer who sees everything as a nail? Is that why church growth is always the go-to answer for every challenge? Because we can’t afford it not to be? Has church growth become a solution looking for a problem?”

Vaters suggests that the early church was not that much different from today’s church. They had multiple problems with multiple fixes recommended in the epistles. We can easily postulate a solution to our problems today by fixating on church growth. But, says Vaters, “church growth was never a solution…No New Testament writer ever told a sick, dying, or hurting church to get bigger…Perhaps they didn’t consider numerical congregational growth to be as important as we do.”

My contention all along has been that we need to prioritize church health, not church growth. Yes, the church grew dramatically (in Jerusalem, in particular) but not because the apostles were fixated on size. The actual reason for this growth is obvious in Acts: they were doing the things that can produce a healthy church.

No, I am not suggesting that, if we do those same “right” things, our churches will have a dramatic upward spike in attendance. By analogy, though God may bless us financially if we are generous givers, our motivation for giving should never be to get blessed. In like manner, churches that do the right things may (or may not) grow numerically. But the motive for doing those right things should be because they’re right, not because we see them as a gimmick to increase our numbers.

Vaters makes the astute observation that “church growth and church health are not the same.” I could easily make a corollary observation: “the increasing problems that accompany church growth should make congregational leaders a bit nervous about striving for more members.” My fear is that, in the mad rush for growth, the necessary foundations may be ignored that might enable the church to actually manage new members in a mature and healthy fashion.

For instance, with biblical illiteracy a recognized problem in the American evangelical church, perhaps leaders should be addressing that deficiency rather than fixating on numerical growth. Or, with fragmenting relationships causing isolation and a “going it alone” mentality among believers, perhaps pastors and elders should prioritize the training, equipping, and supporting of small group leaders as a step toward “doing the right thing” for congregational nurture and maturity.

Vaters concludes: “Jesus told us to go and make disciples. And yes, that would mean church growth. But no apostle ever named growth as a strategy for fixing a broken church. And John, when he addressed the challenges, sins and blessings of the seven churches in Revelation, never told any of them to grow, either.”

The problem confronting your church today is not church growth but church maturity. Focus on the maturation of those who attend your church and sense the pleasure of Jesus as you are nurturing his precious bride.

Thoughts on Retiring the Word “Missionary”

Recently I came across this article and my mind and heart resounded with an emphatic “yes.”


I have argued for years that the terms “missions” and “missionary” have become distorted and skewed with years of use, misuse, and abuse. The time has come to conjure up new ways of talking about God’s cosmic eternal plan to redeem all things under the authority of his Son.

Amy Peterson has nicely articulated some of my thinking while also given us a good word study on the history and development of the term “missionary.”

Dave Shive

“Generosity – Essential to the Great Commission” – Dave Shive

I have long maintained that generosity is one of the great antidotes to greed, is a remedy for consumerism, and is a key to fulfilling the Great Commission. To go for the jugular, I have furthered insisted that tithing as it is preached and practiced in the American church can be one of the great enemies of the spread of the Gospel. Thus, I have held the position that too much preaching on tithing and too little teaching on generosity has produced a stingy church that focuses too much on percentages and obligation and too little on liberty, grace, and the joyful release of Kingdom resources.

Wow! I sense the hackles rising up on the necks of my readers with that opening salvo! Before I get a return barrage of objections, permit me to expand a little on my perspective –

Recently a friend of mine on a church staff e-mailed me with a question that set me to thinking. He asked: “Do I tithe to the church of which I am under the employ? It seems circular and not really helpful. If I did that, it seems like I should just tell them to cut my pay 10%. I’m thinking I should give to other places. Thoughts?”

Now I thought that was a great open door for me to jump in feet first – his line of reasoning gave me the opportunity to try to challenge his thinking a little – and those who know me know I don’t like to miss that kind of opportunity.

Here is my opening thought: “Not to split hairs, but first of all, I don’t teach tithing, nor do I believe it is relevant to giving. I think tithing distracts us from the NT model of generosity. II Corinthians 8-9 and the churches at Macedonia set the standard for giving that pleases God. Tithing can easily get us focused on percentages and obligation, whereas generosity frees us up to be glad, joyful, liberated, free with
our finances.”

My point? (No, I don’t have time here to discuss the often-misunderstood role of tithing in the OT. Nor do I have space to talk about how the overall concept of “giving-as-tithing” in the OT is rarely as low as 10%.) Paul wrote extensively on stewardship and giving and never once recommended tithing to his audience. Not only that, but in the most extensive discussion of financial giving in the NT (II Cor. 8-9), Paul’s unbridled enthusiasm for generosity as an expression of grace is palpable. The situation Paul was responding to in II Corinthians would have been a fabulous opportunity for him to speak on tithing, and yet he circumspectly never commands or even suggests the tithe.

I went on to comment: “So, the real question to me is: Where, with whom, and how much do I want to be generous? Asking this question frees you to think creatively, to be sensitive to the Lord. It may very well lead you to go well beyond the 10% of tithing as you develop sensitivity to God’s voice and are freed up financially and find generosity to be fun. That may very well get you thinking of how much you want to give to your church AND how much you want to disburse elsewhere as a good steward. Or, the real question could be: Do I want to be generous with my church under which I am employed? And don’t confuse the two. Your church is responsible for paying you – you are responsible for being generous. Those are two separate issues.”

To his concern that it might be “circular” as he gives to his church while his church pays him, I had this thought: “Interestingly enough, I have a parallel situation – there are some missionaries whom Kathy and I supported for years who chose to support us when we decided to raise support. Like you giving to your church, it seems circular, but it isn’t. Each party is being generous and God is pleased.”

Finally, my closing thought for my young friend: “The old saying may seem trite – ‘You can’t out-give God…’ – but there is a deep truth there. It can be exhilarating to be freed up to give beyond the norm, beyond the 10%, liberated from our finances to give with joy from the heart without double-checking to see how the percentage is working out. And to watch how our Generous God takes care of us. Frankly, I think the church is in need of serous teaching on the topic of happy, liberated, bighearted munificence as a statement of our gratitude to God for His largesse to us. Only then we can discover the freedom of deliverance
from what often is really the bondage of tithing.”

A final note those who have made it this far – I do have great respect for those who believe tithing is for today, even as I reject that approach. If you believe in or teach tithing, I want you to know that I am not trying to disparage your position as much as I want to inspire a vision among Jesus’ followers that frees us from captivity to selfishness, greed, percentages, and consumerism, delivering us into the glorious liberty of gladly relinquishing our grip on everything so that we might give ourselves fully to God’s mission.

—- Dave Shive