Missions is a dirty word…

My thesis that missions has become a dirty word in the evangelical lexicon is, in my opinion, now beyond dispute. It’s perhaps time to discover a new word to articulate what God is doing in the world in making his Son famous.

Support for my thesis comes from various missiologists, but is also anecdotal. Larry Sharp writes in the Evangelical Mission Quarterly on the topic of “Why I am not a missionary” and pleads, “Please don’t introduce me as a missionary…” (Though his reasoning differs somewhat from the point I am making here, it is nevertheless appropriate to reference his observation.)

In the International Review of Mission (1987), Klauspeter Blaser asks the question, “Should we stop using the term mission?”

I also have anecdotal evidence. A couple of years ago, I was asked to speak at a missions conference at an evangelical church. My answer was, “Yes, if you do not call it a missions conference” (I was motivated by a growing conviction that nothing can kill a missions conference faster than calling it a missions conference!). We agreed to call it something else (a worship theme, as I recall) with the understanding that I would still speak on missions.

A month later the pastor of the church e-mailed me to say that he had received significant feedback after the conference that confirmed my original suspicion that using the term “missions” to describe the conference would keep people away, rather than attract them.

Yes, missions has become an abused, misunderstood, and even unpleasant word in the lexicon of the evangelical.

In addition, I have been accumulating multiple layers of biblical support for my thesis for quite awhile. And I have concluded that it is unfortunate that (a) we have to use a word not even found in the Bible as a noun substitute for the cosmic work of God to make his Son famous; and (b) the word that we have chosen cannot come close to conveying the grand nuances of God’s work in the world; and (c) this word (missions) is widely misunderstood and carries so many negative connotations for so many believers that the waters are hopelessly muddled by its use.

Perhaps the English language is too limited to contain one single word to do the job. I don’t know. But I do know that Joe Steinitz and I work across the northeast US with good evangelical churches where the word missions is bandied about with little or no comprehension of the grand scope of God’s intention to fill the whole world with his Son’s glory.

Stay tuned to www.unmissions.net for more on this topic`… — Dave Shive

An Audience of One

During the recent assault of Hurricane Sandy, late-night talk show audiences in New York City were sent home to “be safe.” However, the hosts of the shows were determined that the “the show must go on.”

How do comedians, accustomed to audiences laughing uproariously at their every line, perform when the seats are empty and only their bandleader is applauding…an audience of one?

Letterman and Fallon handled it professionally, but it was a bewildering experience. The laughter and audience feedback was missing, and it all seemed so…lame. And perhaps this illustrates the challenge of operating solely for an audience of one.

Many years ago I was challenged to consider the question, “Who is my audience?” For whom am I doing the things I do? Whose approval do I want and need?

There are many ways to answer this. Politicians sniff the air to see where the polls are blowing so they can be elected. Pop culture celebrities tilt toward whatever direction will best increase their popularity. Marlene Dietrich reportedly recorded audiences applauding her performances to replay at home. We common folks blow our own trumpets on Facebook.

But there is another option: to view God as my audience, the One for whose pleasure I live and breathe and have my existence. When God is my audience, I am on stage and God alone is sitting in the gallery. My sole purpose is His pleasure, His applause.

Since birth, our selfish natures have reminded us that we are the center of our own universe and all others exist to serve us.

That’s the worldview I was destined for until the truth of the Good News of Jesus radically altered my heart in the fall of 1964. As a college freshman reading Scripture, I was given a vision of Someone whose presence would change my life of quiet ego-centrism into one of purpose, usefulness, and vitality that could extend beyond my own orbit.

Though my life is not impressive by the standards of our culture, it fills me with joy to think that I have spent over a half century engaged in the greatest venture happening on the planet, learning to enjoy God and journey with him through life. And the amazing thing is, as my Audience, He is applauding!

As you do the things to which you have been called this day, whether they are hum-drum and banal or challenging and exciting, consider an experiment: try taking this 24-hour period to focus all of your energies on one thing: the applause of the Master. – Dave Shive

I really didn’t expect the wedding to be so worshipful…

Yesterday Kathy and I participated in a wedding that proved to be a great worship experience. We had not expected it to be such a spiritually rich time. From the incredible mastery of the organist to the string octet to a choir full of fabulous voices, we were treated to a rare event.

Early in the service, the congregation sang “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation”. This song has some awesome lyrics, especially in the hymnal we sang from. I wish I had copied those words down. Kathy and I have sung this hymn countless times in the past, and so we have many of the verses of that hymn memorized, but these were new verses we had never sung before. Here’s one of the old familiar verses —

“Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?”

I had just returned from 5 busy days of ministry in Rhode Island. Two weeks prior to that, I had been in New Hampshire for 4 wonderful days of teaching. Those two trips, plus many other activities in our region, had me pretty worn out. I had gotten up at 4 am on Sunday to get to the Providence airport to fly out at 6 am. I was exhausted physically when I got home and felt ill-prepared for an afternoon wedding.

I was supposed to give a 10-minute homily at the wedding and had worked hard to get my thoughts down to 10 minutes. I usually preach and teach with few notes, except when I have to get the message down to 10 minutes. I tucked my notes into my coat pocket and we headed for the wedding. When we arrived at the church, I reached into my coat pocket for my notes and they were nowhere to be found (I’m still looking for those notes!).

As I waited for the wedding ceremony to begin, I feverishly began to scratch out some homily notes on the back of the wedding program. And then the opening hymn had me fighting back tears. Weariness evaporated and anxiety over my missing notes seemed silly.

“Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.”

Serving the Lord in missions can be an exhausting, frustrating experience when worship is lost. I sense the need to encourage you today to be a person of worship who does not allow circumstances in life to distract you from giving our God the worship he deserves. – Dave Shive

If I Was Just Hired to Be a Missions Director at a Church…

Missions Leadership in churches often changes, whether it’s the missions pastor or the group of faithful volunteers that keep it going, change is inevitable.  So I got to thinking, what are the best resources for getting replacements started in this new role?

My guess is, those of you who have been around awhile can guess my first recommendation; the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course.  Now I realize that the course is not offered everywhere at all times, but if there is anyway you could take this class, you have to do it.  There is a lot of reading but it is worth every moment you spend on it.

What about books?  Usually folks don’t have a ton of time to read a lot of books, so I’ll keep the list short.  I’m a big fan of  When Helping Hurts and it talks about a whole lot more than avoiding the pitfalls of dependency.  Loving the Church, Blessing the Nations is a great missions book but from the perspective of the local church.  Of course, The Global Missions Handbook is a one-stop shop for folks who are going overseas and what the steps are, so a missions director needs to know this information.  Piper’s Let The Nations Be Glad has been a classic for a long time, though I do like a little ditty that is a bit on the simpler side called 2020 Vision though I have never heard anyone else recommend it besides me (which probably tells you something about me).

What about news?  There are lots of resources out there.  Brigada is something you must subscribe to.  About every week you get an update of coming events, new things happening in missions, and lots of other helpful information.   I also subscribe to Evangelical Missions Quarterly which will really keep you informed as to the latest in thinking in missions.

What about organizations to join?  I would definitely hook up with MissioNexus.  They serve both churches as well as mission agencies as well.  They also do occasional conferences that are worth attending.

How about web-sites?  I hesitate to start writing here as this is a daunting list.  I will just say go to Links to Cool Places button at UnMissions.net and hang out there for a bit.  Its a dizzying list of different websites.  I do like the LearnCareGo site as a first stop though it can be dizzying as well.  Go to a coffee shop, bring your internet device of choice and just cruise around it for awhile, bookmarking the places that you want to explore further. Also, spend a bit of time at Catalyst Services.  They have some great articles.

Speaking of coffee, I would then Contact Dave and / or Contact Joe  and grab a cup of coffee.  That may be of dubious benefit, but we do offer comic relief.  Seriously, we will pray for you and are happy to do a free consult of what you presently have in place and talk about possibilities for what might be next.

Is there any resource out there that you feel would qualify for “The five things a missions director shouldn’t leave behind if going to a desert island?  Let us know.

Replacement Referees and The Ministry of the Gospel – Dave Shive

If you were not aware of the full-blown controversy that raged over the National Football League’s use of replacement officials this season, you may also not know that Calvin Coolidge is no longer president, the tsars no longer rule Russia, and there are more than three channels available on TV.

Due to a management-union spat, NFL referees were replaced with college officials who did the best job they could, but ended up making really bad calls in nearly every game.

True, the pros (the regular officials) make mistakes. But the number and kind of errors happening with the replacement officials was unprecedented. And the fans were outraged.

Even as I agonized over the poor calls on the gridiron, I also can identify with the replacement referees and commiserate with their impossible task. The speed and complexity of professional football makes quality officiating a daunting, if not impossible, task.

Imagine trying to do a job for which you feel ill-equipped and poorly-prepared while everybody around you is screaming their displeasure at your performance. This is what the replacement officials experienced….or what many pastors regularly suffer…or what missionaries, teachers, youth workers and average Christians often experience.

I recall early in my ministry as an assistant pastor a young couple came to me after church one Sunday and said they wanted to talk to me. They pulled out a list of sixteen items that I was doing wrong. I wish I had that list today.

Oh, if only they knew! Their issues were minor; I can do much worse than anything on their list. And over the ensuing thirty plus years, my errors in ministry could have filled a large notebook.

As I write these words, I am in New Hampshire for five days of teaching and preaching on the advance of the Gospel throughout the world. I am fully capable of inflicting havoc on the body of Christ were it not for God’s grace and power in my life. And when I do inflict havoc, as I have been known to do, I rely on God’s grace and power to protect from harm those to whom I minister.

And so I approach this ministry with a sense of inadequacy and lack, fully aware of the daunting task that confronts a bumbler such as myself. The spread of the fame of Jesus’ name is enormous, complex, and challenging. And it often seems that there are many others who can do a better job of it than I can.

We live in a day when, because of social media and technology, some Christians have “celebrity” status. They are household names, write popular books, have radio and TV programs, and hold conferences. It’s very tempting for the rest of us “ordinary” Jesus-followers to feel like they are the A-team and we are the “replacements.” They can do the work of the Great Commission flawlessly, effortlessly, and with style. We bumble and fumble and stutter and fall in our desperate attempts to serve Jesus.

The Apostle Paul understood this dilemma. He mentions “…we are fools for Christ’s sake…we are weak…we are without honor…we have become the scum of the world, the dregs of all things…” (I Corinthians 4:10, 13).

Does that sound at all like you? If so, take heart! Church history is replete with examples of people who have stumbled repeatedly in their pursuit of obedience to the Great Commission. The stories of William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Adoniram Judson, and a host of others are full of blunders, miscues, weakness, sickness, poverty. The amazing thing is that the Gospel goes forward on the shoulders of people just like you and me.

“The Ayatollah Khomeini has turned out to be one of modern Christianity’s greatest missionaries”

the title for this blog is taken from the July/August 2012 issue of Christianity Today, p. 47

With the certainty of an Israel-led attack on Iran this October, the question confronting evangelicals in America is: “How does an American evangelical view this significant event?”

Though opinions on this attack are complicated and varied, I want to suggest three views that are important.

First, there are those Americans (with a large number of evangelicals thrown in) who can’t wait for this to happen. To this group, the assault is viewed as a proper response to Iranian anti-Semitic, inflammatory statements that describe Israel as “a cancer on humanity” that must be erased from the planet. These individuals respond to Ahmadinejad’s or Khomeini’s vitriol by describing Islam as a “cancer” and, viewing Iran as a threat to American security and considering Israel to be God’s chosen people to always be defended, they long to see justice done.

The second group would be at the other end of the spectrum. These would be concerned by the political, environmental, and sociological implications of such a an attack. Right now, though Middle Eastern problems are unresolved, at least we have a “comfortable” understanding of how things stand in the Middle East. With this coming assault on Iran, all the cards in the deck are going to be thrown high into the air and where they land no one knows. But everyone is sure the resulting landscape in the Middle East will not be pretty. (Members of the first group may also be found in this group.)

Third, there are evangelical Americans who attempt to evaluate everything in terms of the Great Commission. While having political opinions, loyalties to America, a love for Israel, and a fundamental disagreement with Islam, this group nevertheless desires to prioritize the advance of the Gospel above personal ideology or emotional attachments.

It is into this third group that I want to urge all evangelical Americans to take up membership.

In the West, we often have difficulty distinguishing our American priorities from the main concern of the advance of the kingdom of God. American evangelicals are disturbed about the “Islamization” of Europe and alarming statistics can be cited to justify this concern. But perhaps our anxieties would be relieved if we considered how the migration of unreached peoples to the west are putting them within easy reach of the Gospel.

God is at work! The data surfacing on the church in Iran suggests an explosive growth rate for the underground church in Iran. In spite of persecution, the Iranian church is growing. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our concern should be for them, for their vitality and continued spread of the Gospel.

Meanwhile in Europe, a minimum of 500 Persians (Iranians are direct descendants of the Persians of the Bible and prefer to be called Persian) in Germany alone become Christians every year. And the number could be much, much higher…

May I suggest that we should spend less time breathing venom against Iran and Islam? Let us thank God for the spread of the Gospel among Persians. May we devote more energy toward aggressive intercession that God would steer the October attack for good for the spread of the Gospel within Iran and among Iranians around the world. – Dave Shive

Europe: Anti-Semitism and the Gospel – A 21st Century Missiological Conundrum

My recent missions trip to Europe was an eye-opener on many fronts…I noticed, for instance, that while most Americans that I talk with are disinterested in and woefully ignorant of European politics, many Europeans are fascinated by American politics and follow it religiously. Of course, European understanding of American politics is often muddled by the slanted sources of information made available through European news outlets.

I discovered many new and fascinating things about Europe during my trip. But out of all of the striking observations that could be made, none rise to the level of the realization that anti-Semitism is afoot.

In the 1930-1940s, Hitler’s Nazi genocidal policy focused on the undesirable in society: Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, the handicapped, Poles, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, dissenting clergy…and the list goes on. Today there is a resurgence of these classical anti-Semitic notions in the emergence of a European “neo-Nazi” movement that is frightening. Of particular interest to me, since I came to Europe in part to learn more about missions among east European gypsies, the 21st century version of this ultra-conservative European political movement is focused especially on Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals.

In a recent survey this year, when asked if violence against Jews is rooted in anti-Jewish or anti-Israel sentiment, 40% of Europeans responded that it was the result of anti-Jewish sentiment. In France, 45% of those surveyed held this view, up from 39% in a 2009 survey. 24% of the French population now holds anti-Semitic views, up from 20% in 2009.

This 2012 survey found particularly high levels of anti-Semitism in three nations: Hungary, Spain and Poland. There the numbers for anti-Semitic attitudes are literally off the charts and demand a serious response from political, civic and religious leaders.
• In Spain, where Jewish civic groups say Spaniards blame their economic woes on the country’s Jews, 72% of the population holds anti-Jewish views, compared with 64% in 2009.
• In Hungary, 63% of the population holds anti-Semitic views, up from 47% in 2009.
• In Poland, 48% show anti-Semitic attitudes, about the same as 2009.

Some European countries actually have recognized political parties that espouse neo-Nazi doctrines and have seated individuals from these parties in their government ruling bodies. For example, in Greece the “Golden Dawn” party has espoused neo-Nazi ideals and has used Nazi symbolism and has praised former Nazi figures. In a 2012 election, Golden Dawn received 7% of the popular vote and has seated 18 members in the Greek parliament.

So, while we Americans are mostly conscious of the economic perils assailing the European continent, there is an even more insidious movement stirring across the pond that should arouse our curiosity.

For missions, the questions are: How does this new move affect the advance of the kingdom of God in post-Christian Europe? What are the implications for missions of this anti-Semitic phenomenom? Is this new movement an opportunity for the spread of the Gospel or an obstacle? How do we pray for Europe? What new missiological strategies must emerge if the Gospel is to once again influence Europe?

Dave Shive, August 2012

The Dave and Kathy Shive August 2012 Newsletter

My brain is too small to assimilate all that I saw and heard in two weeks in Europe…

I am sitting on the porch of a beautiful house in the woods of central Pennsylvania. Kathy and I are blessed to have a week’s vacation to recover from my recent trip to Europe and to help prepare us for a busy fall. Last week I was encountering spiritual darkness and needy people on another continent. This week I look out at trees and bear and deer as they wander from their mysterious lairs to the corncrib across the pond beyond the deck. I hear bullfrogs conversing. The weather is perfect.

For a second, it’s easy to forget how complex and messed up this world is, to ignore memories of the scenes, people, and circumstances we were surrounded with in Europe. The quaint German villages and castles and the tidy order of Deutschland seem remote. The impoverished Roma (gypsy) villages with their myriad of seemingly insoluble problems are far away. Will the images and lessons of this recent trip to Europe vanish from my fragile memory when I go down to the river today to skip rocks or when we make s’mores around the fire pit this evening?

After visiting four countries and hearing numerous languages spoken and making some wonderful friends, it’s back to the life of a missions mobilizer. My calling is to be passionate for the Great Commission. My task is to provoke everyone in my world to be strategically involved in God’s mission. My venue is my home, my family, my neighborhood, and the American church.

It’s the images of people I encountered on this trip that linger most in my memory. I picture my sister and her husband in Germany. They might say something like this to us: Sure it’s hard to uproot your family, move to another continent, learn a new language, send your children to new schools in a new culture, start from the beginning in making new friends while trying to maintain old relationships across the ocean, and live on wildly fluctuating income. But this is where we’re supposed to be and this is what we’re supposed to be doing, and we’re sure of that! So God is able to provide whatever we are lacking and make up for the things we have lost to obey His call. Please pray for us!

I can see a Roma boy living in a village in Croatia. He might say to us: I’ve never been to America. I hear you have clean water, toilets in the house, screens in the windows to keep flies out, plenty of food, and nice clothes, I hear your houses are full of books, and everybody can read. If you would visit my village, you would see that we have none of those things. But we have UNA clubs every week where we are learning about Jesus. We have Bob and Nancy Hitching and their friends who have come from far away to bring the Kingdom of God to our village. Please pray for us that the Good News about Jesus that we are learning in UNA club will open our hearts and change our families and our villages!

God, rescue me from a poor memory. Penetrate my calloused mind to recall the things that you have allowed me to see. Deliver me from the forgetfulness that makes it easy to live a convenient, comfortable, affluent, self-absorbed American way of life. Break my heart with the things that break your heart.

A final post-European trip update…

July 29. On vacation in the deep woods of central Pennsylvania. Near Morris, PA

Mike, Josh, and I arrived home Sunday evening from our trip to Eastern Europe. I have four immediate observations on those two amazing weeks…

1. There still exists in the western world (Eastern Europe, in particular) people (specifically the Roma – gypsies) who are simply untouched by the unspoiled innocence of the Gospel. They are beyond the thoughts of much of the world, despised and avoided because they have a reputation for dishonesty, and are dirty, impoverished, illiterate, and distrusted. There also remains in more modern, affluent countries (like Germany) those who are not despised but whose spiritual darkness is equally desperate and unpenetrated.

2. Believers who live near these Roma peoples are generally unmoved by the spiritual darkness and physical deprivation that engulfs their villages. In Bible-believing churches in eastern Europe, to invite a Roma to one’s church means everyone else would leave and go elsewhere. In short, it appears that the reaching of the Roma for Jesus will require an imaginative movement of visionary and passionate missionaries who are willing to make joyful sacrifices to see light penetrate darkness. In Germany, on the other hand, the post-Christian environment is enveloped in a blindness that can only be breached through intercessory prayer and sacrificial building of intentional relationships.

3. There are some incredible people expending every ounce of energy and every resource at their disposal to go to difficult places to spread the Gospel because they have a passion for Jesus and a love for people. These soldiers of the faith are Americans, Croats, Serbs, Hungarian, Roma believers, and a host of other nationalities. They speak English (both American and British!), Croatian, German, Hungarian, Roma dialects, and other miscellaneous languages. The Apostle Paul’s multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic world and the team he assembled has nothing on these guys! (Like Paul, one has even been imprisoned for 3 months in a Turkish prison for preaching the Gospel.) These are the heroes, the role models, the ones we should be training our children to admire and emulate.

4. These frontline soldiers of the faith have enormous financial, physical, and spiritual needs that those more fortunate and resourced (like me) can help to meet through generous giving and intercessory prayer. “Outsiders” (like us in America) are strategically positioned with the needed supplies required for the waging of battle in these distant places.

Grateful that so many gave so generously that Mike and Josh and I could have this extraordinary opportunity to have our eyes opened in new ways. Thank you!



Re-entry: When short-termers come home

Day 11, July 27. Budapest, Hungary.

Yesterday, Croatia. Today, Hungary. Tomorrow, Baltimore, MD. Home, how sweet the sound!

Re-entry for those returning from short-term missions trips is always a delicate, and seldom-discussed, matter. There is a 10-stage process one goes through that looks something like this –

Stage 1: I am so-o-o-o excited to be leaving America where everybody is so shallow and self-centered. I can’t wait to see how God will use me. God has been preparing me for this very moment. I want to go change the world!

Stage 2: Arrived at my destination country. Everything is new and exciting. I love these people, their food, the scenery, the markets. There are so many needs! I have so much to offer. Let’s get busy helping these people!

Stage 3: Wow! These people are really poor and dirty and smell and I can’t understand a word they say. I probably won’t be changing the world here but, oh well, I can still hug orphans and help with construction of the church building.

Stage 4: Man, this is hard work. I don’t want to use the word “homesick” so I’ll tell everybody I want to go home so I can tell people how God has been using me…right after I do some sight-seeing and sample the local cuisine.

Stage 5: I can’t wait to get back home to take a shower, sleep in my own bed, and eat decent food…oops…I mean…I can’t wait to get back home and share with my church and friends all of the wonderful things God did through me during this time. I can’t wait for all of my friends to see how big a heart I have for the world!

Stage 6: Man, will this trip never end?

Stage 7: Yes, we get to go home today!

Stage 8: Home! Wow, Americans are so materialistic and shallow. How can they be so preoccupied with TV, movies, music, and the internet? If they saw what I saw on this trip, they would be all about telling people about Jesus.

Stage 9: (standing before the youth group or the congregation) What an awesome trip! God used me mightily and taught me so much! My heart was broken by the needs of people in other parts of the world. I can’t wait to go back. I made such great friends and shared the Gospel with a ton of people. Thanks to everyone who sacrificed to help me take this strategic trip for the advance of the Kingdom!

Stage 10: (a week or two later – on the phone with a friend) Hey, want to go shopping with me and catch “The Dark Knight Rises” after I finish catching up on Facebook? Gap has some cool new shoes on sale and I want to grab something to eat at Chik-Fil-A

There may be a little hyperbole in my 10 stages, but not too much. Anyone out there identify with any of this? Most of those who read these updates have been on a missions trip or two and know the range of emotions and ideas that swirl around a missions trip.

I have learned to be a little realistic about what I can accomplish and what can happen in my heart on a missions trip. I leave home knowing I am basically selfish and dislike dirt. I struggle with cross-cultural issues. But I know that I will return home and everything will look different and I will tend be more cynical about American Christianity and culture than when I left. I know that people will want to know how I turned the world upside down in less than 2 weeks. I know that I will be tempted to lie about…I mean…exaggerate…um…embellish what really happened so that my supporters will be encouraged with how their donations made a difference and they will be eager to fund my next trip.

In many ways, only the passage of time can clarify exactly what was accomplished on a given trip. I always return home with the confidence that I know God’s world far better than when I left. That’s good. I have met new people, deepened old friendships, have more to share with others about God’s world, and can be a better missions mobilizer because I went.

Are others better off because I went? I never know for sure, but I am not the kind of pragmatist who always needs tangible proof that what I am doing is actually worthwhile and working. A lesson of missions history is that those who served God best usually never knew during their lifetime just how significant their labors were. So let’s keep on doing well, knowing that our labors are not in vain in the Lord!