Christmas Thoughts, 2013: “Arrivals are Great, But Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow”

Which is more impressive to you? That Jesus came to earth? Or that Jesus left heaven?

I post these thoughts on Christmas Day, 2013, not because I assume anyone is reading blogs this day. Rather, this is a profitable exercise for me on this momentous day.

Actually, these ideas are a fine-tuning and polishing of a newsletter that my wife and I sent out two months ago to our mailing list. Perhaps you are on that list, in which case you can either choose to ignore this posting or act on your curiosity to see if I actually improved the original writing.

The idea becomes increasing inescapable to me that God left his idyllic residence, crossing cultural barriers to lose his life in an alien environment of chaos and misery, subjecting himself to the workings of a foreign culture while bringing an alien message, ultimately to give up everything for…what…what shall we call it? His mission?

Departures can often be more momentous than arrivals, I say.

In my book, “Night Shift,” I recount an experience I had in late May of 1992. My oldest son, Dan, had spent his first year out of high school aimlessly trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life. After a year of this, he decided to enlist in the US Navy. I felt that this was a good move for him, but it was an emotionally difficult thing for me to say goodbye to him.

His departure was sandwiched between two painful experiences for me. In early May I had run over my foot with our lawnmower. A couple of weeks after Dan left, our beautiful black Labrador was struck and killed by a truck in front of our house. Coming between those two events, Dan’s departure is etched deeply into my consciousness by the emotional stress of that entire time period.

When I think of Dan’s time in the Navy, I have no clear memory of the events surrounding his coming home after his 6-year stint. But everything about his departure is clearly carved into my memory. I remember limping over to him on my crutches, fighting back tears, hugging him, saying an emotional goodbye. Departures are tough, especially when they occur in a context of stress and life’s ubiquitous pressures.

It is in this way that I think of Jesus at this time of year. Obviously we have a lot of narrative information in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 concerning Jesus’ birth- arrival. But what about his departure from heaven? We need to dig a little deeper for that. Oh, it’s there, but we need to seriously search for it. You see, it is not the Messiah’s arrival on earth, as amazing as that is, that stirs my thoughts this Christmas Day as much as it is his departure. I wonder about that departure from heaven. Could it possibly have been as amazing as his arrival on earth?

After all, it is what Jesus left that makes his coming so stunning. Earlier this month, Kathy and I left Baltimore for Florida. There was little that was remarkable about that. We left a cold climate for sunny climes, glorious days, and lovely beaches. No crowds will assemble at the airport to give us teary hugs and marvel at our sacrifice. But if we were to sell all and relocate to, say Calcutta, to work among the poor, diseased, and hopeless, the nature of our departure might become a salutary event worth noting.

If Jesus’ life is characterized by anything – more than his good works, more than his great teaching, more than his exemplary life – it is that in concert with the Spirit and his Father he left a place of perfection to immerse himself in a deeply damaged world. I see the clues that speak of the importance of Jesus’ departure from heaven.

First, in the Gospels, there are more occurrences of verbs depicting Jesus being “sent” than words that describe his “arriving”. In other words, the perspective of “the sender” (his Father and the Holy Spirit) seems to figure quite prominently in Jesus’ thinking and in the vocabulary of those who first told us his story.

Second, we have statements that speak of events before creation (cf. Matthew 13:34; John 17:5, 24; Ephesians 1:4; I Peter 1:20) that suggest some pretty big doings were going on. This suggests to me that we would do well to give more thought to what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (and angels!) were up to prior to creation.

If there were, in eternity past, a plethora of conversations surrounding Jesus’ departure from heaven concerning what Jesus would do in space and time, I would expect that the Trinity would be deeply engaged in those dialogues and that angels’ jaws would drop in shock at the imminent departure of the King.

In this regard, may I recommend a brief video clip that I think creatively and accurately gives a fresh perspective on Jesus’ departure to earth as an infant.

Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM1XusYVqNY

Finally, I love the endearing statements that link Jesus and the Father in an intimate relationship. These declarations may take the form of Jesus’ own words about his relationship with his Father. Or they may appear in comments made by other writers, such as the author of Hebrews, who describes Jesus as being “the radiance of his Father’s glory and the exact representation of his Father’s nature…” (Heb. 1:3).

My pain over my son’s departure to the Navy is understandable and shared by many. But Jesus leaving heaven, now that’s taking “parting is such sweet sorrow” to a whole new level.

Because we are apt to view the Bible through the lens of our own needs and wants, we may tend to emphasize Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem (especially at this time of year) over his departure from his throne in heaven. After all, we needed him to come!

But if we see this season through the eyes of God, perhaps our hearts will be stirred to think more of what Jesus “left” than that to which he “came.” This season think of heaven, not the one you hope to go to, but the one Jesus left. Think of departures, not Jesus’ departure to heaven after his resurrection, but his abandonment of the place of idyllic glory to come into this world. Think of Jesus, not as poor, but “though he were rich…” (II Cor. 8:9).

Has Your Church Discovered Its DNA?

Church missions committees everywhere seem to be struggling. That is, if the number of requests Joe and I get from church missions committees asking for coaching help are any indication. That may sound bad unless we consider the possibility that the up-side is that churches are recognizing their need for help. I find that exciting.

Each of these churches tells us a strikingly similar story. Here’s how that narrative might look: In the past, perhaps many years ago, the typical church began to acquire missions commitments. Perhaps the church decided to support “Joe in Kenya” because he was the cousin of a member of the missions committee. Or it was determined that the “orphanage in Guatemala” should be supported because “compassion requires it.” Or “maybe we should pick up the local Christian camp because a number of our kids were saved there.”

But now, years later, perhaps decades after the decisions were made, very few in the church remain who were around when those decisions were made. Even worse, very few people in the church may personally know these missionaries, have any contact with them, or show much interest in their ministries.

Now I’m not questioning if each of these missions commitments is worthy. They may all be doing a good work. Nor am I proposing that these worthy ministries be abruptly dropped from the roster of church missions relationships. But this “shotgun” method for a church to devise a missions responsibility is lacking in two very important ingredients: strategy and focus.

After all, there are literally thousands of missionaries and ministries worthy of a church’s support. But each church has limited resources. So how do we make a decision as to what our involvement should be?

Joe and I have had a great time doing a seminar called “Design Your Impact” with churches. This seminar concentrates a church’s thinking on asking the question: “How can we focus our thinking, energy, and resources to get the most impact for achieving the Great Commission?”

I remember when I finally figured out who I was, what my gifts were, and how I could best focus my resources for the advance of the Kingdom. In scientific language, we might say I discovered my DNA. And just as every individual has a unique DNA configuration, we have come to believe that each church has its own unique DNA.

For congregations, the acronym “SPACE” is helpful to remember the 5 parts of a church’s DNA: “Strengths, passions, assets, context, experience.” Figuring out your church’s unique DNA can be a fun, agonizing, fruitful journey. But it can prove incredibly helpful in developing a strategy that works for your church’s DNA. And it can enable you to develop a focus that will give your congregation a rallying point.

In the quest to be able to identify the “missions-minded” church, the question of a church’s identity is highly relevant. Let us know if you would like to go deeper into your church’s DNA so you can “Design Your Impact” as a congregation.

Dave Shive

Prayer and the Missions-Minded Church

Dave: Joe and I are continuing our comments on the theme of “The Myth of the Missions-Minded Church.” Our question today is – “Does the prayer life of your church and its members indicate that your church is missions-minded?”

Joe: Measuring the prayer life of a congregation is not easy. Actually qualifying that prayer as to its focus is pretty near impossible.

Dave: But let me try. Here’s a starter question – Roughly 41% of the world’s population is considered “unreached.” Is 41% of your church’s prayer time devoted to the 41% of the world’s population that does not have access to the Gospel? If reaching that 41% is important to God, should not our prayer lives reflect our interest in what God is passionate about.

Joe: I talked to the person at my church in charge of facilities and asked her to name the different groups that reserve rooms here at the church for prayer. I learned that we have healing prayer, soaking prayer (don’t ask because I don’t know what that means), prayer for the services, staff prayer and the missions prayer group. The missions prayer groups tends to be small (in numbers not stature). It is led by a dear friend who has been doing it for years and is very faithful every other week to bring the latest requests from our missionaries to pray through.

Dave: In Matthew 6, when Jesus introduces the “Lord’s Prayer,” he says, “Pray, then, this way.” In other words, Jesus is advocating a way to pray. And in Romans 8:26, Paul says that “…We don’t know what to pray for as we ought.” Does that scare you? Do you feel less smug about your prayer life in light of the possibility that you might be emphasizing in prayer things that God doesn’t esteem as the highest priority? In other words, while prayer is pleasing to God, God especially likes strategic and focused prayer.

Joe: Now measuring the prayer life of a congregation by the number of meetings a church has and the attendance at those meetings really doesn’t show us much. After all, Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing, so if we’re obedient that means that a whole lot of prayer is going on that the church facilities person knows nothing about. Putting aside for the moment the fact that we aren’t likely praying without ceasing, what other ways are there to figure out how folks are praying?

Dave: I see the first step in assessing your church’s prayer life might be to ask if your church has addressed the question of the purpose of prayer. If prayer is intended for me to get my needs met, then fine, it doesn’t matter if I ever pray for anything other than what directly impacts me. But if prayer is actually a weapon intended to enable us to get on the front line of battle to fight for God’s mission, then I need to refine the scope and intent of my prayers to see that reaching the unreached 41% becomes my prayer priority.

Joe: I am going to go out on a limb here and say that people talk about what they pray about. Sure there are those issues which propriety dictates that we keep between us and God and maybe just a few trusted friends. More often, however, if we are praying about it, we are talking about it. And if we are talking about it, we are likely praying about it. And that makes me sad. If I measure it by how much is said up front on Sunday, the numbers are far from impressive. If I measure it by what is said in passing conversation on Sunday morning, that isn’t much better.

Dave: My concern is not with the number of prayer meetings but with what we are actually praying about in those meetings. Lots of praying that is not strategic may not be accomplishing God’s desire in prayer. And clearly the bulk of most church prayers are for sick people to get better. Now that is not wrong in and of itself, but at the same time that kind of praying does not leave much time for the heart of God that disciples be made out of every nation.

Joe: I know two things which seem almost mutually exclusive: throughout history missions has often been treated as the step-child of church ministries, and if we want to see the resistant parts of the world reached, prayer will have to be a big part of that happening.

Dave: To reorient your church’s prayer style to become more strategic and intentional in fulfilling the Great Commission, it may require some changes in how prayer is done. Joe and I know of some neat things happening in other churches that may be of interest. There may be pain involved. You may have to re-learn how to pray. But think how pleasing that is to the Father when we get our prayer lives on board with God’s agenda. So, if praying for the completion of the Great Commission is not a priority in your church, you may have to reassess your church’s missions-mindedness.

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz

Social Justice or Gospel Proclamation? Is the Church out of Balance?

Dave: I remember how in the church of my youth (1950s-1970s), the issue of social justice (e.g., clothing or feeding the poor) was pitted against proclamation (telling people about the Gospel). And there was a fear in the evangelical community of which I was a part that if we did too much of the former we would diminish our ability to do any of the latter. A much-needed pendulum shift was needed to enable the church to have a better emphasis on justice and mercy.

And the pendulum has shifted, oh my, how it has shifted! In fact, it has swung the other way, and we fear that there may now be an over-emphasis on social justice to the neglect of proclamation of the Gospel. This is a sticky wicket that needs to be addressed.

Joe: Yes, it can be a rather thorny subject. But does it need to be? I am reminded of how one veteran field worker would frequently remind our missionary team with monotonous regularity – “Make sure that you can articulate how the ministry you are involved in contributes to church planting”. And there is always someone who will quote – “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary use words” (frequently attributed to St. Francis, though that is uncertain).

Dave: In our mobilization role, Joe and I find it necessary to help churches wrestle with the tension between Christian social activism and Christian Gospel proclamation.

Joe: When teaching one of the later Perspectives lesson I will flash on the screen this particular quote from the Perspectives study guide to provoke discussion: “Many missions endeavors aim at fighting evil and manifest the kingdom through relief and community development efforts. This is right and helpful, but an important strategic priority is the planting of a viable church, which is the beginning of all that will bear lasting fruit.”

And provoke discussion it does! Usually the participants will need to digest the quote first, so the comments start with a trickle. By the end, I usually have to cut discussion off with folks wanting to say more than time allows. It really can get emotional.

At some point I may interject the Clive Calver (former president of World Relief) quote – “It’s hard to share the gospel with someone when they’re dead.”

Dave: Because this is such a huge topic, we would like to reference an excellent book of this topic – “What Is the Mission of the Church? 
Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission,” by Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert. These two authors seem to have a great grasp of the balance between the two extremes.

For the two of us, while fully affirming the necessity and biblical basis for social justice types of ministries, and while rejoicing in the activism that is pervading much church missions activities today, we would like to share a few balancing and (hopefully) insightful quotes from the DeYoung/Gilbert book to remind the church of the need to never forget the proclamation of the Gospel…

— “We are concerned that in all our passion for renewing the city or tackling social problems, we run the risk of marginalizing the one thing that makes Christian mission Christian: namely, making disciples of Jesus Christ.”

— 
”If we improve our schools, get people off welfare, clean up the park, and plant trees in the neighborhood, but aren’t seeking to make disciples, we may ‘bless’ our communities, but we’re not accomplishing the church’s mission. Ultimately, if the church does not preach Christ and him crucified, if the church does not plant, nurture, and establish more churches, if the church does not teach the nations to obey Christ, no one else and nothing else will.”

— 

”We want the church to remember that there is something worse than death and something better than human flourishing.”

— “The mission of Jesus is not service broadly conceived, but the proclamation of the gospel through teaching, the corroboration of the gospel through signs and wonders, and the accomplishment of the gospel in death and resurrection.”

— 

”…There is only one gospel, but it can be looked at through a wide or narrow lens. And it must include the gospel of the cross. Without the cross there is no gospel at all. That would be like ‘picking up an armful of leaves and insisting that you’re holding a tree.'”

— 

”Evangelism is the act of telling other people about the plight they are in and how they can be saved from it. Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is an act of deep love and compassion for that person. … There’s no bait-and-switch there; that’s simply holistic compassion – compassion for the whole person, not just part of him.”

A warning from DeYoung/Gilbert…

— “Be careful how you use the term ‘social justice.’ It often includes everything from hunger relief to carbon emissions and it is sometimes used as a trump card to silence opposition. It may mean that everyone is treated fairly or it may be expanded to mean equality of outcome, i.e., everyone getting their share.”

And some sound advice…

— “Understand moral proximity. Proximity means how connected we are by familiarity, kinship, space, time, etc. The closer the need, the greater the moral obligation to help. Millions of needs face us via technology. Distinguish between generosity and obligation.”

And finally…

— “Sound economics must accompany good intentions. Poor people are not necessarily poor because rich people are rich. Most nations are poor because of corrupt or inept political, legal, and social structures. Real world problems require real world solutions.”

We hope these quotes give some food for thought. For more, get a copy of the book!

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz

The Pie and the Wheel: Is Your Church Truly “Missions-Minded”?

Dave: This blog goes to the heart of how the church views missions. What is the place of missions in your congregation? Is it one of many things the church is called to do? Or is mission the engine that drives everything else that the church does? Though your church may claim to be “missions-minded,” you may be practically operating with a model that says “missions is only one of many things our church does.”

Joe: A volunteer leader asked Dave and me for help with his church’s missions program. The missions department was one of sixteen within his church and he was confused and frustrated.

Dave: In our coaching of church missions committees, Joe and I often refer to two models for how to view the church and missions. As you listen to the story Joe is telling of one church, it may be helpful to have clarity on these two models.

One is the pie model. Picture a pie sliced into a variety of pieces and put labels on the various slices. One slice is youth ministry, one is worship, one is Sunday School, one is missions. As you can see, the presupposition behind the pie model is that missions is one of many things that the church does.

The second model is the wheel. Picture a wheel with various concentric spokes that all meet at the hub or axle. Each one of those spokes represents a different activity or function of the church, but the hub is “mission” (in the singular). In fact, one of the spokes of the wheel model is the missions committee, but the hub of all of the church activity is mission.

Joe: Churches have to make decisions about how to handle the resources with which they have been entrusted. “Resources” means a lot more than just finances. Resources can mean people, or the amount of time for exposure and promotion from the front on Sunday, or how much attention something gets in the bulletin and website and other communication mechanisms.

Now the church Dave and I were asked to help had, over the years, made a strong effort at supporting missions both on the local and global scales. But the missions leader had some pretty significant unanswered questions about how his church should look at missions. Was it right that missions was just one of sixteen departments? If the Great Commission is truly the mission of the church, is relegating it to department status really the way it should work?

Dave: So the church Joe is speaking of was “typical.” Virtually everyone we talk to and every church with which we consult says the same thing – “our church is more pie than wheel.” If your church is “normal,” you operate more with the pie model than the wheel model. To change the way your church views missions may very well require a paradigm shift.

Joe: If you look at every department within the church, there is both a biblical mandate and a felt need. There is a biblical mandate for teaching children in the way they should go. I also have a felt need for children’s ministry in my church. I want my church to help me raise my kids in the Lord. You could say the same thing about preaching and worship music. There is a biblical mandate for these. There is also a felt need. One could argue that every department in the church has both a biblical mandate and a felt need… except for missions. Sure, we would all say that the biblical mandate for missions is pretty obvious… but a felt need? Most of us didn’t roll out of bed this morning concerned for the number of Saudi’s that died last night without Christ or eager to read the minutes of the latest meeting of our church missions committee. So missions doesn’t have a felt need. This is why Dave and I blog on missions, do missions conferences, and try to do regular teaching on the subject.

Dave: What Joe is saying is that if the children’s ministry, preaching, or worship music in my church is not up to par, I will notice and react because I have a felt need for those things to be done well. But if missions is not being done well in my church, I may not notice because I may not have a felt need for my church to excel in mission. And the paradigm shift that moves missions to the level of “felt need” may require a new definition of the term “missions” to agree with the biblical perspective. After all, if God is a Missionary God, then everything he touches has a missions divine fingerprint on it. The Bible is a missions text about the missionary quest of a missionary God. How should that perspective shape our church missions model? Can we really afford the price of operating with the pie model?

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz

Is Your Church “Missions-Minded”? Whose Noses Are You Counting?

Dave: Have you ever visited a church and asked a member or leader, “How are you guys doing in missions?” If the answer is to show you a large world map in the foyer with stickpins indicating the missionaries that church supports, you have discovered in all probability how that church measures its “missions-mindedness.” Or perhaps the person will pull out the church missions budget to indicate the great things that are happening in missions in their congregation.

Joe: We are in a day and age when we measure everything. Businesses need to measure every expense and every transaction to make sure it is in the company’s best interest. If they didn’t do that, the balance sheet would suffer.

Dave: So how do you or your church quantify your missions-mindedness? Do we utilize the “balance sheet” approach of banks? Or the “standardized tests” of schools?

Joe: And even if you were able to put the poor balance sheet out of your mind, your bank and your shareholders would be pretty quick to remind you. Obviously it isn’t just businesses that are measuring things. Schools are measuring how the children are progressing academically. If the standardized tests aren’t showing progress, teachers and administrators are retrained or fired.

Dave: Churches are under pressure today to demonstrate their effectiveness. What if pastors and church leaders were retained or dismissed based on their congregation’s quantifiable “missions-mindedness”?

Joe: Then we get into the question of what exactly what we are going to measure. The schools say a junior in high school, for example, should be able to be proficient in certain areas. Then they test in those areas and see how the student measures up to that particular standard. Pretty simple, right? You would think so, except if you happen to talk to a frustratedl teacher who has had to completely change the lesson plan in order to teach to a particular test. They don’t like the loss of freedom and creativity they enjoyed as teachers.

Dave: So by this reasoning, should churches impose standards on their missions committee or pastor that require the meeting of measurable expectations in missions? If “yes,” what standard(s) do we use? WIll the leaders bristle and resist the imposition of such standards and their subsequent “loss of freedom and creativity”?

Joe: So, if you ask a church leader: “How are you guys doing in missions?” – what answer might you get? A question like that naturally leaves one grasping for some standard. The most common responses are “we give ___% of our general budget to missions” or “we have sent ___ number of short-term missions trips in the last year” or “we have sent out or are supporting ___ number of missionaries.”

Dave: But by what biblical principle do we decide to measure our effectiveness in missions by budgetary line items or number of missionaries? Using that standard, the church in Antioch in Acts 13 was terribly deficient. I mean, here you have a growing vibrant church, and yet (according to Acts), they can only send out two missionaries??? Fire the pastor of the Church at Antioch!!!

Joe: I even had one pastor tell me his goal was to be involved in some way on every continent. I made some quip about reaching flightless waterfowl in Antarctica to which he told me he had already looked into it. He had located teams of science researchers in Antarctica and he was trying to get an invitation to speak at their chapel.

Dave: I wonder if we were able to place permanent residents in outer space if that pastor would be compelled to target those space travelers in order to feel that his church was succeeding in missions.

Joe: So exactly what is the standard? Well, a good place to start would be the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Most missiologists and Bible scholars agree that, if you have to find one text in all of scripture which identifies the mission of the church, this would be it: “Go and make disciples of all nations”.

Dave: And we’ve already suggested in previous blogs that Mt. 28:19-20 may rank at the top of the list of “Most Quoted but Least Understood and Applied Texts in Scripture.”

Joe: So, the good news is, we have our standard. The bad news is, it isn’t the one most churches are using. When asking the question: “How are you guys doing in missions?” – I haven’t gotten the response: “Well, we made ___ number of disciples in the _____ unreached people group in our pursuit of the Great Commission.” To which you might respond, “Hold on, Joe! You can’t answer that way. That’s counting noses.” Well, you are also counting noses when you tell me how many missionaries you have sent out. It’s just a different set of noses.

Dave: I hope it’s clear that we are challenging churches to engage in a mega-paradigm shift away from the managerial, quantifying, measuring approach to assessing “missions-mindedness” to move towards a more biblical model of evaluating our effectiveness in light of the mandate of the Great Commission.

Joe: Correct. Our goal in raising this issue isn’t so we can become cross-cultural nose counters. It is so that when we evaluate and measure our missions outreach efforts, we will keep in mind the big picture. What is it that God ultimately is looking for, at least in the words of the Great Commission? The purpose here is not to have churches jettison what they are doing in missions and start over. The purpose is to begin the discussion: “What is the bulls eye on our target?” How can we start with the “bulls eye” laid out in the Great Commission and begin asking God how we can make what we do line up with that?

Dave: Future blogs will go into more detail as to different ways to do this. Feel free to contact us to talk more about this as well. Be thinking about how to answer the question: “How is your church doing in missions?” Whose noses are you counting?

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz

Is Anybody Hitting a Home-Run When it Comes to Making Disciples?

Dave: Today we wrap up our thoughts on discipleship and its significance for the church that wishes to be missions-minded. Not that we have run out of material! But there are so many other issues that pertain to the missions-minded church.

Joe: I have to say I am terribly embarrassed by the topic of discipleship. You see, I have been terrible at discipleship and that may have something to do with not having been discipled myself. That’s not intended as an excuse, it’s just what is. Think of the institutional church and how it typically functions. It is unfortunately to be expected that the American church thinks of discipleship in terms of a program. Creating programs is our default mechanism for tackling most any problem. As the saying goes, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Of course disciple-making is happening here in the west in different places. We all have run into people here who are serious disciples of Christ. But we would wish for more widespread and obvious examples of disciple-making, wouldn’t we? I imagine many people reading this might have similar feelings and frustrations, which leads us to ask the questions: Where is it really working? Where do we see real discipleship happening? Is anybody hitting a home-run when it comes to disciple-making?

Dave: As if in answer to Joe’s question, I just today received this report from a mobilizer who returned recently from Asia – “Hi Dave, I see discipleship-making at its best with the young church planters I serve with there. One woman I witnessed to on my last visit a year ago had been a prostitute living on the streets but is now part of the church-planting team. I didn’t even recognize her when I saw her on this visit but she recognized me…She was changed physically and spiritually…It was a beautiful sight.”

Joe: The one place where I am hearing of success in disciple-making is also a place where I hear, not surprisingly, of success in evangelism. As a matter of fact, those people would be a bit surprised to hear that I made such a distinction. It’s a bit blurry because they disciple to conversion as opposed to making converts and then discipling them. And it’s happening, ironically, in the Muslim world.

A book that came out a year ago – “Miraculous Movements” by Jerry Trousdale – talks about how discipling is happening in some really dramatic ways. A quick summary won’t do it justice but I’ll attempt it just the same. The main elements are seeking a person of peace (see Luke 10) and asking them if they want to learn more about God by studying His word. Rather than starting with the Gospel, they just start with God’s Word, relating different Bible stories starting in Genesis. They ask the participants to restate the story, share what it tells us about God, what it tells us about man, discuss how they are going to put it into practice in their lives this week, and indicate who they will tell. Seems a bit too simple for my tastes but tens of thousands of Muslims are becoming true disciples who are, in some cases, dealing with intense persecution.

So where does that leave us? I can’t say for sure, but one thing is certain: if we aren’t seeing the results that we hope for close at hand, it might be worth looking at other places where things are happening.

Dave: In the western church, take a look at “Real Life Ministries” in Post Falls, Idaho. I first stumbled across this church when reading the January-February 2011 issue of Mission Frontiers magazine (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/avery-willis-last-dream). This is an example of a church that is worth knowing about. Rather than having small groups and discipleship as a program, RLM builds their entire church around discipleship. In a small town in rural Idaho, RLM is an example of how the Gospel spreads through taking the Great Commission seriously and concentrating on simply making disciples.

We hope this barrage of ideas and questions about discipleship has helped you assess your own “missions-mindedness” and given you insight for your church to begin to think more strategically about the Great Commission.

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz

“The Great Commission is Serious Business!” (Part II)

Today is Joe’s birthday, so I am going solo on this 2nd blog on the importance of the Great Commission. My thesis is that if Christians, and by extension, the American church, do not understand the terms, expectations, and requirements of the Great Commission to make disciples, we forfeit the right to call ourselves “missions-minded.”

Let me start today by saying in all seriousness that there is nothing silly or funny about this matter of making disciples. In fact, there is an element of tragedy connected to this topic. This tragic element is on display virtually every time I speak or teach on this theme. The blank stares and silence that follow my comments indicate to me that disciple-making, the central concern of Jesus for his followers, is rarely understood, thought about, spoken of, taught, or practiced with any seriousness.

Let me ask a favor of you, the reader. I would be very grateful if you would locate a copy of the May/June 2013 (Issues 35:3) of Mission Frontiers magazine and read the article by Fran Patt titled “Equipping the People of God for the Mission of God: How Are We Doing?” (article available on line at http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/equipping-the-people-of-god-for-the-mission-of-god-article. All past issues and articles are accessible at www.missionfrontiers.org.). If you don’t read it for me, you could read it for Joe as a birthday present for him.

If everyone would read the Patt article, I would be spared the need to comment any more on this topic. But that wouldn’t be much fun, so I will scribble out a few thoughts and observations on Fran’s thinking.

I would be hard-pressed to find anything to disagree with in this article (other than three typos all concentrated in one paragraph – and please don’t tell me about all the typos you find in my blogs). Fran is basically challenging us to think through the question of whether we are reproducing Jesus’ DNA in the church, or whether we have accepted the status quo of North American culture (Patt says we are doing the latter). And the result of this breakdown in truly discipling people to follow Jesus is seen in the failure rate or recidivism of missionaries.

What we tend to do, Fran argues, is contextualize key biblical values to western Christianity, “forcing the church further and further away from biblical patterns on behavior…” This causes us to embrace certain “sacred cows” that Patt asserts “need to be turned into hamburger.” (He lists six sacred cows; I won’t repeat them here or address them individually, but I do agree with his six and could probably add a few more of my own to his list.)

Here’s a teaser…I fully concur with Fran’s comments on how the training a medical doctor receives before being allowed to function in practice is much closer to the biblical disciple-mentor idea than is the formal training given to a prospective minister or missionary: “The pertinent question is why it is seen as normal and necessary to train and mentor doctors so meticulously and yet something as important and as complicated as communicating the gospel and living spiritual truth in a cross-cultural setting should be treated so cavalierly?”

Why is this such a serious matter? Why am I so relentlessly pursuing this topic in a series of blogs? Let me conclude by quoting Patt…

“The most significant issue that we face in preparing men and women for the mission field is that American Christians are not primarily representative of the biblical idea of being a follower of Jesus and they do not embrace enough of the beliefs and values associated with Jesus. What the American Christian missionary represents is a culturally conformed church that will unwittingly reproduce its own culture and communicate its values as the gospel and as central to being a follower of Jesus…We need to rethink our methods and practices of pre-field training of missionary candidates with a focus on effective disciple-making, because if we do not, if discipleship happens at all, it will be to make disciples of American evangelical culture and not of Jesus and the kingdom of God.”

Thank you, Fran. And happy birthday, Joe!

Dave Shive

The Great Commission is Not 30%! (Part I)

Dave: Credit for the title of this post goes to my friend, Paul Borthwick, who undoubtedly stole the catchy phrase from someone else.

Joe: You may have wondered why the name of our blog is unmissions.net. It has something to do with what has happened to the word “missions,” a word that has basically come to mean “doing something good somewhere else than where you are right now”. So, you want to start a ministry to pets? That’s missions. And because the actual word “missions” isn’t in the Bible, very little could be said as to the value of one area of ministry over another.

Dave: This crisis with the word “missions” has led many missiologists to recommend that we stop using the word and come up with something better (see the April, 2011, issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly, “The Death of Missions”).

Joe: So, rather than starting with the word missions, there may be more value in actually looking at the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20) and inquiring what it is really asking us to do.

Dave: In this blog series where we are trying to address “The Myth of the Missions-Minded Church,” we pose question #3: “Can you, or your church missions committee, consider yourself ‘missions-minded’ if you do not clearly understand the actual terms, expectations, and requirements of the Great Commission and if you have no coherent strategy for your role in the completion of Jesus’ command in Mt. 28:19-20?” Because this question about the Great Commission is so important, we may need more than one blog to scope it out.

Joe: Have you ever sat down with your missions team and asked them what really is the essence of the Great Commission using the words that are actually in the text rather than your own words? Put another way, imagine God sent an angel down with a red pen and clipboard to see how we are doing with Jesus’ final command to us. What would that angel be looking for? Words mean something and Jesus chose the words He did for a reason. Then (and this is where it gets really uncomfortable), has your missions team ever examined how they are channeling God’s people and resources to see how much we fit in with this more precise understanding of missions?

See, now you know why we aren’t called missions.net. I’m not that creative, and neither is Dave. Since we weren’t able to come up with a catchy new word, we settled on a term that is nothing more than a negative of missions; unmissions.net.

Dave is going to run with the rest of today’s blog…

Dave: So what is the core of the Great Commission? Or I could ask, What is the single command of Mt. 28:19-20? I remember asking those questions of a class I was teaching at a nearby church. The blank stares and silence that I got suggested to me that maybe this group had not studied or thought deeply about this passage. (This is part of the myth of “missions-mindedness” – the assumption that because we have read a Bible text or heard a sermon on that passage, we know what it means.)

And, no, the imperative is not “go,” but it is the two words “make disciples.” (OK. A brief comment on this verse from Greek grammar…bear with me for one paragraph.) It is not wrong to say “Go!” as if it were an imperative in spite of the fact that the Greek word “go” is actually a participle. The grammatical imperative in Greek is “make disciples” and, in an interesting Greek construction, the participle “go” derives imperatival force from “make disciples.”

(Are your eyes glazing over yet?)

So it is not wrong to say “Go…make disciples” as long as we understand the primary command is to make disciples, not to go. Which raises the most-important questions: What is a disciple? What does it mean to make disciples? How does one make a disciple? What would a disciple-making strategy look like for an individual or a church missions committee?

For much of my Christian life, the western church has been on a journey of maturing in discipleship and in its understanding of the Great Commission. Here are five progressive stages that I have observed in my lifetime.

(1) Growing up in the church, I did not hear much about disciple-making as a child. It was assumed in many cases that the Great Commission was about getting as many people saved as possible. So a word like “evangelism” was much more popular than the term “disciple-making.”

(2) Two events might help us understand the history of disciple-making in the American church. With the release of Robert Coleman’s “The Masterplan of Evangelism” in 1963 (reprinted continuously ever since), discipleship was moved to a more visible place in our theology and practice. I was required to read Coleman’s book in seminary and I am grateful since that book has influenced me as much as any other book I have read. The second event was the emergence of the Navigators as a discipleship-oriented ministry, causing discipleship to gain an increasingly wider exposure among western evangelicals.

(3) However, disciple-making is not the kind of ministry that produces an immediate bang for the buck. Disciple-makers must be in it for the long haul. It is a marathon, not a sprint. And that is simply not the American way! So the American church, with its tendency to want rapid growth through programs, dynamic preaching, great music, and lovely facilities, has been slow to buy into Jesus’ example of how to methodically make disciples by investing personal time and making sacrifices to see slow but steady maturation. Though large evangelistic crusades and church meetings are fine, they are no substitute for discipleship.

(4) But if we are good at anything in the western world, it’s creating programs. So, rather than wrestle with the long, hard process of making disciples, many churches sought (and still seek) to create programs to put a quick fix to the problem. This has not worked well. Turning discipleship into a program is like viewing dating your spouse as a project or homework assignment.

(5) Finally, there is a renaissance of sorts going on in the American church. One of the exciting aspects of this new thinking is a rediscovery of the ancient art of disciple-making. It is to this renewal of a focus on disciple-making that we will return in our next blog.

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz

How “Baseball-Minded” Are You?

Dave: The title may throw you for a moment. No, you did not stray to an ESPN website. Stick with us and you will see the logic of it…This post is addressing a second question: Am I, or is my church, missions-minded if we do not stay current on what is going on in the world and in missions?

Joe: Talking about missions philosophy and practice can sometimes seem a little clinical… as though we are somehow replacing the leading of the Holy Spirit by focusing on methodology. But let’s be honest about the fact that we all have methodological biases and misunderstandings.

Dave: Let me ask you a seemingly dumb question – Are you “baseball-rules-minded”? By that, I mean, do you consider yourself to be fairly knowledgeable about the rules of baseball? If I had been asked that question on Monday, I would have said, “Of course!” Then I took a quiz on the ESPN website on Tuesday. The quiz involved 10 situational questions on the rules of baseball. None of the questions appeared very tricky, but after I answered only 2 of the 10 correctly, I realized that I was not nearly as “baseball-rules-minded” as I thought I was.

So our blogs these days revolve around challenging our individual and church basic assumptions concerning “missions-mindedness.” It’s easy to assume the “I’m missions-minded” mantra – all you have to do is say so. It’s more difficult to sustain the myth of mission-mindedness if someone quizzes you on the state of the world and missions in the 21st century.

Joe: We like to think that methodology is the product of Bible reading and prayer only. But examine the world missions movement and you will see that much of what is done is extra-biblical. That doesn’t automatically make it wrong, but it does invite us to re-examine our assumptions and see how God has been using them.

Dave: To get us started, here is a 5-question quiz to get you thinking about how missions and the world have changed. Answers to the questions will follow. See how you do…

Question #1: In 1900, what were the top 5 countries with the largest population of evangelicals? By 2050, what will be the top 5 countries with the largest population of evangelicals?

Question #2: List the top 5 countries to receive missionaries in 1900. In 2000, what were the top five missionary-receiving countries?

Question #3: What were the top five missionary-sending countries (in order) in 1900? And what were the top 5 in 2010?

Question #4: In 1900, 95% of all evangelicals lived in North America, Europe, and the Pacific Islands. In 2011, what percentage of all evangelicals resided in those same regions?

Question #5: 50% of all unevangelized people live in a region called “the 10/40 window.” Can you explain what “the 10/40 window” is?

Joe and Dave: We hope those 5 questions stimulated your thinking on how the world has changed. How do you think you did? How “missions-minded” would you judge yourself? Here are the answers…

Answer #1: In 1900, the largest population of evangelicals was in (in this order) USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, and Australia. In 2050, the top five are projected to be (in order) China, USA, India, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. Note the shift from “white, western, northern” to “brown, eastern, southern.”

Answer #2: In 1900, the top five countries to receive missionaries were (in order) India, China, S. Africa, Japan, and the USA. In 2000, the top five receiving countries were India, USA, Brazil, Philippines, and USA.

Answer #3: In 1900, the top five missionary-sending countries were (in order) UK, USA, Germany, India, and S. Africa. In 2010, the top five were USA, India, S. Korea, China, and Nigeria.

Answer #4: In 150 years, the ratio between where Christians and non-Christians live will have been almost completely inverted. In 1900, 95% of all evangelicals lived in Europe, North America, and the Pacific. But by 2011, 75% of all evangelicals resided in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And by 2051, only 15% of all evangelicals will be found in Europe, North America, and the Pacific. The global church is no longer white, western, and northern, but brown, southern, and eastern.

Answer #5: The 10/40 window is a geographical region. In latitude terminology, it begins at 10 degrees above the Equator and extends to 40 degrees above the Equator). It also covers the region from the east coast of Asia to the west coast of Africa.

Joe: Let me give a recent example of what is happening in missions in the Muslim world. One of the great motivators for change is failure, right? So, if we have a particular goal and are not seeing progress, maybe it’s time to re-examine methodology. Historically, field workers have been frustrated by the lack of progress in the Muslim world. In the 19th century there was only one significant movement to Christ among Muslims. In the 20th century there were nine movements to Christ. In the first twelve years of the 21st century there have been 64 movements to Christ (data from interview with David Garrison). Let that sink in for a moment… 64 significant movements to Christ just in the last twelve years!

So the big question is: “What changed?” Why did the dam suddenly burst? Well, it clearly was God’s plan that this is the time for the Muslim world to awaken, at least among these 64 unreached people groups. But, there has been new thinking about methodology which has led to new terms being added to our missions lexicon – terms like “church planting movements, people of peace, discovery Bible studies.” Mission agencies have been rushing to have their people trained in these new methodologies.

So, if you find yourself in any sort of missions leadership role, you need to be aware of these new trends and see how God has been using them.

Dave: The world of the 21st century is very different than the one known by our parents and grandparents. How should our missions philosophy adapt to these realities? What should our prayer efforts look like in light of current trends? How can the missions committees of evangelical congregations in the west adapt to the tsunami of change?

(Statistics and figures in the quiz are taken from “The Future of the Global Church” by Patrick Johnstone, 2011, Biblica, Inc.)

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz