Missions Musings 17: Reaching the churched

Good-News-Art-F1-600x300Many of us who live and work in foreign contexts are working with the churched.

When I say churched I am speaking about those people who have been enculturated within a society where the institutional church looms large.

In such contexts the Church’s function is often to dispense salvation.  The church is the one-stop-shop that’s attended twice per year to get what is needed for eternity.  More often than not the churched know of God in a vague abstract sense.  They know about Jesus and his death in as much detail as you or I know about Joan of Arc and her death.  Yep, we’ve seen the movie:)

How does one reach these people?  That is, how does one communicate the life-giving truth of the gospel to those who have not heard it yet?  Here are a few things that have become a part of the way that I do it:

1.  Know their theology

If we do not know what they believe how can we with good conscience rip them away from the church through which they think they are being saved?  We need to be very diligent in understanding what they believe and why so that we can be sure that our actions and message is not in fact dividing the body of Christ.

What should we get to know?  Understand the role of their church in salvation.  Get know what they mean by salvation.  Clearly understand  the place of the sacraments and the role they play in salvation.  Work out what authority they attribute to the Bible and also to tradition.  These points in particular are crucial.

2.  Understand their theological language

This is distinct though closely related to the first point.  Just because you hear the same words being used does not mean that you are talking about the same thing.   So for example, when an Eastern Orthodox believer states that they are saved by faith, we protestants should on face value heartily agree.  Yet if someone was to probe a little deeper the disparity between what the EO christian believes and what a protestant believes becomes apparent.  Ask questions to understand what they mean when they use theological terms.

3.  Use common points of agreement for discussion and study.

It’s a no-brainer, but rarely done.  What normally happens is that we jump to the differences, like icons, candles, papal authority, etc.  Engaging with commonality was Paul’s method at the Areopagus that day in Acts 17.  This is a good starting point because there is often commonality to be found in the person and work of Jesus.  Well, great!  Why don’t we start with Jesus.

Avoid the contentious issues and begin with Jesus.  In Colossians this is how Paul worked.  The church is struggling because fine-sounding arguments have permeate the church which has displaced the gospel.  What does he do?  He doesn’t tackle the apparent error head on until he has prepared the foundation.  Paul firstly explains who Jesus is and then he goes on to explain the gospel.  Only then does he get stuck into the issue at hand.

4.  Don’t treat them like a non-Christian

This is an interesting point that taps into our need to be sensitive.  The churched consider themsleves to be Christians, and they often assume to know everything (don’t we all!) that they need to know.  Therefore to come at them with all the answers and the ‘truth’ is a fast track to causing offense and shutting down any opportunities for good discussion.  Be careful with how they perceive your take on their Christianity.

5.  Use the Bible

Once again it sounds like a no-brainer, but so often the Bible is often sidelined in favour of topical and spaghetti style discussions.  Get the Bible out and establish what the Bible has to say about the common points of interest.  Avoid saying things like, ‘God said…’  and ‘The Bible says…’ and ‘Jesus said….  Unhelpful!  Demonstrate the authority of the Bible in your own faith by using it properly in discussion, taking into account the context of the passage and its place in the Bible’s big picture.  Use the Bible to deal with the issues, but also model its importance and how to use it.

5.  Be open to learning from them

In my study of Eastern Orthodoxy over the past 4 years I have come to appreciate some of their theology.  Let’s give credit where it is due.  Let’s show humility by genuinely wanting to understand what they believe.  It is poor form indeed to merely want to reach them without giving them the opportunity to convince you of their ideas and beliefs.  If we ourselves are seeking the truth then there is no need to be scared of genuinely weighing up what they will present.

6.  Don’t discount the idea that the churched might be in our own (protestant) churches

Don’t assume the gospel, teach it.


Multiple Mistakes

oopsMy basketball coach once said (more than once):

The first time it was a mistake, the second time it wasn’t.

Note taken.

From this to the next: beautiful

queenAbdication – it’s not a common occurrence.

Today we heard the announcement that Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands will abdicate, handing over the reigns to her 45 year old son, Prince Willem-Alexander.

It is news that clearly brings joy to the Queen herself, which was evident in her voice as she presented the news.  I heard that the Prime Minister is pumped and the country in general is excited about the coming events on April the 30th.

This event prompted me to ask the question, who is willing to hand over power?  That is, who is willing to step aside and give up the power, title, responsibility and much of the prestige that goes along with it?

Abdication requires maturity, humility, vision, trust and wisdom.

For this reason I think that abdication is not the dumping of responsibility, but the fullest form of taking responsibility.

conceptual image of an alarm clock showing that you are too lateWe church leaders have something to learn here.

What we should not do is look at this monarchial moment as a fairytale ending, the beginning of a new phase, or the obvious timing and outcome.  Rather, we should take a moment to learn from Queen Beatrix and what she has done.

She has planned for the moment.  She has groomed the king to be.  She has stepped aside before it was too late, but not before carrying out her duty.

I suppose it often comes down to what one values: the personal glory or the kingdom.

My Crazy Ideas!

fork-ring1I often get ideas.

When I tell Katie that I’ve been ‘thinking’ she knows to hang on to her seat because what is coming will probably be a little out of the box.

Well, yesterday I did some thinking.

Don’t worry, I was doing some thinking about doing thinking, which is perhaps bad news for Katie.

I realised that I do my best thinking when I am not cluttered with life, which includes computers, TV, holidaying, people, planning, caring, eating, exercising, my lovely girls:), and other stuff.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer really, but this came to me when I was walking, which I often do.

It’s just me and my God.

It’s a place where I drift in between prayer and thinking – call it whatever you want.  And here, at this place, the ideas come.

From now on let’s call it De-cluttered Intentional Thinking Time or DITTime for short.  See, if I didn’t go on the walk and do what I did then I wouldn’t have come up with this acronym to help me come up with more ideas.

DITTime is already producing the goods!

How’d you like that idea Katie?


Church: That’ll teach ’em

There are some things that just boggle the mind.

When I was growing up there were often times that I didn’t want to go to church.  Church could have been used by my folks, if they wanted, to punish me.  ‘If you don’t clean your room you’ll be going to church on Sunday!’  I would have cleaned my room in a flash.  Or perhaps something like this, ‘Right, that’s it.  You’ve got church for the next four weeks.  I hope in that time you will learn how to treat your big sister Josie with a little more respect!’  I certainly would have learned very quickly to respect my big sister Josie.

Deterrent or punishment – church would have been a cracker!

Well, courtesy of Richard Dawkins, I just read a ridiculous story in the US where a judge sentenced a teen to attend church for the next 10 years.  This was a part of the judgement handed down to the teen for killing someone when he crashed the car he was driving while drunk.  You can read it here.

It boggles the mind.

In an age when the church is already maligned by every conceivable thing, we now have judges in our world handing out church as a form of punishment or means for rehabilitation.  What would happen if the kid refused?  Then what?

But maybe the judge has cottoned on to something that the Brits worked out 200 years ago.  I mean, look what happened after the Brits sent a few boat loads of convicts to Australia.


Missions Musings 13

If you have tuned in for the first time to this series called Missions Musings, welcome.

In these posts I try to articulate from the inside of what the church calls mission some of the changing dynamics, pressing issues, and current debates that are (or should be) being played out.

In this post I want to unveil one of our greatest sins.

Our job is to work.  It takes on many forms: church planting, evangelism, literature translation, education, leadership training, advocation for the powerless, humanitarian aid, medical aid, theological training, and so on.  It’s all good stuff!

Or is it?

What if that work equates to nothing more than my kingdom being built?  What if one’s work is one’s pride, glory, and hope?

Put simply, mission work has the potential to easily morph into a career, like that of any accountant, teacher, business owner, or economist.  In this depraved sense, (mission?) work becomes the centrepiece of one’s heart and soul.

It consumes.

It defines.

It gives life.

It gives reason for existence.

It is god.

The mission field (workplace?) is a minefield for the believer.  At every turn there is a trap to fall in.  Around every corner there is something to be tripped by.  On every path we can become confused and disoriented by the plethora of divergent trails leading from it.

And this manifests in many ways.  Most commonly perhaps we see this in the exaggeration of mission success.  Numbers, activity, and progress can be reported in ways that can be construed by the reader, listener or supporter as positive when in fact things are not so rosy.

We also find ourselves protecting our patch (village, area of humanitarian help, method, people group… or whatever we can get precious about).  We don’t pass on information that could be helpful for other people’s ministries.  We don’t introduce people who could be helpful to another person’s ministry.  We don’t include others in our work lest it somehow becomes not mine. We don’t research to find out what others are doing so that we can avoid wasting time, effort, money and enthusiasm.  We are the pioneers and we are going to do it.

This all sounds a bit harsh, I know, but it’s a reality that we who are serving in cross-cultural contexts, and those supporting us, need to be acutely aware of.

We love to dwell on texts that talk about giving cups of water in Jesus’ name, and helping those who might be regarded like the Samaritans.  We love those texts that speak of going to the ends of the earth and making disciples of all nations.  All of these feature in the mission defence arsenal.

But what value are these texts without those other texts that mention the widow who gave out of what she had, or the man who needed to learn how to give without letting others (or his other hand for that matter!) know about it.  How can we dwell on those lovely texts without pondering on the famous one about love, where we learn that stuff done without love is not surprisingly just noisy, useless, dead stuff.  A perusal of Paul and his method of equipping others to take on responsibility within ministry should not be missed either.

My feeling is that mission loses its way when we forget whose it is.

We give a cup of water in Jesus’ name.  We are making disciples of Jesus.  We are training and equipping Jesus’ body.  We love because he fist loved us.  We are building his kingdom.

We are on his mission.

Langham, Learning and Effectivenenss

Sorry for my lack of posting in the last 3 weeks – life has been more than hectic.  I have, however, found some time to post on an interesting and worthwhile upcoming event in Sofia.

I’m excited about the Langham Partnership preaching conference that will be in Bulgaria from the 30th May to the 4th April (click here for more info).  Great times ahead… for some!

But why only for some?

In thinking about the event I was wondering why someone would not want to come to the week-long conference.  Of course there are whole bunch of valid practical reasons that might stop someone from coming, but what would stop someone coming who has the time, finances, and flexibility to attend?

I don’t have to go far to answer this question – I just need to look into my own heart, and my past experience.

My first career was as a cleaner.  It all changed once I graduated university.

If I learnt nothing else while doing my education degree, it was that to be a good teacher I needed to keep learning.  The phraseology at the time rested on the acronym ‘LLL’, which stands for Life-Long Learning.  I had nightmares about these three letters by the time I became a real teacher.

I cannot help but think how important (and expensive!) that drilling has been over the past seven years in the time while I was teaching, and also in my pastoral ministry.

LLL means a number of things to me:

Firstly, I need to be humble.  Learning is a matter of submission.  I am not at the top of the pile, but rather am dependent on others to continue to learn, grow and become more effective at my trade.  I need to recognise this and submit myself to the teaching of others more knowledgable and experienced than myself.

Secondly, I have not arrived.  I remember my Old Testament professor telling us aspiring world changers that when we graduate we will know just enough to be dangerous.  And dangerous I was… and still am!  His point is that we often think we are the expert and as such have the privilege(?) to lord it over those who are not.  LLL means that we recognise that we are not experts, even though it may feel as though we are.  There is much more to be learned.

Thirdly, I am open to new learning.  It is fine to be willing to learn and to submit to someone to learn, but if I am not open to changing my current performance, practices, content, theories, method, knowledge base, perspectives, etc., then there is little point to learning.  LLL is an attitude that seeks to learn, not for learning’s sake, but so that I can be more effective at my trade.

Fourthly, I am active.  It is not the responsibility of others to keep me learning.  It is my responsibility to be constantly seeking out the people, organisations, venues, websites, books, blogs, etc.  I cannot afford to wait for the expert to tap me on my should before I begin to start learning.  I need to be tapping them on the shoulder.

Fifthly, I am ready for hard work.  If we think that being effective in our respective trades is easy then we are sorely mistaken.  Achieving effectiveness in whatever trade is a difficult exercise because it requires time, effort, and commitment.  This means learning.  This means hard work.

Now, when I reflect on my attitude towards conferences and seminars I realise that I find myself resisting all of the above LLL factors.  I don’t need to go because I already know it, and am already effective.  I have arrived!

Those of us involved in a teaching/preaching ministry regularly need to be in the seat of the learner.  There is much to learn from our Lord, and there is much to be learned from other servants of our Lord.

In the same way that we sit at the Lord’s feet and humbly learn, we also need to sit at the trusted Godly feet of those from whom we have much to learn.