To be read in the spirit of CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters

My Dearest Wormwood:

I understand that you’ve allowed the Enemy’s soldiers to live amongst the people you’ve been set to guard. No doubt it’s nothing at this point and there is time to countermand this advance, but I am truly sorry for it on your behalf.

They look like nothing to fear right now: a husband, wife, two small children and a couple of single adults. They can’t speak the tongue of your witless charges and they know nothing of the deep seated hatred we’ve instilled into native hearts. I warn you, though, my dear Wormwood, that this is not the beginning, but the continuance of the Enemy’s plans.

These interlopers were most likely trained by special forces the Enemy has put together, called missionary agencies. They prepare them for their singular task of establishing a beachhead amongst people that belong to us! Imagine the arrogance. We have owned these creatures for hundreds of years and have tread thousands of miles over their souls. It takes an admirable fearlessness to think that this can be easily overturned. We have attacked these agencies’ leaders and their families. We are working to set their own government against them. They struggle to finance their work, act like beggars for prayer, and we seek to discourage them at every juncture. Yet they continue on. It’s a horrible business but now you must deal with the fall out.

So what to do? There are number of strategies that have worked well. I suggest you start by focusing on the family. Attack their children. Make them homesick, lonely, and generally unruly for the hapless mother. Use the Internet against them if at all possible and destroy their moral purity. Distract their language learning. Most devils are trying a new strategy to sideline the single adults. They will gladly spend hour upon hour watching Netflix movies and surfing for potential romances on dating websites. It’s like they never moved overseas. This little group has no idea yet how difficult we can make the relationships between them be – pitting them against each other is something delightful for any young under-demon.

Alas, all of these approaches have yielded limited success. These people are usually backed by a powerful army of prayer warriors. This must be your most important point of attack. Go after their ability to directly beseech the Enemy for reinforcements. Build strong alliances with your colleagues “back home” to ensure that their little missionary newsletters are unsubscribed from, their appeals are trite, non-specific and ignored, such that their daily struggles are never highlighted to the Enemy. Prayer is, above all else, the thing to be feared.

Wormwood, all is not lost. But you had better get out in front of this before they establish a community of people worshipping the Enemy. Once that starts you will be dealing with it forever and you will have to answer to me.

Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape

Managing Contacts

Since giving my “Death by Email” seminar a few years back I have been asked the question, “How do you manage contacts?” many times.

If you look at most of our phones, we have a mess of contacts. If we sync our phones with GMail (or Outlook or Yahoo… take your pick) AND a work email server AND an app or two AND the device’s local contacts… well, you get the idea. There are duplicates and out-of-date entries. So I have been working hard to come up with a solution to how to keep my contacts all in sync and I have a suggesting.

This suggestion hurts a bit at first, but in the long run you will not be sorry:: Use 1 and only 1 contact management source. Turn the rest all “off.”

What I do, for example, is store all of my contacts on a gmail account. I set my email clients (on all my computers) and on my phone to only point to this one account for contacts. By doing so I can manage one data source and it’s a master data source. When I edit contacts on my computer, they update this one source. When I add a contact on my phone, I add it to this one source. Everything in a single database. Back it up on a schedule and you are good to go.

Interesting Infographic on the Megachurch

Read the whole thing… the “mega benevolence” section is interesting…

Megachurch Megabusiness
Image source: www.onlinechristiancolleges.com

Too Funny

ChristmasCartoon
I don’t know the source of this, but I sure think it captures the Christmas quandary.


Cuban Mysticism

With the “opening” of Cuban/American relations I anticipate a large number of Evangelicals wanting to get involved with the country. Truth be told, there was an avenue to work in Cuba doing ministry beforehand, but the gates are now open wider.

Cuba, as most readers will know, is mostly Catholic. However, a growing Evangelical movement has been on the rise over the past few decades. Many American Evangelicals might be surprised to know that Cuba is not Catholic in the same sense that their Catholic neighbors might be. Cuba is really dominated by Santeria/Lucima. This is a religion which infuses the tribal spirituality and religious systems of Africa (Lukumi culture, in particular) with Catholicism. Is it a syncretistic mix of the two. Evangelicals clearly view Santeria as a form of witchcraft. This religion has secret leadership rites (organized around a priest called an Orisha – aka “saint” or Santeria) and the worship of nature is at the core.

5 Stories You Will Read about in 2015 Regarding North American Missions

I typically post a “top trends” article as the year begins to flip. This year I offer this list of stories I think we will be reading about next year.

1.  Continued debate over the definition of missions

Under the surface of Great Commission theology is the understanding of what “mission,” “missions,” and “missionary” means. For the past century or so, Mission Dei has been the favorite flavor of missiologists, particularly those from theological institutions. Missio Dei fits well with a modern / post-modern missiology and influential authors such as Leslie Newbiggen embraced it and made their mark on missiological thinking. I think much of this philosophy of missions culminated with Chris Wright’s book The Mission of God as taught at Lausanne a years back.

However, the Evangelical missionary movement globally has grown fastest and deepest when its proponents have not embraced a broad definition of mission. Particularly among Pentecostals and Baptists an alternative view of missions challenges the Mission Dei definition. This alternate view is conversionistic, focused on church planting, sees social action valid only when accompanied by proclamation of the gospel, and is quite theologically conservative. it is closer to fundamentalism than Western missiologists might like.

In 2015 I expect we will begin to see theologians (particularly from the non-Western world) begin to challenge the dominant Missio Dei definition of mission. The fall out will be felt in the North American missions movement as more narrow definitions of mission begin to take hold. This will not happen quickly, but it is ripe to start.

2.  Consolidation, mergers and “acquisitions”

It sounds so Wall Street to talk like this so forgive me. However, the “missions industry” is not immune to the process of growing and aging like any other “industry.” I would commend the book, How Industries Evolve for more information on this. The basic thesis is that mature industries end up with a handful of dominant players. Smaller, niche players will appear in the areas where the larger organizations aren’t interested in focusing. I see no reason why the missions agency sector would be immune from this and, in fact, see why it needs to happen. This has been going on for some years already but will probably accelerate in the next decade.

In 2015 I expect we will see at least a few missionary agencies “merge” into other agencies, increase cooperation substantially for some services, or altogether shut down. This will be encouraged in part by local churches who are not excited about support structures in missions and who are asking for greater efficiencies in the back room operations of organizations.

3.  Security Issues

The world is an increasingly dangerous place for missionaries. Despite the growing danger there is a sustained focus on the part of missionaries to work in the Islamic world where much of the danger exists.

While we have always had stories of missionary sacrifice and martyrdom, I expect that in 2015 there will be a new round of high profile cases that will get our attention.

4.  Growing Local Church Involvement in Missions

There have been a number of starts and stops when it comes to integrating the local church in missions. The exception to this would be in regard to the short-term missionary movement. When I talk with church leaders, they often characterize the short-term trip as necessary but disappointing. At the same time, most missionary agency executives long for deeper involvement by the local church.

I believe the maturing mega-church movement will, in 2015, begin to demand and exercise greater missiological sophistication. Another way to say this is that after decades of asking the question, “Who owns the Great Commission, the church or agency?” (which has setup a false and antagonistic dichotomy). This question is being replaced with, “How do we get this job done?” A good part of this is due to the emphasis on church planting that has taken place in the North American church. In 2015 this will be an encouraging and growing story.

5.  Church Planting Movement (CPM) Controversy

Within missionary agency circles the concepts surrounding CPM have taken a strong hold. I recently read an unpublished research paper in which over 30 agencies were questioned about their  use of CPM strategies. All but one had made strategic shifts to embrace a CPM oriented ministry philosophy.

Within the US there are few churches which embrace the CPM concepts (house churches, decentralization, lack of didactic preaching, etc.). There are also some church structures that are overtly hostile to the leadership paradigms being used globally. I anticipate that we will see a debate emerge over the theological underpinnings of CPM strategies. At the same time, the CPM outcomes are hard to argue with: they form a challenge to our traditional ecclesiology. In 2015 I would expect we see these issues debated and discussed in a healthy and necessary way.

So, there you have it: 5 stories I think you will read about in 2015. I would welcome any thoughts you might have about these items.

Jesus and Jobs

No matter where you go in the world there are two needs basic to every human being. Jesus and jobs. In this post I am going to focus on the latter.

A job is a ticket to housing, food and family. A job provides self-respect. It’s better than a hand-out. A good job blesses an entire family. It can contribute to a person’s sense of well being. It creates value in a community. It gives people stability. Communities with good jobs are healthier than those without it.

This is so basic that we often miss it.

I am out on the West coast where I am attending a board meeting for Positive Impact. This little organization is all about non-traditional ways of supporting the global Great Commission. A large part of the effort is directed at creating jobs through entrepreneurship and business development.

Think about the difference a good job has made in your life and you will understand why this is part and parcel of what it means to be a Kingdom-minded Christian.

Politics in the Pulpit

One of the concerns that has been consistently expressed about the rise of LGBT rights is that this will suppress religious rights. “Nonsense,” detractors have said, “that will never happen.”

This week’s events in Houston rather prove that, in fact, the LGBT agenda will have chilling effects on free exercise of religion. The city of Houston subpoenaed the sermons of churches in response to the church’s opposition to opposition of an ordinance designed to allow access to either male or female restrooms depending on personal preference.

From the Houston Chronicle:

City attorneys issued subpoenas last month as part of the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

From my perspective, all restrictions on pulpit ministry should be dropped. It is a restriction on free speech. I realize that this is not the law of the land, but it should be.

Why should we tell pastors they cannot organize politically? Pastors were involved in organizing the American Revolution. They led the way in the fight against slavery. They were (and are) advocates of civil rights (ever heard of the Baptist Martin Luther King?). Through all of these events the pulpit was a powerful political force. The past few years have shown a full retreat on the mix of politics and pastoral influence. I am not sure that’s an altogether healthy thing. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back the other way.

Highly Visible Projects

If you haven’t yet read this article about Mars Hill’s “Global” Fund I encourage you to do so.

Wow – it’s all I can say. That this happens in large, aggressive churches is not surprising to me. The surprise is that these leaders were so bent on raising money off the backs of global ministry that they actually put down on paper that there approach should not be “communicated to the public.”

Another phrase that really jumps out to me is this one:

“highly visible, marketable projects such as mission trips, orphan care, support for pastors and missionaries in the third world”

What this communicates is something I hear at churches and conferences: senior leaders are desperate to find “sexy” projects that engage the pew sitter. I fully understand and embrace this desire to get the average Christian engaged globally. Unfortunately, doing this is not always the best thing for the Great Commission.

If you are pastoring a (large) church you have a platform to make a positive change in reaching the world for Christ. I would argue that the best approaches are often not the enticing projects that can be used to raise a lot of money. Take a hard look at the motivations for mission in your church and don’t waste that opportunity on short-term solutions. There are ways to focus your resources and leverage them to both build vision in your congregation while simultaneously doing “real” missionary work.

Cool Infographic

50 Years of Mission: An EMQ Retrospective
Of all the geopolitical forces dominating people’s attention in the 1960?s, the launching of EMQ (Evangelical Missions Quarterly ? www.emqonline.com) was not one of them. We were making major tech advances such as the introduction of color television and the world was caught up in a Cold War between the superpowers of the day, but in a small corner of the US, several key thinkers set out to create a space for dialogue about global mission. EMQ was the result and it has served a very important function. Take a moment to learn about the progression of issues discussed and the changing landscape that EMQ’s 50 years represents in global mission.