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.

The “Man” in CPM

In the circles I run in (which is a pretty small circle, I know) we talk about “the man” approach to church planting. In the US, “the man” approach is the most exercised of church planting strategies. It goes like this: To plant a church, you have to find the right “man.” They have to be vetted, have an obedient and submissive wife/family, the proper training and mentoring. You find the man: you plant the church.

If you don’t believe me please attend _____ conference on church planting.

Well… in cross-cultural church planting we work hard not to have “the man.” We want the indigenous people to be ones who lead the church. If you have a hankering to preach on Sundays then you should stay here in the USA. It’s just not what makes movement of churches planting churches happen.

In CPM (church planting movement) strategies, the big idea is to see indigenous disciples reproduce themselves. The church springs into existence because you have disciples (which is backwards from our North American model: we tend to think that churches make disciples but it’s actually the other way around).

I do wonder, though, if we are creating a new “man” model within CPM. I keep hearing about the same 4-5 individuals as the gurus of CPM. They call themselves “catalyzers” and emphasize all things Kingdom. They often use phrases like “in the movements we see…” and everybody leans in on their every word.

There are many ways to do movement-focused ministry. Let’s not let a small cabal of insiders take over as the experts because they emphasize a particular methodology. I would prefer people understood the broader concepts behind movements and let the specifics of how it plays out in a local context be handled locally.

We don’t need another “the man” approach to church planting.

Florida Renezvous

This week I am on vacation!  I will meet-up with other Compac boat owners for a get together off the Gulf Coast of Florida.

You can follow the progress of my journey (from trailer to the water and back home again) over the next few days. You can click here for the map: FindMeSpot

FYI, my boat is a 19 foot trailer sailer called the Mermaid. Any pictures you see of her in the next week will reveal her new color scheme: I replaced the rust red with navy blue. This type of trip really shows off why trailerable sailboat are so awesome: I can hit either Florida coast with just a short drive!

The Mermaid

The Mermaid

China Becoming Most Christian Nation

This is no news to readers of this blog or really any missiological information, but the Drudge Report has been running a link to this Telegraph article about China becoming the “Most Christian Nation:”

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

Full article here…

I think there are significant dangers to the continued growth of the Chinese church. Two primary issues give me pause: Materialism will grow there as the economy grows and the institutional church is being exported from the US to China.

However, now is the time that we might see a significant shift in missionary sending from China to the world. Below is a link to a field trip I took last year, documenting the need for established missionary agencies to provide support to the Chinese church at this critical point in their development:

Multiply: Pakistan from Jacob Lewis on Vimeo.

Great Article on Hobby Lobby & Personal Liberty

Does Hobby Lobby have the right to say “no” to Obamacare mandates? I just read this article and couldn’t agree more with the thoughtful evaluation.

Americans of all stripes, most of them at least, consider religious liberty to be one of the signal achievements of the era of the American revolution. Why, then, are “Progressives” so hostile to the religious pluralism that inevitably results from religious liberty?

The Road to Progressive Dhimmitude by Richard Samuelson

Well worth reading the whole thing…

By the way, I note that he writes that Puritans saw marriage as a “government only” sort of thing: a civil contract. Never heard that line before. Personally, I would like to see us go in the opposite direction. Marriage should be a completely void of government acknowledgement or benefit. It’s the only way forward in a pluralistic society.