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.

Don’t Just Shift from One Sponsorship Program to Another

In the wake of World Vision’s announcement that they will now hire married homosexual staff members many Christians are looking for alternatives for their giving. Already I have read a number of comments on websites on the options that are out there and I feel one more should be mentioned.

Rather than shifting from one child sponsorship program to another, I suggest you consider giving to church planting efforts where there are few Christians and few churches.

Do I dislike child sponsorship? No, not specifically. But I would argue that the starting of new churches where there are none is much closer to the definition and intent of New Testament teaching on missionary work. Charitable efforts, whether they are feeding the poor, drilling water wells or child sponsorship are best delivered by Christians when they are done in parallel with the starting of new churches.

Within the pages of the New Testament we find that Paul and his band of missionaries were foremost concerned about preaching the Gospel and forming communities of believers. Nowhere do we see him advocate for charitable efforts apart from church planting or for the support of Christian among whom missionaries had already labored.

So, Christian, if you are re-evaluating your giving, I hope you will consider giving to the cause most in line with the New Testament’s emphasis in mission: church planting among unreached peoples.

Contact me if you want specific opportunities to consider.

The Racist Support Raising System

I was alerted to a post over at the website Minister Different on the support raising system. The charge is that the system keeps parachurch agencies white. I am not going to reproduce the main points here so if this interests you, go read the article and then come back to read why I think the author is only half right.

As a missions agency exec at Pioneers I can attest to the difficulty in mobilizing African Americans. While the article lumps hispanics and African Americans in the same group, I think this is an oversimplification. We have had some success with recruiting and deploying latinos and we expect that to multiply in the years ahead as latinos move more into the mainstream of missions in general and our organization (Asian Americans are represented at a much higher rate than either African Americans or latinos in our organization). It is certainly true: we have had very limited success in mobilizing from the African American community. I agree that support raising as a means to funding ministry is a big reason why this is the case. We have had numerous African American missions leaders tell us that unless we fund them they won’t join Pioneers.

The system appears rigged, as the author suggests. But… that system is not just a “parachurch system” as the author implies. The issue is much more deeply embedded in the giving culture of the Evangelical church as a whole.

Churches, like Tim Keller’s (he is heavily quoted in the article), are also a part of the problem. Let me explain.

The article states that the individualized, support raising model depends on social networks to raise funds. True enough, but the local church, at least in our environment, is at the core of this funding model. For a ministry like ours (we may be different from Intervarsity and Cru in this way) the support raising model starts and ends with local church giving. I’ve run the numbers on our donor base: very close to fifty percent of the funding comes from local churches. The largest donors to support raised staff are churches. If it weren’t for generous churches our agency would struggle.

One might argue, “So what? That’s the same problem.” But it’s not. If we wanted to pay salaries to African American staff we would need donors willing to give to that. And they simply aren’t willing to give to “buckets” that aren’t attached to faces. This is particularly true with church giving.

In my entire time at Pioneers USA I can count less than about 4-5 churches which have donated to Pioneers USA’s general fund. They donate to “their missionary.” I am pretty sure that if you checked out Tim Keller’s church budget you would find precious little given to the operations of organizations like Pioneers. It’s not because we aren’t asking. It’s because churches do not see organizational donations as a valid gift type. If our goal was to pay salaries we would need to find that money and that money would not be tied to particular workers. Giving is tied to people. This is at the core of the “individualized support-raised model.”

“Well,” one might counter, “what about the example of Cru? They have this fund, you see…” Yes, a couple of other organizations have raised some funds toward this end. That’s a laudable thing. However, I would question the sustainability of that approach as well as the scope. Very few people, relative to the size of these organizations, will benefit from these funds. It’s simply doesn’t do enough or fix the root causes.

When agencies raise funds through missionaries it comes out of the “service fee” or what I call the “missionary tax.” Trust me when I tell you that churches and other donors do not want us increasing the missionary tax so that we can pay the salaries of a racially selected group of missionaries. We get a lot of pressure to lower these fees. Organizations that rate non-profits look at these sort of fees as “inefficient fund-raising” or “money not spent on programs.” In other words, raising money for salaries like this is a band-aid and not a sustainable, systemic change to the system.

Why doesn’t the author of the article suggest ideas for changing the culture of giving within the African American Church? Surely, this is just as much part of the equation as the organizations doing missionary work. I have heard many excuses as to why the African American Church is not able to give toward global mission and send their own. Until there is a change of heart from within the African American Church I am afraid the solutions will look a lot like failed government programs: unsustainable subsidies that treat the symptoms of injustice and, in the long run, perpetuating injustice.

There is an insipid implication in the article: white organizations are systematically racist because of the support raised model. The support raised model is not an ordained, Biblical model. There are many ways to get involved in mission. Simply because there is the opportunity for some through the support raised model does not mean that others are being forbidden or suppressed from fulfilling the Great Commission. Declaring that African American Churches must adopt the model of the white Evangelical church when it comes to missionary support is also racist. What solutions can come from within the African American Church that better fits their model of ministry and culture?

When missionaries work in other countries to assist them in the mobilization process they should be very careful about introducing the support raised model to the national church. It won’t work in many other cultures and we shouldn’t assume it must for justice to reign among African American Churches.

I recently had a wonderful few days with the founders of Movein.to. Here is a missions mobilization model that sits completely outside of the support-raising paradigm. They have mobilized 250+ people in just a few years. Perhaps this is a better avenue for the African American Church to consider. There are other options out there as well and more that a clever entrepreneur could dream up.

So… yes, there is a problem and yes, it’s systemic. Yes, organizations like Pioneers should be working to overcome this issue. But no, it doesn’t lie completely within the system of support raising nor should we force support raising onto those who have clearly rejected it. This is not an issue of justice. It’s an issue of cultural sensitivity and awareness of differences within the body.

Is Preaching Biblical?

Whoa, now that’s a headline. What I am really asking is this:

Is the vaunted, specialized place of preaching within the Evangelical tradition something recommended by the Bible,

OR

is it simply a vaunted, specialized Evangelical tradition?

Many of my heroes, both from history and in the contemporary church, hold a very “high view” of preaching. I am about to suggest that this “high view” is something developed historically in Evangelicalism and not something that we see much of in the Bible. So, please put on your heresy armor and let’s tackle this.

Today, and for the past few hundred years, we hold a view of preaching that borders on the mystical. Seminaries teach special courses and have institutes on preaching, our theological luminaries tell us that preaching is an ordained art form, and we have magazines on preaching. Our preaching heroes are Edwards, Spurgeon, Whitfield, Moody, Wesley and Calvin. In some traditions, the “pulpit” is raised above the heads of the congregation to show the preeminence of the preached Word of God.

It’s not only good enough to be a preacher: real preachers are expositors. They take a chunk of the text and expertly filet it for all to digest. If one ventures off the expository reservation they are subject to all sorts of polemical wrath. It’s important not just to preach, but to preach in the “right way.”

Last year I read Scot McKnights book The King Jesus Gospel. He notes that most of the preaching in the New Testament is directed at those who don’t follow Christ. It is rarely expository in nature. You will note that I left Billy Graham off of my list, above. Surely his method of speaking topically to those outside of the faith is more in line with the Biblical models we have of preaching.

This last week I came across this list of “sermons” in Outcome Magazine:

  1. Street preaching by Jonah (Jonah 1:2, 3:1-5)
  2. John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness (Matt 3:1-3)
  3. Jesus preaching on a mountainside, and from a boat (Matt 5:1-3, and 13:2)
  4. Jesus’ ministry to demoniac in a graveyard in the Decapolis (Mark 5:1-5)
  5. The gospel of the kingdom being preached in the whole world (Matt 24:14)
  6. The disciples preaching everywhere (Mark 16:20)
  7. Phillip, Peter, and John in Samaria (Acts 8)
  8. Paul preaching in numerous Gentile cities (Acts 13 and 14)
  9. Paul preaching in Athens, to philosophers at the Aeropagus (Acts 17)
  10. Paul preaching the gospel in his prison in Rome (Philippians 1:18)
  11. Proclaim it .. send it out to the ends of the earth.. (Psalm 9:11, Isaiah 48:20, Matt 28:18-20)
  12. Proclaiming peace to the nations and to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:10)
  13. It seems that God goes to almost any length to save the lost, even abandoning the ninety and nine to pursue the one last sheep (Luke 15:1-7), and sending out his workers into the highways and byways to compel people to attend the king’s feast (Luke 14:15-23)

The writer makes the point that there was no “pulpit” involved in any of the above. I would build on this to note other differences between the “high view of preaching” and what we see going on in most Bible preaching:

  1. The audience is overwhelmingly not found in a church. There are few examples of “church preaching.”
  2. The audience is overwhelmingly not following Christ and outreach is a goal of the preaching.
  3. The preaching is overwhelmingly topical and not expository.
  4. There is little instruction about the specifics of the preaching form.

I note that Jesus went about teaching, preaching, and healing (Matt 4:23). The original languages use different terms for teaching and preaching. Preaching (krygma) seems to have more of a public and proclamational flair whereas teaching (didach) has more of an instructional aspect. Romans 10:14 says, “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” The context of that verse is again aimed at missionary work, not church preaching.

Preaching is clearly Biblical.

What I quibble with here is this concept of preaching as an art form, an elevated spiritual practice, or a well defined form and format within the Bible. It’s fine that it is seen in its historical perspective but let us not equate that tradition with the preaching of the New Testament.

One very important point made in the book of Acts was that the Apostles (until Paul joined the team and ruined an otherwise perfect record) were ordinary, uneducated men (Acts 4:13). They were decidedly not seminary taught professional clergy who could preach with incredible oratorical skill. Instead, they were marked as having been with Jesus.

In my humble opinion preaching, as we have come to know it, is more of vaunted, specialized Evangelical tradition. Nothing wrong with traditions as long as they don’t become accepted dogma. I am fearful that within some strands of the Evangelical church this “high view” of preaching is dogma.

The “It’s Western” Ad Hominem Attack

So, I wrote an article for the International Journal of Frontier Mission in which I state that the pastor-centric model of church we have in the West is Western. You can read the article here: Two Church Planting Paradigms.

Two people are calling me out on that charge. Thanks for doing so! Here is an email exchange for those that are interested:

Hey Ted…just read your article. Thanks for writing it. I think it was helpful.

One question for you…you talk about proclamation and hierarchal leadership as if they are “western” several times in your article. Do you have examples where the primary phenomenon of the church in an eastern context or in the first 1500 years of the church did not lean towards a proclamation or that had a flat leadership structure that is preferred by the CPM model? It seems to me that “western” is used as an ad hominem attack almost subconsciously in these types of discussions…its the one thing you would never want to be…and certainly there is a lot of the phenomenon that is post-enlightentment German university influenced that we should be wary of but I don’t personally see flat leadership structures and discovery models in the east or in church history. In fact, I’d say that the West is much flatter in its leadership structures than the east if you look into East Asia and the Muslim world…it makes me wonder if the CPM model isn’t actually more of a western cultural phenomenon than the proclamation model.

Obviously I’m just thinking out loud here.

- Not buying it

Any my response:

Dear “Not buying it”,

2nd time I have gotten the same question.

Yes, using “Western” could be a problem when considering the vast expanse of the church through history. I would say that you could easily look at the era leading up to Constantine as a non-pastor-centric time in the life of the church.

Other notable “Western” examples could be the conversion of the Nordic peoples, the rise of the Huguenots in France, the Moravians in Bavaria, certainly the early Wesleyans were non-heirarchical, and many Brethren movements. Some consider the Quakers falling into this category as well, but I think sociological studies call that into question somewhat. Better than all of those, though, is probably found in the spread of Christianity among the Celts in the 3rd century. Other than Patrick himself there is virtually no evidence of church hierarchy for almost 300 years following the mass conversion of the Irish. A resource on this movement is the book “The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West–Again” by G. Hunter.

I do think “Western” is the correct term, though, because of the Reformation. The current model of church (which I call “Sola Pastora”) reveals an almost Catholic-like devotion to the idea that one man rules them all.

Consider the use of the term “pastor” in the New Testament. It is used once. It is more likely referring to gifting than an office of the church. If anything, plural eldership is the model of the New Testament and, within that model, there probably weren’t elders on a “per church” basis. I think the most likely scenario that we find for early church leadership is that there were numerous house churches meeting across a city. All of the house churches were loosely connected through relationships, and there were elders appointed in the city, overseeing a network of churches. This is quite different than our current model of the pastor acting as defacto leader and, within the past 30-40 years, the elder board supporting that leadership (a relatively recent phenomena). The Reformation, coming out of Catholicism, reformed theology but didn’t reform the concept of Sola Pastora. In fact, it cemented it.

A great book on early church practice is “The First Urban Christians” by Wayne Meeks. There is a follow-up book on the topic as well, showing how good the academic work in Meeks’ writing was (he wrote about 30 years ago). Another contemporary writer is a prof at Baylor named Rodney Stark. He’s written a bunch on the topic but his best overall work is called, “Cities of God: the real story of how Christianity became an urban movement and conquered Rome.”

The further we get theologically from the Reformation the more likely we get movement (I am personally a five-pointer – I don’t have anything against the Reformation’s theology). The more you get away from Sola Pastora the more likely you will get movements. Look at the growth of the Pentecostal church in Africa (and globally). Congregational Baptists in the early 1800s, and perhaps most important of all, the rise of the decentralized Han Chinese house church movement are further examples. I think that the Han movement will wane now as we see the leadership of the networks get training from the West and teach them that the megachurch model is the model to pursue.

From my study I have concluded that certain elements have to be in place for a movement to occur. One of those elements is grassroots leadership and activism. Without it, you won’t have a movement. Western concepts of Church, flavored by Catholicism and the Reformation’s view of the priesthood / laity dichotomy, is a problem for movements. Within Protestantism as a whole, I do think it comes straight out of the Western, North American, European founded view of pastor as leader.

I think you make a good point about “Western” being an ad hominem attack – I should search for a better term perhaps. But I do think it reflects the reality of who we are as Western missionaries and how we are influencing the global church.

I hope that helps! I think you make a fair criticism and it’s worth discussion.

- Ted

Is Seminary a Requirement for Missionary Service?

I was recently asked to comment on the need for seminary if one is considering becoming a missionary. The question was spurred by short video by Ligon Duncan posted on Vimeo that was promoting the Cross Conference. In the video, Duncan states that the best missionaries he knows were prepared by being involved in a local church and by going to seminary.

Involvement in a “Bible believing local church” pretty much goes without saying. Amen to that. Seminary? Now that’s a another can of worms.

I went to seminary and received two degrees. I am no enemy of seminaries. However, the best missionaries I have met were not marked by seminary attendance. I would guess that Duncan’s experience is flavored by his involvement with denominational missions (most denominational agencies require seminary).

Seminary has the potential to be harmful to missionary service in a number of ways. Debt is an obvious one. There are very few seminary graduates who have avoided debt as they obtained their degrees. In my case, generous scholarships made it possible for me to complete seminary while I worked full time. These opportunities are few and far between. Another problem is time. Taking three to five years to study is a huge investment if there isn’t a direct connection to how that time spent affects the missionary outcome. In three to five years people change. My experience has been that many who go into seminary planning on missions decide to go into the pastorate instead because seminary is about pastoring. Others have kids and decide they can’t go overseas as a result of a growing family. Still others just plain forget their original intention. Seminary can derail a person’s vision for cross-cultural ministry.

I would warn you that the ecclesiology taught in most seminaries has little to do with church planting globally and much to do with a Western, institutionalized version of the church. If you want to be a missionary, be careful not to let that sort of ecclesiology invade your philosophy of ministry. Instead, teach yourself to see the church in the way that the first century movement saw the church. This is much more like the missionary experience and model that you will be utilizing on the field.

The seminary system was not designed for missionary preparation. It was designed for institutional church leadership. There are many assumptions in the seminary system that don’t apply well on the mission field. For example, the idea that you, as a Western missionary, must be prepared to preach sermons is rather outdated. You will not be the pastor-preacher. If you are, you are most likely doing something wrong. Your role as a missionary, in most cases, will be to support the work of indigenous people who will be ones doing the pastoring and preaching (if there is any preaching at all!).

If your role will be to lead or train in an overseas seminary than you should get a seminary degree. I am not sure this really qualifies as missionary work  (see Deyoung’s article on this) but it is an example of why seminary might be a good idea. If you feel the need to understand the history of Calvanist thought or really want to develop your own theological works in a new language group than seminary might be a good idea. There are a lot of great reasons to go to seminary (including the sense that God is calling you to do it) but only in specific cases would I say seminary is necessary for missionary service .

Also, it’s important to remember that business skills, teaching and a host of other types of services are often desperately needed where missionaries are working. Serving the people might require a professional skill that you won’t get in seminary.

For most who want to serve cross-culturally I would suggest some core courses. Systematic theology, hermeneutics, Old & New Testament survey courses are probably the bare minimums. These can be taken for credit if you think you might one day want to go to seminary. These courses will get you started in the right direction and you can build off of them as you gain experience cross-culturally.

The best preparation is to do church planting cross-culturally, on a team, planting house churches. You can do this in just about any major city in the USA. The single best program I know of is New York City Immerse. There are others.

So, I rarely suggest that people go to seminary to become missionaries. Take a few courses and get practical, hands-on training instead. Better yet, combine these with a professional skill that serves the culture in which you will be living.

Read the Bible Like a Missionary

A subtle but deceptive way to misread scripture is to read the Bible from our own cultural context. At one level I realize that this is unavoidable. We should, however, always remember that many Bible passages were written in a particular cultural context. Some passages are truly timeless treatise of theology (I think of Romans 8 as an example). Others are cemented into a worldview quite different from our own.

Consider the following story about Mike and Joe.

Used Car Salesman

Then Mike needed a car when he was living among the people of a foreign city called New York. He said the people, “I really need a car.” The New Yorkers heard him and said, “Listen, man, you are a prince of God among us. Pick any car you like and it’s yours. Nobody will say ‘no’ to your request for a car.”

Mike bowed down to the New Yorkers, the people of the city, and said, “If any of you are willing that I should have a car, hear me and ask Joe for his Cadillac, the one he owns. It is at the end of the street. I want to pay the full price and you can be witnesses to this transaction.”

Now Joe was standing there on the sidewalk when this discussion was happening. He stepped forward in the presence of the New Yorkers. He said, “No, dude, you listen to me! I am giving you the Cadillac. It’s yours; take whatever is in the trunk, too. Here, in front of all these witnesses, I give you the Cadillac. Take it.”

But Mike bowed again and then said, “If you would just listen, please, I want to pay you for the car, the full asking price. I have the cash right here.”

The Joe responded, “C’mon, man. A car that’s worth ten thousand dollars is nothing between you and me. Take the keys and drive, my brother!”

So Mike took out his money and counted out ten thousand dollars, the amount that Joe had declared as the used car’s value in front of all the people on the sidewalk. And Mike took the keys, and drove off, content with his purchase.

The End

So what passage of scripture are we seeing mirrored in this little story? Genesis 23 in which Abraham negotiates for Sarah’s burial place. If you go read it you will see that I tried to copy the structure of the negotiation that takes place in that chapter. In our culture we do this in a very different way so it sounds very funny when placed into the style of an ancient culture.

But before we judge the ancients too harshly take a look at their approach to negotiation. There are some thing we might learn!

In the ancient context the negotiation isn’t just about getting the lowest price (the buyer’s interest) or the highest price (the seller’s interest). It’s also about the community. Everybody was present and say the exchange happen between them. In our system, financial dealings are almost always private. In our system there are also a lot of lawsuits. Abraham didn’t have to fear that he was taking advantage of the Hittites because the dealings were transparent to all. Nobody was going to complain later on that Abraham had acted deceitfully.

In our system we dicker over the price pretty boldly (other cultures are even bolder – if you’ve ever bartered at an Asian street market you will know what I mean).  We write the prices of used cars in bold letters on the windshield.

Abraham’s negotiation starts off with respectful, face-saving statements. Note that Abraham wanted a good price but he started off by making a generous offer. Ephron, the owner of the field, knew its value, but offered it for free. Nobody thought this would happen but they were giving the other respect in the process. Do you feel respect when a used car salesman approaches you? Do you show them respect? In most cases we see them as trying to get the most money out of us.

Am I suggesting that the ancients “did it better” than we do? Not at all. Rather, when we read the Bible, look for the ways in which the ancient culture affects and informs the storyline. This will give you perspective about your own culture and how it influences your interpretation of the Scriptures. Cross-cultural missionaries develop this skill in all areas of life.

Another part of this story is Abraham’s cross-cultural maturity. When he started out he was fearful of other cultures and made bad decisions about them (see Genesis 12:12-13 and Genesis 20). He jumped to conclusions about their reaction to him. Now, as an old man who has lived cross-culturally for many years, we see him adopt the customs of the Hittites and act in a way that shows an understanding of their culture.

This is how you read the Bible like a missionary.

The World Christian Podcast

World Christian Podcast logo

News and info from the front lines of the global Christian movement.

From 2005 to 2008 I put out twenty episodes of the World Christian Podcast. There were news items, short facts about the global Christian movement and interviews of people doing ministry around the world. Some of the interviews were conducted via Skype, giving the podcast an eyewitness feeling.

Life happens and I was doing a PhD. I gave up the podcast in light of other involvements. In the last few months I have a set of rather strange encounters with former listeners. A number of them said, “Ted, do more of them!”

 

So, starting in a few weeks, you will once again be able to download new episodes of the World Christian Podcast. Watch here and on twitter/Facebook for an announcement.

I have a special couple to interview for this re-launch and I think you will enjoy it!

Can identity and spirituality be separated?

I was just reading the International Journal of Frontier Missiology’s recent edition. There is an article which is a conversation between two missiologists on the topic of Insider Movements. I really appreciate LD Waterman’s questioning of the “socio-religious” identity issues (it’s too bad my article was sandwiched in between the articles debating Insider Movements – mine has nothing to do with the controversy).

What I sense from proponents of Insider Movements is that they have taken the Western concept of dichotomy to a “whole nuther level.” Modernity taught us to compartmentalize our religious worldview. You might believe something “personally” but it was best not to talk about it if it was religious. We separated our spiritual persona from our social persona (it’s rather amazing to me that Evangelicals played into this whole paradigm with the bizarre concept of “knowing Jesus as a personal savior” – now that’s some strange language for you). With the mix of cultures and religions globally in our major cities it has made it even more dichotomous (try talking religion at work and see how far that gets you).

So… when Insider Movement advocates say that one can be a “follower of Jesus” but have a “Muslim identity” I cringe. For sure, Christendom introduces many aspects of culture into what we know as Evangelicalism. However, as a believer in Jesus, my identity must be firmly rooted in him. Christendom certainly injects unhelpful culture into my spirituality (which is the thing the Insiders are seeking to combat) but Islam, I am pretty sure, would inject far more. Doesn’t the whole idea of being transformed by the Holy Spirit mean that my whole person will be transformed? How can that be wrapped in a separate socio-religious identity?

It makes me wonder if Insider missiologists are influenced by modernity’s concept of dichotomy.

My article was published in IJFM!

Two Church Planting Paradigms was published!

I found out when a colleague wrote me to ask how controversial this article will be in my own organization. Let’s hope I am not burned at the stake!