The World Christian Podcast

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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!

The Effect of Protestant Missionaries

Check out the effect that missionaries have on other cultures:

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations. (39)

For the “article about the article,” (the original is behind CT’s paywall) check out http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/missions-rescuing-from-hell-and-renewing-the-world:

BAM Effectiveness Study

Steve Rundle of Biola recently published an article in the International Bulletin of Missiological Research on the effectiveness of donor supported versus business supported cross-cultural workers. I want to give you a few of my thoughts on this study but before I do I must unequivocally state that I LOVE BUSINESS AS MISSION (BAM).

However…  Rundle’s article makes a few presumptions that I believe are downright harmful to the discussion. Since the article is behind IMBR’s paywall, let me quote this section and then respond:

Business-As-Mission Continuum
missionary-sending organizations < ———–> “regular” business
Practitioners are donor supported. Self-supported.
Spiritual fruit is the only thing that matters. Holistic view of ministry.
Business can distract from “ministry.” Business itself can glorify God.
Business is a means to an end. Business success is essential for any meaningful impact.

The problem with this table is that it is a biased view of what missionary-sending organizations think about BAM. This representation about BAM starts off in the wrong place by creating an unnecessary dichotomy. I know hundreds of missionaries and I don’t believe any would say “Spiritual fruit is the only thing that matters.” Words like “holistic” can be code for “we don’t have other standards for what it means to be spiritually effective – for us, just being a good influence is enough.”

There must also be recognition that BAM can create problems in a culture if it’s not missiologically well thought out (see this article, BAM: The New Colonialism).

Rundle compares two groups of BAM practitioners: those practicing BAM who are donor supported versus those that are business supported only. His conclusion: “This study found that, compared with fully donor-supported BAM practitioners, those who are fully supported by their business report significantly better results in the economic and social arenas, and are no less effective in producing spiritual results.” Note that the study could easily be mistaken as a comparison between BAM practitioners and non-BAM practitioners. It is not that.

Missing from this analysis is a working definition of “spiritual results.” The questions suggested by the article suggest that this was limited to “making ones faith known.” From my perspective, the best missionaries are not out there “making ones faith known.” They are working with cultural insiders to assist them in making their faith known. This indirect influence has a far greater and more indigenous impact than direct evangelism by foreigners. This is just one example among others that cause me to question the premise behind the BAM-supported versus BAM-for-profit dichotomy. The study would be better if it defined “spiritual results” (to be fair, few agencies do this sort of analysis on their own work either!).

Until we leave behind the either/or dichotomy represented in Rundle’s paper we will not realize the full potential of BAM. The best definition of BAM is not one in which profits are a requirement: we should embrace the spectrum of BAM opportunities. The doors of BAM are opened widest when we see it as one more tool in the toolkit and not an end in itself. The same is true for full-time, donor supported missionary service: they are not the end, they are a means.

The best BAM work I have seen on the field happens when full-time, donor supported (non-BAM) missionaries work hand in hand with team members who are tentmakers and with BAM practitioners in for-profit enterprises. This model captures the best of all models and provides a way forward that the current BAM evangelists seem to ignore.

The Four Guns Every Man Should Own

Well… so this is a little off topic from what I usually write about. I am home sick today and have a little time to think about my arsenal and what I need for it. So, here is a list of the four guns that should be in every man’s gun safe. I plan on ending up with these four guns within the year.

Last fall I went hunting in my homeland of Minnesota and had a blast. I forgot how much I enjoyed just sitting in woods, walking the corn fields and seeing the sunrise from a deer stand. When I was kid I hunted more than I have for the past two decades. In my 20s I shot clays and birds. I miss it and intend to shoot more in the future.

So, without any further ado, here is my list of the four guns every man should own.

1. A Small Handgun

In this day and age I think every man worth his salt should be able to pack. That’s right: there is no reason not to if you live in a state which allows it. I don’t actually very often but when I know I am going to be in a place where crime might be happening you can rest assured that I do.

There are lots of options here. In my case, I have something really small. It’s a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380. The reason I like this weapon is that it’s SMALL. It’s no good to have a weapon that sits at home because it’s too big to carry around. If I lived up north and wore a jacket all the time I might have gone with something that had a bit more stopping power, like an M&P (380 ammunition isn’t cheap or easy to come by, though, so stock up when you see the price dip). If you are going to use a small handgun, get familiar with it and remember to let the target get in close. You won’t be accurate at any distance past about 8-10 feet unless you’re a trained professional (I am an untrained amateur so consider yourself warned).

2. A 22 Caliber Rifle

It’s a basic gun with lots of promise for practice, varmits and teaching boys how to shoot. They are cheap and so is the ammo. It really doesn’t matter which one you buy but I would get a scope of some sort. These guns are awesome little weapons for just messing around on a weekend camping trip or plinking cans.

My 22 was a gift from my grandpa to my dad when he was 12 years old. I have had trouble with it since I got only to learn that it only shoots “22 longs.” This is relatively rare but check out the weapon before you buy it.

3.  A Shotgun

Shotguns are the best overall home defender. If you point a shotgun at somebody that’s in your house chances are pretty good that you will come out the winner. They are also very versatile hunting guns. Many states restrict some or all of their hunting zones to shotguns – no rifles. One can use a special barrel and shotgun shell to improve the accuracy of shotguns. For this reason, you may consider buying a gun which has two barrels: one better for shooting slugs at deer and one that is better for birding.

I used one of my dad’s guns last  for deer hunting and whiffed on an easy shot. I didn’t know the gun well enough (hadn’t shot it for about 15 years – which was not very smart on my part) and it wasn’t setup with a rifled barrel and appropriate ammo. This year I will be purchasing a new shotgun. At the top of my list is the Mossberg 500 with two barrels. The Remington 870 is another good option. Both of these are reasonably priced. I will mount a “red dot” scope on this weapon and use it in the north woods next year.

4. A Rifle

A true rifle shoots a projectile longer and further than any other weapon listed here. If the conspiracy theorists turn out to be right and we have to fend off hearth and home from bad guys, the rifle will be your weapon of choice. In some states, like the one I live in, Florida, a rifle is best for deer hunting. I haven’t done any deer hunting in Florida but plan on changing that next year. Can anybody hook me up on some land to hunt?

Some people will spend a ton on a rifle but I don’t think I will. I have learned that you can purchase old Russian rifles that are extremely accurate for less than $300. Since I don’t see using this weapon so much I don’t want to invest a lot in it. I will probably pay more for the scope on this one than on the shotgun since it’s purpose is for hitting targets at long range.

But Ted… what about an AR-15?

A number of my friends are buying AR-15s, the famed (but ambiguously labeled) “assault rifle” that has been much in the news these past few years. In a communist takeover they are the dream gun: versatile, accurate and extremely deadly. They are fine weapons and highly customizable.

They are also limited use guns. About the only place I see them is on the shooting range and the very occasional hunter. A lot of people that own ARs don’t hunt with them – they cradle them like small children and are afraid of wear and tear on the weapon. They also start at about $800 (usually much more) and the price goes way up from there.  I think it’s possible to purchase all four of the guns noted above for $1,200. In my humble opinion, the AR isn’t a good value for the casual shooter. The people I know that have them spend more time buying and selling components, upgrading, downgrading and just messing with them than they do shooting them. Since I already have gonads I don’t need an AR-15 to buttress my manhood.

From my perspective, they are the best gun for the gun enthusiast. That’s not really me, nor do I think it’s most men. If you want one, they fit the bill for the rifle requirement noted above.

So, every man should have a handgun, a 22, a shotgun and a rifle. With those four weapons in your gun safe you are assured of being ready for most situations.

The NSA, Spies and Missionaries

The fact that the NSA has been regularly and consistently spying on US citizens has become undeniable. What impact do these revelations have on global missions?

Plenty.

Throughout the last half centuries there have been charges leveled by anti-Christian governments that missionaries are spies. I personally have never met a missionary-spy. Do they exist? I have no doubt that they do.

There was a story that circulated among the missionary community in the Balkans about a certain missionary from a large denominational board was a “dual-income-creative-access” worker. Upon leaving the field he moved to the Langely area and supposedly worked for the CIA. It was an intriguing story but never verified. The infamous John Birch society got its name from a missionary who also spied on Japanese forces during World War 2. There are other historical examples.

The use of missionaries as spies discredits the work of all missionaries and should be strongly condemned. It puts the people in danger, calls into question the character of foreigners and brings dishonor to the gospel. I have no hard proof that contemporary agencies are harboring spies. The sheer devious and evil nature of the NSA, as we have come to learn, gives me concern. We in agency leadership should do all we can to oppose this perverse approach to intelligence gathering.

So what can we do about it? One of the best defenses against this is for agencies to know their candidates. The process of selection and screening must be designed to increase the relationship component. It’s only by careful listening to candidate testimonies, a strong sending church partnership and honest evaluation can the true motives for each potential staff member be discerned.

Another step toward protecting the missionary force is through team ministry. All church planters should be working shoulder-to-shoulder with other workers who intimately know and can observe the behavior of their teammates.

Good, basic security principles should be taught and re-taught to all staff globally. This type of training typically teaches staff how to spot intelligence activities such as “tails” and snooping. This could be extended to increase sensitivity to spy recruitment while on the field. Staff should be instructed to avoid the embassy whenever possible: all countries use these outposts for spying activities.

Finally, good computer security protocols should be followed. They can hack us, they can listen in and now we know that they are and that they will. We must recognize that when you live abroad you essentially have no rights to privacy. Be careful out there. Border crossings are particularly dangerous (see this link for more info). I no longer travel abroad with a computer. My phone and the cloud is enough.

We know that Americans abroad are targets of the US spying regime. That is a fact we must simply accept as I see little that can be done about it. Could I ask why so few Christian bloggers and organizations have spoken out on the NSA spying on US citizens within our own borders? It’s a clear violation of our rights as Americans. Support policies and politicians that respect privacy and seek to limit the amount of spying that our government is bent on doing.

Arrogance and Church Planting

Bruce Wesley wrote a piece that Christianity Today published on their blog with the provocative title, The Arrogance and Impatience of Church Planters. Go read it: he makes a number of really good points.

He also assumes a particular model of church planting in his analysis. That assumption may be one reason why we don’t see churches planting churches at much higher rates that we do in the US.

Now, to be fair, his model is the THE model for most US based church planting efforts. But I would argue that it’s not the arrogance of church planters that is the problem: the model itself increases the potential for arrogance.

US church planting usually begins and ends with “the man.” That particular man who starts, waters, grows, prunes and, eventually, harvests. It sees the process of church planting as a visionary, linear process which must be strategically thought out and planned. The man must be qualified, have the right lifestyle and exhibit a particular set of gifts. The man gets a vision. The man prays. The man is selected. The man starts the work. The man teaches, preaches, disciples, etc. If the man is able to overcome he will one day sit atop a successful church (the word “successful” here can usually be replaced with the word “large”). This model of church planting is based on the theologically thin (but widely practiced) idea that churches are led by pastors.

Let me state clearly that I don’t believe that this model of church planting is “wrong” or “unbiblical.” It’s one way of doing it, though, and not the only way. In fact, I think it is contextualized to our Western church tradition and thus enjoys some success in the US. Most church planting networks and denominations use it. But, let’s also recognize that it has problems. An easy one to identify is the rise of celebrity pastors. The teaching-centricity of this model means that discipleship is often reduced to knowing instead of being. Could it be that this model, focused as it is on “the man,” creates the sort of arrogance that Wesley describes? Yep, I think so.

As I travel globally I see a very different model being utilized. The organic model of church planting which focuses on discipleship and small house churches is very different. It doesn’t employ the singular leader style of church that we see in the USA. Leaders are secondary to followers: in fact, it’s often the role of the church planter to NOT teach, to NOT lead, to NOT take the stage in any way, and to NOT be the center of the church planting process. Instead, the small house church structure encourages all believers to exercise their gifts and not simply to give “the man” the opportunity to express his.

Just like the previous model, this model has issues. Churches are not institutionalized and recidivism is high (the churches don’t last a long time, they tend to come and go). They don’t wield institutional power like the traditional church model can (which can, of course, be a good thing as well as a bad thing). They aren’t easy to lead in whole. But from my personal observations, where movements of church planting churches are actually happening it is through this organic model, not the leader-centric model we see in the US.

The leader-centric model requires selection and screening, copious amounts of training, lots of coaching and oversight and has a high failure rate. This is because we aren’t only planting churches: we are, in fact, planting institutions and the requirements for institution planting are necessarily high.

Wesley, referencing the Acts 29 network, writes, “As a movement, church planting must look to the growth of its established churches, not the number of churches it has started, as a gauge of success.” Now, I love the Acts 29 network.  Just a few years ago I would talk about church planting and eyes would glaze over. Nobody really “got” what I was talking about. Acts 29, Catalyst and a host of others have changed that dynamic and I am thankful for it – very thankful. However, I don’t think Wesley’s gauge of success is the best one to use. In fact, I think it’s the opposite.

In the US we do not need more large, established churches. We need ordinary disciples that see themselves as church planters. By deconstructing this idea that we are to plant institutions we can empower just about anybody to be a part of church multiplication. To do this, we would need to move from our focus on “the man” and look to empowering ordinary pew-sitters and turn them into extraordinary disciple-makers. If each Christian saw that they were “the man” we might see a revolution of churches planting churches across the USA.

That’s something I could be very excited about.

Can that happen? Yes, I believe I have personally walked among a movement or two that has achieved this dynamic. In one of these movements I was amazed at the way they had implanted a church planting vision in each person. I asked dozens of people, “What do you do here?” It didn’t matter if they were secretaries, Bible teachers, or business people. They all responded, “I am a church planter.” It was almost cult-like!

True movements like this are rare. It is a lofty dream to think that we could see this in the US church, I know. I love the church in ALL of its forms, from mega to micro. We will always have large churches and we should. However, I don’t believe they will be the standard bearers of a movement of church planting. Perhaps their greatest contribution will be in freeing up their human capital to plant thousands and thousands of organic, disciple-making churches. I challenge these churches to see this as the real gauge of their success, not, as Wesley suggests, the ongoing building up of large, institutionalized churches.

And that is asking a lot.

Email Chain on Persecution

This is a slightly edited email exchange I had in my files.

To:  Ted
From: Pastor John
Subject: Persecuted pastor

 Hi Ted,

One of the pastors we support in a Muslim country has been arrested and charged with blasphemy against Muhammad. If found guilty, this is punishable by death.

As the new guy in charge of all global missions with our church… Well, I can organize prayer but I don’t know what else to encourage our staff and friends to do. So, any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Thanks.

- John

 


To: John
From: Ted
Subject: RE: Persecuted pastor

Dear John,

My first thought to share with you is something you already know, but let me remind you of it.  God is glorified when his saints are willing to suffer for Him.  It’s His will for it to happen.  Since we are so removed from suffering in the US, we often fail to see His providence in situations like these.  Nobody loves this pastor more than the Lord!

I would be very careful with whom I shared this information.  Thereare numerous organizations that work on behalf of the persecuted church. These organizations should not be contacted unless the pastor or his family specifically asks for it.  Many times there is an “honor” issue involved.  It is possible that they want to punish the pastor because they have lost face over something – not because of the facts of the case.  If you involve the outside world, you actually work to build more “shame” into the situation making it impossible for them to back down.

On three or four occasions national pastors have implored me to publish the plight of their suffering people.  I have done so, but only because the local church there asked for it.

Oftentimes in cases like these, there is a death penalty but it is intended to “set the bar very high” so that later on, when he is found guilty (as is almost always the case) the authorities can portray themselves as merciful and compassionate when they reduce the sentence.  Rarely does it end up with the death penalty (although at times it does).

I would get my direction from the pastor’s family or at least the local church he serves.  Since they are the locals on the ground they have a better sense of what has happened and what is going to happen.  For all we know, this has been going on for some time. A sense of hopelessness might be what is behind the communication you are receiving.  That’s when it is time to consider doing some sort of public communication about the pastor’s situation.  Again, I would emphasize that you need to make sure the local believers want this.

Finally, this is a great time for prayer.  I would develop a pseudonym for the pastor and put it out everywhere, asking people to pray.  Obscure the details enough to protect pastor but give enough detail so that the prayers are meaningful to those who are making supplication.

The undeniable fact is that the church grows best when suffering servants obediently follow him.  I personally would not pray that the suffering would cease but that His will be done.  That may sound heartless and it goes against our human understanding of justice.  However, the pastor may be right now experiencing the deepest and most meaningful moments of grace in his life.  Ask the Lord to help you trust Him for the pastor’s situation.  The sense of injustice you feel can be directed for His glory.

I hope this helps.  I am going into prayer for this pastor this very moment!

Sola fide,

- Ted

House Church or Programs?

House churches are great – I wouldn’t want to do church any other way – but house churches are only one way to do church. Traditional churches (what I call “brick churches”) have advantages as well. Sometimes I find that house church attenders with specific needs can have these needs met in a brick church program better than in a house church. They can also continue to attend the house church. Navigating this grey area can actually strengthen both.

When would I would suggest utilizing the ministry of a brick church?

Simply put: When a house church member has special needs that are real and cannot be met by a small house church.

Examples:

  • I am a diabetic and I would like to attend a diabetic support group of Christians.
  • I have two teen-age kids and they can’t connect with our house church which is made up of people with no teen-agers. My kids really need youth group.
  • I am an addict and want to be a part of Celebrate Recovery.
  • I am a young mom and want to attend MOPs (Mothers Of Preschoolers) or just want to be with other young moms (you could insert “young single” or “mature couple” or any other demographic label here).

These are all examples in which programs may be helpful to people in a house churches. As pastors and shepherds we should always be on the lookout for ways to serve the people in our flock. One way to do this is to put the needs of people before the form of our church.

Unfortunately, these sorts of programmatic needs are commonly used as reasons for leaving a house church. It doesn’t have to be this way.

When do you not suggest leaving a house church?

With the exception of a couple of very specific programs, I believe that most of the above can be met within the house church. For example, teen-agers are not necessarily better off hanging out in church youth groups (see this link for more on this topic). I think the yearnings for programs are sometimes excuses for avoiding difficulties in the more intimate house church environment. My preference would be for people to look for ways to enhance their intimate community before leaving for a program-based brick church.

In my experience, when people are looking to leave house church, the stated reason is often a “secondary” reason. When you experience an intimate house church your weaknesses and sins will be exposed. You may feel judged if anybody questions things they see in your life (rightly or wrongly). This is uncomfortable. Rather than deal with these things openly, our American church culture has taught us to just move on to something that better “fits our needs.”

If people are really leaving for the reasons I note above there is a possible other solution: enjoy the program of the brick church while maintaining your participation in the house church. I have suggested this to folks only to be given lots of reasons on why this isn’t feasible when, from my perspective, it’s very feasible.

How do you go about integrating the two?

My preference would be for people to just stick with one church. If, however, you do have a special need to get the services and programs of a larger church and you want to maintain your house church community you should prayerfully consider all involved:

  1. Talk it over with the house church and explain your circumstances.
  2. Seek out the pastor or pertinent leader at the brick church and explain your situation to them. Ask permission and don’t assume on their generosity.
  3. If you decide to attend the brick church program make sure to give appropriately to cover any expenses associated with your participation in that program.

There is no reason that this has to be a binary decision. Sometimes, it might best serve people to have a foot in both camps. In my view, this doesn’t mean you attend or are members of two churches. It means you are a part of a house church and also being served by a program of another church.