Category Archives: Mission articles
Missiology is a multi-faceted discipline. The social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology) enable missionaries to exegete another culture, interpret emic (insider) meanings, understand how people live together in groups, compare one culture to another, and perceive psyches of various people within culture. History of missions reflects upon past paradigms of mission theology and practice. Understandings of contextualized ministry (evangelism, church planting and development, leadership training) help missionaries develop theologically focused, yet contextually appropriate strategies. These strategies guide missionaries to teach unbelievers, incorporate new Christians into communities of faith, nurture them to maturity, and train developing leaders to minister within the maturing movement of God. Other disciplines (linguistics; Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist studies; folk religion, etc.) provide tools for the missionary task and heighten understandings regarding Christian approaches to non-Christian peoples.
The challenge for us in this is: Do we properly exegete our own culture here in Australia to enable our mission? What do we see when we do? I see a rapidly secularising people for whom any assumption of Christian knowledge is risky. But I also see a culture groping around in the dark for moral reference points on which to base life and decision-making. How do these factors influence and help us to be relevant and contextual in our mission?
A second challenge is this: How does a theological understanding of the wholistic nature of God’s mission – the restoration of all of people’s lives and world, spiritual and physical – add to our contextual mission? What does wholistic restoration through Jesus offer to secular Australians? What about a God that is in the here and now, involved in life, bringing hope as well as a rebirth of compassion and caring.
And what tools do we need to develop in order to approach our average Australian neighbours? True friendship, caring relationship, the language of the boys at the footy club, the art of spiritual conversation in the local book club? Only you can do this process to reach and speak into the lives of the people around you.
This is an article by Ian Robinson on how we approach mission and evangelism. It is challenging, inspiring and thought-provoking.
INTRODUCTION – Traditional Evangelism.
Love it or hate it, evangelism is both increasingly necessary in declining churches and sorely contested in usually poor-quality debates. The Evangelism that most people have in mind came to its height with Alan Walker’s Mission to the Nation in 1952-3, followed by the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade, which was a great revival. This model continues to this day. It’s form is:
- Come to church/ a dinner/an Alpha course/ a concert, and
- Listen to a sermon/ video/ song/ talk , which is
- Based on the Christian Bible, and says:
- The Gospel is that God commands all to repent and believe in the saving cross of Jesus Christ.
I believe that model is now good theology and bad evangelism. All four of the above four points need changing to another biblical model. Fifty years of rapid cultural change, driven by technology and mass migration, have placed us in a different context. It is as though, staying home, we have gone to a foreign country.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT NOW?
Briefly put, there are several main ways in which people think differently.
1. People have different Starting Points– the vast majority have never been churched, have scant real knowledge of the contents of the bible, are predominantly visual in their way of learning and perceive themselves as too busy and possibly feel unable to make decisions that can significantly shape their own life.
2. As a consequence, what they think before we talk is a different set of Prior Understandings – They have no real concept of a personal Creator, no belief that doing Good no matter what the outcome is actually a good thing to do, and they have a suspicion of church which is now something of an idol(but we erected it).
3. In line with all wealthy cultures, people sense that they need nothing – they will only be provoked by personal need and disillusionment, but also by an experience of wonder or thrall.
4. Therefore, we must now see evangelism not only as a process involving more stages of change and exchange, but as a fundamentally different kind of process.
This difference is not only generated by our current circumstance but is evident in the New Testament. We have been here before. From John 3 (Jesus and Nicodemus) to John 4 (Jesus and the Samaritan Woman) , I will give two examples from each of the above categories of change, to illustrate that these changes in theology and strategy were already in practise at the beginning of the church’s mission. (cf Acts 17 the same dichotomy in method).
1. Starting Point
a. Location: Nicodemus comes to Jesus 3.2. He adopts the practise of his culture where Rabbi’s receive people for theological disputation. In 4. 3-5, Jesus goes to Samaria, to a place of real vulnerability and some cultural discomfort. We need to relocate most of our evangelism outside church.
b. Knowledge: The Jewish man knows the Bible, 3.10,13,.14 but the Samaritan woman does not know much. 4.12,19,20. Jesus’ approach changes on this fact.
2. Prior Understandings
a. Ethics: Pharisees believed in over-arching truth, and that the goal of virtue is worth suffering for. That night, Nicodemus knows it forms the spine of his daily life. His view of the world is one structured around God’s right to rule. The woman is just doing the best she can with her life “under the circumstances”. She lives in a time when a woman has no rights to decide her own life. Her view of the created world is necessarily focussed around her own situation.
b. Authority: Jesus quotes the scriptures as an authority to Nicodemus 3.3,11,14. However, at the well at noon, even when twice presented with an opportunity to do so, (4.12, 20) Jesus sidesteps the religious questions of biblical or prophetic authority. The authority in her life is her own experience.
3. Sense of need
a. Entry Points: Nicodemus has been opened up to Jesus by the “the works”, Jesus’ miraculous power(3.2), but he is not open enough to expect one for himself (3.4). The miracles only go so far.
Again by contrast, the Woman is opened up to Jesus by “he told me everything that I have ever done” (4. 29). Call it empathic insight, or word of knowledge, Jesus addresses the absence of stability in her life without insinuating judgments.
b. Focus Points: Jesus confronts the Teacher of Israel with his religious and intellectual barriers to the Holy Spirit.( 3.8,10-12). His issue is intellectual pride and his rigidity. However, with the woman he could hardly be more different. He displays his need of her help (no bucket, the fool), and beguilingly invites a chronically disowned woman into fullness of life in the Spirit. Her issue is both her ignorance and her crushing disempowerment.
4. What we must say first
a. Traditional evangelism quotes Paul talking of his visit to Corinth “To know nothing but Christ crucified”. (1 Cor 2.2; Note that in Acts 18.4,7-8 the mission to Corinth starts among Jews). In line with this, the Jew hears about the Cross first – the serpent lifted up (3.14-15). The cross is the way into the kingdom of the Spirit’s life ( 3.15,3). We do not know the outcome of this interaction, since from about v16 or so, John ceases to recount the conversation.
The non-Jewish woman does not hear “nothing but the cross”. She hears first about new life ( 4.14). It is only at the end of the chapter (4. 42) that the question has moved to Jesus as Saviour. Most people today, like the woman, feel powerless and trampled upon, more “sinned against” than “sinners”. The latter is a higher order concept that first requires a person to believe in some sort of possibility of personal holiness, right living, taking charge of your own life and God’s right to command. For a person from unchurched culture, therefore “Sin” is therefore something that comes with growth in faith, not as pre-requisite for it. To evangelise thus is to preach bad news, not good news.
b. A theology of Repentance must include BOTH what we repent FROM (John 3 paradigm) and what we repent TO (John 4 paradigm). The religious (Jewish, Moslem etc), must be born again of the spirit from heaven, confronted with the stumbling block of the Cross. The non-religious must be invited into the life that fulfils them, that calls them out of their circumstance, the offence of the Resurrection..
For the religious of any persuasion, stick with the John 3 paradigm. More generally today, evangelism to secular people should always look and sound like John 4.
1. Get away from the powerful proclamation. Establish enough horizontal relationship to have credibility without holding structural power. The gospel cannot trickle down. Be a fool, ask for help, live in solidarity, “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food” as DT Niles said.
2. Be Provocative with our own personal depth, our kindness, our personal ethical integrity, our wisdom and our appreciation of beauty, and NOT with our moral rules prescribed for others. Christ invites us not into conformity but into transformation.
3. For fear of putting too much on others, we can simply give back to them, repeatedly, the responsibility for their relationship with God. “I’m not putting this on to you, just trying to be a friend. It is up to you what happens between you and God.” Walk beside them.
4. Do not defend the church, apologize.
5. Re-educate people about Jesus. There is a seriously large programme of disinformation about.
6. Be gentle, sharing our spiritual discoveries as a fellow human being.
7 Ask questions, be curious – in awe to understand each unique person all over again, test our questions before we give answers. SAMPLE QUESTIONS: where do you get your strength from, how do you keep going, how do you know this will overcome your own internal blockages to truth; don’t you ever feel you want to give thanks for all the good things we have; don’t you sometimes sense the enthralling awe in life; do you think Jesus went through all that just so we could be religious; humans tend to make up a religion that suits us so we have to be open to a spiritual light from heaven; is there anyone you know who is not hypocritical at some point or other in their actions or thinking; are you sure you are living the purpose of your life; etc. These are only openers.
8. Expect action. We are not trying to help them to feel cosy about spirituality, but to see how their attitude to Jesus is the cornerstone of their attitudes to all truth and the fullness of their life, and to respond is to act anew with compassion, justice and kindness, and to grow in faith. Therefore we have to be models of risky action, needing help.
9. Hang on to the pearls. Theology and apologetics are not the same. Theology has an orthodox historic corpus, which shifts at its apologetic and wisdom edges with every passing generation, as it should. Cultural values shift with every generation and we need to take a new stand, which involves trusting each other. Entry points are not the foundations.
10. The neglect by churches of the spiritual discipline of evangelism is nothing short of scandalous. It is both possible and necessary to study evangelism at the levels of personal, group, congregational, regional and cultural evangelism in terms of skills, strategies, spiritualities and theology. It is the over-riding context of the New Testament, as well as being the over-riding need of the re-education of every single clergy and lay leader.
Here is the SUNO Wrestler from the end of 2010, for your information and pondering. It has a general SUNO update and two articles that featured on this blog in 2010:
Danelle’s excellent discussion of evangelism with integrity and honesty.
Living as a Missionary – one person’s journey with a more mission focused life. A great read if the term mission and missionary freak you out but you know that God is calling you to grow His kingdom.
Here’s an article by Geoff Westlake on the nature of community development, mission and the church.
Community development is a very good thing but what makes Christian community development particularly Christian? I mean both secular and Christian community development seek to empower the people. They work towards interdependence and helping people look beyond their local scene.
Christian community development has a different motivation: it is motivated by Christ. It’s Christ-like community development, and it consciously works according to Kingdom of God principles, in the here and the now.
First, it’s about God’s mission, to redeem & transform the world, doing it here and now.
Second, it’s doing it in the power of Christ’s Spirit. He shows us what to do and keeps us going. We find the spirit to carry on. As a general rule, I find that the people who continue the longest in community development, are people with this spiritual motivation.
Third, Christian community development is the very essence of the church – it’s the orientation the church should always have. Because it’s the mission of God, so it’s the essential mission of the church, and so it should come as no surprise that the word ecclesia carries that meaning.
The Greek word, ecclesia, had its own meaning before Jesus ever used it. It referred to the local progress association, or residents’ association, the town meeting designed to improve and benefit the local town. And this is the key word Jesus picked up and modified when he designed his “church.” (Mat 16:18)
Back in Jesus’ day, the way that they ran the ecclesia, was first to avoid the agenda, and develop the friendships. Talk about life, in the belief that they would be better able to find the solutions they needed when they were among friends. Then they would learn from the old wise guys (the elders) who knew a thing or three about how the town worked best. And finally they would make their decisions on how best to serve their neighborhood, then go out and do it.
Jesus retained those three elements, and the core orientation towards the neighborhood (because that completely fits with God’s core mission), but then he also added three other elements – all to do with the Kingdom of God. In the famous Acts 2 passage, they looked for, and saw, signs and wonders (God stuff) happening. They prayed and worshiped God (praying). And they must have explained to others what was happening, because the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved (explaining/evangelism).
Thus, Jesus shows us the basics of Christian community development. Community development according to the Kingdom of God. Doing the work of the ecclesia – developing the community.
Christian community development is about co-operating with the image of God in others.
It’s not co-opting what someone else does. It’s not competition between groups, but being willing to die, to be unseen, to enable others to be more godly (whether they name that yet or not.) So we match-make allies together, bringing unity, peace, synergy by setting people into the areas of their passions.
Christian community development is not based on consumerism, but contributions. Community developing alliances are as strong as the contributions of their members. It asks people to give, not promising gifts or prizes, except perhaps the satisfaction of knowing you are working towards a better world (whether you see it come or not.)
How is such co-operation built?
Relationships. The three R’s of Christian community development are: relationships, relationships, relationships. Coffees, conversations, building trust, understanding, respect.
Cheering. Sometimes the best place to start is celebrating the good things they did.
Action. Get involved in the key issues of the town, and do something, just one regular action will make a bigger difference than you might think.
Schools can be a very real centre of community life, not only for those families with children at that school, but the facilities are often available for community members of all types.
Inside and outside your group. Doing community development in more than one place will keep you outward / other–focused. If you’re in a school, develop the school community, but also synergize with people outside the school community (Residents groups, sport clubs, churches.)
Knowing people in more than one context, stops us from ‘objectifying’ them. They can no longer be ‘just the person behind the counter’ because I now know that they are also a soccer mum, or a dancer, or whatever the other context is.
And then as the relationships grow, a little seed of trust sprouts. Water it by co-operation, and you’re on the way to synergy. Pray, see God at work, and honestly but respectfully articulate the spiritual in-spir-ation of it, and Christian community development happens.
Christian community development is community development that is motivated by Christ, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, and measured by the standard of Christ. It’s in step with his mission in the world. It is oriented outwards to benefit the town along God’s Kingdom lines, and by God’s Kingdom methods. It looks for the image of God in people, and co-operates with whoever will co-operate with them. It synergizes with travelers, and locals outside and within its own group. It’s not co-opting, competing, or consumerism. It is relationship, trust, encouraging, practical action, with other groups.
Many of our churches have a strong commitment to program evangelism. Most of us are fully involved in some doing/service activity that structurally seeks to spread the Good News—youth group, playgroup, etc. If someone has a need, we jump to help quickly—giving money to support organisations or mission projects. This is good!
It seems that many of us do not personally own the good news of the gospel as worthy of sharing—that is, we are happy to do things that ‘share the gospel’ but find it difficult to personally share the gospel or engage in mission and evangelism personally with people we know. It seems that it is easy to give money and even do things, but it is confronting and uncomfortable to personally look someone in the eye, get involved in their life and share the thing that gives us hope. We’d rather let the playgroup story time, the dinner speaker or the little card we give out at the festival do it for us.
Most of our churches have a Sunday service as the centre and focus of it’s activities. Significant resources goes into this and when we think of mission, we think of inviting people to ‘church’. This raises the question as to whether Sunday services can ever be effective in mission and evangelism. I think we are all aware that the answer is probably not, and so we seek to run other programs to cover this. In our culture, only a small percentage of people (15-20%) resonate with our current model of Sunday service. And even then, it is the highly polished, contemporary styles which many churches struggle to emulate. Yet we continue to have Sunday morning as our focus of resources and time—our ‘shop window’. As a result, we are constantly trying to ‘outreach’ to people and draw them back to Sunday church—a one size fits all model that people must fit into. It is indeed a long jump from sharing faith with someone at the footy club to inviting them to Sunday church. What if rather than ‘outreach’, we truly embraced incarnation and mission and ‘went’ to people more.
Outreach. The word itself implies that I am standing here (in the church) and reaching out to someone. Once I have reached out and made contact, what happens then? By nature, I must then in-draw to the base camp, to the gospelling environment inside the church. Our faith sharing happens ‘when they come to the service, event or activity’. But as we have seen, the difference between the activity that ‘reached out’ can be a far leap from the activity ‘drawn into’. For example, playgroup was great-good coffee, good relationships and good activities. But from there we want people to jump to Sunday morning church, where they are required to sing and listen to someone speak for 40mins (often in words and language they don’t understand).
Mission. To take the gospel out to people who do not have a faith. Which in Australia is about 80% of people (who do not have regular contact with a Christian church). Firstly, it means going to people, where they are, not trying to reach out to them from a ‘base camp’. It means we must find out where they are and what makes them tick, get involved in their lives and contexts. It means fashioning our gospelling to their context and our faith sharing to the relational environment encountered and created. It means that any events we run must be rooted in the culture and style and context that we find people in. This is incarnational in the same way God brought His gospel of hope and love to the world—Jesus became human and dwelt among us. Became one of us, understanding what it means to be human and spoke in our language into our lives.
Many times I have heard people talk about Sunday church as their haven at the end of the week, the place where they recharge and refocus before going back into the world. This highlights that we have moved away from an understanding of us being people of faith, sent by a missionary God to bring the Kingdom into communities by being part of the world, but not of it. What we have ended up with is the church on one side—separate and disconnected and ‘the community’ on the other:
As a result, our mission becomes about ‘building bridges’ between us and them. We try to do things that will draw people back onto our territory where we can share the gospel. And if people come to faith, then they too are drawn out of their community and into the church. This has left our communities without Christian people involved and bleached of hope and the Kingdom of God.
What if instead, we took seriously God’s model of incarnating amongst us in Jesus (“the Word became flesh”-John 1) and engaged in mission in the same way. Instead, we broke down our understanding of church and got involved in our communities, bringing the Kingdom of God near them. The image might be that of Bread. It is made up of yeast and dough. But when it is bread, it is so mixed up that you can’t tell which is which. The yeast permeates the dough, changing it, causing it to rise, part of the bread. Yet under the microscope you can still see the yeast, different. Maybe this is being “in the world, but not of it”?
Another outcome of this kind of thinking is that we end up with a divide between the ‘God-stuff’ that happens in church and the secular stuff that happens ‘out there’. As a result, the Sunday experience is often disconnected to the life we live in the ‘real world’ on Monday. Which feeds this sense of needing refuge from it on Sunday. If we believe that Jesus is Lord, then this means over all things—the activities of the church and that which occurs in all of life too. By learning to live as missionary people amongst the community—yeast in the dough—we bring together all of what we do under the Lordship of Jesus and there is a seamlessness in our lives. Our mission and calling is complete whether we are singing praise songs and ‘close to God’ or living a life of faith and witness amongst the community we live in.
Here’s a resource to help with our community engagement in mission. It’s an examination of the community development principle of participation and is written by a friend of SUNO, Cam Tero. Here’s a taster: