October 27, 2011

What's the Biggest Problem in the World?

From the Christian perspective, what do you think is the biggest problem in the world? Here's a list of some big problems. Am I missing anything? 

Worldwide, there are currently:

300,000 child soldiers
1.25 million who die each year from malaria
2 million child prostitutes
6 million children in slave labor
8 million who die each year from hunger or hunger-related problems
40 million people with AIDS
165 million child laborers
210 million orphans
250 million children without access to school
1 billion people without access to clean drinking water
1.4 billion living below the poverty line
1.6 billion unevangelized (never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ)
2.7 billion unreached (live among people who rarely if ever hear the Gospel)
5 billion not saved (Just a guess. Only God knows who's written in the Book of Life)

I think the numbers are pretty clear.

Strive to look beyond the physical problems of the world to also consider the spiritual problems of the world.

October 20, 2011

Does Financial Support for Native Missionaries Lead to Laziness?

A few years ago, a pastor from Australia was visiting our house. We got to talking about missions. I began to tell him about what I do to support native missionaries. He began to tell me of a ministry that he knew that supported native pastors in China. He mentioned how as they increased their funding for the Chinese mission efforts, the more stagnant they became. Giving money to the Chinese missionaries didn't help them spread the Gospel more. Instead, they became satisfied and just sat on the money. They became lazy like Jabba the Hut.  I don't know all the circumstances with that particular ministry. I don't think this Australian pastor did either. However, as I look back on the discussion, I think he was using this as evidence to support his belief that it's not usually a good idea to support native missionaries. He's not alone. Many in the mission world have similar views.

If I was in the situation again, I would have told him to not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Just supporting native mission work at random and not having a set of standards can absolutely be harmful. If you just throw money at the situation, that's never going to work. I'm not surprised that the Chinese ministry slowed down. It certainly happens. However, let's not generalize an area of missions, namely supporting native missionaries, as a pass or fail. If done the wrong way and if God's not in it, it will fail. If done the right way and God is in it, it will pass with flying colors. Like I've spoken about before, if you have certain standards in place, there is a very good chance that supporting native missionaries will work.

Here are the standards you need when supporting native missionaries in third world countries: 1) make sure the missionary candidates are passionate and called by God to reach their own people 2) give them training that reflects the hardships of the mission field, so they know what to expect 3) pay them only an average income compared to the people of the area (plus necessary ministry expenses) 4) have them go self-supporting once enough churches have been planted 5) have a system of accountability in place so there is some semblance of a spiritual authority over them for guidance and counseling and to ensure they don't just go out and become lazy. If you have those standards in place, I think native missionary efforts will be very healthy and growth will increase, not decrease.

October 15, 2011

2 Opinions of National Workers

 A few years ago, I was attending a mission conference in the Los Angeles area. In one of the smaller sessions, a group of us began to discuss and debate one of the most important topics in missions today, 'foreign missionary vs national missionary'. A number of folks there were likely foreign missionaries themselves and it seemed that the majority of the people in the room seemed to favor sending foreign missionaries. 4 or 5 people spoke up and gave their 2 cents about their take on the subject, and I, of course, did what I could to give a voice to the voiceless in the room (the national missionaries who do about 90% of all pioneer evangelism). From there, the debate turned heated and we ended up hurling random pens and staplers at one another. Just kidding. The discussion lasted a brief time, but was healthy and done in good will.

During my drive home, I reflected on the issues raised and the problems that some of them had with supporting national missionaries. I then realized that some of us in the room were speaking past one another to some degree, like two ships sailing by one another in the night.  While I was focused on supporting national missionaries in a format similar to Gospel for Asia, where they require financing at first, but go self-supporting once they have planted a few churches, they were thinking about national pastors who are often hired to take over churches that have been planted by foreign missionaries. In many cases, these national pastors will never go self-supporting. They simply maintain the ministry and activities that were active while the foreign missionaries were there. This just goes to prove that our opinions are shaped by our experiences. In regards to mission work, the opinions of the national workers is largely going to be defined by one's prior experiences with them. This results in some positive opinions of the national wokers and some negative opinions of the national workers.

In Reformation in Foreign Missions, Bob Finley describes how simply hiring national pastors can be a problem area. The reason it can often become a problem is because the foreign missionaries have first come and established a church that is highly Westernized. It has all the bells and whistles of a church one might see in the heartland of America. There will be pews, a pipe organ, nice dress, a stage, a foyer, a steeple, offering plates, communion paraphinalia, programs and classes for each age group, etc. When the foreign missionaries prepare to leave, they select a local believer to take over the ministry. Here's the problem: that new pastor is now expected to continue an elaborate ministry that cannot possibly be kept alive on the meager earnings of the local believers. In order to maintain all the bells and whistles and continue doing ministry in the same manner as the wealthy foreign missionaries, the church will forever be dependent upon the foreigners who have all the money. (This is a reason missionaries are now beginning to understand that the form of Christianity that should be brought to a new people, should be stripped of all excessive cultural traditions, so that the pure gospel can spread unhindered in a way that can be multiplied many times over.)

There can also be instances where the national pastors are just not the right caliber. They don't have the will to plant new churches. They don't want to go self-supporting, because quite frankly, it's easier to rely on support from the wealthy Americans. They've been receiving a very generous pay and for them to rely on the tithes of the locals would be a drastic decline in their income.  In this case, I would argue that the mistake was made in the beginning when the foreign missionaries selected a national who was not up for the challenge.

So as you can see, a situation like this can get quite messy. Just hiring the local pastors can be a problematic area. So, if someone's experience with national workers is similar to these circumstances, it's obvious to see why the opinions of supporting national workers will be negative.

However, there is another method of supporting national workers. Gospel forAsia and Empart are two of the best examples of this form of missions. They support national missionaries, not national pastors. From the very beginning, the nationals are expected to go out and plant churches and go self-supporting. They are interviewed, vetted, trained, and sent out. The ministry leaders make sure the trainees are individuals desiring to reach their own people. During the whole process, the nationals are made aware that they will be going out to plant churches and go self-supporting. In these situations, there are no cumbersome bells, whistles, and cultural traditions that the national missionaries will have to carry with them to each church they plant. They don't even have to build a church building for each church they plant. They stick to the basics that can be multiplied everywhere – Bible, prayer, worship, outreach. It's often as simple as that. And you know what, when missionaries start out on this path, there is little resistance when the time comes for them to go self-supporting. It was expected of them all along and they did it. This is how agencies like Gospel for Asia and Empart operate.

Unlike those who have the experience of supporting national pastors indefinitely, those who have the experience of supporting national missionaries for a temporary time, generally have a very favorable opinion of it. Thus, there is going to be a discrepency in opinions when it comes to supporting national workers. The method you are familiar with will often dictate your opinion. This is why I have learned that when speaking on the subject of supporting nationals, it is very important to define precisely what method is being used and what are the parameters of the ministry.

This topic is discussed on pages 14 and 15 of Missions in the Third Millenium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century by Stan Guthrie.

October 10, 2011

Get the Big Picture of the World Harvest

On page 14 of Missions in the Third millennium by Stan Guthrie in a chapter about national workers, he is quoting Lewis Codington of CLC International to point out a problem of national workers.
"For one thing, local workers have a different perspective. 'The most serious problem we encounter is a lack of world vision ... When people are going back and forth to work in their own country and their entire world consists of what they see on their trip back and forth to work, they can lose sight of the bigger picture, and we find that there is a lack of awareness of the world harvest, which foreign missionaries tend to see much more clearly.'"
I'm glad this point was brought up, because it is a very valid point. Unfortunately, most Christians, even those involved in ministry, do lack a horizon that gives them an understanding of God's global plan. Let's say there is a pastor of a church in south India and he notices that only about half of his congregants have a Bible of their own. He may want to request more Bibles for them, because he sees the need. However, little does he know, there's a similar church in China that only has 3 Bibles for all 100 congregants. This pastor also requests the extra Bibles. Who do you think the Bibles should go to? Now, the pastor in south India was only doing what he knew was right, because all he knew was that in the area he was ministering, he saw a need. Hopefully, if he was told about the need in China, he would gracefully revoke his request, because his horizon would be expanded.
It would be a wonderful world if when Christians are made aware of all the needs in the world, they are willing to adjust their own needs to meet the biggest needs worldwide. 2 Corinthians 8:14 "At the present time your plenty will supply what they need so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality." Also, Acts 4:35 "and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." This concept doesn't only apply to money distribution, but worker distribution.
I recently heard an American missionary report to his home church about his work in Tanzania. I would say that he did a good job of doing research ahead of time and finding an unreached area. He proceeded to reach out in that area and plant a small church there. Wonderful. Now he has his eye set on a few surrounding villages. Good as well. But then, he was asking at his home church that if anyone was wanting to get involved in missions, this is a great opportunity to come to the mission field and help reach out to these other villages. Problem. First of all, he should be making disciples of the new converts. Perhaps some of them could be trained to go as missionaries. Or, he could hook up with other ministries in the area that have national missionaries ready to go reach them. But even if those options weren't available, the missionary recruit from the home church probably shouldn't pack up and move to Africa. Chances are, there's a more needy location elsewhere in the world where the missionary recruit could go. In Tanzania the ratio for the original missionary to unreached villages would be 1 missionary for 3 unreached villages. That's not a bad ratio.  Perhaps it could be a good training ground for the missionary recruit, but for the long term, the new recruit would be better off going to a place where there's 20 unreached villages he can reach out to. Although, again, in that situation, you need to assess to see if there are national believers that can reach out to them.
Ayy, missions can get a little complicated and formulaic can't it?
One last good point I wanted to bring up was a story I heard of an American woman who is in Nigeria, not as a missionary, but as a teacher of the Perspectives course. Nigeria has a strong Christian population with the ability to do great things in the Great Commission. So, she's over there teaching leaders and missionaries to have a better perspective on God's global plan. After the course, they will surely have a better world vision if they didn't already have it. They will be more ready than ever to reach out to the Muslim tribes of northern Nigeria and nearby lands as well.
If you are involved in missions or even ministry in any capacity, please, take the horse blinders off.

October 4, 2011

Disturbance or Opportunity

Today I heard about 2 different instances of disturbances that happened during church. In a 'normal world', church services go very smoothly. It begins with some worship. At least 3 songs, but no more than 5. Worship is concluded by the worship leader offering a prayer. Then there are the greetings. Then the announcements. Then the offering plate is passed around while an additional song is sung. Then the pastor gives his sermon for 45 minutes. He concludes with prayer and the congregation is dismissed. From my observations of 150+ American churches, this is how it goes. Yes, I've been watching you :) It kind of makes you wonder, what if something way out of the ordinary happened in the middle of service. What if it was something to which 'dignified' people had no idea how to respond? Well, that something did happen. Here's two instances of that kind of disturbance.

Case Study # 1: Near Pisa, Italy, during a mass, a man near the back of the church stood up and ripped out his eyeballs. With a supernatural strength, he reached into his eye sockets and yanked until his eyes were out of his head forever. There was blood everywhere.  As you can imagine, most people had no idea how to respond. When they saw the frightful sight, they got out as quickly as possible. The priest did what a responsible person would do and called for medical help. Unfortunately for the man, his eyes could not be saved and he will live without sight for the rest of his life. When asked why he did such a thing to himself, he said the voices in his head told him to do it. It could be a mental problem, but given the description and the location of the act, I think he was being tormented by demons.

Case Study #2: In a village in India, a couple of national missionaries from Gospel for Asia were showing a film about the life of Jesus. During the film, a few men stood up and began grunting and shrieking. At first, the missionaries thought the men were upset with them for showing a Christian film in their Hindu village. But they quickly realized the men were being tormented by demons and Satan was trying to disrupt things. How would a typical pastor handle such an instance? Perhaps he would call security and call for medical help as did the priest in Pisa. Perhaps he would have the ushers usher the men into a separate room of the church to diagnose the situation further. Instead of doing the 'dignified' thing, these missionaries actually realized God was giving them an opportunity to show His power to the non-Christians. They seized the moment and began to pray for the men. The demons were quieted and the film proceeded. Dozens of people gave their lives to Jesus that night.

I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes something perceived at first to be a disturbance, can in the end, turn out to be an opportunity. Something that is seen as bothersome can actually bring God glory if you just trust in Him. This seems to happen all the time on the mission field. Maybe if the Priest in Italy was more aware of the spiritual world around him, he would have been able to pray and stop the man from what he was doing.  How will you respond when you're in such a situation?  Will you see it as a disturbance or an opportunity?  Thank God for courageous leaders that can be a good example for the rest of us.