“All Nations”

My last post was about the Board’s current missiology; specifically, Jeff Lewis’ study posted on the imb.org website. I need to start by saying that I’m questioning the Board’s philosophy here. I don’t have anything against Jeff Lewis, and I don’t want to offend anyone. Again, I’m just looking for people who will discuss the questions I have.

Now, most missionaries and missiologists these days seem to be saying that God’s big plan is to “reach” (by this, I’m guessing they mean “save” or “redeem”?) all nations across the globe. Most of the books and websites I’ve read like these verses as insight into God’s “heart for the nations:”

Of course, there’s the Great Commission:
Matthew 28:19
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

So we know the term “all nations” is a Biblical one. We usually define nation as “peoples who group themselves according to geography, language, and culture.” There are other passages that talk about “all nations,” but it’s harder to see the direct application to missions. This one, for example, from Mark:

Mark 13:9-11
“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”

Does “must first be preached” here mean “primarily,” or “before any of the above happens?” And does it mean we should come up with a plan to preach to all nations? Is preaching to all nations the same as missions? Where might church planting come into play?

Anyway, the most often-cited verse is usually this one:
Matthew 24:14
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Everyone I’ve read on this one seems to take this verse as a prescriptive directive. That is: “You must preach to all nations before the end will come.” I’ll write about this in a separate post.

Finally, there’s the Revelation passage:
Revelation 7:9
“…after this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

Here, John says he sees people from every nation worshipping. Not to split hairs, but is he talking about all the ones that were around back then? Maybe he had the insight to recognize all the people groups that every existed and ever would in the future. Or maybe he just means “lots of people from lots of different places.”

One verse that also uses the “all nations/every nation” terminology is this one that tells about the Day of Pentecost:
Acts 2:5
“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.”

I find it odd that this one doesn’t figure into the discussion. Does it mean that there were literally Jews in all nations? Or is it saying “of the nations in which there were Jewish people…” If we’re going to base our missiology on a concordance search for “all nations,” we need to talk about this one, too.

And another “all nations” passage in Revelation that isn’t considered relevant:

Revelation 14:5-7
“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earthÂ? to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t assume a destination when God gives us a direction. I believe that Jesus will come back whenever He wants to (later in Matthew 24, and 1 Thessalonians 5). It really doesn’t all depend on us. I find that Revelation 14 verse very assuring: “The Task,” if it is our task, can and will be “fulfilled” by God’s heavenly messenger in one fell swoop- a sort of evangacube in the sky, if you will. Hey, maybe that should be our new strategy (he said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek).
Evangecube

“God’s Heart for the Nations”

When I was in college, my friends that wanted to be missionaries were really into John Piper. He wrote a book called “Let the Nations Be Glad” in 1993 that really challenged popular thought concerning missions and God’s gloy. The basic premise was the God is mostly concerned with His glory. God is a jealous God, and His greatest desire, according to Piper, is that all the nations of the world worship Him. Piper makes the application to global missions by saying that the goal of the Church’s mission is that all nations worship God. I recommend the book to anyone who hasn’t read it.

About that same time, a guy named Jeff Lewis (the professor of missions at Cal Baptist, not sure what he’s up to these days) was making the rounds talking and teaching at Christian Universities about “God’s Heart for the Nations.” He built on Piper’s idea that the main reason for human existance is that we would worship God, and that our act of worship ought to be leading others to worship Him as well. Lewis was also really into people group research, and was therefore focused on the 10/40 window. His teachings had a profound influence; not only on my “Mission Friends” (get it?), but also on the IMB. In 1998, the Board adopted its “New Directions” campaign and strategy change, shifting it’s focus from countries to ethno-linguistic people groups. This “paradigm shift” echoed Jeff Lewis’ call for the Board to take the focus off of “reached” people groups and to concentrate it’s efforts and resources on the “unreached.” In fact, Jeff’s study on “God’s Heart for the Nations” can still be found here at the imb.org website.

Anyway, Jeff asks the reader again and again to consider:
“Start Pondering … What is God’s ultimate passion? Not His only passion, but what is His chief end? When everything is eliminated but one, what is His central motivation?”

I’d like to hear what you all think about this. I’ll post more thoughts in a couple of days.

Missions Misunderstood

I am not a missionary. It’s kind of a big deal for me to admit that. Yeah, I know that “we’re all supposed to be missionaries,” and that people who bring the good news have beautiful feet. I’m struggling with the whole thing because of all people, I’m supposed to be a missionary because I’m employed by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. They hired and appointed and commissioned me to serve as a church planter here in Western Europe. They interviewed me, checked all of my references, confirmed my calling, examined my theology, gave me a physical, trained me, and sent me out. The organization is considered the most effective missions sending agency in the world. Surely, they know what missions is, right? Obviously, they know how it should be done, wouldn’t you think? So when I find myself disagreeing with some of the Board’s basic missiology and methodology, you can understand why I’m assuming that the problem is with me and not the wise men and women (but mostly men) who are responsible for our operations.

My problem is one of conscience. As the concept of missions is further defined by both the organization and the Christian subculture, I continue to grow less and less comfortable with the title “missionary” and with “missions” as it is understood within the organization. If, because of certain differences, I can’t represent the Board as they would like me to, how can I, with integrity, continue to take their financial support? If the people in the pews that give sacrificially (and even the stingy ones that give way less than they could) think that they’re funding certain mission endeavors of certain people, and I, in all honesty, am not one of those people, shouldn’t I quit? This isn’t a new problem. I’ve been struggling with this since before I ever got to the field. But as time has passed, and as I’ve invested myself into ministry, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly unlike the missionary I know the IMB thinks I am.

I have sought the counsel of wise coworkers. Most of them have said something to the effect of, “Don’t worry- the Board needs people like you with a different perspective on things to take a different approach toward our work.” Others encouraged me to keep seeking God on the issue. A few (usually the seasoned veterans) gave me the “when I was your age…” routine. Maybe they’re right. Maybe this is all a phase I’ll grow out of, or some immaturity I need to grow through.

Which is why I’m posting my thoughts here. I guess it’s probably cowardly to post my opinions anonymously, but I don’t want to offend any of my friends and coworkers. Even though I tend to express myself in a way that sounds confident (hopefully never arrogant), I admit that I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I wonder whether I even have one or two answers. My intent here is to question some of the things about missions and missionaries and our fine organization that I don’t hear anyone else questioning. I won’t assume that anyone else struggles with these things, but I will hope that someone out there might share their thoughts on these things.

Discipleship vs. Evangelism

The fundamental problem with “unfinished Task” strategy is that it substitutes evangelism for the Great Commission idea of discipleship. Evangelism is not the same thing as Missions. In fact, there are many good and well-respected mission sending agencies that have built strategies and missiologies around a profound misunderstanding of the missionary task. Somewhere along the way, we mistook “reaching” people for making disciples. Disciple making requires acute cultural awareness and mature faith in Christ. In order to obediently share our faith with people of a culture different from our own, we must become experts in that culture. We must learn the language to understand the worldview, and only then will we be able to culturally translate the message of the good news. But this takes time and energy. Instead, we are content to pass out tracts and Jesus films, and remain ignorant of how culturally irrelevant we are. According to Jesus’ words in Matthew 28.18-20, our task is more than evangelization. It is to make disciples, and that requires us to abandon our human-centered strategies and walk in total dependence on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, going where He leads, in His timing.

Maybe it’s our affinity for convenience that has led us to settle for marketing-campaign dissemination of information over the long-term disciple-making relationships Jesus modeled with His disciples. But discipleship is not sharing information, public discourse, or debate. It has little to do with the materials we have available, and is not quick and easy. Discipleship is a relationship. In fact, the Good News is a relationship. The gospel itself is a relationship, and relationship is the context through which it must be shared.

Workers

Part of what we do as missionaries is “mobilization,” educating people back home about what we do in order that God might by our stories call some to the field. But in an effort to recruit more workers, many have taken to using “lostness” statistics in order to guilt the willing into overseas service. I’ve often heard about how few missionaries there are, and how many more we need in order to “complete the task.” But whose job is it to call believers to missions? Have we changed the Lord’s directive in Matthew 9:37 from “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” to “Tell the Lord we’re sending out workers?” We mustn’t forget that while “The harvest is plentiful” and “the workers are few,” we are instructed to “ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

If there is a shortage of workers on the field, it can only be for one of two reasons. 1) The sin of those who have been called but refuse to go, or 2) God is not calling the masses of missionaries we think necessary to do His will. While I’m certain there are disobedient believers out there who are ignoring God’s call to international service, it seems very like our God to “thin out the army” so that He might do with a select few what we consider only to be possible with four times as many. (It sounds vaguely similar to Gideon’s story.) I also believe that as we dare to depend on human-centered strategies, God is allowing us to fail on our own terms, in order that we might be reminded of our total dependence on Him.

Besides the number of missionaries, we might also need to abandon our expectations for how God might use His workers. Another major problem we’re facing, according to my colleagues, is that while the number of “short-term” workers continues to climb, relatively few are signing on for career service. But such a shift in the modes of service reflects a generational change. Just a few years ago, the model for missions was a married couple and their five children moving to Zimbabwe and living in a mud hut until retirement or death, whichever came first. But today, the greater part of the world’s population lives in an urban setting, and a career for this generation of young professionals may only last five years. Young people today are a date book people rather than a checkbook people. They will sooner give a few years of their lives in service than give a few hundred dollars to a faceless corporation that has little accountability as to how it spends that money. We should not see this change as a threat, but as a new way of doing our work, allowing our strategy to be dictated by God’s calling on individual lives.

Index

I Wish You Knew

Thank You

How Do You Know?

Vietnamese Takeout

Jesus, the… Liberal?

The Perfect Team

The “Saviors”

Lifers

The Professionals

Some of Us Shouldn’t Be Here

Losing My Accent

Personality

The Evils of Modernism?

Adapt, Adopt, Reject

Be True To Your School

Entrance Strategy

A Package Deal

Just Asking

Degrees of Seperation (From Jesus)

It’s My Job

Full Time

Babble On

For My Modern Brethren

First Person Plural

I’d Like to Make a Toast

Postmodern Predestined

Spirit-ectomy

You Know What Your Problem Is?

PG People in an R-rated World

Emerging

Church in a Box

Front Burner

Back Burner

Thoughts on Authority

Why I Don’t Like the Board’s New Policies

Fallout?

IMB Policy Clarification

Strategic Planning

The Task

“All Nations”

“God’s Heart for the Nations”

What’s It Gonna Take?

Workers

Calling

Whatever Happened to “Experiencing God?”

Discipleship vs. Evangelism

More than Words

The Culture Barrier

Passion

Obedience as Strategy

Missions Trips

Are You Saved?

Seeker Sensitive

What Is the Gospel?

True Religion?

Financing the Machine

Missions Misunderstood

Thoughts on Scripture:

Matthew 28

Matthew 24

Luke 10

Missiology Quotes:

Missiology