Gospel Shipping and Handling

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When I was a kid, TV and mail-order ads offered an option for C.O.D.– Collection (or “Cash”) on Delivery. In the past, one had to send in a check (or money order), and then wait for the product to be shipped. C.O.D. allowed the customer to call his order in, have it shipped without delay, and then pay for it upon receipt.

The Collection on Delivery option faded away years ago, mostly due to the widespread use of the credit card. Of course, companies had been losing lots of money in shipping to customers who, by the time the product arrived at their doorstep, either didn’t have the money or had changed their minds about the purchase altogether. The worst part of the C.O.D. was that it made mail carriers and delivery workers into collection agencies– something they weren’t designed to do.

The cost to follow Jesus is nothing less than everything. He makes this clear in Mark 8:34-35: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” But while Jesus requires everything of His followers, Paul clearly saw to it that as insofar as it depended on him, the message of the gospel should be free for all to hear: “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.”

Are you charging people to hear the gospel?

By requiring people to enter your space, join your culture, translate your language, and overlook your hypocrisies in order to hear about the Savior, you’re charging them. Every cultural barrier is a C.O.D. for the recipient. A growing number of people know nothing about the contents of the message, but reject it for the cost of hearing it. Learning the language of the Christian subculture, opening their children up to indoctrination, sitting through hour-long sermons, identifying with hate-filled religious extremists. The price is too high.

It is the role of the missionary to reduce the cost to free.

Of course, once they taste and see that the Lord is good, people willingly exchange their lives for His righteousness. The transaction becomes a no-brainer; the cost seems like a steal. Our job is to lower the cost, to actively minimize the differences between us (followers of Jesus) and them (those who do not believe).  Our role is to “pay the shipping” of gospel proclamation by translating the gospel into every tribe, language, subculture, and social enclave. We do this by making ourselves all things to all men that by all possible means we might save some. We do this by deliberately moving into redemptive relationships with those who don’t know Jesus.

You are a letter. Live sent.

Christianity Out Of Context

Regarding the Upstream Collective’s Jet Set Vision Trip:

For some of the participants, this trip to Europe is their first experience of Christianity in context.

You see, though they apply to all peoples of all times, the words of Jesus were given to particular people in a particular time. He spoke in such a way that His listeners immediately understood that what He was saying was radically upside-down from what the world had been saying.

The American church, however, lives in a world that is completely opposite of that in which Jesus taught. It’s no wonder, then, that believers in the U.S. have such a difficult time applying Jesus’ words.

When Jesus spoke about war and kingdom, his audience was surrounded by an occupying army. In America, we are the occupying army.

When Jesus advocated the payment of taxes, it meant supporting a government that was hostile to His listeners’ way of life. We, however, enjoy freedom, tax exemption, and government influence.

The promise of a Comforter is a tremendous source of hope– assuming you know and understand discomfort. Many Americans have never been truly uncomfortable in their lives.

Jesus declared that His followers were “not of this world.” Peter reminded the early church that they were “strangers and exiles.” Many American Christians have never even left their home towns.

It’s harder to make sense of Christianity when “we” are in the majority. When the norm is to go to church and “love” your neighbor, Jesus’ words seem, well, normal. We get caught up in the material, the temporal, and the cultural. We build buildings, fight for our “rights” as Christians, and become indistinguishable from the rest of society.

Throughout time, Christ-followers have tried to remedy this sort of contextual incongruity by artificially re-creating the hardships of the first Christians. That’s why monks take vows (of poverty, celibacy, and silence), and cult-members whip themselves; they’re trying to better understand Jesus. And they’re misguided religious legalists. But originally, the Jesus understanding part.

A poster platered on a wall in Prague

Prague is the epitome of the post-Christian urban center. Empty cathedrals, celebrated pluralism, enforced relativism. The previous generation’s false gospel has been rejected in favor of the idols of progress, materialism, unity, and self-expression. Evidence everywhere of humanistic enlightenment and little to no gospel witness to speak hope into the city.

We’ve long talked about how a look at the European worldview is a glimpse into the future of America. This has become even more clear in recent years. Some have lamented the cultural shift in America away from its Judeo-Christian roots. Others have gone to great lengths to create artificial “kingdoms,” rules, and drama in their attempts to relate to Jesus (also misguided religious legalists). As it turns out, the bad news is actually the good news. Finally, Christians are finding themselves “right-side-up” in American culture. We’re starting to have to operate as the outsiders that we were always meant to be.

I believe that Christians, just in order to actually be Christians, must pursue life in the margins, where we’re the minority. Where we suffer persecution, opposition, and intolerance. Where we don’t have money, influence, and privilege. This is the mission field.

For some of the leaders on the vision trip, this is their first time out of the country. But even more importantly, this is their first step out of Christendom and into the context that we as Christians were meant to live.

I Hope You’re Paying Attention

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While I’m on the subject of the Upstream Collective’s Jet Set Vision Trip to Prague an Budapest, I’d like to point something out: this is not more of the same. This trip is different.

I’ve already heard from a few workers on the field about the trip. As I mentioned in my last post, many are (justifiably) skeptical. A “Vision Trip?” they ask, “isn’t that just pandering to their consumerism? Aren’t you just bringing them over here to shop for their next mission trip?”

In short, my missionary friends, no. This trip is different.

Firstly, this is not a group of self-important, prima donna pastors on a promotional tour/vacation to Central Europe. The leaders on this trip are missional thinkers who are genuinely interested in leading their churches to be on mission abroad. I know many of you have put lots of time and effort into trying to “mobilize” churches to your field and work among your people group, but these leaders don’t need to be convinced of the importance of mission, or of their churches’ role at the center of it.

Secondly, when it comes to engaging unbelieving people with the gospel, they understand the need for incarnational, culturally-appropriate approaches. These guys aren’t going to come in with their “tried-and-true” methods and look for somewhere to implement them. You won’t get mimes in the mall or puppet shows in the park with these churches (unless that’s what God tells them to do!). They recognize that field workers have invaluable experience, cultural insight, and devotion. They don’t presume to know the best way to do ministry in your context. They’re here to learn.

Thirdly, these are leaders who take seriously their responsibility to lead their churches on mission. They’re not looking for opportunities that would most benefit their people, but they are looking for the Spirit’s guidance on their overseas involvement. The trip is not about shopping around for a partnership with the coolest missionary they can find, and they’re not impressed by all the insider jargon. They are truly looking for where God is working, and how their churches might fit in to that. A Jet Set vision trip isn’t a conversation between pastors and missionaries. It’s a conversation between God and their churches. Try not to get in the way.

Because the leaders on the vision trip are different from the usual missions tourists, they must be treated differently.

 

They want to part of a big-boy conversation. These are practitioners, not newbies. They want to talk about missiology, strategy, and methodology. They don’t need you to baby-sit them, and they know when they’re being “prayerwalked” because you don’t know what else to do with them. When they ask why you do or don’t do things a certain way, they’re not questioning your competence. They’re looking for a dialogue. (In case you’re not aware of this, dialogue is big among the missional set.) They will consider what their churches might have to offer in a given situation. These are not “volunteers,” they are partners and peers on God’s global mission.

That said, they will evaluate the ministries they encounter through the lens of scripture. As pastors and leaders, it’s their job to ask whether what we’re doing is God’s best. Missionary, if you can’t handle a bit of scrutiny, you need to check your pride. This is true accountability, and it’s a good thing. Would that all missionaries on the field had a high level of direct church supervision.

Finally, the Jet Set Vision Trips are not about the cities they visit. Those places are just the background, the classroom, for an intensive missiological discussion. The trip participants aren’t there to learn about how you’re being a missionary, they’re learning about how their churches can be missionaries. Practitioners like Michael Frost, Ed Stezer, and Daniel Montgomery are gifted communicators and vision-casters (and frankly, better than most of you at relating to, challenging, and inspiring these church leaders). Their participation in the trips keeps things from being about any one particular city, people group, or setting.

So the good news is that there are churches who “get it.” And not just a few. You just didn’t know about them because they’re not coming through your channels and programs. The bad news is that if you want to partner with these churches, you’re going to have to adjust the way you view their participation.

Missionaries, I hope you’re paying attention. These churches are the future of mission, and that is very good news indeed.

Something to Prove

Jet Set Picture

So the Upstream Collective is leading another of its Jet Set Vision Trips, this time to Prague and Budapest. I encourage you to follow along over at the Upstream blog, and on Twitter under #js2011.

Vision Trip, or Missions Tourism?

But I want to mention something that the trip leaders aren’t likely to. Something that most field workers would like to say, if they weren’t worried about offending churches or losing partnerships or support:

Churches, you’ve got something to prove. And no pressure, but this might be your last chance.

See, missionaries on the field are skeptical of your supposed interest in the work. And not without reason.

Nevermind the Great Commission. It takes a celebrity to get you to come to the field. You’ve been ignoring the Holy Spirit’s guidance for years, but when Ed Stetzer or Michael Frost come calling, you’re all in. And what happens when the next trip is to Tokyo? You forget all about Prague, Budapest, and the missionaries you met there.

Which brings me to another point: Rome? Marseille? Barcelona? London? Paris? It’s not hard to find pastors who would be willing to sit around in coffee shops in these European cities. Try Bangkok or Mumbai– those cities will get you out of your comfort zones. If the goal is to challenge the way you see church, God, and mission, these are the cities you need to visit.

Let’s be honest, there have been some complaints about the attitudes of past Jet Set Trips toward the missionaries who hosted you. Kind of a know-it-all condescension. No doubt this comes from your “success” in planting and leading churches in the United States. But surely you recognize that “what works” back home doesn’t necessarily “work” in other contexts. Even if your methods did actually work here, the truth is that we really don’t want to import a spectator, resource-intensive, attractional American megachurch model. Setting up franchises is not our goal.

Missionaries around the world are watching these vision trips, looking on with curiosity and cynicism. They hear you say that you want to be actively involved in all aspects of the mission, from selection to training to strategy. But no matter what you say, those missionaries don’t believe you. The truth is that they haven’t actually seen churches doing those things (at least not very well, anyway). So forgive them if they’re a little jaded, but they’ve heard all this before. Now, they’re just looking for reasons to write you off.

So you see, dear pastor and church leader, you’ve got something to prove. You say you’re serious about God’s global mission, but we want to see it. We want to see you lead your churches to think and act like missionaries, so that when you do come to the field, you come as peers– partners on mission– rather than as consumers, shopping for the next big thing.

Everyone’s heard all about your “missional” approaches to ministry. About how you’re concerned with incarnation and contextualization. But it’s time to put up or shut up. If you’re truly serious about your role as sending and being sent, let’s see it. We want to hear you asking the difficult questions. Let’s have some informed discussion about world events. Let’s consider together how we might engage people in redemptive relationships and proclaim the gospel to all.

You want to be on mission? Prove it.

It’s All In How We Fight

It’s a classic storytelling device– even in times of war, there’s a line the good guy won’t cross. Bad guys will construct an elaborate tank that will slowly fill with water and drown the hero; when he finally breaks free of the trap, the hero hands the villain over to the authorities rather than sticking him in the death machine. There are some things a good guy just doesn’t do.

That’s why the world was outraged by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq; the U.S. had subjected its prisoners to horrors only perpetrated by bad guys. How you fight tells a lot about your character.

So it’s ironic, then, that followers of Jesus can be some of the worst fighters of all. Observe any online discussion or theological debate among believers and you’ll see a race to the extremes: moral outrage, demonization of the opposing side, slander, lies. We’re often the first to cross the lines between civil discourse and outright verbal abuse.

How we fight says a lot about our God. To a world that’s watching our ongoing wars of words, God is a manipulative, back-stabbing liar who deliberately takes people’s words out of context and compares everyone to Hitler. When those who call themselves God’s people are so quick to reach for the verbal nuke button, it makes sense that others might see Him as less than gracious.

I’m not saying we should agree with everyone, or that there’s nothing worth fighting for. It’s a simple question of tactics for disagreement: what is the line we’re not willing to cross (even if it means losing an argument, or looking weak) in order that people might see Jesus in us?

A Shocking, Scandalous Message

Joel Osteen was recently a guest on CNN’s Larry King Live Piers Morgan Tonight, where he was asked about his stance on homosexuality (clip here, entire segment here). Joel answered, in a round-about way, that he agrees with the Bible, and that the Bible was clear about homosexuality being “a sin.”

Outrage ensued. Joel was labeled “judgmental” and rebuked for “imposing his beliefs on others.” It was as if the audience had never heard a follower of Jesus communicate the belief that homosexuality is less than God’s best for humanity. Even couched in Osteen’s obliviously earnest grin, the Christian perspective on a social issue is foreign to the masses.

The truth is, it’s quite possible that millions of Americans have never heard that God has a different plan for humanity. They may never have heard a Biblical understanding of sin. Despite access to the Bible online, a church on every corner, and evangelists on TV, a great many people have never heard the gospel.

It would shock them that entry into heaven isn’t based on how good or bad we are. That God has interacted with humanity personally since the beginning of time. That Christianity isn’t about living like Jesus, it’s about dying to our sin-filled selves. The sad fact is that millions of people around us have never heard the gospel presented to them in an intelligible, coherent, and personal way.

The gospel is a shocking, scandalous message. We can never find redemption apart from Jesus. It’s offensive, really. Unfortunately, most people are not offended by the gospel because they don’t hear it.

Ask A Missionary

It’s time for another installment of the Communication, Misunderstood tour, where I offer completely unsolicited advice to missions organizations about their communication strategies.

I first stumbled upon the Ask A Missionary site while I was researching, well, questions people ask of missionaries. I was curious if anyone had compiled a sort of “frequently asked questions” for missionaries. It turns out, they have.

According to the site, Ask A Missionary was started by missions mobilizer John McVay in 1998. The site was assumed by Missions Data International (M-DAT) in 2009. Though it has a section for questions about short-term mission trips, Ask A Missionary is geared toward those who are considering long-term service. It’s basically a Yahoo Answers for long-term missions (with the answers being provided by missionaries rather than teenage girls.) The concept is pretty straightforward– users can submit questions about missions, and missionaries provide answers.

First, the good: the site is a brilliant way to make missionaries accessible to everyone. Many believers truly have no connection to a real live missionary, and the site makes it possible for people to ask very specific questions (like “I am a meteorology major and I want to serve overseas. Is there any way I could use this degree in missions?” and “How does a male, non-medical spouse fit in who raises the children? My wife is a healthcare professional and we want to serve overseas long term.”). Nothing about being a steampunk Civil War reenactor wanting to become a missionary blacksmith in Viet Nam. Yet.

The site is well-designed and easy to use. The “Ask,” “Answer,” and “Search” sections are clearly marked. Posting a question is easy (you’ll have to guess which one is mine), and it’s easy to peruse answers already given. Twitter and Facebook, integration are everywhere, and the site includes some resources for those who are ready for next steps.

There are other “Ask a missionary”-type sites, such as Urbana.org‘s  Ask Jack. But these sites use more of an “ask the expert” format, where “Ask A Missionary” seems to allow pretty much anyone who claims to be a missionary and doesn’t use foul language to post an answer. That said, I’m pretty sure answers are screened and edited before they can be seen by the public. I won’t tell you what research may have led to that conclusion.

And that’s the problem with Ask A Missionary; something about the answers on the site seems too, well, nice. In response to the question, “How can I prepare for missions when others try to discourage me?”, missionaries to Colombia and New Zealand answered with encouraging notes about having patience and self-esteem. If I were to write for the site, my answer would be more like: “Take the hint! Maybe the reason people are trying to dissuade you from going is that you’d make a terrible missionary. The last thing we need on the field are more uninteresting Lifers with no social skills.” But maybe that’s just me.

Ask A Missionary doesn’t feature many photos, but the few it does use are some of the most sterile and generic I’ve seen. I’m not sure what it is about missionaries and stock business photos, but surely an open, wiki-style site could solicit a few photos from the field. A video answer would add some visual interest, as would some photos from the field or profiles of question-askers.

Also, because answers are provided by a variety of “missionaries” from different perspectives and approaches to ministry, the site lacks a consistent voice, tone, and mood. The result is a collection of answers that lack a certain credibility or honesty that make other “expert” sites so appealing. The reason USA Today’s “Ask The Captain” works so well is that users can get to know Captain John Cox by reading the column. This builds expectations for the answers, just like call-in radio advice shows like Dr. Laura‘s or Dave Ramsey‘s. Ask A Missionary doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that sort of personalization, and suffers because of it.

Furthermore, it’s clear that some missionary responders on the site are mobilization specialists and agency recruiters. This means that their participation on the site is primarily PR. Though most of them have previous missions experience, they’re expanding the online presence of the organizations they represent. (By the way, if you are an organizational representative, you really should take advantage of Ask A Missionary as a platform and weigh in with answers to at least a couple of the questions posed there.)

If I were going to develop Ask A Missionary’s communications strategy, I would build a bullpen of several missionaries that each have some specialty. I’d then develop their personalities on the site and have them tell more of their stories as they answer questions. This would help build credibility and establish a more personal connection between “askers” and “answerers.”

In an attempt to be a bit more proactive, I’d add a section of “Questions Users Don’t Ask, But Should,” where missionaries ponder questions they wish they’d asked or known to ask.

I would approach multiple major missions sending organizations and ask them for money in exchange for links and representation on the site. When a candidate for missionary service has a question about missionary service, they go to Ask A Missionary to get quick answers from an “actual” missionary. Most organizations have layers of bureaucracy to go through; it can take several hand-offs before a curious person is connected to someone who might be able to answer their questions.

Finally, I’d have the site include commentary and questions about missionary service that are being asked on other websites. In other words, scour the internet for questions that are being asked, and address them as though they were being asked on Ask A Missionary. Then link to the original post and interact with the answers that were given. For example:

“Over on Missions Misunderstood, a commenter recently asked about the viability of business as mission in the Middle East. Our business as mission specialist, John Smith, had this to say about it…” Ideally, Ask A Missionary could then comment on E.Goodman’s answer to the original question: “Goodman advised the commenter to look into opening a Subway franchise. This is a terrible idea, because Subway sells bacon….”

You get the idea.

Though Ask A Missionary didn’t ask me, those are my two cents about their communications strategy. To M-DAT, Ask A Missionary, and all the contributors to the site, I thank you for offering such a valuable service to the church.

If there’s an organization you’d like suggest for my next Communications, Misunderstood post, please leave a comment.

Where You Live Matters

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“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” –Acts 16:6-8

Here we read about the kind of connection we need in order to walk in obedience. Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect only missionaries, and not regular Christ-followers, to be so in tune with the Spirit. Most Christians in the west would not fit into the story:

“Rob and Kristine left Phoenix for the Portland area because of Rob’s job transfer. Wanting to feel safe and comfortable, they were drawn to the suburbs. Because Gresham schools were notoriously bad, they moved to Beaverton, and a neighborhood where they got a great deal on a great house.”

For some reason, Christians often use the world’s criteria to make decisions about where to live. The familiar list (cost, square footage, neighborhood, good schools, low crime, return on investment, etc.) is heavily informed by the American Dream and sometimes in conflict with Kingdom values. When we adopt the world’s values, following Jesus is entirely accidental.

That’s not to say that God doesn’t direct His people to move into safe, quiet neighborhoods; He does. I’m also not trying to over-spiritualize the decision-making process. Paul seemed determined to go “where the gospel had not been proclaimed,” and it took supernatural intervention to change his plans.

When believers are faced with a decision about where to live, we need to add a few things to the list of values that go into our decision making process. Three come to mind:

Be a Blessing- Since the first covenant, God’s people are blessed in order that they may be a blessing to others. As we decide where to plant our lives, we need to ask, “Where can I be a blessing?” The truth is, we’re all exiles. Our citizenship is not of this world. Jeremiah 29:7 tells exiles to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” where we live.

Community- The world’s values push us toward isolation. It takes some intentionality to insure contact with neighbors, but our commission is to make disciples, and discipleship is a relationship. Where we live can either help or hinder our efforts to get to know people and build community.

Incarnation- Christ is our model of incarnation. Our role- our very purpose on this earth, is to be meatspace representatives of Jesus. It’s not about showing non-believers how it looks for us to follow Christ; our role as sent-out ones is to model what it would be like for our neighbors if they were to have a relationship with Him. This almost always requires us to give up some of our preferences in order to minimize the differences between us and people in our communities.

If we add these Kingdom values to our decision-making process, they may replace some of the other things on the list. We may end up in a small apartment rather than a big house. We may not get the biggest “bang for our buck.” We may have to tutor our kids to supplement their educations. We may have to learn a new language, develop new habits, or enter a new culture, but isn’t that what missionaries do?

Let’s be mindful of what goes into our decisions about where we live.

The Edges of Contextualization

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Sharing a hookah. Smoking a peace pipe. Drinking to a toast. Dressing in ceremonial robes.

Missionaries constantly face the edges of contextualization. Incarnation requires that she constantly ask herself: “What should I do to minimize the difference between myself and those to whom I want to minister?” Every cultural difference hinders the communication of the message, and serves to emphasize the “foreign-ness” of the faith.

Of course, contextualization means looking for ways to say and to show, “I’m like you, but different.” I’m like you— in that I’m human, sinful, and in need of a savior, but I’m different— in that I’m in Christ and therefore have purpose, hope, peace, and salvation.

Some cultural adaptations may not be the most comfortable, but are expected for the missionary. These are rarely controversial. Most missionaries eat local food (in public, anyway), learn local language, follow social norms. In Europe, they greet with a kiss (or two, or three).  Western believers living in the Middle East often wear a burqa or head covering. In Asia, they avoid open conflict, show respect, and eat with chopsticks. These things say, “I want to join your culture.”

Other customs are avoided by most missionaries because participating in them would only validate the lies, idolatry, and sin within the culture. Missionaries do not participate in ancestor worship, sexual rituals, or pagan ceremonies. (Neither should they ride those little scooters through the dangerous streets of Bangkok, but that has more to do with sanity than contextualization.) Doing these things would undermine the vital differences between life in Christ and life apart from Him. Conspicuously abstaining shows what redemption within culture would look like.

Which brings us back to the edge.

The Bible isn’t silent about these “edge” issues. In  1 Corinthians 8, Paul teaches the church about the contextualization problem of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. Though idols have no real power, he says, we should not eat food that has been offered to idols if it would cause someone else to think that by eating the food we were somehow honoring those idols.

The principle is the same for other “edge” practices that we may not have any particular conviction about. Though you have every “right” to kiss your wife in public, don’t do it if that’s considered sinful in your context.We can see pretty clearly that contextualization of the gospel is likely to require us to deny ourselves of some things that we otherwise would be free to do.

But contextualization works both ways. It sometimes (often?) requires us to do some things that we may not otherwise do. Some of those things, like eating rotten cabbage or growing a beard are simply matters of taste. Others, however, aren’t so cut-and-dried. Should a follower of Jesus prostrate himself alongside Tibetans? Bow toward the East during the call to prayer ? Pay a bribe? Does it matter how these things are interpreted by local society?

And this is where things get sticky: when someone presumes to know the cultural meanings and spiritual implications of particular actions in a context they know nothing about. The truth is, finding the edges of contextualization is a difficult, energy-intensive endeavor. It can be fun, scary, and dangerous. Some people do, in fact, fall over the edge of contextualization, and this is very unfortunate. But being a missionary is a dangerous thing. Jesus likened it to being lambs sent to the slaughterhouse.

Hypermissiologicalism

I’ve been watching an interesting, if asymmetric, discussion on Ed Stetzer’s blog about MissionShift, the book he co-edited with David Hesselgrave.

Participants were given copies of the book and asked to post their thoughts on their own blogs and discuss them in the comments section of Ed’s post. We started by reading the first section of the book, written by Chuck Van Engen, and the accompanying response essays written by various missiologists and theologians.

The book itself is a thoughtful discussion of mission past, present, and future. It begins with an exploration of the definition(s) of mission. Though it seems like a simple thing to do, defining the mission has proven very difficult for evangelicals to do; interpretations of “therefore go” have ranged from social justice work with no gospel proclamation to open-air evangelism with no contextualization to baptized syncretism with no transformation.

Some reject the idea of missions. Others carry on under a new title (Van Engen refers to a church that replaced its “missions” program with “global outreach”). Others still hold tightly to the word, but apply it to everything from feeding the homeless to cleaning up the local schools.

What’s a missionary to do?

Part of the problem in defining the mission is that we’ve elevated it to something that is, for most of the church, (and, ironically, for most missionaries,) out of reach. As an academic discipline, missiology sits somewhere between theology, sociology, anthropology, and communications theory.  The words we use to talk about our motivations and methods in mission can be pretty intimidating. The result is a church that has a fuzzy picture of what missions is or else doesn’t talk about it at all.

For some time now, more culturally-aware churches in the U.S. have been talking about being “missional.” This conversation has, for the most part, happened without any meaningful input from practicing missionaries on the field. The missional church has therefore been left to learn the hard way, missiological missteps and all.

It’s time for a more accessible missiology. It’s time to stop using lofty words that prove we know more than everyone else and start wrestling with what God is currently doing around the world and how that fits into our understanding of the scriptural mandate to “go unto all nations.”

I’m thankful for Ed Stetzer (don’t tell him- it’ll go to his head) and what he’s doing to further the conversation by bridging the gap between academic and armchair missiologists. I’m proud of all the missionaries who are mindful to share lessons from the field with the people in the pews.

You don’t have to be a scholar to talk about God’s global purposes or how you fit into it all.