Saturday, May 30, 2009

This Week in the Mission Blogosphere

Church planting, economy, and methods. These three, in strange ways, seemed to characterize this week in the Mission Blogosphere. If we are satisfied with how church planting is going, then no need to consider stirrings this week. If not, it would do us well to listen in.
  1. Southern Baptist Convention Worries- The SBC has recently made known its economic concerns. Last year the Convention sent 1,088 new missionaries to the foreign field. This year that number will be "significantly smaller." It isn't that there aren't people that feel called to go. It's just that there is no money to send them. Amidst this has come questions of funding misallocation (with only 2.5% of SBC offerings goint to international missions). Several solutions have been offered. New short and intermediate term mission endeavors are already on hold. There's a push to change the Cooperative formula to a heavier emphasis on foreign church planting, decreasing support for US works. There is also debate ensuing concerning a proposed reorginization of the Convention, due to an alleged bloated and bureucratic denominational structure. So this is what is happening at the SBC. The economy is affecting us too though, isn't it (nod your head)? There are some serious impending missionary support problems in the Independent Baptist systems as well. What steps need to be taken?
  2. The 'Home' Church Movement - A question was proposed to Bro. Cloud regarding the 'home' church movement. His response is worth reading. The house church movement in the US is often (though not always) motivated by an unwillingness to submit to any pastoral authority. As far as this is true, it is wicked. Here are my own thoughts: intentionally planting house churches (even in the US) is not wrong in itself. In fact, it may be right. It may do us good to foster the idea that the church is not a building, but people. Further, being (biblically) content with meeting in houses may be the only way that we can keep up with population growth in certain metro areas. We must envision more than the planting of some churches. Our vision must be for a church planting movement if we ever hope to 'keep up'. Is setting the goal of many reproducing house churches in an area a possible solution for these times?
  3. Why Church Planting Movements Don't Happen in Christianized Lands - One missionary blog tried to answer this in a recent post. The 3 reasons given were: lack of obedience to the Word (especially concerning Jesus' commanded church planting methods), traditional ways of doing church (just watching the main man on Sunday), and a lack of willingness to suffer and sacrifice. True? Largely, yes. While I don't approve of all of the solutions he offers, the question and the reasons deserve our careful attention. Church planting is happening, but why no movements?

Let's 'fess up.

We could do much better here and abroad. Economic and other conditions are eventually going to force us to make difficult decisions. But there is no need letting them slow expansion. How will we respond? I believe that I have the solutions. No, they didn't originate with me. They have been around for ages.

  1. Trust God

  2. Return to a less complicated, more biblical 1st century model of church planting, including contenting ourselves whith reproducing house churches led by indigenous pastors.

Cost effectiveness. Faith. Yes, I think so. What do you think?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Resource: FirstBible International

Dedicated Mission resources are rarely provided by Independent Fundamental Baptists. Instead, an IFB must wade through faulty views of the church, missions, and Scripture to benefit from the available resources. There are several reasons why this is our situation, but it ought not to be so.

Thankfully, I can report at least one IFB local church-based organization that is attempting to reverse this dilemma. It is FirstBible International.

Charles Keen is the former pastor of 1st Baptist Church of Milford, OH and co-founder of Bearing Precious Seed, a Scripture printing ministry. His growing vision for the unreached combined with his background in Scripture printing eventually birthed FirstBible International, a ministry of Franklin Road Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN

FirstBible exists to promote the training of nationals and church planting among unreached people groups by translating the Bible into their languages. This is an impressive endeavor for IFB's, as anyone with a knowledge of Bible translation history knows. While I differ with a few of their teachings (e.g. - the idea of 'closure', and of diversity of the saved taking priority over numbers saved in the Mission of God and the churches), I am in hearty agreement with the bulk of what they teach and do.

There are several resources provided by FirstBible that I would like to draw your attention to.
  1. The Unpublished Word Journal - "A quarterly publication designed to inform, inspire and revive the church for missions." The journal is only printed in bulk for churches and colleges. However, any individual can view it for free online in pdf format. This is a great resource for Mission minded IFB's (as I hope all are). I would recommend starting with the journal on unreached people groups.
  2. Videos - On their multimedia page I would recommend watching all three videos. "What is First Bible" and "Emergency" are short videos that give a 'feel' for their ministry and the state of the Gospel in the world. "The Mongolia Project" is a 30 min video which provides a 'close-up' of what FirstBible does.
  3. Resource Page - This page has a good number of valuable downloadable resources. There are a few that I would especially suggest you take a look at:
  • Missionary Statistics - This is a large table representing where various Independent Baptist mission agencies had missionaries in 2004 (does not include workers not affiliated with any agency). Not all of the agencies are TR-Only. Some also accept a Universal Church view, though usually having a very local church philosophy of missions. Take special notice of page 2 and of the last column of the tables which indicates how many millions of people a nation had for every Independent Baptist missionary. The situation in some of the most unreached nations has only gotten worse since 2004.
  • Missionary or World Christian - This is a thought-provoking, and perhaps convicting, comparison between missionaries and world Christians (all of us are supposed to be at least one of them).
I hope that you will utilize this Independent Fundamental Baptist Mission resource, because they are scarce. Learn of missions to unreached people groups, of Bible translation, and of becoming a World Christian. Get involved in the Mission!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Your Debt to Pay

Perhaps more than any other missionary, Paul was driven to preach the Gospel to those peoples who had never heard (today called unreached people groups). He said:
He wished "To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you (the Corinthians), and not to boast in another man's line of things made ready to our hand." (2 Cor 10:16)

"Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation: But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand." (Rom 15:20-21)

His passion and call were to take the Gospel to the "uttermost part," to the "regions beyond," to "all nations." Sacrifice, suffering, and death weren't too high a cost for him.

One of the motivations that took Paul to extremes for the sake of those who had never heard was his debt.
"I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also." Romans 1:14-15
He isn't speaking here of a debt to God, Who had done so much for him. He was concerned about his debt to those who had no access to the Gospel. But how could he be in debt to those whom he had never even met?
  • The Gift Exchange - Bob has a gift for Mary. Bob gives me the gift to give to Mary. Whose gift is it? Not mine, but Mary's. Until I give it to her, I owe it to her. I am her debtor. Likewise, Paul was a debtor to those who had never heard because Paul had receive the Gospel from God to be given to the world (Rom 1:5, 1 Tim 1:11-14). Until they received what God had given to them, Paul was their debtor.
  • Moral Obligation - Jim has found 'the' cure for cancer. There are millions of people with cancer, with perhaps thousands dying of it every day. Would he be wrong to withhold it from the world? Absolutely. He has a debt to pay to them now. He is morally obligated. We see this in Scripture as well. Did not all the men have a debt of love to pay to the half dead man? But only the good Samaritan paid his debt. So Paul had a debt, for he had the power of God unto salvation, and there were millions who had no access to it.
Paul's possession of the Gospel, combined with the presence of those who had never heard, made him a debtor. The equation looks like this:
The Gospel + The Lost = Debt
In Paul's day there were more than 300 million human beings in the world. Few of them had access to the Gospel (though that was rapidly changing). The presence of these people and his possession of the Gospel drove him toward the 'ends of the earth.'

Our debt is created by the same formula. But think of this. While there were over 300 million people in Paul's day, there are over 6 billion now. 1-2 billion (with a 'B') of these are members of unreached people groups, with little or no access to the Gospel.

Also think of this. Paul had the Gospel. But we have the Gospel in a way that he did not. We can hand the completed revelation of God to an unreached man (though it may need translated yet). We have travel and communication abilities that Paul couldn't use to get the Gospel out. So, what if the equation for us looks more like this:
More Gospel + More Lost = More Debt
Here's a riddle: what do a Mathili man in North India, a Baharlu woman in Iran, and a certain American lady in your neighborhood have in common? None of them have heard an adequate presentation of the Gospel.

What else do they have in common? I am their debtor. Until they are reached, my debt remains, and the glory of God in the nations is at stake.

In response to his debt, Paul said, "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel" (Rom 1:15a). His debt equation drove him to go and suffer and die joyfully. What does your debt equation do to you?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Purpose of the Mission of God

Our motivation for doing things deeply affects the way we do them, and the passion with which we do them. This is no less true for missions. Why do we go? Why do we give? Why do we stretch ourselves so? Why do some of us do little, or nothing?

Like with the first major question on this blog, my answer to these questions have changed over the past few years. The impression that I always received through preaching and teaching was that the primary motivating factor behind the Mission was that most of the world was lost and hell-bound. This is certainly a major motivating factor, but I am convinced it should not be our primary motivating factor.

There are many reasons that we sometimes get involved in the Mission, some biblical, some not. We get involved because we have compassion for people (Jude 22). Sometimes a feeling of debt may prompt our involvement as it did Paul (Rom 1:14-15). Perhaps pride sometimes motivates us to convince others of the truth of the Gospel (just to prove we are right). A sense of adventure has often been an underlying motivation for missionaries going to 'frontier' lands.

While there are many legitimate motivations for missions (like the first two above), let me suggest that they are not to be our primary motivations. Above all else, we go "for his name" (Rom 1:5).

Bible believers have long recognized that the end of all things is the glory and pleasure of God. Broadly, to glorify God is to draw attention to God as He has revealed Himself to be; to lift up His Worthy Name in worship and praise (and to get others to do it). Everything in existence and every action is to have that end.
  • All things were created by Him and for Him (Rom 11:36; Col 1:16).
  • He calls people and acts in history for His Name's sake (Ex 9:16, 14:4; Isa 63:14, etc.)
  • "The praise of his glory" is the end of all aspects of salvation (Eph 1:6, 12, 14).
It is easy to tell what His goal is for human history by looking at how things turn out in the end. In the end, all of the redeemed, yea all of creation, are worshipping the Lord with an intensity never before witnessed (Rev 4:8-11; 5:8-14, 7:9-12). This is the glory He seeks and deserves. This is the end of all things. This is the end of missions.

Paul was driven by his debt and by compassion. But what drove Him the most (just look at his references to the glory of God in his letters), what drives God the most, and what should drive us the most is the glory of God among the nations. "For His Name" we go forth.

What does this do for our passion and willingness to sacrifice? I hope it increases them. It is one thing to sacrifice when only the good of man is at stake. It is another thing altogether to sacrifice when the glory of God is at stake. As Charles Keen has written, we must realize that the winner or loser in missions is not primarily man (though he loses much). The primary winner or loser in missions is God. Though He is certain to 'win' in the end, it is our responsibility to let Him use us in His Mission to see His Name glorified among all peoples of the earth.

The Mission of God is to get glory to Himself by redeeming to Himself a people out of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation who will worship Him in loving obedience throughout eternity.

It is His Mission. The churches are His tools. It is our Saviour God's glory at stake. What motivates us? Are you motivated enough?

It will change the dynamics of your involvement in His Mission if you will grasp what it is all about. For "He is worthy of our children. He is worthy of our dollars. He is worthy of our suffering." (Keen)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Urgent Need: Fundamental Baptist Missiologists

Think of all the church planting work being done by IFB's today. Now, think of the church planting ministry of the apostle Paul. Think of how quickly he moved from place to place, leaving behind autonomous local churches. Be honest. Do you sense a discrepancy between our methods and results, and his? I know I do. Is anything being done to bring us back to a Pauline model so that we can get more Pauline results? With just a few exceptions, I would have to say with sadness, "No."

How can this be realized? There are several things that need to be in place.
  1. Confession - Even saved sinners are prone to wonder from biblical principles. "Prone to wonder," don't you feel it? We are prone to form our own traditions and follow them as if they were Bible. This is just as true for our missionary methods as it is for which side of the church the organ should go on.
  2. Re-Evaluation - Confessing our bent, we turn to the Bible. Our beliefs, passions, strategies, and methods are re-evaluated in the light of Scripture.
  3. Repentance - Next, we flee from our traditions and embrace Scriptural principles, by faith.
  4. Repeat Continuously - Doing this once is not sufficient. Remember #1? It is necessary to continuously re-evaluate how we do missions, just as it is necessary to continuously re-evaluate all our lives.
So where do Fundamental Baptist Missiologists come in? 

First, what is a 'missiologist'? Simply put, he is one who is dedicated to the study of missions. 

Missiologists perform the task of continually re-evaluating modern missionary models. He is someone who continually works to bring us back in line with Scripture, being convinced that the Scriptures are sufficient to guide our methods. I believe pastors and current church planters world-wide ought to take the lead in this, just as they should be the driving force of our theology (not 'scholars', professors, etc.).

"But Debtor," you say, "where are we straying from the Bible in our mission endeavors?" That's a question too big (and touchy) to answer well in this post. I will just mention two things in passing. Seeing that we constantly claim to use Paul as a model missionary (which he ought to be): 
  • Do many go where he would go? Paul constantly pushed into the frontiers where no one else had preached Christ (Rom 15:20-21, 2 Cor 10:16). But in 2004 First Bible International reported that 30% of board-affiliated Independent Baptist missionaries were working in 5 countries, leaving 42% of the most unreached countries with no Independent Baptist missionary presence. Further, they report (p. 22) that only 2/10ths of 1% of our missions giving goes to work among unreached people groups. Paul's work was manifestly driven by God's passion for all to hear the Name of Christ. Is ours?
  • Do we plant like he planted? He was a church planter. He remained a church planter, never pastoring. He evangelized in previously unevangelized cities, gathered babtized believers into churches, spent a few months to (rarely) a few years among them, and then moved on to repeat the process over and over again. Mind you, not all missionaries should be Paul-type missionaries. Though I suspect that many more should. Yet we constantly refer to Paul to defend our own missionary practices. Do we really see many truly Paul-type church planters among IFB's? In the US or abroad? Honestly? No, not many at all.
Those were just two examples of our need for IFB missiologists. There are more. Who will begin the confession, the re-evaluation, the repentance?

I just finished reading Roland Allen's "Missionary Methods" for the second time. What Roland Allen noticed early in the 20th century was that current missionary methods were failing exactly where Paul's prevailed. The book's original intro author wrote, "The fact remains that, where St. Paul conspicuously succeeded, we have conspicuously failed. May it not be because we have worked upon widely different principles." I pray it is not true of us either. However, I'm afraid that we are still using much the same methods that were largely failing then.

Please feel free to comment below and to "follow" or subscribe to the right.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This Week in the Mission Blogosphere

This is another type of post that you will see at the end of most weeks. In these I will attempt to bring you some of the most pertinent topics being discussed in the Mission blogosphere (i.e. - other, usually Evangelical, Mission blogs), filtered through my magical Independent Fundamental Baptist (Biblicist) lens. Hopefully, this will make them useful to us.

So, let's get started.
  1. Ralph Winter, missiologist, dies, 84 - Co-founder of US Center for World Mission, International Society for Frontier Missiology, IJFM, etc. Though significant for Evangelical mission, he is little known among IFB's. He made several good contributions to missions. In my opinion, the greatest contribution that could be beneficial to our Mission endeavors was to provide strategic direction. He encouraged a focus on unreached peoples instead of unreached nations (an important distinction). Much more will be said about this concept here in the future.

  2. Multi-Site 'Churches' - This debate has gone on for some time, but it seems there has been increased discussion about them as several books have been published in favor of them. 'They' are 'churches' in which different members meet at different times or places, not all together. Several Mission blogs have brought them up over the past weeks. The Southern Baptists have gone for them, as have many other Evangelicals. However, there is growing concern. Some are even coming to the conclusion that Baptists have for 2,000 years: a 'church' can only be a church if it gathers together.

  3. Is Everyone a Missionary? - Here's another idea that gets tossed around a lot, often in IFB circles. This week it has hit a few Mission blogs, with the posts and comments usually in the affirmative. While more will be posted here at a later time, I respond in the negative. The goal (that every church member would be mobilized for Mission) is commendable. However, while every true church has been 'sent' into the world for the Mission and every member should be involved in the Mission, not every member has been separated and sent in an Acts 13 sense. Not all are apostles (generic) of the church, being commended unto the grace of God in this special way. So, are all missionaries? Yes . . . and no. More on this later.
There has also been much happening in world news that could affect missions. India's people have dealt another crushing blow to one of the nation's Hindu extremist political parties (BJP) by reelecting a centrist secular government. Could this mean more freedom for Christians and church planting or just heavier persecution from the ousted extremists?

Also, in Sri Lanka, a quarter century war has ended as the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group, surrendured. With tens of thousands of civilians left dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, will the Gospel get a renewed opportunity to penetrate this Buddhist nation?

Pray for these and keep thinking.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why the Weird Name?

Before it is asked, I will answer it. My pseudonym on this blog and elsewhere is Debtor Paul. Why would I not use my real name? If you read my introductory post, you'll remember that I am preparing for work in a 'closed' or creative access country. For security reasons I have thought it wise not to openly connect my real name to missions or my destination country on the web.

Why "Debtor Paul"? 

Debtor = the 'name' Paul called himself in Romans 1:14, and the theme of this blog

Paul = the name of the greatest known missionary of all time, whose model we would do well to follow (in my humble opinion)

Hope that clears some things up, before they're too muddied. If you don't know who I am, and you (for some reason) really want to know, leave some contact information in a comment. After verifying who you are, I will be glad to tell you who I am.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Resource: Strategic Network

Occasionally I will be introducing various missions resources. Some will be web-based, others in print.

Disclaimer: Nearly all of the resources introduced will be Evangelical in nature, i.e. they will not hold to many Baptist distinctives. Also, they will follow a critical text translation, be more ecumenical than we are, and hold a wide range of doctrinal traditions. Therefore, none of them should be taken as perfectly representing my personal beliefs. All should be used with discretion. However, many are nonetheless very valuable, even for Independent Fundamental Baptists.

The first resource is one that has been extraordinarily valuable to me. It is the Network for Strategic Missions. It is actually a collection of resources produced by a non-Independent Baptist missionary in Southeast Asia. These resources are meant to "Help believers passionately, quickly, and effectively reach the least-reached 27% of our world." There are several of these resources that I want to draw your attention to:

  • The Knowledge Base: This is a collection of over 16,000 articles from some of the most noted Evangelical mission magazines, journals, etc. You can find what you want through a search engine or by digging into their multitude of topics. Most of the articles can be viewed for free. Others can be viewed after subscribing ($20/year). I would highly recommend subscribing.

  • Google Mission Search: This is accessed through the small search bar at the upper right of the home page. It will allow you to search 60 mission-related sites. This is a valuable tool for web-based mission research.

  • Momentum Mag: In the world of online magazines, this is a keeper. With a free subscription, you will receive daily or weekly updates. The updates include links to the latest Momentum articles and to important off-site articles. I have found many resources and articles pertinent to world missions through the daily updates.

  • Missiopedia: Wikipedia has added a new dynamic to the encyclopedia world. It is now doing the same thing to mission knowledge. Though this open source mission encyclopedia is yet at a fairly low level of development, one can still find good up-to-date information.
This resource is one of the most worthwhile investments of your mission-related time and $20 (though most of the resources are free) on the web today. Try it out. Do you know where missions has been and where it is going? Do you want your thinking challenged? This is a good place to start. Start with the Knowledge Base. Look for a topic of interest, think critically, and grow.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Whose Mission is it?

My answer to this question is different now than it once was.

In Independent Baptist churches and schools it is not uncommon to hear short rants on this topic. "Jesus wasn't giving the mission to the apostles as individuals! It wasn't given to some universal invisible Church! He was giving it to a local church!!" To these I say a hearty, "Amen!"

However, those are answers to a different question. I am not asking about the means of the Mission, but the Source and Owner of the Mission. Think of this:

A boy is ill. The doctor concocts a medicine to make the child well. He pours it into a spoon and feeds it to the boy. The boy recovers.

Who or what carried out the task of making the child well again?Was it the spoon? No doubt, the spoon was the instrument used to get the medicine to the boy, but it was passive in the task. It was the doctor's task from beginning to end.

Likewise, it is the Lord Himself who is on Mission. He has made provision for the healing of the nations. He supplies the power for the Mission. He seeks, He finds, He saves. It is the Mission of God. It has been His mission since before the foundation of the world.

He was on Mission in the Garden, clothing the two sinners. He was on Mission through Noah, calling all the world to its only hope of salvation. He was on Mission as He drew Israel out of Egypt, displaying His saving power to the nations.

God is still on Mission now, but He has chosen a different spoon: the local church.

Whose Mission is it? God's.

The Mission is bigger than individuals and churches. It was here before us. It will continue when we are gone. Missions is not primarily an action of churches. It is the movement of God. The church is not reaching out to the nations, as much as God is reaching out through her. It has always been about the missionary God, not the missionary churches.

This doesn't change the responsibility of the church in the Mission, but it does change our understanding of what is happening. It replaces our passion with His, our resources with His, our vision with His, our power with His, our agenda with His.

How small our view of the Mission often is! How we strive so, energized by our own meager passion for the nations, formulating our own plans, going forth in our own power. How much more passion would we have if only we would realize what we are (tools) and Who is doing the
work (God).

You can do the work of missions all you like. I will have nothing of it. I will let God work out His own Mission through me. For the Mission is not an act of man, it is the action of God Himself.

Lord, let me be a mere spoon - propelled by Your hand, bearing Your medicine, submitted to Your Mission, energized by Your passion for the nations.