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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Messed Up Missiology

"No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once." - Oswald J. Smith

I ran across this quote on a colleague's website. I'm not sure who Oswald J. Smith is/was, and I'm not particularly interested. His sort of guilt-inspired, task-oriented, logic-based, marketing-ploy, pop missiology is exactly the sort of thing I was referring to in my last post. It has infected our understanding of what missions is, who God is, and how He works.

Let me be clear: My concern is not necessarily with current missions strategy, it's with our missiology. What, you might ask, is the difference? It has to do with motivation; both ours- in what guides us in service, and God's- in what He's doing globally and why. Just as the practice of our faith is determined by our theology, our mission strategies are derived from our missiology. So I'm not talking here about whether we use tracts or Jesus Films or relational approaches to church planting. I'm not even talking about whether we should even be trying to plant churches. My contention is this: We have bad missiology.

For starters, we make an unnecessary distinction between "missions," and, well, everything else. Why do we apply Luke 10:2 ("the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few") to missions, but not Luke 10:27 ("love your neighbor as yourself")? Where does our understanding of missions come from?

Take the quote above, for example: "No one has the right..."? What does that mean? Is hearing the gospel a right? Is it a privilege? I guess Mr. Smith would say that the first time is a right, and the second a privilege. What biblical support do we have for either?

Is the goal of missions that people hear? What about incarnation? Discipleship? Is missions nothing more than proclaiming the gospel, giving people "a chance to hear" it? Many missionaries approach their work as though missions was about spreading information. Surely we need proclaimers, and it is a vital part of missions, but I believe it is only a part.

(Another part, one that we rarely focus on, is worship as missions. John 12:32 -"I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." I get that He's alluding to the cross, but I think that worship is underrated as a missional activity. Maybe that's another post...)

Back to the quote: is it really ours to decide who should hear and who should not? Even after years of proclamation, are we ever in a position to say whether a person (or people group) has heard the good news in a way that they can understand and respond to? I believe that the Spirit should guide all of our evangelistic efforts, and that He should be the one to lead us in when to share, and with whom (and when to keep quiet!)

I cannot accept a missiology that essentially puts us on "auto-pilot" in terms of to whom we should go. The second we assume where and in whom God is going to work, we get ahead of Him and disqualify ourselves from full participation in what He's doing. This missiology is essentially either/or; missions is either relating to those people that God leads us to, or it is targeting the next "lostest" people group according to our statistics and research. It cannot be both, because the second assumes a monopoly on the first. How else can we explain so many of our workers feeling called to work among "reached" peoples?

God is at work redeeming humankind to Himself. I believe that missions is crossing cultural barriers to be part of that. Until we seriously rethink our missiology, we will continue to build our strategies on a broken foundation.


cafeaddict said...

okay i think i understand your definition of missiology but i want to ask a question to see if i am getting you or not. i hate to oversimplifiy, but would you say that missiology is the "why" and mission strategy is the "how?"

also, is lostest a word?

as you mentioned, our theology often determines our practice. so what does our mission practice say about our theology? i really wonder sometimes if southern baptists have thrown sovereignty out the window all together, and i am not talking in an election sort of way. just in general. do we really believe that he has a plan? that he has had one from the beginning of time? that he is raising up people to accomplish it? that all things happen in his time and in his way? sure seems like all our strategizing and making lists of unreached people segments puts the emphasis on us and what we must do.

anyway, stepchild, you are onto something here. so what is the solution? want to be the next missiologist for the imb?

Strider said...

I really like your comment on worship as a mission strategy. You've read my blog so you know that's what we do best. I came out CSI. We were God's marines. We were pushing the edge. We were arrogant thrill-seekers more than faithfilled God-seekers too much of the time. But God used and uses us wrong motives and all. I am much happier with my missiology now. I believe that we live in extrordinary times. I believe that reaching the lost has been ratcheted up among all evangelicals including SB's and that has more to do with God's soverign will than to do with our pride.
I, like you get very frustrated when people come to my city- which you would not know where it was even if I told you- and say, 'hey there are lots of people here. This city is covered, we are off to the next one.' Covered? Reached? Like you I bristle at those words. I went to school in Fort Worth, Texas and I don't think it is 'reached'. Depending on your definition some of our churches back home could use 'reaching'.
But I still like where the IMB is in its missiology- at least in my region- my region being the only one whose leadership has all been reached:) We are looking for where the King is working and we use all the slogans about unreached and lostness to overcome our lack of faith. In my missiology there are enough Kingdom resources to get the good news out to everyone in a living, tangible way. What prevents this from happening is our lack of faith. This is why we need the marketing campagns. Not because they are biblical but because we as a whole lack the discernment to hear and follow the King to all the places He is calling us to go.
I have more- but I have rambled on too long already. Keep up the good work on your blog- I enjoy the conversation and hope that it will bear fruit for the Kingdom.

stepchild said...

When I use the word, "missiology," I'm trying to get at the theology of missions. It really is the "why" of missions, and it's something that I don't see widely discussed. Strategy is definitely the "how," and I'm really bored of talking about that.

Oh, and if you wrap it in quotation marks, anything can be a word.

I don't want to be the IMB's missiologist, but I wish the organization had one.

I'm convinced that "Unfinished Task" missiology is an extension of that same missiological wave (CSI) you've come out of.

You question the discernment of our people to know where God wants us to go. I know how you feel, but I think that individuals responding to God's leading is our only way to know where He's working. It seems like we've replaced that with statistics and strategy.

I'm with you- maybe we should take a poll on the meaning of the word "reached"...

mr. t said...


You say:

"I think that individuals responding to God's leading is our only way to know where He's working."

I agree that is part of it, but God also uses His church/body to confirm that leading. The IMB has been delegated the responsibility by SBC churches, so they have the obligation to confirm one's calling and serve to represent the body in sending out individuals.

I think too much has been delegated to our IMB and churches that are missional (not the dead ones) should take back some of that responsibility for setting apart individuals the Holy Spirit is calling, sending and supporting them (not just financially). Our system of centralized authority puts the decisions about missiology and strategy in the hands of only a few that impact the whole world. In light of current changes in our church culture across the SBC, I think it is time for IMB to return some of that responsibility for decisions about missiology, strategy, sending, etc. back to the churches. If IMB is too slow to do that, it will happen anyway as more and more missional churches divert support to direct missions projects.

stepchild said...

You're right. Missionaries are sent by the church and must be accountable to the church.

I guess I was trying to say that it's really difficult for the sending churches/agency to see what's happening on the ground. From the States, Western Europe looks very familiar. I think there is a temptation for Stateside policymakers to assume that they know how God is working here because they know "what works" back home or in another region. That's why it seems backward when the IMB makes agency-wide policy regarding, say, who we can and cannot work with. How many of them know what local GCC's teach and believe?

I consider it my job to be an expert on my host people and culture. Can those who send me know better than I do where God is working here? Is it wise to allow statistics to decide where we get involved and with whom we will work?

This is why I write about these sorts of things. If missionaries don't speak into the missiology and strategy of our organization and convention, how can we expect them to know what's happening on the field?

I agree that we need to adjust to better serve our missional churches. If we don't, we'll be the ones left out.

knoxalan said...


I appreciate that you continue to bring up these topics in your blog. I find that many "missionaries" are questioning practices and attitudes that those "back home" refuse to consider.

Concerning the quote: "No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once."

I would shorten this quote to the following: "No one has the right to hear the gospel."

- Alan

mr. t said...


I would shorten it further... "No one has rights." Speaking of Christ followers. That is exactly why we should obey Christ' command to disciple all peoples.

mr. t said...


I agree that our sending churches and denominational agency cannot understand the people as well as the incarnational missionary. However, the incarnational missionary should not act alone but should bring along others to join God's mission among their focus people. There should be no "us and them" but only "us". N.T. pattern shows strong teamwork/community and downplays individualism.

Alan Knox said...

mr. t.

I certainly agree with your shorter statement: "No one has rights."

Thank you!

- Alan

Watchman said...

I'm sure I'm reading into this, but Mr. Smith seems to embody the spirit of anger that is so prevalent among preachers of the gospel. His is an angry statement to me, yet it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, not our one opportunity to hear the Summary of the Story.

David Rogers said...

I think when we read quotes like this one, we need to remember the context in which it was said.

I think you can get a better of idea of who Oswald J. Smith was, and where he was coming from by reading this article.

Smith said this at a time when the emphasis on "unreached people groups" was much less than what it is today. The problem, when Smith wrote this, was that very few were "feeling the call" to do something so radical as launch out into the uncharted waters of trying to do something like reach the more comparatively unreached. Perhaps we have done an "overkill" on this nowadays. But I think the general thought expressed is a noble one.

I don't think you are saying believers, churches, or mission boards should just send out and finance people in ministry just on the basis of their subjective profession of divine call. But, it does sound like it at times.

In my opinion, there must be some accountability over the stewardship of the resources involved that goes beyond someone's sujbective testimony of feeling called to a certain place or ministry. As I said on your last post, I believe God's leading in our lives is perceived both through the left side and right side of our brains. I personally think statistics may play a part, both in our individual leading, as well as in the way an organization chooses to prioritize its use of resources.

stepchild said...

Thanks for including the Oswald J. Smith link.

You make a good point; one that I completely agree with. You said,

"...there must be some accountability over the stewardship of the resources involved that goes beyond someone's subjective testimony of feeling called to a certain place or ministry."

Thanks for saying that so well. I would never advocate sending missionaries to just do whatever they want. I do believe that we need to adjust our theology of missions away from such a narrow, task-oriented, numbers-driven mentality. I'm not calling for missionary anarchy!

Ken Sorrell said...

David has already made several comments that I was thinking so I want bore you and others by repeating them.

I would also like to add that just as U.S. folks do not always understand our situation, we as missionaries don't always have a good grasp of what folks in the home office deal with either.

I would beg to differ that missionary deployment is driven solely by statistics. Yes, statistics are a major influence, but remember Paul even stated that he need to go where the Gospel has yet to be preached. Could he have helped several of the new churches he started? Certainly, but he kept pushing to the edges of lostness. I think this is what is driving a lot of the IMB's decision making process. Maybe not completely, but it too is an influence.

Now, let me wholeheartedly agree with you that we do need to yell from the mountain tops that there is missions and then there is everything else. On my very first post as a blogger I speak to this issue and discuss the morphing of missions and ministry the damage this has done. If you are interested in reading it click on the April archive of my blog.

I would also like to ask that we consider a both/and approach rather than either or. I believe it is both/and when it comes to missions. Going to where God leads us and going to the next lost people group based upon the best information that we have. At the same time, how do we but another missionary in a place when so many locations have no access at all. For me, part of missiology is answer that question.

I look forward to reading and commenting more with you and others.

stepchild said...

Thanks for your comments. This discussion has helped me think through my own thoughts about missiology.

You and David both mention Paul's "ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation." I'm not convinced this statement should serve as a strategic model for missions, especially in light of all of the other passages that show the Holy Spirit leading contrary to Paul's strategy.

Ken, you mention "the edges of lostness." I'd argue that there are edges all over the place, and that the only way we can find them is that God lead us to them. We're not gaining on "the task" of world evangelism. New edges of lostness are opening up faster then we're engaging them.

If there is a difference, as you say, between "missions" and "everything else," it's only that one involves incarnation into a foreign culture. I'm not sure where (or why) you'd make any other distinction.

We agree that there needs to be both strategy and sensitivity to the Spirit. But you mention that we should be "going to the next lost people group." How do you define that? How do you know that? I think that the idea of "reaching" or determining "degrees of lostness" are modernistic, pragmatic, and unbiblical.

But that's just my opinion.

You ask "how do we but another missionary in a place when so many locations have no access at all?"

This is the question of current popular missiology. It is absolutely the wrong question to be asking. It replaces "go and make disciples" with "provide access to all people groups." Where should we send our missionaries? Where God leads! If that happens to be to a people that fit with our strategy, great! If it does not, our strategy needs to change.

Assuming that is it ours to give priority to people that have not heard the gospel over people that we assume have heard heard the gospel is worrying about something that isn't ares to worry about. Where do we get the idea that it is our job to keep record of who has heard and who hasn't?

Ken said...

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I am capturing the essence of what you are attempting to communicate. So if my response does not seem to match what you are saying, forgive me for not understanding and then help me understand.

First, I would agree that we do not build in entire missiology off of one verse, maybe with the exception of Matt. 28:19-20, but nonetheless, I would agree with you. I do not believe we as an organization are building our entire strategy off of this verse but rather from many passages and the overall tone of the New Testament writings.

We have mentioned the Romans 15:20ff passage but I want to point out an important word in verse 20. In the NASB the word used is “aspired”. He may not have always gone where he wanted to go for various reasons but his desire, his aspiration was to continue to look for places where the Gospel had yet to be preached. Certainly the Holy Spirit led Paul and had times surprised him where that lead him to go. But this does not negate his passion and desire.

I would wholeheartedly agree with you that the “edges of lostness” are all over the place. Where we part in our thoughts maybe is that I believe that God “is” already calling and leading many Christians to lostness and they are just not going. You are correct that we are not gaining on growing lostness. In the past several years as I have trained both missionaries, volunteers, and national brothers and sisters, I have been amazed at the level of blindness to lostness all around us. However, I do believe that in a way that only our God can do, spoke to us through Scripture pointing out lostness next door and showing us lostness around the world. I’m not sure what your wanting to say here.

I was actually quoting you in the “missions and everything else” statement thinking that I was agreeing with you, but let me expand my thinking here a little. I am still working through this one in my own thoughts but I am not sure I still agree with the position that for missions to take place it has to be cross-cultural. I usually have a flip chart to draw a picture when I discuss this point so let me see if I can draw the same picture with words. Missions and the missionary task takes place outside of the sphere of influence of a local congregation. If I, even here on the “mission field” share the Gospel one block from where I attend church, I do not believe I am fulfilling the missionary task but the church’s task to evangelize. I have to move into areas where there is little to no local church outreach taking place to move into missions. For me, missions is more of what we do than where we do it. If cross-cultural is a non-negotiable element of missions, then Acts 1:8 can no longer be called a missions verse simply because my Jerusalem is not cross-cultural. It is difficult to really share this point in such a short space but I hope you at least catch the essence of what I am trying to say. For me, missions is evangelism, discipleship which leads to multiplying churches and developing leaders. If we do not work toward this end, we may be doing good things but I’m not sure it’s missions.

The next lost people group is the next location where there is people may have limited to no access to a clear Gospel message and a local body of believers to nurture them in their spiritual growth process. The next lost area could be one block away from an existing church if that church is doing nothing to share the Gospel in their community. I do not believe this to be unbiblical. There are many examples of this principle in Scripture. Look at the parable of the lost sheep. Lostness was identified. In Mark 1:38, after the disciples had everyone lined up for the healing clinic Jesus said no, let’s move on to the next town and preach the Gospel for that is why I came for. Missionaries take the Gospel where the Gospel is not. I do not think it is humanistic for us to look at this and say, this is where someone needs to go and proclaim. And there are more examples like this.

I will admit a bit of confusion when you state that “it is absolutely the wrong question to be asking, it replaces go and make disciples with provide access to all people groups. The verse says, Go, therefore and make disciples of “all nations” . . . I’m not sure how to do this but to provide access to the Gospel to all people groups. Now this does not mean it has to be a North American taking the Gospel, but it does mean that as the body of Christ it is our responsibility to go to everyone. It sounds as if you believe that there is some type of mystery and mystic characteristic to God leading us to a lost world. God has already told us to go and where to go with His message, “to all nations, to every creature”. I don’t blame God, I blame us. Do you really think that there are lost people in the world that God has decided not to send someone to tell them? The issue is not God’s leading but our obedience.

I will admit, some of our practices today come from history. For example, keeping records of who has heard and who has not heard. There is no Scripture that addresses this as clearly as we may wish. But I don’t know how you read the Bible and not see overwhelming evidence that it is God’s heartbeat for all peoples to bow down and worship Him. And if this is true then we need to go or encourage others to go so that everyone can hear. But you are doing exactly what you are critical of our organization doing. You can’t speak to everyone that you want to reach in your area all at the same time, so what do you do. You prioritize who will hear today and who has to wait until next month or even next year. Everyone who proclaims the Gospel does this. At any given moment someone gets to hear, which means someone else does not have that opportunity. I don’t see this as a value judgment, but reality. And if I do not keep up with who has heard and who has not heard, how do I know where to move my work to next? Again, I would be surprised if you do not have some idea of who has heard and who has not heard where you work. So what is the difference?

Well, this has gone longer than most people will read, but I have enjoyed the thought process as we have discussed. Again, if I’m not getting what you are saying, please let me know. Thanks for the opportunity to push back a little. I enjoy these types of discussions and hope that I never cross a line in becoming offensive. Blessings on your continued efforts.

stepchild said...

Thanks for your comment. I too appreciate the discussion, and I really like that we can disagree without calling each other heretics. Feel free, though, to call me one, if you feel the need to.

In terms of strategy, all I was trying to say was this: Paul had a plan (his aspirations), but he was open to those times when the Spirit prevented him from following that plan. That tells me that the best strategy is one that leaves room for a last-minute "audible" from God (even if what He says runs contrary to our strategy).

You distinguish between "missions" and "the church's task." I don't. I mentioned the cross-cultural nature of what we do as one possible distinction, but only because it requires a different approach than ministry within one's own culture. Other than that, I don't see any difference. I'd be interested to see your flip chart on this. How do you define the "sphere of influence" of a local congregation? The way I see it, we are an extension of the churches that send us, but we're doing the same thing they are (well, that they're supposed to be doing, anyway).

What made you decide that "access to the Gospel" should be the deciding factor in missions? What constitutes "access?" Internet? Scriptures in their language? Missionaries working among them? I'm curious because I'm not sure I know where that idea comes from.

I think that my answer to your final question gets to the heart of our discussion here. You say,

"You prioritize who will hear today and who has to wait until next month or even next year. Everyone who proclaims the Gospel does this."

But I don't make the decision of who to "share" with (and who has to wait). Really. I actively seek to share life (and the good news) with anyone God brings me to as I prayerfully and intentionally get involved in community activities and exercise my gifts. This is a key difference between me and, well, most everyone else on the field. That's why I have so many questions!

Any other way (taking it upon myself to make such decisions, for example) seems like it'd be getting ahead of God. I guess I do believe in a certain amount of mysticism in what I do, if it's mystical to be wary of assuming I know where and how God is going to work next.

I believe that God loves all people, and that doesn't want anyone to die apart from Him. But I also believe that His timing plays a huge part (at least, it should) in how we decide where to work. I am surrounded by lostness. It's overwhelming. The only way to make sense of it all, to know where I fit in and how I'm supposed to serve, is to seek God's guidance every step of the way.

You ask if I really think that there are lost people in the world that God has decided not to send someone to tell them. I'm not sure. I know there are people who die without hearing. I also know that just because there's a huge "window of lostness" (or many pockets) doesn't mean that it's ours to "reach."

I just don't like that we're so set in our understanding of prioritization and reachedness- especially since we don't leave a whole lot of room for other (for me, better) missiology.

To illustrate: We're focused on "frontier" work. But what if God's strategy is for all of us to concentrate on, say, Latin America? Plant churches, train and send missionaries from there to, I don't know- Asia. Then the Asians are supposed to infiltrate India, and those guys are the ones who are supposed to go to the Arab world. Like some big chain reaction or something. And though we have people that feel called to Latin America, we're trying to hurry along God's work by sending people to places that seem, to us, more strategic. Sure, it's God's plan that everyone hears the good news, but I'm afraid that we're so set in our resource distribution model that we'd never be open to God calling 5000 American missionaries to Latin America.

Thanks for your response!

Ken Sorrell said...


Wow! This is getting fun, isn't it. You and I may be the only ones reading this but it does help shape and sharpen my thinking on these and other issues.

Paragraph 2:
We are on the same page here. I do believe that we have to leave room for God to change our set plans from time to time, but that does not mean we can go ahead and do some level of strategic planning. I think it is also important to remember, and I want to be careful here, to remind ourselves that there may come a time to be obedient to what we believe God is telling us to do may mean we have to leave the support and supervision of the IMB. The IMB nor the SBC are under any biblical mandate or obligation to support what we may feel is God's call and purpose for our lives.

Paragraph 3:
I do not have the space here to say all that I would wish to say about the missionary task and the church task. I'll post on this after I finish with dependency. I will say that I do believe that the NT is clear in both areas and though there is overlap, there are things churches should regularly do that missionaries will not do, i.e., churches stay, missionaries keep moving. More on this later.

Paragraph 4:
The New Testament and missions history. Biblically and historically missionaries have tended to go where the Gospel was not accessible. This was the aspiration of Paul and the battle cry of missionary legends such as Carey and Taylor. At the same time, access can be language barriers and or educational barriers such as the ability to communicate in a literate format. I agree with Steve Saint in his book, "The Great Omission", that it is not the missionary task to fully evangelize an people group or area, rather it is the missionary task to develop new believers and new churches to the place that they can continue the work while the missionary moves to the next place that needs this igniting of the Gospel.

Paragraphs 5 - 9:
Again, I want to attempt to share some thoughts without them sounding like personal attacks, so let me say upfront that the following is not a personal attack.

I do believe in a concept of God's timing and I do believe that we should be sensitive to where God is working and is active, in the paraphrased words of Henry Blackaby. At the same time I believe that Southern Baptists took a left turn somewhere along the way of embracing both these concepts. Let me explain.

The only place in Scripture that I see God asking for His messengers to wait on sharing his message was the instructions He gave the disciples to go the the Jews first. After this, I find no prohibition. I struggle with the idea that I can be sitting next to a lost person and come to the conclusion that it is not God's timing for me to share with them. Now they may not be ready to receive the message, but that is a huge difference than me deciding not to share. I do think that the Holy Spirit brings people across our paths to share with but I see nothing in Scripture that says I'm limited to just those folks.

Another problem I have is that when Blackaby came out with "see where God is working and go join Him", many made the leap that there were places where God was NOT working. Again, I do not see this in Scripture and I believe it to be a really dangerous road to travel down.

I agree with you that I need to be sensitive to where God would have me invest my time and efforts and want to be sensitive to that. But what do I do on those days I don't sense any specific direction?

Paragraph 10:
If I can be so bold here, I do know! God cannot contradict His Word and still be God. Therefore, He cannot command us to go into all the world as the body of Christ to make disciples and at the same time exclude a group from that command. If this is possible, then our God has contradicted Himself. Again, a people may decide that they do not want to hear and keep the Gospel out, but this is very different than God today telling His church to not go to keep them from hearing. At the same time, this does not mean that that just because our organization has a push for lost frontiers, that there is not others who are just as lost in other parts of the world. I can assure you from personal experience that many in our leadership in RVA are very much aware of this issue and are striving to bring balance to our response.

Paragraph 11:
Be patient. We are riding the latest wave in missions. There have been many before us and there will be others after us if the Lord tarries. CPM is not the final word on missions. Our task has not change no matter how we see these waves come and go and that is the constant that we need to hang on to.

Last Paragraph:
There are many in our organization that believe the illustration that you describe is a viable option. As one who lives and serves in Latin America, I believe there is a resource here but I'm far from ready to put 5M missionaries here for the purpose of sending Latins around the world. Many of the challenges we face in do just that has nothing to do with the number of missionaries on the field. Just follow my recent and forthcoming posts on dependency and you will see why we are still facing many challenges to see a massive Latin force around the world become a reality. I do hope and pray that one day we will see this. And from what I understand, the Asians are already ahead of us on this one anyway.

Your asking a lot of good questions and struggling with significant issues. Keep asking. At the same time, when New Directions was implemented several years ago I had a decision to make that still shapes my thinking today. That was, I may not agree with every decision that is made in Richmond that impacts me here on the field, and if I were president, PTL I'm not, I may do things differently. However, at the end of the day I came to the conclusion that I sincerely believe that Dr. Rankin, and senior leadership are men who daily seek God's face and strive to follow what they believe to be the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Having spent time with many of our leaders I have yet to see any indication of personal ambition influencing their decisions. If or when the day comes that new leadership enters the scene and I am unable to follow in the direction that is set, I feel it will then be my biblical duty to remove myself from under IMB supervision and support.

Hey man, great discussion. Thanks again and maybe some day I can meet with you face to face and continue this discussion over a Coke, my treat!

stepchild said...

The way you closed your last comment made it sound like you were finished with this line of conversation, but I thought I'd respond nonetheless. As you said, I'm not sure anyone else is reading this anymore.

Why is it that anytime I question the Board's current policy/strategy/missiology, people start to remind me that there may come a time when I might need to quit? Are people trying to tell me something here?

Ken, it sounds like your missiology is the same as what I'm challenging here, so thanks for your willingness to correspond with me. You said, "...churches stay, and missionaries go." That would certainly be in line with the current position of the IMB, but I don't think it should be the rule, or even the norm. (By the way, most of the "old-school," such as Lottie Moon and William Carey, planted themselves in one place and pretty much stayed there for the duration of their lives.)

The Apostle Paul certainly "went." He stayed a short time in each place and then moved on. But I believe this had more to do with the fact that he was an apostle than his role as missionary. Nevermind that Paul didn't learn a new languages and culture for each group he went to.

I think that the distinction you make between the roles of "missionaries" and "the church" is the same mentality that has led to the popular idea of "professional missions" and has been used to excuse individual church involvement in international missions. I believe that missionaries are just an extension of the local church, and that the work we do here is exactly the same as what they ought to be doing back home. I look forward to reading your further thoughts regarding the matter on your blog.

You say that missionaries have tended to go where the Gospel was not accessible. I disagree. I think they went to those places that God showed them (with confirmation by their sending churches), and to places where they saw God at work. It seems to me that the idea of "access" is a new one (last 50 years) that has lowered the bar for missions efforts. The Bible doesn't talk about "access" to the Gospel. It tells us to preach, make disciples, be salt and light, love, serve, worship, etc. If providing access is your personal goal, that's great. But in my opinion, it shouldn't be the entirety of missions. Access is only the first step toward making disciples, which I believe is our mandate.

I hope you will be open to hearing a different interpretation of the same scriptures you use to support your thoughts here. You say that you cannot imagine a time where the Spirit would lead us to not share the good news. I disagree. I think that there are places where God does not want us to go right now, and people the He does not want us to share with right now. (Please note my usage of "us" and "right now.")

You know those places Paul was prevented by the Spirit from entering on his missionary journeys? There were people from those places present at Pentecost. They heard the good news, returned to their homes, and started churches. Later Paul was surprised to find communities of believers in places he hadn't yet visited. To me, that is significant, and ought to remind us that 1) God doesn't need us, and 2) we should always wait on God's guidance, even when it comes to "engaging" some of the people we classify as "unreached."

I'm not saying that we should wait to put on socks until the Spirit reveals to us His chosen pair. But you ask what we should do on those days (weeks, months) when we don't hear some explicit guidance from Him. I keep doing the last thing I was sure He told me to do, and I do what I'm gifted and interested in doing. So far, that's been as effective as a church planting ministry here as anything else.

Please, for just a moment, consider my colleagues in Western Europe. Here we are, 10 years after implementing New Directions strategies, and we've really yet to see any major response to our efforts. We've seen limited success in some areas, but certainly no "rapidly reproducing church planting movement." To what would you attribute that the lack of response? Would you say that it's the fault of missionaries? Maybe we've not done a good job of "modeling, assisting, watching, and leaving?" Or perhaps the people are just "not ready to hear." In that case, how can we "move on" (as you say) when I'm certain the God has called/led/impressed upon us to stay here? Would you say that we are mistaking God's guidance?

It sounds like you're still uncertain to whom the Great Commission was given. That's okay, because I am too. I'm pretty sure, though, that he didn't mean that He wanted every believer everywhere to pack up and travel from place to place around the globe. He would not be contradicting Himself if he were to lead, say, all American missionaries to only one or two places. I'm not saying that's the case, but the "God can't contradict Himself" line seems a little weak as support for the Board's "get the job done" missiology. I'd prefer that we be guided (and prevented) by God's direction of our individual missionaries, confirmed by the churches that send them.

(Friendly sarcasm:) I guess my new M.O. should be to sit tight until all of you "task"-oriented guys finish "reaching" all of the UPGs. Maybe when that's done we can discuss the rest of missions.

Thanks again! It's great to be able to talk about missions beyond models and strategies.

Ken Sorrell said...

No, I can keep going, just taking a pause.

First, I'm not asking anybody to quit. But what I am saying is that even though we can disagree and debate aspects of our work within this organization there is a ling that we cannot cross and still maintain what I believe to be a proper level of integrity. I'm by no means saying that you are at this point. But I did witness colleagues who after the implementation of New Directions stated in public forums not only their disagreement with the change but that they would not be adjusting anything that they did and nobody could make them change. I might be a little weird, but I believe that when someone believes that they are not responsible to an organization then they need to find one that they can be responsible to. Biblically speaking we are are under the authority of the leadership of the SBC and the IMB. Our choice is to we stay and submit or do we go somewhere else. That was my only point. Paul and Barnabas separated when they disagreed to the point that they could not reconcile at that point intime.

I will admit that the staying going thing is a little gray and when I say go it does not mean you have to change addresses but you keep moving to, I know this is going to upset you, the edges of lostness. In other words, as a missionary I don't start 5 new churches and then just work with them for the next 25 years. I look for new areas to start new works. This is definitely different from a purely pastoral role.

Now I'll go to the mat with you on distinguishing between the missionary task and church ministry. If U.S. churches did good missiology at home I would not have any problem with them taking those same practices overseas, but the fact of the matter is that most U.S. churches do not have a clue to what biblical missions looks like. So they will substitute ministry projects and call it missions. This is doing more harm to the cause of global evangelization than anything else and I have the data to back this one up.

By the way, you are a long ways from offending or upsetting me in this discussion so do not hesitate to really open up and share you heart.

I do not disagree with you on desiring to be lead by the Holy Spirit. And as you do, I keep doing the last thing He told me to do until there is a new leading. At the same time, I do not make the same distinction that you do here. If God is leading me to one area over another, I just assume that He was not ready for me to go to the first place and share but rather go to another location. My point is that I just don't see God leading me to go to "X" and then when I get there, "you know Ken, I brought you here but I don't want you to tell anybody about me." Do you see the distinction I'm making here?

Also, let me ask you this. If you were voted in as President of the IMB would you lead the organization in the direction that you felt the Lord leading you to do, or would you allow every missionary to determine their own direction and their own strategy?

I believe that the Great Commission was given to the church and that individuals in the church would go to the various locations around the world. Some would stay closer to home than others. This is why I also believe that their is a missionary call.

Yep, we task-oriented guys do struggle with you deeper life brothers. But that's okay. I'll keep this one short.

By the way, is anyone else following this discussion?

stepchild said...

Looks like it's just you and me here. I may do a fresh post on a related topic, just to see if we can't get some others to take part.

I'd like to apologize to you, though, for exaggerating and stereotyping the difference between "strategy" and
"following the Holy Spirit." Looking back through some of my comments, I kind of made it seem like it was on or the other, and that you were at one end of the spectrum (the narrow-minded one) and I was at the other (the enlightened one). That is surely not helpful for our discussion; I know that we both have well-thought strategies and that we both seek the Lord every step of the way.

I assure you, I would never be considered for presidency of anything. But if I were responsible for the direction and strategy of the organization, I would challenge all of our personnel in their missiology, basing our unity in that, and allow strategy to be set at the most local level possible.

Thanks again for your feedback.

Ken said...

Apology accepted although there still has been no offense taken. I firmly believe that discussions like this are as Ravi Zacharias says, "intended to shine more light and generate less heat."

We will keep talking as time permits.