Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fads in Missions

It's probably been going on for centuries.  It's likely to have been happening at least as long as Christians have made intentional efforts to reach the unreached with the gospel message.  Every now and then, someone figures out a new "key" to evangelism and it becomes a fad. 

Perhaps "fad" is not the right word.  A fad sounds like a whim--a trivial item of fashion or style.  But what I'm talking about are serious and important approaches to missions that do have lasting value.  It's just that the "fad" nature of it is that we tend to say this is THE key for success in missions.

I have seen a number of these come and go.  Here is my list:
  1. Incarnational Missions - The idea that if we "go native" by living and identifying as much as possible with the daily life of the people we're trying to reach--much like Jesus was incarnated to our world and empathizes with us--we will be effective in evangelism.
  2. Redemptive Analogies - Popularized by Don Richardson and his books "Peace Child" and "Eternity in their Hearts," the idea is that if we can just find the correct redemptive analogy that God has already place in the unreached's culture, we can unlock it and lead the lot of them to Christ.
  3. National Evangelists - Still pushed by Gospel For Asia and K.P. Yohannan, the idea is that Westerners shouldn't go to be missionaries, but just send your money to support native evangelists who already know the culture, speak the language and can do so much more with just a little bit of money.  Yohannan's book even claims this approach to be the "Coming Revolution" in world missions.
  4. Contextualization - The idea that if we dress Christian worship and practice up like the local culture as much as possible, large numbers of people will come to Christ because they aren't having to accept Western traditional religion.
  5. Tentmaking - The idea is that people with vocational training can get jobs in otherwise hard-to-access countries and be a witness for Christ. 
  6. Business As Mission (BAM) - Owning and managing businesses that provide access, can have a developmental impact and can provide funding for ministry.
  7. Church Planting Movements - The idea that God wants to have CPMs happen in all unreached people groups and we just need to "get out of the way" or do other things to facilitate them--then the world will be reached for Christ. 
  8. Training For Trainers (T4T) - This goes along with CPMs, but it is a process of evangelism/discipleship where people who hear the gospel are immediately trained to share it.  In Steve Smith's book he claims this is a "re-revolution" and is a discipleship model based on Acts, rather than Jesus' model which is "pre-pentecost" and therefore, not the model we should use. 
We Christians like to throw theological weight behind whatever good method, approach or process we are trying to promote.  If we can somehow make theologically loaded statements that prop up our pet approach, we feel we can get more people to do it--because if you don't, then  you're going against God!  Statements are made such as...

"God wants to see a CPM in every people group."
"The problem with Jesus' discipleship approach is that it was pre-pentecost."
"Paul, the most effective missionary ever, and his friends were tentmakers."
"God has placed a redemptive analogy in every culture and our job is to discover that and use it."

It's these dogmatic statements that get me.  We walk out on thin theological branches to make them.  And it almost unnecessarily ruins the value in whatever approach we're promoting.  An approach doesn't have to be THE key to be a valuable way of accomplishing the Great Commission. 

In CPM training I attended Church Planting Movements were compared to avalanches.  They even showed a couple videos of avalanches.  We described an avalanches properties and compared it to a CPM.  One of the main concepts is that an avalanche already has the potential energy built up into it.  When the guys shoots his gun, the snow breaks and then it starts building momentum until nothing can stop it.  The problem is... if the shooter went around and shot every single mountain peak with snow, there is NOT going to be an avalanche on every single slope.  Some slopes will produce them.  Others will not.  Some slopes will have dramatic avalanches, others not so much, and still others none at all.  How can we be so confident that CPMs are just waiting to happen in every single unreached people group around the world? 

Now, that is not to say I'm against praying for and working for CPMs--I am not.  I am very much in favor of doing ministry that will lead to movements.  I just don't see the need to be dogmatic about it. 

And to let you know--I'm very much in favor of all 8 of the approaches I listed above.  I just don't think that any one of them is the single key or "silver bullet" for accomplishing the Great Commission.

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