Friday, September 19, 2014

Maybe Bucket List Christians are the problem and not short-term mission...

Dave Miller, Adventures in Life Ministry, Short term mission, Notes from Dave
AIL Ministry Executive Director
Dave Miller
Recently Noel Becchetti, formerly of the Center for Student Missions wrote an article titled “Why Most Mission Trips are a Waste of Time, and how to make sure yours isn’t” that was shared by a friend of mine on Facebook.

In his article, Becchetti brought up all the requisite failures we’ve heard for years about short-term mission and ministry, and they all start with our need...

• to control
• to define the ministry
• to see results

As someone who has served in short-term mission [STM] for over 20 years, first leading teams and then ultimately, receiving teams and participants, let me begin by affirming Noel’s list.

There are few leaders in short-term mission, myself included, who would not agree heartily with each of these issues. As leaders, and in many cases, pioneers of the short-term movement, we’ve been guilty of each of the offenses Noel cites, and probably more. Look closely at each of the problems mentioned and you’ll see a central theme... US! Broken, sinful, prideful, controlling people who have grown up in a world that tells us it’s all about us. Sadly, lest we get too puffed up, that includes our churches too. 

What’s encouraging is that in response to a history of at best lackluster short-term mission, those of us in short-term mission leadership chose to do something radical about it.

We looked critically at our mission. We examined our methodology, our ministry, our planning, everything. You know what we found out? Our critics were right. About the only good thing we saw were hearts that were beating for people to come into an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ.

And with that as a backdrop, we set about to change the way short-term mission was done. No longer would our mission trips be all about us, the primary villain Bechetti finds in his Pogoesque “the enemy is us” critique.

This effort soon came to be known as the US Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission, an accrediting and resourcing body for those who send, receive, facilitate and support short-term mission. Not only did we not want mission trips to be waste of time, filled with busy work like painting fences for the 100th time, we wanted them to truly be about God and His glory, lived out on the mission field. 

7 Standards were soon developed by the short-term community that literally address all the issues that critics of STM have raised for years. Unfortunately, not enough people involved in sending short-term teams are even aware of the standards. Worse, some people and churches have simply decided to reject them as too difficult to embrace. I believe Standard 1, calling for a God centered life and Standard 2, calling for empowering partnerships are the biggest stumbling blocks for large numbers of churches and groups, known as senders. 

Let me explain.

Standard 1, a requirement of a God centered life would seem to eliminate many people without a faith in Jesus. As logical as that may seem, this requirement smacks up against the desire of many leaders, particularly those working in student ministries to use short-term mission as an evangelistic tool.

What should a youth pastor do if little Johnny wants to join his friends on a short-term mission trip, yet has never made a profession of faith, or is not currently living a faith centered in Jesus? Should he be allowed to participate in the hopes that he might make a life changing decision as a result of his time serving?

Let me put that question another way. Should churches and groups be sending people on mission trips to hear about Jesus, or should they be sending people whose lives already testify to life changing power of our risen Lord?

Standard 2 clearly states the primary focus of your mission needs to be on those we serve. Focusing on those we serve means that our mission isn’t about us or our spiritual development. Sadly, that realty stands in direct opposition to how many leaders and participants currently think about mission trips. 

Recently I have started hearing from people, God centered committed people, that going on a short-term mission trip has been on their “bucket list.” Even a best case interpretation cannot find a way to interpret this as putting the primary focus on someone else.

There is no calling from God involved in Bucket List Missions. An understanding that a short-term mission can, or even should be reduced to some sort of ‘bucket list” of things to do in life is very hard to square with Standard 2.

If people are still struggling with even the idea of short-term mission, and the comments I see whenever anything STM is posted bear that out, then there is still work to be done. But maybe all of the fault does not lie with the short-term community itself.

Short-term mission is here to stay. Making sure STM is not a waste of time will take all sides of the mission experience, senders, goer-guests and hosts, working together to more effectively grow God’s Kingdom.

Noel Bechetti’s post raises some valid issues that many in the short-term mission community have taken seriously and strived to improve. The next step I believe, is for the leaders on the sending side of this issue, those in churches and other faith communities to also step up and accept responsibility for their part in improving short-term mission.

More on that later.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

ISIS, and making Jesus accessible... is it possible?

Sometimes the real world forces its way into our little enclaves.

Over the last few weeks we've been assaulted by the beheadings of two American journalists at the hands of an alphabet salad of terrorists in the Middle East. Be they ISIS, ISIL, The Islamic State, Levant, or whatever, let's face it... we're angry.

This week, our politicians are supposedly going to fashion a response. Maybe.

It is clear that few Democrats or the Republicans want to go on record with a vote on what to do about this just weeks before an election. Apparently, reelection is more important than a reasoned debate leading to a unified response.

But their weakness should not change how Christians should respond. Our response, as the family of God, should reflect the values our savior holds dear, not necessarily a response that will make us feel better, or even make us more secure in the world today.

For me, that is part of the tension of being a Christian in America, trying to balance my earthly security with my eternal destiny and how I believe Jesus wants me to live on a daily basis.

A friend sent this article, A Reasoned Response to ISIS, to me recently. It is from author Carl Medearis' blog, Making Jesus Accessible.

As a missions guy, the thought of making Jesus accessible is what it is about. I think daily about how our actions, as a church, as a mission, as everyday Christians, communicate to people what we believe and how we prioritize our lives.

I often wonder, as did the great French theologian Jacques Ellul in his book, Prayer and the Modern Man, that if prayer really can change the world, why go to war. Anyways, enough of my words... Please take a few moments and read what Medearis has to say, because in the next few days, our country will be responding in some way.

A Thoughtful Christian Response to ISIS

Carl Medearis

Obama admits to not having a strategy.  Duck Dynasty Godfather, Phil Robertson, wants to “Convert ‘em or Kill “em.”
So what is a thoughtful honest strategy for confronting a terrorist group like ISIS?

ISIS doesn’t need any more explanation. We know what it is – evil personified. They have morphed out of Al Qaeda who were ironically too liberal for their most radical Islamic interpretations, namely that there should be a new national Muslim identity – a Caliphate. They have chosen Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant) as the territory from which this new “state” will emerge.

ISIS has brutally killed 1000’s, mostly non-Sunnis, in this quest for power. Ethnic Christians and a small people-group called Yazidis have found themselves in evil’s path, but so have the armies of Syria (both the national army and the various rebel groups), Iraq and even Lebanon.  It seems anyone who isn’t willing to lay down their “flag” and join the newly self-appointed ISIS Caliphate is deemed a traitor and deserves to die.  The execution of two American hostages by beheading has horrified the West and captured our daily imaginations – mostly how we can “demoralize and destroy” to use our President’s words, this new evil encroaching on our freedoms and international interests. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Adventures in Religion... how a name it claim it theology perverts the Gospel of the suffering servant

Raul and his two sons, Raul and Obed at his recent 25 year anniversary celebration in Guadalajara

It was spring of 2006. I was walking with my friend and longtime ministry partner in Guadalajara, Raul Arteaga. His son had been in a horrible accident a few weeks earlier that had left him paralyzed from the waist down and unable to exert much control over the use of his arms.

I was there to offer comfort and encouragement to a family that in those days, was living in stunned depression.

As we walked, he said he had a question. "Hermano David" he asked, "do you think my son is not getting better because I lack faith?"

The question stopped me in my tracks. How could he think like that I asked? If I know anyone with a deep and abiding faith, it's Raul. The thought that he might lack faith scares people like me. If Raul is lacking at a level that would bring disaster and destruction on his family, then I really have no hope.

I remember looking back at Raul and offering the soundest rejection I could of his question. I asked where that was coming from and he said more than a few pastors in those early days of his son's paralyzation had insisted that God would indeed heal his son, if only he had sufficient faith and claimed the power of God in this horrible situation.

Each day Raul got up with the power of God. He went to bed every night praying for a miracle and that the next morning he might wake up and see his son standing again. A lack of faith was not keeping his son from walking again.

I was reminded of those days as I read about the recent theological dust up at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Osteen and his church are well known in American Christianity, preachers of what in short hand is known as "Name it, claim it" theology.

In short, this theology believes if you have enough faith, and speak what you want, in God's name of course, it will be given to you. Beyond being biblically suspect and bereft of a true theological basis, this understanding of God and how he works is more than misleading, it is evil.

It is also a theology that leads us to believe it is all about us, not Jesus, not others, simply us. That was on full display as Osteen's wife Victoria stated this past weekend that our worship makes God happy when we do it for ourselves, not Him.

Here's why this sort of me first theology is so dangerous. If you do not get the desired outcome, the only reason must, by definition be due to a lack of faith. There really is no other way of understanding this. A boys inability to recover and walk after his spine was totally shattered is not because of a tragic accident, for which there is no medical fix, it is because of a lack of faith.

The evil of this theology comes forth as we delve a little deeper, understanding that a name it claim it theology, a theology based on us, places the blame for a continued lack of recovery on the faith of the father, and his lack of faith.

Sadly, many are embracing this type of theology, not just here in the US, but in Mexico as well. Because it is more focused on us and our needs, and because it seems to offer people control over the arc of their lives. A belief that I can somehow "trap" God into doing for me what I want and claim is a potent aphrodisiac.

Traditional mission in my area is struggling to confront this type of understanding of Jesus. The idea of a of Isaiah 53, of a suffering servant, is not a popular message to people longing to be empowered to live a better life.

Unlike many who are angry at Joel Osteen and his church for what we heard this week, I am curiously pleased. Joel is slick, and able to evade and parry the jabs from those who question the theology of Lakewood Church.  Thankfully the 37 seconds of video we have of his wife giving a full throated defense of their "It's all about me" Gospel understanding shows us just how self-centered this church, and their leaders are.

There should be no further debate on the issue. Absent a full denunciation of Victoria Osteen's widely seen words, everyone should now know that for the leaders of this church, it ain't about Jesus, it's about us.

I doubt you can make much of a case that Jesus was as self centered as the Osteen's claim we should be.  And I know that you can't make a case that the bible teaches that worship is all about us. Unless of course, you support Lakewood Church and the other many adherents to this empty theology.

Your thoughts...

The Osteen's Donald Sterling Moment
Victoria Osteen says "Worship is not for God, you're doing it for yourself"