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Missions 101

The Ethics of Missionary Strategy

Jul. 25, 2016By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

Do you have an ethical ministry strategy? I’m guessing most people have never asked this sort of question. What does strategy have to do with ethics?

What’s strategy to do with ethics?

A few months ago, I heard a book survey different ethical approaches (e.g. utilitarianism, virtue theory, etc.). It dawned on me that the same basic ways that people think about morality orScreen_Shot_2016-07-18_at_5.01.05_PM ethics also shapes how missionaries (and pastors) determine their methods of ministry.

This is significant. Recognizing the connection enables us to evaluate more critically ministry methods. At times, the very same people who would reject a given approach to ethics in fact use that approach when choosing ministry strategy. As I explain more below, ask yourself which categories best describe you or the people around you.

We all have to make choices about what is good and best. In ministry, our sense of right and wrong will influence our priorities. In ethics, people try to identify consistent principles to guide our choices and behaviors.

Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, “What principle(s) do we use to decide our behaviors (e.g. strategies) in ministry?” Do we prioritize what is truly best? How do we choose between options?

Three Principles Shaping Ministry

I’ll briefly summarize an ethical perspective before showing how it bears on ministry practice.

1. Utilitarian 

In “utilitarian” ethics, the goal is maximizing the most good for the most people. At one level, this sounds ideal. Yet, the problems are apparent. How do you measure “good”? What distinguishes good from best? In the end, this approach easily devolves into pragmatic relativism that can overlook those in the minority.

What might this look like with respect to mission strategy?

Put simply, missionaries use a more utilitarian approach when strategy is largely shaped by speed and numbers. In a single sentence, they ask, “What method ensures the most people hear the gospel in the fastest amount of time so that the maximum number of people can be saved?”

Certainly, this is a worthy goal. However, the challenge comes when applying this ideal standard. More often than we’d like to admit, “success” cannot be measured empirically.

God defines success. The prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were successful because they were faithful yet God told each one of them that no one would listen to their message (cf. Isa 6:8–13; Jer 1:19; 7:27; Ezek 3:7). 

Not surprisingly, one danger of this ministry approach is pragmatism. “Blessing” = numbers. When numbers and speed become the standard for success, what stops us from choosing any method that gets the result we think we want?

2. Rules vs. Freedom 

Some people emphasize freedom. In order to make moral/ethical decisions, a person must have the freedom to choose one action over another. The view certainly has merit. This perspective contrasts rigid, rule-based (“deontological”) approaches. Highlighting freedom need not imply lawlessness. The point is simply this: no set of rules can adequately guide a person in every circumstance.

How does the “rules vs. freedom” debate shape our ministry methods?

On the one hand, I know of mission leaders who compel or pressure people under them to adopt a certain type of ministry. Perhaps, everyone is expected to use T4T, C2C, 4 Fields, chronological bible storying, etc. This rule-based approach can take other forms.

For instance, mission organization might say or suggest that all missionaries should be “church planters” or “evangelists.” Accordingly, people who are not spending the majority of their time doing these “main things” are not actually doing the real work of missions.

On the other hand, the Apostle Paul highlights the freedom individuals have when doing ministry. This is evident in at least two ways.

• God intentionally grants believers a variety of different spiritual gifts (cf. Rom 12:3–8; 1 Cor 12:4–11; 1 Pet 4:10–11).

• Paul models flexibility by becoming “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (cf. 1 Cor 9:19–23)

Should not Christian workers enjoy and exemplify this pattern of ministry?

The Spirit who sovereignly equips each individual so that God would be glorified by the diversity of ministry by the church collectively. In different times and contexts, we will need to adjust our ministry methods.

Without this freedom, do we usurp divine authority and undermine practicing genuine unity?

3. Virtue 

In general, “virtue ethics” emphasizes the importance of character (above rules and goals). A person develops habits of mind and action that guide his or her when it’s time to make decisions about right, wrong, good, and best. No doubt, this approach is not easy because it’s not formulaic.

What does this look like in a ministry context?

Missionaries with this perspective lay stress on discipleship and the church’s character. They will be concerned with balance so as not to be one-dimensional and stunt the church’s growth. As a result, they might not see rapid visible results but they will more likely see fruit that lasts. Their holistic approach accounts for what is needed for long-term growth in the Christian life.

What drives them? The conviction that God is glorified in diverse ways. Professions of faith, planting churches, etc. are just one possible way God can get glory. Faithfulness, healthy families, and service to the needy glorify God as well.

They do not want to compromise by only glorifying God in a single, narrow aspect of ministry.


 
I think we should seek to be consistent in our ethical thinking and our choice of ministry strategy. What’s intriguing is that most Christians would reject pragmatic utilitarianism when it comes to ethics; yet, when doing ministry, they are unaware that they re-embrace the same sort of thinking.

How do you see the connection play out in your life?

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The 14 Worst Types of Missionary Newsletters

Jul. 20, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Christmas-Missionary-Newsletter-from-Lets-Get-Together

From Amy Walters at SEND.

1.    The Banker. Nothing but support updates and requests for money. Oh, and maybe a story about visiting a church and asking for money. “It’s not too late to join our team.”

2.    The Paper Cut. Focused mainly on the long, paperwork-filled process of getting legal documents, like visas or residency permits. As boring and painful to read as the actual process of gathering the documents and waiting in line. “The officials did not accept our documents (which is very normal for the first attempt, although it was over very small mistakes). However, to get a second appointment would mean waiting the next day in a long line (this whole process has been full of long lines all over the city for different steps) to see if the quota is still open. So, the next day Leon* waited in line for 5 hours, only to find out that no, the quota is closed. This means that we cannot apply for the temporary residency until after the New Year.”

3.    The Cluster Bomb. No communication for months and then a sudden rush of updates. Often this happens when the missionary needs something, like more support or home service is coming. “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we will give another report about how wonderful our time was on our recent trip!”

4.    The Itinerary. Basically, a long list of activities, locations and events in paragraph form. The audience feels tired after reading it and bouncing from one place to the next. “We were able to combine visits to see Kim’s* father in Pennsylvania, children and grandchildren in Lynchburg, Virginia and Buffalo, New York to meeting friends and attending a new career conference in Ocean City, New Jersey.”

5.    The Treasure Hunt. Mostly filled with cultural tidbits and mundane details. But buried somewhere deep inside, like in a sidebar or at the very end of a long letter, is a great ministry story. [After nine paragraphs about other things] “Praise God for a girl in my class who has now received assurance of salvation.”

6.    The Novel. Anything longer than three pages. This usually happens because the missionary hasn’t written in months. “And one more thing…”

7.    The Christmas Letter. Almost entirely made up of family updates, with little or nothing said about ministry. Added bonus: long description and pictures of a recent family vacation to an exotic location. “Another family invited us to join them at a nearby resort.”

8.    The Cliff Hanger. A desperate call for prayer or help that is not followed up and resolved in the next letter.“Ended up in hospital, trying to find what’s going on. Our life here is but a moment, so easy to take it for granted.”

9.    Generic. As boring as the title, either from lack of interesting details or mainly focusing on day to day stuff. So general that it could be cut and pasted into anyone’s newsletter and still apply. “While at home, I did a lot of cleaning, sorting, and washing windows.” 

10.    The Shock & Awe. Too much going on, from too many different styles of fonts, to too many colors and clip art and photos and graphs and sections. The eyes don’t know where to look first. “Above: My fourth great-nephew and I pose for a comical photo on Thanksgiving Day.”

11.    The Snooze & Blah. No pictures. No colors. No graphics. Just words.

12.    The Judge. A negative assessment of the host culture, either subtle or blatant. “Is it possible to be both different and wrong?”

13.    The Gory Details. Goes into great detail about something incredibly gross or personal, like a recent surgery or explosive illness. Also could include pictures. “We could admire the iron in our toilet bowl.”

14.    The Bait & Switch.  Teases you with the promise of a great story but instead gets sidetracked with related but unimportant details. “So we landed in [the city], got in a van and rode out to join the teen camp that was starting the next day. 10 days later we took part in the English camp. The time at the camp definitely got us back into life here quickly.”

She offers to helpful tips here.

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VICE NEWS: The Rise of a Caliphate

Jul. 19, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Vice News has some interesting videos from embedded reports with ISIS. These are pretty chilling, but give you an idea of the mindset of those who are fighting for the Caliphate.

 

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The Training of Immigrant Christian Leaders

Jul. 18, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Last year I spoke at a TGC-Twin Cities event at a Presbyterian church plant that also hosted an Ethiopian congregation. A few weeks later I ran into a friend who was trying to help a Hmong speaking congregation in the Twin Cities. These two situations caused me to pause because we have been working on translating our curriculum to Amharic and Hmong to teach abroad while at the same time we have immigrant church leaders in the US, who for a variety of reasons can not access theological education that is available to them.oc-pastors-conference

On top of this I have been researching migrant church movements as part of PhD research.  

These two things made wonder whether TLI could help immigrant and migrant pastors in the US and Europe by providing training for them in their own language. The statistics are staggering and have led some to call it the "Great Commission in Reverse." Just in Minneapolis, MN we have 90,000 Hmong, 77,000 Somali, 37,500 Liberian and 25,000 Oromo. Or take London, where there are more non-English speaking churches than English speaking church. Or Athens, where up to 20% of the city are non-Greeks.

We now have 29 US Staff. We have the teachers and church partnerships to be able to do this.

We want to appoint someone whose focus would be to direct this specific kind of training and get like-minded churches involved in cities in the US and Europe that would continue training. This could also be a wonderful way to foster partnerships between English and non-English speaking churches that worship in the same city.

If you know someone who might be interested in leading this, you can read the job description here.

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Persecution in the West?

Jul. 1, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Here is a picture painted for us by Philip Jenkins, showing one facet of persecution in Western Countries:

Coptic believer Nadia Eweida was startled at the blatant discrimination she encountered in her job at the national airline. While Muslim women around her freely wore headscarves to fulfill their religious obligation, she was forbidden to wear a cross openly while working. Even Jews and Sikhs received more consideration: the policy was directed solely and explicitly towards Christians. When Nadia complained, political authorities and news media were grossly unsympathetic. 

We might wonder why Nadia did not simply give up the unequal struggle, and move to a country like Great Britain, where Christianity is not just tolerated but which actually has an established national church. Why would she continue to tolerate the systematic injustice of an aggressive Islamist regime...

Oh wait, my mistake. Is my face red! 

It turns out that although Nadia Eweida really is a Coptic Christian, she was living in England at the time, rather than Egypt, and that her job was with British Airways, at Heathrow. 

Read the whole thing here.

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