Posts Tagged ‘Mission challenges’

Nearly any discussion on holistic ministry, or the balance between proclamation and social action, induces strong emotions. Most of us feel strongly about one or the other, and we usually struggle to integrate proclamation of the gospel with demonstration of gospel love. Those who focus on demonstrating God’s love by meeting the physical needs of suffering humanity are frequently accused of watering down the gospel, or even ignoring man’s greatest need – that of reconciliation with his Creator. Those who focus primarily on proclamation of the truth of Jesus as the only way are seen as lacking compassion, and even ignoring man’s pressing needs that keep him from understanding the love of God.

But the Bible clearly tells us we need to do both – or rather, do it all. Proclaim God’s love and truth, do all we can for people to have access to what God says about himself and them, be incarnational representatives of the Kingdom of God anywhere and everywhere, and continually assist with the unbelievably overwhelming needs of a world that groans for its Creator, Savior and Lord. We do the gospel, the love of God toward us, and His love through us a disservice when we ignore any part of our mission.

One of the best diagrams I have ever seen of the wholeness of our mission comes from a Cape Town 2010 Advance Paper written by Paul Eshleman on behalf of a Lausanne strategy working group as an overview of the topic “Priorities in World Evangelization.” I’ve included a graphic that Dr. Eshleman uses to illustrate our priorities:

whole gospel

I see numbers 1-7, in the main body of the graphic, as being of equal priority. 8-10 are necessary as well, because they enable us to do tasks 1-7.

The Lausanne Covenant summarized our task as “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world,” and the 2010 Cape Town Commitment, in the Call to Action, listed a number of priorities for the church in working out that covenant. Every aspect of our task is dealt with, and both proclamation – especially of truth – and social action are strongly encouraged. And I would wholeheartedly sign my name to the Commitment. The following elements are listed: proclaiming the truth of Christ; building the peace of Christ; living the love of Christ; discerning the will of Christ; calling the church of Christ back to humility, simplicity and integrity; and partnering in the body of Christ for unity in mission. Every one of these is a necessary element of our mission. No part should be ignored.

So, there is a necessity for deed, for social action, for living the love of Christ and building the peace of Christ. Helping the helpless is a noble call, a necessary duty, and a winsome demonstration of God’s love toward His Creation. And, when we help, we don’t help just to “share the gospel.” We don’t build wells only for those who are “open to the gospel.” We help to meet the physical needs of Hindus, Christians, Muslims and atheists alike – because God loves them. No one has to “accept Christ” in order to receive our help.

I say this strongly to myself, because I still believe in the priority of proclamation. I still believe that the greatest need of mankind is the need of reconciliation with his God. But, in my own heart and ministry, there will always be a tendency to focus on proclamation and forget compassion – it’s just how I’m wired. All the more, I have to continually preach to myself – help others!! And don’t expect anything from it.

Having said that – funny things happen when you help people. First of all, their life begins to get easier – if for no other reason than that they see there is someone who cares about them. Second – your life is touched and changed. God’s love grows in you as you exercise it. Third, a trust relationship begins that does usually lead to opportunities to talk about other, significant needs – like reconciliation with God. And reconciliation with God leads to reconciliation with others, and what was probably a downward spiral in the life of the person helped begins to spiral upward instead. And that is so much fun to be a part of!

You can find the entire text of Dr. Eshleman’s paper here:


From the Pew study I referenced in part 1, we get an exciting picture of a group of young people that may better understand what really matters than their elders did. Family, helping others, openness to others – these are more valued by Millenials. At the same time, church has lost their trust – although faith is still important.

In order to engage Millenials in missions, a few key words come to mind. Family, authenticity, education and compassion are important. Being techno-savvy, providing means to connect in multiple media, and enabling them to fulfill their extended family responsibilities will be things that they will probably look for in an organization.

I think making an appeal based on the radical nature of the missionary lifestyle will be attractive for many Millenials. They’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt – but they haven’t incarnated Jesus Christ among the Uzbeks, yet. Also, the more creative opportunities we can offer, the better.

Continuing a focus on the spiritual aspect of our mission is vital, as well. We probably don’t have to worry anymore about a denominational affiliation being important, or even about the old discussion of church/para-church. Millenials don’t seem to care. But we really need to continue to promote and model an authentic, transparent walk with Christ – in all levels of our organization. This will both attract and keep people who join us.

Millenials say that the older generations have a better work ethic and more developed moral values. I think Millenials expect us to help them develop those aspects better. We ought not be afraid to mentor them in those areas. In fact, any way that we can continue to integrate the Builders and Boomers, even after their retirement in organizational “family” could be very valuable for all of us. And I believe Millenials would welcome the input of those who are now old enough to be their grandparents.

Of course, everything we can do to use the web, facebook, twitter, etc. will be helpful – for as long as those media are still in use. Actually, more than helpful – irreplaceable. Our use of these media can be simple – but it has to be done well. However, I think personal relationship and trust building is still vital in our recruiting – it isn’t replaced by technology, but can be enhanced by technology.

Anything we can do to become more diverse will be welcome to Millenials, as well. With a globalizing world, and the Millenials’ openness to other cultures, if our agencies aren’t much more colorful in 20 years, they will probably be in danger of dying. Opportunities to be involved in compassion ministry will also be more attractive than many other ministries. Anything we can do to encourage and facilitate continuing education is already a necessity, considering that over half the Millenials are already at or beyond university age.

This Baby Buster sees the Millenials as just as great a potential for change as the Boomers have been – and to be honest, with more positives than the Boomers gave us. But we can’t just “buy” them into our own agenda and vision. Sure, we can and should influence them, but they will want to create their own thing. Can we let them? I hope so.

As a GenXer (born September 1969), when anyone discusses the Millennial Generation, I find it a little shocking to realize that they are talking about my kids – or two of them at least, born in 1993 and 1995. My oldest son entered college last year, so I glanced at Beloit College’s annual “Mindset List” ( ) to see some of the things that identify his peers:

This year’s entering college class of 2015 was born just as the Internet took everyone onto the information highway and as Amazon began its relentless flow of books and everything else into their lives.  Members of this year’s freshman class, most of them born in 1993, are the first generation to grow up taking the word “online” for granted and for whom crossing the digital divide has redefined research, original sources and access to information, changing the central experiences and methods in their lives. They have come of age as women assumed command of U.S. Navy ships, altar girls served routinely at Catholic Mass, and when everything from parents analyzing childhood maladies to their breaking up with boyfriends and girlfriends, sometimes quite publicly, have been accomplished on the Internet

A few other selected factoids from the list help me understand Clint’s generation a little better:

  1. Their first president was William Jefferson Clinton (no, my son Clinton is not named after him – but most people assume he was!)
  2. The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
  3. There have nearly always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, and women have always commanded U.S. Navy ships.
  4. O.J. Simpson has always been looking for the killers of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
  5. Women have never been too old to have children.
  6. The Communist Party has never been the official political party in Russia.
  7. “Yadda, yadda, yadda” has always come in handy to make long stories short.
  8. Dial-up is soooooooooo last century!
  9. Women have always been kissing women on television.
  10. Sears has never sold anything out of a Big Book that could also serve as a doorstop.
  11. They’ve always wanted to be like Shaq or Kobe: Michael Who?
  12. They won’t go near a retailer that lacks a website.
  13. When they were 3, their parents may have battled other parents in toy stores to buy them a Tickle Me Elmo while they lasted. (Yep!! I remember that!)
  14. “PC” has come to mean Personal Computer, not Political Correctness.


The Pew Social Trends article on Millenials:  A Portrait of Generation Next – Confident.Connected. Open to Change, lists a number of ways in which Millenials differ from previous generation – and many of those ways can inspire a real optimism that this younger generation may be an improvement over the last two.

As the title says, they are more confident than the previous generations, more connected – both technologically and to one another, and much more open to change. They are more self-expressive, far more ethnically and racially diverse and more open to other cultures and immigrants.  Millenials are on track to become the most well-educated generation in American history. They are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures. They are history’s first “always connected” generation. Steeped in digital technology and social media, they treat their multi-tasking hand-held gadgets almost like a body part – for better and worse.

They say they have enough or will meet their financial goals – although I think those goals are less demanding. They respect their elders. A majority say that the older generation is superior to the younger generation when it comes to moral values and work ethic. Also, more than six-in-ten say that families have a responsibility to have an elderly parent come live with them if that parent wants to. By contrast, fewer than four-in-ten adults ages 60 and older agree that this is a family responsibility.

They are the least overtly religious American generation in modern times. One-in-four are unaffiliated with any religion, far more than the share of older adults when they were ages 18 to 29. Yet not belonging does not necessarily mean not believing. Millennials pray about as often as their elders did in their own youth. Being a good parent is significantly more important for Millenials than it was for Gen Xers at the same point in their lives. Helping others – slightly more important. Having free time for leisure – slightly less important. They are less politically engaged, but slightly more likely than GenXers and Boomers to volunteer, and significantly more likely than Builders.

In my next post, I’ll share some of my thoughts on how these characteristics affect mission agencies, as they seek to engage Millenials.

Including this challenge undoubtedly reflects my heart as a church-planter. My theological education colleagues would probably put “orality” here, and a more strategic thinker may put “identity and vision” in this fifth spot (or first!) But the growing interest in church planting movements, the rise of the “emerging” church, the explosion of house churches, and the death of denominations are all reshaping the landscape of the global church. Within my own agency, we may need to rethink our definitions of church – and then we will face another balancing act between that definition, and the definitions that most of our supporters cling to.

All of these factors affect most mission agencies, even those traditionally associated with a denomination. Our understanding of church, even in the West, is being shaped by the non-West – and that’s a good thing. However, there are myriad different understandings of what it means to be a church. How do we define church within our global mission? How does the majority of our supporters define church? How do our national partners define church? How do we promote rapid growth of church planting movements (assuming we want to do so), while still effectively training church leaders?

Neither persecution nor terror is a new challenge for the church. After all, 1800 years ago, Tertullian claimed that the blood of the martyrs is seed of the church. And it still is. David Garrison, in his book Church Planting Movements, identified the high cost for following Christ – as seen in persecution and martyrdom – as a factor present in most church planting movements (224). Persecution is still a fact of life for many (most?) Christians around the world, and will remain so until Christ returns.
The war on terror isn’t new, either. Ask an Israeli, a Londoner who lived during the height of the IRA bombings, or a current resident of northern Mexico. But the fact that the majority of mission agencies are based in the “Great Satan,” in addition to the prejudice that many Americans have toward Islamic peoples and countries, produces a tension that directly affects the work of those same agencies. Even if the missionary is not serving in a Muslim country, the threat of a terrorist act remains, and the prejudice she encounters when she returns to the United States can sometimes look like a xenophobic reaction against all non-Westerners and immigrants.
The tension is heightened when we understand our citizenship is not in this world. This concept is easier for those who live and work cross-culturally – to such a degree that we are sometimes seen as non-patriotic by our fellow Americans. It’s also made tougher when we begin to see our call as one that consumes our life, is worthy of martyrdom, and challenges us to sacrifice and suffering. When that happens, it’s as if we are speaking a foreign language for many of our fellow Christians in the West.
But, that’s the tension we missionaries face, and our mission agencies as well. The agencies are in the position of encouraging people to serve, invest their lives, and go boldly. But they also are faced with the responsibility of caring for those same people, evacuating and counseling them when all hell breaks loose, and reassuring their friends and family members that it will be ok.
We who share kingdom values recognize the inestimable worth of the martyr. Yet – I can’t honestly confess that I want to be one, and I’m hoping that my international ministry director would rather I didn’t become one as well. However . . . if that’s what it takes . . . we long to be able to say, “Not my will, but yours, Lord.”

1.       The challenge of financial stress is somewhat influenced by globalization, as the global financial crisis has negatively affected charitable giving in the United States. The generational changes have probably had an even greater impact, however. The “Builder” generation, the great givers, are going on to glory. The “Me-First” generation is worrying about retirement, and rescuing Social Security. The “Busters” are too few to make up the difference, and the Millenials are still too early in their careers to have a lot of disposable income.

And frankly, there is less interest in supporting “institutions,” especially those that may be out-of-touch with the post-modern, globalized and multi-cultural world. Perhaps the Millenials will rescue us yet, and perhaps the Western church will undergo a revival of biblical values and a re-awakening of biblical stewardship. And perhaps those organizations that remain out-of-touch will not survive.

We do need to be more creative in funding, whether through grants and foundations, or whether through more tent-making missionaries. As well, strategies that focus more on individual connections, trust, and transparency will work better than expecting people to be loyal to an institution.

But – the financial stresses show no real sign of weakening. This factor in itself may produce the greatest change in the worldwide mission force, as North American missionaries (expensive) are forced to return home, while majority world missionaries (much less expensive to support) grow in numbers. Meanwhile, the merchants, construction workers, soldiers and nannies will still be the majority in God’s mission force.

1.      The changing mission force is more global now, but in the United States it is also shrinking. This may partially be caused by spiritual factors in the American church, but it is probably much more related to the retirements of the largest American generation, the Baby-Boomers. Nearly every mission is dealing with a greater number of retirees than ever before, as the Baby-Boomers live longer (a good thing). For most missions, including my own, senior leadership has been invested in men who are nearing retirement age. Of course, these are men with experience and training, and with a modern mind-set that is more results-oriented than that of the post-modern Gen-Xers and Millenials.

We Gen-Xers, in addition to our small numbers, as well as the Millenials, bring a different focus to our call, but we also tend to bring more baggage, in the form of abusive, divorced or non-existent parents; increased addictions to images (a post-modern cliché most seen in the rise of pornography); different expectations from our workplace; and, for the millenials, the likelihood of changing jobs (career? call?) many times over the course of our life. I don’t believe many mission agencies have strategized well to address the issues that affect Millenials. However, I would love to hear differently. What is working well to attract – and keep – Millenials in mission?

Sometimes it’s a dirty word (ask a French farmer), and sometimes it’s the economic lifeline for a third-world economy. Whether positive or negative, however, it is the new reality, the new world order. My Japanese laptop was made in China, possibly shipped on a Panamanian or Liberian freighter by a Danish company to the United States, where I bought it. In the church world, Hillsong, Rick Warren or Joyce Meyer have more influence here in Poland (and possibly in Indonesia, Brazil and Rwanda) than any Polish pastor or church (or the corresponding national leaders in other countries may have).

Urbanization is somewhat connected to globalization, and today’s cultural, political and economic centers – New York, London, Paris, Tokyo – are sometimes more important and influential to a small country than that country’s own capital city. Today’s modern mega-city is a globalized nation-state that at least partially integrates the entire world in a few square kilometers.

With the interdependency of economies comes the interaction of ideas and the interweaving of art and culture. Intermarriage between nationalities becomes the norm, not the exception, and even a remote church can begin to look (and sound) more international.

How do mission agencies deal with the internationality of Christianity, theology, and mission? How do we handle the internationality of the global mission force? Or, for  my organization, WorldVenture, how do we talk about mission “from everywhere, to everywhere” while still appointing only North Americans? Of course, our Poland field is an excellent example of the fact that we really are international, as we have had workers from New Zealand, England, and Poland as career missionaries. In addition, WorldVenture’s intentionality in creating nationally run mission agencies in Philippines and Brazil – and other countries – is worthy of emulation, because such a strategy truly does respect and value our non-American partners in ministry.

But, the world is growing smaller, and the Kansas schoolteacher may marry a Kenyan construction worker, and both may be called to evangelism through English in Tokyo. Recruitment and appointment are not the only issues for mission agencies to consider in a globalized world, either. They have to address finances, especially when workers are appointed from different economic backgrounds, and are supported by disparate economic realities; values, when cultures collide on a mission team; and missional practice, when what works in the United States is attempted by Brazilian missionaries in Shanghai.

In my opinion, flexibility and humility must be the guiding principles for us. A stiff policy manual may have worked in the past, but it will doom us in the future. Constant communication, especially of expectations and perceptions, is a must, as well. And perhaps the answer is in more small organizations that work closely together, rather than larger agglomerates that try to integrate everyone into an American pattern.

Five major challenges for U.S. mission agencies over the next ten years.
I am very grateful to Dr. Philip Steyne, my professor at Columbia International University, for his class on “Contemporary Issues in Missions,” June 2011. He emailed dozens of missionaries around the world, from many agencies, to better understand several trends in missions. Not all of the trends he identified are barriers, but what I learned during his class is the foundation for the challenges I list below. In addition, my cohorts in Poland – from several different missions – have added their input.
The five major challenges that I would identify are as follows:
1. Globalization.
2. Mission force changes.
3. Financial stresses.
4. Persecution and the “war on terror.”
5. Exponential growth of various church forms.

Truth is, a number of other issues could be added, depending on the viewpoint of the person asked. Issues like orality – 70% of the world being in an oral-based culture, or urbanization are significant. A recent document from WorldVenture identified “identity and vision” as a key issue moving forward, and my colleagues from other organizations also mentioned similar issues with their agencies.

In posts to follow, I’ll try to expand on each of these points

These are the challenges that I think most mission agencies today are facing. They are significant, but if we look back, even over the past 100 years, we will find similar issues. The world was “won” in the first part of the 20th century, and evangelical missions struggled with an identity crisis, pre- World War I. Another crisis occurred in the 1970s, pre-Lausanne. But even through 2 World Wars, the rise and fall of communism, the rise of liberalism, secularism and materialism to sap the missionary’s zeal – God’s Mission keeps expanding.