Posts Tagged ‘Missions’

Part 6 of reflections from a class on “Missional Leadership,” taught by Dr. Reggie McNeal at Columbia International University.

A huge part of encouraging and facilitating movement is multiplying and developing leaders who multiply and develop other leaders. It’s this kind of reproducing development that promotes movement – in all areas, really, but especially in missions. Thankfully, there are many different methods of training leaders, from the very formal seminary setting to the very informal occasional mentoring of an emerging leader. Rather than argue over which is better, I think each setting can best address certain areas, while not doing so well in others.

Dr. McNeal listed four areas of leadership development:

  1. Paradigm – vision, mission, how people see the world
  2. Micro-skill – team-building, listening, communication skills, conflict management, recruiting, leading a meeting – among many others
  3. Resource development – how we use prayer, time, finances, etc.
  4. Spiritual formation – judgment, marriage, emotional intelligence

Dr. McNeal was very clear in stating that leadership development, in movement, is not about helping people learn to do their church job better. To be honest, if we want movement, we need a different kind of leader than most church leaders tend to be. I need to be more intentional in focusing on all these areas in people development. I tend to focus most on micro-skills and spiritual formation, but I think the primary focus might need to be in the paradigm area – helping Polish people see the world differently, especially in the light of some of the shifts that Dr. McNeal mentioned earlier (my posts 2 and 3.)

The course in Missional Leadership prompted me to think through several areas, and to set some goals to enable me to move in the direction of apostolic, movement-oriented leadership – not just for myself, but promoting that kind of leadership in Poland. Two questions serve as starting points as I try to think about a leadership culture change:

1. How can we address those aspects of leadership development that are missing for apostolic leaders?

  1. How do we decrease denominationalism?
  2. How do we Increase Kingdom-centricity?
  3. How can I help leaders develop and release other leaders?
  4. How can I help leaders become better team players?

2. How can we change the language to better encourage missional thinking and discussion?

In my opinion, changing the language is one of the key ways to begin changing a culture. Of course, I’m not referring to introducing English words into Polish, or changing Polish culture to be more American. I’m trying to figure out how in a Polish context, we can change the leadership culture. Hence, in Polish, how can we change the language to promote Kingdom-centricity, releasing other leaders, etc.?

The Polish language does not use articles, so saying “the Church” looks and sounds the same as saying “a church.” However, most evangelical groups use another word entirely to say church. This word means “assembly,” but it is really understood only by Protestants, and a few Catholics who have had contact with Protestants. Other questions arise: how would we say “missional” in Polish? Of course, the word itself matters much less than the concept.  I think missional would be the same word as missionary, just used as an adjective. Then of course – what would that mean for Poles, to hear about “missionary communities” in their midst?

Missional Leadership I

Missional Leadership II

Missional Leadership III

Missional Leadership IV: A Preparedness Mentality

Missional Leadership V: Keeping Score

Part 5 of reflections from a class on “Missional Leadership,” taught by Dr. Reggie McNeal at Columbia International University.

 

The scorecard – what do we count?

This particular highlight was woven throughout the major shifts, and is one of the key points from the course. What do we count, in order to see if we really are winning the game? In the past, we have counted heads, membership, income, and other such concrete items that tell us that our church is growing. However, if we make a shift that is more external, more kingdom-centric, then these measurements become less important. In addition, these measurements have never really adequately measured the real resources that we put into the task.

Dr. McNeal divided the scorecard into the following resource areas:

Prayer

Time

People

Money

Facilities

Technology

Asking questions such as “how many prayer days are in the church calendar?” (prayer/time assessment) or “how many prayer coaches or intercessors serve our community?” (prayer/people assessment) gives a better way to evaluate if we are accomplishing what we set out to do. Dr. McNeal’s book Missional Renaissance is full of many other such examples, but in reality we need to do the work of developing our own scorecard, based on our own vision and goals.

Developing such a scorecard also allows us to move away from dry, unexciting numbers into a method of record-keeping that better lends itself to stories. By including categories that every person can identify with and rejoice in, and by counting “process” elements as well as finished products, we enable everyone to see how vital is the element that God has placed on their heart. In other words, we affirm the pray-er as much as the evangelist, and acknowledge the work of the janitor, IT geek, and social worker as spiritually valid, kingdom and community-centric vocations.

Of course, for many, such an orientation is difficult to accept. It means saying “we devoted 15 minutes to prayer during our Sunday service” becomes an important measurement, in the same way “we had 3 new visitors” is. Without focusing on the numbers in those statements (15 minutes is way too little – but show me a church that devotes more . . .), I think I would have to agree – devoting time to prayer during our gatherings is just as important a measurement as how many new people came to a service. Of course, the measurements don’t have to be equal in rank, either. The point is – if we want movement, we have to put time, energy and resources into the movement, and we should be able to figure out where to put them, and how to increase them. So – if we believe having people pray regularly is important, then let’s start counting and recognizing praying people.

I would love to see our own organization rethink its strategic counting process. However, I’m afraid my colleagues would take out a hit on me if I pushed for that!! (The last strategic change process was pretty painful)

Missional Leadership I

Missional Leadership II

Missional Leadership III

Missional Leadership IV

Part 4 of reflections from a class on “Missional Leadership,” taught by Dr. Reggie McNeal at Columbia International University. In this part, I want to focus on some of the parts of what Dr. McNeal called a “preparedness mentality.” In other words, what are some of the discrete parts that we can work on, in an attempt to build momentum for movement. The context is in missional movement, but Dr. McNeal also related it to leadership development

 

1. Vision

“Vision bubbles up, not cascades down. Ask the right questions: If a spiritual awakening came, what would it look like? What would churches be doing? What would we be doing?” (RM – Reggie McNeal)

“Vision is very concrete – ask community leaders what 2 things, if changed, would make a difference in our community. Then connect what the church leaders say with what community leaders say.” (RM)

Everyone’s “vision” will be different in building a movement – and that’s ok – in fact, it’s great! It’s a measure of our trust in the work of the Holy Spirit to recognize that the vision He gives others is a part of the whole. We frequently turn the vision concept upside down, thinking that the pastor is the conduit through which the Holy Spirit casts a divine vision, when in fact he might be the bottleneck that squeezes God’s vision into a mortal memo.

 

2. Values

“Values are behaviorally examined -they are not beliefs.” “What behaviors will support the vision?” (RM)

“There can be – and often is –  vision/values misalignment. When that happens, we might not make progress in vision, but we sometimes don’t know why.” (RM)

The last statement helped me realized just how important are these values. They aren’t necessarily the starting point, but they probably need just as much time and attention, if not more, as we put into strategizing a vision. In the end, the big picture vision motivates us, but the behaviors bring a vision to life and make it reality. 

 

3. Results

The scorecard – how do we know we are winning? How do we know we are making progress? Dr. McNeal developed this idea at more length throughout the week, and I will deal with it separately in the next post. It is one of the fractals, or discrete elements, of our preparation, though, because we must know what to count before we begin counting!

 

  • 4. Strengths

“Move forward on our strengths.” “Balance is a myth. It’s paralyzing. You are not balanced, and you never will be.” “Be aware of your weaknesses, but lead with your strengths” (RM)

When we focus on our strengths, and lead with our strengths, I think we more closely function in line with Biblical teaching on Holy Spirit gifting. One question, however, is how leading with our strengths affects multiplication, both of faith communities and of other leaders. In other words, if I am a gifted preacher, when do I need to subordinate my strength, to allow other less gifted preachers an opportunity to grow? Although I would say that multiplication demands that we assist others to grow soon and fast, the question arises – when do I get to use MY strengths (gifts?) 🙂

Dr. McNeal suggested that we get all these elements – vision, values, results, and strengths – condensed to the size of a postcard. As he put it, there is an inverse proportion between the size of the plan and what actually gets accomplished. If we can concisely and quickly tell someone what we hope to accomplish and how we intend to do it, we have a much better chance of engaging them – as opposed to boring them!

Missional Leadership I

Missional Leadership II

Missional Leadership III

Part 3 of reflections from a class on “Missional Leadership,” taught by Dr. Reggie McNeal at Columbia International University. In part one, I shared Dr. McNeal’s description of the “missional” church, and some thoughts in relating that to our Polish context. In parts 2 and 3, I am sharing a series of paradigm shifts that are necessary in order for us to think and behave missionally, with comments from our context.

The first two paradigm shifts, from part 2:

From internal to external

From program driven to people development

 

The final two paradigm shifts:

From institutional manager to movement leader.

Dr. McNeal did include a caveat that “institutional management” is still required in many cases – the deacons from Acts 6 are one example. But he suggested that even the most bureaucratic of leaders can move in the “apostolic” direction. In class, he described an apostolic – or movement – leader as one that: has a genuine vision; is Kingdom-centric (not church-centric); is entrepreneurial – a risk-taker; is genuinely spiritual; is a developer – releasing people; is a team player.

I think that this type of leader is an extension of the previous shift – from program driven to people development. When we stop focusing on programs, and begin focusing on people development, the institutional manager – or program manager – becomes less important than the person who can develop and release people. Simply by changing our focus, most of us can move in the direction of being a movement leader. Of course, out of the thousands of people who followed Jesus, and later became the church, only a handful were considered apostles, and only a handful were true movement leaders – but that’s ok. Today as well – I may do my best to foster a movement in Poland, but it will probably be someone else who becomes the catalyst. In the end, though, it’s the movement that counts – not my ministry, or the church or denomination I serve. Hence the kingdom-centric focus as opposed to a church-centric focus.

There are a handful of Polish leaders who nearly fit this description. They have a real vision, are entrepreneurial, and are genuinely spiritual. Denominationalism is still a big problem, and the kingdom-centric focus is not yet a reality. Many Polish evangelical leaders frequently struggle with developing and releasing leaders and with being a team player – as opposed to being a lone ranger. But I believe there are more such apostolic leaders today, especially younger leaders, than there were a generation or two ago. The description that we have above gives us a better picture of what areas still need development among leaders.

 

From church-centric to community-centric.

“Move from being an institutional rep and think more of yourself as a viral agent” (class notes from Reggie McNeal)

Of all the shifts Dr. McNeal mentioned, this one may be the most difficult to implement in Poland, at least among evangelical churches. Roman Catholic apostolic leaders – and there are a few – will have a much easier time implementing such a shift. The reason for this difficulty is based in the historic idea that “To be Polish is to be Catholic.” When converts leave the Roman Catholic Church to become Evangelical, their ties with family and friends are significantly weakened. Frequently, evangelical converts feel less “Polish”, and, as a result of being ostracized, even feel betrayed by their nation. Evangelicals have a hard time being “community-centric,” and frequently prefer to hunker down in their church bunker.

Of course, one response to this difficulty is to encourage believers to remain in their Roman Catholic network. But many growing Christians have a difficult time remaining in a church that they see as having betrayed a sacred trust of teaching truth. So they leave, feeling betrayed by the Church, and then betrayed by their loved ones who don’t understand their decision. The growth of postmodernism and pluralism is opening an opportunity to see this tension change, however. Traditionally Catholic Poles are becoming more accepting of differences, and all believers need to take their focus away from church brand and onto a community that desperately needs assistance and a Christ who can rescue it.

Missional Leadership I

Missional Leadership II

Part 2 of reflections from a class on “Missional Leadership,” taught by Dr. Reggie McNeal at Columbia International University. In part one, I shared Dr. McNeal’s description of the “missional” church, and some thoughts in relating that to our Polish context.

Thinking and behaving missionally requires a series of paradigm shifts:

1. From internal to external

The people of God need to refocus their hearts and resources on the world. We have focused mostly on ourselves, but we need to remind ourselves just how much God loves the world. It really isn’t enough to pay lip service to this, but we must also demonstrate this shift through our use of resources, and through the behaviors we reward. One very practical idea that Dr. McNeal mentioned was to get involved in a nearby public school. There we can see and begin to meet nearly all of the needs around us.

Polish evangelical churches are usually strongly evangelistic. Their methods are frequently outdated, but the desire is strong to win their country for Christ. And with 0.15% evangelicals, there’s a lot of people to win! Most evangelical leaders are much more focused on building their church than they are on building the Kingdom, but there is very little of the apathy that sometimes characterizes churches in North America. However, their small size and position as a cult makes it difficult for the churches, as organizations working independently of one another, to get involved in community services – whether schools, community centers, or compassion organizations. So, a better way may be to lessen the organizational involvement, and encourage individual believers, or small groups, to get involved as volunteers in community organizations. In the end, it isn’t about increasing the visibility of our church in the community – a common error that churches in both Poland and America make. What matters is blessing the community where we live. I’m convinced that doing that actually does increase our positive reputation, but when we make blessing the goal, rather than popularity, we contribute more to advancing God’s Kingdom, rather than our own.

2. From program driven to people development

“We have to get this shift – this is the real crux of it.” “Goal of the program model – how many people came Sunday, how long did it go, did we have enough workers, etc.  DID WE MEET BUDGET?” “You can go weeks in some program models and the topic of people never comes up. The goal is participation.” (Reggie McNeal, in class)

A short look at the life of Jesus, or even more, the life of Paul shows us the importance that both placed on developing people. It’s an incredibly sad state of affairs if the question “did we meet budget” has become more important than “are people growing in Christ.”

Unfortunately, most Polish churches have understood a successful church to be one with multiple programs. In fact, Polish evangelical leaders have usually used American megachurches as models for ministry, resulting in a large degree of frustration when the Polish spiritual reality does not bring the same results they read and hear about in America. There definitely are different areas to address in people development in Poland than there are in America, but I have to think that a focus on growing people and not programs will probably be much less frustrating and more rewarding in the Polish church. Granted, mentoring and discipling can also be frustrating at times – but the Polish church sometimes has such wildly unrealistic expectations toward programs that a people focus might actually turn out to be a huge relief!

In addition, programs are resource hogs – and the Polish evangelical church is pretty poor, both in money and number of personnel. Of course, as Dr. McNeal also mentioned, a focus on people development does not mean an elimination of all programs – rather it means a restructuring of priorities. If we can recapture the people focus, we can be more intentional about letting people try and fail – in order to learn and grow – even as they lead or participate in a “program.” The “success” of the program becomes subordinated to the “process” or growth of both the volunteers and the recipients.

As a small personal aside – I get very frustrated by teachers from the West who come and tell the Polish church how it should be done. Their ideas are sometimes so wildly inappropriate in the Polish context that it’s as if a bunch of Martians came to tell us how to plant crops. And yes – I’m an American, attempting to influence my Polish brothers and sisters. And I’ve probably made just as stupid statements over the years as some of these big church teachers make here. God forgive me and us. However, 14 years of toiling alongside my brothers and sisters here, of wrestling with similar cultural issues and slow growth has helped me understand this context better, and helped them consider me one of them. We won’t change Poland by implementing an American church growth program. We might change Poland by focusing on people instead of programs, though.

Again, much of what Dr. McNeal said in class can be found in his book Missional Renaissance.

Missional Leadership I

 

When I posted on Facebook that I would be taking a course in “Missional Leadership,” one of my colleagues asked – facetiously, I think – if I was preparing to take over from the president of our mission, WorldVenture. The question highlights the misunderstanding that exists around the word “missional,” especially when cross-cultural missionaries enter the conversation. When we talk about the “mission,” we frequently make the same mistake we do when we talk about the “church”. “Mission” and “church” can come to mean organizations instead of “sentness” and “the people of God.”

In “Missional Leadership,” Dr. Reggie McNeal challenged us to rethink both church and mission, but especially then to involve ourselves in the adventure that such a rethinking could initiate. He helped us define “missional church”, shared with us several shifts that identify a missional focus, and helped us think through some leadership challenges for bringing missional change. However, the concept that will probably have the most ongoing impact for all us is the idea of changing the scorecard, of counting and rewarding those activities that matter most.

Much of what he said in class can be found in his book Missional Renaissance, which I reviewed here.

I’ll include some of my highlights from the course, especially focusing on the missional church, and a brief response. I’d like to especially focus on the potential impact or difficulty I see in applying these highlights in our Polish context.

The missional church is:

a.)    The people of God b.) partnering with Him c.) in His redemptive mission d.) in the world. (RM) (RM will refer to quotes from Dr. McNeal in class)

“Missional church is a redundant term” (RM). The church (the people of God) are sent. They are on a mission – always have been. Among Jesus’ last words in the Gospel of John, we read, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”[1]  A number of times in the New Testament, we see Jesus sending His disciples (Mt. 10:5,16; Jn. 17:18; Acts 9:17; 22:21; 26:17; Rom. 10:15).

The people of God “have a way of being in the world, that is informed by the biblical notion of God creating a people (Ex. 19). Abraham’s part – bless everyone not in your tribe. The message we are priesting (Ex. 19) – to be people of blessing. This biblical covenant has never been rescinded.” (RM). This people of God is sometimes gathered into silos, but missional followers see the people of God deployed all across society – in and out of “church.”

When we partner with God, as the people of God, we join with what God is doing in the hearts and lives of people – in and out of the church community, but more frequently outside of it. God is not confined to a shrine, and works of ministry should take place on the street, where people live and hurt and love and die. Partnering with God in His redemptive mission in the world means finding people who are also involved in His mission, and blessing them. It also means functioning as God does and blessing those who are not blessed and have no hope for blessing.

In Poland, there is significant potential for building on the idea of the people of God. There is a growing willingness to put denominationalism aside in the family of God. However, the chasm between Roman Catholic and everyone else remains wide and deep in any way that involves Church hierarchy. There are still frequent spats between evangelical churches over prospective or wandering members. If anything, though, this may force all of us into looking past church structure to truly be the people of God.

“Being a people of blessing” is a radical, very necessary, and potentially game-changing concept for believers in Poland. Polish people strongly believe in the maxim “don’t praise a child, or you’ll spoil him.” Many Poles grow up with a shattered self-image, and the idea of blessing someone else – or for that matter, being blessed by someone who has no ulterior motive – is a truly unknown idea. In a private conversation with Dr. McNeal, as I mentioned the language difficulty of using terms like “missional community” or “life groups,” he suggested using some term that included the idea of “communities of blessing.”

The Polish word for blessing can have a double entendre meaning of “pregnant,” so the term may or may not work (a pregnant group, of course, also implies multiplication – a very good thing). Of course, simply beginning or naming groups “blessing groups,” is not sufficient. We need to learn how to bless others, and even more important, how we can contextualize blessing others in Polish culture and engage our Polish brothers and sisters in blessing their communities.


[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 20:21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

After 14 years (and counting) of living and working in Poland, I have absorbed far more of Polish culture and attitudes than I usually realize. One characteristic of Poles is that they frequently struggle to celebrate success. It hasn’t been considered good form to praise others, lest they get a big head. Poles laugh at their own parenting proverbs like “don’t praise a child, or you’ll spoil him.” As a nation, they are realizing that praise can be a positive motivator, although there is still significant resistance to the idea. And as a nation, they are becoming a model in Europe for economic growth and other changes in a very difficult time – although many Poles would not admit to this (see above).

So, when I think about and want to celebrate WorldVenture’s 25 years in Poland, this goes through my head: “I need to be careful in case a) someone thinks I am being proud, and b) someone thinks I am comparing our organization to others to make us look good.” Of course, if I didn’t think WorldVenture and our team in Poland was the best choice for us – I wouldn’t be here. I am proud of our organization and our team. However, as I shared in the last post – there are several other amazing groups serving in Poland. I know many of those servants are just as proud of their “tribe” as I am of mine.

Am I comparing? Well, maybe sometimes. We all have that strong temptation in ministry, and it becomes one of our besetting sins. Depending on our personality, we either compare and end up feeling bad about ourselves, or compare to feel better about ourselves (pride).  For instance, my personality usually goes in the second direction – my wife’s, in the first. I don’t think the end result actually has anything to do with the real facts, but everything to do with our personality and temperament. So just by saying “we’ve been here 25 years” I can do a “one-up-man” on my friends from other organizations. (Also worded as “nah-nah-na-nah-nah”) Yes, sometimes even veteran missionaries act like junior-highers!

Seriously, though, although I love the history our organization has here in Poland, I’m thrilled any time I run into someone new who is serving here. As I said in the last post – there aren’t very many of us here. Way too few to spend much time comparing. And way too much to do to not bless one another and work together as much as possible.

So – with all those caveats above, I’m proud of the great missionaries with WorldVenture Poland for:

1. Having the courage to move into Poland in the late 1980s. (See Wojciech Szczerba’s letter in post I)

2. Having the humility to not push an American agenda, but to discover and assist in a Polish agenda.

3. Having the endurance to stay the long haul. Some of our people are among the longest serving North American missionaries in Poland.

4. Having the flexibility to develop a multi-cultural team. Long before this was a popular topic in our mission, we had a team that was made up of people from 5 countries on 3 continents. For years, at least a quarter of our team has been Polish.

5. Having the grace to forgive and build camaraderie. Our team truly has a family atmosphere.

It’s a great team!

(Applications available on the WorldVenture website) 🙂

25 Years of WorldVenture in Poland I

25 Years of WorldVenture in Poland II

 

“We all owe an incredible debt of gratitude to Campus Crusade.” My colleague, Dennis, was reflecting on the first years of WorldVenture in Poland. And he’s right. Although WorldVenture is one of of the oldest North American missions in Poland – I think we were second – Campus Crusade arrived ten years before we did. And Crusade personnel helped our first people get apartments, language teachers, visas, connections with church leaders, and on and on. Every mission organization in Poland owes Crusade a debt of gratitude, because most of us have continued to help one another, in a kind of “Pay It Forward” ethos.

Poland has one of the lowest percentages of evangelicals in the whole world – at 0.15%. It’s number of missionaries per capita is among the lowest in the world, as well. Wladyslaw Dwulat, president of the Evangelical Alliance of Poland, estimates the total number of missionaries at 120, out of a total population in Poland of 38.5 million. The number of missionaries is down, from a high of 180 in the early 2000’s. Perhaps these low numbers have helped all of us be more cooperative and less competitive.

In any case, our team in Poland has also experienced the rich blessing of being able to partner closely with several other organizations: TEAM, SEND International, Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists International, and Josiah Venture. In each case we have seconded or received seconded people into our team. In addition to Campus Crusade, we have been able to work closely with Greater Europe Mission, Christian Missionary Alliance, International Mission Board, Pioneers, Reach Global, European Christian Mission, International Messengers and probably several others that I never knew about.

Of course, probably even more important than our cooperation with other North American missions has been our opportunity to work closely with Polish evangelical organizations. We have primarily been connected with the Polish Baptist Union, reflecting our heritage as a historically Baptist mission organization. In addition, we have worked with the Church of Evangelical Christians, the Church of Free Christians, independent fellowships, and the Evangelical Alliance itself. Our first personnel modeled a pattern of ministry that subordinated their/our agendas to the agendas of our Polish partners. Based on their model, our team worked to continue that ethos. Thankfully, we have an international structure that allows us to set strategy at the field level, and enables us to be supportive of national workers’ agendas, as opposed to finding nationals to support our agendas.

So – Paul said it best in Philippians 1:3

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (KJV). As we reflect on 25 years of our organization in Poland, we continually come across memories of people from other organizations and churches who have been vital in our ministry. Thank you, God for our brothers and sisters.

Hopefully, just as so many others have been helpful for us, we have been faithful in serving others.

25 Years of WorldVenture in Poland I

25 Years of WorldVenture in Poland III

This year our organization celebrates 25 years of residential ministry in Poland. Although we had teachers with Biblical Education by Extension traveling from Vienna to Poland during the early 1980s, the first two families to move to Poland arrived in 1988. In the next few posts, I want to reflect on our presence here.

First, I want to post a letter to WorldVenture people from Wojciech Szczerba, the president of the Evangelical Theological Semininary of Wroclaw (EWST, in Polish).  His letter brought tears to my eyes. Of course, much of what he says does not exclusively apply to WorldVenture, but to all of us who have left family and friends to move to a different country and culture in order to faithfully incarnate the love and grace of God.

Dear World Venture Friends,

First of all I would like to send you warm greetings from Evangelical School of Theology.

 It seems amazing that World Venture celebrates this year its 25th year of operation in Poland. It’s been crucial years in the history of our country: the end of Communism and its 45 years rule over Polish nation, the beginning of our free country with Solidarity movement, the pontificate of John Paul II, the entrance of Poland into European Union structures and the European Soccer Championship last year. Amazing piece of history, tremendous changes over the last 25 years. I am sure many of you remember how it was in Poland at the end of 80’s. The poverty of the nation, grey streets in our cities, empty shelves in our stores, coupons to buy basic goods, long lines to get anything, corruption, black market and the overwhelming weariness of Polish people with the impossible situation. What made you come then to our country, destroyed, poor and wounded? How did God touch your hearts and call you here? How did you find your place here, with such a predominant role of the Catholic Church, seemingly the only opposition to the oppression of the Communists and the core of Polish soul? I would love to hear your stories. I would love to take a look at my country through the mirror of your experience. I would love to kneel with you and pray.

 I remember the beginning of Biblical Theological Seminary in Wroclaw as the student of this school in the first group of students. I remember the challenges, problems and difficulties, but also great teaching, wonderful books, ministry opportunities, thousands of people over the world praying for our school and many coming to serve our country. I was so impressed to see people leaving their countries and homes to come to us and humbly serve us. It was a very important testimony of faith for me, a young believer then, and – I am sure – for many other people in Poland. World Venture, Conservative Baptist at that time, was among the groups, which impressed me the most.

 Time has passed by very quickly, many things have changed here and our country looks different than 25 years ago, new generations have emerged with different attitudes toward reality, different values and worldviews. We are experiencing nowadays the first waves of secularism, a phenomenon unthinkable even a few years ago. We are a different country now in comparison to the end of 80’s. Still, World Venture is here and faithfully serves our God and nation. You are in various churches including Evangelical communities, traditional Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. You serve in many Christian organizations, schools like Evangelical School of Theology and social institutions. I am still impressed, chapeau bas. And I thank God for your good hearts, for your willingness to serve and for your obedience to the Almighty. You give a wonderful example to many people in Poland, you faithfully preach and live the Word of God.

 I truly regret that I cannot be present at the Celebration of World Venture. However, even though I am not physically present, I am with you spiritually. With other friends from Evangelical School of Theology we pray for you and thank God for you. You are in our hearts and our prayers. Our doors are always open to you.

 Ad maiorem Dei gloriam,

Wojciech Szczerba, President of EWST

25 Years of WorldVenture Poland II

25 Years of WorldVenture Poland III

Traditional churches are not alone in their use of ritual words for power. The word “Jesus”, or “in Jesus’ name” is also seen this way by many evangelical Christians. Most Christians probably assume that “in Jesus’ name” is a necessary formula for an exorcism; however, Acts 19:13-16 shows that it certainly isn’t some magical spell. The seven sons of Sceva tried to use the name of Jesus as an abracadabra, and paid dearly. Many evangelical Christians still see the King James English has having special efficacy. Is this any different from the Muslims who believe that Arabic is the only valid language for the Koran?[1]

Many Pentecostal practices at least look animistic on the outside, especially those that search for some kind of special power, granted through ritual, word, or specialist. Even back in the New Testament, the Corinthian charismatics “were always out for evidence. That is why tongues and healings and miracles were so highly esteemed among them. . . They were always out for power; they were elated by spiritual power and were always seeking short cuts to power.”[2]

“A number of Christo-pagan cults think of the Holy Spirit in terms of life force. As such, during religious rituals one may even snort in the Spirit, or while speaking, use short staccato-like gasps to inhale the Holy Spirit. . . Some followers of Pentecostal denominations demonstrate the same practices, which apparently bring power to religious exercises like worship and preaching. The Holy Spirit is here thought of as less of a person than an influence. When thought of in this way, the Holy Spirit is a power source to be tapped.[3]

      Faith is sometimes seen as a magical force, as well. More of it can produce better results and more efficacious healing. Pentecostals also tend to give more credence to specially anointed specialists, sometimes seeming to believe that the person possesses a unique power. Evangelicals of all stripes commonly use Bible verses as a means of making God do what He already promised He would do, in essence attempting to manipulate Him for our own agenda. Even the Bible gets treated as an object of power, as if it had magical properties invested in its paper and leather. Members of our Polish evangelical church have commented that we shouldn’t put our Bible on the floor – not just out of respect for God’s Word, but because it will bring bad luck.

So, how can animism be avoided, when we continually look for shortcuts to power? Philip Steyne devotes two chapters to this question in his book Gods of Power. Julie Ma also addressed this question when she wrote about the Santuala movement in the Philippines. According to Steyne, it is vital to understand, value, and interpret the Bible correctly. It is our guide, and correct application of its truth, especially as God related to Israel, helps us understand God’s relation to pagan animistic ideas. It must be well-understood and affirmed that God is wholly other. He is not part of nature, He does not need intermediaries, and He cannot be manipulated by ritual and sacrifice.[4] Dr. Ma also emphasizes Biblical guidance, but in a special appeal to her Pentecostal colleagues, to not focus just on miracles. She says that Santuala focused on blessings and healings, and lost the understanding that God’s blessing is freely given because of His relationship with His children. Instead, they retained the idea that a sacrificial offering was necessary to obtain God’s blessing. She also identified a lack of adequate teaching and no stable leadership as reasons the Santuala movement syncretized traditional religion with Christianity.[5]

As Christians, we need to remember that we don’t need shortcuts. God cannot be manipulated – and He doesn’t need to be. He is wholly separate from nature, but yet is present everywhere. We don’t need special rituals, words, or objects. Full of grace, He extends blessing and relationship to us, on the basis of His Son. Specialists – like priests and pastors – aren’t anointed conduits to God. They serve to encourage, exhort, rebuke, and explain the Word – but they aren’t irreplaceable, and they aren’t mediators.

Further Reading:
 Gods of Power, by Philip Steyne, 2005. Columbia, SC: Impact International Foundation.

Christianity and Animism in Taiwan, by Alan F. Gates.1979. San Francisco, Calif.: Chinese Materials Center.

Spirit of the Rainforest, by Mark Andrew Ritchie. 2000. Island Lake Press.

Visionary Vine, by Marlene Dobkin de Rios. 1972. Chandler Publishing Company.

What is Animism?

Animism in Christianity? Traditional Christianity


[1] Philip Steyne, Gods of Power, Columbia, SC: Impact International Foundation, 2005, p. 102.

[2] Michael Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, p. 208-209.

[3] Steyne, p. 92.

[4] Ibid., p. 169-181

[5] Julie C. Ma, “Santuala: a Case of Pentecostal Syncretism”, Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 3/1 2000, p. 77-79.