Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hope for Europe?

I just got back from our week-long region-wide conference in Germany. It was wonderful to see old friends, and meet many new ones. It was also great to learn about what colleagues are doing all across Europe to reach their respective "target people groups" with the Gospel and facilitate Church Planting Movements among them. Being there, several things struck me...

1. Our IMB leadership really supports us in what we are doing. This includes, in our Western Europe region, all levels of administration, from Jerry Rankin, to Gordon Fort (Vice President for Overseas Operations), to our entire Regional Leadership Team. It was especially refreshing to hear Jerry Rankin address our entire region, and speak quite openly about the tensions within the organization related to recent decisions by the Board of Trustees. One important thing he noted, in light of recent posts on several blogs (and this one too), was that "New Directions" was voted on and approved by the Board of Trustees back in 1997. Accordingly, he emphatically assured us that we as an organization will continue to work with other GCCs. We are not going back on that.

2. It was also significant, in my opinion, to see the overwhelming groundwell of support from IMB field missionaries for Dr. Rankin and his leadership. In his address to us, upon the first mention of the recent tensions, and the criticism he has received from some, there was an almost immediate and unanimous spontaneous standing ovation lasting several minutes. I don't think anyone who was there was left with any doubt as to where the vast majority of IMB missionaries stand in regards to Dr. Rankin's leadership and the stands he has taken.

3. I was "blown away" by the dedication, talent and creativity represented by our fellow IMB workers across Western Europe. We have people who are without a doubt on "the cutting edge" of what God is doing, and who are developing and implementing some excellent strategies for reaching their respective people groups.

4. I was also "blown away" by the vast spiritual need of Western Europe. It is evident that we live and work in one of the most spiritually dark and difficult mission fields in the world. There are isolated rays of hope here and there, and places where some "fruit" is being "harvested", and new disciples are being made. But overall, the picture is quite bleak. The truth is, compared with most of the world, we in Western Europe are seeing very little response to our efforts to preach the Gospel.

While on the one hand, at this meeting we were given many motives for encouragement, on the other hand, there are also strong motives for being discouraged about the progress of the work in Western Europe.

Biblically, there are various passages and principles which have traditionally served as motivation for missionaries. Of course, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is the most cited text, with the reference to making disicples of all nations. There is also the oft-quoted reference in the Gospels to the fields being "ripe unto harvest". And then, we have the vision in Revelation of the multitude gathered around the throne from every nation, tribe, people and language.

Some, such as John Piper, in his classic book, Let the Nations be Glad, have reflected upon the implications of this missiologically. However, I find myself asking many times, how does Western Europe fit in to all of this? The vast majority of the people groups of Western Europe already have at least some born-again believers among them. The vast majority of people in Western Europe also have some knowledge of the Gospel, albeit, in great part, a distorted, spiritually void Gospel.

What I am getting to, and where I would really appreciate any insight any of you might have, is this: does the Bible really give us solid footing for continuing to have hope for Europe? I am aware that our eschatology in many ways shapes our missiology. And not all of us come from the same eschatalogical assumptions. In any case, whatever your eschatology happens to be, as long as you accept the Bible as authoritative, I am interested to hear any insights you may have regarding the hope we can expect as evangelical missionaries in the day in which we live for seeing something more than what we are presently seeing as far as response to the Gospel is concerned in Western Europe...

5 comments:

Wade Burleson said...

Great post. Thanks for the update.

I really appreciate the insights and information you offer.

Keep up the kingdom work!

Kevin Bussey said...

Great to hear what God is doing.

Bronwyn said...

David, I served in Austria with the IMB and am about to go back, though not with the IMB. I understand completely from where you are coming in questioning the viability of m's in Europe. Personally, through my struggle and questions, I came to the comclusion that it was very viable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when Paul went out to any city to proclaim the Gospel, he always began with the Jews. The Jews were the ones who already had the revelation - they of anyone, should have been able to regognize the Messiah and yet, they were blind to the truth even while having the truth, mainly because of the legalism that so pervaded the religiosity of their day. That, to me, is almost a perfect picture of the state of the Catholic church and hence the people in Europe. They have been so innundated by a 'dead, works-based' faith for so long that even though the truth is available to them, they cannot see it for the mountain of legalism that stands between them. One of the points by which the IMB stands so firmly is taking the Gospel to the people in a way that they can truly understand. I can't tell you how many people I encountered, as I'm sure you do, who would affirm their Christianity by virtue of infant baptism and first communion and yet have no clue what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ. That is, then, not true Christianity, in spite of their seeming knowledge. The Gospel has not been presented in such a way as they can truly grasp it and understand that it is a living, breathing, personal, daily relationship with the Living and Loving Lord and Saviour. Secondly, the newer generations (mine included), the post-moderns, need to see that Christianity is experiential, that it can be a part of everyday living as much as going to the grocery store or brushing your teeth. They're not going to see that if no one is there to model it. What they are going to see is that there are tons of empty cathedrals and churches all over Europe that at are best dull and boring and equate religion with their grandparents generation and something that was relevant for them in decades past but not viable or relevant for today. Thirdly, while Europe in general has a 'rich' church history, they have no recent church movement. Even in many of the evangelical free churches or Baptist churches the musty air of the Caholic church remains and they shun people who don't fit into the mold of their prescribance. (Maybe that is not true in Spain, however, in the churches in which our team had been involved there were many who held to a 'new' form of legalism which had undertones of the Catholic tradition out of which many of the members had come. And those churches who were not in that camp were decidely liberal and overly charasmatic in their attempt to throw off all traditions and connections with the Catholic church.) Who, then, but missionaries are going to take up the calling of training leadership that models new testament church principles in a post-modern context that is both relavent and experiential for a generation who cares nothing about things that do not fall into those categories? Europe is dreadfully difficult for missionaries. I will be the first to agree that it seems, so often, as if you were beating your head against the wall with no results. It is very easy to become discouraged. But, as I said, I came to the conclusion that our presence was necessary especially in order to reach this new generation. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts or even counter-thoughts. My husband and I are moving over at the end of May and I am very excited about getting back into the ministry over there.

David Rogers said...

Bronwyn,

Thank you very much for your comments and for your love for Austria and Europe. I too love Europe very much. We have been in Spain for 16 years now. Although I understand where you might interpret it that way, please don't assume I am "questioning the validity of m's in Europe." I totally agree with all of the reasons you give for the continued validity of missionary work in Europe. I guess I am mainly looking for encouragement from Scripture, as well as sound application of general scriptural principles, as far as our expectations are concerned. Perhaps we should just be satisfied with the Lord's command to "make disciples of all nations" and leave the results up to him. However, if there are some "hidden jewels" from Scripture that can help us as we struggle with the day-in day-out discouragments that come our way, I definitely will not object.

Greg said...

Hey David, Thanks for the challenging words. Someone recently said that our enemies define our success. David without Goliath is just a shepherd. Well, friend be encouraged! God will bring great glory to Himself by calling people out of exceeding darkness and when He does the angels will stand amazed that anyone with so little light could see the truth. We are not talking about great numbers but great faith. The faith to stand when all around fall. The faith to believe when everyone, even the spiritual forces around us, call us to doubt. Our calling is to be faithful and see others become faithful. Those coming out of Western Europe today will stand with those who came out of Muslim backrounds around the throne and both will declare God's faithfulness and power. It's all about Him. Keep up the good work.
Your colaborer in Asia.