Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Missionary Strategy and Hermeneutics

This post is more about questions than answers.

A poster with the blog name of “mr. t”, who, on his blog, on mission, identifies himself as a fellow missionary in South Asia, left a couple of comments on my last two posts about evangelism, referencing the missionary strategy given by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 regarding finding a “man of peace” and staying in that same house, rather than going from house to house.

Let me say right off, I am not looking to “pick a fight” with “mr. t”. In fact, I went to his blog, and absolutely loved what all he has to say. I highly recommend it. However, his recent comments, which are representative of a good bit of recent thinking by quite a few missions strategists, bring up some questions in my mind that I think are worthy of discussion.

The basic idea is that, as church planters, our main goal upon arriving in a new city, town, or people group, is to identify the “person of peace.” Once we find that person, who will many times be our first disciple, he or she will become the key to reaching the rest of the city, town, or people group. “Mr. t” makes the additional assertion that he believes “there are those persons of peace and worthy households out there among every people.” It is basically a matter of persevering until we find them.

For a good many contexts around the world, I believe this is great missiology. God is blessing it, people are being saved, and churches planted. However, as a foolproof, cookie-cutter, promise from Scripture, I have my doubts as to its hermeneutical validity.

First of all, many who use these passages as their strategy guide conveniently omit the part about not taking along “a purse, or bag, or shoes.” Some also by-pass the part about healing the sick. But my main concern here has to do with the part about “shaking the dust off your feet.” I honestly don’t know how to transfer the biblical principle here to our modern-day missionary context. I mean, it seems like the disciples knew pretty soon when it was time to leave town and shake the dust off their feet. Both William Carey and Adoniram Judson went 7 years each before baptizing their first convert, though.

Some make reference to the worshippers “from every nation, tribe, people and tongue” gathered around the throne in the book of Revelation, and say we thus have biblical warrant to expect a positive response to the preaching of the gospel from every people group segment. While this idea is appealing to me, I can’t help but wonder about various entire people groups from the Old Testament who in the last days were to be the objects of God’s wrath. And what about Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum in the New Testament (Luke 10:13-15)? I’ve always wondered how we specifically define nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. John Piper does as good a job with this as anyone in Let the Nations be Glad. But he still doesn’t answer some of my questions. What about, for example, entire generations of people groups in the Dark Ages without one person who we would today call an “evangelical believer”?

Then there are those who point to the supposed missionary strategy of Paul, stating he had the habit of staying in towns just enough time to preach the gospel, gather a few converts, name elders among them, and then leave—all in a period of a few days or weeks. My impression, upon reading Acts, is a bit different. I see Paul, towards the end of his missionary ministry, after he had learned some important lessons, staying on 3 years in Ephesus, setting up his ministry training school at the Lecture Hall of Tyrannus, and having more strategic impact there than anywhere else in his previous travels. I also see New Testament “missionaries” like Timothy and Titus, going back to places where Paul had been, in order finish the work he had started.

What’s my main point in all of this? In missions, one size does not fit all. Different situations and different spiritual and cultural contexts demand different strategical approaches. There is a time to reap. But there is also a time to plow, a time to sow, and a time to water. And even perhaps a time to “shake the dust off your feet.”

18 comments:

Scotte Hodel said...

Well put. "One size fits all" is a convenient but insufficient approach to almost any subject in life.

As a weak example, consider the contrast between Athens and Corinth: Paul preaches a sermon recorded for us when at Athens; "a few" believed and he moved on. In Corinth, no sermon is recorded, only that he stayed there for 18 months and built a church. Yet many are tempted to say that Pauls sermon in Athens is a good model of how to present the gospel. [ tongue-in-cheek: nobody suggests a model of "wait until an angel appears and tells you 'I have lots of people in this city.'"]

John Wimber's book on "Power Evangelism," while it focuses on other issues of some controversy in the SBC, strongly makes the point in early chapters that canned approaches to presentation of the Gospel are of limited effectiveness.

Clif Cummings said...

Thank you for this post. It helps so much when someone takes us to the whole counsel of God's Word and not just their favorite proof texts. In so doing, it applies just as well to pastors in the pulpits of America and the professors in the seminaries as it does to the "m's" around the world.

Anonymous said...

From a fellow missionary in the Pacific Rim:

Thank you for your insight. We planted a church during our last term, but it was deemed not to be the right kind. People were saved, lives were changed and the church continues today as a lay-lead church with the primary focus of reaching the last of that city and surrounding areas.

However it did not fit the approved model as defined by our field leadership. That is so sad. You are exactly right "one size or style does not fit every culture or people group." Maybe someday leadership in our area will understand this important fact.

mixilmash said...

GREAT post!!! The WHOLE counsel of Scripture rather than proof texts which are actually pretexts for mindless fanaticism being considered as the appropriate theological foundation for Missions? What will be next? Loving obedience to the Savior? Maybe even a broadening inclusivity of those whom the Savior included? Hmmm?

Michael said...

I suppose I do not understand what the problem with the "church planting model" is. I hear a lot of missionaries saying they are having problems but get no specifics. I get the vibe that are lot are hoping to build mega churches or see droves come to Christ and cannot handle just a few. You know either people come or they do not. There have been missionaries that devoted their lives to an area using other models and have seen little results. We do not hold the measuring stick. We just do what God would have us to do. So, it would be nice if people would start using specifics instead of generic comments, like exactly why your (anonymous) church plant did not meet the guidelines. If we want to make a better, SBC, we need to fully talk about it instead of leaving comments that critisise without proof.

Kevin Bussey said...

David,

I agree. The one size fits all approach doesn't work here in the States anymore. Even Baptist churches down the street are different than mine. We have to find what works best for the individual body.

Paul Fries said...

David, First of all it was great to meet you Greensboro!

I agree with your analysis.

Recently I heard a speaker remind those of us in attendance that God most often doesn't do the same thing the same way twice! To think that God will always do everything the same way causes me to begin to think that I can manipulate God. I also have a tendency to rely on the methodolgy instead of the One who makes it all happen.

Paul

Michael Stover said...

Interesting and right on the money. I just wish that local churches in the US could grasp this. What works at the FBC of a county seat town will not work everywhere else, not even 10 miles down the road. Just because FBC Woodstock or some other big-name, high-powered church does it successfully doesn't mean it works for everyone. The key is to find what works and honors Jesus and DO IT! When that ceases to be effective, don't be married to it. Continue to think outside the box and pursue new avenues of engaging the culture with the life-changing Gospel. Keep up the great stuff on evangelism, David.

loc said...

I am inspired and intrigued by the dialog here, because I have some understanding and sympathy for the mission and those who take up the call to minister cross-culturally. I am one among many in a place where being a fully devoted follower of Christ, it seems, is seen more as one choice on a spiritual menu that offers other less demanding selections.
What do you professional missionaries have to offer in terms of counsel for a small group(35) looking to form a church in rural southern USA? The cookie cutter methods that seem to emerge from some of the pop books on church development sure look alluring!

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...

David,

I echo what many here have already said..."one size does NOT fit all." I am reminded of how in the 60's and early 70's a few churches developed bus ministries...some more effective than others...but my point is how many churches saw this and went out and bought busses hoping that this would work for them...only to find, to their dismay and loss of money on busses, that it took more than some busses to have a successful bus ministry.

Now, if some regional leadership in the IMB would realize that the cpm that works in Bangladesh will not work in Kenya, but that missionaries should have the freedom to develop a cpm for their specific people group, maybe we would see some TRUE cpm develop.

Oh, sorry for using Bangladesh, that cpm has proved to be bogus.

blampp@juno.com said...

David,
It was like revisiting my own personal history to read your "blog"!
Great insight! It reminded me of methodology and critical thinking that was characteristic of your Dad's approach to Scripture and application!
Please allow me to respond to "Michael said"; I believe the post by the M who mentions a model not
meeting the approval of Leadership can be documented and I have an idea about that M's identity, though it could easily be another? The point, to me, has to do with obedience to Christ and accountability to the support group! When methodology is questioned
there should be viable protocol to address those kinds of issues without it becoming issues for dismissal or punitive reprisal! With that said, it is apparent that there needs to be greater transparency and accountability, not just of field Missionaries but those who Supervise as well!
Until there appears to be more of that transparency, I believe there is adequate justification for anonymity and evasive specificity when it could affect the ability to continue service where called. I do not believe that necessarily has to be a "Last Frontier".
I personally do not see the necessity of someone justifying an opinion with personal detail when much of our exchange is conceptual!
Again, thanks for a great post, and a challenge to use the mind as we respond to the leadership of the Holy Spirit! As I mentioned at the SBC.... we continue to pray for you and your family!

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother David,

I have nothing of value to add to this discussion, but I just wanted to thank you and Mr. T for having it. I am learning so much from reading M blogs!

Love in Christ,

Jeff

mr. t said...

David,

Wow! I did not know that I was opening a can of worms. Thanks to you and your readers for the great dialogue.

You can find my response at:
http://on-mission.blogspot.com/

David Rogers said...

mr. t (and everyone else),

I have read mr. t's post over at his blog, and seen that it all seems to be in good spirit, and, IMO, merits a bit further discussion. So... fair enough, we can continue this discussion over there.

Michael said...

"Oh, sorry for using Bangladesh, that cpm has proved to be bogus."] That was uncalled for and unwarranted. Moreover, it is definitely not reflecting Christ. You are adding fuel to problems not helping.

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...

Michael,

Not wanting to draw this out, but was it not Christ who spoke about truthfulness? And, it was the IMB who did not believe what was being reported, and had the integrity to investigate, not cover up. I applaud the IMB for revealing this, diffusing any possible criticisms, not fueling them.

imb m in asia said...

Ok,
I'm a little confused.
We just had a meeting in our region where we were told that the Bangledesh CPM was a true one....
that it was investigated....can you tell me when the IMB came out with the statement that it was not true?

imb m in asia said...

maybe our region hasn't gotten the word yet?