Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Practice of Unity on the Mission Field

For 10 years of my life (1994-2004), God gave me the privilege of living and ministering in a very special place in the world called Extremadura. Extremadura is one of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain. Located in the Southwest part of the county bordering Portugal, with a total population of approximately 1,100,000, it is one of Spain’s least economically developed as well as most spiritually unreached areas.

For 5 years, I had the privilege of being the missionary pastor of the Baptist church of Badajoz, the largest city in Extremadura, and for another 5 years, leader of the church planting team in Mérida, the capital city. God blessed my family and me in some special ways during our time in Extremadura. We are thrilled to see the congregations in both Badajoz and Mérida continuing on and growing in grace. But one of the greatest blessings of our time in Extremadura was what God taught us there regarding the unity of His people expressed in very practical ways.

Scattered around Extremadura, there are about 20 small evangelical congregations of various groups and denominations, including Baptists, Pentecostals, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterians, Non-denominational Charismatics and Non-denominational non-Charismatics. There are a total of about 500 evangelical believers. Although there are occasional differences of opinion and misunderstandings, there is a degree of fellowship and unity among practically all of the various evangelical workers and churches, that I believe serves as a shining example to the Body of Christ around the world.

-One Saturday every two months, under the auspices of the Evangelical Council of Extremadura, the great majority of the various pastors, missionaries and Christian workers in Extremadura get together for a day of sharing God’s Word, prayer, and reporting what God is doing in their various congregations. Simultaneously, there are also adjunct women’s meetings. The location of the meetings rotates among the various churches. At midday, everyone goes out to lunch together at a local restaurant.

-On one special day in early September each year, the members of the various churches get together for an all-day picnic and time of fellowship, complete with preaching, singing, fun, games, and celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

-Once every two years, during Easter week, there is a region-wide retreat with the participation of all the churches, with special guest speakers, and programs for the youth and children.

-During our time in Extremadura, on several occasions, believers from all the churches came together for the Extremadura-wide "March for Jesus," giving a public testimony of both our unity and love for Christ.

-In both Badajoz and Mérida, there are monthly pastors’ prayer meetings, in which the pastors of the various churches get together to share personal and ministry-related prayer concerns and lift them up together before the throne of the Father.

-During the several years I had the honor to serve as Council Member in charge of Ministry to Pastors, I was able, together with a planning committee, to organize a region-wide retreat for pastors and wives, with the participation of Campus Crusade Family Life ministry, as well as the Spanish Baptist Union home missions director. I was also able to sponsor a special all-day meeting in which each pastor, missionary and church leader had the opportunity to present their plans and goals for church planting, and dialogue regarding how to make the best use of our shared vision and resources for reaching Extremadura for Christ.

As a result of all of these different activities, but especially thanks to the friendship and fellowship of many precious brothers and sisters in the Lord, I today am a richer man.

I believe that what I was able to experience in my 10 years in Extremadura serves as a wonderful model for how the unity of God’s people can be expressed in very real and practical ways. I imagine there are certain settings and circumstances that are more conducive to this than others. And I am sure that God will work in different ways in different places and among different cultures. But I am also sure that God’s will for his people is that which is expressed in Psalm 133:

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Pray for Extremadura

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Getting Every Last Drop" out of Triage

* A lot of what I say on this post makes more sense if you have read "Milking" Triage and "Milking" Triage even further first.

On the mission field, it makes all the difference in the world whether or not you get to choose the team you will be on, and whether or not everyone "signs on" to the team "core values" from the beginning. I imagine this principle transfers to most any walk of life. But as a missionary, missions is the one with which I am most familiar.

Aubrey Malphurs, in the book Values-Driven Leadership, talks about the need for Pastoral Candidates and Pastor Search Committees to each identify their own "core values" beforehand, and to openly talk about them in the interviewing process, in order to avoid unnecessary friction and misunderstandings in the future.

On a missionary team, when it becomes apparent that things aren’t working out, things can get messy, and feelings can get hurt. From what I understand, situations like this are actually one of the leading causes of missionaries leaving the mission field.

For this reason, I believe it is much better to define expectations from the ground up. But sometimes circumstances just play out differently. In the midst of all of this, the different parties concerned can choose to react in different ways. We can go our own way. We can agree to disagree. We can hold grudges forever. And we can get "stuck"…

A "serendipity" on the mission field has been seeing how people, who for one reason or another we decided it would be best not to work with on the same team, have since come to be counted among our best friends. Then, there are others with whom, although you try your best to treat them courteously, there is no real basis for a true friendship.

My question is: how does all of this I have described on a "micro" (individual team) level play out on a "macro" (entire denomination) level? In the SBC, some have felt the rules have been changed on them in the middle of the game. At times, though, for the overall good, it is necessary to make difficult decisions. And, unfortunately, there is sometimes "fallout."

Some of you church history students out there will have to let me know if I am off-base here or not…

It seems to me the original church "creeds" had to do with "level one" triage concerns. If you could not agree to everything in the "creed," you were considered "anathema." (I know, I know, the word "creed" or "credo" just means "I believe"). The Baptist Faith and Message (whatever year you please) consists of both "level one" and "level two" triage concerns. I wonder if it would help us to heal as a denomination to clearly communicate to those with whom we have gone our separate ways due to "level two" triage issues that we do not consider them to be "anathema."

Monday, August 28, 2006

"Milking" Triage even further

The idea of "triage" seems to have made quite a "splash" in the Baptist blogosphere. Some interesting insights have been contributed by:

Wade Burleson: A Theological Triage Test
Tim Rogers: Triage and the SBC
Eddie Beal: Theological Triage or Which Hill Will You Die On

Wade’s Triage Test got me thinking about a Personal Conviction Survey my wife and I were given about 17 years ago as we were then preparing to be missionaries with the interdenominational Bible Christian Union (since merged with TEAM) in Spain. On this survey, there are 92 different issues listed, and for each issue the opportunity to check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following two statements:

A. I could have personal fellowship with a Christian who believes or practices the following…

B. I could work officially together (on a church-planting team) with a Christian who believes or practices the following…

1. A woman who wears makeup.
2. A woman who wears jewelry.
3. A man who wears an earring.
4. A person who dances and goes to modern dances.
5. A person who does not engage in modern dance, but does square dance.
6. A person who goes to ballets and encourages his/her children to take ballet lessons.
7. A person who belongs to a church which is a member of the World Council of Churches.
8. A person who believes that the World Council of Churches is a good organization.
9. A person who believes that the earth could be millions of years old.
10. A person who believes that the earth could not be more than 10,000 years old.
11. A person who believes that a Christian can lose his/her salvation.
12. A person who believes in theistic evolution.
13. A person who drinks alcoholic beverages in moderation.
14. A person who believes it is wrong to ever drink alcoholic beverages.
15. A person who does not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
16. A person who seeks/practices the "spectacular" gifts of the Spirit (tongues, interpretations, prophecy, etc.)
17. A person who believes that the "spectacular" gifts of the Spirit are not (and cannot be) available today.
18. A person who believes it is wrong for a local church to have a pastor (believing, rather, in leadership through a plurality of elders).
19. A person who believes that a local church must have a pastor.
20. A person who believes in baptismal regeneration.
21. A person who does not believe in the total depravity of man.
22. A person who believes that there may be some way of salvation apart from faith in Christ, especially for those people who have never heard the Christian gospel.
23. A man whose hair covers his ears, partially or entirely.
24. A man who wears his hair so long it could be (and sometimes is) tied in a pony tail.
25. A person who practices artificial birth control.
26. A person who defends abortion on demand.
27. A person who is against abortion for any reason at all.
28. A person who does not believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
29. A person who does not believe in the reality of Hell.
30. A person who believes in purgatory.
31. A person who does not believe in the eternal punishment of the lost, but believes in the annihilation of the lost.
32. A person who believes that the rapture must take place before the tribulation.
33. A person who believes that the rapture cannot take place until after the tribulation.
34. A person who says it doesn't matter that much when the rapture takes place in relation to the tribulation.
35. A person who believes that there may be errors in the Bible, even in the original writings.
36. A woman who believes it is right for her to publicly participate in a worship service (give testimony, pray out loud, announce a hymn, give a prayer request, read Scripture, etc.)
37. A person who thinks it is wrong for a woman to publicly participate in a worship service.
38. A woman who thinks it is acceptable for a woman to teach God's Word to men.
39. A person who believes that salvation is by grace through faith, plus works.
40. A person who believes that all infant baptism is valid, including infant baptism practiced by the Roman Catholic Church and liberal Protestant churches.
41. A person who accepts infant baptism as practiced by Protestant evangelicals (e.g., evangelical Presbyterians).
42. A person who accepts believers' baptism by immersion only.
43. A person who feels that all modes of baptism are valid, provided the person being baptized is a believer.
44. A person who believes that the communion service must be held every Sunday.
45. A person who believes that only baptized believers should be admitted to (and partake of) the communion service.
46. A person who does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
47. A person who believes in "soul sleep."
48. A person who believes that the King James version is the only legitimate translation of God's Word.
49. A person who believes that dispensational hermeneutics is the only way to properly interpret the Bible.
50. A person who believes that covenant theology is the only acceptable theological system.
51. A person who does not believe in the Trinity.
52. A person who believes that all babies who die in infancy (before they know the difference between right and wrong) will be saved.
53. A person who believes that it is acceptable for a genuine believer to remain within the Roman Catholic Church.
54. A person who believes that it is acceptable for a genuine believer to remain within a liberal Protestant church (denomination).
55. A person who believes that physical healing is included in the atonement.
56. A person who uses playing cards (the traditional deck used commonly in gambling).
57. A person who plays card games of any kind (Uno, Rook, Mille Borne, etc.)
58. A person who believes that footwashing is a New Testament ordinance of the church.
59. A person who listens to/plays "hard rock" Christian music.
60. A person who lets his/her children play/listen to "hard rock" Christian music.
61. A person who does not believe in the existence of Satan.
62. A person who "lifts up holy hands" during a time of public praise/prayer.
63. A person who believes in the actual presence of Christ in the communion elements.
64. A person who believes it is acceptable to clap during singing in a worship service.
65. A person who believes that individual communion cups are the only proper way to administer communion.
66. A person who believes that it is not necessary or important to be closely associated with a local church.
67. A woman who wears slacks in public.
68. A person who believes that women can and should be ordained as pastors/elders.
69. A person who believes that a divorced Christian should be allowed to hold a position of spiritual leadership.
70. A person who believes that a divorced Christian should never be allowed to hold a position of spiritual leadership.
71. A person who goes to movie theaters.
72. A person who believes in the immaculate conception of Mary.
73. A person who believes that guitars or drums can be used in a public worship service.
74. A person who promotes Billy Graham and actively participates in his campaigns.
75. A person who believes it is wrong to have a musical instrument in a public worship service.
76. A person who believes that inter-racial marriage (e.g., black/white) is acceptable.
77. A person who is inter-racially married.
78. A person who believes that all people in the world worship that same God even though they call Him by different names.
79. A person who believes in the necessity of a "second work of grace" subsequent to conversion.
80. A person who believes that the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is subsequent to conversion, not simultaneous with conversion.
81. A person who is homosexual.
82. A person who feels that Christians should be allowed to be homosexual.
83. A person who is a "conscientious objector" (e.g., against the bearing of arms in war or serving in the armed forces).
84. A person who believes that Saturday (the sabbath) should still be the day of worship for the Christian.
85. A person who believes that Christians today are not bound to the tithe principle (e.g., at least one-tenth of our income should be given to the Lord).
86. A person who smokes.
87. A person who thinks it is all right for Christians to smoke.
88. An amillenialist.
89. A person who believes that black people are under the "curse of Cain" or the "curse of Ham."
90. A person who believes that believing Jews should be gathered into Messianic congregations, not local Christian churches.
91. A person who is volitionally dependent on drugs (prescription or non-prescription).
92. A person who believes that women must cover their heads in a public worship service.

I am not asking you to send me your "score" on this survey. It is interesting to me, however, that the majority of those who responded to Wade’s Triage Test, said they scored either a perfect "30" or close to it (indicating a relative degree of openness regarding what is necessary to be a "fully cooperating Southern Baptist"). This is no doubt skewed by the amount of people interested in interacting with Wade on this who happen to also be generally sympathetic to his own views on these issues.

I would be willing to bet, however, that if we were to compare the responses of all of the same people responding to Wade’s Test to their responses on this survey, there would not be quite the same degree of agreement. Yes, there are certain points on which I would hope we would all agree, like, for instance not "fellowshipping" with someone "who does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ." But, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of something like working on a church planting team with someone else, reality is, not everyone can work with everyone else.

Some would point out that this is precisely why we need denominational structures, confessions of faith, etc. And to a certain degree, I would agree with them. However, in a group as broad as the SBC, although we may spell out our views on some of these things, we are never going to reach 100% agreement on every one of these issues.

In recent years, we have collectively identified "liberalism" (I know, I know, we’re back to the question of labels here, but bear with me) as a problem. As a result, we have "drawn a line in the sand" regarding certain questions. In my opinion, that line has to be drawn somewhere or another. At the same time, I believe there are people with whom I would have a hard time working on the same church planting team, but with whom, at the same time, I can perfectly well fellowship, and even with whom I have no problem joining together cooperatively within the same denominational mission structure.

Ironically, in my experience with both interdenominational and SBC missions, I have found many times there are people outside of the SBC who would be more compatible church planting team members than some within the IMB. Does that necessarily mean that either I or those "non-compatible IMBers" are in the wrong organization? I don’t think so.

What it does mean is we need to look reality squarely in the eye, think objectively about all of this, and look for the most pragmatic and, at the same time, Christ-honoring solutions possible.

And one more thing. Let’s try to be extra careful to not eliminate from "fellowship" any of those whom Jesus Himself invites to the table.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

"Milking" Triage

First off, kudos to Micah Fries for calling my attention on his blog to a Baptist Press article just released by Al Mohler entitled A call for theological triage & Christian maturity. I believe that Micah correctly assesses the importance of the ideas expressed by Dr. Mohler as a framework from which to base a good bit of the discussion related to "parameters of cooperation," especially as it relates to current issues in the SBC.

I would recommend you to read Dr. Mohler’s article in its entirety here before proceeding. But if you prefer to save the time, I will summarize what it says as follows…

Basically, when dealing with controversial theological issues, we do well to divide between the relative urgency of each in relation to the effect they play upon the foundation of our faith.

According to Dr. Mohler…

First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture… These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.

The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident… Christians across a vast denominational range can stand together on the first-order doctrines and recognize each other as authentic Christians, while understanding that the existence of second-order disagreements prevents the closeness of fellowship we would otherwise enjoy.

Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations… Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question.

Since these ideas also play into a good bit of what we have been talking about on this blog, and relate to the main topics of this blog (i.e. missiology and ecclesiology, and especially how the two relate to each other), I would like to "park" here a little while, and try to "milk" this for what it’s worth (which I believe is quite a lot).

First off, while I appreciate Dr. Mohler’s observation that "the mark of true liberalism is the refusal to admit that first-order theological issues even exist" and that "liberals treat first-order doctrines as if they were merely third-order in importance" as well as that "the misjudgment of true fundamentalism is the belief that all disagreements concern first-order doctrines" and that for the fundamentalist "third-order issues are raised to a first-order importance, and Christians are wrongly and harmfully divided," I think a lot of the issues that face us today in the SBC have to do with where we draw the line between second and third-order doctrines.

I would also ask where, along this spectrum, do we as Southern Baptists place the doctrine of the unity of the church. Early Christians held it in high enough esteem as to be among the few key doctrines included in the Apostles’ Creed: (I believe in… the holy catholic church, the communion of saints). As Baptists (and I believe, rightly so), we do not interpret this phrase the same as others, such as the Roman Catholic Church. Some among us, most notably the Landmarkists, would perhaps change this phrase to "I believe in the local church." What I am afraid of, though, is that we often, in practice if not in theory, sweep this crucial doctrine under the carpet in interest of promoting the more convenient practice of denominational unity.

Two thousand years of church history have created some situations that make it very difficult for us to go back to pure New Testament ecclesiology. Some, such as Watchman Nee, have proposed idealistic church models that would be difficult to put into practice, given the context of the vast array of denominational groupings dotting the ecclesiological landscape of the West. But, at least from what I gather, it is working fairly well in China.

What is the alternative for us? In my opinion, it is accept reality for what it is for the time being, but be as careful as we can to not make issues for which biblically we have no warrant to consider as any more than "third-order" doctrines into "second-order" doctrines.

This is getting long, so I’ll have to leave further "triage milking" for another post. But, in the meantime, I’d be interested to hear your reactions and responses to this…

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Unity in the Body of Christ and Unity in the SBC

A lot is being said on the blogosphere lately about degrees of inclusiveness or exclusiveness in the Southern Baptist Convention, and how this relates to the unity of the Body of Christ.

See Wade Burleson (and comments) here, here , here, and here; Nathan Finn here; Bart Barber here and here, and Jeremy Green here.

From my point of view, unity in the Body of Christ at large is a more important concern that "trumps," if you will, unity in the Southern Baptist Convention, or any other denomination or Christian group, for that matter. Our unity in the Body of Christ, however, does not depend on everyone else "crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’" just like we do. I recognize that my understanding of the Word of God is imperfect, and that, as a result, I am not always going to see eye to eye with other sincere brothers and sisters in Christ, who may well love the Lord and his Word just as much as I do. But this does not keep me from loving them, accepting them, fellowshipping with them, and cooperating with them in ministry.

However, the Body of Christ is also very big and very broad. This fact makes it so that it is not always practical nor desirable to directly cooperate with every member of the Body of Christ in every ministry project. Out of a desire for practical stewardship of the Kingdom resources God commends to us as His children, we sometimes form "strategic alliances" in order to more effectively do the work He has given us to do.

I believe the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Cooperative Program, is one such "strategic alliance." However, I believe it is an error to view the SBC or any other grouping of Christians as a microcosm of the Body of Christ at large. I believe we commit the sin of schism whenever we treat the members of one grouping of believers as more authentic or legitimate members of the Body of Christ than another, just because of the grouping with which they happen to affiliate.

Within any "strategic alliance," however, there are pragmatic reasons that lead us to do things the way we do them. We join together, for example, in order to sponsor an orphanage. And we look for other believers who have similar ideas in order to better work together in sponsoring the orphanage. We don’t look to partner with those who have no particular interest in orphanages. Neither do we look to partner with those who have radically different ideas from us regarding how orphanages should be run. However, we are open, to a certain extent, to new ideas, and "thinking outside of the box," but not to working with people whose "core values" are too much in conflict with ours. All in the interest of doing a better job with the orphanage.

The "ministry project package" we as Southern Baptists work together to support is obviously a whole lot more complex than sponsoring an orphanage. It is for this reason that we need conventions, and messengers, and trustee boards, etc. As a group, we must agree, through democratic processes, on how we are going to make the best use of the economic, human, creative and spiritual resources we all contribute to see accomplished the various ministry projects we have joined together to accomplish.

Sometimes, this process brings to light the reality that, in the interest of doing a better job, and moving forward with a reasonable amount of agreement, it is best that some members of the Body of Christ find other "ministry project support groups" with which they can better collaborate. But this does not mean that we begin to treat these brothers and sisters as less authentic or legitimate members of the Body of Christ, just because they do not see eye to eye with us regarding the administration of our particular ministry project. We allow them to go their way, but continue to love them, continue to accept them, continue to fellowship with them, and even remain open to the possibility of cooperating with them, whenever circumstances warrant a strategic cooperation in order to get a ministry project for which we share a common interest or commitment accomplished.

Those who deny the faith, and who fall into heresy that would lead to question even their membership in the Body of Christ at large, are a whole different story. With these, we are bound by Scripture to point out the error of their ways, and to exclude them from fellowship.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The SBC, Monoculturalism, and World Missions

In June, I had the privilege of attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro. With the exception of the one session of the previous year’s Pastor’s Conference in Nashville in which my father preached for the last time before a "convention" audience, it had been about 19 years since I had last attended the SBC annual meeting.

As I have already alluded on this blog in an earlier post, there were many things about this year’s convention that caused me to be "proud" and thankful. One thing, however, that impacted me, after 16 years of living in Spain, was the rather unique cultural perspective represented by the SBC as a whole. My point at this juncture is not to criticize that cultural perspective so much as to recognize it for what it is: one particular cultural perspective among many, not only in the world as a whole, but also in the evangelical Christian world.

At the same time, we as Southern Baptists give a very high priority, and rightly so, to making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ among all the peoples of the world, representing a vast array of cultural perspectives. The problem, in my opinion, comes when we limit ourselves as Southern Baptists to our particular cultural perspective in our efforts to contribute towards the task of the worldwide church down through the ages in discipling the nations.

Notice I did not say "the task God has given to us as Southern Baptists to disciple the nations." Because I firmly believe that task has not been commended to us alone, in isolation from other parts of the Body. That is why I am grateful current IMB administration has, for the most part, moved us in a direction to be more sensitive to this reality.

I am concerned, however, about a general drift, on the part of some within the SBC to move us to not only a narrow view of the authority of Scripture (something I think is good and necessary) but also, at the same time, a narrowing of our cultural parameters, both within the SBC, as well as in our cooperative relationships with other parts of the Body of Christ around the world.

At times, I believe, we get confused between what is essential doctrine, and what are culturally-based biases, in the way we go about our missionary ministry. One example that comes to mind is the infrastructure of Baptist Unions around the world built on the model of the Southern Baptist Convention, complete with their own Sunday School Board, WMU, etc. A large part of the literature used and promoted in not only Baptist, but Evangelical churches in general, has been translated from English. Perhaps this is a "necessary evil." Perhaps, if we were to take away the contribution made to the work by "imported" infrastructures, models and literature, the work would be in much worse shape than it is. In any case, what’s been done has been done.

What I would suggest, though, is that, in the future, we seek for more and better ways to creatively work in cooperation with other parts of the Body of Christ that offer a different cultural perspective than our own. Not compromise on essential doctrine. But be very careful to separate correctly between what is essential doctrine, and what is cultural preference.

As Southern Baptists, we have a lot to offer towards the task of fulfilling the Great Commission. We represent a vast supply of financial, human, creative and spiritual resources. However, it is going to take a lot more than the "cooperative" efforts of Southern Baptists by themselves to win a lost world for Christ and effectively make disciples from out of all the people groups and cultures of the world.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Life-changing Experiences with Operation Mobilization

Some of you who read this blog may ask yourselves "How did a 'good Baptist boy like me' come to espouse the views on working with other evangelical groups and denominations (GCCs) that I have expressed?" I believe the following account gives a good bit of insight into the answer to that question…

Back in 1979, as a college freshman who had recently made a decision at summer camp to follow God’s call regarding missionary service, I was made aware of an organization called Operation Mobilization (OM) that sponsored summer mission campaigns in Western Europe (*and since that time, in other parts of the world as well). This idea seemed very appealing to me, and I went, together with a friend, on the OM summer campaign, he to work with Asian immigrants in the UK, and I in Austria.

I was impacted by a lot of things during that summer. It was exciting for me to meet, first from the United States and Canada, and next from all over the world, young people like myself who were interested in serving God in world missions. Although, they were all soundly evangelical, they were also from different denominations and church backgrounds.

The following summer, I decided to go back again on the OM summer campaign, and this time spent one month in Italy, and another month in England, travelling as OM International Coordinator George Verwer’s "go-fer." Several years later, after graduating from college (Baylor ’83) and one year at Mid-America Seminary, I figured out I was burned out on studies, and decided to go back again on the OM summer campaign (this time back in Austria), and eventually extended my stay with OM another two years, on board the mission ship, MV Doulos (’84 -’86).

My two years on board the Doulos was an experience I will never forget. During this time, I shared life together, in close living quarters, commune-style, with approximately 330 crew-members, all missionary volunteers, from more than 40 different countries.

During my two-year stint with the Doulos, I had the privilege of visiting 23 different countries in Europe and West Africa. I believe the fact that we came from different countries and church backgrounds added to the effectiveness of our witness. Although our common language, for the sake of communication, was English, the ministry of the Doulos was not a representation of any one particular culture, but rather the testimony of God’s power to transcend cultural barriers.

I was also impacted by the opportunity to visit churches, missionaries, and ministries along the way representing the entire panoply of evangelical life. I have especially fond memories of the times I shared, as part of the advance line-up team, in Lomé, Togo, West Africa, with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board workers there, and their warm friendship and hospitality. At the same time, I was perplexed when one FMB missionary couple informed us they would not be able to work with an OM evangelistic team during the ship’s visit, due to policy restrictions on ministry cooperation with non-SBC groups. To this day, I am not sure whether or not that particular couple had a personally narrow interpretation of policy, but I had never run into that type of restriction from any of the other mission agencies and groups with which we had attempted to work.

I also had the opportunity to observe first-hand how the different cultures, in the different countries we visited (in my case, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, and West Africa), responded differently to the presentation of the Gospel message we gave. In general, the response was much more enthusastic to our evangelistic efforts in Africa than in Europe, and more so in Southern Europe than in Northern Europe. At the same time, it was difficult to avoid the impression that many who made public professions of faith during our ministry in West Africa were quite superficial in their motivation.

Every Thursday night, starting at 8 pm, on the Doulos, there was a ship-wide "night of prayer", with non-obligatory attendance lasting until 6 am the next morning. One of the many things that impacted me from two years of weekly "nights of prayer" were the presentations of and prayers for the ministries of organizations other than Operation Mobilization. The emphasis was on the advance of the Kingdom of God, and the work of God through many varied groups and organizations around the world was a valid subject of prayer.

I remember specifically praying for the ministry of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and hearing the story of how when both OM and YWAM were praying to begin their first ship ministries, and when the deal for the original ship that YWAM was hoping to purchase fell through, YWAM gave all of the money that had been raised for the purchase of their ship to OM in order that they could purchase the MV Logos (the sister ship and predecessor of the Doulos).

While I was on OM, the OM policy on "tongues" was that, although OM team members come from different denominational backgrounds, with different beliefs and practices regarding spiritual gifts such as tongues, public exercise of "tongues" was not allowed, in order to avoid conflict on this issue. Although there may have been cases of which I was not aware, during my three summers and two years with OM, I never knew "tongues" to be a cause of problems or divisions in the ministry.

When you live on a ship for 2 years with 330 other people, you get to observe their life pretty close up. Although, it was never announced from what denominational background people came, in conversations along the way, you oftentimes find out. Certainly, the following observation lacks the rigor of any type of scientific investigation, but my general impression, based on observation of Christian character and testimony of people from charismatic (tongues-speaking) and non-charismatic (non-tongues-speaking) backgrounds on the ship, was that speaking in tongues was not a significant factor either way with regards to the Christian character and testimony of the various ship crew-members. I was equally impressed by the consistency of Christian character and testimony (and sometimes lack of consistency) exhibited by those known to speak in tongues (albeit privately) and those known to not speak in tongues.

One thing I might add to this, however, that has shaped my view of what I think of the validity of current tongues-speaking, is that I was strongly enough impressed by what I observed of the consistent Christian character and testimony of several who were known to speak in tongues that I still today find it very difficult to believe that these people were fabricating their supposed tongues-speaking experience. My personal study of the Word of God has led me to conclude that all of the spiritual gifts of New Testament times are still operative today. But my experience and interaction with other people who have claimed to practice these gifts has helped to confirm this conclusion in my mind.

I could go on a lot longer about my experiences with OM, and with the Doulos. Although God’s path for my life (after another four years with another interdenominational mission agency, Bible Christian Union—now merged with TEAM) has since led me back to my Southern Baptist roots, currently as a missionary with the IMB, I am immensely thankful for the wider perspective I believe my experience as a young man gave me of the Evangelical world at large, and the benefits of working together with the entire Body of Christ in the task of fulfilling the Great Commission.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

George Verwer

On my "book tag" list, I listed The Revolution of Love by George Verwer, as "one book that changed my life." Actually, I could have listed various of George’s books, including Hunger for Reality and No Turning Back. It was actually George, through his famous book recommendations, that inspired in me a love and thirst for Christian literature in the first place. But probably even more life-changing than his books and the books he has recommended has been the personal time I have been able to spend with George Verwer.

The now retired founder and ex-director of Operation Mobilization (OM), and currently self-described "World Missions Advocate," George Verwer has been one of my main mentors and influencers in my Christian life. I hope to dedicate a whole other post to my life-changing experiences on three OM summer campaigns and two years on board OM’s mission ship, the M.V. Doulos. But this post I want to dedicate to a man, who in 1955, as a 16-year-old New Jersey teenager, surrendered his life to Christ at a meeting in which Billy Graham was preaching in Madison Square Garden, and has gone on to influence thousands and thousands of young people around the world for the cause of world missions.

In the summer of 1980, I had the privilege of serving as George’s interim "go-fer" or errand boy, and got to know him close up. George is a man who makes no pretense. You will rarely see him with a coat and tie. He most often wears his warm-up jacket with the imprinted map of the world. His messages are full of humor, frequently last more than an hour, and more times than not defy homiletical analysis. Yet he speaks with a candor and conviction matched by very few. He speaks openly of his struggles with sexual temptation. He shares straight from his heart about his personal battles with extremism, and lack of patience. At the same time, he is a man whose lifestyle of simplicity and radical commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission are an open book for all to see.

George Verwer is a man who is a friend of true Christians of all stripes and colors. He is at home in meetings of all sorts of denominations, organizations and ethnic groups. It is probably more through George than anyone else that I gained an appreciation and love for the greater Body of Christ around the world. In the times I was privileged to hear him in my younger days, he would humorously refer at times to the narrow-mindedness of the "Big B Baptists," as well as the doctrinal latitude of the "evan-jellyfish." But then, he would turn around and, in totally sincere self-deprecation, say that Operation Mobilization was a "b-grade mission."

I still remember the mornings in the summer of 1980 I would knock on George’s door in Southwest London to go jogging with him, and how as we jogged, he would picture the route in his mind as the globe of the world, and we would stop and pray for different areas of the world, current events, and assorted ministries, all along the itinerary.

George Verwer also amazes me in his commitment and ability to stay in touch personally with hundreds of people with whom he has had contact down through the years and around the world. Though it has been 20 years since I have been part of Operation Mobilization or directly connected with his ministry, I never know when I am going to get a phone call from George, or a book in the mail, or a personal note encouraging me in the ministry.

I strongly recommend you to "surf" through the following links, and to glean for yourself whatever you can from this living legend of world missions and example of authentic Christianity, George Verwer.

To get you started and "whet your appetite" I will leave you with the following quote from "The Revolution of Love"…

There are thousands, even millions, of people who claim to be ‘orthodox Christians’ because they cling to a set of beliefs in accordance with the Bible. They are aware that they do not practice much humility, but they do not think that makes them any less orthodox. They are aware that they do not really love other Christians (especially those who are different from them), but that does not cause them to think their teaching is not biblical.

They may admit that they know nothing of serving others and considering others better than themselves, and yet they consider themselves Bible-believing, orthodox Christians.

They could not be more wrong! This is not Christianity but a travesty of Christianity—thinking we can be orthodox without having humility, thinking we can call ourselves Bible-believing Christians though our lives do not show love or the other fruits of the Spirit. In fact, I believe that this is the greatest error that has ever hit the church of Jesus Christ!

George Verwer, World Missions Advocate

George Verwer's Blog

George Verwer's biographical sketch

On-line messages from George Verwer

I especially recommend Being Big-Hearted, a message given a few years back to a group of Christian workers in South Asia. Although the sound quality is not the best, and he does not get into the heart of the message (which is essentially the same as the 2nd chapter of "The Revolution of Love") until after the first 25 minutes of introduction, the listen is well worth it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book Tag

Well, well, well. I've been tagged too, and by none other than "Mr. Baptist Blog," Marty Duren.

Here goes...

1. One book that changed your life: The Revolution of Love, George Verwer.
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Let the Nations be Glad, John Piper.
3. One book I’d want on a desert island: Other than the Bible, Knowing God, J. I. Packer.
4. One book that made me laugh: Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller. (What can I say? I know Marty and Art Rogers picked this one too, but I haven’t read many funny books.) :^(
5. One book that made me cry: Seeker Small Groups, Garry Poole. (because of the heart-touching testimonies of people who came to Christ).
6. One book that you wish you had written: The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren. (not just because of all the money Rick has made off of it) ;^)
7. One book you wish had never been written: Old Landmarkism: What is it?, J. R. Graves.
8. One book that you are currently reading: The Open Secret, Lesslie Newbigin.
9. One book that you’ve been meaning to read: The Best Question Ever, Andy Stanley.

I now tag fellow "m bloggers": Stepchild, mr. t, Ken Sorrell and "George Klineberg" (Guy Muse already got tagged along with me).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Contaminated DNA"?

In the name of furthering Church Planting Movements, in contexts where there are already other existing churches, it has sometimes been expressed that it is important to "protect" new believers and new churches from "exposure" to already existing churches, so that they don’t get "infected" with their "contaminated DNA." It is often stated that "traditional" churches, with their own building, and paid leadership, can never be truly "reproducible". And I would agree that missions research (as well as common sense) has overwhelmingly confirmed these as reproduction-limiting factors.

Perhaps among certain Unreached People Groups this isn’t even an issue, as there are no traditional churches to get in the way and expose the new believers and churches to their "contaminated DNA." But in areas like Western Europe, where the churches are few, but they DO exist, I wonder if "strategically shunning" is the most biblical and loving thing to do. And, as I intimated in my last post, if your initial "end-vision" does not embrace the unity of the overall Body of Christ in your region, I question whether, from a biblical, and Christ-honoring point of view, that end-vision is ambitious enough.

As North Americans, we have a tendency to be entrepreneurial in the way we do things. This can be a very good character trait that God can use greatly for the advance of His Kingdom. But whenever our entrepreneurial tendencies run roughshod over or snub the efforts of our national brethren, or even of other foreign missionaries who are not quite so much on "the cutting edge" as us, I think we need to take a step back and ask ourselves whose kingdom it is we are seeking to build.

Am I inferring we ought to do away with CPM methodology? By no means. I remain to this day a strong supporter of "New Directions" at the IMB and of CPM methodology in general. But I am afraid that some of us, in our zeal to be among the few to achieve a bona fide CPM, and our quest to be faithful to God’s call upon our lives, have forgotten that He will one day ask us about some other things besides whether or not we were responsible for being the strategic catalyst behind a CPM.

Friday, August 04, 2006


One of the concepts we were taught at IMB Strategy Coordinator training when I attended in Germany back in 2001 was what was referred to as "end-visioning". The definition of "end-visioning" from our manual reads as follows:

Viewing the phases within a linear process from the end to the beginning in contrast to the normal means of viewing them, which is in succession from the beginning to completion.

The "end" we are "end-visioning" in our missionary strategy has a very signficant impact on the various steps we take in order to arrive at that "end". Many times in missionary work, we find what is at hand, what we like to do, what we are able to do, and start doing that without any real "vision" of what is the ultimate "end" to which we are working.

The whole concept of Church Planting Movements is very much tied in to the idea of "end-visioning". If we are to be the best stewards of the resources with which God has entrusted us, it is no longer good enough to just evangelize and plant churches one at a time. In order to get to the ultimate goal in mind, whether it be described as the "saturation" of a country or a people group with New Testament churches, or self-perpetuating, indigenous "church planting movements," there are certain steps that should be taken. It is also important the order in which these steps should be taken. And the best way to determine this is to start at the end, and to trace your steps back from there, until you reach the beginning.

From a biblical viewpoint, the example of Paul in Ephesus and Asia Minor as cited in Acts 19.10 is held out as a commendable "end-vision": And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. I personally love Paul’s strategy in Ephesus. Many of our present ministry goals are modeled after the "school of Tyrannus" (v. 9).

But, as I have meditated more on missionary strategy from the perpective of "end-vision", I have become convinced that Paul’s ultimate "end-vision" for Ephesus and Asia Minor was not merely that "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." I believe the real "end-vision" of Paul is better captured in Ephesians 4.1-16, especially verse 13: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

As I understand it, according to this, neither Saturation Church Planting nor Church Planting Movements, in and of themselves, are an ambitious enough "end-vision". They are important steps along the way to the "end-vision", but they are not the complete "end" to which we are working. Paul’s "end-vision" for the work in Ephesus and Asia Minor was nothing less than complete spiritual unity, discipleship, and maturity of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in that geographical area.

If this is the "end-vision" we have in mind, it will dramatically affect the steps we take to reach it. We cannot settle for methodologies that will perhaps help produce numerical growth, or even spontaneous multiplication of indigenous congregations, if these same methods in any way short-circuit the ultimate "end-vision" of unity, discipleship and maturity of the believers.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


One signficant example of a Strategic Alliance for evangelical mission work in many countries of the world is DAWN.

I lifted the following from the DAWN Europe web-site

DAWN is an acronym for "Discipling a Whole Nation". It is a strategy developed to fulfil our Lord's command to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19,20). To do this DAWN seeks to mobilise the whole body of Christ in a nation to provide Christ-centred cells, congregations or churches for every village and neighbourhood of every class, kind and condition of person in the nation.

The purpose of DAWN is to see saturation church planting become the generally-accepted and fervently practised strategy for completing the task of making disciples of all peoples in our generation. Our concern is that the body of Christ in every land ought to be praying and working for the discipling of that whole nation, including all its people groups.

Our conviction is that this is accomplished most effectively when the whole church of a whole nation is committed to the goal of having at least one Christ-centred congregation within easy access of every person in the nation. There should be a living, growing, Christ-centred congregation for every 1,000 people or smaller community unit.

With a witnessing congregation in every neighbourhood, every person will have the opportunity to make an informed, intelligent decision for or against Jesus, and will have a place of fellowship where he or she could be discipled should they become a believer.

DAWN recognises that the job of discipling a nation is too big for any one denomination. It provides an answer by bringing a unity of purpose to a diversity of styles and means.
DAWN seeks to further national movements of saturation church planting and encourages research, intercession and strategy.

DAWN works to see existing churches take on their God-given responsibility for the community around them, and to see new churches planted into communities where there is no church.

The basic vision of DAWN, as I understand it, is to get all of the churches, denominations, and mission organizations working in a country to set common goals for the discipleship of the entire country, through saturation church planting; and then to pray and work together to divide up the task between them, keeping abreast of what each one is doing, and coordinating efforts whenever practical in such a way as to avoid overlapping each other, and use the best stewardship possible of the various resources available.

DAWN is not a substitute for denominational efforts, but rather a channel for all Great Commission Christian groups to do more effectively what they are already doing. The article that can be viewed here shows how the work of individual denominations are actually the heart of DAWN’s strategy.

For what reason I do not know why, but I have heard that DAWN has become taboo in the US with NAMB. If anyone out there can enlighten me as to why this is the case, I would be most interested to know. I personally am very excited about the possibilities of DAWN for Spain, and other countries around the world, and hope that we as IMB workers will be in the middle of projects like this, and not on the outside looking in. I believe our IMB administration would be in agreement with this. But I am picking up bits and pieces here and there that lead me to believe that some in SBC circles in the States are not. Anyone know why?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Strategic Alliances

A few months ago I had the privilege of attending a 3-day workshop on "Strategic Alliances" sponsored by COMIBAM ("Cooperación Misionera Iberoamericana" or "Ibero-american Missionary Cooperation"), an initiative to facilitate the cooperation of evangelical missionary organizations and movements in all of the countries of Latin America, as well as Spain and Portugal. At this meeting, there was a cross-denominational representation of evangelical workers from various countries. Out of a group of about thirty, I was one of two from the United States.

The working definition of "Strategic Alliance" we used was the following:

A close working relationship between individuals and/or organizations that agree to work together for a specific purpose because they can accomplish more working together than separately.

There are many different types and degrees of Strategic Alliances. The SBC Cooperative Program, for example, is, in my opinion, one very effective Strategic Alliance. Local ministry teams on the mission field are another type of Strategic Alliance. The important thing is that all over the world, among the larger Body of Christ, there are countless opportunities for Strategic Alliances that allow us as God’s people, to "accomplish more working together than separately."

The Roman Catholic Church is, in a sense, one giant worldwide Strategic Alliance. In addition to the many important doctrinal errors they embrace, which, in in my opinion, essentially invalidate a good part of the authenticity of their supposed Gospel witness, I feel that the monolithic Roman Catholic ecclesiological system in the end squelches the creativity and spiritual vitality that flow out of the baptistic or "free church" concepts of local church autonomy and soul competency.

However, the RCC in some ways has a distinct advantage over many of us as evangelicals, in that, their "universal" concept of the Church and its worldwide organization allow them in some aspects to have a leg up on us in wise stewardship of resources. If, for example, the material needs of one parish are especially pressing, the rest of the diocese will contribute from their overall budget to help out. By the same token, if the needs of the "Church" in one part of the world are especially pressing, those who call the shots at the Vatican have the ability to see that an appropriate amount of help arrives from their vast treasure of resources to those who, at least theoretically, need it most.

As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe it is a given that we should strive to be the best stewards possible of the resources he entrusts to us for the extension of his Kingdom. The Roman Catholic system, while offering some important advantages, in the end, due to the reasons mentioned above, is, in my opinion, not the best solution. For many of the same reasons, I believe that the organizational ecumenical movement embodied in the World Council of Churches is not the best solution either.

Up to recently, we as Southern Baptists participated as members of the Baptist World Alliance. In any Strategic Alliance, the time comes when one must decide whether what is gained is greater than what is given up. If I have understood correctly, those who made the decision to withdraw from the BWA did so for many of the same reasons we as Southern Baptists do not participate in the WCC, that is, a lack of overall doctrinal and philisophical compatibility to justify such cooperation. As I do not have access to all of the information that went into making this decision, I prefer to withhold judgment at this time as to whether it was a good decision or not.

What I do believe is that, in order to be the best stewards possible of God’s Kingdom resources, we as Southern Baptists need to do everything possible towards becoming less isolationist and more "World Christians" in our mindset. We must continue to be willing to dialogue with Baptist Unions and Conventions in other parts of the world about wise allocation of resources. We must be open to their suggestions. In my opinion, we must also continue to dialogue and cooperate with other Evangelical organizations, with headquarters in the USA or elsewhere, with a view towards "accomplishing more working together than separately." As mentioned in a previous post, we are all "playing on the same team" with the same ultimate goal in mind. Thus, it behooves us to think together as a team, and allocate our joint resources in such a way so as the overall objectives of the team are most benifitted. We need to seek for more and more ways to think creatively "out of the box," with more and more of a heart to see the entire world won for Christ, and more and more disiciples made from more and more peoples of the world.

As pointed out on another previous post, there are also pitfalls along the way, such as unhealthy dependency, to be avoided (see also Ken Sorrell’s posts on the R.I.N. Strategy of Missions). What we don’t need to do, though, as a result, is "stick our heads in the sand," continually narrowing our parameters of cooperation with other Great Commission Christians, defending our denominational distinctives, and building up our denominational and many times ethno-centric programs.