What have been some of the short-comings of missionaries that have served in Europe?

I think one of the biggest is a lack of vision for discipleship and more specifically for church planting. Many people focus on European missions as a place to do sports camps, English clubs, and other like activities where their focus is on evangelism. Yet, Europe is a place where the Gospel has been for years but it has been distorted and there is little response to it, so there needs to be more than just a focus on evangelism. What then happens to genuine conversions in this process? How are they followed up? Evangelism can not be separated from discipleship. At the same time, there is a need for making the Gospel relevant to the people of Europe. Most of the people in Europe are atheist, agnostic, or traditionally Catholic or Orthodox. A simple run through of a tract or packaged evangelistic tool is not going to connect with these people who don’t believe in a god or don’t care if there is a god or not. Or in the case of those who have a traditional religion, they tract will only make them perceive you as a cult with some “new Gospel” or believe they already have the salvation you are trying to share with them. Using Western evangelism tactics are not useful for presenting the vital message of salvation to people in Europe and this must be taken into consideration when planning to work in this part of the world.
Another one of the problems is too much of a commitment to working with existing national churches. This may sound funny. For instance, why is it bad to work with the national church? I mean, isn’t that what our end goal is, to create more national churches? What I mean here is that missionaries will come in and spend all of their time and energy with the church and the church members. Their entire ministry is centered on strengthening the national church and they enjoy their fellowship with the local believers. But the problem is that many churches in this part of the world lack a vision for evangelism and growth in their community. The church is happy with who they have and never seek to expand and change. In this situation the missionary never has any significant ministry with non-believers, who should be the primary focus of any missionary ministry. I fully support working with the national church as well as strengthening and teaching the leaders to be missions minded, but not to the detriment of ministry to those whom have never heard the Gospel.

Specifically, what are some “methods” that could be scrapped in the missionary endeavor? Positively put, what are some missionary methods that have proved to be effective and should be utilized more?

I am still learning in this context what should be best used in this context, but I know that the best thing to do is use the Bible as a guide. It seems to me that the Bible is composed the way that it is for a reason, and thus we should use the entire Bible in presenting the Gospel. Thus I am a firm believer in teaching the Bible chronologically from creation to Christ. I see this as a tool used by Jesus, Stephen and Paul in the New Testament. The stories of the Old Testament give meaning to all of history and they point to Christ laying the foundation for understanding true salvation. Postmoderns and atheists need to see the meta-narrative of the Bible and of all redemptive history to provide meaning for their lives, and I believe teaching the Bible chronologically is the best way to do this. Another strength is that it combines evangelism and discipleship at the same time. By this I mean that as the people are learning about the message of the Gospel they are learning the truths of the Bible and about God’s personality as He reveals himself throughout history.
One last thing I will add here is that work should not be done alone by the missionary. I have seen that the best way to do any ministry is with a local believer working with or being taught by the missionary. The missionary is never going to relate on the same cultural level that a national will be able to do, thus the missionary must be training the national believers how to witness to their own people effectively. At the same time the missionary never knows what will happen to him and how long he will be allowed to stay in the country. If all of the people he is working with are only connected to him and his ministry, what happens if the missionary must leave? What other believers does this person know? Who will continue to share with these people? The missionary must be planning for effective follow-up by national believers. Having national believers knowledgeable and competent to do ministry also will further speed up the spread of the Gospel and the starting of new churches who can train up new leaders.

Someone is struggling with whether to go on the mission field, what steps should they take to make that decision?

My first response would be to have them search deeper for the reason behind their struggles. It is possible to be fighting God’s call to missions and to be personally looking for excuses not to respond out of fear or disobedience. Jonah is a good example of this. It is clear that Jonah had a call from God to go and he was fighting it. Thus, sometimes people will say they are “struggling” with whether to go or not when it is clear there is a call there. The evil one will use many sources to dissuade people from going to the labor fields, including family, friends, and even personal issues. I would therefore encourage that person to take a long look and reflect on the reasons for wanting to go to the mission field. What are their desires? What are the compelling forces behind their reason for wanting to go? What are the factors playing into their reason for wanting to NOT go? A clear call to go is not a valuable tool for missionaries, it is a mandatory prerequisite. Life on the mission field is tough and can not be done apart from God’s sustaining grace and mercy. Attacks will come and life will not be comfortable. Sometimes all a missionary has to fall back on is his call from God to be doing what he is doing, and without it the missionary will crumble and return home.

Someone is single and is worried they will not be able to “find” someone if they are in missions, what would you say to this person?

The person needs to rethink where their focus is. What is more valuable to that person: their desire for a spouse or God’s call to them to reach the nations? God does not need our help in anything, including missions and finding a spouse. So if God has called a single person to missions, then surely he means of him to go and to go without expectations. I truly believe that if someone is following hard after God then He will provide the desires of their heart. There are many people I know, including myself, who have followed God into missions and God has provided a spouse through this obedience. I know that there is no better place to find someone with an equally strong heart for missions that on the mission field serving God. But at the same time, there are no guarantees that going to the mission field automatically means that you will find God’s chosen for you. First things first, follow God wholeheartedly and allow Him to provide the desires of your heart in His timing.

What is missionary life like for a family (i.e. adjusting to culture, language)? That is, what should a husband and wife be prepared for that you weren’t prepared for before stepping off the plane?

Well, this is a little difficult for me to answer. Both my wife and I were single on the mission field in the same country where we returned as a family. Thus, we had worked through a lot of our culture stress and detachment from American culture issues previously as singles and were better prepared to return to the field as a family. The one thing that I wasn’t prepared for though was the adjustment to working from the home and being together so much. I have learned that as a missionary I do a lot of work in and out of our apartment. As a result my work time and family time has blended together and I have had to adjust to getting ministry things done in between helping to feed our daughter, play with her, change diapers, taking out the trash, picking up the mail at the post office, and so on. It has been an adjustment for a task-oriented person like myself, but it is part of missionary life as a family.

Last Question: What are your thoughts regarding miracles on the mission field and spiritual gifts?

I have never seen any miracles on the mission field, but I have no doubt that God is capable of working miracles and can and does use them at certain times. The missionary is many times on the front lines of a spiritual battle and the rules of spiritual war go beyond flesh and blood. I have heard many stories of God using dreams and visions to draw Muslims to faith and salvation and I believe that this is happening and will continue as part of God’s plan for reaching these people. There are also many stories of God using people in spiritual warfare through healings and other encounters with demons. Again, I have not personally encountered any of these happenings, but I do not discount the power of God and the truth of these stories in other places around the world.

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Needing Help to Make Dreams Reality

Was fascinated by this video of Steve Jobs talking about asking for help. Near the end, notice what he says that separates those that do things from those that merely dream.

Moving Forward

When you became a Lutheran, what were some misconceptions and reactions from folks on both sides (Evangelical friends and Lutheran friends)?

Lutherans and evangelicals don’t cross paths much and that results in quite a bit of misunderstanding on both sides. When I first started having conversations about Lutheranism with my evangelical friends — all of whom were seminary educated — most of them didn’t really know what Lutherans believed. The attitude seemed to be mostly that they were slightly better than Roman Catholics but not by much. There was also an assumption that later Lutheran doctrine must have departed quite a bit from what Luther taught. I think some think this because Reformed Evangelicals resonate with a lot of Luther’s writings and think that he sounds more like them than he sounds like the little bit that they know of Lutheranism. What I found as I was moving toward Lutheranism is that the picture of Luther I had been given from the Reformed was quite a selective picture and one that was rather inaccurate to the Luther of history. Luther looked much more like a Roman Catholic than I had thought. Roman Catholicism was the vocabulary he spoke and the world in which he lived. Luther didn’t start from a position of scrapping it all and starting over. He wanted to retain what was not contrary to the Word of God and restore what was commanded by the Word of God. This approach meant that he actually leaves quite a bit in place.

You can see the hold over of Calvin’s and Zwingli’s approach to tradition in the mindset of most of today’s Evangelicals: if it’s Roman Catholic, it’s bad. Sometimes if it even looks Roman Catholic, it becomes a reason to exclude a practice.

So the misconception on the Evangelical side was that I was moving to Lutheranism because I was attracted to all of the bells and smells of Roman Catholicism but was too afraid to swim the Tiber. Once I had communicated my decision to move into the Lutheran church, a professor at the Baptist seminary I attended — a man who was also an elder in the Baptist church where I was a member — emailed me to express his grave concern that I was on a slippery slope to the Roman Catholic church, as though every Lutheran is just someone who has thus far managed to fight against the greased slide to Rome. What’s I find ironic is how often I’m objecting the Lutherans who say things like “That’s too Catholic!” I have to remind them that we are Catholic (and I refuse to give the capital letter to the Romans!). We’re just not Roman. But just because it’s Roman doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

In any case, living on the inside of the Lutheran church now, I can assure anyone that it’s no slippery slope to Roman Catholicism.

On the Lutheran side, I have found that Lutherans tend to think of Evangelicals as anti-intellectual. There may have been a time when that accusation stuck, but it doesn’t really today. These days, I think have something of a complex about having an anti-intellectual reputation, and they’ve worked hard to overcome it. There’s also an opinion among Lutherans that Evangelicals don’t take Scripture seriously, which is used to explain how Evangelicals reach their interpretations that are so contrary to the way Scripture has been interpreted historically. It’s a misconception. Whatever Evangelical scholarship is guilty of, it does take Scripture seriously. From my experience in Evangelical scholarship, they are deeply concerned with having a right interpretation of Scripture. One could, however, wish that they didn’t look so kindly on novel exegesis as they do. Occasionally, I run into Lutherans who are suspect of my credentials having come from an Evangelical background. On the whole, however, most don’t regard it to be a detracting factor.

Warnings from a Lutheran Convert

This is the second part of a four-question interview.

You’ve mentioned the a-theological essence of Evangelicalism and the tendency toward tribalism, what are some other areas of concern that you have from your Lutheran vantage point?

Another concern is the listless nature of Evangelical worship. It’s a symptom of the lack of connection to a historic church. Though it isn’t equally true of every Evangelical church, common characteristics of Evangelical services are very little Scripture reading, songs that speak more about how you feel about Jesus than the redemptive work of Jesus for sinners, and preaching that focuses more on our human stories and how God can help us in our modern lives than on the grander story of God’s action in the story of fallen Israel and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the new Israel. How did Evangelicals end up here? It’s where you end up when you throw out what the church has done for hundreds and thousands of years because you think you know better than your forebearers.MegaChurch

The Western church has been building a culture for two-thousand years. Music, visual art, architecture, and literature are all a part of that. It has always been our way of speaking to the world. Carried within all of those cultural forms are what we think of our God, ourselves, and our place in the world. But when a church rejects that culture because it’s not modern enough, it’s too complicated, too high-brow, not entertaining enough — whatever reason people have for rejecting it — a church only has one other culture to choose from. It takes generations to build a culture. So because you can’t create your own out of thin air, all that’s left to choose from when you reject the church’s culture is a secular culture that is antithetical to it. So you end up with musical forms that were never designed to bear divine speech or thoughts about the divine being crudely fitted together with only some semblance of a biblical thought. You end up with utilitarian architecture, literature that won’t last even a decade, and visual arts that are predictable, trite, and emotionally manipulative. Evangelical films might be the most obvious examples.

The value of a historic liturgy is that it preserves the church’s message. It leaves the message intact for the next generation, and it expects them to hold on to it and deliver it to the generation that follows them. Now certainly, there have been and will continue to be some changes and modifications in liturgy, but they are like the changes in a language. The changes take place organically, naturally, and slowly so that you can still recognize it as the same language spoken by your grandparents and by their grandparents — even if you see some differences. The language change doesn’t happen because you want to wipe the slate clean and start a new language because you don’t like the way those who went before you were speaking.

In chapter four of his remarkable work, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton says, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” Tradition lets the whole church have a say because it thinks that those who went before have something valuable to say. As harsh as it may sound, it’s “the small arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about” that are running the Evangelical church, and they’re running it with devastating results. They’ve traded all of that culture for some short-lived gains.

No, the historic liturgy won’t fill stadiums. You can’t build a 10,000 member megachurch in just a couple of years with it, but the liturgy was there before all of that and will continue to be there long after the stadiums are empty and megachurches have moved on to the next big thing. It survives in affluence and poverty, ancient and contemporary contexts, rural and urban environments. Evangelical worship by contrast is thoroughly middle-to-upper-middle class. To work, it requires us to live in a certain sweetspot in technological and economic history. I recognize that not every Evangelical subgroup can be painted with this anti-liturgy brush so neatly, but I think it’s mostly a matter of degree because it’s part of the Evangelical DNA. So it shows up at some point in every subgroup — even if not as full blown as it does in others.

Part One: Confessions of a Lutheran Convert