the e’s of mission–reprint

Andrew Jones has compiled a list of responses to a recent Washington Post article regarding short term missions.  This is a conversation close to my heart as I have been on several different types of short term missions.  My sense of God calling me into ministry even comes out of a one-week experience in New Orleans.  I do believe that there is a place for apostolic partnerships and the mobilization of churches for the mission.  However, some of the criticism about cost and the inefficient projects is true.  In the last year I published an article regarding short-term missions at my old site.  It seems fitting to reprint the article here. 

The e’s of mission  (first printed at Craig O’Brien Blogs, June 2007)

A couple of weeks ago I had a lively discussion with Nazim, one of the pastors at Cityview.  In it I gave voice to 3 “e’s of mission” and have since added three more that I think could help us craft a long-term approach to short-term missions.  Attention to these e’s of mission would help the church confront several issues: 1.  How to engage the church in a holistic application of the Great Commission and the mission of God.  2.  How to free the church to invite those people who share their values but not our Christ as of yet to participate and even collaborate in the mission.  3.  How to extend the relationship between churches across continents or cities beyond a week to years.  Here they are.  I believe mission today could seek to create collaborative ventures for

Environmental improvements:  regions of the world and small communities are facing devasting environmental realities.  Improvements would seek to raise the quality of water, air, and soil through the initiation of best practices with the ethical application

Educational improvements:  Educating both boys and girls raises their ability to process information and even synthesize information.  Education must include agreed upon foundations of knowledge but also stimulate the diverse styles contained in people.  The development of facilities is especially helpful in some regions.

Economic improvements:  For the past four years I have been seeking to learn more about micro-loans and the establishment of family enterprises.  This is an exciting area for marketplace Christians from church settings to share their knowledge.

Energizing family systems:  (Ok I cheated a bit on this one.)  Mission in regions devasted by AIDS, natural disaster, war, etc, must address the devastation of family systems.  I have been challenged by Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian Ambassador to the UN, in his book, Race against Time; his account of villages ravaged by AIDS was most striking when he recorded the reality of lost learning that was present when the generation gap meant a generation was just not alive any more. 

Evangelism of the Lost:  God is seeking the lost and has commissioned His church to declare the Gospel of the Kingdom of His Son, Jesus Christ.  The church is uniquely commissed by God with this “e of mission.”  And furthermore, God is uniquely gifting and shaping His people for the declaration of the Gospel.  Mission teams must seek the appropriate means for communicating the message of forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ.

Empowerment of the Church:  As much as possible I believe that apostolic witness must seek to empower the local, indigenious church to thrive.  Our brothers and sisters who are suffering through trials of many kinds, must answer the question, “What does God want us to do?  and then offer this invitation: “Here is the challenge we would like you to collaborate with us on?”  Even as a new church begins in a community because of the apostolic witness of those on came on mission, I believe there must be a shift in the way the “missionaries” approach the emerging believers that encourages their own responsiveness to God and the development of their ownership of His assignment to their local congregation.

If you are part of a church that is engaged in short-term missions, what have you all been learning through your experiences?  What do you think about these “e’s of mission?”

community interrupted

Every culture has communities.  These communities either function well or they do not.  Each community or network of people makes some contribution to form what might be identified in that time and place as society.  By functioning well I mean that people love each other rather than just tolerate each other.  The needs of children and the “weak” are provided for through the cooperative efforts of extended family and neighbours.  The gifts and passions of people are harnessed for the good of the community through patterns of trust and creativity.  Reality–both that which is delightful and that which is awful–is consistently integrated into the common conversation and metabolism of the community.  In a community that functions well “looking back” is means of extracting story and values that move the current generations into wisdom onhow to pour out one’s life for the benefit of others.

The Great Catastrophe described in Genesis 3 shows us why community is so easily interupted.  Rejection of communion with God has set us into the perversion of relationships as accomplished by Satan who seeks to destroy those who bear the image of God.  Humanity is pictured as racing toward chaos with the first murder and the first war, and ultimately towards the judgement of Noah’s days.  And then Genesis 11 makes it obvious that our efforts toward community building are so easily sidetracked into the creation of structures for our own glory.  The spirit of lawlessness as described in 2 Thessalonians reminds us that the one who undertakes the Gospel work of city or community tranformation does not fight against people.  There is a spirit that wages war against the Spirit and community of God.

Don’t let anyone decieve you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.  He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God…And now you know what is is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time.  For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.  2 Thessalonians 2:3-7

“Sin,” writes the elder John, “is lawlessness.”  (1 John 3:4)  It is a consuming desire to throw off restraints and make self the centre of life.  I have observed the agony of lawlessness in many cultures and settings.  In fact my heart was awakened to Jesus’ call on my life in a setting where the transforming work of the Gospel was set against the desperate conditions of lawlessness in New Orleans in 1986.  I have since delighted in the description of a community interrupted by the cross from Titus 3.

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not becuase of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by grace, we might become heirs haveing the hope of eternal life.  This is a trustworthy saying.  And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.  Titus 3:1-8

I have been encouraged by Bob Roberts in his book, The Multiplying Church:  The new math for starting new churches.  He says the direction of our mission should be:  Gospel–Disciple–Society–Church.  In this way the Gospel transforms a disciple who contributes to the transformation of society from which the church emerges.  I live in a city that has a thin veneer of community constructed on self-righteousness.  Perhaps you don’t believe me; case in point: a few years ago concerns over our water supply sent people racing to the stores to purchase bottled water.  Fist fights erupted in the aisles!  With such little pressure we became overcome by our fears and our sins.  Imagine the pressure on people in a community that is not functioning well!  When community identity located in the gifts of God is displaced generationally, lawlessness gladly takes its place in the void. 

As I read the New Testament my imagination is captured by what it would be like for every disciple captivated by Jesus and His Gospel to live in their community with the redeeming work of the Kingdom of God fully present.  My experiences last week reminded me that unfortunately the disciples of Jesus can get this out of order.  This is well known in the history of missions, the church, and Canada.  I think that disorder came about through a serious misunderstanding of the Gospel-Disciple-Society-Church transformation process.  When the church seeks transformation through the imposition of the “church” and that church’s culture on a people then a community is interrupted.  However, when apostolic people hold fast to the Gospel and loosely to their culture, then new disciples transform their own society and the church emerges as an indigenous reality.


For the next few days I will reflect on our experiences last week with the Tsawout Assembly of Praise.  We ran a camp with the church for children on the Tsawout reserve.  The week was one of tremendous difficulties but also tremendous blessings.  Cityview went to Tsawout in response to an invitation to join in the ministry of the church there.  I had a few inklings into how difficult it might be but the reality was much stronger than I had anticipated.  I must say up front that God has placed a deep love and appreciation for the children and families there. 

Reflected in the faces and behaviour of some of these children was great resentment and hurt.  I and my children became targets of hostility toward “white” people.  In a moment’s notice this button could be activated with stone throwing, name calling, and punches.  I respect the need for even children to find their own way through this pain.  The Gospel and incarnational living on the part of followers of Jesus from many tribes or ethne seems to me to be part of God’s way.  The Gospel provides an edge for kindness and dialogue.  As well the Gospel provides the transforming power of God to pull that bitter root out of our hearts.

My dual challenge in this setting was to not only be available to the children on the reserve but also to be available to my own children as they confronted for the first time such dramatic levels of hostility.  Teaching my own children the way of Jesus through modeling, conversation, and correction was not easy.  What we were doing as a family in response to Jesus through is small though in comparison to others I met during the week.  Other believers have been set by God as agents of reconciliation in that setting for weeks, months, and years.  Their challenge for taking hold of the grace of Jesus is much greater than my own and I respect them deeply.

One afternoon we had to stop and pray as a team for my children that God would help them confront the resentment that seeks to take root in their own hearts.  It seems that the lord of the flies is always at work to poison hearts and to take captives.  But Jesus is greater than our hearts.