Let it be clearly understood that I have nothing against missionaries. I was raised on the mission field and have served as a missionary, myself. Over the years I’ve met quite a few other missionaries, visited their works and read plenty of mission newsletters. I’ve also read a fair number of mission books, not only historical accounts and biographies, but books about mission theory and practice. So I reckon I know a little about missionaries and what they do. From what I’ve observed, read and experienced, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a high rate of missionary failure and that, to a large extent, the failure is self-inflicted and self-perpetuating.
As I listened to speaker after speaker my sense of frustration and defeat grew. Oh, I appreciated their enthusiasm. I was impressed by their courage. Several had never spoken in public before. Others had to make their presentation in a language which was not their mother tongue. One man was almost illiterate. Yes, I admired their desire to share their insights and their willingness to risk looking foolish. Yet every single one of them, whether they were new converts or had been in the Lord for decades, whether they had spoken in public for years or this was their first time, regardless of their education or lack of it, all of them without exception, followed the same tired, worn-out formula in their talks. The reason for my discouragement was that this was a graphic demonstration of my shortcomings as a teacher.
How God communicates with us / Christ as the image of God
In another of these essays I used the metaphor of a computer game to illustrate the point that, if God exists, we cannot infer, with certainty, anything about either the beginning of the universe or its end by observing current conditions. Just as the actual origins of a computer game cannot be inferred by a character within the game merely by observing the state of his environment, we cannot know how our universe began by extrapolating the laws of physics backward in time.
Some thoughts sparked by the book by Ken Ham & Britt Beamer
I. The Observable Trend
Ham begins his book with the observation that the church buildings of Europe are mostly empty and that those in the U.S. are not far behind. Many buildings are being re-purposed or torn down. While this may be disturbing, it is hardly news. The trend has been well documented for decades. For example, Thomas C. Reeves presents an in-depth analysis of the decline of the ‘Main-line’ denominations in the United States in his book The Empty Church, The Suicide of Liberal Christianity (The Free Press, 1996).
On effectiveness in overcoming sin.
To be perfectly candid about it, I’ve never had any use for 12-step programs. There – I said it! A lot of you are probably ready to nail my hide to wall for saying it, but it’s the truth. Since honesty is one of the basic principles of the 12-step concept, you’re just going to have to deal with it.
Developing a well-rounded congregation.
As I sat in the pew and observed the rest of the congregation I wondered, yet again, what the point of it all was. On the surface, the congregation was dynamic and vibrant. There was lots of enthusiasm and optimism. The music was contemporary and the services were upbeat and well conducted. There were lots of ministries. The congregation was enjoying numeric growth. But, if you took the average person in the pew and stood him next to a pagan randomly snagged off the street, how could you tell the difference? My cynical eye couldn’t detect much difference in dress or behavior. The speech and attitudes of both seemed about the same. Worst of all, their thought patterns and world-view seemed very similar.
To what extent should the church change in order to attract people?
A while back a fellow Elder resigned at the church I used to serve. True, one of the reasons was a long-term medical situation in his family which took a great deal of time and emotional energy. As a result he felt that he was unable to give enough attention to his responsibilities at church. But there was another reason as well. He was disappointed that the church had not been growing as fast as he thought it should.
Are Christians ever justified in taking up arms or using deadly force?
Something which comes with the territory for Elders and others who have leadership roles in the church is that you get asked some tough questions. I’m told that there are a number of folk in the congregation where I served who are deeply troubled by some of the trends in our society. They are frightened by the rise of evil and the lawlessness they see. The topic apparently came up in one of the study groups and some wondered if we ought to purchase weapons to defend ourselves. A lady who was there emailed the Elders to get our take on the subject. The questions she asked boil down to this: “Under what circumstances, if any, should Christians use deadly force to defend themselves? Shouldn’t Christians depend on God to protect them?”
On the problem of speaking effectively.
Whatever charisma may be, I don’t seem to have much of it. No, I’m not talking about the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit such as the ability to perform miracles or speak in foreign languages without first studying them. (Though I don’t have that kind of charisma either!) I’m talking about whatever it is that some people have which automatically attracts others to them and makes them want to listen to what they have to say. The whole issue of what makes people want to listen has recently become important to me because I’ve been told (rather pointedly!) that there are some who don’t like my speaking style.
Poverty and the Christian response to it.
Going on a missions trip can be exciting, terrifying, joy-filled, disturbing, deeply satisfying, frustrating, faith-building, challenging, exhilarating, exhausting, motivating, enervating, boring, frantic, fulfilling, humbling, mind-blowing, numbing, meaningful, life-threatening, an exercise in patience and fun. The work can be incredibly hard and the hours long. It can challenge your faith and draw you incredibly close to the Lord. The positives usually far outweigh the negatives. It’s a time of spiritual growth and being stretched. You come back forever changed. But, there is one aspect of mission trips I dread and detest with a passion. Almost daily, sometimes several times a day, people request financial or material aid. And, most of the time, I have to turn them down.