Is Mission Optional For Discipleship?

OK, let’s be clear from the outset.

To be a disciple is to be a student of a teacher.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn from Him.

This learning and growing process is known as discipleship.

I imagine for the majority of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, discipleship involves some or all of the following – meeting with other believers, reading the Bible regularly, praying, going to church, meeting with a mentor, doing a short-course on an aspect of the Christian faith, listening to podcasting preachers, reading Christian books, talking about spiritual things with Christian friends, being involved in a small group, volunteering in a ministry at church and maybe even using Christian buzz words like ‘journey’, ‘organic’, ‘missional’ and ‘emerging’.

Most of these are excellent. They’re great and important. They help us grow in our faith. They allow us to gain a better understanding of the nature of God and the power and presence of Jesus. They help to build real and authentic (OK… another buzz word) community and inspire us into a deeper faith.

Yet, when I look at the discipleship ‘journey’ that Jesus took with 12 young guys, I wonder if we’re missing something in the discipleship package we’re sold today. Yes they prayed together, ate together, were part of a mentoring relationship and listened to cracker sermons (from Jesus Himself!). But all of this happened within the context of a much larger picture. There was a purpose that led to something greater than their own faith development: the faith of others. AKA Mission.

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship_

From the outset Jesus equipped, prepared, challenged and released His followers into mission.

It was mission-focused discipleship.

A discipleship that was geared more towards the needs of others than their own. It was a kind of discipleship that required them to be active and to work out their faith in the daily grind. It was this kind of discipleship that grew some uneducated country fishermen into ‘missionaries’ committed to spreading the Good News to people who hadn’t heard it. Mission was not an added, optional, “Would you like fries with that?”’ extra. Rather, it was completely integrated into their discipleship. Just like your veggie patch needs light, food and water to survive, our discipleship is nurtured, fed and grown by engagement with others in mission.

Discipleship is the vital activity of believers around the world. In fact, it’s the model of mission Jesus has given us from the start. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 emphasises the making of disciples as the primary activity for believers. Jesus Himself showed us the way as He led His disciples, while in Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament believers continued to grow their faith in all the different places and cultures they lived in.

I wonder what part mission plays in your understanding and experience of discipleship? It may mean joining a new sporting team or club or being more intentional with your time, resources and language at uni, work or mother’s group or engaging with other cultures to see where God is already working and how you might be able to join Him.

If the job that Jesus left us with is really about being disciples who make disciples, then it applies whether we are here in Australia or in a far corner of the world. If we follow Jesus’ model of discipleship, then no matter the number of books we read, sermons we listen to or mentoring sessions we slot into our week, something will always be missing if it isn’t wrapped up in mission. And while this can seem impossibly daunting, even simple things like starting a soccer match or joining a Tai Chi class can be used by God not only to make more disciples but to help deepen our own experience as disciples as well.


Originally published in Resonate (ed. 20), a publication of Global Interaction

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Short-Term Teams: Purpose – Partnership – Preparation

As we continue our series on short-term mission teams it’s time to talk about frameworks. Previously we’ve thought about defining short-term teams, and looked at the benefits of such teams. Now we turn to the more philosophical aspects of this kind of ministry, helping us do them well.

In broad terms there are three main aspects to any short-term team. The period before, during, and after a short-term encounter.

In today’s post we will focus on the before stage, important for setting up the team, church, and hosts for success. In this stage we will look at Purpose, Partnership, and Preparation as keys to such success.

STM - Purpose - Partnership - Preparation

Purpose

Without a purpose as to why a short-term team is undertaken then it is hard to evaluate whether it has been a success or not. It is hard to evaluate any venture without understanding what the purpose of it is. The same is to be said about short-term teams.

As I’ve mentioned previously there are different ways of approaching a short-term team but it should be the purpose of such a trip that dictates the approach, not the other way around. With short-term teams it is vital to establish a clear, realistic, and aligned purpose. And it is important to get this right.

One way to find clarity around purpose is through asking questions.

  • What is the end goal of this short-term team?
  • How would a short-term team help achieve this end goal?
  • Does undertaking a short-term team align with the vision of the church?

There are plenty of other questions that could be asked at this point too. But what is important is trying to ask questions that will help clarify and develop a clear purpose for the short-term team.

Most likely, the shorter the time spent in a host country then the purpose will be more about exposure to culture, mission, and learning. The longer the time spent in country will usually mean the opportunity to actually connect with people at a deeper level.

The most recent team I’ve been involved in had a five-fold purpose, all of which I believe we achieved by the end of debrief. The five aims outlined prior to the team even being advertised was:

  1. Be inspired by what God is doing around the world, specifically Thailand.
  2. Enable those interested in cross-cultural mission to gain a greater understanding and exposure to what it is like on the ground.
  3. Help a participant grow as a disciple of Jesus.
  4. Encourage our current team of workers in Thailand as we visit and join in with what they are doing.
  5. Promote the cause of global mission within the church.

Evidently this was a team to Thailand. It was for two-weeks, connecting with our mission partners there. From the outset we had aims in what this encounter team was to achieve, not only for the participants but also for the church. Helpfully, we developed these in consultation with those in the host country too.

Purpose. It is important for short-term teams and helps direct the approach and provide clarity for everyone involved.

Partnership

Partnership is a buzzword in church and para-church circles. In mission circles it is used constantly in reference to the relationship between a church, people going on mission, and the mission organisation involved. In working in both arenas I find the term ‘partnership’ helpful only when it is clear in its meaning. More often than not it is simply Christianese used to mean prayer and financial support.

When I speak of partnership in a short-term team sense I imagine a close working relationship between the church, the missionaries, and the mission organisation. This close working relationship will care for one-another, help one-another, seek to problem solve together, and use each other’s gifts to provide excellent support and training. Through this relationship the church and mission organisation will encapsulate what it is to work together as the body of Christ, and in turn will heighten the impact of this encounter experience on the team members.

Some basic first steps on what this partnership might look like are:

First, make a connection between the church and the mission organisation.

Have an actual conversation about what church is expecting and what the mission organisation is expecting. Talk about what the aims of the team are, who can be involved in the process, what the process will be, are there any policies to be aware of, how can training and preparation and debrief be done well. These and more can be talked through extensively in order to find clarity for both groups.

Second, make a connection with people in the host country.

Let’s not overwhelm or take people away from their work. But at least a few emails or Skype calls might help to gain perspective and know what to expect. At this stage it could mean a re-evaluation of purpose and aims or it could continue to strengthen the whole endeavour.

Third, make a connection between the idea of a short-term team and the church itself.

It’s one thing to promote the idea and ask people to get involved or participate, it’s another to bring the rest of the church along with you. These types of short-term teams can be very useful in not only stretching the participants but also raising the temperature of global missions in the congregation. In turn, the church can provide some terrific support for the team as they hear and encourage the stories of the participants. Through good communication it can be a win-win for everyone involved.

And it is communication that is a key to partnership.

If no one knows what’s going on there will be minimal support and partnership. From the beginning, even if it is a remote possibility of a team actually happening, it is important to be communicating the idea or aims or desire for a short-term team. This will not only help in gathering prayer and financial support, but it will bring people along with you.

A short-term team that isn’t communicating is simply a person or group of people doing their own thing; they shouldn’t be surprised if there is minimal partnership.

Preparation

I don’t think there is such a thing as too much preparation when it comes to a short-term team. Preparation is vital to the success of the encounter team, with little preparation there will be little success.

Of course, there are all the practical and logistical things you need to consider beforehand; passports, flights, transport, accommodation, and the like. These things probably don’t need to be said. To help a team really connect with the whole experience there needs to be times where the team bonds together and learns more about the environment they’re going into.

Often preparation can be misunderstood. Many of the topics like team building, a biblical understanding of missions, spiritual warfare, cultural awareness and worldview, country specific information and learning, how to share your story cross-culturally, and more, can feel unnecessary in the moment. When there are people who haven’t ravelled much, particularly to the area you will be going with the team, then the participant finds it hard to grasp what is being said in the training. Yet, I find that once the team hits the ground there are ‘lightbulb moments’ when the memory of prior preparation comes to mind in the experiences of the team.

And it is this type of preparation and training that can only be done beforehand. It is too hard to talk through these things in the moments and experiences of the trip itself. Rather, this preparation can only be done beforehand, and is helpful to those on the team as they experience culture shocking moments they don’t know what to do with. In all likelihood, there will be people on a short-term team who are being rattled by simply being in another country, let alone the experiences of lack of language, heightened emotions and adrenaline, and the feelings of uselessness.

While it might seem like a lot of time, I find that 10-12 months of preparation is helpful in forming the team and having them understand the complexities of what the encounter will entail.

In this way preparation is a must for any team or individual participating in a short-term team. They’re kidding themselves if they don’t prepare for such a dynamic and impacting experience.


This is the third post in a series on short-term mission teams. You can find the previous posts here:

  1. Defining The Short-Term Mission Team
  2. The Benefits of Short-Term Teams

The Benefits of Short-Term Teams

Questions are raised about short-term teams all the time. As I defined in my previous post, short-term teams are:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

And even a definition like this will raise questions.

Many of these questions consistently revolve around finances, impact, development, need, politics, and church relevance. Questions like:

  • Are they worth the cost? Couldn’t the money be used elsewhere?
  • Do Westerners arriving on the shores of a developing country for a couple of weeks actually help anyone? Are these teams a modern form of colonialisation?
  • Is anything really achieved for the participants and the people in the host country by a 2-3 week stay?
  • What is the image given to people who see wealthy Western Christians coming and going from their country while they are never helped themselves?

These are good and valid questions.

I know a number of people who have seen damage done spiritually, personally, financially, culturally, and socially because of these teams. And so rightfully, questions do need to be asked of this $2 billion industry. Depending on where you come from will mean different questions.

The Benefits of The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there have been helpful books written, like “When Helping Hurts“, that have promoted better practices for short-term mission teams. These practices have elevated the need to think through short-term teams, not only from a participant point-of-view but for those in the country where the team is going. They have also provided helpful frameworks, and questions to ask of teams, in the areas of finance, community development, spiritualisation, evangelism, discipleship, and more.

This goes a long way in helping those of us who lead teams and involved in short-term missions to think through the issues. Sometimes there is the need for change because of this thinking and questioning. And sometimes, we may only need to shift our goals a little and see the benefits of these teams can occur from a better and more solid foundation.

Benefits Of Short-Term Teams

And while there are plenty of criticisms and plenty of questions to be asked, I believe there are also plenty of benefits. Many of these I have seen myself, for me personally and for others who have been on teams before. And I’m sure there are also plenty of others that come from short-term teams too. But in the mean time, here are 15 benefits of short-term teams.

  1. They increase mission awareness within your church.
  2. They give the church a tangible opportunity to be involved in global mission.
  3. They broaden the worldview of those who participate, and those in the congregation.
  4. They increase the participation of of church members in local mission.
  5. They help grow followers of Jesus.
  6. They open participants eyes to the needs and realities of other people in other cultures.
  7. They develop a sense of connection between church members, participants, and the missionaries visited.
  8. They encourage the ministry of the the missionaries who are visited.
  9. The provide opportunity for participants to receive training in cross-culture ministry and settings.
  10. They help people understand the nature of support-raising.
  11. They enable participants to see what the reality of missions is like on the ground.
  12. They give another person in the world the opportunity to interact with someone from another culture.
  13. They increase the passion for helping people and being a good neighbour.
  14. They provide action-reflection experiences for participants in emotional, physical, and spiritual ways.
  15. They change lives and career paths.

Each of these points could be expanded. There are no doubt others to add too. But, as I’ve said here, and previously, these benefits give good impetus for short-term teams and their value to the church.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there has been much written decrying the short-term mission trip. Thankfully, there has been much written promoting healthy ways to engage in short-term mission trips too. But for a number of year now there have been a plethora of articles on the issue of short-term teams and whether they are actually beneficial to anyone.

And in many ways much of what they say is right.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

For over 60 years the short-term mission trip–where a gaggle of young people raise money, buy new clothes, luggage, and gifts, and spend time in a culture that is not their own, all for the sake of believing they are helping people-–has been one of the sexiest things the church has been doing.

And of course there are plenty of caveats that should be said here.

  • No doubt many people have been helped because of these trips.
  • Many who have gone on these trips have grown themselves. 
  • And, some have even turned their short-term experience into a long-term missionary career.

And that’s great.

Truly, it is. 

But knowing that over $2 billion dollars is spent on short-term teams per year, and many who go leave the experience behind them, then serious questions are worth asking.

Having been on these types of teams, helped numerous churches facilitate them, and continue to lead these teams, I still believe they are worthwhile.

I believe that with a good framework these teams can become a terrific investment for individuals, the local church, and the church-at-large.

Over the coming weeks I will be publishing a series outlining a healthy approach to short-term teams, giving adequate thought to preparation, delivery, and debrief.

But first, it is helpful to start with some definitions.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

Before outlining a framework it is worth defining what a short-term team is.

First, short-term teams can be defined by length.

Some organisations have teams that only last a week. Other organisations classify short-term up to two years. That’s a big difference. For the purposes of defining short-term teams in this series I think of them lasting up to three weeks in duration.

Second, short-term teams can be defined by what participants actually do.

(1) Some teams spend time linking up with another church in another city, in their home country, and do mission-type activities together.

(2) Some teams involve going to a majority world country and helping an organisation in that country by painting their building, or their church, or a local school. This is the project-type team, which spends the majority of time doing a practical project in a particular place.

(3) Some teams spend a few weeks exploring the life and culture of a different country, visiting the work that is already going on in that place. This then involves lots of observation, cultural activities, and asking key questions to workers and missionaries already there. In this team there is a recognition that 2-3 weeks in a particular country won’t make much of a difference, except for the participants themselves.

(4) And finally, some teams are ‘longer’ short-term teams whereby the participants learn the language and culture of where they are going and spend significant time in one city, connected with one or two particular ministries going on in that place.

Third, short-term teams can be defined by their destination.

If the team is going to a developing country then it is more likely to be seen as a ‘proper’ short-term team. A team visiting their own country, or at least a place with a similar culture and language, may consider themselves more a partnership team, or just a few people from a church serving in another place for a short period.

There may be other ways to define what a short-term team is, but I believe this covers most of what would be expected and understood by churches, mission groups, and other voluntourism organisations. And this leads me to define these short-term teams as:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

What about you? How would you define these short-term teams?

Having this definition will help us think through some of the benefits of these short-term teams before helping us unpack some foundational thoughts about a healthy framework for short-term missions. This is where we will turn to next in our series. I hope you will join me.

Missions Sub-Committee Approves Short-term Mission Team to Neighbours

For the last nine months Huntingdale Heights Community Church has been actively pursuing the idea that it should reach out to its neighbours. On Monday night the short-term missions sub-committee taskforce formally approved its first short-term missions team to do just that.

Missions Sub-Committee Approves Short-term Mission Team to Neighbours

Over the past three years Pastor Jeff Hines has been preaching through the book of Acts, and this has inspired a small group of eight people to consider reaching out to their local community.

One of those inspired members, Mary Michaels, brought the idea of a neighbourhood short-term mission team to the missions committee. She said, “Knowing missions is in the Bible I thought we could try something small by sending a group from our church to connect with the neighbours in our street. I’ve seen other churches go overseas and to different cities around the country but it seems obvious that we should reach out to those around us.”

After a period of visioning a sub-committee taskforce was formed to think through the process of formulating such a team and decide what they would do. David Jenkins, one of the key members of this sub-committee taskforce said, “For the last six months the committee has really narrowed down on how to best develop this trip and the team going. We have seen what other churches do and feel we could do something similar in our community, even in our street. We’d really like some of our members to connect with our neighbours, and are willing to partner with them in prayer and finances as they head off on this adventure.” Mr Jenkins explained that the team would undergo a training weekend with workshops on language and culture, team building, and gospel presentation.

The 10-day short-term mission trip is being met with much anticipation by those attending Huntingdale Heights Community Church. Gary Hopper thinks this could really spark the missions activity of the church and would like to see it occur annually going forward. He said, “It’s terrific, really terrific. To have a group of 6-8 people from our church who are willing to commit time and resource to reaching our neighbours is something of a culture shift for our church. We’re so busy these days that it is inspiring to see this small group commit 10-days to meeting our neighbours needs. This team could make such a great impact in such a short time.”

With only a month before the team heads off the last minute planning and preparations are taking place. The church is busy organising next weekend’s trivia night where it is hoping to raise the $1500 per person it needs for the trip. And some of the members of the team are buying all the essentials they need, including some new branded clothes that will allow them to fit in well with those they meet.

Of course, this trip wouldn’t have gone ahead had it not been for God working in the lives of the congregation. Josh Arden is one young adult member who has felt called by God to go on this missions trip. He explained his reasoning for doing so this way, “Listening to Pastor Jeff teach through Acts has shown me how important missions really is. I am nervous and excited about how God might change me and grow me through this trip. I look forward to meeting the neighbours of the church during this time, and hopefully helping them in various projects they need doing. I’ve been mowing the lawn for my parents for the last couple of years, I wonder if some of our neighbours would be be willing for me to do the same for them?”

Upon exiting the church building it was noted that the church’s storage room was beginning to fill with half-filled paint tins; donated by caring church members for the painting of some of the neighbours fences.


I submitted this satirical post to The Babylon Bee. It wasn’t accepted. I thought it worth publishing here. I hope you enjoyed it as much as enjoyed writing it. 

Billy Graham And Gramps

With the passing of Billy Graham overnight there is much to thank God for in terms of his ministry and impact, not only within Christianity in the twentieth century but the world at large. Billy had an impact in over 180 countries and is said to have a major influence in seeing over 200 million people come to know Jesus for themselves.

He is quite possibly the greatest evangelist ever, in the same ilk as Whitefield, Wesley, and Spurgeon.

During the 1950s and 60s my grandfather, Gordon Coombs, was the pastor of Opawa Baptist Church in Christchurch, New Zealand. A few months ago, I had a brief conversation about what pastoral ministry was like in those days, trying to mine as much gold as possible. Part of that conversation, I remembered this morning, was about the 1959 Billy Graham crusade in Christchurch. In light of Billy’s passing I thought I’d give him a call and see whether he would be willing to reflect a little more about that time.

Here are some of those memories and reflections.

Billy Graham Quote

The 1959 crusade was held just down the road from Opawa Baptist Church (OBC), at Lancaster Park. Literally, they are on the same street. Being the pastor of the most local church to the stadium there was clearly going to be some involvement.

As Gordon remembers there were three main areas he was involved in.

The first was to be on the organising committee for the eight-day long crusade. This involved preparation meetings and co-ordination with other churches in the city to stage such a large event.

The second main task he had, with the help or many other volunteers from other churches, was to be the host church for the follow-up of the crusade. This involved the use of OBC’s large hall where all the response cards would be collected, sorted, and distributed to the various churches across the city. After each night meeting, and once the counselling had been completed, this follow-up process would begin in the OBC hall and involve many volunteers late into the night and early morning.

And the third task, of vital importance, was to allow the crusade to borrow the brand new OBC organ for the entire eight days. This organ was expensive, it was new, and it was seen as a highly prised possession of OBC. And it would be sitting out in the middle of Lancaster Park day and night. However, after one of the Sunday morning services had been completed Gordon proceeded to announce the situation to the congregation. He asked for their thoughts, even though he didn’t know whether they would allow it. And as he said,

“There were some of the older people who put up their hands in opposition to this idea, but I told them that if we did this I am sure the Lord would bless us for it. And in doing so we had 40 new conversions out of the crusade.”

And it was these 40 new conversions that increased the size of the congregation by a third. For the churches there were new people joining congregations all over the city. There was an increased vigour in evangelism and almost a mini-revival.

“Some of the older people thankfully got their noses out of joint because they couldn’t sit in their same seat at church anymore, but there were some marvellous people who joined OBC in those days through the influence of the crusade”.

And it wasn’t only the churches that felt the impact.  It seems that a by-product of this crusade, particularly in the community, was a freedom to speak about Christianity; “for a short period of time Billy Graham and his crusades were on everyone’s lips”. And this allowed for people to speak freely to their friends and neighbours about the Christian faith.

Being on the committee Gordon did get to meet the man himself, meeting him as he arrived at the airport in Christchurch. Apparently, his eldest son (not even five at the time) was keen to go and meet him too but had a serious fever at the time. This meant he could only go as far as the airport window and look out in envy. But what Gordon does remember of him and his ministry was that of a humble man, committed to preaching the biblical gospel to everyone he could.

It is interesting to note that his arrival and ministry through the crusade also bought with it challenges. Some of the ministers in the city were not in favour of his coming because “they wouldn’t go along with his biblical emphasis”. And this is nothing new to those of us who have read a little about his ministry and methods. But he did,

“…bring renewal in the life of many ministers and because of his emphasis on the bible there came an increase in biblical preaching and the restoration of the authority of God’s word; it’s importance and centrality.”

If nothing else, I had a great conversation with my grandfather and was again reminded of how God continues to be at work in times and places and with people we will never know.

RIP Billy Graham.

Below are a couple of photos from the time of the crusade, various people meeting Mr and Mrs Graham.

Billy Graham Crusade 1959 - Men

Billy Graham Crusade 1959 - Ladies.jpg

The Relevance Of Jim Elliot For Youth Ministry

Let me tell you about Jim.

Jim was an active young man who enjoyed sharing his faith with others. He was a social kind of guy. He liked people and people liked him.

He grew up in the United States and was an excellent student in high school and university. During these years he became a Christian, and from that point sought to share his faith with everyone he knew. In university he led a bible study and was the editor of the college newspaper. He studied hard, and received good grades.

At one point he became interested in a girl. This interest occurred as he was exploring options to serve God in a mission capacity overseas.

jim_elliot_by_gregchapin-d6jqcxv

He married Elisabeth and they moved to Ecuador as missionaries. They first learnt the language before moving out near the jungle. Jim had a passion to reach a group of people who had never heard the name Jesus before. He wanted to share Jesus with them and had a few friends wanting to do the same.

After a couple of years Jim and four other friends began to search for a tribe that had never heard about Jesus. They did a number of flyovers of the jungle looking for a particular tribe, their huts and living arrangements. After a number of months they found the tribe they’d been looking for. They began to gently make contact with them through giving them gifts; gifts of food and other packages useful to their tribe were lowered out of the plane they were in.

On one particular day they decided to make closer contact with the tribe by flying to an open area near the village, landing on some hard sand next to a river. The whole day the team chatted with a couple of people from the tribe the best way they knew how. They were encouraged, believing they had made a good impression.

Unbeknownst to the group the rest of the tribe had surrounded them as they had been talking throughout the day. In the thick of the trees and scrubs of the jungle were the men of the village. After dark these tribesmen came out of hiding and killed them, putting an end to their mission task.

Once the guys didn’t arrive home the wives and children soon realised what had happened. In the weeks and months following many, understandably, left Ecuador for home.

But this isn’t the end of the story.

Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, and their daughter, ended up making contact with the tribe. Elisabeth and her daughter became friends with this tribe and ended up living with them for a number of years.

They lived with the people who had killed their husband and father.

Over the course of time the tribe turned to Jesus and from its violent ways into a loving people who cherished the Good News.

The story of Jim Elliot and his wife Elisabeth is a famous story in mission circles. It is a story that has inspired many people to take the leap into cross-cultural mission, and I’d have to be included with them.

However, this isn’t simply a story worth limiting to global missions. It can also be a story relevant to us in youth ministry. Here’s how:

First, Jim’s story reminds us of the concern for sharing the Good News. 

This Good News is the story of what God has done through Jesus. It is the story of God creating and calling a people to himself. It is a story that understands each individual student, parent, family, church member, and member of society, as a loved, cared for, and important person to God himself.

In youth ministry we seek to connect God’s story with the stories of those who we come into contact with. We seek to connect the Good News with the story of each individual connected with our youth ministry. Jim’s story is a reminder that sharing God’s story is to be at the forefront of what we do. It is what we are to be passionate about and committed to. It is a reminder that our youth ministries are to be mission-shaped.

Second, Jim’s story reminds us to be strategic. 

There is strategy behind the plans Jim and his friends had to achieve their mission. This strategy was thought out as they tried to show their love and care for the tribe in a respectful and meaningful way.

In youth ministry it’s important to have a strategy in determining how you go about what you do. Sometimes this might be in your head, but eventually it is worth having something written out in order to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. A youth ministry without a strategy is like going on a car ride without a map. It helps keep you focussed and helps you know when you’re heading off track.

Third, Jim’s story reminds us of the need for passion and commitment.

No one will deny Jim had passion and commitment. Jim realised the need to be involved in the long-term mission task. He had a passion to share the Good News and to make it known to people who wouldn’t have known otherwise. He also committed himself to this task, commitment even to death.

If you’re in youth ministry and don’t have the passion for it, nor the commitment to it, then why do you even #youthmin?

Passion doesn’t need to be loud and proud, it might be through an inner sense of satisfaction. Commitment will be shown through your presence, your people interactions, and your punctuality to name a few character traits. Encourage those traits and stoke that passion…or find someone to take over.

What inspires me about Jim’s story is his willingness to share the gospel with people and to also share his life with them. He not only gave his live for the cause of Christ but was seeking to share his life with people he didn’t know. He was one of five young men to be martyred that day in 1956, all striving to share their faith with this unreached tribe who had never heard the Good News before. Yet, it took their death for the sharing of the Good News to this tribe to occur.

I doubt you’re putting yourself on the line like Jim Elliot and this mates did when rocking up to youth group on a Friday night. That’s OK. But, whatever your youth ministry looks like remember that it is like double-sided sticky-tape, its about sharing the Good News and about sharing your life.

“…because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:8. 

Book Review: Adoniram Judson by Jason G. Duesing

Judson bookThe last book I can remember reading that had such an impact on me was in my later university years. I read a young adult version of the biography of Jim Elliot, a missionary martyr to Ecuador. His life and faith were an inspiration as I worked out my faith during my university years and spurred me into the world of missions.

That was over 10 years ago now.

So it seems very few books I read spur me into greater action and reflection. Most books invite me into the story and may give good information about a particular person or period. But I can’t think of more than a handful of books I’ve read that spur me into action and greater obedience to God.

But the book Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary by Jason G. Duesing, is one of those books.

This book isn’t written by one author. We could say it’s a collection of essays combined to give an excellent picture of Judson’s life and ministry. The book goes deep into his early life, his Christian life, his missionary life, his married life, and the influential life he led.

It is a wonder as to why I hadn’t previously read a book about Judson. He is highly esteemed, particularly by those in America and the missions world. He is recognised as the father of American missions. The little I previously knew was from John Piper’s biographical message on the man from 2003. Yet in this written volume, with references to his and his wives’ journals and letters, there is a terrific account of this “mighty man”.

Three main areas I saw highlighted in the book were Judson’s faith in the sovereignty of God, endurance through suffering, and commitment to long-term missions service.

Sovereignty
The faith Judson and his wives’ had in God is simply an inspiration.

I say wives because Judson ended up having three. Ann and Sarah, his first two, died during his lifetime and Emily passed away only a few years after Judson himself died. I feel this needs to be clarified so there is no miscommunication. 🙂

But all four individuals were wholeheartedly followers of Jesus Christ and sought to be obedient to His call, wherever that led. This begins with the conversion of Adoniram Judson soon after hearing one of his good friends from university die in the room next to him. He literally heard this man passing away during the night and upon finding out who it was the next morning was thrown into turmoil about his own soul.

Judson sees the light and the graciousness of God through his Son and clings to the cross for forgiveness and salvation. He realises that it is only the cross that can bring true salvation. The trust he has in God at this early stage is evident. The way God’s hand guided him from being the son of a Congregationalist minister into atheism through university and then into a living, vibrant, and heartfelt faith when he was 20 years old is clearly seen. God’s sovereignty is at work.

With this as the banner of his life he pursues a life that will count. He seeks to see others come to know God through his Son, so that they too may see salvation through the cross.

He trusts God in his studies, as he heads to theological college without an active faith. Over the course of his studies he converts and has an unrivaled desire to be a missionary is Asia. He trusts God as he seeks a wife and proposes to Ann Hasseltine, loving her and trusting she will be willing to come with him to Burma and the East. In a letter to her parents, seeking to begin a relationship with her, he very early on describes his intentions for life and what that will mean for them and their daughter. In July, 1810, he writes,

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home and died for fer and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?

As they travel he trusts God’s plans as they make the controversial but convicted decision to become Baptists after studying the scriptures. In the four months from leaving the American shores he and his wife Ann see the truth in Believer’s Baptism and are baptised themselves by colleagues of William Carey in India.

In his first marriage with Ann, and consequently the ones following, the sovereignty of God is central to their faith and obedience.

Suffering
Judson and his wives’ suffered immensely. He saw the death of two wives, the death of over five children, and the death of colleagues in the mission work. He was imprisoned for nearly two years by the brutal regime in Burma at the time. When he lost his firstborn son he wrote:

Our little Roger died last Saturday morning. We looked at him through the day, and on the approach of night we laid him in the grave. This is the fourth day, and we just begin [sic] to think, What can we do for the heathen? But yet it seems hard to forget little Roger so soon, to force off our thoughts from the attractive, painful subject, and to return to our usual employments. O may we not suffer in vain! May this bereavement be sanctified to our souls! and for this I hope we have your prayers. (p88)

Ann experienced the same difficulty. In a letter to her parents, she expressed her confidence in God’s sovereign goodness, even in the death of her child:

We do not feel a disposition to murmur, or inquire of our Sovereign why he has done this. We wish rather to sit down submissively under the rod and bear the smart, till the end for which the affliction was sent shall be accomplished. Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error and strip us of our little all. Oh may it not be in vain that he has done it. May we so improve that he will stay his hand and say, ‘It is enough’. (p88)

What inspiration and trust in the Lord!

Added to this is the ridicule he received from the local Burmese. It took seven years into the work before the Judson’s saw a convert. The constant health issues and lack of ‘success’ in the conversion of the people he sought to reach, and the death and disease he saw drove him to leave the main town he was living in and live by himself, in the jungle, sitting and staring into a shallow grave he had dug.

Thankfully it was the years after this that Judson saw the fruit of his work but the suffering had an effect, as one could expect.

Service
The commitment of Judson and his wives’ have had a lasting impact on the lives and ministry of those who have gone after him. Their service of nearly 40 years, with one furlough back to America, is something to behold in the modern day. I understand that this was a different era, but the long lasting commitment of Judson and his wives attest to the fruit from long-term service.

As mentioned, they didn’t see a convert for seven years. They experienced great suffering in their own lives and also saw it among the people they served. Yet, they continued to work in building relationships and translating the Bible into the native tongue of the Burmese. To this end Judson had a commitment to being contextual in everything and learn the culture well.

The Judson’s immediately set about learning the Burmese language. Understanding Burmese was crucial for personal evangelism and Bible translation, both of which were necessary if the gospel was to gain a foothold in Burma. It was not enough to learn the language; the Judsons also had to learn how to live and minister in a Burmese context. Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants describes the centrality of this learning for the Judsons’ mission:

“The Judsons recognised that they had to be learners before they would be able to teach anything. They were persistent in learning from the Burmese [sic], their entire lives in order to communicate the gospel authentically in ways natural to the Burmese instead of trying to make the Burmese American so they could understand the gospel. More than learning the language from their teachers, the Judsons learned what it meant to be Burmese.”

Learning the Burmese language and being immersed in Burman culture were critical components in providing a contextually appropriate Christian witness. The Judsons eventually excelled at both. (p81)

This led Judson to be a communicator in word and deed. Alongside the work of translation was the contextual approach to being a witness for Christ.

We agree in the opinion that our sole object on earth is to introduce the Religion of Jesus Christ into the empire of Burmah; and that the means by which we hope to effect this are translating, printing, and distributing the Holy Scriptures, preaching the Gospel, circulating religious tracts, and promoting the instruction of native children.

Cross-cultural communication of the gospel was the Judsons’ heartbeat.

Jusdon understood that translation work could commence more quickly in Burma that in some settings because, as Wayland surmised from Judson’s letters, “The Burmans are reading people. They have their religious books, and possess the teachings of Gaudama in their own language.’ However, Judson prioritised proclamation, “The press can never supplant the pulpit’.

Language acquisition came gradually with parallel cultural knowledge, giving them the ability to interpret nuanced Burmese meanings, and worldview complexes of belief and practice. One of Judson’s first forays in adapting his technique to the culture was to stop building a zayat, a speaking point at the end of his house where passersby would stop to inquire this foreigner and his teaching. Eventually it became a place to hold public worship. Even though he borrowed the zayat idea from Buddhist priests, he clearly distinguished his zayat from theirs. His diary described the design and function of the building and recorded that it ‘is whitewashed, to distinguish it from the other zayats around us’. (p139)

Conclusion

Much more could be said. The book is well worth a read and some days spent in reflection of it. It was an inspiring read and one that made me think about my commitment to Christ and the way in which missions is currently done.

Judson’s Missionary Advice

ijudson001p1In 1832 Adoniram Judson wrote to the Foreign Missionary Association of the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution, NY. In the letter he gives 10 points of advice to missionary candidates. They are as follows:

In commencing my remarks, I take you as you are. You are contemplating a missionary life.

First, then, let it be a missionary life; that is, come out for life, and not for a limited term. Do not fancy that you have a true missionary spirit, while you are intending all along to leave the heathen soon after acquiring their language. Leave them! for what? To spend the rest of your days in enjoying the ease and plenty of your native land?

Secondly. In choosing a companion for life, have particular regard to a good constitution, and not wantonly, or without good cause, bring a burden on yourselves and the mission.

Thirdly. Be not ravenous to do good on board ship. Missionaries have frequently done more hurt than good, by injudicious zeal, during their passage out.

Fourthly. Take care that the attention you receive at home, the unfavorable circumstances in which you will be placed on board ship, and the unmissionary examples you may possibly meet with at some missionary stations, do not transform you from living missionaries to mere skeletons before you reach the place of your destination. It may be profitable to bear in mind, that a large proportion of those who come out on a mission to the East die within five years after leaving their native land. Walk softly, therefore; death is narrowly watching your steps.

Fifthly. Beware of the reaction which will take place soon after reaching your field of labor. There you will perhaps find native Christians, of whose merits or demerits you can not judge correctly without some familiar acquaintance with their language. Some appearances will combine to disappoint and disgust you. You will meet with disappointments and discouragements, of which it is impossible to form a correct idea from written accounts, and which will lead you, at first, almost to regret that you have embarked in the cause. You will see men and women whom you have been accustomed to view through a telescope some thousands of miles long. Such an instrument is apt to magnify. Beware, therefore, of the reaction you will experience from a combination of all these causes, lest you become disheartened at commencing your work, or take up a prejudice against some persons and places, which will embitter all your future lives.

Sixthly. Beware of the greater reaction which will take place after you have acquired the language, and become fatigued and worn out with preaching the gospel to a disobedient and gainsaying people. You will sometimes long for a quiet retreat, where you can find a respite from the tug of toiling at native work — the incessant, intolerable friction of the missionary grindstone. And Satan will sympathize with you in this matter; and he will present some chapel of ease, in which to officiate in your native tongue, some government situation, some professorship or editorship, some literary or scientific pursuit, some supernumerary translation, or, at least, some system of schools; anything, in a word, that will help you, without much surrender of character, to slip out of real missionary work. Such a temptation will form the crisis of your disease. If your spiritual constitution can sustain it, you recover; if not, you die.

Seventhly. Beware of pride; not the pride of proud men, but the pride of humble men — that secret pride which is apt to grow out of the consciousness that we are esteemed by the great and good. This pride sometimes eats out the vitals of religion before its existence is suspected. In order to check its operations, it may be well to remember how we appear in the sight of God, and how we should appear in the sight of our fellow-men, if all were known. Endeavor to let all be known. Confess your faults freely, and as publicly as circumstances will require or admit. When you have done something of which you are ashamed, and by which, perhaps, some person has been injured (and what man is exempt?), be glad not only to make reparation, but improve the opportunity for subduing your pride.

Eighthly. Never lay up money for yourselves or your families. Trust in God from day to day, and verily you shall be fed.

Ninthly. Beware of that indolence which leads to a neglect of bodily exercise. The poor health and premature death of most Europeans in the East must be eminently ascribed to the most wanton neglect of bodily exercise.

Tenthly. Beware of genteel living. Maintain as little intercourse as possible with fashionable European society. The mode of living adopted by many missionaries in the East is quite inconsistent with that familiar intercourse with the natives which is essential to a missionary.

For the entire letter, see here.