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Calling vs Surrender: should I just tell an agency to send me wherever?

From time to time, some will articulate the wish for missionary candidates to simply offer themselves to the agency and go wherever they are sent. This is typically viewed as a mark of spiritual maturity and surrender to Christ.

In general, I don’t wholly agree with this. I suggest that you, the perspective candidate, should listen to it with a certain amount of caution.

Yes, we should be fully surrendered to Christ.

That is not the same as being fully surrendered and obedient to an agency, church or pastoral leader.

The calling of Christ is between Christ and the individual. It is a journey of discipleship, on which Jesus commanded us to follow Him. In following him on a path, we may find others are on the same path, at roughly the same spot we are. We are following Jesus together.

The agency, like the church, is a particular kind of fellowship or community. (I have elsewhere argued that, in a sense, an agency is a church, in that any gathering of believers is a church, because the believers together are the church.)

But while we are all part of a Body, the reality is, we have to pick and choose which individual community we are part of. We pick and choose this on the basis of the leading of Christ.

In short, you are on a path following Christ, and that path is defined by the command of Christ in your life. You need to pick an agency that is on the same path. Don’t let an agency tell you which path you should be on–only Christ can tell you that.

Now, having chosen the agency, and the place you will be working, expect that there will be a great deal of daily sacrifice, surrender, and service to be done. If you are in a community, you are to be serving your brothers and sisters. I am not suggesting you get to define for yourself what you do on a daily basis! Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow him–to die daily to self, and live for others.

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Sola Scriptura: is the Bible alone enough?

Karl Dahlfred wrote an excellent post: “Is the Bible alone really enough for Christian life and faith?”

In it he notes those in the Protestant tradition firmly hold to the idea of Sola Scriptura–that “Scripture alone is authoritative and sufficient for teaching and leading the Christian life.” As he helpfully highlights, we generally equate this with inerrancy (authoritative). But equally important is sufficiency.

One of the key elements of Disciple Making Movement thinking is the Discovery Bible Study. This is a form of inductive group study. A very rough outline of the process is as follows:

  1. read the story through (perhaps twice),
  2. close the text and have one or two members of the group retell the story, with the rest of the group helping correct (this helps with accuracy & memorization)
  3. discuss the text using three basic questions: a) what does this tell us about God & his character; b) what does it tell us about people; c) what is there in this story to obey?
  4. Final question: who will I share this story with, this week?

There’s more to a DBS than just this, but these are the important points. There are certain assumptions critical to the success of a DBS. Here are a few:

  1. There is no single group leader or teacher–the whole group participates in discussing the text. (Any “leader” is simply a facilitator of the discussion, making sure everyone participates and no one dominates the conversation). The Scripture is the authority–not a teacher.
  2. Different people in different life situations will have different applications of the text; individual applications do not represent normative interpretations that must apply to everyone. Everyone has their own “I will” statement in response to the text.
  3. No “Bible study” outside of the text itself is required. The Holy Spirit within each believer is the one that teaches, opening our eyes to what the text tells us. This is infinitely scalable: if you have the written text (or an oral retelling, in the case of an orality situation), you have enough.
  4. Having a group reading the Scripture together, using a self-correcting process, significantly prevents error (if someone goes off a bit, just ask–“can you show me where you find that in the text?”–and most heresies are started by influential and charismatic single leaders cherry-picking verses, not by groups reading the text).

DBS does not mean Bible teachers are wrong or bad. We should all be learning from each other, and from others; books and published studies are ways to access the wisdom of many. I have learned much from the writings of people like C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright, Beth Moore, and Tim Keller, to name just a few.

That said, the power of DBS is that it gets us into the text itself, and teaches us to listen to the revelation of God, which is profitable for application to daily life. Sola Scriptura means Scripture is all we need. Reading endless commentaries, studies, books, and hymns on 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t the point of life–the point is to live it out, and for that, we need little more than the text itself and a willingness to put it into practice on a daily basis.


Mission Meetups: Getting Started

In Virginia Beach, Virginia (USA), where we lived once upon a time, there was a weekly Monday morning missions meeting. It was called “7-Ms” (which stood for a long string of Ms, and I’ve forgotten what they all were). The meeting was held in the back room of a restaurant. Each time we had a speaker–usually a missionary passing through, or someone returning from a short-term trip. The purpose of the meeting was to connect people who had a heart for missions, and to encourage that mission vision.

Similar meetings are held in other cities around the country (and, I imagine, in cities in other countries). Some of them are weekly, and some are monthly. Recently, one of the founders of 7-Ms moved to Dallas, Texas (where we live now), and we met over Thai noodles to discuss starting up a similar meeting here. (There is one already being held quarterly on the Fort Worth side, but the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is big enough for more than one (arguably, more than two).

I share here some of the steps we are taking to start the regular meeting, in the hopes that it might help you get one started in your city.

1. You need a core group interested in seeing the meeting happen. It doesn’t have to be large. We had three sitting at the table. The core group gives you connections into the churches, agencies, and other groups within the city. This group will also be the ones responsible for identifying and solving problems, and sending out emails to let people know when the meeting will happen.

2. You need to expressly define the vision and purpose of the group.

3. You need to be willing to reach out into the community and invite others to take part in the meetings. It doesn’t have to be a big beginning. When 7-Ms first started, it was two guys sitting at a table, praying for missions; then a third joined them, then a fourth. It slowly grew to an average attendance of a dozen-to-twenty.

4. You need to be able to draw different speakers throughout the year. This is where being in a larger city, with multiple churches with missions programs and possibly a Perspectives event, is helpful. 7-Ms simply suggests in a weekly email:

As usual, if you know of anyone involved in missions passing through or someone who lives here and has done missions work, let me know and I’ll contact them about speaking to us. Also, if you know folks with a heart for missions, let them know about 7Ms and encourage them to come and be blessed. We are up to 210 on this e-mail announcement!

5. You need to have a place to meet, and a regular schedule. 7-Ms uses a restaurant, so it’s a “neutral” ground–with no perception of being “owned” by one specific ministry. Other meetups go ahead and use a church.

6. You need to have some speaker guidelines. The TED Speaker Guidelines are one hilarious way this is done. I’m not suggesting you use these, but you need to have some.

I am starting a page on to index mission meet ups. If you know of one that’s happening on a regular basis, either email me or post a comment on the page.

Roundup, 2/5

Special notice
I have set up an experimental, private Ryver area for missions questions, discussions, analysis, etc. If you are a Research Patron (or are a member of Beyond) and want to join this community, hit reply and let me know what email address to invite. You can become a Patron here.

Probability of a major, disruptive earthquake in 2016
Probability of North Korean government continuing/falling in 2016
Potential futures of Somalia

Current Events / Trendlines / Articles
European refugee problem demands coherent EU policy. Link.
… “unless Europe restores order, [all sorts of bad things could happen]…”
Refugees: 10,000 refugee children missing, targeted for sex work, slavery. Link.
Al Jazeera: The Christians of the Middle East. Long Read. Link.
The real, unsexy reason why the Arab Spring failed. Link.
… brittle dictatorships and weak state institutions …
Muslim declaration on religious minorities: landmark declaration on tolerance. Link.

Afghanistan: ISIS in Afghanistan (2015). 35-minute video. Link.
Albania: possibly, the country of last resort for refugees. Link.
China: grand new strategy for the Middle East: moving closer to feuds, oil. Link.
China: est. 6 million travelers vacationing during CNY, 61% going overseas. Link.
Chinese New Year: the largest annual human migration: 2.9 billion journeys. Video. Link.
As many as 2 million Chinese tourists could be headed to Cambodia in 2016. Link.
China: leader of govt-sanctioned megachurch held in secret detention. Link.
… for opposing cross-removal campaign. In Hangzhou.
China: new crackdown on churches (WSJ Op-ed, $). Link.
Eritrea: the questions no one is asking. Human Rights, refugee outflows. Link.
Iran: Washington Post journalist case reveals factions within Iran govt. Link.
Iraq: thousands of Iraqis headed home from Europe, in reverse migration. Link.
Iraq: the crumbling Mosul dam that could flood the country. Link.
… hundreds of thousands could be killed/displaced.
Libya: it had over 100,000 Christians before 2011, now only a few thousand. Link.
Nepal: why it has one of the world’s fastest growing Christian populations. NPR. Link.
Nepal: 20 years wasted. Link.
North Korea: Christianity, access to the Bible grew to 7.6% last year. Link.
North Korea: another perspective on potential fall (100+ page RAND study). Link.
Saudi Arabia: struggling to adapt to plummeting oil price. NPR. Link.
Syria: 95% of Aleppo’s doctors have fled / been detained / been killed. Link.
… Syrian medicine once envy of the Middle East, but now…
Syria: Assad has it his way. [the reversal of military fortune] Link.
Taiwan: how the church there compares to the church in China. Doyle. Link.
Tajikistan: forcibly shaves beards to “fight radicalization.” Link.
Thailand: child angel dolls, a new superstitious trend. Link.

Studies / Charts / Graphs / Reports / Statistics / Resources
Graphed: % of land devoted to agriculture in world’s major economies, 1960-2010. Link.
Vietnam: nicely done 1-page overview from OMF: history, Christianity. Link.
Missiographics collection of country-specific infographics. Link.
Pew: 25% of Americans think 50% of the Muslims in the US are anti-American. Link.

Long Reads / Mission Industry News
D. Payne: Apostolic Imagination: what few pastors have but we all need. Link.
… “church life as we know it has come to be defined in pastoral terms.”
… “I believe 25% is … the maximum amount … will be reached by pastoral approaches.”
Keelan Cook: 3-prong program for how my church prepares missionaries. Link.
… “finally, we will not send anyone as a missionary who is unwilling to be one here…”
Flashback to 2011: Do missions destroy culture? Link.
Deborah w/SIM: Why I’m not afraid to live in Niger. Link.

Pioneer Mission Startups / Startup Thinking / Work / Lifehacking
The psychological price of entrepreneurship [startups]. Link.
… applies to missional startups, too …

Missional thinking / Mission hacking / Tactics / Skills
Movements are a buzzword but faithfulness is the more important factor. Link.
Movements happen when pioneers keeping doing the right things day after day. Link.
Honor & Shame societies: 9 keys to working with Muslims. Link.
4 simple ways to start telling the Good News. Link.
… living one’s faith out loud, practicing telling one’s story.
Book: A field guide for everyday mission: 30 days, 101 ways to demonstrate the Gospel. Link.
… I don’t think every Christian is a missionary, but any Christian can be one.
… this looks a good guide for Christians who want to start practicing missionary skills here.

UPG Profiles
H/T @hannahanderson for most of these.
Chinese New Year travel, in photographs. Link.
Refugees: A visual journey through Lesbos, gateway to Europe. Link.
Djibouti: Welcome to the Horn. Video. Link.
Dubai, photographed from above. Link.
Mauritania: World Food Program, malnutrition, numerous photos. Link.
North Korea: First Person: terrifying 5-year journey to escape NKorean famine. Link.
North Africa’s Berbers: 27-slide photoessay. Link.
Somalia’s displaced and disabled: the plight of the most vulnerable. Link.
Syria: Drone footage captures view of Homs: “like apocalyptic video game.” Link.
… “now almost completely empty of life” …
Turkmenistan: a journalist’s look inside a secretive country. Link.
Vietnam: The idyllic life along Tri An Lake. Link.

Futuristics / Tech
Trying to hide from surveillance can make you stand out. (2nd graphic.) Link.
Drone Rangers: occupation of the future. Link.
Lists are the new Search: the role and value of curation. Link.
Are paper books really disappearing? Link.

“I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through – then follow through.” – Edward Rickenbacker
“Every artist was first an amateur.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A life of reaction is a life of slavery, intellectually and spiritually. One must fight for a life of action, not reaction.” ~Rita Mae Brown
“Unexplainable suffering is not meaningless suffering.” ~Tony Merida
“All curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation.” ~Benedict Evans
“Talk doesn’t cook chicken.” Mali proverb.

Missionaries must be learners: kinds of learning

One of the skills any missionary must have (and really, it’s good for everyone) is being a life-long learner.

The reason is obvious: you can’t know everything you will need for the situations you’ll encounter in life. (As a simple example, this study says 65% of of children entering school today will work at types of jobs that don’t exist today–new kinds of work.)

Here are a few kinds of learning we all need to be skilled in:

  1. Learning about something–SEEKING. Learn to gather data comprehensively–both information that exists, and information you create through experiments.If you want to find a Person of Peace, you’re going to have to look in a lot of different places. What places seem to have spiritually hungry people? What places don’t? You’ll need to gather “samples,” explore areas, experiment, etc. Do places have more spiritually hungry people at certain times of year (holidays, festivals, etc)? Do certain places have different kinds of people (who are potentially spiritually hungry) in certain holidays (like Chinese New Year)? How are you gathering information about non-believers around you? Constructing experiments that can be run, re-run, and whose results can be observed and analyzed is an important skill to develop.
  2. Learning from others–listening, asking questions. Learn to identify and gather high-quality articles, books, and reports. Learn to compile subject bibliographies you can refer back to. Learn to interview (listen to, record, and analyze) experienced informants. Learn to ignore the fluff and mine for applicable wisdom. Of the collection of knowledge there is no end, so we shouldn’t always be in this mode–but if we ignore it, we will only end up repeating their mistakes.
  3. Learning from failure–planning experiments, analyzing results. We make mistakes. We have near misses. We have off days. We have bad patterns. We need the ability to learn from these failures–to understand what went wrong–so that we can try not to repeat the mistakes, and choose good patterns instead. There is a commonly cited idea: “Those who fail fastest, win.” But this only works if you learn from the failure and don’t repeat it. If you are constantly failing, you won’t win. But if you never fail, you probably aren’t trying new things.
  4. Learning from successes. The book Rework focuses on this: forget learning from failures, learn from successes. There’s a balance to be had. We must, through experiments that fail, eliminate all the bad options to discover the good. But once the good has been discovered, we ought to focus on that: learn from success, figure out why it happened, optimize it.
  5. Learning from ourselves, to avoid stagnation. We need to know ourselves, our personalities, our patterns, our work, so that we don’t get mired in our successes. For example, we can become a very successful small church pastor–and yet be so mired in the success of small-church pastoring that we don’t multiply, that we don’t reach out to those outside the church, that we don’t see the larger harvest.

Last but not least: all of these skills are about “learning to learn.” No one knows everything. We might know “enough” for today, but no one knows “enough” for all the days of the future. We must always be in a position of humility, constantly asking questions, constantly open to correcting ourselves.

Networking Recommenders: Missionary Magnets, Candidate Curators

We need more workers. Because there are not enough workers in the harvest.

In an interview with a long-term worker laboring among an unreached people group in East Asia today, I asked: “What are the obstacles to the Gospel getting out among this people group?”

His answer: “Not enough workers. They are receptive, but they have too little contact with Christians. Especially Christians of their own culture.” (But you need workers of any kind–foreign or local–to see those first believers discipled.)

Workers aren’t that common. And some argue churches should send fewer workers, not more (largely because sending more workers results in quantity at a loss of quality).

There are 100 cities in America with populations of over 100,000. (I use America as an example; this can work anywhere else.) If 100 churches in each of these cities each sent one worker to the unreached–that would be 10,000 workers.

Double the size of the IMB (and larger than Wycliffe).

Yet just one worker per church. and for a city of 100,000, 100 workers represents 0.1% of the population. These are needles in the haystack.

How will mobilizers are to find people who are essentially 1-in-10,000?

To find needles, you need magnets. So if you are a city-wide mobilizer seeking more workers for the harvest, may I suggest one of your first goals should be to build a network of magnets in the individual churches.

You need recommenders. People who are not full-time mobilizers, but who are mission-passionate and regularly around other Christians. People who are can see potential candidates and take them out for a cup of coffee. Curators of candidates.

Rather than constantly trying to do things that attract candidates or argue with people about becoming candidates – why not focus on building a network of “candidate radar stations”?

Get yourself a list of the churches in your city, and ask yourself: how might I find the mission magnets in each church? The people who will be there for years and will be watching, waiting, praying for potential candidates?

The likely future of Somalia: stabilizing, but still dangerous

Somalia is stabilizing, but will be largely closed and dangerous during 2016.

1. Somalia has a history of war and anarchy. The current conflict, in various forms, has raged for over 25 years: the south-central region has suffered the most, while Somaliland and Puntland have been relatively stable.

2. Due in large part to the unceasing violence, Somalia’s people are in depressing situations. As of 2010, Somalia’s population stood at 9 million, less than half literate. Poverty and insecurity were indemic, and 10% of children died before the age of 5.

3. Most recently, Al-Shabaab, a violent Islamist group, emerged with the intention of controlling Somalia in 2005; in 2006 it labored to expel Ethiopian forces from the country, and aligned itself with Al-Qaeda. In 2007, ANISOM, an Africa Union peace-support operation, deployed to Mogadishu to protect the government, but Al-Shabaab grew in strength. By 2009-10, Al-Shabaab controlled  most of Mogadishu and the south-central region. Then, in 2011, a massive famine struck. 80,000 died. Al-Shabaab refused to allow Western aid agencies into its territory, and this action alienated many of its supporters. This was the turning point. By August, most of its fighters were forced out of Mogadishu.

4. In 2012, a Somali conference was held in London where the parties agreed to establish a federal system of five to six zones of influence, which would help address the tribal conflicts (so no single tribe made up the government). The first permanent central government since the start of the civil war was installed. But the nation had been devastated: it was in a “post-war” situation. The ability of the government to actually make progress has been limited.

5. Outside powers (including the US, with its secret drone bases in the country) have labored to tackle security threats. ANISOM has been active for a decade. While they have made strides, clan violence and isolated terrorist attacks continue today, and the existing forces have proven powerless to prevent these.

6. The meager amounts of growing stability have caused many diaspora to begin returning to Somalia. In 2013, the IMF recognized the government. Daily flights to Mogadishu resumed. Livestock exports started. Remittance inflows reached over US$1.2 billion yearly. Reaching diaspora now could be quite strategic, since as the security situation improves many may very well return and be welcomed to their homeland. Returning diaspora may, for the short-term future, be the most viable way for the Gospel to enter the country.

In 2016, the transitional government will likely make some progress. But the success of any plans for a free and fair election is highly improbable. The country will undoubtedly continue to see terrorist attacks on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis. It will be effectively closed to the Gospel and dangerous to Christian workers and believers. While not absolutely impossible to work within Somalia’s borders, reaching Somalis will continue to be most effectively and sustainably done outside the country.

Read more

____. New York Times: Chronology of Coverage. Link.
2010. “Somalia: a new approach.” CFR Center for Preventive Action.
2012. “A ray of hope: international plans to help Somalis create regional governments.” Economist.
2013. “Somalia’s hope for the future: the return of young diaspora Somalis.”
2013. “A bright future for Somalia is within touching distance.” Al Jazeeraop-ed.
2013. “The rise and fall of Somalia’s pirate king.” Foreign Policy.
2013. “Demography is destiny: why Al-Shabab’s Westgate massacre is just the tip of the iceberg for an Africa on the edge of dysfunction.” Foreign Policy.
2013. “Crazy Town: Somalia awash in mental illness, without a single trained psychiatrist.” Foreign Policy.
2013. “The safe haven next door: Somaliland.” Foreign Policy.
2014. “Inside the fight for Somalia’s future: clan violence.” Global Post.
2015. “US operates drones from secret bases in Somalia.” Foreign Policy.
2015. “Is there a new US airstrike policy in East Africa?” Foreign Policy.
2015. “UNHCR country operations – Somalia.” UNHCR.
2015. “Money keeps moving toward Somalia, sometimes in suitcases.” Foreign Policy.
2015. “Somalia is too dangerous for Kerry to even leave the airport.” Foreign Policy.
2015. “The Mogadishu that stole Christmas.” Foreign Policy.
2015. “Kenyan military ‘in business’ with Al Shabab.” Foreign Policy.
2015. “The failed state roadshow: an interview with Somalia’s president.” Foreign Policy.
2015. “Somalia’s incredible shrinking election.” Foreign Policy.
2016. “Somalia stumbling along ‘bumpy and difficult’ path to peace and prosperity.” Guardian.
2016. “Witness Somalia’s resilience after decades of war.” Time.
2016. “Somalia Humanitarian Needs Overview 2016.” Reliefweb.
2016. “In Somalia, stability is a distant promise.” Stratfor.

How do I know I’m called?

call. verb.
1. to cry out in a loud voice; shout.
2. to command or request to come; to summon.
3. to ask or invite to come.
4. to communicate, or try to communicate, by telephone.
5. to rouse from sleep, as by a call; to waken.
6. to read over (a roll or a list) in a loud voice.
7. to convoke or convene.
8. to announce authoritatively, to proclaim.
9. to order into effect, to establish.
10. to schedule: “to call a rehearsal”
11. to summon by or as if by a divine command
12. to summon to an office, duty, etc.
13. to cause to come, bring
14. to bring under consideration or discussion
15. to attract or lure (birds or animals) by imitating characteristic sounds
16. to direct or attract (attention)
17. to name or address (someone): “his parents called him Jim”
18. to designate as something specified: “he called me a hypocrite”
19. to think of as something specified; to consider; estimate: “I call that hogwash.”
20. to demand of someone that they fulfill a promise, furnish evidence: “called his bluff”
21. to criticize adversely, express disapproval of, censure (often by “calling out”)
22. to demand payment or fulfillment of (a loan)
23. to demand presentation of (bonds) for redemption
24. to forecast correctly
25. sports: to pronounce a judgement, to put an end to a contest
26. pool: to name the ball one intends to drive into a particular pocket
27. computers: to transfer control of to a procedure or subroutine
28. cards: to demand, to demand the display of a hand, to equal a bet made

One of the more common statements I hear is: “Thank goodness I’m not called.”

Less commonly: “I think I might be called–but how can I be sure?”

A frequent argument: “You don’t need a special calling to be in missions” (and this largely because we passionately want more workers and we’re afraid people using the “calling” ideas an excuse)

We’ve discussed the idea of sentness before (“Can I be a missionary?”). I believe we are all, based on Matthew 28, commanded to “go to the nations” (some translate as “as you are going to the nations”–so whether promise or command, it applies), be a witness, make disciples, teach them to obey, and baptize them.

This command applies to everyone – young or old, rich or poor, male or female, ordained and not ordained, believer 5 minutes or 50 years. You do not need a calling to obey this command, any more than you need a calling to obey the commands to love God and love your neighbor.

So you don’t need a calling to be a cross-cultural witness and disciple-maker, and you can get good at it.

But we’ve also discussed the role/gifting of the apostolic, and the need to be sent/called.

The Bible doesn’t talk about a “calling” in the sense of “there is one occupational path for your life, and if you miss it, you’ve messed up.” However, it does in several passages say God wants to guide and reveal. So if you’re asking for the assurance that God is calling you into the apostolic role – that he has shaped you for “sentness” – here are some ways others have found it:

1. You will have some kind of personal conviction/compulsion. Sometimes, this conviction arises out of a supernatural revelation (vision, voice, sign, etc); other times, it may be little more than an unshakeable internal sense. God promises to reveal make his will known, and I believe if you earnestly seek him, you will find him. Further, rest assured (and you can even test it)–such a conviction will stand the test of time. There may be instances of questioning (I’ve had them myself), but it will consistently reassert itself.

2. You will have a personal desire. Even believers sometimes have difficulty responding to what they perceive as a hard calling (“Lord, please don’t send me to Africa!”). But that said, God shapes us as gifts to the Body of Christ. If you have no desire to act in the apostolic role (not just a conflicted desire), that’s a large red flag.

3. You will be inspired by this inner conviction to undertake work in response to it. It might be the decision to apply to an agency and see what happens. It might be as simple as a short-term trip, or a visit to a local cross-cultural market. The point is, if the conviction doesn’t lead to action, one has to question the conviction. The actions, in the beginning, may be full of fear and trembling. They may be “small wins.” Where you “end up” in life may be totally different from where you thought your gifting was leading. God doesn’t call us necessarily to one specific destination, but rather to be the gift he has made us to be to the Body and the World.

4. Your calling will be confirmed by others in the church. The community will also bear witness to God’s call on your life, and validate it.

It seems simple, and it usually is.

What do you do if you have any or all of those items? Being called doesn’t mean you pack your bags and head to the mission field tomorrow. It’s just the first step on a very long journey. Instead of worrying too much about what the “next step” specifically is, the best “next step” is to surround yourself with several counselors who will help you figure out each “next step” over the long run. (An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”) Wise elders in your church should help you. Some of your peers may be helpful as well. You can also call and talk with mission agencies (like Beyond) who will help you process what the next steps are, even if you aren’t ready to apply (or at any rate, they should). And you can always email me.

The “democratization” and “amateurization” of missions

democratization. transitive v. 1) to make more democratic. 2) to make something available to all; to make it possible for all to understand.

amateurization. Coined by Clay Shirky, and defined as the process whereby the dichotomy between experts and amateurs is dissolved, creating a new category of “professional amateurs.”

expert. n. a person with special knowledge, skill, or training in something: “a computer expert.”
expert. adj. done with, having or involving great knowledge or skill: “an expert driver” or “to seek expert advice.”

professional. adj. 1. relating to or belonging to a profession. 1b. Worthy of or appropriate to a professional person (competent, skillful, assured). 2. Engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a matter.

amateur. n. 1. a person who takes part in a sport or other activity for enjoyment, not as a job. 2. a person who is not skilled (related: amateurish).

The last two decades have seen a trend in the “amateurization” of trades that recently required a professional. This has been true of web design, encyclopedia editing, photography, construction, book writing and publishing and sales, product design and marketing and sales, and even mission.

Ralph Winter was not thrilled with amateur missions. But by “amateur,” he meant the unskilled, incompetent hobbyist who doesn’t care to hone their craft.

Globalization has made “amateurization” possible. Amateurization does not mean a degradation of a trade to an amateurish level, but rather the broad dissemination of previously professional skills into the mass audience. (See Shirky’s definition at the P2P Foundation). In other words: amateurization makes it possible for the untrained to become inexpensively trained, until with knowledge and practice they rise to the level of expert.

Before, the terms “expert” and “professional” were linked, and “amateur” was one who was not.

Now, “amateurization” unlinks “expert” and “professional.” Professional now means mostly “one who is paid” (while generally implying competence). Amateur now can be linked to expert.

Last night I read “What went wrong in Flint” (about lead poisoning); in part 3 of the story, LeeAnne Walters taught herself the skills of water sampling, until she knew more than the “experts” (thus becoming an expert herself).

Another example: my wife and I have undertaken the renovation of a bathroom. This involves replacing the toilet, retiling the floors, repainting the walls, the replacement of a bathtub, and re-tiling the walls around the tub. Previously, these skills might have required a trained professional. Now, there are many Youtube videos showing us the process step by step. The only thing we needed a professional for was the plumbing required to install the tub. In that case, I wanted a licensed professional (certified by a governing authority as skilled) so I would know absolutely it was done right. (You don’t want water leaking behind the walls.) I didn’t have access to that knowledge. The rest of it, I could easily learn and do.

Today, it is easy to move into a missionary context. We don’t need the logistical support of an agency or a church. We can get a passport, an airline ticket, a job overseas, and the other things needed to put ourselves in a cross-cultural setting. (People do this all the time; my wife and I occasionally watch “Househunters International” which shows case studies of people moving to other settings for a variety of reasons.) Location does not make you on expert missionary.

Today, it is easier to get the basic skills of a missionary – for example, language acquisition, culture acquisition, spiritual mapping, prayer, sharing Gospel stories, common challenges of communicating to specific religions, ways to communicate with folks back home, etc) are all very easily available (books, personal conversations, workshops, etc). Knowledge does not make you an expert missionary.

However, as location and skills become easier, many have been considering the implications of amateurization (as we define it here). Churches don’t always think they need the agency to send missionaries. And individual missionaries don’t always think they need anyone to send them at all.

There can be some bad things in that, but there’s also some good. We need to keep a few things in mind.

1. More cross-cultural evangelistic contact from Christians to non-Christians is always good, and if we can help people do it better, that’s a very good thing. I’m all for the “amateurization of skills” represented in things like Tradecraft and courses like Perspectives.

2. For the “hobbyist missionary” to become a “professional amateur,” they need more than access to a mission context and skills. They need an environment that encourages them to practice the skills, learning and improving. I can watch all the videos I want about how to tile a tub; but if I never pick up a tile and stick it on the wall, what difference does it make? We must encourage people to hone their craft–to do it and get better at doing it.

3. There will always be a need for a licensed, certified, highly-trained professional: doctors, plumbers, electricians, construction foremen, missionaries. The professional is someone who does it full time, who is constantly learning, constantly updating knowledge, and available for work and consultation.

4. There can be a very powerful synergy between the professional, full-time, long-term worker and the “professional amateur” that can push forward the advance of the Gospel. When we had our bathtub installed, the plumber was very generous with his advice and knowledge, suggesting things to me that would help get the job done. The professional missionary will often have a more strategic view (largely because they’ve been involved longer, and see/know more), and can help the “pro-am” missionary know where to push forward.

5. Agencies and Churches: there are many thoughts about “who should send” and “who should do what” in sending, and I’m not going to get into that here. I believe there’s a role for agencies just as much as there is a role for churches (and the role varies depending on the specific agency and the specific church). I’ve seen churches do missions very amateurishly; I’ve seen churches that have a long-term strategic “professional” role in specific countries and peoples. (And the same for agencies, for that matter.)

Amateurization simply means expert skills are available to a larger body of people in ways that are not prohibitively expensive to obtain. It does not automatically make amateurs into experts. Putting a “professional” camera into the hands of an “amateurish” picture taker means the pictures might be marginally better in technical quality (thanks to the assistance of the tech) but still won’t have the quality of an experienced photographer (who understands not just the camera but how to use it as a tool). The missionary who wishes to be an expert will have to avail themselves of both learning, mentoring and practice.

Anyone can be an expert missionary, even if they aren’t a paid professional missionary.
But not everyone automatically is, just because more missionary skills are being amateurized.
The mark of maturity is the willingness to experiment, listen, learn, and persevere!

The Marks of a Good Candidate

Some time ago I did a small research project on what mission agencies looked for in a good candidate. I asked all of the big agencies to send me a copy of their mission application form and process, and I synthesized these together to get a good view of what they seemed to measure.

I realize what we look for in candidates isn’t necessarily a good thing. Still, I think that by looking at all the existing mission agencies, we get a comprehensive view that can keep the good and drop the less-good (except for anything that might be systemic to Western missions as a whole–but that’s a subject for a different post).

Mobilizers would do well to keep these “marks” in mind, and use them as a sort of “filter” when looking for candidates. Churches that are mission-passionate might also keep these in mind and look for leadership-development processes that will help Christians mature in each of these areas. (These are not necessarily in order of importance.)

(The factors below go beyond the basic “must have a vision for the unreached”.)

1. Basic demographics. Every agency is going to vary a little bit with regard to basic parameters like age, marital status, dependents, etc. YWAM takes younger people; many agencies take only older people (usually determined by educational requirements like college). By putting a basic requirement like college in the mix, the agency is determining in large part the most common age and marital status. So if you have a short list of agencies that you work with, you need to have these basic demographics in mind.

Special note: many agencies have big red flags about people who have been divorced, widowed, or recently remarried. The general rule of thumb: if a person is going through a significant life change, they probably aren’t a good candidate right now.

2. Citizenship. Some agencies obviously have citizenship requirements (for example, Beyond only sends US and Canadian citizens; other agencies, like WEC or Wycliffe, etc., are multinationals and can send from other places).

3. Language. You need someone who is proficient in the common language of the agency (for Beyond, English). But being multilingual is a plus. If you already know the language of the place you want to serve, you can shave a couple of years off the inculturation process.

4. Testimony. Does the candidate present clear evidence of their faith in the life they live out? More to the point, can they clearly present their personal testimony? And even more to the point–are they willing to do so? Are they making converts or disciples now, in the church? If they aren’t willing to do these things in their home culture, they won’t do it in a foreign place.

5. Membership. Most agencies are going to have requirements about a person being a member in good standing of their home church. Sometimes this is a time requirement (e.g. for a few years). Sometimes it’s an endorsement requirement. If the church isn’t willing to validate their missionary calling, that’s a big red flag. (Some churches, obviously, aren’t interested in missions or mission-sending, and that’s a different issue, which may honestly only be resolved by changing congregations. Again, subject for a different post.)

6. Education, Skills, and Experience
. Some agencies make a big deal out of education and training; others, less so. At Beyond, we don’t have a seminary requirement, but we do look at education, skills and experience as potential platforms as well as evidence of a lifelong learner. The mark a mobilizer should look for is a person who is fairly well rounded and continuing to add to their store of knowledge and wisdom.

7. Strong. God can use both the strong and the weak, so this isn’t about being buff. But a candidate should be able to pass a basic medical examination. I’ve seen testimonies of people who went to the field in their dying days and had great impact. The general “rule of thumb,” however, is that if you’re going, you ought to be able to endure (health-wise) for many years.

8. Sane. I name this category a little tongue-in-cheek, but many agencies (ours, definitely) have psychological profiles as part of the candidate assessment process. A person who is not emotionally stable will not be able to get along with others and handle the massive stress of change, culture shock, and adaptation to the new place. One of the most common factors sending people home from the field is team conflict and marital stress, so we try not to send people who are unstable in these areas to start with.

9. Funds. For some agencies, the ability to access or raise the necessary funds is critical. There are several reasons why this is important, and not all of them are “spoken.” The reality is, someone who won’t raise funds isn’t committed to the vision. Someone who can’t raise funds may not have the necessary skills (yet) for networking, team building, prayer-partner development, etc. Building for a movement among a people group means being able to develop the funds for tools like Bibles, media, disaster relief, etc.; if a person can’t raise funds for personal support, they probably can’t raise larger funds for these projects. (This is not unlike a business startup–a person can be a phenomenal worker, but if they can’t raise the venture capital they can’t start something new.)

10. Doctrine. Every agency is going to have a basic doctrinal standard the person must agree to. Sometimes it’s written, and sometimes important parts are unspoken. Know the doctrinal realities of the agencies you work with and be sure to clarify those with potential candidates. Things like the role of women in ministry, opinions on charismatics, etc., are often unwritten but very important to know.

11. Flexibility.
Last but definitely not least, the person you’re looking for is more flexible and less rigid. They have to be able to be strong in important areas (for example, theology and witness and boldness for Christ) and flexible in others (schedules, plans, etc). They must be able to set goals, yet not fall apart when the goals aren’t met.

Here are a few additional points I would make, beyond the study:

a) are they interested – do they evidence any interest in other cultures?

b) are they willing – do they say things like “I’m glad I’m not called” or “I wish I could do that”?

c) are they available – do they have significant family or monetary ties that are difficult to break?

d) do they show up for mission-related events?

This may seem like a long list. A lot of it is just plain common sense. Some of the filters are easily seen (demographics, citizenship, language); others are easily obtained (if you ask them, will they easily share their testimony?). Others only come out over time. It’s important to keep your eyes open and know when the list is “bendable” and when something is a “red flag.” Pour your time into the most probable folks, while being available for “wildcards” and the “less likely.” And remember, mobilization is a long marathon, not a short sprint–someone who says “no” now, or who by these measures is a bad candidate now, may be an ideal one later on. Don’t give up.