March 2024

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One Way Door Decisions

Dan Shipper wrote an interesting post on how to use ChatGPT or Claude to “simulate” one-way door decisions–essentially, to feed in journal entries, identify issues, and then write a “draft” journal entry as if a decision had been made in a specific way.

It doesn’t tell you which way the decision should be made, but it’s an interesting approach to showing you how might feel having made the decision. Yet, on reading the article, I felt almost queasy.

On the one hand, this approach isn’t very far off one that I’ve been known to use: if a decision isn’t very clear (and perhaps isn’t very critical), just toss a coin. When the result comes up, if you feel a sense of “Rats! I wish it had gone the other way”–this is an indicator that, intuitively, you know reasons to make the other choice. You’re not committed to the coin toss (it’s not a vow), so either (a) make the decision the other way or (b) at least investigate why you might think that way. Reading two ChatGPT “written as if” journal entries - one for decision (A) and one for decision (B) - can help crystallize in your mind what you are thinking. And that can be helpful.

On the other hand, our current thinking and intuition are always limited pieces of information on which to make decisions. Judging the “correct” decision is often exceptionally difficult - especially when in many cases there may not be an obvious “correct” decision.

Even trying to ascertain if the decision was “correct” in hindsight is difficult. What I see of the results and how I feel about them in the hours and days after a major decision might not be how I feel about it weeks, months, or years down the road. Every decision - reversible or not - has ripple effects. The decisions in the wake of a decision likewise have ripple effects. How we feel about those ripples will be different with different days, months, and years.

Every decision has an execution cost and an opportunity cost. Just because a decision is costly and difficult doesn’t necessarily make it the wrong one. Easy decisions may be the lazy road. A decision may on the surface look a very bad one, and in the long run may send our lives down a path of development, formation, and even new opportunities that we couldn’t have otherwise expected. God promises to “work all things together for good.” As Lewis once noted, “we have no doubt about God’s desire to do good, we just wonder how painful that good will be.” I suppose sometimes God sends us through costly routes in order to form our inward spirit.

Elijah is an interesting example. He prayed and there was no rain for years. (I wonder how he felt about that? Was that a good path, in his view?) He came back and had an enormous victory over the prophets of Baal - and then prayed, and there was rain. On the surface, this seems like a tremendous victory. But then less than 24 hours later he was on the run for his life. I cannot imagine how he felt about all these things.

We romanticize “taking the road less traveled” or such things - but even when we look back on something, we can’t know what the other road would have been like. We have no way in our humanness to know. Obviously, Christians - like myself - also incorporate listening the Spirit into decision-making. But even this is not necessarily a silver bullet. We will not be able to always look back and say “that’s why the Spirit led me that way.” We just have to trust God’s care and power, and follow as best we can.

Back to the question of AI - I have found AI to be tremendously useful in many ways, especially for brainstorming options and thinking up questions that ought to be asked about an issue. But using it to predict how I might feel about a decision as a way of informing the right decision … doesn’t feel right.


Death of the Dream

Musing today on the disciples, after Jesus’ death.

We know so little of the time between the end of one chapter (Jesus’ death) and the morning he rose.

I guess that in those hours, their expectations of what was coming had been completely and finally decimated.

(I’m sure they had been disquieted by some of Jesus’ “odd sayings” but here was the final and complete death of their Messianic dreams)

Surely, they felt disappointment in their own behavior - and were grieving the betrayal and death of Judas as well,

The “what was it all for” must have been strong.

Peter “wept bitterly.”

I muse: perhaps this “death” was the only way for the church to be born.

The disciples had to have the nationalistic messianic dream shattered. Then, when Jesus rose from the dead, something far greater than this could be understood and realized.

(Obviously, not the only reason for death/resurrection!)

Yet it seems strange that even here, the old still pulled: “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1).


Why the unreached are unreached: not just because people don't care

It’s important to remember one of the reasons the unreached are unreached is: they are difficult to reach. Access is a challenge.

As an example, many people I know who work in one particularly populous South Asian nation have noted an increasing difficulty to get in: the country in question has denied long-term visas. They can get in fairly easily as a tourist, but they can’t get multi-year, multi-entry visa or even a long-term visas that would allow them to reside in country. Taxation issues are changing too, making the finances of staying difficult.

Church planting movements take years to start. If you can’t be present (or even get access) for years, it makes work among the unreached particularly difficult.

This is why many say a local partner is important–and it is–but local workers aren’t the solution to every problem in missions. Many unreached peoples are unreached either because local believers don’t go to them, or find it difficult to.

In one conversation I had, the interviewee noted the urban poor in many situations across the 10/40 Window were hard to access: partly because working among them incarnationally required sacrifices on the part of the workers (sanitation, children’s education, safety, lifestyle issues) but also because the platforms required to live long-term locally were jobs, and most of the jobs available were middle-class positions which made accessing the urban poor culturally and logistically difficult.

It’s also often challenging to remain in a particular place due to things as prosaic as environmental and health issues. One reader wrote and thanked me for raising awareness of this issue in last week’s deomai–air pollution, for example, can lead to severe health issues for both workers and their children, and can lead to significant turnover rates.

Caring about the unreached is a challenge, but let us not forget that solving the problems of long-term access can be just as big a challenge! The 2-axis graph below illustrates this: to reach the biggest sections of the unreached, we have to solve both challenges (awareness and access).

Solving these requires intentional planning, long-term commitment, a willingness to experiment (fail, try again, fail, try again, learn, finally find success), an ability to sustain losses and setbacks, and the resources to be able to endure (time, talent, treasure).


Torches and Legacy

I ran across this profile, “Gloria Steinem’s life on the feminist frontier,” linked in one of the newsletters I scan. Steinem is not a person I know much about or have read much about, and I suspect I would disagree with her on any number of subjects. This particular article, however, was in honor of her birthday, and there was an interesting quote from her on the subject of a legacy, which I have been musing on:

“People are always asking me, ‘Who will you pass the torch to?’ The question makes me angry. There is no one torch—there are many torches—and I’m using my torch to light other torches. There shouldn’t have been a ‘first’ Gloria Steinem, and there won’t be a last one.”


What happens when the unevangelized die

Whenever I speak at Lesson 9 of Perspectives, there are people - including myself - who have challenges with the idea of what happens when the unevangelized die.

I have asked the same question of a few others over the course of my life, and read a few books that touched on the subject. The responses range from “no human is without excuse and none are worthy of heaven; apart from Jesus none are saved” to “God gives everyone an opportunity in some way” to universalism–everyone ends up in Heaven.

I firmly believe that “there is no other name by which man must be saved” - but I also balance this with the understanding that the unevangelized have never heard of Jesus, and had no chance to either accept or reject him. I look up to the heavens and ask, with Abraham, “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right?”

I think the reality is that there are many things we don’t definitively know. I have to acknowledge that. We can be informed by Scripture and we can theorize about a great many things but we don’t know.

That doesn’t mean we are impassionate about the state of the lost. There’s enough to suggest that lost humans are forever apart from God. If we follow the heart of God and become more and more like Christ then we, too, will be “seeking to save the lost” and “going after the 1”. (Not that we can save anyone, of course, but we should be passionately seeking to be used by God in the process.)

The ideas of “unevangelized” and “unreached” are really less about “who gets to go to Heaven” - as if we, by our actions, could keep some people out - and more about whether we have been obedient to the command that Christ gave his church.

We have to do the job that God has called us to do, and let him be responsible for the fruit.


What's important

We measure what matters.

We show what matters, by what we measure.


Open-air prisons

Several articles have referred to specific places as “open-air prisons”:

2017: Security clampdown bites in China’s Xinjiang region … ‘southern Xinjiang has become an open-air prison’

2017: … Rohingya trapped in open-air prison of apartheid

Syria’s Al-Hol prison camp for ISIS supporters pops back up in media. New Yorker … about 50,000 people still there, from 50 countries. Over half are children, most under 12. … people who joined ISIS or been married to ISIS member, sometimes by force … Under Kurdish fighters, largely backed by the US

Port-au-prince is an “open air prison.” AP

How many such places exist in the world, and what are the challenges to bringing the Kingdom into them?

Many movements (especially in Western environments) have said they have significant success spreading the Kingdom in jails and jail ministries, but that of course presumes access.


The complex Body of Christ cannot be measured in real-time

The body of Christ is a complex entity. It is growing more complex by the hour.

By analogy, the human body is also a complex entity–one we can hardly understand at any given point.

When the body is sick, we can go to a doctor. The doctor could have numerous tests run: blood tests, brain tests, MRIs, CTs, X-rays, and the like. All of these tests are expensive and time-consuming. Instead, wha ttypically happens: a doctor starts with some very basic heuristics that they use to diagnose issues. They’ll take your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. They’ll ask a set of simple diagnostic questions.

Then, they will (in my experience) try the thing that best supports your body’s complex systems to deal with whatever the sickness is, in the least invasive way. If it’s a virus (cold, flu, etc) they’ll generally just recommend rest and lots of fluids.

Knowing precisely what your body is doing at a cellular level to battle the sickness is impossible. All of the tests are broad ‘order of magnitude’ signals, but to do anything we have to “encourage” the various bodily symptoms to continue doing what they’re doing. (In some cases, for example, we might take an antibiotic, or we might take a fever reducer, or a pain reliever, etc. These may support, enhance, or control the body’s immune responses–but they don’t directly command the immune responses.)

Just as we can’t know what our body’s cells are doing, so we will never know what the whole of the Body of Christ is doing to spread the Kingdom and be a witness. This spread is at the “cellular” level of individual workers and churches. It can never be completely controlled from a “global” perspective. Trying to direct the functions of the individual cells would be akin to a doctor trying to control all the cells fighting off a particular disease.

We can get some general understanding of what’s going on - with the functional equivalent of “taking the temperature” (which I would liken to the work of Operation World, Joshua Project, and the World Christian Encyclopedia), or at great expense, we can “order some tests” for certain regions (when researchers help to do studies of particular peoples, cities, countries, etc). But I doubt we will ever have a 100% real-time global view of all that is happening.

We can use the vital signs and the occasional test, however, to encourage a sort of behavior. If we use these to envision people with opportunities and possibilities, we can promote Kingdom-spreading activities without trying to control them. The body helping the body is what we should be about.


iPhones, hanging out less, rising Nones, few/no movements

Three articles speak to similar issues (and there are probably more):

… It’s obviously the phones. Magdalene Taylor

… Why Americans suddenly stopped hanging out. Atlantic

… The data is clear: people are having less sex. (It’s obviously the phones.) Ryan Burge

While the first and the last article start out with a discussion of Americans having less sex, both migrate (Taylor very rapidly, Burge in the last few paragraphs) into a further look at the impact of phones on sex, but also on socialization, friendships, community, etc.

There is an obvious interseection between this and the rise of the nones:

  • Taylor suggests that socialization dropped dramatically after the introduction of the iPhone in 2008.

  • The rise of the nones accelerated in 2007 (see both Pew and Gallup), rising from 16% to nearly 30% by 2023.

But, further: disciple-making movements have been around to some extent since the 1990s, but really began advancing in the 2010s, especially 2015 and after. But there has been noticeably a lack of movements in the West. So, a question I’m musing on: is their a correlation between the rise of the phones, the rise of the nones, the fall of socialization, and the lack of movements in the West (especially in America, especially when movements basically depend on socialization)?


Soundscape goes private: How AI is shaping the music listening habits of GenZ. Conversation … “what happens when young people don’t know what their peers are listening to?

What churches offer that “nones” still long for: community. NYT

A loneliness epidemic? How marriage, religion, mobility explain the generation gap in loneliness. AEI


Over 10 million

I have generally advocated for the need for one mission team for every 100,000 people. I do this because in my experience, the median size of a rapidly multiplying movement is 100,000 - after this, they tend to spawn new movements (often counted as streams within a movement family).

I have come to think of the role of a high-level catalyst as being a person thinking about strategy for a 10 million person population. Only two or three of the very largest movements have ever gotten that large. Regardless of what strategy is used (and I still think movements are the most likely to reach such sizes), if we can’t saturate a 10 million population segment, it would be hard to see the task in any sense finished.

In a world of 2 billion or so unevangelized (3 billion unreached) people, there are 200 to 300 such segments. This then calls for 200 to 300 10M catalysts / thinkers.

This cannot be only UPG thinking. consider the following 32 cities are all over or very nearly over the 10 million population mark:

  1. Chongqing
  2. Shanghai
  3. Beijing
  4. Chengdu
  5. Karachi
  6. Guangzhou
  7. Shenzhen
  8. Delhi
  9. Istanbul
  10. Kinshasa
  11. Tianjin
  12. Tokyo
  13. Moscow
  14. Lahore
  15. Suzhou
  16. Mumbai
  17. Wuhan
  18. Sao Paulo
  19. Xi’an
  20. Hangzhou
  21. Harbin
  22. Dongguan
  23. Dhaka
  24. Jakarta
  25. Qingdao
  26. Cairo
  27. Seoul
  28. Foshan
  29. Nanjing
  30. Mexico City
  31. Jinan
  32. Tehran

Some of these obviously already have substantial Christian presence and/or engagement. Others, far less. For many of these, % Christian is well below 10% - for some, below 2%. What would it take for these cities to reach, say, 32% Christian? What would be the impact? What would be the cost?



It makes sense that what God does doesn’t usually make sense to us.

He is infinite, and we are finite.

For something to make sense assumes that we can see a significant percentage of the factors involved.

Even if something does make sense to us, it’s likely because we’re missing something, we’re getting it wrong. It’s akin to finding animals and faces in random clouds–our brains are finding patterns where they don’t exist, and missing the true nature of the clouds and what they are doing.

If something doesn’t make sense to us, then, it’s probably a sign that we recognize our limitation, even if only subconsciously.

We must humbly embrace the mystery of the infinite nature of God.



“Change comes in three wavelengths. There are changes to the game, changes in the rules of the game, and changes in how the rules are changed.” ~Kevin Kelly

The same principle can be seen in the mission task.

First, agencies sent people.

  • Think William Carey, Hudson Taylor, etc.

Then, agencies that were created to send people to one spot began creating new fields, and new teams for those fields, and introducing change in the process.

  • Think Norman Grubb, who after CT Studd’s death led Heart of Africa Mission (with 35 workers in the Congo) to become WEC International, a worldwide mission in 40 fields with thousands of workers (including internationalized–not just Europeans)

Then, people within agencies begin “changing the rules of the game” - helping non-Westerners start non-Western structures, training people outside of their organizations, etc.

  • Think of the rise of majority world mission agencies, often using non-donation-supported methods for sending workers (e.g. businesses, tentmaking, migrant workers, university students, etc).

  • In a further change to the “rules of the game,” rapidly-multiplying disciple-making movements are sending what are effectively “home workers” (e.g. evangelists, home missionaries) to near-culture, which is an entirely different animal from far-culture mission agencies.

Each of these changes introduced discontinuities with the change before.

How many of current missiological debates are due to these discontinuities?

If mission is successful, we will reach a point where there is no need for cross-cultural mission any more.

How close are we to that point now?

(Without making the same mistake as was made prior to Lausanne ‘74).


AI Generation Scenarios

1 AI text generators used to create millions of sites, fill Internet with literate “gray goo”

2 From AI prompt to personal book/movie just for me: a la “dad, tell me a story”

3 AI generators using cloned voices scam millions in a variety of schemes

4 AI generated text not under free speech rules, government begins regulating, cries over censorship

5 AI summarization of text leads to new, personalized books-that-teach: “teach me Drucker vs. Bezos”

6 AI translators in the background: plugins that automatically translate between UN languages

7 I can decide which emails my AI bot automatically responds to for me, holds response for my approval


Digital Users 2024

Total population: 8.08 billion

Unique mobile phone users: 5.61 billion (69.4%)

Unique internet users: 5.35 billion (66%)

Active social media user identities: 5+ billion … not necessarily unique individuals - there are duplicates

Social media usage per person: 2 hours 23 minutes daily

Source: Digital Report 2024


Protection is not necessarily a sign of the hand of God

When bad things happen we as Christians can be quick to equate the protection of any single individual with the hand of God. But protection is not necessarily a sign of God’s favor.

While we memorize Psalm 91 with its promises of protection, we ought to balance this with the Jesus’ assertion in John 15: “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” Over and over he told his disciples they would be attacked for their faith.

Paul’s testimony demonstrates this in action: “They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says:

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.

Attacks may very well be signs you are in the midst of God’s work; whereas safety might also arise from the Enemy, lulling us into a false sense of security, serenity and apathy. We cannot see everything happening right now, and we should not equate deaths or the failure of a nation-state’s strategy with a failure of the Kingdom and the goals of God. In the long run, the seed that falls into the ground and dies can yield much fruit; whereas the stalk that stands may very well abide alone, with little harvest.

The best we can do is face each situation, asking how we might live as a Christ-follower in the midst of it, how we can do the most for the Kingdom, how we can advance the will of God on earth – “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”