Resurrection vs. Raising

People don’t often get that “resurrection” and “raised from the dead” are not technically the same thing.

People who are raised from the dead will still die one day – Jairus daughter, Lazarus, the boy coming out of the village.

People who are resurrected receive a new body that is immortal, and will never die.

Jesus was the first resurrection, and unless I misunderstand Scripture, everyone else is still waiting for the resurrection.

Resurrection is what I look forward to!

Easter is the proof

I’ve heard in several places the line that “the death of Christ was the most important thing – it paid the sacrifice.”

I suppose that’s theologically true; I’ll let people who are theologically smarter than me comment on that.

But to me – perhaps as I grow older – Easter & resurrection are far more impactful.

It’s Easter and the resurrection that proves the death paid the sacrifice.

People have died for other people. Easter proves that God died for man.

Success and Failure Bars

In my work both with research and recruiting at Beyond, I do a lot of experimentation and testing. Especially in recruiting, we are constantly testing new ways of communicating vision, gathering potential candidates, and identifying high-potential prospects: people who are telling us they are serious about pursuing missions as a career.

I’ve been reading a lot from business literature about designing experiments, and trying to apply that practically. We have discovered what probably every good business major/entrepreneur knows, but seems like a rare thing in missions: the key to a good experiment is to set a clear bar both for “success” and “failure” before running the experiment!

Unfortunately, we often “do something as an experiment” in missions, and only after do we ask whether it was a success or not. “Well, we had a couple of people respond…” So, is that a success? Is it a good ROI? (“How do we measure the value of a soul? How do we know what kind of impact they will have on the field?”) We end up shooting the arrow, then painting the target around it.

We’ve found it’s a lot easier to set the win conditions first. In one of our recent small experiments, we defined a “win” as three levels: (1) at least 20 people show up, (2) people ask questions, (3) one to three people self-indicate they are “potential candidates.” The “failure” bar was an inverse: (1) fewer than 20 show up, (2) few are interested (=asks questions), (3) no potential candidates come out of it. An “abandon” failure bar was (1) no one shows up, or (2) no questions are asked.

If the experiment failed, we would then have clear questions to ask about how we performed the experiment: were there things we could to improve the show-up and participation rate? Are we inviting the right people (e.g. likely to be potential candidates)? do we have the wrong discussion topics? From every experiment we should be getting feedback and learning how to improve our success rates, before the next iteration.

The challenge for a lot of missions – especially smaller ones – is that we don’t know where the candidates are, how to find them, and how to mobilize them into mission. Experiments are a way to remove the “fog of uncertainty.” But experiments need to be run with clear conditions to know whether they should be amplified, modified, or abandoned.

Four marks of a good candidate

At Beyond, there are four “basic requirements of a good candidate” that I generally look for:

  1. They have to say “yes” to “long-term.”  If they start with, “Do you have any short-term trips? I love to take a short-term missions trip every summer,” I say, “No.” We may have differing definitions of what “long-term” means, but if you’re starting by definition from a short-term perspective, I’ll redirect you to other agencies. On the other hand, if you say to me, “I’m interested in doing something about _X_ place, maybe long-term – do you have anything, like a vision trip or a summer internship, where I can explore what that’s like?,” then I’ll be happy to connect you with some possibilities.
  2. They have to say “yes” to the “unreached.” Again, we may not be quite on the same page as to who the unreached are. But if your calling is to Christians (revival) or the people on the fringes of Christianity, then I will likely redirect you to someone else. Beyond is about focusing on the people few others are focusing on: the people who will not hear the Gospel unless something about our strategy and resource deployment changes.
  3. They have to say “yes” to “movements.” We see movements as the only thing that gets ahead of population growth. We’re all about disciples who make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. We know this is slow at the start, but we also know it has the capacity for exponential growth. Being about movements means there are some things we don’t do – things we say “no” to. So we need to be on the same page about that.
  4. They have to say “yes” to “Beyond.” (Or, at least a strong “maybe.”) But if you’re interested in a different agency and you just need help getting in touch, let me know, and I’ll do everything I can to make the connection for you.

Church Gathering

Recently I overheard the phrase, “He’s trying to start a church, and having difficulty.”

I began to wonder, immediately if idly, about the perspective we have when we say “start a church.”

When we say we are “starting a church,” precisely what is the activity involved?

Is it setting up procedures? Filing paperwork? Getting licenses? Organizing services? Arranging staff? etc?

This gets back to the question: what is a church?

Is a church something that can be started?

If a church is a gathering of believers, then perhaps it is not something that can be started–only discovered.

Maybe, instead of “starting a church,” we need to be “gathering a community” and see what emerges.

It may be a nitpicky nuance, but perhaps changing the language would also help us to shift our mindsets.

What we mean by “unreached,” and the importance of reaching them

Although “unreached” has a technical definition, with complex nuances, sometimes when people use “unreached” they mean something very different. Exploring the different ways people can use “unreached” shows how easily we overlook or forget the people “unreached” is intended to help us remember.

  • “There are lost ___________ (insert favorite denominational group here) sitting in the pews, who are just as unreached as anyone else in the world. Maybe more so.” Here, “unreached” is being used to refer to people whose spiritual condition is in need of revival. They may claim to be Christian (e.g. “sitting in pews”) but are showing little fruit (at least in the eyes of this observer). While not denying the need for revival amongst many Western churches, this is not what we mean by unreached.
  • “I was raised in a Christian home, and my parents took me to church on all the major holidays, but I never heard the Gospel until…” Here “unreached” is referring to the “hardened” or “semi-hardened” sinner who has not yet responded to the Gospel. Two variants of this abound: those who “never heard the Gospel” from their supposedly Christian culture, and the “I heard the Gospel frequently but it never made sense to me until ____[I heard it this way]____.” Generally, people have more access to the Gospel than they think, but it often takes a number of Gospel-exposures for it to “stick.” (In fact, some studies suggest the ratio of Christian to non-Christian friends is perhaps the biggest key; if more non-Christian friends, it is less likely for any single exposure to stick.)
  • “All those atheists in Europe are just as unreached as all the groups that are getting so much attention.” This example is essentially equating all non-Christians. It is true that lost is lost, at least in terms of the net effect of eternal salvation or lostness. But the major point that unreached makes is: reached non-Christians have had the Gospel brought to them, or will have it brought to them early in their lifetime. Virtually all Europeans know a Christian of some kind (many European non-Christians were once Christians themselves); many if not most know an evangelical Christian. And, for those who do not have a personal friendship with an evangelical, the fact is virtually all are within easy relational distance of evangelical Christians if they were so mobilized. (For example, every place/person in France is within a 30 minute drive of an evangelical church.)
  • “This group has missionaries and they are engaged; we should go to the unengaged groups only.” I appreciate what FTT and their friends have done for raising attention and focus on people groups that lack any work at all. But–and FTT themselves would say the same thing–unengaged is not the same thing as unreached. Engaging a group is the first step on the road. Reached means that missionaries are no longer needed; the indigenous church can do the job.

The point of “unreached” isn’t that a person hasn’t heard. The same thing could be said of any child under about 5 years of age. The unreached are important because they will not have a chance to hear in their lifetime. It isn’t that the Gospel hasn’t gotten to them yet or that it hasn’t gotten to them in a way they can understand or that few of their friends are Christians. It’s that the Gospel will likely not get to them at all, and there are few plans (or none at all) to change that. They are forgotten: left out of our minds and strategies, which are largely focused on the people above.

Categories of Difficulty

Just because a country is in the 10/40 Window doesn’t mean it’s uniformly hard to reach. There are (at least) three categories of countries (and these likely apply to peoples and cities as well):

Small populations, difficult to enter: places like Afghanistan, Libya, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the -Stans, and Yemen. These are relatively small population sizes, but their borders are tightly defended and the smallness of the population makes it easier to monitor them. These can be considered among the “last lines” for the Gospel to penetrate–it is difficult and dangerous to do so. “Reaching closure” in these places will require perseverance, prayer, and creativity–and if we’re honest, most of the people in these places may be “unreachable” at the moment insofar as human eyes can see.

Moderate populations, easier to enter: places like Chad, Turkey, Egypt. It is not easy to get into these countries, and some are harder than others (some even bordering on category 1). Still, their population tends to make them “larger markets” which makes them at least slightly more open to the world. Better still, many of these have fairly direct ties with the Category 1 countries listed above.

Very large populations, ease-of-entrance varies: places like Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, China. The bulk of the unevangelized individuals are in these countries (simply by virtue of their large populations). It’s fairly easy to enter as a tourist or on business, but it’s far harder to remain in place. Strategies to reach these places will need to scale, and hundreds of movements to Christ will be required. These places are home to many internal sociopolitical and ethnolinguistic barriers the Gospel will have to jump across.

50,000 American workers?

Yesterday, Micah Fries tweeted:

I’m fully on board with Micah’s enthusiasm and passion for new worker being sent out. I have to wonder about this, however. What would this imply?

Several years ago I wrote a long form piece called “What would it take,” that said we needed 150,000 new workers on the field, and what kind of structures would be required. The original article (a little bit dated) is here.

One question I’d have is whether the existing structure of the IMB would be able to handle a more than 10-fold increase in personnel. “Send & Fund” – what would the funding equate to? In 2017 the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering had a goal of $160 million. I don’t know how much they actually reached (yet), but $160 million / 3,550 workers = $45k per worker (not unsurprising). 50k workers X $45k each = $2.2 billion.

Second, are we ready for American workers to be “that big” a portion of the global mission force? Right now, the total worldwide cross-cultural mission force (inclusive of Protestants, Catholics and Independents) is estimated at 430,000. Somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 (actual number is hard to know) are North Americans–or about 20%. If we were to add another 50,000 workers, that would bring the total to 480,000 – of which fully 26% would be Americans. That doesn’t sound like a huge increase. I wonder what the “spike” would be in specific world regions.

Third, I wonder if we are ready for the implications of a 10X increase in Baptist Americans (hey, I like a lot of Baptist Americans, but…) in teams, partnerships, networks, conferences, etc?

I do think America needs to send more workers. I think, with Micah, that all of our church networks/denominations are sending paltry %s. But I also wonder – how can we be helping a 10X increase in mission sending from other places? What if we had 10X the number of Chinese, Nigerian, Indonesian, and Korean workers – just to name a few?

Degrading Time to Double

Movements are “rapidly multiplying” or exponential. This multiplication means that, at the minimum, they must double on a regular basis.

Time to Double is a measure of the speed of any kind of viral fad. The “Rule of 72” is a quick and easy way to figure out how long this doubling will take: divide 72 by the annual growth rate of the movement, and you’ll get the time in years.

The challenge a lot of movements and fads face: as the movement grows in size, the speed of doubling degrades.

Reasons for this vary by organization, fad or movement. Generally, it seems to me to harken back to the difference between early adopters and later adopters: early adopters tend to be “sneezers” who spread a fad far and wide, while later adopters are more likely to “use” or “participate” but less likely to spread.

Movements institutionalize. There’s more being a church member, less being an evangelist. There’s more using an iPhone and less being an iPhone evangelist.

When movements run up against the wall of a language or culture, it’s exceptionally hard to cross the cultural boundary, and this is really where time to double drops dramatically.

The bottom line: in most instances, it is easier to start a new movement (send out new movement planters/starters) than it is to rev up the growth of an existing, large movement.

If you find the speed of growth is dropping, you can look at your training programs and see whether people are being trained to share their faith and make disciples. But you have to recognize only a small percentage will actually do this – and that percentage will decline in time. It may be better to look at how your church/movement is sending out new movement starters.

The difficulties of defining "closure"

“Finishing the task” is a phrase that is widely used in some of the mission circles that I travel in. I’ve used it myself. The technical/missiological term sometimes equated to “finishing the task” is “closure.” Both of these phrases are more or less missiological terms with eschatological underpinnings.

In our culture, however, most of the people who talk about “closure” aren’t using the word in this sense. When people speak of “closure,” they might mean:

  • abandoning personal baggage – a sense of freedom
  • a sense of achievement that gives validation of purpose and meaning
  • a cessation of work
  • a necessary transition step between “chapters”
  • the feeling something bad has ended, and normality may now resume
  • a comforting sense of finality
  • or perhaps a less comforting sense that something has ended forever
  • a sense of completion, solution of a problem, or resolution of an issue
  • a sense of evaluation, lessons learned, understanding gained
  • revisiting something that feels ‘unfinished’ in order to ‘gain closure’ or ‘permission to move on’

To seek “closure” in anything might, for any given individual, be colored more by these emotional meanings than by any textbook definition of the phrase. When we use the term missiologically with people who aren’t familiar with this technical definition, we have to remember it carries a lot of implied cultural and emotional meanings.

If “finishing the task” or “closure” carries these meanings with it, how might that affect the strategy we use? If we say we are setting out to “finish the task” or “seek closure” – what might we be implying to those who hear the phrase?

And, moreover, in what sense can the Great Commission be “finished” – and in what sense might it be “unfinishable”?

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