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Missions, Miley, and Madame la Guillotine

I don’t know enough about every other culture on Earth to claim this is universal, but at least in the culture of my birth, and the within the culture of the Western church we tend, on the whole, to struggle with course correction.

Our tendency is to either ignore what is wrong with our systems/methods/doctrines or to ride the pendulum hard to the other side. Either build the walls higher and thicker or burn the whole thing to ashes. If I am on a boat and notice I have drifted slightly off course, I do not set fire to my boat. I also do not stubbornly refuse to touch anything because “I started on course, and assume I will arrive at the intended destination and no map, compass, GPS, or facts I can observer with my eyeballs will convince me otherwise!” Rather, I give the rudder a little nudge.

In studying missiology I continue to bump into polarized voices (should anyone be surprised by this anymore in light of our current cultural milieu?) that argue as though they are on opposite sides of no-man’s land. “Here is why those in that trench are the worst.” By God’s grace and because of his relentless love for his church and those who have not been welcomed into it yet, He is prompting some people to ask important questions regarding, in some missionary circles and seasons of ministry, an over-emphasis on transformation by information and professional elitism. Others see concerns around elevating speed over substance with practitioners advocating that often people who don’t profess any faith in Christ or know anything about the Bible make the best group leaders (no…I’m not using hyperbole).

These are important questions that require nuanced discussion. Sadly, much of what I get my hands on to find helpful answers feels like they are taking their cues from the French Revolution rather than Jesus. This methodology is wrong? A date with Madame la Guillotine! Wait…now the executioners have gone too far? Sharpen the blade! We hop aboard the pendulum and ride it like Miley’s wrecking ball all the way to the other extreme…unconcerned about the collateral damage or what is communicated about our identity and message as we swing. In the process, dialogue, nuance, collaboration, and the lost are the real victims.

Jesus had a different response. To the Pharisees, who are feeling particularly awesome about how amazing they are at tithing herbs, he says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23) Not, “who cares about cumin? Seek justice!” but, “why aren’t you doing both?”

One response to a possible over-dependency on the teaching of a highly-educated elite is to claim that teaching is denying the power of the Spirit and hamstringing discipleship. Therefore, teaching should be discouraged and we should only ever encourage people to find answers on their own.

Another response is to open up more and more opportunities for (and enthusiastically affirm) new followers immediately participating in sharing what they do know about Jesus with those around them while continuing to faithfully equip those saints for the work of ministry. We could entrust what we have heard in the presence of many witnesses to faithful men and women, who will be able to teach others while we constantly develop their ability to search the Scriptures on their own in order to view the word rather than the teacher as the primary affirmation of truth. These we ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

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