Thursday, September 18, 2014

Theology Thursday: Why the days of "Proof-Texting" are Over, and Why They Should Be!

When it comes to the discussion of homosexuality, our culture has rejected a flat, plain reading of Leviticus 18:22 for sometime now. And even Bible-believing followers of Jesus who reject homosexual behavior as sinful should agree with that rejection!  The fact that most don't actually says more about the maturity of our theological method than it does culture's rejection of the Word of God.

To be sure, those who hold a high view of Scripture will simply find it impossible to reconcile its teachings with the belief that sexual activity of any sort outside the Biblical boundaries of permanent, heterosexual marriage is OK.  The problem isn't our firm belief in our authority source.  Its in our approach to our authority source.

In light of this observation, I was delighted to read this post yesterday, penned by the President of my alma mater.  Entitled "Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis," the article rightly points to an immaturity of approach where our interpretation of the Scriptures are concerned.  Though there are many examples of how such "proof-texting" takes place, Dr. Mohler uses the most clear example from our recent discussions on sexuality, and in particular, gay relationships.

I appreciate Mohler's approach in calling believers back to an understanding of Scripture as encased in a clear narrative, and how that narrative can be employed to interpret particular passages, separate culturally and covenantally-bound commands from their eternal principles, and arrive at a much more robust description and defense of Biblical teaching.

The simple fact is that if I'm still eating pork BBQ, or sporting a tattoo anywhere on my body, I look more than a little ridiculous to the gay community if my entire case against their behavior is limited to quoting an obviously covenantally-bound text within an obviously temporary covenant.  On the other hand, when this particular command is compared with similar statements in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, and all are understood in a consistent fashion within the over-arching meta-narrative of the Gospel as clearly told in Scripture, it takes an incredible amount of interpretive acrobatics to arrive at any other conclusion than the sexual ethic which has been held by the Christian church for the past 2000 years.

The same principle holds true when we move beyond the discussion of sexual ethics to cover any number of other issues where the church has, until very recently in the west, had long-settled opinions.  Quoting single "chapter and verse" texts not only doesn't help our message, in many cases it presents an incomplete and therefore inaccurate message.  We must, as Mohler contents, tell the "whole story."

I greatly appreciate this post, and pray it will be widely read by the body of Christ in the west.  And again, it can be found here. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mission Monday: Putting the "Personal" Back into Personal Evangelism

If our culture has excelled at anything over the past decade, its polarization.  Offending someone is perhaps the easiest exercise in the west, and navigating conversation, let alone deeper relationship, without making someone angry can be a great challenge.

Even among the body of Christ, the tiniest disagreement can turn into a great offense.  Last week is a great (or maybe horrible) example of this.  I made a public statement about supporting Israel, but criticized some of their recent actions.  While most of the interaction was civil and appreciated, a few vitriolic Zionists accused me of being anti-Semitic.  Meanwhile, more strict Covenantal thinkers accused me of compromising the Gospel because I would be in favor of the continued existence of the Jewish state.  "Hot button" issues sometimes build their deepest heat within the body of Christ.

And this kind of polarization gets worse when we move outside the body to interact with the larger world.  On November 16, various religious, cultural and political leaders will be joining together for the Mid-Atlantic Summit on Faith and Culture.  In helping put this conference together, I've been accused of compromising the Gospel by my willingness to appear publicly alongside leaders of other faiths.  I've also been chastised by those in the wider culture who think I'm too "narrow," because while in the presence of those leaders, I'm not shy about my belief that salvation only comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

The labels we apply to people often don't help matters either.  "Democrat," "Liberal," "Fundamentalist," "Homophobe," "Tea Party," "Pervert," "Muslim," "Republican," and a host of other terms immediately stir strong feelings. And in the midst of this polarized world, very little actual evangelism actually happens because we are too concerned with "what it would look like" if we actually crossed an aisle to befriend someone on the other side.

I"m sure glad Jesus didn't do that.  Otherwise, we all might be burning in hell right now!

And the truth is, Jesus didn't do that.  He didn't stand on the precipice of heaven and preach a sermon of condemnation.  Instead, He became a man, incarnating Himself among people who were in no way like He was.  He lived among us for more than three decades, and then offered His life as a ransom for sinners.  Then post-resurrection, he says this to His disciples: "As the Father has sent me, so also so I send you." (John 20:21)

In other words, Jesus' ministry was personal, and if we want to be servants who truly follow our Master with the same effectiveness, we need to put the "personal" back into personal evangelism!  That requires a few things though:

1. Unconditional Friendships:  I direct cultural engagement and evangelism for a religious denomination made up of more than 560 churches, and with my heavy work schedule among our churches, I still manage to spend as much time outside my work with non-Christians as I do with followers of Jesus.  Our kids play together, we share meals with each other, and we get to know each other.  Would I like them to know Jesus as I know Him?  Of course!  But that isn't going to happen if I turn every relationship I have with a non-Christian into a "project."  Sometimes I get the impression from believers--even pastors--that if I can't get someone converted in a short amount of time that continuing to share life in relationship with them is a waste of time.

That attitude makes me very sad, especially when I consider that Jesus Himself walked with unbelievers for a long period of time. The span of time between "follow me," and "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" was more than just a few days, and as it turns out, one of those guys wasn't even a real follower after all.  Yet he was present for Jesus' very last meal, and the Lord dismissed him in great sorrow.  That is how Jesus treated someone who betrayed Him!  And we aren't even willing to be friends with people simply because they believe differently than us? If you want to know why the church in the west is on a steep decline, this may indeed be one of the reasons!

When you share your faith, it should be more than a sales pitch.  You should be expressing the deepest and most profound part of your being, and that doesn't happen at its fullest outside the context of intimate friendships.  If we don't care if our friends come to faith in Christ, then we don't truly love them.  But if our friendships are conditioned on whether they make that decision, then they aren't really friends at all.  They are just "projects."

2. Seeing People as People.  Every person on the planet is far more than any label that could be attached to them.  If you are a Democrat, you tend to see every Republican in a certain way.  If you are on one side of an issue, and discover someone else is on the other side, both our culture and the church encourage you to keep your distance.

Again, I'm sure glad that wasn't what Jesus did!

Non-Christians, to put it bluntly, are going to have VERY different understandings of a LOT of things than I have.  But when I look at that guy in my neighborhood who practices Wicca, I see a guy who shares my concerns about the neighborhood's future development.  I see a guy who wants to provide for his family and keep his children safe just like I do.  Similarly, I meet with a close Muslim friend of mine about twice a month.  When we sit down together, I don't see only Islam.  I see a guy who made it to the United States, is thankful for the educational and vocational opportunities here that have allowed him to build a family.  The last time we were together, we talked about his plans to buy a home in the near future.  The gay couple at my kids' school?  Yep, we treat them the same way.

Sharing your faith, in most contexts, means sharing life.  And you can't share life if you don't see people, first and foremost, as merely people.  Be determined to look past the labels our culture puts on us.

3. Start your story in the right place.  If the Christian narrative is to be told accurately, it will involve four "chapters," all of which pop clearly out of the text of Scripture:  Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.  The biggest problem I've seen in modern evangelicalism is that we tend to start the story with chapter two.  I'll elaborate more on this in a subsequent post, but for now, I'll just say that when sharing your faith and connecting it with the larger Christian meta-narrative, make sure you start the story in the right place!

To be sure, we can't skip chapter two and still be faithful to Jesus' message.  We are--ALL of us from birth--separated from fellowship with our Creator, and because from the moment we are volitionally able we willfully rebel against Him, we all begin this life at odds with One who promises ultimate justice.  Without that hard truth, redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus in "chapter three" makes no sense.

But the Christian story doesn't start in Genesis 3.  It starts in Genesis 1 with both out parents being created in the very image and likeness of God.  Though that image has been shattered by the fall, it remains indelibly on each of us--believer and non-believer.  So before I see any other label on another person, I need to see a label that reads "image-bearer of God."  Compassion, love, understanding, and a willingness to walk alongside them in life as Jesus did for us all come from that recognition.

In a world in which various factions are increasingly isolating themselves from the others, perhaps the most counter-cultural thing that can be done by followers of Jesus is to cross those barriers that our culture, and unfortunately many in the church, believe to be uncrossable.  Jesus has already bridged the most impossible gap in the universe--the gap between a just God and those He created who rebelled against Him.  When we intentionally cross barriers to build relationships and demonstrate love to those not like us, we mirror what He has already done for us, and what we hope He will do for them.

But to get this done, we must put the "personal" back into "personal evangelism."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It Takes One to Know One: Evangelical Media and the Plague of Adolescent Discourse

"Duck Dynasty star on Muslims: 'Convert them or kill them,'" read the headline of Jonathan Merritt's social media post last week.  The post contained a link to a Religion News Service article describing Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson's recent appearance with FOX News host Sean Hannity, in which the two discussed how the US and others should respond to the threat now posed to the world by the group known as ISIS.

While RNS deserves credit for a more accurate title than that given by Merritt, any intelligent person should really be asking why this is news.  But more importantly, there are far more serious issues facing the world right now, and Merritt and RNS should recognize that such nonsense is the kind of thing only printed on a slow news day.  And our world hasn't seen one of those in quite some time.

Of course, this isn't the first time Phil Robertson has been at the center of controversy.  The plain-spoken and sometimes graphically offensive founder of a multi-million dollar duck-call company can always be counted on to speak his mind, even if what's on it makes some people wretch.  I've winced myself a few times after hearing him speak, knowing that a more winsome and engaging approach might be more profitable.  But after four seasons on TV, anyone expecting this guy to be erudite just isn't living in the real world.

Phil Robertson is rough around the edges.  If that statement strikes you as "breaking news," journalism probably shouldn't be your chosen profession.

But once you get past the rough exterior to the substance of what the man actually said on the show, there is nothing any good Christian, Muslim, or anyone else of goodwill would take exception to.  For one, the subject of the segment was ISIS (a group that has brutally murdered many Muslims in addition to Christians, Yazidis, et al), not Muslims in general.  Speaking of that group, Robertson clearly stated that his preference would be to open a Bible and share the love of Jesus with them.  I agree.  He also stated that if they continue with their violence they should be eliminated.  I agree with that too, and so do many of my friends who also happen to be Muslim.

Anyone who has followed my ministry over the past four years is aware that I've developed some dear friendships with Muslims in this area, and other places around the world.  I've also  taken quite a bit of heat from a few in my own tribe for those friendships, so it should go without saying that I'm sensitive toward anything that might misrepresent my friends.  I don't believe their faith leads to eternal life, but stereotyping people you don't agree with and making them look as bad as possible is not an effective way to be friends or share your faith.  So you can bet if Phil Robertson had said what Jonathan Merritt claimed he said, I would have been the first to condemn the remarks.

Problem is, that's not what he said at all.  Could he have worded his statements better?  Of course.  But the man was simply expressing the sentiment that while he'd rather make peace and share his faith, he was also ready to defend himself and his family.  Unless you are a pacifist who thinks it is morally superior to watch your wife and children brutalized while you do nothing to stop the perpetrators, you shouldn't have a problem with this either.

What we should have a problem with are religion reporters who morally equivocate between a man who should have chosen his words more carefully and a gang of mostly British punks who are cutting off the heads of women and children--and making such an equivocation in an apparent effort to create something "newsworthy."  The result is to paint a false picture of "Christian vs. Muslim" toward which you feign opposition, when in reality, your misrepresentation of another stirs waters that were still before you stepped into them.

This is the point where the adolescent behavior of some in today's media becomes clear.  Our world is currently filled with  violence and unrest that we should take with deadly seriousness.  The ebb and flow of the Israel/Gaza conflict, the war at the Ukranian border, a civil war in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State, and the various responses to all of the above by various European players should be enough to grab anyone's attention.  Throw in the very real possibility of another terrorist attack on American soil connected to any one or combination of these issues, and a world war scenario becomes a very real possibility.  History demonstrates that prior global conflicts have erupted from far cooler environments than the one in which we now find ourselves.

In times like these, followers of Jesus should be doing all we can to make peace.  And we should be praying for our leaders, and urging them to act in accordance with Biblical principles of justice.  Where ISIS is concerned, we are beyond the question of whether the use of deadly force is necessary to turn back their evil.  But the question of who should dispense that force, how it should be done, and with whom they should cooperate are far more complex questions, and those who govern followers of Jesus deserve more than "click bait" from religious media.  In this context, we need our media outlets and columnists talking to us and our leaders in a way that expounds on a long and faithful history of just war concepts.  Some politicians in recent years have so twisted the concept that virtually no one in American Christianity knows what it means anymore.  And this is a horrible context for that sort of ignorance to be so prevalent.

In other words, we have real problems to discuss.  We don't have time for the cosmetic ones.  So perhaps those who claim to write on behalf of Christ-followers should be less concerned with parsing the cumbersome words of a Louisiana duck hunter, and spend a little more time examining those left to us by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

Such is what we call "adult conversation."  And with the condition our world is in, we need that now more than ever.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Remembering Truett Cathy

Normally, Mondays here at the site are dedicated to various perspectives on evangelism and missions.    Most of the time those perspectives are shared through the lens of well-known missiologists and preachers, but this morning, in light of the sad news of the passing of Truett Cathy, I want to focus on those like him who work behind the scenes in ways that won't be given their deserved recognition until that day when all of us stand before Jesus.

Many years ago as a brand new father, my wife and I took our now-teenage son to a chapel service at my alma mater of Southern Seminary to be introduced to the seminary community.  It was a very special hour of watching faculty, staff and fellow students offer prayers for my infant son.  As we were exiting the building that day, an older man walked up to me, shook my hand, and pressed something into it, saying "congratulations son!  You are now a wealthy man, and I hope you and your bride can use these to celebrate."  In the parking lot, I opened my hand to find what would amount to a month's worth of complimentary meals at Chick-fil-A, and learned later that the man who gave us that gift was the founder of the restaurant chain himself.

It was that spirit of generosity that characterized the man.  For most in this generation, the Cathy family and their restaurant chain are associated with public statements about marriage and boycotts, but this family and its patriarch were serving Jesus long before their business unintentionally found itself at the center of the American culture wars.

Chick-fil-A is the epitome of an American success story.  Starting with a single, small store in 1946, Cathy grew his business into a national franchise that today is worth more than $5 billion--and he managed to pull this off without taking the company public, or making his employees work on Sunday.  Though he was never afraid to speak his mind, Cathy's commitment to Jesus Christ was best expressed by his fulfillment of his own calling in the restaurant and customer service business.  Today, when most think of "calling" they think either of pastoral ministry or Christian missionary work.  But by his actions, Truett Cathy demonstrated his deep understanding of the true meaning of "vocation;" a call from God on each person to fulfill his or her purpose in a way that brings glory to Jesus.  The company's own mission statement still reflects this understanding:  "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us, and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A."

That mission was executed, not by turning the restaurant chain into a "Christian" business, but simply by running a solid, faithful, profitable company that served the public, provided jobs and benefits to communities, and donated millions to charity.  Truett Cathy never sold "Christian chicken," but the work ethic, generosity, servant's attitude and love of Jesus Himself permeated the organization all the way down to each employee, who was trained to take pleasure in serving others.

When I speak to our churches about what "missions" will look like in the future, the picture I draw looks an awful lot like the life Truett Cathy lived.  What if every businessman, every public educator, every health-care worker, every engineer, every farmer, every politician, and every artist who follows Jesus saw their "vocation" as Truett Cathy rightly saw his?  The world would be forever changed!  As those who knew him and knew of him mourn his passing, perhaps the best way to honor him is to emulate his example.  It would also be a great way to honor His Lord, and promote the faith that now gives us the assurance of where Truett Cathy will spend eternity.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Why "Celebrity Pastors" Aren't Really the Problem

There is a legend that has survived for around 30 years in my denomination.  Like a lot of legends, I'm not sure if this conversation actually happened, but it makes for a good story nonetheless.  Rumor has it that a young aspiring preacher once approached Dr. Adrian Rogers--the famous and faithful pastor who served three terms as President of the Southern Baptist Convention--and said to him "Dr. Rogers, my goal is to be like you.  I want to preach to thousands every Sunday."  In response, Adrian Rogers said "young man, you don't know what you are asking for, nor do you know how much it will cost you."

This year has been a bad one for quite a number of well-known pastors and faith-leaders.  Most recently, Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll has taken quite a beating even from those within his own tribe in what is apparently a well-deserved period of scrutiny.  But Driscoll is not alone.  Ed Young Jr., John Piper, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Bill Hybels, Francis Chan and Billy Graham have all dealt with their own shares of sharp criticism from the public.  In fact, as I look back at that list of men and in particular view the wide theological diversity in that list, it appears that public criticism may be the only thing they all hold in common.  That, and the fact that all of them are well-known.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.  Regardless of theology, or even whether the criticism is legitimate, each and every time a very public pastor finds himself at the center of controversy, voices emerge from all around evangelicalism blaming the so-called "celebrity pastor" phenomenon as the culprit.  But perhaps the real problem isn't so much who is in the pulpit as it is those who occupy the seats.

The technology available to our generation through podcasts and vodcasts makes the popularity of certain preachers more visible and obvious than in past generations, but while the term "celebrity pastor" is somewhat new, the concept of well-known and admired preachers has been around since--well, the time of Jesus.  And from the Scriptures we know that before the end of the first century, Paul was having to deal with the negative consequences of those who seem to follow their favorite preacher more than Christ Himself.

Think about it this way.  The church at Corinth was witnessing sexual sin in their midst that would have made Jerry Springer blush! (5:1)  They were treating the Lord's Supper like an open bar at happy hour. (11:21)  Their worship looked less like a gathering of saints speaking truth, and more like godless pagans babbling incoherently. (14:26-40).  Yet with all those problems, the biggest threat Paul sees to this church--the thing that he chooses to address first--was the division among them that resulted from various groups of fan-boys.

"What I am saying is this: each of you says, 'I'm with Paul,' or 'I'm with Apollos,' or 'I'm with Cephas,' or 'I'm with Christ.'  Is Christ divided?  Was it Paul who was crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in Paul's name?"   -1 Corinthians 1:12-13

Does this sound familiar?

If Paul were writing this letter today and addressing it to the American church, do you think it might sound something like this?  What I am saying is this: each of you says "I'm with Driscoll,' or 'I'm with Ed Young,' or 'I'm with Albert Mohler,' or 'I'm with Paige Patterson.'  Were these men crucified for you?

Here's the thing.  I think its OK to admire a preacher.  I have a few myself who are regulars on my iPod.  I also think its natural to gravitate toward those well-known voices who best represent your own tribe and doctrinal persuasion.  The problem comes when our allegiance to a person divides us from other members of the body of Christ.  Trouble starts brewing at a church like Mars Hill, and all the Driscoll critics who have hated him for years yell "Fire him!" while those who have had a distant bromance with the guy scream that he's just being persecuted for "faithfully preaching the Gospel."  Next thing you know, twitter can't manage the traffic caused by followers of Jesus yelling at each other.  Then inevitably and predictably, someone steps forward and says "well, the real problem here is the whole 'celebrity pastor' thing."  But the 'celebrity' didn't start the fight.

Truth is, I've been truly blessed, inspired, and fed by Driscoll over the years.  There have also been times when I've turned him off because it became obvious to me that his own biases had clouded his exegesis. I could say the same thing about many other preachers, and I'm sure if asked, those who have sat under my preaching over the years would say the same thing about me.  

The bottom line is this:  No matter how popular a preacher is, no matter how many times his sermons get downloaded, the responsibility of Biblical discernment is the responsibility of those who listen.  If Osteen continues to perpetuate a message that sounds less like Jesus and more like Milton Friedman, its because people gave, people supported, people attended, and people refused to discern.  If Driscoll is indeed guilty of the abuses he's charged with and there are no consequences, it will be because people refused to discern.

Celebrity isn't the problem.  Lack of discernment is the problem.  And it begins when, as the Corinthians, we become more enamored with a man than with the message he is supposed to be preaching.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

2014 Summer Reading List

Well, its that time again!  The next three weeks include approximately 20,000 miles of travel, including a short family vacation, and an extended trip to Vietnam with Glocal Ventures.  For that and other reasons, this site will be a bit quiet for pretty much the remainder of the summer, but if you are looking for some great, substantive reading over these hot months, below are five that I think should be on every pastor's reading list for 2014:

1. Matt Chandler, Recovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change.  Chandler is Lead Pastor of the 11,000 member Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and for many years has been faithfully laser-focused on the application of the Gospel to all aspects of the Christian life.  This latest volume is a great refresher that reminds us of how the doctrine of justification by faith alone should inform our view and practice of sanctification.  Plainly put, "accepting Jesus" followed by "try hard to live right" is not a view of salvation or morality that is in any way consistent with what the Scriptures teach, and such a mindset can actually do great harm to those seeking to faithfully follow Christ.  The real life experiences of people given toward the end of the book whose lives have been changed through encounters with Jesus put flesh on already solid teaching.


2. Alan Cross, When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus.  I am honored to consider Alan a friend, and was happy to write an endorsement for this book, which I mentioned on this site just after its release.  Alan writes of a period in American history that illustrates, perhaps more than any other example on this side of the planet, what happens when the church capitulates to the prevailing views of culture in spite of the clear teaching of Scripture.  Certainly there are many examples of this scenario around the globe (The rise of Nazi Germany in Europe and the passive response to it by the Lutheran Church is but one international illustration), but in North America, there is no better, or worse example of cultural capitulation than what we see when we examine southern evangelicalism during the civil rights movement.  Alan's book urges us to learn from history so that we don't repeat it, and offers helpful challenges regarding race relations as we move forward into our national future.


3. Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 Since the release of Bell Curve nearly 20 years ago, I've been intrigued by Charles Murray's keen analysis of issues sometimes considered taboo in our culture.  Murray has a unique way of introducing uncomfortable subjects at the academic level in a way that allows for open conversation and clear explanation, and this latest work is no different.  I did find some of his profiles to be overly-generalized, but as a whole, pastors in suburban areas in transition (and let's be honest--there are more of those kinds of environments every day!) will glean great knowledge and insight, not only from a broad view of the past 50 years in predominantly Anglo environments, but also how that broad view explains the reactions of some in their congregations.


4. Bob Roberts and Ben Connelly, A Field Guide for Everyday Mission:  30 Days and 101 Ways to Demonstrate the Gospel.  I've written before on this site that global missions as we have practiced it for the past 200 years is coming to an end, and suggested a new path forward.  Though I believe there will always be a prominent place for those we call "career missionaries," the growth of the global population, and increasing diversity in all places due primarily to rapid migration patters demand that the whole church be "commissioned" to take the message of Jesus and glimpses of the Kingdom of God with them everywhere they go.  My friend Bob Roberts, together with fellow pastor Ben Connelly, have just released the most practical book to date to help followers of Jesus understand what this approach looks like on a daily basis.  I plan to have this book available for anyone who goes through our mission volunteer training in the future.


5. Thom Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church.  Roughly 3500 churches "die" in North America every year, and this latest research by Rainer gives us sobering insight into the primary reasons for their demise.  Additionally, Rainer just wrote on the one common denominator in all these churches--and inward focus.  Ed Stetzer has famously stated that "facts are our friends."  Rainer's latest volume is full of very helpful facts, but some of these facts will hurt to hear.  My prayer is that churches will endure the pain of change so that their Gospel witness is not removed from the earth.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Missions Monday: Why We Go

As spring and summer approach, mission teams from churches all over America begin gearing up for a busy season. Anyone who frequents airports for either business or pleasure has no doubt seen oceans of identical T-shirts wandering the concourses between connections, and those wearing those T-shirts expect no less than a "great missions experience." Summer has barely begun, and our Association has already had teams on the ground in several different parts of the globe, with our most recent effort just concluding last week, as our disaster relief team continued its work in Long Island, New York.  But why do they really go?

In a few days, I will post my annual summer reading list, give the blogosphere a rather long rest and depart for an Asian country myself.  I'll log quite a few miles between now and the end of summer, and like most who plan for trips like this, my small team expects a "great experience." But several years ago I ran into an article by Dave Livermore that I think should be read by anyone who aspires to go abroad.

Livermore is the Director of the Global Learning Center at Grand Rapids Seminary, where he also teaches Intercultural Studies. He is also the author of Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence. In that work, he stresses the importance of cultural sensitivity when doing missions, and Mark Oestreicher of Youth Specialties gives the book plenty of praise, stating that mission efforts by American evangelical churches, while all well-intentioned, have not always been thoughtful. "[M]any of us have been concerned over the years that we've created a monster, doing more damage than ministry."

I share Oestreicher's assessment. Livermore cites research he generated from 250 national pastors who minister in 21 different countries, and each of them, while very appreciative of the efforts of American churches, also clearly delineated 10 things they literally "hated" about American mission projects. Whether your efforts this summer take you to Africa, the Middle East, Europe, South America, or Asia, the following may sting a bit. Nevertheless, if we are truly going to serve....to be "on mission," we need to listen to these guys:

10 Things I Hate About American Mission Projects. (From 250 National Pastors):

1. You act as if the American church is the true trendsetter for how we should all do church.

2. You're so concerned over the evil spirits ruling our land when so much evil breeds in your own backyard.

3. You live so far above the average standard of living and you behave as if you're still in North America.

4. You conclude that you're communicating effectively because we're paying attention when we're actually just intrigued by watching your foreign behavior.

5. You underestimate the effectiveness of our local church leaders.

6. You talk to us about your churches back home in such demeaning ways.

7. You too quickly get into the action without thinking through the implications on our churches long after you go home.

8. You're obsessed with picture-taking and videos during our evangelistic programs. It's really quite embarrassing for us.

9. You call us 'backward' for having little regard for your music, no palates for your green salads, no IQs for your advanced technology, and the list goes on.

10. We are not naive and backward. Instead, we are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Hurts, doesn't it?

Yet this is the way so many of our brothers and sisters in other lands view American Christians. Such things may help to explain why the nation with the greatest amount of material wealth, professional training, and mobilized volunteers accomplishes so little in the world.

The solution to this is, of course, to do a bit of a "gut check" before embarking on a trip of this nature. Take a moment to consider that those who worship Christ in other lands are not our "little" brothers and sisters. In fact, in many ways large portions of them could teach us a thing or two about what it means to follow Jesus. Bob Roberts expresses this same sentiment when he writes "Frankly, we have more need of them than they have of us. . . . .how arrogant we are to think that we must rush our missionaries over to closed parts of the world to tell them how to 'do church.' God, save them from us, and let them help us become more of who they are!"

So before you get on that plane this summer, ask yourself a hard question: "Why am I doing this?" Is this so you can travel to the other side of the world and play the part of the autonomous knower? If so, consider exchanging that ticket to Asia for one to the Caribbean to lay on a beach.   Both you and those you would insult might frankly be better served. But if your heart is that of a servant, who understands that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the west, who longs to learn from those to whom you minister as much or more than you will teach, then you probably understand, and will subsequently experience, what it really means to be "on mission."

This summer, I'll pray to just that end for you, and as I embark for overseas destinations in just a few weeks, I hope you will do the same for me.