Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"American Sniper" and the Christian Worldview

"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we would grow too fond of it."  -Robert E. Lee

In its first 10 days in theaters, "American Sniper" grossed nearly $200 million.  While many critics have scoffed at this film, it is obvious that the American populace is enamored with the story of the late Chris Kyle.  This past week, I was one of that large number who sought a look inside the mind and heart of the man who has been called "the deadliest sniper in American history."

On that front, American Sniper does not disappoint!

To be sure, the movie is graphically violent, and profane language abounds, so this film is certainly no place for small children, or those whose conscience is easily offended by such elements.  But for those curious about the psyche, family life, personal struggles, and overall dedication of our men and women in uniform, no more accurate account could be told on celluloid.  Clint Eastwood, who directed this film, has given us a masterful description of Chris Kyle and those like him.  And, followers of Jesus who desire to think deeply about warfare and its consequences have an ideal case study in this movie.

Unfortunately, both supporters and critics of the movie have already gone off-point.  War protesters want the movie canned.  War supporters are glad its doing so well.  Some left theaters with a "kill them all" attitude of hatred that is, quite frankly, antiChrist.   And of course, there is Michael Moore, whose motives should be pretty easy to spot.  When the pinnacle of your directing career is a low-budget, low-value documentary called "Sicko," there are plenty of reasons to be jealous of Eastwood.

But in fairness to this film and its director,  Islam, the political context of the Afghan and Iraqi military campaigns, and military tactics themselves are all beyond the scope of what is examined in "American Sniper."  It becomes clear from the plot that Eastwood's focus is intentionally narrowed to the psyche of the American soldier.  And that focus is what followers of Jesus should be paying attention to, because it gives us an avenue of ministry to those who serve, and a framework for speaking to our government when it comes to the issue of committing troops to a campaign.

1.  The film gives us a blunt look at the raw reality of warfare.  In the day of the world wide web, its easy to sit in the comforts provided by the west and advocate bombing essentially anything to your east.  But as this film aptly demonstrates, real warfare is not a video game.  Real lives--lives of people created in God's very image and likeness--are taken on both sides of the lines of battle, sometimes in horrific and unspeakable ways.  And even when those deaths can be justified, American soldiers who take those lives are forever affected by their actions.

Its easy to sit in Congress, or the halls of Academia, and wax eloquent about "minimizing civilian deaths."  But in a real war, sometimes its hard to know who the civilians are, and every time a war is declared, that sort of savage moral chaos becomes a reality.  "American Sniper" gives us a picture of that raw reality that should encourage us to truly count the cost before throwing support behind any military solution to global conflict.

2. The film unabashedly presents the effects of war, not only on veterans, but their families.  PTSD is real, and its prevalent among our servicemen and women who return from the battlefield.  The effects of war are seen clearly in this film, not only on Chris Kyle, but on his family.  Eventually, it was the effects of war on another that took Kyle's life.

3. The film should make every Christ-follower think deeply about what is, and is not, "just" war.  It is unfortunate that politicians have so twisted the concept of "just war" that virtually no one in the west knows what it means any longer.  Fortunately, Christian theologians of old are still available to us through their writings.  Augustine, the great 5th century African bishop, first stipulated the terms, and Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Catholic theologian stood on his shoulders and developed a Biblically-informed schematic so Christ-followers centuries after them would have a way of recognizing what is and is not an appropriate use of deadly force.  Unlike some present-day pacifists, early Christians did believe that when evil rises to a certain point in our fallen world, only the use of deadly force can turn it back.  Unlike too many neocons, warmongers and war-profiteers in our day, they also believed that whenever possible--for the sake of all involved--war should be avoided.

So they developed a list of seven questions: 1. Is it declared and fought by a legitimate authority? 2. Is it primarily defensive rather than offensive? 3. Is the cause a noble one? 4. Is the use of force proportional? 5. Are soldiers, not civilians, the intended target? 6. Does this effort ultimately save more lives than it takes?  7. Is it employed as a last resort?

For the sake of human life everywhere, including the military lives that will be permanently scarred as a result of war, Christians whose conscience doesn't allow them to answer every single question above with an unqualified "yes" should think twice before throwing support behind using guns, tanks and bombs to solve a global problem.

4. The film clearly demonstrates the "de-humanizing" effect of war on both sides of the line of battle.  Chris Kyle called his targets "savages."  But he was not the first soldier to employ appellatives for the enemy.  General George Patton is probably most notorious for vilifying and dehumanizing every single person on the other side of the battle line.  In every military engagement in human history, armies on both sides have sought to take away the "human element" from their enemy in order to make him easier to kill.  Let that sink in, because every time we deploy our military, this is part of the cost of warfare.

5. The film demonstrates the difficulties in navigating all the moral complexities that occur on the battlefield.  Thanks to a few impulsive and immature tweets from Michael Moore and Seth Rogen, much discussion has taken place regarding whether snipers are "heroes" or "cowards."  But for anyone who understands basic military strategy, and who wants to limit civilian deaths, snipers become an essential part of that strategy.  If an army is going to strike in a more surgical fashion closer to the ground, snipers must be employed to "keep watch" over the guys on the ground and protect them from surprise attack, and this is perhaps the most clearly displayed concept in the movie.  The only other alternatives are a broad-sword approach that results in hundreds of unnecessary deaths, or a large ordinance drop, which results in thousands of those deaths.  In short, a strategy that employs snipers is a life-saving strategy.

But this discussion itself reveals the moral complexity that surrounds any military effort.  "Kill these in order to save more of these" is an impossible position into which to put someone.  War is ugly.  War is hell.  And though sometimes necessary, war is never a good thing.

I love and care deeply for those who serve in our nation's military.  My first pastorate was near a large Army base and I've spent a lot of time ministering to soldiers and their families.  We should support all who volunteer to serve the country in this way.  But "supporting the troops" is not synonymous with mindlessly advocating a war footing simply because some politician says we have to.  Loving people well means we need to understand their world, and "American Sniper" is a vivid picture of that world.  So the next time our nation faces the choice of whether to go to war, support those who will go by understanding what they will face, knowing the issues involved and whether they truly justify the use of force, and acting accordingly.  Moreover, think about the human life on the other side of the battle lines--lives created in God's image--and whether a situation has truly progressed to the point that our elimination of those lives is truly justified.  The life of a Pakistani, Iranian, or Russian is worth no less than the life of an American to our Creator.

These people aren't walking into a video game.  Those of us who send them--especially Christians--need to think deeply, and Biblically about those realities.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

One Simple Command: Roe v. Wade After 42 Years

42 years ago today, nine black-robed justices handed down a decision that would forever change the moral landscape of the United States.  Since that time, more than 57 million human beings created in God's image and likeness have been murdered within the confines of their mother's wombs.

Is that too strong a statement?  Is it too negative a tone?  Is it too culturally divisive to employ such incendiary language?  Well, let me ask it this way.  If something is bad, do you use good words to describe it?

I understand the moral complexities that come into play where abortion is concerned.  As a pastor of 22 years, I have more experience counseling women through the gut-wrenching decisions our society forces them to make than any politician who has ever voted on this issue.  I've sat with the single mom whose budget is stretched thin.  I've sat with the woman who has just been told her baby has downs syndrome, or some other dreaded, chronic disease.  I've also sat with those who chose to have an abortion.  Women who have submitted to this procedure are 34% more likely to suffer from anxiety, 110% more prone to alcohol abuse, and 155% more likely to take their own lives, and I have seen the flesh and blood evidence of those statistics in my office.  Anyone who automatically equates being "pro-choice" with "pro-women" is either an idiot or a liar.

The emotional havoc that comes as a result of this now four-decade long culture of death should come as a surprise to no one.  Regardless of the circumstances that gave rise to each decision to  terminate a pregnancy, each abortion is the elimination of a human life.   This is not a matter of philosophical or even theological debate.  It is plain science.  Life begins at conception.  And for the past 41 years our nation has been busy eliminating more than 57 million of those lives.

57 million.

Let that number sink in, because its greater than the current populations of Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, North and South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming combined.    To kill that many people over a 42 year period, you must terminate a pregnancy every 20 seconds--and not stop killing for an entire generation.

Meanwhile, God continues to speak clearly.  "You shall not murder."

Anyone who objectively observes this bloodshed must come to the inescapable conclusion that abortion is not at heart a political issue.  It isn't even a philosophical issue.  It is, quite simply, Satanic.  In John 8:44, Jesus states that Satan's natural language is to lie, and his natural actions are to murder.  Anywhere there is deception and bloodshed on a massive scale, you can be sure our enemy is involved.  Whether it is Herod's murderous rage through a blood-soaked Bethlehem, Hitler's merciless and genocidal paranoia, or the lies of a U.S. President seeking to cast this issue as one of granting women "safe, affordable health care," death and deception can always be found holding hands.

Politicians who hide their moral cowardice with trite phrases like "reproductive freedom" and "women's rights" betray with their own incoherence the unvarnished reality that "I believe in a woman's right to choose" is half a sentence.  If you finish that sentence honestly, then what I've seen in the counseling room over the past 22 years begins to make perfect sense. And this bloodshed has happened on the watch of political leaders of both parties who value obfuscation over truth.  A generation ago, C.S. Lewis graphically yet accurately described the character of such leaders:

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.  We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Satan has lied to us by telling us that there is a quick way out of a tough situation.  He has convinced us that the presence of moral complexity means that there is no moral clarity.

Meanwhile, God continues to speak with abundant moral clarity. "You shall not murder."

Since 1973, we've been told that this was an issue of women's rights and freedom of choice.  We believed that lie, and the result is roughly 29 million females aborted--and having no "choice" in the matter.  We were told that abortion would be, in part, a solution to supposed population control that would result in great financial costs to society.  We believed that lie, and the result is a workforce that lacks roughly 30 million workers who would be contributing to a social safety net that wouldn't be under such financial constraints with their contributions.

And as these ripple effects of our bloodshed continue to puzzle us, God continues to call out and say "You shall not murder."

We wonder why there is such seeming disregard for human life in society.  Why are women increasingly victims of violence?  Why does it seem that men are increasingly unable to control their lusts?  Why do they eagerly seek sex but avoid marriage and commitment?  Why do they think its OK to abandon their children to poverty and all its effects?  Why all the senseless killing in our schools?  From whence comes this beastly ambivalence toward the sanctity of human life.

Once again, God connects the dots with this command. "You shall not murder."

Our nation is swimming in the blood of its own innocent, and we do so because we have believed the lies of our enemy, who wants to see the bloodshed continue.  There is one way to stop it.  Turn from the enemy.  Stop being complicit in his schemes, and return to Jesus.

This is the great news of the Gospel--that even hands covered with blood can be forgiven.  The single mom who killed her child because she thought there was no other way can have peace.  The thug who drove his girlfriend to the Planned Parenthood clinic because he wanted pleasure without responsibility can be forgiven. The doctor who made millions off of baby's bones can be forgiven.  And the nation guilty of purging 57 million of its most vulnerable citizens--largely for the mere sake of convenience--can be forgiven, healed, and restored.  But the bloodshed has to stop.  We cannot find healing in the one true God while still sacrificing our children to Molech.

42 years.  57 million children.  One simple command.

"You shall not murder."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why Followers of Jesus are NOT Charlie Hebdo

"Know this, my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger"  -James 1:19, ESV

Last weeks massacre in Paris in reaction to a satirical cartoon published by the famed Charlie Hebdo has sparked fresh debate about the virtues and vices of free speech.  These brutal attacks were apparently precipitated by a cartoon in that publication featuring a disrespectful and lewd depiction of Muhammad, Islam's founding prophet.

The world, it would seem, is appropriately outraged, as there is absolutely no justification for violence.  If one's ideas or beliefs can't stand heavy scrutiny--even the disrespectful kind--without resorting to violence, then whatever you believe is demonstrated to be a lie.   People from across all ideological and religious spectrum--including vast numbers of Muslims--are rightfully condemning this act.  But what most--including Christians--are missing in this conversation is that it involves two very different questions.

The first has to do with our commitment to free speech.  Nothing tests that commitment quite as strongly as being in the same vicinity as someone with a larger microphone than you who is insulting at the top of his lungs that which you have spent your life adoring and proclaiming.   The barbarians who committed these atrocities last week in Paris, to say the least, failed that test miserably.  Should Charlie Hebdo be allowed to satirically portray Islam's most revered figure?  Should Kazantstakis be allowed to portray Jesus Christ as a fornicating degenerate?  Should anyone be able to print--or say--anything they like to portray an idea, or attack one?  Should they be able to do so free from the threat of reprisal from government?  Moreover, should they be able to do so under government-assured protections from anyone who would do them harm?  For hundreds of years, the most liberal of western ideals has answered those questions with a nearly unqualified yes.  Count me as one who agrees.

But the question of whether one can think, believe, and say what they want and be confined to their own free conscience rather than government compulsion is different from the question of whether one should think, believe, or say certain things.  We may believe in freedom of speech, but for followers of Jesus, our right to say whatever we want--and our right to decide how to say it--ended the moment we proclaimed Him as Lord.

Since the Paris attacks, much ink has been spilled extolling the virtues of free speech, and much of it has been written by Christians quick to defend Charlie Hebdo's right to offend Muslims.  The hashtag #IamCharlieHebdo has been trending for days now on social media.  While the Christian worldview does commend freedom of conscience and expression, there is one thing all who follow Christ need to remember.  We don't believe such things because "We are Charlie Hebdo."

We should seek justice for those who have been victimized by the atrocities in Paris.  And yes, we should oppose any government coercion or threats of violence anywhere that free minds and free printing presses are threatened.  But carelessly throwing unquestioned support behind a lewd and ultimately purposeless cartoon is no way to do it.  If we believe support of such things is necessary for us to faithfully "preach the Gospel," then we have a very weak Gospel!

Being faithful to Jesus and His message is not synonymous with being disrespectful to another's beliefs.  As an evangelical Christian, I believe God has fully and finally revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and in Christ provided blood atonement as a substitute for all who turn from their sins and place their faith in Him.  I believe Jesus when He said "no one comes to the Father except through me."

Consequently, I believe that other religions are not sufficient to bring one into a genuine relationship with God, including Islam.  Not only do I reject Muhammad as "the" prophet, I don't even accept him as "a" prophet.  I have studied his life in relationship with those who revere him and understand why my Muslim friends feel differently, but at the end of the day, this is the great chasm that separates our systems of belief.  If my Muslim friends are correct, then I, by worshipping Jesus as God am committing the unpardonable sin of shirk and will be damned forever.  If I am correct, then my Muslim friends will die in their sins with no substitute, no advocate, no forgiveness, and no escape from eternal judgement.  These statements will come as no surprise to followers of Islam who know me personally, and I have managed to communicate all of this without resorting to a single satirical cartoon, or linking to a single disrespectful and ignorant media post.

In other words, followers of Jesus need to realize that there is much more at stake here than the freedom to print a senseless cartoon.  Snide comments, rude insults, and disrespectful caricatures of people who follow other faiths do nothing to further the most important and eternally consequential of conversations, and such actions treat as enemies those whom Jesus died to save.   I don't know about you, but I don't want to stand in front of Jesus one day and have to answer for such nonsense.  I don't want my Lord to see me as a person who cares more about my free speech than someone else's eternal soul.

At the final judgement, "we were just exercising our freedom of speech" will not be a sufficient answer to the King of Kings.  Those of us who claim to follow Him are, first and foremost, His humble servants.  He is Lord of our mind, Lord of our tongue, and Lord of our pen.  When we refrain from joining useless and un-redemptive conversations, we aren't doing it because we fear Islam.  We do it because we love Muslims, and we fear Jesus who died for them and has commissioned us to live with them, love them, and share His message.

Might we still offend someone?  Certainly its possible.  But let's make sure if we do, the tool of our offense isn't a careless word, but a bloody cross.  After all, we are followers of Jesus, not Charlie Hebdo!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Five "Short-Timers" Who Won't Stay at Your Church Long-Term

I walked out of a restaurant a few days ago sure of one thing:  the young lady who showed me to my seat and bid me farewell when I left was what we call a "short-timer."  I walked in to find no one to receive me and a waitress had to call this young lady over so she could begin to do what I assume the restaurant hired her to do.  And when I left, she was sitting down in the corner.  Pleasant and kind, but not very excited at all about where she was or what she was doing, and the most subtle of signs were to me a very loud signal.   I thought to myself "she isn't going to be here much longer."

For some reason, that experience got me to thinking about the signals that get sent by people who won't be at your church for very long.  If you are a Pastor with a true shepherd's heart, its always painful to see people depart from your church.  But sometimes, its especially surprising and hurtful because we just didn't see it coming.

Pastors, here are five people who, if they join your church, are unlikely to stay for long.

1. The "Big Fish"  The big fish is the guy or gal who comes to you from another church, usually nearby, who felt their position and influence at their former church was no longer welcome and decided to take it elsewhere.  Usually, the big fish was a board chairman, or a deacon, or a prominent Sunday School teacher, or maybe all of the above!  While in some cases a person with this kind of background is someone to be excited about adding to your roles, be wary of anyone coming into your church who cites their credentials in the first conversation.

The best way to discern the true motives of someone like this is to quickly assign them something that requires a servant's heart.  Once while planting a church, I had a gentleman and his wife visit us.  On his way out the door he informed me that he had lots of skill and knowledge about how a church should operate, and would love to help us out.  In response, I literally handed him a toilet brush and asked him if he'd be willing to help our volunteers clean the bathrooms.  We never saw him again.

If the pastor is any kind of genuine leader, the "big fish" won't stay.

2. The "Recovering Patient"  Hurting people are everywhere, and many times the source of their injury has been a church.  When these people find their way through your doors, they should also find an opportunity to heal.  But once that healing takes place, don't be surprised when they head for the door again.

This can happen for all kinds of reasons.  Perhaps the healing process produced in them a desire to go back to their former church and patch things up, or perhaps they are a little nervous knowing that the guy preaching to them every Sunday has seen the contents of their psychological underwear drawer.  Either way, don't be surprised when they start to leave.  Any good shepherd hates to lose sheep, but in this case, you do want to be gracious, and ensure that they land safely in another pasture where they can be fed.

3. The "Lobbyist"  The Lobbyist has an agenda, but unfortunately, its not Jesus or His Great Commission.  Fortunately, the lobbyist is usually easy to identify because the issues he/she cares about are normally plastered on his or her shoulders like placards on a stock car at the Daytona 500.  When the first conversation a pastor has with someone involves questions like "How often do you preach explicitly about the doctrines of grace?"  or "what supports do you have for my home-schooled kids" or "what do you believe about the rapture" or "Can I talk with you about distributing voter guides to the membership about efforts to take our guns away," well, you have a lobbyist on your hands.  Nearly everything in the church has to take second place to their poverty initiative, mission trip, or theological agenda.  Such a person will only hang around for as long as he/she feels the body is appropriately feeding his/her agenda.  They are there for themselves, not the overall health of the body.

4. The "Early Adopter" It always strokes the ego when someone very quickly falls in love with your church and seeks membership.  But beware:  with rare exception, people tend to walk out in generally the same way they walk in.  Allow and encourage people to take their time when considering a church.  Membership in a local expression of Christ's body is viewed by the Scriptures as a covenant relationship--not at all unlike a marriage.  So don't get too excited when people treat your membership process like a Vegas wedding chapel.

5. The "Peacemaker" Yes, Jesus said clearly that those who make peace will be blessed to be called children of God.  But too often, peacemaking is sorely misunderstood as meaning the avoidance of all conflict.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is no peacemaking unless there is conflict in which peace can be made!  Yet there are some who believe that a the bride of Christ should never be seen without her makeup, and when honest, and sometimes needed conflict enters the fray, they will bail because "we don't want trouble."  Help such people mature as much as they will let you, but those who seek to avoid all manner of conflict don't generally hang around very long, because genuine intimacy REQUIRES conflict.  They want to keep everything at surface level because to them, this is "peacemaking."

Pastors should be kind to all who enter the churches they shepherd.  But they should also be wise, and tough enough to realize that you can't count on everybody to be with you for the long-haul.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Building Effective Global Partnerships

Next week, I'll be headed to Charleston, SC, where this year's annual Partnership Mission Coordinator's meeting will take place.  Mission leaders from across the nation will converge on this historic city for several days to learn from one another, and collaborate in ways that will help us better equip churches to be more effective on mission.

Over the years, much debate has ensued over the usefulness of what we call "short-term missions."  Since much ink has been spilled over this particular issue already, I won't belabor that particular point, but will refer you to a great resource on the subject put together a few years back by Robert Priest, my academic colleague at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  If you are interested in the history of short-term missions (the current expression of which dates back to around 1949), and a thorough and honest evaluation of its global impact, there is no better resource.

My role, in addition to overseeing the local evangelism efforts of our network, is to mobilize local churches for more effective global engagement, and this is an interesting and challenging time to be involved in such work.  Principally, the challenge comes from the fact that the "modern missions movement" which began in 1790 is coming to an end.  I've written on this subject before, but that reality means that what I do is now far more substantive than simply putting together "mission trips." If your church is simply looking for help with logistics, any travel agent can help with such matters.  What our team exists for is to help the church understand not only its centrality in the mission, but the best and most effective ways to execute that mission as we move deeper into the 21st century.

So what follows are four guidelines we provide to our churches. As we are a Baptist network, we do not presume to instruct or "order" our churches to do missions in any particular way.  However, as a steward of the resources provided us by those churches, we want to be as wise as possible when advising those we serve.  And, we want to be intentional about the strategic framework within which we will devote our resources.  So to our churches we simply say "we will help you in any way you want, but for our substantive participation in what you are doing, we need to see the following characteristics addressed in your strategy."

Local church-led.  Over the past decade, every single partnership I've ever put together that was successful had one common element: it was led by a local church!  In the past, state conventions, associations, or other such organizations would piece together an agreement, into which they would invite local churches.  In certain situations like disaster relief, this can still be a very effective way to mobilize the body of Christ.  But in longer-term commitments, local churches have to lead the way, and use entities like ours to embolden the effort.  In short, when we need to mobilize quickly in response to a disaster that requires charity, organizations like ours can lead the way every effectively. We are blessed to have one of the best disaster relief and recovery mobilizers in the country on our team here, and she does a phenomenal job when such situations arise.

But most mission engagement shouldn't be about "charity."  They should focus on "development" (More on this in a bit)  And in those situations, the relational connections that are necessary for long-term effectiveness can only be established at the level of the local church.

"Front-door" approach.  For a hundred years from the start of the modern missions movement in 1790, Christianity spread from a small geographic space no more than 150 miles from the north Atlantic Ocean to cover the entire known world!  Then beginning in the 20th century, the boxer rebellion and cultural revolution of China, the rise of Soviet Communism in eastern Europe and Asia, and rising tensions in the middle east created a new term and category: the "closed country."  Such places are understood to be contexts into which our modern missions delivery system is not welcome.  And its true that in these parts of the world, Christians cannot simply plant churches at will.  But I've been to many of these places, and I can tell you from experience; they are NOT closed to the Gospel! They are merely resistant toward what they perceive as a western cultural invasion into their way of life called "Christianity."

In response, many mission organizations created "platforms" through which they would enter an area, while underneath the surface, they would employ modern missions under cover of night.  I understand why some would think this approach is necessary.  The Great Commission is non-negotiable for those who take following Jesus seriously, and there are no Scriptural exception clauses for so-called "closed countries."  But the longer I'm involved in global engagement, and the more I learn about how other parts of the world operate, the more uncomfortable I've become with a strategy that says "its ok to break the 9th commandment in an effort to declare to the rest of the world that they shouldn't be breaking the 1st one."

Of the 5.5 billion people in the world without a relationship to Jesus, most live in places you can't go openly as a "missionary."  That's OK.  In the new world that is emerging, the Gospel doesn't need our modern mission assumptions.  Its just as powerful without them.  Instead, let's engage these areas and peoples in a way that demonstrates we are genuinely concerned for their present world, as well as where they will spend the next one.  The same places resistant to traditional missionaries throw their doors open wide to teachers, doctors, nurses, IT engineers, agriculture specialists, and athletic coaches.  And with rare exception, you can serve within these roles in these places, and be VERY open about who you are and who you worship.

No more "sneaking around" for us!  We will be honest and up front with the peoples of the world.  Yes, I understand this means it will take longer to engage people with the Gospel and eventually see churches emerge, but that's why we also include marker # 3 below:

Long-term commitment.  Here is what I've often said to the people in our churches: "If your interest in an area or people doesn't last longer than CNN's interest, just stay home!"    To be honest, too many churches approach missions like a drunk deer hunter.

Imagine a guy with a loaded 30-.06, sufficiently soused and with an itchy trigger finger.  Everywhere he hears a noise he yells "DEER!" turns, and fires.  How many churches do you know that approach mission strategy this way?  "Oh, a tornado hit Oklahoma.  Let's go there!"  Three months later, there is still MUCH work to do in Moore and Oklahoma City, but the church has grown tired of that enterprise and has moved on. "HEY!  There is a small church building in Montana eaten up with mold.  Let's go fix it!"  Once its half-finished, the church sees yet another opportunity in Japan, then another in New York, yet another in Canada.

In the end, nothing truly gets done, because a church with a huge heart but limited resources wasn't intentional about managing those resources for maximum impact.

What's the best way to ensure this doesn't happen?  Think long and hard, and pray long and hard, about where God wants YOUR church to be involved.  Once you have explored the opportunities and made a decision, sink the shaft deep, and commit to stay for a minimum of 15 years!  Realistically, it will take the first 5 of those years at a minimum to earn the trust of the people there.  Most places around the world have seen westerners come and go. So our team no longer speaks of "short-term missions."  Instead, we talk about "long-term project development."   If you don't want your international efforts to amount to "wood, hay and stubble" in the end, you need to commit for the long-haul.

Mobilize the whole body of Christ.  As I said above, places resistant to "missionaries" are begging for teachers, doctors, engineers, and others.  Guess where those people are?  If you are a pastor, they are most likely sitting in front of you every single Sunday!  Stop seeing their appearance at the church as the pinnacle of success and mobilize that army God gave you!

Every long-term international effort we currently have has a local church leading the way, but its not the pastors who are "on the ground."  Its educators teaming up with a University in southeast Asia to equip teachers there for service to special needs children.  Its business owners setting up the finances necessary to develop a local, agrarian-based economy in west Africa.  Its coaches working to bring baseball to the Caribbean.  Its construction contractors helping to build hospitals and schools in the middle east.  And inevitably, each of these projects becomes a catalyst for relationship, the sharing of faith, and many people meeting Jesus.

The Great Commission wasn't given to pastors.  It was given to the churches pastors serve!  Make sure the entire body is mobilized for His work!

Beyond these parameters, we also want to ensure indigeneity, local reproducibility, and ultimate non-dependency where long-term efforts are employed.  But from the viewpoint of the local church, the four markers above are the ones we look for to determine if a church is truly ready for a substantive, long-term partnership abroad.

The mark of the modern missions movement is an indelible one that is evident around the world. But as we see that epoch of Gospel engagement start to fade from the scene, I believe even greater and more effective days can be ahead.  But our role in that new world will be largely dependent on us becoming less dependent on a modern delivery system for missions, and developing new partnerships that better reflect our current global reality.