Posts Categorized as: mission history
Early in my education for Christian leadership I heard and felt the tension about reading your Bible every day. There were some voices who had nearly angelic visions of word studies and parsing Greek verbs and there were others who wondered (usually aloud) about ineffectiveness, Pharisaism and a loss of love for the lost. That tension has followed me my entire ministry career. In this post, what I want to do is share why I try to read the Bible every day. I am aware of the nature of illiteracy, dyslexia, orality and individual personality, and the roles they play in this process. I believe that the fundamental issue is placing our confidence in Jesus to be our teacher and King for salvation—His love is the basis for life. A new legalism is not my goal and spiritual smugness is not in my heart as I write. Rather, this is a short explanation of why this is my practice as a leader. At its root, my issue is practical.
The godly leaders I most admire all used this practice
Joshua chapter one is the starting point for me in this regard. God tells Joshua that he is supposed to “growl” over the Word of God (usually translated “meditate”) in order to obey God fully and to lead Israel in their battles. I would like to be more like Joshua as a leader. That same idea is also found in Psalm 1 where the one who focuses with God’s word day and night will flourish (like David). Peter, Paul and Jesus all mirror this idea as well.
Beyond my Biblical heroes, my missionary heroes also were deeply focused in the Word of God! Patrick’s mind was so saturated by the Bible that even as he was writing, his own syntax would slip into quoting long sections of the Bible. He uses over 200 scripture quotations in his Confessions alone. But Patrick was far more than just an introvert writing in a scriptorium somewhere lost in Ireland. Celtic Christianity became the dominant missionary force in Northern Europe for hundreds of years because of him. J. Hudson Taylor and Andrew Murray are two more missionary heroes who loved the Bible. John Sung and Watchman Nee along with the Bible women of the Chinese house church movement have been people of “one book.” Even today, effective, godly leaders of the church (and academy) that I admire have this in common.
The nature of life
Here I am thinking of what Dallas Willard refers to in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. He says that you define “life—whatever its ultimate metaphysical nature and explanation—to be the ability to contact and selectively take in from the surroundings whatever supports its own survival, extension and enhancement.”  Later he talks about part of life being our ability to interact with God as part of that contacting and taking in life. If you compare this with some of Jesus’ teachings in John 5 and 6, I think the picture of the Word of God being part of what brings us life seems obvious. Athletes use nutrition as part of their main strategy for performance. As a leader, I want a wise and steady intake of the Living Word that brings life. For me this is a significant part of renewing my mind (Rom 12:2, Eph 4:23).
Whether you call it the Protestant work ethic or Western Cultural improvements, Bible readers have had enormous influence on the betterment of society. Hospitals, education, child labor laws, the ending of the slave trade, anti-corruption laws, fair trial systems, etc. are all results from people who were influenced by what they read in the Bible. Literacy movements, human-trafficking opponents and people involved in the war on poverty have all been influenced by the Bible. Bob Woodberry’s  amazing research shows the power of what happens when Protestant missionaries are part of a culture’s development! In the end, God’s ways are good here and a guide to what is to come. I want to know more about that kind of wisdom because I want to be productive in my work for the Lord here.
Grounding in Wisdom
In the trends of culture, I am interested in what is supra-cultural—what transcends cultural boundaries and is common for all people, everywhere, for all time. In church life this is particularly important as blogs (yes, I see the humor here) books, and church events constantly expand. I have read statements that suggest that Christians read the Bible far too much. I’ve also heard statements about how it does not matter how much Bible you know, it matters how much you love people. One recent Christian leader said that they don’t care as much about what the Bible says is “wrong” but how we are supposed to treat others. Daily exposure to God’s Word gives me a starting point to evaluate the many voices I hear. What I seem to find is that “love” is usually culturally understood, but the source of love is scripturally defined. The Wisdom literature of the Bible gives us insight into how the universe functions. I remember reading Covey’s concept of the P/PC balance for effectiveness and thinking that a lot of what Proverbs has to say correlates with that idea. Regular Bible reading keeps us from being carried away by any kind of trend by passionate folks who can get out of balance.
The most important command is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength (Mt 22). In my opinion it is nearly impossible to love someone without knowing a lot about them. Two of my favorite books coincide here: The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer and Knowing Christ Today by Dallas Willard. Both books say that knowledge is a pre-requisite to loving God. Now, let’s be clear. I’m not saying that you need to know the order of the books of the Bible to become a believer. I AM saying that the longer we are disciples, the more critical it becomes to know about the One we claim to love and serve. Knowledge is not the enemy of action or evangelism—it is the best foundation for them. The more we know about the nature, history and power of God, the more awe and reverence we receive. It is a gift. At that point, our response is the issue. But replacing poor responses with intentional ignorance is a foolish choice. Beyond the information required, as I know more about God, the more immediacy I have in my experience with Him. He gives me help, guidance and reminds me of his presence and love. He reminds me to trust him for the day and to submit to Him. I never weary of hearing Him say, “I love you.”
So. For these five reasons, I try to read the Bible every day. I don’t mean to be legalistic (I hope it’s obvious). I am not slavishly bound to this practice. If I miss a few days, I have freedom. I want to avoid Pharisaism or doctrinal arrogance. I am also aware that some people just hate the process of reading in general and some are simply unable. I don’t mean to suggest that this is something that is required for being loved by God.
Yet I will continue to invest my time, money and effort into reading God’s Word. The Word of God helps me be more productive, wiser, braver, and kinder. It sharpens my mind about human behavior (including my own). It keeps me focused on the eternal and quickly checks my bad attitudes. It is a singular blessing in my life. Final Issue: I am a better leader when I am established on the Word. This is my attempt to keep my lamp “trimmed and burning” (Matt 25) and be ready when Jesus is calling on me. Matt Perman says that “the Scriptures are at the foundations of our productivity because the Scriptures are one of the chief ways God…builds our character.” O Lord, grant me more character that will be productive.
Sometime soon, I’ll write about HOW I read the Bible, but this is the foundation of WHY I do. May God bless you as you learn more about his Word in whatever way you can…
 From Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book, Eerdmans, 2006, pg 2. The word is “Hagah” in Hebrew
 An excellent example of this is Bryant Myers’ amazing book Walking With The Poor, Orbis, 1999
 An easy intro to his research can be found here
 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People 2004, Free Press, pg 54
 From What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, Zondervan, 2014
During my time at Wheaton, I read A LOT about missions and was glad to do so… The work and practice of living and working wisely is hard anywhere. When you add the myriad layers of complication that comes with language, different spiritual conflict, culture, sociological issues etc., you have a tough road. So, from my time and Wheaton, as a missionary, as a doctoral student and as a teacher of future missionaries, here are my top five books on missions and why:
- Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity by Robert L. Gallagher and Paul Hertig - I like this book so much because it is a collection of essays and research that made major changes (for the good, I think) in missionary thought and practice. The now famous “Pilgrim Principle” from Andrew Walls comes from this book. I personally enjoy collections like these because it takes some of the time out of finding the good stuff. Also, I think very highly of Dr. Gallagher and know that this was a well thought out collection.
- Encountering Missionary Life and Work by Steffan and Douglas - This book is a one-volume primer on what preparing for mission life looks like, I’ve not seen anything better. I use this in my classes and am very, very impressed with both the practicality of what is there as well as being impressed with the range of theology and social science that undergirds this book. I think it’ll become a classic.
- When Helping Hurts by Fikkert and Corbett - Lots and lots of people have read this book. Lots more ought to read it. Some people have critiqued an “American” need to “help.” I don’t think that the desire to help is a bad thing at all. Rather, I think the issue is that we assume that we know what is helpful for others. On top of that we also tend to think we know how to do that. This book helps activist-types to stop and think clearly before walking uninvited into a situation that they are really not ready for.
- Transforming Culture by Sherwood Lingenfelter - This is a book that helps people like me get a quick and accurate assessment of a cultural situation. It also helps show the major building blocks of culture so that my response can be transformative rather than just interactive. The point is that every culture plays toward certain social games and Lingenfelter uses his grid/group quadrants to great effect.
- Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth Tucker - Some of my students might roll their eyes at this selection because its a textbook in my sophomore class. But honestly, reading a small portion of this book can be enlightening and encouraging. It is also handy to see the maps, learn the timelines, and see how the big picture is put together. Not kidding, this book is delightful to me.
There are more book being published on mission now than ever. The list of fine books out there is amazing! But, for me, these books are my favorites. A LOT of others almost made the list… It’s tough to pare it down to just five.
Blessings on you and happy reading!
Howdy good reader. Another quick post on the top fives. This one is about ancient books. I thought about just how ancient I wanted to get on this and decided that I would put nothing on here later than the mid-to-late 1200s. So, the way I wanted to arrange them was not in my favorite order, but rather chronological order. Note that reading ancient works requires some real honest-to-goodness work in understanding style, context, genre etc. for these works. Taking the first book on the list out of context would make it seem awkward in many ways… But, it’s ok that these are somewhat complicated… they are still fantastic. Beyond these, there are many other books that are fantastic but, again, these are the ones that really helped me.
- The Dicache (author unknown) - This is considered by many to be one of the very earliest non-apostolic teachings that was accepted by a wide group of churches. The title just means “The Teaching.” It is a straightforward statement about how to do church. It has some weird stuff in it but also has some great evidence that the early church was not rigid in their forms of worship but were very sincere about the nature that the acts of worship conveyed. For example, there’s a great section about baptism. In modern English it might sound like this: You must baptize people in running water—it’s the best for immersion. However, if you can’t find any running water, immerse them in still water. That’s better. If you can’t find enough water to immerse them, cover them with water as much as possible and if you live in the desert and there simply is no water… pour a cup of water over them.” In any case, what you see is church leaders dealing with the same basic phenomenae that church leaders worldwide have to deal with: people, sin, culture, the nature of the Gospel and how to act all of that out…
- The Confessions of Saint Patrick and Letter To the Soldiers of Coroticus by St. Patrick - As I mentioned in my post on St. Patrick, this gem is a stunning work from a man whose life and work just amaze me. My favorite part about this is the syntax of Patrick. See how many Bible references you can count. Plus, it’s free on the internet! The Letter to the Soldiers is a great prophetic word…
- The Confessions by John Cassian - Cassian was one of the first monastics to try to think systematically about the nature of the simple, ascetic, communal and devoted way of life. When he was writing there was a wide spectrum of practice and belief and extremes weren’t just accepted, people were diving in the deep end of wacko-ville’s pool. Cassian brought thought and order and explanation to what a disciplined and focused life for Christ could do. Careful, his time frame makes some of what he has to say a bit hard to follow. But, if you have the willingness to slog through, it can be worth it.
- The Rule by St. Benedict - Benedict is (in my opinion) an even greater force than Cassian. Whereas Cassian examined a lot of issues, Benedict had that Roman genius for administration. His “rule” (think “rhythm” instead of “law”) was designed to allow for the normal elements of being a human. There were times for work, for rest, for memorization (esp for the illiterate), for farming, for building, for singing for preaching etc. What was significant about this book was that it helped normal people find a pathway to devote themselves to the monastic life without having to be some kind of super-saint. He gave them a format to live a devoted life. When his rule was copied and sent to other monasteries, the Benedictine movement was born and they were the forefront of those who Christianized Europe! Wow.
- The Rule of St. Ignatius by Ignatius of Loyola - I like Ignatius for two main reasons. The first is that he was a soldier before he was a priest. He understood the nature of battle and tactics. He also deeply understood the value and process of training. The second thing I like about him has to do with his issue of surrendering both consolations and desolations. A more modern way to understand this is to allow God to carry the burden for the things that provoke, wound, worry and hurt you. Those things that desolate us can take our entire focus in life and Ignatius shows people how to surrender those. BUT, wisely he also shows how to surrender our consolations. In my own terminology, it’s the way that we surrender any kind of sensual idol that gets in the way of fully following Jesus. Loyola’s legacy of founding the greatest single missionary force (in my opinion) for Christianity until the 19th C. also indicates that much of what he said is productive and not just provocative.
This is enough for now but keep reading. Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you need to talk.