Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Missional Paradigm

Many of my stories are events in my life where a significant paradigm shift happened for me. I was having a good strategy conversation with a friend yesterday when I described an event that happened a few years ago that really impacted me. I suddenly realized that I had not shared it here! So, here is a story of a significant paradigm shift in my ministry understanding. It concerns the idea of 'extraction evangelism'. Now, this may not be a concept that many of you know or understand. Extraction evangelism is really just normal evangelism, it is the kind that usually happens unless something intentional is done to stop it. What it means is that a lost person living in a lost community gets saved. Someone shares Jesus with that person and that person leaves his/her lost community and joins the community of the redeemed- usually that means they start meeting with a group of Christians whom they previously did not know. The group rejoices because this person has found Jesus and is no longer lost and their Church has now increased in size signifying God's blessing on the group.
Now, this model is very problematic in a Muslim society such as the one I live in here in Gondor. First, very often there are no Churches for individuals to join! Second, the individual's community does not usually give that person up without a fight. Family and community persecution are very common here even though technically the Government of Gondor claims to provide for freedom of religion. But the biggest problem is that once a person leaves their community to join a Christian community then that lost community is left without a witness and is now more resistant to the Gospel than ever. For all these reasons we have tried from the beginning of our ministry here to avoid extraction evangelism. But I always considered that others may choose a different path and that one EV method was not necessarily better than another. That was until....

One day we were having a meeting of key leaders in Gondor. There were about ten nationals there- mostly guys I knew well but did not work with. Quickbeam is a Westerner who works with us. He thinks very strategically and although he was quite young he impresses everyone with his spiritual discernment. As we discussed different issues I was hoping to get the national leaders to see the importance of house-churches and if we could not get them to practice house-church could we at least get them not to condemn the idea. Quickbeam asked a question:
Q: I was thinking about sharing my faith with a whole family instead of just one individual. What do you guys think of that idea?
I thought this was a really lame question. Who would say this is a bad idea? What point could be made from this. I thought this line of questioning was a waste of time. The answers really caught me off guard!
Pastor 1: Well that is a good question! You know, once I shared my faith with one guy and six months later he brought his wife to our Church and within a year she was saved too.
Quickbeam: That is a great story but I was thinking of sharing my faith with a whole family. What do you think of that?
Pastor 2: That is an interesting idea. One time I was working with a very difficult family situation. I led one guy to the Lord and then it took two years more to see the rest of his family saved but many did finally come.
Quickbeam: Wow, that is really great. But I was thinking of sharing my faith with a whole family. What do you think of this idea?
By now I was getting irritated at Quickbeam repeating his same question in the same way each time. I thought, 'Why doesn't he get to the point?'
Pastor 3: That is a good question, Quickbeam! I shared my faith with a young lady once and after many months of praying she came to our Church. After many more months several others of her family accepted Christ.
Quickbeam: I am thinking of sharing my faith with a family. What do you think of this?
Now, I was getting embarrassed. These Church leaders are surely going to get annoyed that he is asking the same question again and again. I also could not understand why they just would not answer him. Could someone not just say 'yes, it is a good idea' and then we could move on in our discussion?
Pastor 4: You know Quickbeam I have shared my faith with many people and seen many individuals come to faith in Christ.
Quickbeam: I was thinking of sharing my faith with a whole family. What do you think of this idea?
It just kept going on and on. The whole discussion seemed like one big awkward moment to me and I could not understand what was happening. Quickbeam was like a dog with a bone and none of these guys would cave in and just say, 'Ok, it's a good idea.' Why not? Finally, the meeting time was finished and we prayed and left. I was very confused. I did not understand what all of this meant. I was rooming with Quickbeam and we went back to the hotel room together. When we got into the hotel room I blurted out, 'What was going on? I don't understand why you kept asking the same question. Why didn't they just answer you?' Quickbeam replied with a very profound observation that I had not seen before.

"They couldn't reply because their ministries are built on extraction evangelism and to admit that would be to undo the organizations that they have built."

Wow. What does that mean? This sentence hit me as the most prophetic word that I had maybe ever heard. My world spun around and when it came to a stop I was looking at things in a completely new way. In Revelation 7:15 the Seventh Angel blows his trumpet and announces that 'The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah.' This means that our King is about transforming kingdoms into HIS Kingdom. We spend most of our time as 'ministers' or 'missionaries' building organizations and trying to fill them up with people. God is about transforming this world. So, what does it all mean? It means that rather than build a kingdom and hope Christ will bless it I want to see earthly communities transformed. I want to share the love of Christ with whole families and communities not so they will leave where they are and come and join me, but so that those communities will be redeemed and become a part of HIS Kingdom. As I think about this paradigm shift it is huge. I don't want to condemn anyone who is serving our Lord in traditional ways but I think that God has blessed us in spite of our efforts not because of them. I think that too often we have built our own kingdoms and called them His when in fact, we remain in control and do what we see fit to do.

In our ministry here in Gondor I have seen two Churches planted that were not founded on the extraction model- just two. One, is in a remote village and continues to this day to transform the community it is a part of. The other was a traditional extraction model Church that has moved to become a Missional Church that reaches out with the Gospel to other communities and leaves people in those communities to continue to be a vibrant witness there. Both of these have problems but they are problems for the King to solve as He is in control of them and not me. I hope to continue to grow in my knowledge and proficiency of planting Missional Churches. I hope this not because I believe they are more effective but because I believe that they better give glory to our Lord who is the King of Kings and the redeemer of the communities of this world.


Alan Knox said...


Another excellent story! Sometimes people ask me why I always ask the same questions. Primarly, I ask the same questions until people start thinking about them, discussing them, and answering them honestly. That doesn't always happen on the first asking.

By the way, American churches also practice "extraction evangelism" for the most part. We're learning to practice "insertion evangelism" - we're inserting ourselves into an entire neighborhood.


Strider said...

I am cognizant of the fact that Western Churches too are extraction based- where do you think we M's learned it from? But I don't want to be critical or judgmental of the West- rather I hope I am merely pointing out what God is doing already to prepare His Bride.
I love the concept of 'insertion ev' That is a classic phrase that I hope gains more recognition!

BKC said...

A good friend and mentor of mine uses this metaphor (it has likely been used by several people and I'm not claiming he invented it):

For years we have had the church in a compound near the cliff that is sin and lostness. We threw ropes from our compound over the cliff. When we got someone to grab the rope, we pulled them up and into our compound. Praise the Lord they did grab hold but once they were in the compound we started over throwing ropes.

An approach more consistent with Jesus' ministry is to use the compound to hold ropes for its members who will scale the cliff and work right there in the mess that is the world. When people grab the rope now, they stay. They have the support from the compound but they don't automatically flee into it.

This approach is messy and has many opportunities for disaster. This approach often defies diagrams, formulas, and rules. But, it seems, this approach will, as you said, bring more glory to the King who is about redeeming the whole creation.

From the Middle East said...

Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!

Strider said...

BKC- that may be the best that the Western Church can do for now but what if there was no compound? What if the Body of Christ existed in the lost community as a part of it? I can here the nay-sayers here, 'but wont they get infected by the world?' I would like to think the opposite could also be true,'What if the lost community was influenced by the believers who lived in it?' I am trying to be really careful here to not throw stones and say, 'Hey, the traditional model is wrong or sinful.' No, rather I am saying that as the Church has been on a 2000 year old journey which has seen it evolve into many positions within society is it not time to return to redeeming lost communities instead of hiding from them? As we lose the culture war, should we retreat or make a new attack?

From the Middle East said...

Brother Strider,

The question you ask:

is it not time to return to redeeming lost communities instead of hiding from them?

is the real question. Do we really believe Jesus has the power to transform whole communities? Do we really believe He will never forsake us as we live Spirit-filled lives in the midst of depravity? Are we willing to be a seemingly insignificant candle surrounded by utter darkness so that the fire might spread?

Peace to you brother,
From the Middle East

BKC said...

Strider asked, "What is there was no compound?"

Well, the analogy isn't perfect and it breaks down at a point, certainly. Maybe compound has too much baggage with it to use here. But anyway, in my mind, the point of the "compound" is that the visible representations of the Jesus' Body that are out in the world need to be connected to one another. Yes, people go out into communities with the hope that a church body forms, lives, and serves right there in that community. But they should always be connected to other groups and other parts of the Body as they can. I think the idea of holding the ropes is a good one for that connection. You need somebody outside your situation sometimes to advise, support, and work with you.

The other way I think the idea of some sort of compound is relevant is foreigners working cross-culturally. I think this sort of equipping, sending, and supporting is often (I won't say always) the best thing foreigners can do. So, yes, the hope is for the Church to be the Church right in the midst of real, existing communities. But, at the same time, trying to foster some level of community and cooperation between local groups.