Missions Methodology, Messy Masses, and the Minister

I've been reading a book called "Reaching and Teaching" on the practice and theory of missions, how church planting should be done, and what the role is of the missionary in the field. The book deals largely with the issue of the missionary staying long enough in the culture to which he goes in order to provide education for the people there. The hope being that eventually the locals will be well enough educated to educate other locals in theology etc...

The book is fascinating because it's written largely in response to another book I'm very fond of, "Church Planting Movements", frequently known as CPM. Both are written by men in the baptist tradition (not something I come from, but also not something I have large disagreements with). The CPM book swings the 'method pendulum' in the direction of speed. This is something I appreciate as my general feeling of people in the field (certainly not all of them) is their penchant for slowness.

There is nothing inherently wrong with going slow. In fact it would be easy to argue that the Lord is not in a hurry. But my personality, and my desire to see things happen, has caused me to tend towards speed. The first time I read the CPM book I was pumped up at the thought of people out there wired like me and working with speed in mind. While I agree their motivations are not always correct ("we'll define people groups and reach them as fast as we can so that Jesus will come back"), I do appreciate their methodology.

But then, "Reaching and Teaching," has swung the pendulum in the opposite direction arguing for a slow and calculated approach to missions. Primarily arguing that people shouldn't be put into leadership before they're ready, or qualified, and also that the missionary should stick around for the sake of education. That is to say, the missionary should both "reach" and "teach," hence the title.

Part of this is rather impertinent to me as a person who feels called to this place. I'm not here because it's filled with the least reached, or even because it's the most strategic place on earth, but rather, I'm here because I feel called here. I'm not leaving anytime soon either (if I have anything to say about it). So I have every intention of sticking around to help out the locals and make sure they're well equipped before I move on to another project — which will probably just be in the same place anyway. But while I'm here and actively doing ministry I personally intend to put people in leadership before they feel ready. This has a lot to do with the fact that no leader who actually is ready ever feels ready (if you have leaders who feel ready to lead you might want to be weary).

Actually, all of this is besides the point. The way I process both of these books is the way I process all missiology. There are great ideas out there, and great thinkers coming up with new and more effective ways to do missions all the time. There are also time-tested methods from hundreds or thousands of years ago which are still incredibly effective. These ideas should be considered carefully in your own context and utilized appropriately. But at the end of the day all of it is just methodology. There are not silver bullets. There cannot be. Because unlike werewolves, people are messy (yes, I just said that). And messy people require messy approaches.

The conclusion I've come to is the only thing you can really feel good about is being in the Lord's will. Like I said, I tend towards speed. However I have a teammate who would inherently be slower than me. We line up on ministry philosophy very closely, but his tendency towards slow, and mine towards fast probably produces a good balance. Interestingly, in everything we're doing, the pace we're moving at has been set by the locals with whom we're working, and not us. I'm uncertain about whether or not what we're doing is the absolute best thing we can be doing, but I do know everything we're doing has been handed to us by the Lord. We should have no business working with the the caliber of people we're working with or training the people we're training. But this is exactly where the Lord has put us, and this is exactly the lot he has given us. And knowing this is the Lord's will helps me to step out and boldly teach, encourage, and minister.

When a church group invited me to come discuss church planting with them I showed up with a notebook and some ideas worth discussing. When they pulled out notebooks and then looked to me and said, "Okay, the time is yours," I was flabbergasted. I had no idea I was being invited to "tell them how it's done." Nor did I feel qualified to teach a church how to grow and plant new churches. However it's a topic I've spent a lot of time dwelling on and reading about, so I opened my notebook to some notes I had made on the topic and told them, "this is how it's done." The methodology I taught primarily concerned prayer, and dependance on the Lord, so I'm fairly confident they could succeed with such a method. But it was messy. Not what I had anticipated. And an absolute blast that the Lord put me in such a situation.

People are messy. And you can move fast, or you can move slow. I'd argue for speed because I'd like to see heaven full of people in my generation. But I know there are plausible arguments against this, and I know I am not the primary cause of people's salvation. I also know, speed cannot be done at the expense of health. At the end of the day, the only thing that truly matters matters is doing exactly what God has called you to do.

Time before Him in prayer is the biggest help to discerning exactly what that is.

p.s. Second best title ever.