Every few years there are some new trends that take the world by storm. Or, I suppose I should say, they take a little splice of white-collar American households by storm. There was an obsession with frozen yoghurt shops for a bit when really they seemed to do nothing new but sell the same product by weight instead of volume. It seems something called “essential oils” are now all the rage. I’m a bit confused why it took so long when they’re called “essential”, but I can’t claim to understand the minutae of American life.
Perhaps most obvious is there is always a new fancy diet coming down the pipeline. The first I remember being really aware of was the Atkins diet. Overnight steak and bacon became staples instead of something for a special occassion—and men everywhere rejoiced. Until those same men decided tacos really were better with a tortilla around them and that, if carbs are the devil, they may not want salvation. This was followed by variations on Atkins which kept certain amounts of carbs in the diet, or reintroduced them slowly. Then there has been preservative free diets, all natural foods, organic obsessions etc…
I get a particular kick out of something relatively new known as a “paleo” diet. The idea, as I understand it, is that we would all be much better if we just went back and looked at hour our ancestors ate many millenium ago. For some reason few of us believe we should go back to the way they handled santiation or sewage. No one really wants to hunt and gather anymore, but eating the way a hunter and gatherer would have is obviously the solution to all our problems.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are some significant merits to paleo diets, I’ve even met people who swear it changed everything for them. And I believe them. It doesn’t mean it’s what I want for myself, or even what I believe them to be universally good, but I understand and believe a considered diet can be helpful.
Christianity and missionary methodology has its own fads as well. But there is a big difference between diets then fads in Christian or missionary culture Folks who eat paleo may feel bad for you that you haven’t yet “seen the light” to do the same, but they don’t judge your character as a result. In Christianity we like to point the finger at each other and conclude that if a person doesn’t follow the latest fad that we ourselves have caught on to, it can only be because they haven’t really thought about it, or they’re living in sin. Maybe they haven’t been reading their Bibles enough. We think, “Obviously any person not living in overt sin would draw the same conclusions as me if they ever really considered it. ”
We simplify everything down to sin, or lack of consideration. This is obvious by the way we argue with one another. We try desperately to convince folks our way is the right way, but after we have made all of our arguments, if the other party doesn’t convert to our methodology we just write them off as sinners, or morons. We then assume they aren’t praying enough and move on.
Over the years this has been evidenced in missions theory first by way of missionaries exclusively doing evangelism. They felt if any time was spent doing any kind of social engagement it was just wasted time taking away from the real “lasting” work of evangelism. Later the pendulum swung to the other side until some folks argued for pure social engagment and ignored sharing about Jesus and His crucifiction. Some folks manage to find a middle ground, but each and every one of those who have considered this concept believe their conclusions are the only ones honoring to Jesus.
Jesus is so lucky to have me!
There are many other popular methodologies as well. If you’re a missionary to Muslims you are required to have an opinion about “Insider Movements”. Insider movements basically argue Christians are most effective in Islam if they don’t “come out of Islam” or leave the mosque when they convert, but continue on by becoming a follower of Jesus “from the inside.” Opponents of this methodology claim insider movement folks don’t understand that the word “holy” means “set apart.” Whichever way you lean, you simply must have an opinion, and the other side is clearly full of sinners or morons.
The thing I run in to the most is folks who live and die by Church Planting Movements (CPM) as a methodology. I’ve read several books on the methodology and understand the basic tenants and even really appreciate a lot of what is presented. In fact, I was all fired up about CPM when I first understood the idea, it was simple, seemed obtainable, and apparently was the method most glorifying to God (or so I was led to believe)—just look at the fruit it produced! I fell in love with the idea first when I was dealing with some church planters who moved at a speed I perceived to be painfully slow. CPM pushes for speed, almost above all else. In fact, speed seems to be the proof of success. Never mind the same denomination that made the methodology famous now has it’s own opponents.
The longer I’ve been in ministry the more the flaws in all of these things seem obvious. I’m not saying all methodologies should be avoided. That would be impossible. At the end of day everyone has to make a decision about what they are going to do, and action without strategy isn’t actually action. Even when a person doesn’t have a stated methodology, they are still following a specific stragey, even if that’s just walking around and talking to people. The problem is when we look down our noses at our fellow missionaries because they operate differently than us. Or when we refuse to work with people who think or act differently than us.
“If I’m not here for CPM then what I’m I here for?” One missionary said to me. I really respect the man, and even thinking highly of the work he’s doing, but I kind of wanted to respond, “How about proclaiming the glory of God? The resurrected Jesus?” CPM doesn’t save, but it’s strictest adherents might not want you to know that.
Just last month I met with a pastor who proclaimed to me the merits of CPM three years ago. As a church they refused to partner with any orgnaization that didn’t use CPM as their exclusive stated methodology. Now they don’t partner with any organizations because all the organizations are doing it wrong. Incidentally, they now believe DMM (Disciple Making Movements) is the way all ministry should be done. It’s exhausting really.
Praise God He is a diverse God and His church is diverse. Praise God His methodologies are diverse, and He will work through even the most incompetent of us as long as we’re seeking His will.
Like the paleo diet, there is a movement in Christian culture to get back to the way things used to be. Paleo adherents want to eat the way early man ate. Progressive Christian culture wants to worship the way the early church worshipped. Not all of it, mind you. I hope it’s over the top to imagine bringing back open sewers and wearing sandals around just so we can better understand the true meaning of washing one another’s feet. But while we don’t want to get crazy, we’d nonetheless like to have a church service which otherwise looks exactly like it did back in the time of Acts. Someone somewhere is, no doubt, requiring folks to dress in wrapped robes because if the early church did it it must have some spiritual significance.
I recently attended a gathering where the pastor stood up to introduce how this big church was different from other big churches in the area. “We began as house churches,” he said “because that is the Biblical way to have church—in houses.” Keep in mind he’s saying this to a room full of big-church pastors—nose firmly pointed towards the sky. As these house churches became more popular they began meeting on Sunday mornings in a refurbished strip center. This pastor explained, “What we’re doing is is Biblical because our Sunday morning service isn’t our church, that takes place at houses throughout the week. Our Sunday morning gathering is just a big gathering.”
This seemed to me an awful lot like most other churches but with different terminology. Normally a church would call their Sunday service “church” and their weekly meetings “small groups.” But they had turned it around, now the small groups were “church” and the Sunday service was “big group.” Brillaint! And way more Biblical (this is sarcasm, in case you’re missing it).
Fists are up and people are ready to fight. My diet is better than your diet. My oils heal better than your “capitalist pharmaceutical poisons”. My church planting method is more Biblical, more God honoring, faster moving, better looking, more racially diverse, AND sees a bigger number of converts than anyone ever. My evangelism method is so superior to using tracts it will blow your mind, and probably revolutionize missions agencies worldwide if they ever get wind of it. And my nose is raised higher in the sky than your nose and is therefore closer to God so neener neener neener.
As a person who has been there before, with his nose floating skyward, and on behalf of all missionaries everywhere, I apologize to future missionaries for the foolishness you will no doubt encounter. I ask your patience and pardon as we work through our theology regarding this particular methodology and force it on you until we find a “better” one. And I beg of you, occasionally at least, just put us in our place and move on.
Methodology, and those created by scholars or committees are painfully complex, because at the end of the day, faithfulness and obedience are the only measures of success in the Christian life.