MissionSHIFT (Part 2): Free Will Missions

February 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

9780805445374_cvr_web1This present article on missions is a part of a dialogue with Ed Stetzer and David Hesslegrave’s new book MissionSHIFT.

Contextualization of the Gospel for a postmodern generation is imperative. For missions, it is where the rubber meets the road, as the work of God through His Son to save creation, essentially comes to the question if God Himself contextualized his message. But instead of covering all related problems at hand, my desire is to write about one contextualization issue related to our work in Bulgaria. {see my article}. It is a theological issue with a strong practical implication in the ministry as it covers a wide range of issues from free reformed theology to the personal salvific experience focusing on the free will of man. My interest is not to take sides and defend a position in the argument, but rather to review its contextualization as a case study in the Bulgarian missionary context in the past 200 years {see my background}.

Although Bulgaria was first Christianized around 8 AD and officially became a Christian state a century later, Eastern Orthodox faith has become but a nominal, culturally comfortable, national religion a millennium later. When first western missionaries “discovered” the Bulgarians, they were a small ethnic group on the Balkan Peninsula under the rule of the vast and powerful Ottoman Empire. British and American missionaries began with translating the Bible in spoken Bulgarian, establishing schools and missions, publishing and educating the people. Only then did they move toward establishing churches and eventually were instrumental in the restoration of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as an autonomous autocephaly.

By that time two major mission agencies worked in synchrony in Bulgaria – the American Board, working predominantly in Southern Bulgaria, and the Missionary Society Methodist Episcopal Church, which established churches north from the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria. Obviously, the Methodist church was Wesleyan Arminian in view of free will and with very socially proactive renewal theology in mind. The American board, however, was presented by predominantly Congregational and some Presbyterian ministers, who as graduates of leading reformed universities in America at the time, should have been very strong Calvinists and reformed oriented in their theology. But they were not.

Dr. Elias Riggs, one of the translators of the Bulgarian Bible, a missionary for over half a century in the Near East Mission of the American Board was a prime example for that. A superb theologian, author of many revolutionary works and outstanding communicator in the native tongue of several Balkan nations, he never accented on his reformed view for salvation. He certainly believed in predestination as pointed out in an extensive commentary of the Bible he published. And he had the opportunity to strongly defend his position in a number of occasions, while publishing the first Bulgarian newspaper Zornitsa, printed by the missionary press in Constantinople. {see URL of series with English Google translation}

But Riggs chose to regard the theological view of the majority of Bulgarians, who believed in free will as traditionally Eastern Orthodox do, as well as his Methodist colleagues with whom he worked closely for a number of years. Realizing that the Bulgarian nation under Turkish yoke and Greek Orthodox religious oppression needed exactly free will to move toward national identity realization, he published a multitude of articles defended the freedom and will of every man, woman and child. He defended their right to read the Bible in their mother tongue and to have an independent church with services held in the Bulgarian vernacular. And when tens of thousands of Bulgarians were slaughtered by the Turks in the April uprising of 1876, Riggs led the international correspondence involving a number of leading missionaries and journalist who reported to their respective agencies and newspapers the horrible acts of genocide they witnessed in Bulgaria.

Historians have long regarded the fact that this very media action created a process of social transformation which led to the liberation of Bulgaria only two years later and its establishment as an independent state shortly thereafter. But all of this would have been impossible, if Riggs and his fellow colleagues held strong to their theological views, disregarding the understanding of God which the local people, the local existing church, and the theological need one whole nation had.

But the story does not stop here. When Communism took over Bulgaria in 1945, the evangelical church was outlawed and services for the next half century were held underground. But Bulgarian believers never accepted the oppression of individual freedom and religious liberty as God’s will for them. Virtually all evangelical denominations during the Regime, including Baptist and Congregational, were free will believers. It was their only way to survive the persecution of the atheist social dominion and to see Bulgaria transformed at the end, after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

It was not until the turn of the century, that some missionaries in Bulgaria began speaking of reformed theology in the new Bulgarian postcommunist context. Modern day Hyper Calvinists approached Bulgaria with their “Christian reconstruction,” which created a temporary clash between Bulgarian protestant identity and the newly introduced message. It was a good thing to see and understand new theological trends applied in Bulgaria.

But a decade of trying to apply this theology over the Bulgarian churches proved without any result. Virtually all existing Bulgarian protestant denominations subscribe to the free will theology while claiming historical evangelical roots, identity, theology and praxis; thus continuing the missional contextualization on which Bulgarian Protestantism was built 200 years ago. And it just happens, that today, in the beginning of the 21st century, it is this very foundation, historical roots, church identity, Biblical theology and evangelical praxis based on the doctrine of free will that the people of Bulgaria need for one new social transformation of mindset and society in order to reach their potential as a church and a nation in the new era of Postmodernity. Who says God does not work in mysterious ways anymore?

MissionSHIFT (Part 1): Paradoxes in Missions

January 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

9780805445374_cvr_web1This present article on missions is a part of a dialogue with Ed Stetzer and David Hesslegrave’s new book MissionSHIFT.

The following thoughts on missions deserve a proper introduction, which defines my personal approach in responding to the issue at hand as drawn from both experience and education. They are defined via my being Bulgarian born, American educated, and having served as a national worker in my home country for over 20 years while having dedicated 11 years to the earning of three higher theological degrees from Baptist and Pentecostal educational institutions. Ministering with my American born wife in Bulgaria has demanded a response to a number of vital questions in the missional context of the ministry, which vary from micromanaging how to go through today to a much broader and purposefully strategic planning for the future of the Bulgarian Evangelical Movement as a whole. The most important result of this process has been the foreseeing and training of a new missional and visionary generation for the ministry to which we have dedicated our lives in the past several years on both formal and personal levels. Thus, finding a working paradigm between 21st century theology and current missiological trends for us personally has not only been an interest in trends and thought, but a way to survive post modernity and do actual ministry.

History of Missions
With this said on our personal ministry history and missional experience, we turn to the historic overview of missiological trends in the first essay of MissionSHIFT, which has sparked some controversial responses in the book. The text is undoubtedly interesting and fulfilling, while presenting a much needed juxtapose with the similar historical attempt in the third essay of the book. However, the reader is surprised by the quick jump through the Constantine era, which quite frankly forgoes Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, major contributors to two main branches of Christianity and main players in a period some one millennial long when evangelicalism simply did not exist. And while it is understandable, how these two church institutions may remain far to the interest and knowledge of the Western mindset, it also must be stressed that this very period of church history is responsible for setting the stage for the Reformation and the birth of Western English speaking church as a whole, as both Luther and Wickliffe draw from Eastern Orthodox missiological trends to justify their own call for the reformation of the church and identify themselves with the earlier Bogomils’ movement.

Globalization of Missions
When exploring virtually all branches of Christianity, it is clear that globalization of missions begins nowhere else but in its localization as a ministry of the congregation. With this said, the consideration that missional terminology and action emerges localized in predominantly in North-Western setting is a dangerous one. Philip Jenkins’ Next Christendom has made a strong case for missional theology and action as related to the New Testament church emerging nowhere else but in the East, beginning in Israel with the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ. And while Jenkins’ prediction stops with the Americas and perhaps Australia, our dialogue with his work in 2004 projected that the missional message of the Gospel is completing a full circle around the globe, going from East to West, and returning back to its starting point in Israel. Any opinion that characterizes church missions as purely or predominantly an Western endeavor is imperialistic at best, regardless of its cultural and anthropological context. Missing to discover there is a world existing around us till now, does not make us missionary pioneers, but it does makes us ignorant.

Donors and Sponsorship
The same argument is valid for the opinion contributing the success of missions (in the 19th century and beyond) to (again predominantly western) donors and sponsorship. While the contribution of philanthropy and financial support to missions cannot be denied on any logical ground, eliminating all other factors toward missional success is quite a dangerous endeavor. Even at this contemporary time of missional history, missional agencies make the argument that a one time offering of some $30 is sufficient to save one human soul somewhere in the world. This cheapening of missions through placing a cash value to its ministry must be stopped at once. No price could be assigned to the human soul, no other but the blood of Jesus. And any evangelical mission having embraced such approach is no different than the 16th century papal pontificism of indulgencies and must be reminded of Luther’s 95 Thesis again. It is a terrible, horrific mistake to define the Missio Dei as missio mammon. {http://goo.gl/jZTjk & http://goo.gl/fDzS}

Back to the Basics
The discussion also introduces the so-called “three self model,” which is still practiced by missional agencies around the world. The idea is to start and build a church abroad to a point where it becomes self-sufficient, as in most cases the new community church resembles the parenting church in theology and praxis. The problem arises with the understanding that the meaning of “self-sufficient” changes quite a bit with time and location, to the point of being meaningless today in the context of globalization and postmodernism. If once upon a time, “self-sufficient” meant a church network growing globally, but directed from one locality somewhere in the northwestern hemisphere, it means this no more and most probably it never will. It is simply impossible to create a self-sustainable paradigm of a church movement with truly global growth and leadership localized to a certain geographical, economical, philosophical or social region.

Missions and the Trinity
Possibly the best point in the discussion in relationship to the first essay was made as a call for the recovery of the Trinitarian view on missions (p.44). The 1960s shift of missions from the Church to God and the world is also properly acknowledged as a step in that direction. So is the discussion about anthropological or God centered missions, which Jesus fulfilled 100% both ways. The argument for a Trinitarian Mission seems most necessary in our current evangelical-charismatic context, but when your historical observation on missions misses the role of the Eastern Orthodox Church, where the doctrine of Trinity is theologically confirmed, it leaves a very little argument in favor of Trinitarianism. And even more, it leaves one movement without its historical identity as a Trinity believing church.

Evangelical or Not?
But instead of picking from doctrines and dogmatic, perhaps the discussion on 3rd millennium missions needs to be focused on the main missional shift, namely the moving of the focus of missions toward evangelicals. It seems like what needs much more deconstruction in terminology is the view on missions as an evangelical entity (about p. 20). Before defining missions as evangelical, it will be beneficial to redefine anew the term “evangelical,” which gains quite a bit difference in consistency when contextualized to postmodern globalization.

The social role of the Gospel is unarguably its strongest motivator for the move from this world toward the Kingdom. It is this move that constitutes the very basics of missions and mission mindedness. The preaching of the Gospel not only does not exclude but motivates a social transformation through the salvation of the person, which serves as the personal motivator, first for transformation of one’s mentality and then for social transformation. Translation of the Bible, focus on education, upbringing of culture and national belongingness were not only procured by early missionaries, but become the very essence of a paradigm that move whole communities toward a chance. And the church was the author of such movements, effectually advancing whole nations toward a democracy based on puritan principles.

The early Reformers drew from the same evangelical principals as modern day reformed theologians and practitioners do. Yet, it must be dully noted that reformed theology and praxis in the modern missional context of globalism and postmodernity is a minority at best. The fastest growing and largest Pentecostal charismatic wing is far from ever subscribing to basic reformed principles as divine predestination, preteresitc or postmillennial eschatology. And this does not make us less evangelical. On the contrary, it demands the rethinking of a new theological view on missiologoy, which forgoes 16th century reformism and addresses modern day evangelical churches by speaking to the issues of today. For if a person cannot chose salvation, a person cannot chose anything at all. {goo.gl/FCCso}

So What Should Missions be Like?
Before all, missions must remain practical, which denotes being created by people who have practiced missions in order to be able to others that will practice the ministry mission. If ministry is the practice of the Kingdom, missions is its outposts far beyond the walls and the borders where things are but practical. Only when missional thinking is practice oriented, can become a practice of mission. My practical advice for Missions in the 3rd Millennium follows with several characteristics of the ministry of missions in the 21st century. Our missional approach must be:

1. More mission minded than agency structured
2. More missionary focused than leadership centralized
3. More operational than organizational
4. More result oriented than self and strategy containable
5. More praying than thinking while more feeling, than cognitive
6. More giving than fundraising oriented
7. More focused on the Dominion of the Kingdom, than the denomination.

Liked this publication? Here are some more articles on missions:
» 8 Simple Rules for Doing Missions in the Spirit

» M3: Missions for the Third Millennium – A Public Position

» Church of God Eastern Europe Missions: Leadership, Economics and Culture

» First Bulgarian Mission in Chicago (1907)

M3: Missions for the Third Millennium – A Public Position

July 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

world missionsby Rev. Dony K. Donev, D.Min.

The time of changes in the world of missions is at hand. The search for a new paradigm for doing missions in the beginning of the 21st century has begun. Much like in the world of the internet, it cannot be a closed-circuit reinstallation of the same old software, which changes the interface, but not the structure; or a copyrighted etalon designed to be used by a tender legal minority. It must be an open-source, people oriented, social networking, body-like organism of believers that practice the Bible providing the diakonia of missions to peoples and nations in a need of salvation.

This necessity for a fresh evaluation of the way we do missions in the Spirit is based on issues which older missional paradigms were unable to adequately address. Rethinking of world missions today, includes rethinking the global problems of economic crises, world terrorism, immigration and open border markets. Problems that point not to new frontiers in some unknown cosmic future, but back to the old countries upon which modern day civilization was built.

Churches and missionaries, then, cannot afford to simply follow any secular, political, social or economical wave, but must propose Biblical solutions, which surpass both the understanding and history of the natural world to the realm of the Kingdom of God – the sole solver, provider and proprietor of the restoration of God created humanity, social justice and every relationship within the universum for eternity.

It is there, in the very Kingdom identity, or the lacking of such thereof, that the problem of ministry in missions is found. And this problem is deep, penetrating the very soul and make of the church, changing it from a community of mission minded believers willing to dedicate their lives to missions, to an agency that sends half-prepared, half-sponsored, half-aware missionaries to a mission filed where cultural, leadership and financial dilemmas hit them as a hurricane and never seize to oppose their call to minister in a foreign land.

Several characteristics are apparent immediately. The ministry of missions in the 21st century must be:

1. More mission minded than agency structured
2. More missionary focused than leadership centralized
3. More operational than organizational
4. More result oriented than self and strategy containable
5. More praying than thinking while more feeling, than cognitive
6. More giving than fundraising oriented
7. More focused on the Dominion of the Kingdom, than the denomination.

A proposal of such caliber must begin simultaneously at three starting points. First, perhaps not by importance, but by legal requirement, a professional counsel is a must. Many mission agencies follow the secular practice of debriefing missionaries, who have been on the field for a long time as part of their reentry. It is expected that post-missional experiences are often defined as problems requiring a professional counselors. But there are so many more cultural, financial, leadership, church and purely structure related problems. For example, how can one ever imagine doing missions in the 21st century without assertive financial planning in difficult times and rapidly changing international currencies, or political and security advisory in times of ever-present global terrorism? If addressed properly by in-house professionals beforehand, most of them can and should be easily prevented in the ministry of the missionaries. Thus, released from the burden of solving problems they are not qualified to deal with, missionaries will be allowed to fully focus on their main goal: namely, the salvation of eternal human souls.

Second, but equally important, are some very practical implications concerning the church recognition of the ministry of the missionary. Unfortunately, even in the beginning of the 21st century, some of the leading Pentecostal denominations in the world do not have the ministry of missions present on their ministerial report forms, as if it simply does not fit there. Others are yet to include missions as a ministry occupation on their voting registrations for business meetings at assemblies.

And finally, a word about the Prophetic Utterance of Pentecostal Missions. Historically, we, the missionaries baptized with the Holy Ghost, seldom followed models and paradigms. Our guidance has been that prophetic Word, that utterance of the Spirit, that divine guidance and Heavenly call that are never wrong. We went without knowing. We prayed without ceasing. We prophesied without seeing in the physical or even purposefully refusing to reckon with it. We preached without a season, for preaching was the vibe of our ministry and the life of our churches. And this made us Pentecostal. Even more important, this made us powerfully Pentecostal and Pentecostally powerful.

And if indeed, it is true that this very power is being lost today, it means that the very identity of our movement has changed from power giving to power needing – from powerful to powerless. The main questions that must be raised then are these: “What is the prophetic word for Pentecostal missions in 21st century?” and “What does the Spirit wants us to do?” And their answers could be found in the restoration of Pentecostal preaching, prophecy and prayer, as the foundation of any paradigm or model on which we continue to build the Ministry of World Missions.

School of Mission: Missions Week in Bulgaria

December 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured, News

school-of-missions3School is in Session: Young Leaders Ministry Retreat with Special Focus on Missions

It is Missions week in Bulgaria following Thanksgiving. A time to meet with Bulgarian missionaries who travel abroad, discuss their needs and pray for the success of their respective ministries. Our Thanksgiving weekend involved a ministry team retreat in the Balkan Mountains as part of the education program initiated several months ago by our Bible School initiative for the Bulgarian Church of God. As usual, this event was dedicated to training young ministers and their teams and this time the focus of our meeting was missions. Ministry teams represented the Plovdiv, Yambol and Sliven regions. A missionary from Spain was also present for the training.

Keynote speaker of the event was the president of the Bulgarian Missionary Network (BMN), Rev. Ivo Shatrovsky, who shared his calling from God for missions and a personal vision for Bulgarian missions abroad. In his address, he presented several valuable lessons he has learned in his own missionary experience in the West Indies. Two workshops on the topics of Conflict Resolution and Structuring for Growth were further presented by our team. And while various activities were taking place in the midst of extensive discussions, sharing on the part of the missionaries and strategic planning for the future of the represented regions, the time of fellowship turned to a prayerful reflection on God’s calling upon our own lives.

For the mission of the church cannot exist apart from God. It is a calling, not merely a career. It is a cost, not simply a concern.  It is a burden, not just a belief. Its focus is care and compassion. And yes, even in the 21st century, it still remains a Holy Ghost uttering, through which one remains blind for the world around until obeying to the vision of heaven (Acts 26:19) and begins seeing the world through the eyes of the Savior.

8 Simple Rules for Doing Missions in the Spirit

February 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Missions, News

1. Never put a price on the human soul, which you are not willing to put on your own.

2. Unsubscribing from missions’ newsletters may result in unsubscribing from the missional letter of God.

3. By no means raise an offering because a missionary needs it, do so because it’s needed for the survival of the church.

4. Not giving to missions is far better, than committing to give without any intention to do so.

5. Before using a missions’ offering to pay a church bill, think of whose offering a missionary should use to pay their bill.

6. Don’t wait on a missionary to ask you for what God has already commanded you to give.

7. Pray for missionaries without ceasing. For it could be your prayer that saves a soul.

8. Never delay sending a missions offering for tomorrow. After all, it was you who preached that tomorrow may be when the Lord comes back.

Missions Conference 2005

April 20, 2005 by  
Filed under Events, Missions

Our ministry team just returned from a successful mission’s conference with Restoration Ministries. Cup & Cross’ team was able to show our documentary film, Revival Bulgaria and present our 2005 ministry projects. Additionally, we held two services on Sunday at Greenwood and Gaffney.

« Previous Page