MissionSHIFT (2011)

February 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News


This is a re-post of popular articles on Missiology from 2011:

MissionSHIFT (Part 1): Paradoxes in Missions (2011)

MissionSHIFT (Part 2): Free Will Missions (2011)

MissionSHIFT (Part 3): WebMissions – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (2011)

MissionSHIFT (Part 3): WebMissions – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

February 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Events, 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 future of missions cannot be considered separately from what is turning to be the phenomena of the 21st century – the Internet. The relationship was properly discussed in the third and more predicative part of MissionShift. Since our own paradigm of missions and ministry is heavily involved with internet technology, it is my desire to respond to this one particular point in a more holistic way.

The Internet is already turning into an unstoppable geyser of information, a source of data, news and opinions that flow freely around the world. My initial response comes from presupposition that churches, being networking community themselves, have not yet fully realized the power of social networking in the Internet model. Politicians, economical magnates and even social watchdogs have long surpassed the church in their social relationship through creating cloud blogging, social nets and Internet advertisements to serve the goals of their own ideology. And although it was through using the social networking and marketing of the first century that the Christian Church grew rapidly from the ashes of wars and persecution, in the postmodern era the Church has continually remained on the sidelines of the virtual (but quite real for many) social involvement. It is my desire then, to accent on this particular issue form a more practical standpoint of the ecclesial position and involvement in this very real process within postmodern society beginning with the good in them.

The Good …
Grant McClung postulated several of these principles a decade ago in his book: Globalbeliever.com: Connecting to God’s Work in Your World. However, things have changed a little since then, as the virtual world is becoming more and more real to many even within the Church. While a decade ago, churches were making first steps in designing their website presence on the internet, today every church staff member is wired with email, blog, social network updater and much more coming directly from his/her mobile device. My friend Antoine RJ Wright from the Mobile Ministry Magazine claims this is only the beginning and I have every reason to believe him.

How can a church make sense and utilize the available resources on the internet? Here are the basics:

1. Creating a network between church staff, volunteer team and congregation in one constant mode of working together toward the common goal of a church or a ministry’s vision
2. Improving communications which respond to the need for ever connectedness of the postmodern generation
3. Implementation through using the Internet network and communication as a testing ground
4. Keeping the score to improve effectives through comparing with other churches and ministry dealing with the same dilemmas or context of ministry
5. Round tables and discussion on various levels in search of more effective ministry paradigms and praxis
6. And last, but not least free media – what TV evangelist used to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year is now pretty much available on the internet for free with much more popularity and socialization ratio

These principles are already implemented in virtually hundreds of online networks around the world. The mobile ministry is one very vivid example that changes the way we do ministry as a whole. The process of digital discipline and the existence of an actual digital disciplining networks that bring about to reality strong and growing church communities. But there is even more beyond this point – the fact that a person can live an actual salvific experience on the Internet without a minister ever being physically present. Slowly but surely, the so called “virtual world” becomes very real even for the church and its’ mission.

… The Bad …
The bad related directly to any given web ministry today, is that everything good on the global network is surpassed in times by not so good, bad and even evil. And this is not only a talk against porn, sectarianism, racism and hatred, but a holistic overview of the anonymity and animosity of the internet that seem to draw in people of various personality types. The growing problem for us today is that the virtual world in fact can and does change one’s personality in a very real and personal way.

This should not scare the Church, for when Jesus said “Go to the ends of the world,” He meant the ends of the World Wide Web as well. Even on the contrary, it should motivate the search for new models of web ministry that not only draw in such people, but also ministers to them and disciples them for the Kingdom. In fact, this rather scary characteristic of the particular context of ministry could and should become an effective turnaround in the very idea for ministry on the web.

…And the Ugly
While the internet is an enormous mission field, we are limited on using this method exactly where it is needed the most. Over 20% of world’s population or one and a half billion people do not have access to the internet. Many more can access it only through government restrictions and regulations. Unfortunately, these are the exact people that need to be reached with the Gospel the most. The “ugly” here is that we can become so focused on ministering the virtual reality and stop paying attention to the more real and feasible reality. There is a real danger that eternal human souls simply go to hell while we tamper around with modern and postmodern models of ministry.

Our Web Ministry Efforts and Results

Cup & Cross Ministries International runs over a dozen of Bulgarian vernacular websites related to virtually every aspect of the ministry. Some of them are:

www.Bibliata.com – website devoted to the Bulgaria Bible

www.Bibliata.TV – a GodTube like website in the Bulgaria language

www.Protestantstvo.com – website dealing with Bulgarian Protestant history

www.Kapelanstvo.com – website dedicated to the ministry of the Bulgarian chaplain

www.Spasen.com – Bulgarian Christian web-mail

www.Evangelsko.info – Bulgarian evangelical news portal

www.Hvalenie.com –a website for Bulgarian praise and worship

www.Pastir.com – a website dedicated to the work and ministry of the Bulgarian pastor

www.Propoved.com – a dynamic web database with audio and video Bulgarian sermons

www.Lidersko.info – a resource for church leadership and Christian discipleship

www.Osveten.com – an online community round table for holiness and righteousness

www.Molitvata.com – a web-based prayer center

www.Savetvane.com – a website for Christian counseling

www.Evangelieto.com – dedicated to the new Bulgarian translation of the Bible

www.Kapelanstvo.com – an online resource for Christian chaplaincy

www.BulgarianChurches.com – a global web directory for Bulgarian evangelical churches

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)