This is an article from the July-August 1996 issue: Worship and Missions

Editorial Comment

An Accident “Going to Happen?”

Editorial Comment

Dear Readers,

Nothing is stopping it now . Will it be a blight or a blessing?

Forces more powerful than we can control are literally "spraying" unlettered people into mission fields all over the world. Let's face it seriously: most ordinary Christians have neither the right knowledge nor perhaps even the right attitudes to be truly helpful in most sensitive mission fields.

One lady said recently, "I'm not giving to missions this year. I'm going on two short-term mission trips. That's a lot more fun than giving to missions!" Perhaps she mispoke herself?

In some ways tourist missionaries (like Peter in Antioch?) are more dangerous than the wide-eyed young people who are mustering the cash to tramp the world in the Name of Christ. The latter may be more willing to learn. The adults whose money could be better spent than catapulting themselves around the globe will usually draw the wrong conclusions and feed those misunderstandings back into their congregations further damaging the cause. At the end of my first term (five years) as a missionary I remember looking back and saying to myself, "My first 500 ideas were wrong!"

People don't go to amateurs for eye surgery. Missions is a more delicate and sophisticated task than eye surgery. This is why it is almost universally a poor strategy for local churches to "choose a people on the Joshua Project List" and send missionaries out directly to the field, rather than under a seasoned mission agency.

If congregations want to do like the Antioch church then they need to send bi-culturals like Paul and Barnabas, who, in effect, grew up on the mission field. And, once sent out were not further controlled by Antioch but by their own team dynamics.

I have two serious tasks this time:

  1. One is to eat humble pie regarding my words last time on the subject of the "amateurization of mission." I have just mentioned that again above and it continues on p. 6.
  2. The other task, for the rest of this page, is to give pros and cons of "the most important document in the history of the Christian church."

The "Most Important Document"

This document (see pages 38-52) is the best thing yet. Yet it can be misunderstood and misused, damaging its enormous significance. Note these observations:

  1. In its successive refinements this list will no doubt will relate decisively with the future of this planet. Why so? Because the entire meaning of history is bound up with the plight of the remaining "people who sit in darkness" (Matt 4:16, Luke 1:79--many on this list!)
  2. The twelve "Affinity Blocs" are not hard and fast either linguistically or culturally, but are at least handy geographical groupings.
  3. The "147" Gateway Peoples (or clusters of peoples) which group together the 1,739 peoples listed, are a stunningly significant classification, even if needing further refinement. No congregation or mission agency in its right mind would ignore these "147" linguistic/cultural/political/religious contexts surrounding almost every people they deal with. (I use quotes on the 147 because this number may change. That is not a final classification.)
  4. It is a supreme embarrassment to all Christians that it is only now, 2000 years after the birth of Christ that we have in our hands anything as accurate and detailed as this list of the peoples of the world--when these peoples have always been what should have been the primary concern of the church.
  5. But this list is a sub-section of a larger list. It does not pretend to note all remaining peoples, only those larger than 10,000 and those "reported" to be less than 5% Christian and 2% Evangelical, plus other tentative groups (with asterisks).
  6. Since the ultimate intention is to maintain prominently and accessibly a list of Unreached Peoples, the choices could have been based on criteria other than the "10,000, %5 Cn, 2% Ev." But until we get closer to the scene we can't directly know whether or not there is an "indigenous, evangelizing church movement" within these peoples. We have to guess about that on the basis of other data, such as reports of the number of Christians or Evangelicals.

But there is much more. If you would like to get a five-page analysis, "The Challenge of Reaching the Unreached Peoples," which I gave last week at a regional AD2000 meeting in Korea, slip $1 into an envelope and address it to me at 1539 E. Howard St, Pasadena 91104. You may receive it FREE from our Mission Frontiers e-mail conference on the Brigada network. (See p. 7 for details.) This paper deals with some amazing ideas that grow out of the present list and the current situation. To receive a 60 field copy of the Joshua Project list on disk, send $2 to me at the same address above. Specifiy IBM or Mac disks.

New Curriculum Being Used on the Field

Five years ago here in Pasadena we set out to create an entire Master of Arts graduate school curriculum designed for individual study by key people who can be found all over the world, but who simply cannot take time off and go any distance to school.

Our curriculum covers the material taught in Seminary--but with a mission perspective. It is very heavy, very thorough. It has taken our team five years to produce. It depends on the printed page as well as audio and video cassettes, a weekly meeting with a mentor, etc.

You can now get either a B.A. or an M.A. degree living anywhere in the world on the basis of this new "World Christian Foundations" curriculum.*

Whew! To produce all this has been about five times as hard as we thought it would be. It requires over a hundred textbooks, plus 1,000 additional readings. Yet it is less expensive to send all this to the student than it would be to try to get real leaders to drop everything and go off to school.

Accredited colleges and seminaries in America are using it already. And Wycliffe Bible Translators has approved it for people going out under their field survey teams. FRONTIERS also.

* Note: Regionally accredited Christian colleges employing the World Christian Foundations curriculum as of this date are as follows:

For the M.A. write Steve Burris, Pacific Christian College, 2500 Nutwood Ave, Fullerton, CA, 92631 (50% scholarship for missionaries).

For the B.A. write Duane Christianson, Patten College, 2433 Coolidge Ave, Oakland CA 94601.

Several other accredited schools are in advanced stages of incorporating this entire curriculum.

I have to eat humble pie! Last time on this same page I tried to say something illuminating about what I called "The Gravest Danger in Missions--the Re- Amateurization of Mission." But I gave a terribly wrong impression.

What did I say wrong?

I am very embarrassed. Although I received only one negative letter, its very serious charges included my being "unfair and defamatory." I promised I would try to set the record straight this time. In order to give you the gist of my words, let me quote a different reader--a most perceptive mission executive:

Thank you for your editorial! I appreciate your speaking out on the trend to either be educated forever or skipping the process altogether… In our desire to mobilize and send greater numbers, we must maintain our standards while finding creative ways to get called and gifted young people to the field as quickly as possible, especially to get them into language study. On-field, continuing education needs to be used more effectively. Thanks for your clear thinking on this subject.

Frank Severn, General Director of SEND International

This leader understood EXACTLY what I meant! However, what I actually said seemed to some readers a criticism rather than an endorsement of certain missions, and I would like to make amends.

So, let me try again. Most of the following words are what I said the last time, but I have tried to improve the wording here and there:

Second time around: People like Thomas Jefferson could (and did) graduate from college at 17. Why? Because William and Mary College, like all colleges in those days, normally took kids in at 13--with or without previous schooling. That's only four years in school! For at least 200 years, four years was considered enough schooling to allow people to continue to study on the job.

But gradually culture-conscious Americans created a school- monstrosity on the principle, apparently, that if four years is good for people, then 20 would be even better. That's right: we have created a giddy elongation of the schooling process, stretching it from just three or four years of incarceration to 17 years through college, plus maybe 3 or 4 years for seminary--an immense and expensive extension. In the process we force old age on mission volunteers who are told they cannot go out to the field sooner. We force families into bankrupcy and we saddle people with debts that wipe out any hope of low-income mission service.

A current trauma in the university circles is the serious consideration in major industries of taking over the university process in order to get people into the real world sooner, and letting industrial labs and libraries and lecturers (and degrees) replace much of what goes on today beyond high school.

Thus, today (conventionally) you must either 1) forgo college and seminary (plus missiology?) in order to arrive on the field early enough for your mind and mouth to still be flexible to really master the field language and culture, or 2) arrive on the field years later with all the "proper" years of education but with a terrible age handicap*. Furthermore, school debts alone may knock out 50% to 70% of would-be missionaries!

Understandably, a lot of healthy minded young people are opting for the early plunge where agencies are smart enough to take them. Some large congregations are urging candidates to skip the whole process, even skipping the mission agencies (which is very unwise).

The wisest congregations may work with those missions that take in young people even before they finish college, and then enable them to get involved in language learning and field ministry on the field-- and while finishing up college and seminary studies. Wycliffe, in its Field Surveyors Division, will accept people with just two years of college, arranging for field ministry to be combined with highly relevant course work (our curriculum) leading to an accredited college degree!

OM, YWAM and FRONTIERS are skilled in dealing with younger people with very little background, and are arranging for college and graduate studies on the field. Mission work uniquely requires field ministry to be combined with serious study on the field. THAT has got to be the coming thing!


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