With this month’s instalment of Sprachspielen, I would like to introduce a “mini-series” of sorts, where I deal with six different concepts over the coming months, which have a clear connection to each other and are seen by us as all being parts of a whole. I am referring to what we call our “Six-Fold Incarnational Strategy,” (hereafter, “6fis”). I realise that this title is a mouthful and sounds quite lofty and cerebral at first hearing, but I can assure you that there is no “rocket science” here, but a simple guide that we use in our personal and local ministries here in our various areas. You will have undoubtedly heard us speak about the 6fis on numerous occasions, and you can find it mentioned on our website in various places. Because the 6fis is so foundational to our work, I will be dealing with these six elements of the 6fis over the next few instalments of Sprachspielen.
By way of introduction and before examining the first of these six elements, I’d like to deal in broad strokes with the “what” of the 6fis. Plainly listed, here are the elements of the 6fis:
- Open Home
- Ministry of Hanging out
- Verbal witness
I will deal more with the “what” of each element over the course of the next few months. However, it is the “why” of the 6fis, which might require a bit more attention and explanation.
In the Northern Hemisphere context, particularly in North America over the past couple of centuries or so, we as Christians have had almost unlimited freedom to build, promote and develop all sorts of programmes and initiatives, centred generally on a fit-for-purpose building or buildings, which are the property of the congregation. Over this time, the church building and institutions have often served as a place for believers to meet, worship, grow in faith, as well as minister to those in need and to do evangelism among those who are not-yet-believers. It should be noted that over this period of time the basic values, attitudes and worldview of the society at large were not that different from those within the Church. Within Evangelical Christianity, this phenomenon could be described as the rise of the attractional model of Church (i.e., “the world comes to us”) and the overall worldview, both inside and outside of the Church, would be modern, as opposed to pre- or post-modern.
However, over time in the Northern Hemisphere (particularly North America, but also Europe), the culture/society at large and the Christian community began to drift farther apart from each other in how they viewed the world and what they value. There are a number of reasons for this, but one contributing factor would be the shift in basic worldview from modern to more post-modern. Suddenly, we, as Christians and the Church, are finding it harder and harder to bring people to us and our spaces in order to interact with us and be exposed to the truth of the Gospel. Simply inviting not-yet-believers to our worship service or event or programme is no longer enough to bring them to us. And, as the society/culture continues to move farther from us, it has placed an incredible burden on Churches (which depend on attracting not-yet-believers to their spaces/programmes as their primary means of evangelism and mission) to have to come up with more and increasingly better means of attracting those outside of the Church to come to their buildings. I say “burden” here, because essentially the Church in this context must compete with the world’s ability to attract an audience, when the world has many more resources and much more funding to invest in such attractional strategies.
This situation has precipitated a dramatic shift within society/culture in general in this part of the world toward a new attitude and perspective, which is often described as “post-Christian.” Simply put, what I mean by “post-Christian” is this: when it comes to Christianity as they know it, the common attitude held by your average not-yet-believer-in-Jesus on the street, who comes from this post-Christian worldview, would be “been there, done that, didn’t work, what’s next?” Many of them would go so far as to say that Christianity is in fact a “failed experiment of history.” Most of Western Europe is already quite firmly rooted in this post-Christian perspective, and many areas of North America are following quickly and only a few years behind Europe in that regard.
The reflex reaction of many Evangelicals in these parts of the world and especially in North America is to double down on their attractional models and simply try to do them better and more intensively. However, it has been our observation in the European context that this approach can often be not only unproductive but counterproductive to our work of mission. Accordingly, we feel some new models are needed, if we are to reach with the Gospel those people, who have as a society accepted as a given that Christianity and Christ do not really have anything to offer them as individuals or anything to contribute to society. However, rather than looking for some new thing to try as an alternative, we feel that the answer is more in doing some old things, very old in fact, as in first Century things. We feel that the answer is found in going back to the context of Acts and the first-century Church, when we as Christians didn’t have buildings and programmes and events and professionals. Back then, the followers of Jesus simply took seriously the sense of “sentness” and calling that Jesus instilled in His first disciples, which propelled them outward in order to take Him and His Good News with them whenever and wherever they went out among the people, who were busy going about their day-to-day lives. Out among those who did not yet know Jesus, they proclaimed the Good News of Jesus and simply “gossiped the Gospel” as they lived, worked, and ministered among people, where they were. Perhaps, therefore, the solution for us is to get back to an approach that is not “come to us” but “go to them.”
The problem is that whereas we might be enthusiastic about the opportunity really to take the Gospel to where people are, those of us serving actively in missions “on field” tend to come from contexts, where the primary and sometimes sole approach of evangelism and mission is attractional, i.e., invite people to come to us. So, as invigorating as the missional challenge might be to us, we often do not have a lot of practical experience in living out these concepts. The Six-Fold Incarnational Strategy (6fis) is our way of making sure that we are intentional and dedicated to using the bulk of our time and energies to bring Jesus and His Good News to the people to whom He has called us. As such, the 6fis has also become a litmus test of sorts to help us determine, if how we use our time is in fact the best use of our time.
After this rather long introduction, I would like to address the first point of the 6fis, which is represented in the word “prayer.” I am assuming that I am writing to an audience, which is predominantly Christian and as such very much familiar with what prayer is in the most general sense. At the end of the day, prayer is simply talking to and with God. I think that we would probably hold this most basic understanding, or something like it, in common. However, when we speak of “prayer” in the context of missions and evangelism and particularly as it relates to the 6fis, we are speaking of it in a more specific and nuanced way. There are many things that I could say about the strategic and essential place of prayer in our day-to-day missionary work, but for the sake of brevity, I will address only three of them in this instalment.
(1) Prayer as Mission
I think that we all can understand the need for us as missionaries to base and bathe everything we do in prayer. This is a given. But what we mean here when we speak of seeing prayer as a direct tool in missions and as the first part of the 6fis is simply praying very specifically for people as individuals. Again, this may seem like a “no-brainer” to you. After all, you probably go to prayer meetings or have prayer chains and groups, where you pray for people by name and for their requests. These occasions to pray for specific people tend to focus on needs in their lives, such as for health or for a job or for a problem at school, etc. It is right and Biblical for us to pray for the sick and those who are suffering or going through difficult times.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.James 5:14
But when we speak of prayer as mission we mean both praying for specific people, but also praying something quite specific for them. We tend not to pray generally for them, as in “God bless so-and-so,” but more to the point we pray specifically for their salvation, or in other words “God save so-and-so and drawn him/her to Yourself.” This is not a light, flippant, rote prayer, but one that comes from the depth of our being as for someone in the greatest of perils and afflictions. There is a Church planter/author/leader named Neil Cole, whose teaching has been quite influential on my own missiological thinking. I have had the pleasure to attend some of his training conferences over the years. At these meetings, Neil Cole described this kind of missionary praying as “begging God for the souls of the lost people in our lives.” We often beg God with great depth of feeling and fervency to help us or someone we know with a major problem or crisis, such as serious illness or an accident. But how often do we pray that God would save those people in our lives, who do not yet know Him, praying for their souls with the same level of intensity, burden and depth of emotion as for someone who is in peril of illness or injury in his or her physical body? Consequently, we make a list (mental or written) of those people that God has placed in our lives, who do not yet have a saving faith in Jesus, and we beg God for their souls regularly, fervently, specifically, and faithfully.
(2) The Prayer Jesus gave His Disciples
With a heading like this, you’re probably thinking of what we typically call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Model Prayer,” which we find in Matthew (6:9-13) and Luke (11:2-4). Obviously, this is a very important prayer in the life of the Church and individual believers. However, in keeping with the missionary theme, I’m actually thinking of another prayer that Jesus gave His disciples, which is probably much less frequently prayed. The prayer I’m thinking of is found in Matthew 9:38: “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest,” and also:
Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.’Luke 10:2
These were the words of Jesus to His disciples before sending them out as missionaries (apostles) for the first time, first to the 12 disciples and then to the 70 (72) respectively.
This is one of the great missionary prayers, and one which all of us serving in the mission field actively embrace and practice continually. As the person whom God has called for this season to lead the ministry of Linguæ Christi, if you were to ask me on any given day what I felt was our greatest need, nine times out of ten and after prayer itself, I would say “people.” We need people. People are our greatest need for the work of missions in our context, and I would dare say that this would be true for all missionaries everywhere in the world. This prayer of the disciples as they were about to go out on mission is an important prayer for us, consequently, not just because Jesus told His disciples to pray it (which should be good enough, really), but because it deals with the greatest real need in the world today – the need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “Gospel” is more than just a message or information, it is a Person – we take and share Jesus Himself. This Gospel is carried by those whom He has called out, to every people group in the world, which consequently is directly tied to our purpose as the Church and His people, namely to make Him known in every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 5:9 and 7:9) that He might receive all the glory and honour due Him and that the nations might be healed and restored.
However, in my opinion and from observation, this seems to be a prayer that is much forgotten or ignored in the Church in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in North America whence I come. I think that this is because it is such a dangerous and potentially costly and disruptive prayer. Even though we, as His disciples today, are commanded to pray for labourers to be sent out; for those who have not yet answered a missionary calling, in order for us to pray this prayer earnestly, we must be prepared for the possibility that we ourselves might be God’s answer to our own prayer. And that’s a price many of us are simply not willing to pay. The relegation of this prayer to the sidelines of the lives of many Christians, Churches and denominations particularly in North America, may in some way explain why these Churches and denominations, which are some of the wealthiest and numerically largest in the world, actually send out very few missionaries, when one considers the number of missionaries sent out to the world compared to the number of members of any given Church or denomination.
To be clear, I am not saying that every believer from this context has a missionary calling and needs to move somewhere else in the world. It takes more than just those who actually go physically to another place for world mission to happen. There are some who are called to stay where they are physically but enable the work of world missions through fervent prayer and sacrificial giving. Many of you reading this article are precisely those people to me personally and also to everyone, who serves with us on field. Without you and those like you, it would be impossible for us to do what we have been called to do in missions. In my book, I would consider you every bit as much a part of the mission work here, as my colleagues and I, who are physically on the mission field would be. I’d liken this collaboration to those mentioned in Acts 9:25, who helped Paul to escape from Damascus. We may not know all their names, but they held the ropes to let Paul down in a basket; so that he could continue with his mission to the Gentiles. As such and in God’s Providence, these “rope holders” were an essential part of Paul’s mission, and so are so many of you to our present mission work. We are eternally grateful for God’s provision to us through those of you called to stay where you are but with a heart burning for world mission and that Jesus would be known among the nations. However, I am saying that in general Evangelical Christians and the Church in North America and other areas of the Northern Hemisphere, an area that has enormous human and material resources, should be sending out several times as many missionaries to the world than we are, given our resources and compared with the number of members that we have in our Churches and institutions.
But for those of us who have answered this missionary calling and have followed the Lord’s leading to where He desires us to serve Him across the world as well as for those who stay where they are but enable us to go and serve, this missionary prayer that Jesus commands His first disciples to pray is a necessity, if we are to address seriously our daily reality of service in missions. Lord of the Harvest, send your labourers!
(3) Prayer as a Blessing
The words of Jeremiah are challenging here:
And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.Jeremiah 29:7
In this situation with Jeremiah, the people of God have been judged for their iniquity, defeated militarily and carried away as captives into exile by their enemies. Yet God is telling His people to seek and pray for His peace and blessing to fall on the place, where God has placed them for that time. There are some clear points of applicability here to the missionary context. No, we are not forcibly removed from our homes and transplanted to another place against our will, though we are compelled by God’s love and calling in our lives, when we pursue His will in missions (see 2 Cor. 5:14). But God does place us in new and different places to serve Him in missions, and He gives us a love and devotion for the people and the places where we serve, which produces a natural desire for His peace and blessing to rest upon them.
Consequently, a significant part of our missionary role in serving in another place and context is to pray for the peace and blessing of God upon the people to whom we are called. Again, this can be a dangerous prayer, because we always have to be open to the possibility that God might want answer this prayer by desiring to use us as His instrument of blessing to the people to whom we are called to share the Gospel. As His ambassadors (see 2 Cor. 5:20), we pray earnestly for the peace and blessing of God on our neighbours, friends, and community, and in so doing desire that our homes would be a conduit of His grace, a lighthouse of prayer, and a beacon of His peace and blessing to all those that He has placed in our path and circles of influence.
I could say much more about prayer in its missionary expression and purpose. But hopefully, you can see how prayer is an active element in the work of missions and making Jesus known to the people to whom He has called us. It is for this reason that our 6fis begins with prayer, and the missionary prayer of this kind permeates and intertwines with every other point of the 6fis. I look forward to share more about the other components of the 6fis with you over the months to come. Until then:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joyJude 1:24-25
To God our Saviour,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.