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September 27, 2004



Hey Bill. I understand your question fully, having attended many of the exact same 'missions conferences' as you. I have not read that section in McLaren's book yet, but I have read Bosch and Newbigin. And from their perspective (especially Bosch's) I would say that the term 'missionary' as used to denote a distinct profession should change in its application.

Maybe the situation is better understand by looking for its opposite. What follower of Jesus is not a missionary? What follower of Jesus, if faithful, can be said to not have a call on their lives? And, therefore, what follower of Jesus does not have a specific, stated mission field to which God has called them? This could be Bali or Baltimore, but if we hold to a properly formed view of creation then in my opinion we have to believe that each person who is faithfully seeking to live out God's unique plan for their lives is a missionary.

Now, specifically to the question of location, that is wherever your gifts and abilities can best be used. In my opinion we have some people who go places they don't belong out of some strange sense of call. In the Great Commission the verb go could best be translated "as you are going." This carries it with it the sense that we are to live our lives in the fullness of Christ, and "as we are going" to help bring others along in the Way. We assume that because we can see 'results', at least as we measure them, that God has been honored by the actions of the Western missionary movement. Maybe that is true. But is that sufficient grounds for what we will do in the future?

I believe that we need to return to the gospels for our models of missions. How did Jesus do missions? He stayed in one relatively small region and surrounded himself with twelve people. Not exactly an American success story, but I am hard-pressed to find reasons why that should not be our model.


I appreciate your concerns about people going to places where they don't belong. I also think the right people could be in the right places but going about it the wrong way.

Just as I believe that pastors should be paid—that this specific calling to "ministry" requires that people get paid to do it, I think some people are probably called to go to foreign places. Those people might need support from a home church or other organization in order to do what God has called them to do. So what do we call those people? We can change the name if you like, but I don't think there's anything wrong with naming them.

I think, as I suggested in my last comment on your post today, that a missiology based only on what Jesus did will be limited at best. Obviously, Paul didn't stay in one region. And the Bible doesn't tell us much about what other "missionaries" did around that time, although there are certainly many legends about how far they travelled. If you're suggesting that we need to balance our view of missiology by looking at the life and practice of Jesus, that's good. I just think we have to look at what happened next in the story of God's kingdom, too.


Good point. Our theology must move forward. I think that both perspectives are needed.

bill bean

Pardon me for pushing in, followed the link to your blog from the Generous Orthodoxy discussion.

Bill, I think I understand your objections to what Mclaren is proposing or seems to be proposing. What I would ask is whether or not you see the same problems and issues with how most churches/believers view mission?

I think the changes that are needed (i.e. terms & definitions) are apparently superficial but actually represent deep misunderstandings and misconceptions about church and mission and who does what.

As an example, I would say that pastors ( and/or any ministers/missionaries ) could receive money (support) but that they should not be paid for what they do. This may seem like semantic nitpicking but being paid for what you do implies a completely different understanding of the relationship.

I think its a similar issue with missionaries & mission.


I understand what you mean about the underlying misconceptions we have developed about missions (among plenty of other things). I think that sentence McLaren wrote about getting rid of terms like "missionary" and "mission field" just kind of shocked me. It's one of those lines that he may have even intended to be provocative.

I don't agree with him for reasons that I'v outlined here and over at willzhead, but I think I do understand where you're coming from.

And please do push in any time!

dave paisley


Just a few thoughts...

Once upon a time there was an "out there" to go to. Now there are Christians pretty much everywhere. In The Church on the Other Side, McLaren wrote about missions a bit, too. He wrote that there may still be missionaries who go, but they won't necessarily be the ones with all the answers, as in the Colonial model. They should partner with the indigenous Christians...

For a small example, my church youth group went down to Mexico this summer. We worked with Youth With A Mission in Culiacan. We built a house, did a little street evangelism... So we're short term missionaries, but working with the local Christians who know much more about the city than us. Also, that YWAM base has sent Mexicans to Thailand and even the US. So who are the "missionaries" now?

I don't want to put words in Brian's mouth, but it seemed to me that that's the kind of thing he was getting at.

In a networked, globalized world anyone can be a missionary to anyone else... Cross-cultural missionaries who aid mutual understanding and encourage growth in hitherto unforeseen directions could be immensely valuable, but without looking a bit like the classical view of a missionary.


Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think the "out there" is only a once upon a time thing. There may be Christians in a great many places, but there are still many many unreached people groups.

I think the key in not being colonialistic is to not think you have all the answers culturally and to not confuse becoming a Christian with changing cultures. Of course, there will always be cultural values that are negative. Foot binding might be an example. These are things we try to change because of the gospel. We should understand the culture behind them, however, and react accordingly.

My main reaction was to Brian's suggestion that we should do away with "terms like missionary and mission field." I agree that the world is increasingly globalized, but there are still places where Christians are making little to no substantive impact.

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