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Out of the Comfort Zone: A Compelling Vision for Transforming Global Missions

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Respected missionary and Christian leader George Verwer sums up his life experience with mission work—as a sender, doer, and trainer—and talks straight about what is really needed in missions in the 21st century. After forty-three years as leader of Operation Mobilization, one of the top missions organizations in the world, George Verwer declares the twenty-first century is no time for business as usual. No longer can or should mission agencies "compete" against each other for territories or funds. No longer ...
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Overview

Respected missionary and Christian leader George Verwer sums up his life experience with mission work—as a sender, doer, and trainer—and talks straight about what is really needed in missions in the 21st century. After forty-three years as leader of Operation Mobilization, one of the top missions organizations in the world, George Verwer declares the twenty-first century is no time for business as usual. No longer can or should mission agencies "compete" against each other for territories or funds. No longer should they be dogmatic on minor theological differences. To get the job done, mission workers and organizations need a grace-awakened approach. In Out of the Comfort Zone, Verwer identifies the key elements for working together to reach today's world for Christ.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764224782
  • Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.37 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Read an Excerpt



A Grace-Awakened Approach to Mission Work




Grace and Its Enemies



One of the main reasons I decided to write this book was to give a heart's cry for a "grace awakening" in the area of mission work. I have taken this term from the title of Charles Swindoll's book The Grace Awakening, which has spoken powerfully to me and to many thousands of others over the past years. It begins with a reminder that Christians are saved by faith through the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and that we have nothing to offer Him in return. We can simply accept His free gift given to us in grace. Swindoll says, "Once we grasp [grace's] vertical significance as a free gift from God, much of horizontal grace—our extending it to others—automatically falls into place."1

It is this "horizontal grace" I want to write about in this chapter, the quality that allows us to recognize that individual Christians and groups of Christians, including our group, are free in Christ from legalism to grow and work as He leads us. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5—1).

We rejoice in this freedom, but we do not flaunt it. We use it to build up others and to show them respect in their walk with God and their work for Him. "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love" (Galatians 5—13).

Many spiritual writers have emphasized the same message. Stanley Voke's Personal Revival is another book that has spoken powerfully to me of this truth of grace, along with Roy Hession's Calvary Road, which has been recommended reading in Operation Mobilization since the very early days. These and many other books point us back to Scripture, where great passages such as 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 4 show us how to live in relationship with one another.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13—4–7).

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4—32).

Another word that I sometimes use for this quality of horizontal grace is big-heartedness. I think of the incident recorded in the gospels of Mark and Luke where John reports to Jesus how the disciples stopped someone who was casting out demons in Jesus' name but who was not one of them. John took the narrow, legalistic view, but the account goes on— " ‘Do not stop him,' Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us' " (Mark 9—39–40). Jesus took the big-hearted view.

The familiar verse Romans 8—28 is another one of the big-hearted Scriptures— "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." We often use this verse to encourage ourselves or others we are close to, when things do not seem to be going well, as a reminder that God's compassion still surrounds us. But, of course, we can also apply it to others when we believe things are going wrong for them because they aren't acting correctly or they are following policies and strategies we don't agree with.

There is such a need for this grace-awakened, big-hearted approach in mission work. There are so many areas where a lack of grace causes hurt and tension and positively hinders the work of God across the globe. So often our fellowship as Christians seems to be based more on minor areas in which we are like-minded than on the real basics of the gospel and the clear doctrines of the Christian faith—which are so amazing, and on which we should be more united.

Swindoll powerfully lists the enemies of grace—



... from without— legalism, expectations, traditionalism, manipulation, demands, negativism, control, comparison, perfectionism, competition, criticism, pettiness, and a host of others; and from within— pride, fear, resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, insecurity, fleshly effort, guilt, shame, gossip, hypocrisy, and so many more ... grace killers, all!


I think of all the people who have been rejected to some degree because they did not fit in with someone else's expectations—because they were not Baptists or Anglicans or because they did not speak in tongues or did not come up to the mark ... any one of a hundred possible issues, which may or may not be of genuine importance. Many have felt rejection and hurt because they were not received by those who emphasized the gifts of the Spirit, simply because they did not have the same understanding of those gifts. The reverse is also true. Those who emphasize the gifts of the Spirit have felt rejected by members of the body who didn't.

What makes this problem even more complex is that so often preachers emphasize these smaller issues from the pulpit, affecting how their congregations think and how they evaluate other people and their beliefs. It seems to me that our behavior often testifies that these little issues are more important to us than the unity and reality we have in Jesus Christ by the new birth through His Holy Spirit. We lack grace in this area.



Speaking Graciously About Our Work and the Work of Others



One of the areas where a lack of grace shows itself to be most harmful is in the supposedly factual statements that people from one group—a church, a parachurch organization, or a mission agency—make about those from another without first of all checking that we have the facts straight and that we have the whole picture. Often, again, it is the leaders of organizations who make these kinds of statements. From my own forty years of experience, I realize that we can easily say negative things, however subtle, about other leaders or their ministries. Sometimes these comments lack a factual basis, which leads to false conclusions and generalizations. Sometimes, even when perhaps the facts are correct, they are put across in a way that is hurtful and damaging.

Constructive criticism following the pattern of Matthew 18 is something quite different—



If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18—15–17)


I confess it is a great struggle to find the balance between telling the truth openly and boldly, and acting with love. I think that often those of us in leadership don't realize how much extreme or untrue statements upset other leaders who hear them. Once they get into print or on e-mail and go around the world, it is almost impossible to retract them or correct them. If we are grace awakened and love the Lord, then we will to be more careful about all that we say or write about others.

In our present society, commitment to telling the truth is under threat. When we do say something that is not true, it takes grace to confess it and put it right. An inability to do this leads to a cover-up. If you think there are no Watergates in the Christian world, then I'm afraid you are in for a big shock!

The law in most countries is that you are innocent until proven guilty, but sometimes in the body of Christ, you are guilty until proven innocent. May God have mercy on us for this habit. If we are to see great victory in these confusing days, then we must listen to one another and try to keep communicating with grace. This is true in mission activities, in our local churches, and indeed, in our marriages and all personal relationships.

Along with graceless criticism often goes the tendency to make exaggerated claims, again, without always having the facts right. Many are confused and even angry when they hear another Christian boasting; however, few have the love and courage to call that person to account and ask for more specifics about what is being said. How extremely sad it is that the qualifier "evangelically speaking" has come to mean something that is exaggerated, whether a statement or a statistic. Any effort we can make in reporting numbers more accurately would be a great victory for those involved in mission work.

For example, when a TV or radio station talks about a potential audience, we make a huge mistake if we report that number as the number who actually watched or listened to a particular program. And surely we must all finally agree that a decision or profession of faith doesn't necessarily represent a truly converted person. Someone once said that if all the claims about his country were true, then everyone in the nation would have been converted twice! If we hold our listeners in esteem, we are more likely to be careful with the facts.

On the other hand, people who are angry or offended by the exaggerations or wrong statements of other mission leaders must not write them off without any discussion or confrontation. If they know something of reality, brokenness, and the way of the cross, they will be very slow to condemn or speak evil of another brother or sister, especially a leader in God's work. At the same time, those making strong-minded statements or apparent exaggerations must be more approachable and willing for correction. They must also be more diligent in their preparation and research and make an extra effort to stick to the facts. They will have to learn to love their critics and resist making unkind statements about them in their ministry.

In the chapter entitled "The Grace to Let Others Be" (The Grace Awakening), Charles Swindoll identifies two significant tendencies that nullify grace in people's dealings with one another. The first is the tendency to compare, of which he says,



Before we will be able to demonstrate sufficient grace to let others be, we'll have to get rid of this legalistic tendency to compare. (Yes, it is a form of legalism.) God has made each one of us as we are. He is hard at work shaping us into the image He has in mind. His only pattern (for character) is His Son. He wants each one of us to be unique ... an individual blend and expression unlike any other person.
The second is the tendency to control. Swindoll says,



Controllers win by intimidation. Whether physical or verbal, they bully their way in as they attempt to manipulate us into doing their will.... Whatever the method, controlling, like comparing, nullifies grace. If you are given to controlling others, grace is a foreign concept to you.
The opposite of grace awakening is the human tendency to be legalistic, narrow-minded, and rigid, which is so often partly a cover-up for our own insecurities and fears. To be honest, I believe that in some sincere saints it is actually a wrong view of Scripture linked with emphasizing only favorite verses rather than the whole counsel of God.

It is amazing how some churches that I knew twenty years ago—born out of a new freedom of the Spirit with lots of new ideas and strategies—are now more rigid in certain ways than the older churches they left behind in search of grace, freedom, and reality. If you try to confront some of these new (now older) leaders about this, you will see in their attitudes that history does repeat itself.

Don't we have 2,000 years of proof that God works in a variety of ways? Different missions have different strategies, and even within a mission or church there can be tension and division over strategy and the details of how things should be done. Must we be so dogmatic on matters that the Bible is not clear about? Can't we accept that God works in various ways among different groups of people? The work of God is bigger than any fellowship or organization. To get a job done we need organizations that respond to specific needs. For example, God brought Operation Mobilization into existence for a particular purpose—to mobilize the young people of Europe and North America and then across the globe. We don't worship organizations nor do we get uptight because we don't agree with everything in them. We should assess them in the context of their specific purpose and be big-hearted about them. Remember the message of Philippians 2— "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (vv. 3–4).

Wouldn't the practical implications of this bring a revolution of love and grace? It would mean that as well as being caught up in the plans, goals, and strategies of our own organization, as of course we must be, we would become bigger-hearted, understanding more of the full picture of what was happening and how it contributed to the unity of the body of Christ. What a wonderful day it would be if we were to hear mission leaders speaking out in a positive way about other people's plans, goals, and strategies. How wonderful it would be to hear Christian writers and artists promoting other people's work and not just their own, taking other people's books and materials to their meetings. I thank God for those who already do this.

Esteeming other groups and individuals as better than ourselves would involve more than just speaking out on their behalf. It would include one group getting under the burden of another and assisting them positively with money, practical resources, know-how, and prayer. There is a balance to be kept here, because, of course, each mission group has its own God-given vision and methods, and we must not pretend that there is unity where there isn't or insist on it when it isn't necessary. Neither must we use this as a cop-out and deny that Scripture requires that we esteem one another and act in grace toward one another as God does to us.



Grace Where There is Genuine Disagreement



So we need a grace awakening in the way we speak about one another, in the way we report the progress we are making in the work of taking the gospel to the world, in our practical approach to one another's work, and in our sensitivity to one another's cultural and theological differences. But we also need grace within the many genuine debates in the church over the best way to operate as we work to fulfill the Great Commission. So often the alternative ways of doing a job in missions are presented as incompatible, as either/or instead of either or both. There are many of these controversies, and some of them will be dealt with later in this book (chapter 7) when I look at the debates over the relative value of tentmakers and full-time professional missionaries, whether missions should ask for money or not, and whether to send missionaries from Western countries or to concentrate resources on national workers.

In all these debates, my plea is for a grace-awakened approach that gives esteem to the ways other people do things, which does not compare or control, which does not say this is the only way, and which does not judge an organization outside the context of its specific purpose. Where there is genuine disagreement, let there be loving and constructive discussion and, sometimes, even loving and constructive confrontation. Let us be honest about our differences. As Christians with a commitment to take the gospel to the world, we will, of course, sometimes have genuine disagreements. On some occasions there will be the need to take a hard line. Sometimes I wish Christians would take a harder line on issues such as the Ten Commandments, the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, and the need to respond to the Great Commission, to mention three examples. Where cooperation is not possible on central issues, then we should have the grace to disagree lovingly and then get on with our work.

At this point, I want to look at a particular controversy in the world of missions, which is not dealt with in detail elsewhere in the book, as an example of how a grace-awakened, big-hearted approach could help to show the way forward. This is the disagreement over who is a suitable candidate for certain types of mission work. In today's church there is great controversy over the word apostle, and naturally churches and denominations who make use of this term must do so as they feel led without condemning those who do not. In some circles it refers only to a relatively small number of highly gifted and qualified people. This way of thinking encourages the view that only the very best candidates should be considered for mission work. I am in full agreement with the practice of selecting mission candidates with care, but the long history of the church shows that God sends out and uses all kinds of people with a huge range of gifts and talents. Stephen Gaukroger, in Why Bother With Mission, says,



The history of missions is a colorful history of "unlikely heroes"—characterized by obedience rather than ability. Time after time God confirms his word— "Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1—26–27).2


Modern short-term mission agencies have often received people at a young age and with no real mission experience. On-the-field mentoring, the method used by Jesus, has proved to be one of the very best ways to produce long-term church leaders and missionaries out of such people. Some assume that if we have a large number of new, especially young, workers, they will not be well-qualified workers. My experience has shown me, and I love to testify to the truth of this, that God uses all kinds of people. Books like Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel make this point and are well received by Christians in general, but sadly, when a ragamuffin senses that God is leading him or her to be a missionary, they suddenly find that many start to get very concerned about the quality issue.

At nineteen, I was one of those ragamuffins whom God somehow led and sent to Mexico. Today, why are so many pouring cold water on young people and others who may not be apostles (according to some people's definition), but who want to move out and serve God? Somehow perfectionism has gotten married to legalism, and together these two can stop even the most sincere and zealous disciple from taking steps of faith in the area of missions. Martin Goldsmith, in Don't Just Stand There, maintains, "Missions do need highly qualified people, but they also need good people who may not have high academic or professional qualifications. Missions desire to work among people of all sorts, so they need workers of every experience and background."

Let us older and supposedly more mature leaders acknowledge that many of the so-called quality people of our generation have been knocked out of the battle or fallen into serious sin. The really big mistakes and sins that cause grief to the body of Christ in ways that are hard to assess are not usually those of some inexperienced young person on a short-term mission trip following a call to mobilize. As God's people we need to be more compassionate and concerned for our youth. Instead of condemning their music or the way they dress, we should be reaching out to them in grace and love. We should not compare what we think our strong points are with their weak points, but rather we should face our own weak areas more realistically and learn to let love cover their weaknesses. In this way we may begin to recognize the tremendous energy and commitment that they are able to bring to the work of taking the gospel to those in need.

In The Grace Awakening, Charles Swindoll entitles one of his chapters "Graciously Disagreeing and Pressing On." In many ways this is a perfect description of the approach I have been trying to encourage to the controversies referred to in this and following chapters. Swindoll says, "One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable. It takes grace. In fact, handling disagreements with tact is one of the crowning achievements of grace." He goes on to quote Ephesians 4—29–32. Fitting words to end a chapter on the need for an awakening of grace in mission work. I quoted verse 32 earlier, but look now at the whole passage—



Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
While writing this book, I started to read What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey (winner of the Book of the Year Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association). I urge you to read it as part of your pilgrimage to be a more grace-awakened person.

Suggested Reading

Hession, Roy. Calvary Road. Fort Washington, Pa.— Christian Literature Crusade, 1992.

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Galatians. Grand Rapids, Mich.— Fleming H. Revell/Chosen Books, 1994.

Swindoll, Charles R. The Grace Awakening. Dallas— Word Publishing, 1990, 1996.

Voke, Stanley. Personal Revival. OM Literature, n.d.

Yancey, Philip. What's So Amazing About Grace? New York— HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1997.

Books Referenced

Gaukroger, Stephen. Why Bother With Mission? Downers Grove, Ill.— InterVarsity Press, n.d.

Goldsmith, Martin. Don't Just Stand There. Downers Grove, Ill.— InterVarsity Press, n.d.

Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Sisters, Ore.— Multnomah Books, 1993.

1Charles Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Dallas— Word Publishing, 1990, 1996). Used with permission.

2Stephen Gaukroger, Why Bother With Mission? (Downers Grove, Ill.— InterVarsity Press, n.d.).



Chapter One

A Grace-Awakened Approach to Mission Work



GRACE AND ITS ENEMIES

One of the main reasons I decided to write this book was to give a heart's cry for a "grace awakening" in the area of mission work. I have taken this term from the title of Charles Swindoll's book The Grace Awakening, which has spoken powerfully to me and to many thousands of others over the past years. It begins with a reminder that Christians are saved by faith through the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and that we have nothing to offer Him in return. We can simply accept His free gift given to us in grace. Swindoll says, "Once we grasp [grace's] vertical significance as a free gift from God, much of horizontal grace—our extending it to others—automatically falls into place."1

It is this "horizontal grace" I want to write about in this chapter, the quality that allows us to recognize that individual Christians and groups of Christians, including our group, are free in Christ from legalism to grow and work as He leads us. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5—1).

We rejoice in this freedom, but we do not flaunt it. We use it to build up others and to show them respect in their walk with God and their work for Him. "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love" (Galatians 5—13).

Many spiritual writers have emphasized the same message. Stanley Voke's Personal Revival is another book that has spoken powerfully to me of this truth of grace, along with Roy Hession's Calvary Road, which has been recommended reading in Operation Mobilization since the very early days. These and many other books point us back to Scripture, where great passages such as 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 4 show us how to live in relationship with one another.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13—4–7).

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4—32).

Another word that I sometimes use for this quality of horizontal grace is big-heartedness. I think of the incident recorded in the gospels of Mark and Luke where John reports to Jesus how the disciples stopped someone who was casting out demons in Jesus' name but who was not one of them. John took the narrow, legalistic view, but the account goes on— " 'Do not stop him,' Jesus said. 'No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us' " (Mark 9—39–40). Jesus took the big-hearted view.

The familiar verse Romans 8—28 is another one of the big-hearted Scriptures— "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." We often use this verse to encourage ourselves or others we are close to, when things do not seem to be going well, as a reminder that God's compassion still surrounds us. But, of course, we can also apply it to others when we believe things are going wrong for them because they aren't acting correctly or they are following policies and strategies we don't agree with.

There is such a need for this grace-awakened, big-hearted approach in mission work. There are so many areas where a lack of grace causes hurt and tension and positively hinders the work of God across the globe. So often our fellowship as Christians seems to be based more on minor areas in which we are like-minded than on the real basics of the gospel and the clear doctrines of the Christian faith—which are so amazing, and on which we should be more united.

Swindoll powerfully lists the enemies of grace—



... from without— legalism, expectations, traditionalism, manipulation, demands, negativism, control, comparison, perfectionism, competition, criticism, pettiness, and a host of others; and from within— pride, fear, resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, insecurity, fleshly effort, guilt, shame, gossip, hypocrisy, and so many more ... grace killers, all!


I think of all the people who have been rejected to some degree because they did not fit in with someone else's expectations—because they were not Baptists or Anglicans or because they did not speak in tongues or did not come up to the mark ... any one of a hundred possible issues, which may or may not be of genuine importance. Many have felt rejection and hurt because they were not received by those who emphasized the gifts of the Spirit, simply because they did not have the same understanding of those gifts. The reverse is also true. Those who emphasize the gifts of the Spirit have felt rejected by members of the body who didn't.

What makes this problem even more complex is that so often preachers emphasize these smaller issues from the pulpit, affecting how their congregations think and how they evaluate other people and their beliefs. It seems to me that our behavior often testifies that these little issues are more important to us than the unity and reality we have in Jesus Christ by the new birth through His Holy Spirit. We lack grace in this area.



Speaking Graciously About Our Work and the Work of Others

One of the areas where a lack of grace shows itself to be most harmful is in the supposedly factual statements that people from one group—a church, a parachurch organization, or a mission agency—make about those from another without first of all checking that we have the facts straight and that we have the whole picture. Often, again, it is the leaders of organizations who make these kinds of statements. From my own forty years of experience, I realize that we can easily say negative things, however subtle, about other leaders or their ministries. Sometimes these comments lack a factual basis, which leads to false conclusions and generalizations. Sometimes, even when perhaps the facts are correct, they are put across in a way that is hurtful and damaging.

Constructive criticism following the pattern of Matthew 18 is something quite different—



If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18—15–17)


I confess it is a great struggle to find the balance between telling the truth openly and boldly, and acting with love. I think that often those of us in leadership don't realize how much extreme or untrue statements upset other leaders who hear them. Once they get into print or on e-mail and go around the world, it is almost impossible to retract them or correct them. If we are grace awakened and love the Lord, then we will to be more careful about all that we say or write about others.

In our present society, commitment to telling the truth is under threat. When we do say something that is not true, it takes grace to confess it and put it right. An inability to do this leads to a cover-up. If you think there are no Watergates in the Christian world, then I'm afraid you are in for a big shock!

The law in most countries is that you are innocent until proven guilty, but sometimes in the body of Christ, you are guilty until proven innocent. May God have mercy on us for this habit. If we are to see great victory in these confusing days, then we must listen to one another and try to keep communicating with grace. This is true in mission activities, in our local churches, and indeed, in our marriages and all personal relationships.

Along with graceless criticism often goes the tendency to make exaggerated claims, again, without always having the facts right. Many are confused and even angry when they hear another Christian boasting; however, few have the love and courage to call that person to account and ask for more specifics about what is being said. How extremely sad it is that the qualifier "evangelically speaking" has come to mean something that is exaggerated, whether a statement or a statistic. Any effort we can make in reporting numbers more accurately would be a great victory for those involved in mission work.

For example, when a TV or radio station talks about a potential audience, we make a huge mistake if we report that number as the number who actually watched or listened to a particular program. And surely we must all finally agree that a decision or profession of faith doesn't necessarily represent a truly converted person. Someone once said that if all the claims about his country were true, then everyone in the nation would have been converted twice! If we hold our listeners in esteem, we are more likely to be careful with the facts.

On the other hand, people who are angry or offended by the exaggerations or wrong statements of other mission leaders must not write them off without any discussion or confrontation. If they know something of reality, brokenness, and the way of the cross, they will be very slow to condemn or speak evil of another brother or sister, especially a leader in God's work. At the same time, those making strong-minded statements or apparent exaggerations must be more approachable and willing for correction. They must also be more diligent in their preparation and research and make an extra effort to stick to the facts. They will have to learn to love their critics and resist making unkind statements about them in their ministry.

In the chapter entitled "The Grace to Let Others Be" (The Grace Awakening), Charles Swindoll identifies two significant tendencies that nullify grace in people's dealings with one another. The first is the tendency to compare, of which he says,



Before we will be able to demonstrate sufficient grace to let others be, we'll have to get rid of this legalistic tendency to compare. (Yes, it is a form of legalism.) God has made each one of us as we are. He is hard at work shaping us into the image He has in mind. His only pattern (for character) is His Son. He wants each one of us to be unique ... an individual blend and expression unlike any other person.
The second is the tendency to control. Swindoll says,



Controllers win by intimidation. Whether physical or verbal, they bully their way in as they attempt to manipulate us into doing their will.... Whatever the method, controlling, like comparing, nullifies grace. If you are given to controlling others, grace is a foreign concept to you.
The opposite of grace awakening is the human tendency to be legalistic, narrow-minded, and rigid, which is so often partly a cover-up for our own insecurities and fears. To be honest, I believe that in some sincere saints it is actually a wrong view of Scripture linked with emphasizing only favorite verses rather than the whole counsel of God.

It is amazing how some churches that I knew twenty years ago—born out of a new freedom of the Spirit with lots of new ideas and strategies—are now more rigid in certain ways than the older churches they left behind in search of grace, freedom, and reality. If you try to confront some of these new (now older) leaders about this, you will see in their attitudes that history does repeat itself.

Don't we have 2,000 years of proof that God works in a variety of ways? Different missions have different strategies, and even within a mission or church there can be tension and division over strategy and the details of how things should be done. Must we be so dogmatic on matters that the Bible is not clear about? Can't we accept that God works in various ways among different groups of people? The work of God is bigger than any fellowship or organization. To get a job done we need organizations that respond to specific needs. For example, God brought Operation Mobilization into existence for a particular purpose—to mobilize the young people of Europe and North America and then across the globe. We don't worship organizations nor do we get uptight because we don't agree with everything in them. We should assess them in the context of their specific purpose and be big-hearted about them. Remember the message of Philippians 2— "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (vv. 3–4).

Wouldn't the practical implications of this bring a revolution of love and grace? It would mean that as well as being caught up in the plans, goals, and strategies of our own organization, as of course we must be, we would become bigger-hearted, understanding more of the full picture of what was happening and how it contributed to the unity of the body of Christ. What a wonderful day it would be if we were to hear mission leaders speaking out in a positive way about other people's plans, goals, and strategies. How wonderful it would be to hear Christian writers and artists promoting other people's work and not just their own, taking other people's books and materials to their meetings. I thank God for those who already do this.

Esteeming other groups and individuals as better than ourselves would involve more than just speaking out on their behalf. It would include one group getting under the burden of another and assisting them positively with money, practical resources, know-how, and prayer. There is a balance to be kept here, because, of course, each mission group has its own God-given vision and methods, and we must not pretend that there is unity where there isn't or insist on it when it isn't necessary. Neither must we use this as a cop-out and deny that Scripture requires that we esteem one another and act in grace toward one another as God does to us.



Grace Where There Is Genuine Disagreement

So we need a grace awakening in the way we speak about one another, in the way we report the progress we are making in the work of taking the gospel to the world, in our practical approach to one another's work, and in our sensitivity to one another's cultural and theological differences. But we also need grace within the many genuine debates in the church over the best way to operate as we work to fulfill the Great Commission. So often the alternative ways of doing a job in missions are presented as incompatible, as either/or instead of either or both. There are many of these controversies, and some of them will be dealt with later in this book (chapter 7) when I look at the debates over the relative value of tentmakers and full-time professional missionaries, whether missions should ask for money or not, and whether to send missionaries from Western countries or to concentrate resources on national workers.

In all these debates, my plea is for a grace-awakened approach that gives esteem to the ways other people do things, which does not compare or control, which does not say this is the only way, and which does not judge an organization outside the context of its specific purpose. Where there is genuine disagreement, let there be loving and constructive discussion and, sometimes, even loving and constructive confrontation. Let us be honest about our differences. As Christians with a commitment to take the gospel to the world, we will, of course, sometimes have genuine disagreements. On some occasions there will be the need to take a hard line. Sometimes I wish Christians would take a harder line on issues such as the Ten Commandments, the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, and the need to respond to the Great Commission, to mention three examples. Where cooperation is not possible on central issues, then we should have the grace to disagree lovingly and then get on with our work.

At this point, I want to look at a particular controversy in the world of missions, which is not dealt with in detail elsewhere in the book, as an example of how a grace-awakened, big-hearted approach could help to show the way forward. This is the disagreement over who is a suitable candidate for certain types of mission work. In today's church there is great controversy over the word apostle, and naturally churches and denominations who make use of this term must do so as they feel led without condemning those who do not. In some circles it refers only to a relatively small number of highly gifted and qualified people. This way of thinking encourages the view that only the very best candidates should be considered for mission work. I am in full agreement with the practice of selecting mission candidates with care, but the long history of the church shows that God sends out and uses all kinds of people with a huge range of gifts and talents. Stephen Gaukroger, in Why Bother With Mission, says,



The history of missions is a colorful history of "unlikely heroes"—characterized by obedience rather than ability. Time after time God confirms his word— "Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1—26–27).2


Modern short-term mission agencies have often received people at a young age and with no real mission experience. On-the-field mentoring, the method used by Jesus, has proved to be one of the very best ways to produce long-term church leaders and missionaries out of such people. Some assume that if we have a large number of new, especially young, workers, they will not be well-qualified workers. My experience has shown me, and I love to testify to the truth of this, that God uses all kinds of people. Books like Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel make this point and are well received by Christians in general, but sadly, when a ragamuffin senses that God is leading him or her to be a missionary, they suddenly find that many start to get very concerned about the quality issue.

At nineteen, I was one of those ragamuffins whom God somehow led and sent to Mexico. Today, why are so many pouring cold water on young people and others who may not be apostles (according to some people's definition), but who want to move out and serve God? Somehow perfectionism has gotten married to legalism, and together these two can stop even the most sincere and zealous disciple from taking steps of faith in the area of missions. Martin Goldsmith, in Don't Just Stand There, maintains, "Missions do need highly qualified people, but they also need good people who may not have high academic or professional qualifications. Missions desire to work among people of all sorts, so they need workers of every experience and background."

Let us older and supposedly more mature leaders acknowledge that many of the so-called quality people of our generation have been knocked out of the battle or fallen into serious sin. The really big mistakes and sins that cause grief to the body of Christ in ways that are hard to assess are not usually those of some inexperienced young person on a short-term mission trip following a call to mobilize. As God's people we need to be more compassionate and concerned for our youth. Instead of condemning their music or the way they dress, we should be reaching out to them in grace and love. We should not compare what we think our strong points are with their weak points, but rather we should face our own weak areas more realistically and learn to let love cover their weaknesses. In this way we may begin to recognize the tremendous energy and commitment that they are able to bring to the work of taking the gospel to those in need.

In The Grace Awakening, Charles Swindoll entitles one of his chapters "Graciously Disagreeing and Pressing On." In many ways this is a perfect description of the approach I have been trying to encourage to the controversies referred to in this and following chapters. Swindoll says, "One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable. It takes grace. In fact, handling disagreements with tact is one of the crowning achievements of grace." He goes on to quote Ephesians 4—29–32. Fitting words to end a chapter on the need for an awakening of grace in mission work. I quoted verse 32 earlier, but look now at the whole passage—



Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
While writing this book, I started to read What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey (winner of the Book of the Year Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association). I urge you to read it as part of your pilgrimage to be a more grace-awakened person.

Suggested Reading

Hession, Roy. Calvary Road. Fort Washington, Pa.— Christian Literature Crusade, 1992.

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Galatians. Grand Rapids, Mich.— Fleming H. Revell/Chosen Books, 1994.

Swindoll, Charles R. The Grace Awakening. Dallas— Word Publishing, 1990, 1996.

Voke, Stanley. Personal Revival. OM Literature, n.d.

Yancey, Philip. What's So Amazing About Grace? New York— HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1997.

Books Referenced

Gaukroger, Stephen. Why Bother With Mission? Downers Grove, Ill.— InterVarsity Press, n.d.

Goldsmith, Martin. Don't Just Stand There. Downers Grove, Ill.— InterVarsity Press, n.d.

Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Sisters, Ore.— Multnomah Books, 1993.

1Charles Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Dallas— Word Publishing, 1990, 1996). Used with permission.

2Stephen Gaukroger, Why Bother With Mission? (Downers Grove, Ill.— InterVarsity Press, n.d.).

 


Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

 

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