Archive for category: Christian Leadership

Process of Missional Engagement – Part 5

03 Sep Joel Busby
September 3, 2012

“Wait a second, God is doing something here…Ohhhhh.” – Mission as Participation

We pick back up with our series on Missional Engagement. I realize that our blogging schedule might make your head-spin. Apologies. I’ve been delayed in finishing this series because I just returned from a Short-Term Mission experience. I led a group of college students to Haiti and I’m freshly reminded of so many of the things I’ve been posting here. I’ve also kicked off another semester of college ministry AND I have an infant son and a beautiful wife who have needed me at each time I’ve tried to post this.

Enough excuses.

Again, the idea behind this series is to explore the ways in which we tend to think of “mission.” From there, I hope to offer thoughts on a path by which we can push those we lead toward a healthier engagement with the mission of God.

In my experience, there seems to be an observable path in which Christians involve themselves and fairly consistent frameworks of thinking brought to the table.

1) People begin with an awakening of compassion (I noted that here),
2) Then, proceed to travel on a trip as somewhat of a Christian adventure (and wrote about this here), and move to a new tier in their Christian discipleship.

(Both paradigms have serious weaknesses, short-comings and dangerous assumptions. However, these thought-processes are often necessary steps. As pastors/leaders, we need to be aware of these frameworks and push further.)

3) After going on a Christian mission trip adventure, a strange thing happens. God legitimately burdens hearts with the pressing needs of the world. However, we then tend to think we should take-over and fix everything (thoughts on this are here).

Usually after many attempts to take-over and conquer, mixed with a fair share of helping when helping hurts (can you tell I’m writing from experience here?), discouragement sets in.

Another shift needs to happen, and this shift goes something like this: “Wait a second. God is doing something here. He’s been at it for a really long time. He’s good at this role. He’s building a church from every tongue and tribe and nation. He probably invites me into this process, but could do this with or without me. It’s his thing. I can participate.”

I’m calling this a “theo-centric” vision of mission. God is a God of mission (yes, missio dei language here). As Christians, we exist to join this mission. He has set the terms. He has done, is doing, and will do the work. Our role is subordinate.

I know that it sounds elementary, but the way we engage the mission of God so often runs completely contrary to this idea.

I’m so encouraged when I read about the ways in which the Christian movement is becoming an increasingly non-Western, non-North American thing. Instead, the Church seems to be strongest in the “Global South” (Latin/South America, Africa, South Asia, etc.) They say today that the “average” Christian in the world is non-white.

(Random sidenote: It always amazes me to think that in 50 years, seminary students will very likely be reading theology and biblical scholarship from African or Asian thinkers that we’ve never heard of. This will necessarily affect the shape Christian theology takes….)

Ironically, Christianity is strongest is the places where we typically send “missionary teams.” I think this is okay, but wouldn’t it fundamentally alter our posture when we travel to these cultures? Shouldn’t we be going primarily as learners, not teachers?

Wouldn’t this change the way we approach Short-term trips? Longer-term partnerships? Wouldn’t this temper our enthusiasm to pull a North American takeover? Wouldn’t this lean against the “go first, ask questions later” ethos of current mission trends?

Some thoughts on how to lead the people you lead through this paradigm shift.

1. Incorporate heavy doses of theology (missio dei) into short-term trip training.
2. Have your people learn about Global Christianity. Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom is a tremendous start.
3. Always, always, always carefully research and attempt to learn the ways God is already at work in a place.
4. Let local Christians lead and set the terms of missional engagement.

The Process of Missional Engagement – Part 4

19 Jul Joel Busby
July 19, 2012

“White Man’s Burden” – Mission as North American Takeover

After a little hiatus, we’ll resume our Process of Missional Engagement series.The idea up-and-running is that, as pastors, we need a better way of leading people to engage the mission of God.

In my experience, there seems to be an observable path in which Christians involve themselves and fairly consistent frameworks of thinking brought to the table.

People begin with an awakening of compassion (I noted that here), and proceed to travel on a trip as somewhat of a Christian adventure (and wrote about this here), and move to a new tier in their Christian discipleship. Both paradigms have serious weaknesses, short-comings and dangerous assumptions. However, these thought-processes are often necessary steps. As pastors/leaders, we need to be aware of these frameworks and push further.

After going on a Christian mission trip adventure, a strange thing happens. God legitimately burdens hearts with the pressing needs of the world. Going to broken places can serve to jostle us out of our slumbering, comfortable and sleepy existences. There is a world — some would call the real or majority world — out there. When this happens, we can become saddened, burdened, broken, shaken, indignant, etc. This is often good and right.

However, a stranger thing can happen. From these experiences, our inner handy-man is awakened, too. There are so many things to fix. We’ve got so many ideas, methods and resources that no one has ever thought of, right?. Get resource A to place B. How simple is that?

Surely we can tinker, adjust, provide, accomplish and rescue. Just give us control and we’ll take it over and fix it. North Americans are the total solution to the difficult problems there, right?


I want to be clear. Very few people would think of it in these terms. Very few people are conscious of this thought process. I know it creeps up in my head all the time. I’m a learner here. These instincts are well-intentioned. As leaders, we have to push further.

I’m also not saying that North Americans cannot offer anything in the work of mission, or any that attempt to do so is necessarily unhealthy, dangerous and wrong. But, we have to be careful.

“White Man’s Burden” is a loaded phrase. I know. Originally, “White Man’s Burden” was a poem by Rudyard Kipling. Lots of different interpretations have been proposed in an attempt to analyze Kipling’s thought. In this post, I’m not attempting to delve into the baggage of the colonial/post-colonial debacle. I’m not trying to push it to that level.

Instead, I’m using it more in the sense of William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Penguin Books: 2007).

North American/Western takeover in the field of international mission doesn’t have a very good track record. North American takeover in the field of Christian Mission doesn’t have a very good track record, either.

It may seem as simple as “fixing,” but I can promise you things are much, much, more complicated than that. As one example, I’ve heard stories of how well-intentioned North American Christians nearly put a solid, healthy, employing-locals, Christian-owned Haitian business out of business.

We need to take the right and healthy sense of burden and channel it in a different direction. A proposed way-forward will be our final two posts.

For now, a quick set of thoughts:

1. When we’re burdened, try to be burdened for the right reasons. For example, spending hours hand-washing clothes is often considered to be a rich community-building cultural practice in certain cultures. Don’t offer to supply washing machines. Don’t be burdened about that. We must distinguish legitimate needs from developed world conveniences.
Try to buy local goods or hire locally in ministry/mission projects. If a building needs to be built, what makes more sense? To bring a North American team, or hire locals? The answer may be different in different places. Ask the questions.

2. Let local Christians lead and set the terms of engagement and set the agenda. Let’s clearly position ourselves in service of local Christians. Let’s really mean this. Then, let’s demonstrate that we mean this in our actions. Further, set things up so that local Christians get the credit for anything accomplished.Building on this, try to accomplish what they ask you to do, rather than what you think will be a meaningful experience for your team.

3. Think carefully about how we should define efficiency and accomplishment. Make sure we are thinking concretely and locally in our decisions. What is needed here? What is efficient, here? What will fly in one place/culture, does not in another place/culture. (As a side note, we need a better theology of place anyway, don’t we?)

4. First, visit a location, culture or ministry. Build relationships and friendships before you try to accomplish something.

5. In your reporting back to your congregation, embody a healthy sense of Jesus’ “don’t let your right hand know what you’re left hand is doing…” principle (Matthew 6:3). Perhaps, Jesus meant for this principle to be lived quite tangibly. This will be hard, by the way. So many difficult tensions to hold in how we go about doing this.

Let’s shepherd, lead, push, and prompt.

The Process of Missional Engagement – Recommended Reading

11 Jul Joel Busby
July 11, 2012

A quick hiatus from the Missional Engagement series. I’ve received some feedback requesting some resources. I’ve compiled a list of 9 resources. They aren’t listed in any particular order. These books have influenced my thinking on Mission more than most. I’ve also included a link to the Amazon page.

Kingdom Come: How Jesus Wants to Change the World. Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi. A wonderful, accessible introduction to the all-important, “here-but-not-yet” concept that is central for understanding the theology of the New Testament.

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Christopher J.H. Wright. A full and comprehensive biblical theological approach to Mission. Especially helpful to see that a biblical theology of mission extends way, way beyond the Great Commission.

The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Lesslie Newbigin. In so many ways, Newbigin started the conversation. Interestingly, I’ve been told that Newbigin’s biggest influence for his work was Barth’s CD.IV. Makes sense to me.

Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World. Richard Bauckham. Short, accessible and brings the conversation forward for contemporary culture. Obviously, written by a brilliant Biblical scholar.

The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Phillip Jenkins. Christianity is becoming an increasingly non-Western thing. The next generation of Christian leaders will be non-Western, from places where Westerners “go.” How does that necessarily change the way we think of global mission?

Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think About and Discuss Theology.  Timothy Tennet. Similar prompting as the Jenkins’ book. This however asks questions regarding the nuances of theological reflection in light of an increasingly non-Western church. Again, I think this changes the conversation about mission profoundly.

Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa. Dambisa Moyo. Not a book on Christian mission, but has all kinds of implications for it. Very challenging, bold and profound.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Asks so many right questions, shifts paradigms and is particularly applicable for Short Term Mission trip philosophy.

Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl. Completely shifts the paradigm. This book has influenced me profoundly. I wish more people would read this book. Practical, creative and unbelievably challenging. I’ll say much more in the final post of “The Process of Missional Engagement” series.


Others? What has influenced you?


The Process of Missional Engagement (Part 3)

06 Jul Joel Busby
July 6, 2012

(This post is a continuation of a series. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 here.)

Christian Altruistic Tourism – Mission as Adventure

We come to a third paradigm/framework/approach to Mission.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, a guy in Haiti that I know wrote on his blog (I’m paraphrasing): “Not to be rude, but we really don’t need Christian backpackers looking for a meaningful experience.”

Mission/Aid/humanitarian organizations in Haiti were overwhelmed by well-intentioned people desiring to get in on the action (I know the phrasing here seems harsh, but…).  Lots of random people trying to show up, with no plans, no connections, looking to “help” or “serve.” Because of my connection to Haiti, I was contacted by lots of these people. When I proposed other ways to get involved, these people balked.

“I just know I’m supposed to be there right now. I just know it. I’ll find another way. But thanks, Mr. Busby.” I heard these comments over and over and over again. Secular commentators have labeled this line of thinking, “disaster tourism” or “volunteer tourism.” Just Google these terms. There’s a lot of stuff out there on this.

It extends beyond epic disasters, however. I think much Christian engagement in Mission — particularly Short Term Mission Trips — may be a manifestation of this line of thinking. Bottom line reality: It’s somewhat trendy to travel to third world places, to serve the poor, to participate in Mission. This is true in the Christian culture. It’s also true in American culture at large. Celebrities are engaged in humanitarian causes. For Christians (young ones, particularly, but older ones too), it’s almost a rite of passage, to go on a “mission trip.”

I know it’s may be harsh, but I’m going to call this unhealthy phenomenon, “Christian Altruistic Tourism.”

Christian: It flows from a perception that following Jesus requires an engagement in “Mission.”  It comes from a Great Commission impulse to involve oneself. It’s considered a certain kind of tier within Christian discipleship to do this kind of thing. Opportunities for involvement are usually given by churches or Christian organizations.

Altruistic: Merriam-Webster define this as “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” These Christians engage out of a well-intentioned desire to help, to look out for, serve, etc. the people in need (in need either physically or spiritually). In other words, these folks mean well. They’re trying to do good. At least from their perception, it’s “unselfish regard.”

Tourism: The perception is that following Jesus, engaging God’s work in the world probably requires travel to a place. Surely those in material or spiritual need tend to live in other places, right? Often those places are places we’d like to travel anyway. At least doing this Mission thing is more effective or more fun, or more exciting if it involves a trip, right?

There are some truths here.

However, if we’re not careful, our Short Term Mission experiences become merely opportunities to display our budding Christian growth. These adventures can be no more than glorified photo-ops for Facebook. Mission trip travelers notoriously try to squeeze in some vacation and sight seeing. I mean, while we’re at it, why not “experience the culture?”

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that traveling on a Short-Term Mission experience is necessarily bad. I lead college students on a trip to Haiti every year. I believe in these trips when handled with care and wisdom. Sometimes, these trips are a fruitful next-step in engaging the Mission of God after Christian compassion is awakened. Many, many, many people who do very fruitful things long-term began with a week-long trip. When led rightly, these endeavors can be helpful. I really believe this. As of now, I’m not a “cancel-all-your-short-term-trips” guy.

But we need to be wise and ask some good, hard questions. I’ll propose a few.

1. If Short-Term experiences are primarily about the goers (debatable, I know), about their crossing a tier within Christian discipleship (dangerous thinking, I know), should we talk about them, evaluate them and promote them differently?

2. Can we have these conversations? Make trip goers aware of this phenomenon?

3. In our training, can we include content on how to appropriately use a camera on a trip? Can we talk about how to appropriately share the photos and videos from trips via social media?

4. Can we always, always, always, always insist that the folks on the ground lead us, set the agenda, set the parameters? Can we follow their lead?

5. Can we ask hard questions before we spent the token day sight-seeing or relaxing? Our hosts will often desire to extend us this kind of hospitality, but can we think really carefully about it first?

6. Can we institute NMTSPs? That’s right, No Matching T-Shirt Policies. Just saying.

Again, let’s lead, push, challenge, prompt, shepherd, encourage.

The Process of Missional Engagement (Part 2)

25 Jun Joel Busby
June 25, 2012

(Want to remind everyone that so much of the writing we do at Hopeful Realism belongs in the thinking-out-loud category. Perhaps my posts especially…)

“Those people…bless their heart. Poor things. And, bless your heart. That’s so nice of you to go help them.”

We come to our first paradigm or framework or approach to Mission.

The sound-byte above might seem over-stated. It is. I’ve made it sound worse than it is for heuristic purposes. But, as Mandy and I prepared to spend 3 months in Haiti in 2008, thoughts very much like this were expressed. Sincere, well-meaning, and well-intentioned people thought that “those people” needed “help” or “the gospel” or something, and that we were the ones to take it.

In this framework, mission is fundamentally a demonstration of pity. Short-Term Mission Trips, when executed thoughtlessly, can serve to cement this paradigm solidly in hearts and minds.

At best, this thought pattern is an inkling, or even an awakening, of genuine Christian compassion. At worst, it’s a toxic notion that re-enforces all kinds of wrong ideas about participation in the Mission of God.

A lot is assumed and implied in the “Bless their heart. Bless your heart” framework. I thought of at least 8 issues (I know there are more here than I can think of at the moment).

  1. “Those people” are primarily objects of our charity. They are recipients of our good graces. They standby, awaiting our kindness.
  2. “Those people” are played against “us.” There is an assumed categorical distinction. Though all evidence indicates a distinction between “us” and “them,” we must seriously lean against such thinking.
  3. Ultimately, people in other places are to be pitied. No one likes to be pitied, by the way.
  4. Somehow, participation in the mission of God is exceptional Christian work, reserved for a special class.
  5. The ones who go are heroic.
  6. Involvement in the Mission of God is optional. Participating in the alleviation of suffering in our broken world is optional.
  7. One can detect an assumption that lives lived in comfortable places do not contribute to suffering in difficult places. This is simply not true. The connections may lie in a tangled, uncontrollable web, but the connections are there.
  8. Real difficulties and struggle in the world can be solved by Christian niceties.

Obviously, the folks who think along these lines do not have these 8 ideas —as a whole or in part— up-and-running. At least, I sincerely hope not.

Again, I’ll focus on the positive. This kind of thinking is an inkling of Christian compassion. It’s an awakening. In fact, it’s often the first step towards missional engagement.

We can be mad at people who think like this. We can be frustrated. We can make brothers and sisters feel like pompous, clueless, snobby, and thoughtless Christians. But, in my experience, most Christians are simply unaware. I’ve been there too. Worse, in my missional thinking, I still sometimes sense this attitude lurking in the corners of my heart and mind. I haven’t arrived. I’ve less than arrived.

Though our ministries need a prophetic edge, they also need a pastoral heart.

As pastors and leaders, we must push people further. Force them to think about these 8 assumptions (and others).

How do we do this?

I’m not exactly sure. Expose the assumptions. Sometimes just pointing this stuff out is a helpful way forward. Ask hard questions. Refuse to allow certain takeaway lessons from Short-Term experiences. Literally refuse. Train. Educate in every part of the church’s life. I certainly believe that appropriate thinking about Mission must be a whole-church, concerted effort.

Don’t be mad. Push, prompt, lead, and shepherd.

The Process of Missional Engagement (Part 1)

22 Jun Joel Busby
June 22, 2012

This post begins a series of posts I’m calling “A Process of Missional Engagement.”

Recently, much has been written calling the Short-Term Mission Trip (STMT) phenomenon in Evangelicalism (especially American Evangelicalism) into question. One such example is this week’s post on the Gospel Coalition — “Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips.”

A consensus seems to have emerged:  Evangelicals’ approach to “Mission(s)” is quite problematic.

I’ve read many of these kinds of resources and have strong opinions about STMTs and their place in the life of the church.

Further, I have a vested interest in following these developments. All of this is personal for me. In my full-time role as a minister to college students, I wrestle theologically and philosophically with what we do, or don’t do, in the category of “mission.” But even more importantly, I’m involved with a ministry effort in Haiti. My responsibility within this organization is to connect, coordinate and manage short term teams. Suffice it to say that I spend a lot of time to trying to lead, think about, shape, craft, connect, etc in this aspect of Evangelical life. A huge personal passion is how to lead people to think of the work of God in the world and how to participate in it.

That’s what this series is about.

I’m wanting to propose a potential way forward with how we lead people to think of “Mission.” In my work with college students, in my local church, in my responsibilities in Haiti, how can I lead the church towards a richer, fuller, more healthy engagement in the Mission of God?

This series of posts will have implications for STMTs. But I hope it’s broader than that.

In my experience of leading God’s people in these things, I see five paradigms for how Christians think of “mission.” For better or for worse, I believe most Christians approach “mission” in one of these 5 ways. Further, I believe most Christians engage “mission” in this sequence.  A forthcoming post will explain each.

“Bless Their Heart/Bless Your Heart.” Mission as a demonstration of pity.
“Christian Altruistic Tourism.” Mission as adventure.
“White Man’s Burden.” Mission as North American takeover.
“God’s Doing Something Here.” Mission as participation.
“Mutuality in Service and Mission.” Mission as fellowship and friendship.

Instead of being angry about how the church thinks about mission, I propose that we think about ways to intentionally lead people through this progression. Our job is to push them along in their journey, purposefully and pastorally.

Richard Hays as “Dean,” not “Interim Dean” at Duke Divinity School

13 Feb Andy
February 13, 2012

Duke Divinity School has a new Dean.  Richard Hays, the George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament, has accepted the job.  He certainly has an idea as to what the post entails.  For almost two years he has served in that post as an interim.

In many ways, the acceptance of an administrative post can distract from one’s research, writing and teaching interests.  My guess is that the weighty managerial duties demanding a dean’s careful attention will at times prove difficult to balance alongside the tasks of theology and biblical studies.

But here is what excites me: at the helm of one of the world’s foremost divinity school’s is someone willing to un-think and rethink traditional and contemporary models of theological education.  I do not envision Dean Hays as an academic iconoclast eager to tear up charters and wipe all slates clean—I just believe him to be ever at work assessing, critiquing, and envisioning the way pastor-theologians are being formed and shaped in academic halls for service within and beyond the ecclesial walls.  His scholarship has caused many of us to stop and reconsider.  In spite of the bold challenges he has offered to certain axioms in hermeneutics and New Testament theology, he has instructed us carefully, thoughtfully, and humbly.  His leadership in theological education is sure to have similar effects in similar fashion.

I think often about what it means to “do” theology.  Specifically, I am wondering how context shapes the theologian and her work.  Is a fine office with a view of the well-kept university quad the only place a theologian can ply his trade?  Is a classroom in view of a magisterial stone chapel the only place the biblical scholar can work her craft?  “Doing theology” most certainly means more than reading, writing, and teaching in a formal setting.  We now have the chance to watch a world-class exegete “do” theology from a vocational appointment that may permit writing and research but demands budgeting, staffing, fundraising, and the signing of document after document.  With a monumental project on Gospel-shaped hermeneutics in the works, Dean Hays will continue to add to his legacy as a New Testament scholar.  That legacy will now be extended to include the influence of pastor-scholars formed by his visionary leadership and sent out to serve and nurture the church.

Christian Leadership

24 Oct Joel Busby
October 24, 2011

Busby here. A quick post to stir your thinking.

I’ve finally picked up Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus. I know I’m probably late to the party but I really appreciate this book already. It’s so countercultural to the Christian Leadership culture.

Without giving too much away (you need to read this!), Nouwen claims that the Christian leader must resist the temptation to be 1) Relevant, 2) Spectacular, and 3) Powerful.

I’m tempted by these 3 things in my ministry post all the time. I also live and minister within an evangelical subculture that tries to train you to be these three things.

I struggle. Any thoughts on this?

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