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Counting Heads, Counting Churches

It is not uncommon for evangelists to measure their success by counting the number of decisions made for Christ, or for pastors to measure their success by the number of people sitting in the pews on Sunday.  Both of these are inaccurate measures of success because they indicate little about genuine spiritual life.  But on the mission field another variation of the numbers game has developed: counting churches.

Among some advocates of church planting movements (CPM), it is not uncommon to hear reports about how many churches are planted here and there in such-and-such (short) period of time.  The rapid multiplication of churches is seen as evidence of the work of God in bringing many people to Christ.  Everyone is quick to shout their apparent successes from the rooftops, but neither missionaries, evangelists, nor pastors are as diligent in their reporting when new churches fold, new converts disappear, or attendees make for the back door of the church.  

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Brief Survey of Thai Church History (Audio Lecture)

firstchurchchiangmai smlI recently took about 20 hours of lecture notes on Thai church history and condensed them into about 1.5 hours for a session on Thai church history at my mission organization's annual conference.  Embedded below you will find an audio version of this very brief overview of Thai church history which will give you a big picture view of the development of Protestant Christianity in Thailand. 

My lecture here is not as polished or fluid as I would like, but a number of listeners gave me positive feedback so I decided to post it for those who would like a quick overview of Thai church history in a short period of time. (Please excuse the fact that the recording starts abruptly and there is no mention early Roman Catholic mission work in Thailand - I forgot to hit the record button until 15 minutes after I began talking)

If you do not see an embedded audio player and/or download link above, you can click here for direct access to the audio file.

For more on Thai church history, please see my website www.thaichurchhistory.com

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Should We Dump Foreign Missionaries in Favor of Native Missionaries?

chairs dumped in field 250pxIn recent years, there has been a trend for some missions supporters and churches in the West to move away from sending their own missionaries in favor of supporting “native missionaries.”   The logic goes something like this: “Why pay $60,000/year or more to support a family of American missionaries who will struggle to learn language and culture when you can support a native missionary who knows the language and culture already for $50/month?”  At first glance this seems like a great idea.  And in some places it might be.  But there are other factors at play when deciding to support a missionary from your home country or someone more “local.”  

The historical, cultural, religious, and economic situation varies greatly from country to county and not all non-Western nations can be lumped together when evaluating whether foreign missionaries are still need. In this post, I want to look at several questions that can help us evaluate whether missionaries are really needed (or wanted) in a given location. I will use Thailand as a case study since it is the context that I am most familiar with.

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Towards Contextualized Creeds

The following article has been republished with permission from Larry Dinkins and the International Journal of Frontier Missiology.

One of the first things our supervisor instructed us to do as church planters in Central Thailand was to glue a card with the Apostles’ Creed into the cover of every hymnal. Every Sunday we would have our small congregation of mainly leprosy believers memorize the creed and recite it in unison. Our congregation had no real appreciation of the historic development and impact of this creed, but as preferred oral learners in a group culture, they enjoyed saying the creed out loud together and in the process gained a major dose of scriptural truth. Ancient statements of faith, like the Apostles’ Creed, have been translated and used for centuries in a variety of cultures. Much ink has been spilt analyzing the contribution and content of the historic creeds, but less has been said about how to contextualize them for non-western contexts. To contextualize a creed, one must be aware of the nature of creeds historically as well as the benefits and potential pitfalls inherent in the development process.

The Value and Dangers of Creeds 

Philip Schaff in his massive three-volume work on Creeds states, “Confessions, in due subordination to the bible, are of great value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice.”[i] G. W. Bromiley notes the benefits, but also highlights the dangers of creedal statements:

The dangers of creed making are obvious. Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded.  They can be superimposed on Scripture.  Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis for teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.[ii]

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7 Steps for Preparing to Preach in a Second Language

open bibles english thai greekOne of the major goals that many new missionaries want to achieve is learning how to preach in another language.  But as many missionaries can testify, learning how to engage in small talk and buy things at the market is totally different than standing up to preach.  Public speaking can be intimidating your own language, never mind somebody else’s.  

But even when you can preach confidently in your own language, the reality of preaching in a second language enforces a certain humility upon the preacher. You can never be 100% sure that what is coming out of your mouth is exactly what you want to say, or whether your listeners are understanding the point you are trying to make.  If they aren’t getting it, is it a content issue or a language issue?  Preaching in a second language is fraught with the potential for irrecoverable pronunciation errors and poor word choices.  At the very least, the range and depth of what you are able to express in a second language is somewhat less than what you’d be able to do in your native language.  And even if your language is decent, do you understand the culture?  In addition to an intimate acquaintance with the Bible, ability and fluency in both language and culture are essential for preaching cross-culturally in a second language.  But for newer missionaries (or even more seasoned missionaries), knowledge of both language and culture are a work in progress.

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If Jesus Never Rose From the Dead…

Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but many don’t know why it matters. Jesus died for our sins on the cross so we could go to heaven. Isn’t that enough? Does the resurrection really add anything to our faith? If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, our sins would still be forgiven, right?

I want you to imagine with me a world where Jesus did not rise from the dead. Jesus is arrested and the disciples scatter. Peter denies Jesus. All the disciples hide because they are afraid they will be arrested and killed next. On Sunday, three women with spices to anoint Jesus’ body approach the tomb and find it closed. The guards turn them away. They go back to the disciples and tell them they couldn’t get in. The disciples stay hidden. There is no Pentecost. Peter did not preach. He went fishing. Three thousand people don’t hear that Jesus conquered sin and death. Eventually, people forget about Jesus and the disciples return quietly to their former lives. Some of them move to distant cities to get away from the Jewish authorities who killed Jesus. The End.