Sunday, March 30, 2003

Golden Arches vis a vis The Cross

How large is our challenge to take the gospel to the "ends of the earth," and how well are we Christians succeeding in that challenge? According to Phillip Jenkins, the brightest dawn and spread of Christianity is yet to come. The Atlantic Monthly summarizes its October 2002 article about Jenkins by saying, "We stand at a historical turning point, the author argues—one that is as epochal for the Christian world as the original Reformation. Around the globe Christianity is growing and mutating in ways that observers in the West tend not to see. Tumultuous conflicts within Christianity will leave a mark deeper than Islam's on the century ahead.

Yet on the other hand, in more popular measures, comparative newcomers on the block are being more successful at getting a global audience than the gospel of Christ. The New York Times cites research that says McDonald's Golden Arches are more recognized now than the cross. The Times, in an article published Sunday, March 30, says,

In "Fast Food Nation," the author, Eric Schlosser, cited one marketing study that found that around the world, "the Golden Arches are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross." (Read reviews about this book.)

At Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, we aim to have Jesus more known than a cheeseburger. Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship is a missional servant community that focuses on

  1. boldly proclaiming the gospel to every unreached people group,

  2. calling forth People Movements to Jesus among unreached people groups,

  3. advocating the indigenous expressions of the body of Christ in all people groups, and

  4. supporting the planting of indigenous churches committed to God’s Mission

Consider this an open invitation for Presbyterian churches and their members and friends to contribute financially to this mission task. Gifts for the actual frontier mission projects of ours around the world - among over 125 unreached people groups - can be written to "PCUSA," noted "Extra Commitment Opportunity #863001," and sent to either address below, depending on whether you are contributing as an individual or church. One hundred percent of your donation goes to the project itself.

Individuals send donations to Presbyterian Church (USA), Individual Remittance Processing, P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.

Churches send donations to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), Church Remittance Processing, P.O. Box 643678, Pittsburgh PA 15264-3678.

Presbyteries and synods send donations to Presbyterian Church (USA), Presbytery/Synod Remittance Processing, P.O. Box 643751, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3751.

Thank you. May the cross and salvation of Christ be known the world over!

Monday, March 24, 2003

Sweeping People Movements to Christ - or 1,380 Years?

What happens when people are set free to express their faith in Christ in their own cultural context? Good things! We rejoice that among many cultural groups around the world today the gospel is like a wildfire, spreading out of control throughout a people group. A People Group Movement is a spontaneous occurrence in which the Spirit of God sweeps through a people group without organized, trained, or skilled leadership. An entire town, clan or tribe can come to faith in rapid order, and the social order can be transformed in the process. This is happening today in many parts of Africa, South Asia, the Far East, and Latin America. This kind of rapid Christian growth cannot be orchestrated, but we can pray that it happens.

And then there are cultures where the gospel seems maddeningly slow to take hold. The Japanese are one such culture.

A set of statistics from Peter and Wendi Thomson, Presbyterians from Washington State who serve in Japan with Asian Access/LIFE Ministries, illustrate why we depend on the gospel to grow swiftly from people group movements rather than by additive growth. (The Thomsons can be reached at

The Thomsons report, "The statistics for [Christian growth in Japan in] 2002 are in and, overall, the number of churches and new Christians in Japan are increasing faster than the population growth rate. The number of new churches increased 0.63% and the number of church members increased 0.43%, while the population of Japan increased 0.15%.

"However, at the current rate it will take 600 years to reach a church density of one church per every 1,000 people. The present density in Japan is one church per 16,288. And at the current church member growth rate, it will take 1,380 years for believers in Jesus to constitute 5% of the population. 5% is an arbitrary number to illustrate
the slow growth rate. In any rate, to be honest, we don't have time for this type of growth.

"To reach the above targets in 25 years, we need to see 11% annual growth. The vision to plant churches in networks, across denominations, is catching on. We continue to have more Japanese congregations seeking to join networks than we have missionaries, so now we just do it without the missionaries."

Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship works with congregations and our international church partners to discover ways to indigenize and de-westernize the gospel so that it has its best chance to run free among cultures. And yes, it will be done in large part "without the missionaries." But never without the Spirit of God, who is quite eager to let the church grow out of control!

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Nine Reasons People Give

Why do people give? What motivates people to give time, money, and care? The mission enterprise of the church can only fly when we tap into the deepest motivators for all of us.

The pastor of Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif., Henry Wells, is featuring a series of pastoral letters on "Nine Reasons Why People Give" in his church newsletters. He's drawing on the work of Dave Sutherland, President of a ministry called InJoy and a friend of Fair Oaks PC. For a mnemonic, Sutherland's nine reasons spell out the word PATRIOTIC. (It's kind of an odd mnemonic, since it has nothing to do with patriotism. But maybe it's so odd it works!)

Those nine reasons people give:

  • Passion - They give because they believe in the cause

  • Affiliation - They give because they belong to the group

  • Tradition - They give because they have a history or practice of giving

  • Recognition - They give because they want to be known

  • Inspiration - They give because they are captured by the project or the presenter

  • Obligation - They give because they feel it's the dutiful or expected thing to do

  • Transformation - They give because they want to make a difference

  • Invitation - They give because they are invited or asked to give

  • Completion - They give because they are fulfilling a commitment

I'm a big believer in invitational giving. When we offer people a way to fulfill their own best yearnings, we free them to give cheerfully and with a gracious and sacrificial attitude for something bigger than themselves. And God is glorified.

Monday, March 10, 2003

The Communion of Saints in Mission

The March 2003 issue of FIRST THINGS presents "A Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together" in an article called "The Communion of Saints" (although this current issue is not published online yet).

One section of this impressive statement is about mission. It says,

Always we are brought back to mission, and to explore how we might be more fully together in mission, for there is no doubt that Jesus speaks to all of us when he commands that we "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). As we are sent by the same Lord, as we go forth in the name of the same Lord, as we proclaim the same Lord, so we ought to evangelize with one another rather than against one another. In the words of the Evangelical leaders gathered at the Amsterdam 2000 conference on evangelization:

"Jesus prayed to the heavenly Father that his discipes would be one so that the world might believe. One of the great hinderances to evangelism worldwide is the lack of unity among Christ's people, a condition made worse when Christians compete and fight with one another rather than seeking together the mind of Christ. ... In all ways that do not violate our consciences, we should pursue cooperation and partnerships with other believers in the task of evangelism, practicing the well-tested rule of Christian fellowship: 'In necessary things unity, in nonessential things liberty, in all things charity.' We pledge ourselves to pray and work for unity in truth among all true believers in Jesus and to cooperate as fully as possible in evangelism with other brothers and sisters in Christ so that the whole Church may take the whole gospel to the whole world.

In its frontier mission work, Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship and the PCUSA rejoice that we are continually expanding our networks of partnerships with other believers around the world. One of PFF's core values is that we are "Committed to the unity of the global church in mission."

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Three Percent of the World...

Three percent of the world's population resides in a country other than the one where they were born - more than 175 million people - reports the United Nations Population Division in a paper on International Migration 2002 (as reported in Business 2.0 magazine, February 2003, scroll down toward the bottom of the page).

The new UN data shows that almost 10% of the people in economically developed nations are now migrants.

The U.S. gained 1,250,000 immigrants in 2002; the U.K. gained 95,000, the report says, whereas China lost 381,000 emigrants, India 280,000 and Kazakhstan 200,000.

What this means for frontier mission is that increasingly the world is moving to us, and we'd better be ready for this encounter. Our neighbors are increasingly likely to be first-generation immigrants from countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Bangladesh, Korea, and China (as are my own immediate neighbors). We Christians have new opportunities to stand as witnesses of Christ before these actual neighbors who, in many cases, have never met an actual Christian.

Recently one Muslim neighbor and I were chatting, and I mentioned that I have the complete Koran on my Palm PDA, and that I'm trying to read through it to gain a better understanding of Islam. He replied, "If you have the Koran on your Palm, you are a much better Muslim than I am!" And so the conversation stage is set. Let's encourage each other to be ready to be "frontier missionaries" - and ambassadors of Christ - to the world moving to us.