“Into Deeper Water” – Luke 5:1-11

I love looking at family trees.  It provides a portrait of where we come from and can provide insight into where we are going.  It is interesting seeing how lives have been woven together and how some nuts don’t fall far from the family tree.  Looking at our heritage is a good practice, not only as individuals, but for our corporate lives together as well.  It says who we have been and can help paint a picture for where we are going.

The Church of the Nazarene began its life in California on Skid Row.  “Nazarene” was sometimes used as a derogatory name for this group of misfits.  But, those early Nazarenes wore the name as a badge of honor because it pointed to the kind of people we wanted to be and the type of people we felt called to serve.  They were ministering right in the thick of their community’s deepest hurts and darkest sins.

These Nazarenes ministered to those struggling with alcohol addiction, broken families, and poverty.  They jumped right into the mess and proclaimed the hope of Jesus by word and deed.  They built hospitals, homes for unwed mothers, orphanages, schools, churches, and so many other places to meet the great needs of their communities.  Their message and way of life captivated people with the freedom offered by the Gospel of Jesus.  Not only did these Nazarenes seek to make a difference for people in the next life; they extended hope and help, here and now.  They cast nets for people in the most troubled waters of our world.  That is our heritage.

Our story begins with Jesus proclaiming a word from God, a word unfolding the Kingdom before his hearers.  Like those aching for bread, the crowd presses in on Jesus.  They want to hear his words, they draw closer still until Jesus is right near the water’s edge.  The teacher sees two boats sitting on the shore, the crew washing and mending the nets after a futile night of catching seaweed but no fish.  Jesus steps into Peter’s boat and asks him to push off into the shallows.  Peter is obviously tired from a long night of catching nothing.  But, he nods in response and pushes out into the water, keeping the boat from floating away with the current.

Jesus sits down in the boat, the position of a teacher, the position of one in authority.  The word continues to be proclaimed.  Words of hope and a future.  Words that speak life into the dead places.  They are fascinating words.  Words that bring to life an imagination long dead and dull from the pain and suffering of life.  The crowd stands at the shore and Jesus is calling to them from the shallows.  But, that’s where the crowd stops – at the water’s edge.  Maybe some of them allow the water to wash across their feet.  But, they move no further, no closer – a safe distance.

Jesus concludes his teaching to those gathered at the shore’s edge.  Jesus turns to Peter, whose arms are probably aching from the long night and lack of sleep, and tells him to put out into deep waters and to let down his nets.  Move from those shallow waters to the deeper, troubled waters.  They are going fishing in those deeper waters.  Some are content to remain at the shore’s edge, but if you’re in the same boat with Jesus you might just find yourself sailing into deeper waters.

Deeper waters have stronger currents.  They pull and push the boat relentlessly.  The swirling waters are dark and often mysterious.  We do not always know what lies beneath the surface.  Deep waters can be frightening.  But, that’s where Jesus sometimes calls us – deeper waters.  The danger of capsizing, of being overturned is ever present.  Even skilled sailors can quickly find themselves in treacherous places in those waters.  There’s risk, make no mistake, in heading out into deeper waters.  But, that’s where God will sometimes call us.  Will we row out into those deeper waters?

We live in a time of troubled waters.  It’s all around us, threatening to swell and overwhelm our little boat.  The troubled waters of deep anxiety, riddled with violence crash against the side of the boat.  Poverty; refugees forced from their homes; abused children and spouses; homelessness, which is only growing; substance abuse; deadly diseases killing large populations; natural disasters leaving many dead or without shelter.  The current threatens to sweep our boat away from the safety of the shore, to submerge our boat, to drag us down with it.  The problems of those deep waters seem much too big for our little boat to handle.

But, that’s where Jesus calls us to drop anchor and drop our nets – in those deeply troubled waters.  That is where Jesus desires to go and the very place where the Church should be found.  Like the boat that carries Jesus and the disciples “into the deep” places, the Church is the vessel which continues to be out on those troubled waters carrying Jesus and the disciples.  The boat was never meant to remain on the shore or in the shallows.  The Church was never meant to remain on the sidelines and watch the world from the safety of its four walls.  Ever and always has Jesus climbed into the boat and said, “Let’s go to deeper waters.”  And, disciples are the ones that follow Jesus out into those troubled places.

“Cast your nets.”  Can you imagine Peter’s puzzled look?  He is a fisherman by trade and knows the “sweet spots” on the lake.  If he can’t find fish, nobody can find the fish.  It’s broad daylight and fishing with nets is meant for the night.  The fish will see the net.  This appears to be an exercise in futility.  There is no way on God’s green earth that they will catch anything but perhaps a stray fish.

How often that is our very attitude as well.  “Jesus, just look at the state of these people.  They are the most broken, the most vile, the most destitute, the least worthy, the least noble, the least likely candidates.  Casting our nets in this place is pointless.”  We may very well feel like Peter looking at the problem and saying, “There’s really no point in trying. It’s a foregone conclusion.  We will fail.”  Yet, even while Peter was skeptical of success, he cast out his nets in obedience.

We may have been fishing all night without catching anything.  We may wonder if we are simply beating our heads against the wall.  We may have tried with all our strength to reach people only to see no return.  That may discourage us to the point that we have stopped casting our nets.  Instead, we drag them to the shore and busy ourselves washing and mending them – but not fishing.

We content ourselves with staying on the shore, avoiding the deeper waters.  But, going deeper with Jesus does not lead us away from the problems of the world.  Rather, drawing nearer to Jesus, getting in the same boat with Jesus, usually leads us right into the mess of our world as those casting their nets to catch people and pulling them into the boat, the Church as a foretaste of the Kingdom.

It surprised Peter when the nets began to tug and pull.  The weight of the fish as these fishermen began pulling them up made the men strain against the load and they couldn’t do it alone.  Peter waved to his fishing partners in the other boat.  Even with both boats, it was hard, tedious work.  They lifted, strained, and struggled.  They were sweating and aching and tired.  Yet, they labored on.  The load of fish caused both boats to begin sinking.  It was simultaneously exciting and frightening.  What a great catch!  But, they’re in deep waters with two boats sinking!  Peter drops to his knees and bows before Jesus, exclaiming, “Lord, I am a sinful man.  Go away from me!”  He and the disciples are astonished and afraid.

I think we avoid the deep waters and casting our nets for a couple of reasons.  The deep waters frighten us.  We want to avoid the messes of the world, while we complain about them behind closed doors from the comfort of our recliners and at the safe distance which our television screens afford.  We want to keep our distance.

The second reason is because casting our nets and pulling them up is difficult work.  Evangelism and discipleship are hard tasks, difficult tasks.  They require energy, patience, and compassion.  And, we’re not even sure we want to expend the necessary energy, patience, and compassion.  Maybe that’s why we place blame on so many people for being in those dire situations in the first place.  They deserve to be in the positions they find themselves.  And, as such, we can excuse ourselves from doing the very work to which Jesus calls us.

“I’m comfortable on the shore, Jesus, thank you very much.  I’ve done my part.  I needn’t do any more.”  Or, we think, things like worship and faith are just about my personal experience alone.  I have no responsibility for others’ lives.  So, we watch from the shore, content to watch Jesus from a distance, but not willing to be inconvenienced by his call to cast our nets in deeper waters.

But, notice that Peter isn’t the only one straining at the nets.  Other hands join his to hoist the nets and the catch into the boats.  The many hands of the Church work together to lighten the load.  Each and every person has something to contribute to the work of the Church.  Every person that is a part of the Body of Christ does not stand idly by, but lends their hands in service to the task before us.  Everyone has gifts which God has given them for such moments.  Keep in mind that some of the crew are steering, some are rowing, and some are tending the sail.  But, each is contributing to the mission of the Church in response to the call of Jesus.

Oh, but it is hard work, make no mistake.  Joyful, but hard.  Things don’t always go as planned.  Casting our nets for people in the midst of those troubled waters can be painful and exhausting.  It is often inconvenient and will sometimes feel like things are coming loose at the seams.  The disciples’ nets begin to break.  The boats begin to take on water.  All the chaos of those waters threaten to come over the edge of the boat, dragging us down into the murky depths.  It can be frightening to feel like the boats won’t float any longer.  And, many have become frightened whenever the Church has been threatened by those deep waters.

When we were younger, my sister and I attended a swimming party at a neighbor’s house.  A lot of our friends were there to celebrate the birthday of one of the girls.  It was noisy, busy, and festive.  Children were splashing and screaming and stuffing their faces with cake.  It was a bit chaotic.  Although there were several adults in attendance, it was nearly impossible to keep an eye on everything happening.

At one point, my younger sister began to have difficulties swimming.  She was treading water but could hardly keep her head above the waves.  The side of the pool was too far for her to grab and she was in a deeper section of the pool where footing was impossible.  I didn’t think, but immediately jumped in to help her.  However, my sister’s problem quickly became my problem.

As I reached her, she immediately grabbed me and shoved me under the water, using me as a prop to get air.  She has a death-grip on my head while holding me totally submerged.  I can’t come up and didn’t have much air when I went down.  Free training tip: Always approach drowning people from behind so they don’t drown you also.  Back to our program.  Luckily, I was able to escape her grasp and help her get to the side.  Trying to help her had almost ended badly for me and it was terribly frightening.  But, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  When we try to help people drowning under the weight of the world’s brokenness, we might find ourselves being submerged.  It may feel like we’re drowning in the process.

When broken people, like you and I, come through those doors, we often bring those troubled waters with us into the boat.  We bring the mess of our lives right through those doors.  We carry our guilt, our shame, our brokenness, our anger, our bitterness, our lust, our greed, our poor attitudes, our fear right into this place like rushing waters.  And, the torrent can feel downright overwhelming at times.  Perhaps that’s why we try to keep our messes hidden from each other.

We dare not let others know our brokenness and sin for fear of chaos breaking out, of being cast out of the boat.  And, for those with more visible problems, we may say a kind word but we dare not make them feel welcome enough to stay.  Those problems belong “out there,” but not in this boat.  The nets are already strained to the breaking point and the boat is threatening to tip.  We might wonder if some fish aren’t just better tossed back in the pond than having to deal with their messy situation.

But Peter’s confession has always been the Church’s confession: “Lord, we are sinful people.  Surely, there’s better qualified people than us to do your work.”  While Jesus may call us to be “fishers of people,” we better remember that we were the fish pulled out of those troubled waters to begin with.  “Lord, we are sinful people.”  We are people that are deeply submerged in those mirky, troubled, deep waters.  We are the broken.  We are the destitute.  We are the impoverished.  We are those living in darkness, those living in sin, those loving our shame.  “Lord, we are sinful people.”

Jesus responds to Peter’s confession, even as he calls out to us now, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people alive.”  Peter recognizes that he is in deep waters, sinful.  Jesus has cast his net and brought him into the boat, calling him to do the same for others.  Peter and the disciples will do for others what Jesus has done for them – caught them out of death for life!  The only appropriate response is to leave everything behind and follow Jesus.

Would there be a better response for us today?  Wouldn’t it be great to be a church that is known for following Jesus into the deep and troubled waters, casting our nets out to catch people out of the ways of death of the world and pulling them into the Church to be part of the new Kingdom of life here and now?  There are no disciples sitting on the shore, only an entertained crowd.  The disciples are where Jesus is, right in the messy waters of our world catching people for new life.  That is and has always been the Church’s mission.

As Emil Brunner once remarked, “Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.”  We can’t be part of the Church without also being part of its mission.  Jesus calls us out into deeper waters, to cast our nets, to catch people up into this newness of life we have found together in Jesus.

 

“The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church” by Alan Hirsch

This book is not designed to be a scholarly book, per se.  Rather, it is a combination of personal reflection over a life of ministry, as well as, a “missional” reflection concerning culture and the church.  Although Hirsch does implement outsider sources, they are sparsely implemented.  A side note, there were a number of typos and grammatical errors throughout the book.

Hirsch tries to define “Apostolic Genius” of the early Church and the “missional DNA” that provided the building blocks for this movement.  The current cultural milieu is surprisingly similar to the environment in which the early Church was birthed.  The Gospel, according to Hirsch, has largely been co-opted by consumerism, the nation-state, and science as the authority on “truth.”  The Church has continued to lose ground and impact society far less.  Hirsch contends that continuing to do Church in the historically “institutional” manner leaves us open to the same failures and faults.  Instead, we need to re-discover the holy fire that ignited the early Jesus movement.  In other words, we need to move away from the “attractional” model to a more “missional-incarnational” model of ministry.

The seeds of Apostolic Genius and missional DNA are contained in several factors that must be present.  First, we are a people gathered together under the declaration that “Jesus is Lord.”  This challenges all other sources of authority in our lives and says that Jesus alone is Lord.  The Church’s primary mission is to love God alone.

We are also a disciple-making Body.  The Great Commission calls us to be a reproducing Body of believers.  It is more than transferring information but engaging people in a way that brings life transformation.  This also calls for a different type of engagement from the Church.  No longer can we sit in the comfort of the “attractional” model of church that waits for people to come to us.  Rather, we are called to be a “missional-incarnational” people that embody the mission of God in the world.  We are a sent people, even as Jesus was sent to us.

Pastoral ministry itself must change.  Maintaining through administration and pastoral care is no longer sufficient in our current cultural milieu.  Instead, we must also embody for fullness of all God’s roles for the missional church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teaching ministries.  We have focused on the preaching and teaching aspects to the detriment of the other roles and to the detriment of the Church.

The Church, in Hirsch’s estimation, is a living, organic system.  It cannot be sustained or truly grown in mechanistic ways.  Rather, Apostolic Genius and mDNA are latent properties that the Spirit gives birth to in new and unique ways in each context.  A living organism is many parts operating together, rather than a hierarchy that tends to stabilize and die.

One way that helps the Church remain an organism rather than a mechanism is the concept of communitas.  Living on the edge of chaos, at the end of our comfort zones, forces the Church to be creative and live in faithful dependence upon the Spirit for guidance.  The Church is called to live in the liminality of life where the mess of life is most pronounced.  Institutions tend to move in the other direction, desiring control and stability.  Again, according to organic systems, the move toward equilibrium is a move toward death of the organism.

Personal Vision Statement for Ministry

“You will be to me a royal priesthood and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6).  Delivered from the shackles of slavery, Israel now had a high and holy calling.  Quite simply, God had set Israel apart, not to rule over the other nations, but to serve the other nations as reflections of God’s character and nature.  Even as God had invited the Creation to participate in God’s creative activity in the world, so now God was calling Israel to engage in the mission of God in the world.  Israel was to be a microcosm, a small world within a world, of God’s Kingdom reigning on earth as it is in Heaven.  The Kingdom starts small but is intended to expand to all Creation.

The Church has always understood itself to be an extension of Israel’s calling.  1 Peter reminds us that we are called to be a “royal priesthood and holy nation.”  Just as Israel was called to serve the world, the Church as the Body of Christ is also called to serve our world.  We serve even as Christ models servant-hood for us: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped for his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.   And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8).

We are familiar with the Great Commission: “As you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20a).  The world is rarely transformed through eloquent argument or great displays of power.  Rather, discipleship looks more like Calvary’s Hill than the political games of Capitol Hill.  It resembles a Cross and not crossed swords.  The Kingdom looks more like the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering, than it does the American Way.  Following Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples.  Showing the disciples his nail-pierced hands and feet, Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  The journey of discipleship just might be a painful and deadly one.

But, that is neither cause for despair or fear that leads to self-preservation.  “Those who lose their life will gain it.”  Through Christ Jesus, Death and the Grave no longer hold the victory.  They have been defeated.  Death has been crushed to death.  Our cry, “O, what a wretched person I am.  Who can rescue me from this body of death?” is answered by the definitive proclamation, “Thanks be to God – through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We have been given this great Light and great Hope.  The darkness does not understand it and will try to snuff it out.  But, even as the darkness could not conquer Christ, the Church will not be the victim of destruction.  We are made to be more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.  Our fight, however, is not with flesh and blood.  It is against the powers and the principalities of this world.  It is against the Pharaohs and Pilates trying to shape us in their image.  Thus, we are called to “normalize the Kingdom” in the midst of a sometimes hostile world.

In doing so, we find ourselves surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.  We follow the Pioneer of our faith in this race of endurance.  We allow God’s vision for this world to become our vision, proclaiming, “I have a dream” with Martin Luther King, Jr.  We stand up for what is right, stating, “Here I stand!  I can do no other” with Martin Luther.  We see the needs of our world and are burdened for them, recognizing, “The world is my parish” with John Wesley.  We find unity within the Body of Christ, despite differences we may have, acknowledging, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” with Saint Augustine.  And, when we find ourselves persecuted and attacked, we pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” even as Jesus and Stephen, the first martyr, prayed.

Theological Constructs

1) God is Triune: Three-in-One (Although this term isn’t used in Scripture, the basis can be found in Deut. 6; Gen. 1?; John 1, 14, 15; Matt. 28).  God is communal and dialogical, not only within the Godhead but with all of Creation.  God invites and empowers the Creation to participate in the creative activity of God in the world (Gen 1-2).  There is a degree of freedom inherent in the Created order, but it also depicts a relational God that is deeply and intimately involved with the Creation.  As such, God is not unaffected by what happens in the world.  This is most demonstrated in the Cross.  God is so committed to the Creation that God is willing to enter into the Creation and live with it, even at the cost of great suffering.

The language of Body of Christ and “royal priesthood and holy nation” (1 Pe. 2:9, 1 Cor. 15) suggests something that is collaborative and interdependent.  True faith cannot be privatized.  Rather, as Wesley suggests, “There can be no personal holiness without social holiness.”  We are created to be in community as a reflection of the Triune community.  Thus, the missio Dei is intrinsically connected to the Church as a community.  Each part has its role to play that helps the Body of Christ function as it should.  Therefore, communal language is appropriate to communicate this aspect of faith.

2) The Kingdom is an essential concept (Matt. 3-4 and Luke 4).  The Kingdom embodies God’s reign in the world.  It signifies God’s true intentions for the Creation.  God’s call is not about national identity, although it sometimes reduced to that belief.  Rather, the Kingdom transcends nationality and national allegiances.  The Kingdom is the shalom of God bringing about the unity of the Spirit in Creation with the Creator.  Israel and the Church are the microcosm of Christ’s peace being lived out in tangible ways that reflect God’s character and nature back into the world.  In other words, this is a matter of holiness.  We are in the world, but not of the world.  There is a Kingdom ethic that guides our lives and it is modeled in Christ Jesus’ death on a Cross.  The Way of the Kingdom is the way of cruciform, Incarnational living.

Pastors equip the people for “doing every good work” (1 Tim. 4:11-13).  This is not over and above the congregation but alongside the congregation as co-laborers in Christ Jesus.  Leadership is not something to be “lorded over others” but to empower others.  Christ is the Head of the Church, not the pastor (Eph. 4:15).  Rather, the pastor should be the first to pick up the “towel and the basin” and wash feet.  Pastors are servants of servants.

3) God invites response (Gen 1-2, Heb 3-4).  Although I did not get into the specifics of praxis, the theology of a dialogical, relational God shapes our praxis.  Understanding God as reaching out to all of Creation to restore it undermines nationalism, imperialism, militarism, consumerism, to name a few.  As Terrence Fretheim suggests, “God always acts directly, but always through agents.”  God desires to share this Kingdom with all of Creation.  We are all called to be “a royal priesthood and holy nation” (1 Pe 2:9).  Our response is gratefulness for the grace we have received through Christ Jesus.  It is also the call to extend that same invitation to others as God’s ambassadors in the world.

            God’s perfect love invites us to respond in new ways that go beyond fear (1 John 4).  This not only includes the fear of punishment from God, it includes the way that we live in the world.  “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).  The Church needs to learn charitable discourse, especially among its members.  Jesus warned his disciples that the world will hate them because of him.  But, that does not then permit us to fight the way the world fights.  Rather, a sign of our maturing in Christ is the ability to discuss, even as God is dialogical, without fear of being destroyed.  God’s love brings a peace that passes understanding and allows us to stand firmly while maintaining charity.

Bibliography

Birch, Bruce C. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.

Braaten, Carl E., and Robert W. Jenson. Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998.

 

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.

 

Brueggemann, Walter. The Word Militant: Preaching a Decentering Word. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.

 

Brueggemann, Walter. Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2007.

 

Brueggemann, Walter. An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

 

Cladis, George. Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

 

Fretheim, Terence E. Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010.

 

Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.

 

Hauerwas, Stanley, and William Willimon. Lord, Teach Us to Pray: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002.

 

Outler, Albert C., and Richard P. Heitzenrater. John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002.

 

Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.

 

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.

 

Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission beyond Our Borders by Gary V. Nelson, Gordon W. King, and Terry G. Smith

Thesis of the Book

             Missions are compared to a mouse and an elephant at a party.  Although the elephant is having fun, the mouse ends up crushed.  Essentially, that story depicts the manner of Western missions in the Global South.  Although missions may have good intentions, quite often there are disastrous results for the Global South (like the mouse).  The thesis of this book is that missions is changing and must continue to change so that we may truly partner with the Global South rather than continue being unreflective about the outcome of our missions.  The Global South has much to offer that we can learn from and it is important to hear their voice as we work together to live out the Kingdom in our world!

Evaluation of Sources Used

            Yes, the sources helped to support the thesis.  The sources implemented were from notable theologians, such as Marva J. Dawn and Lesslie Newbigin.  These sources were not merely mentioned, but were often quoted to provide support for the main idea.  However, that was not the strongest point for the sources used.  This book put into practice what it was preaching through its pages.  Authors from the Global South were also implemented into the composition of this work.  C. René Padilla, for instance, was referenced quite often and to great extent.  This strengthened the argument of the book on the sole basis that the authors were willing to listen to other parts of the world and their perspective.  Thus, their actions spoke louder than their words: “We have much to learn from our ministry partners in the Global South.”  They also implemented other sources from contexts outside the Global North.

The sources used also included “secular” sources.  This provided “outside parties” that have taken note of these problematic issues that confront those engaged in cross-cultural missions.  A great amount of data concerning the issues of poverty, war and genocide, environmental concerns, and other problems set the backdrop for the discussion about “partnering” with the Church across the world.  This was helpful to see that being missional is a holistic endeavor that must include the indigenous peoples and leaders, if there is to be a good and lasting impact.

Development of the Main Idea

             Missions have become a much more de-centralized endeavor.  Previously, missionaries and missions agencies were at the center of outreach to other parts of the world.  In recent years there has been a decrease in the local church’s reliance upon these missionaries as the only source of information.  Due to globalization, the world has become more accessible to people geographically located in other world areas.  This accessibility has not only inculcated a desire to be involved with the “borderlands” but it has also encouraged local churches to undertake missions on their own.  The missionary has become more of a tour guide than previously.

Globalization is often seen as a “flattening” of the world where everything is becoming more uniform and accessible.  Although there is a great degree of that, there is still a great deal of diversity and inequity in the world.  The world is both “flat and spiky.”  Working cross-culturally means that we must be aware of the cultural differences and issues that may be potential “spiky” areas.

Many well intentioned missionaries or groups have entered other cultures and created disastrous results because they came in as the “experts” rather than in humility, asking how they might best serve the community.  The result ranges from distrust, to confusion, to anger from the indigenous population.  The Northern “partner” is often left disillusioned or unaware that their endeavors were harmful… thus, the vicious cycle is repeated.  Resources are sometimes wasted on useless projects that could have best served in other ways.

Partnership is not merely a good idea, but it is a theological necessity.  The Church is never fully whole if it is not the universal Church.  We have much to learn from our Southern partners.  PLA (acronym meaning Participatory Learning and Action) helps us to remember that we are engaged in mission together.  And, ultimately, the mission is not ours but God’s mission in which we are invited to participate.  As such, the community determines the need and we simultaneously learn and act toward a collective solution.  This empowers the local church while helping it to keep momentum through the partner’s contributions (i.e., time, resources, knowledge, people etc.).  There is an overlap that should link both partners inseparably together for cooperative transformation of both communities.  It is long-term discipleship together.

Ultimately, partnering together takes diligent work and listening.  It is vital to understand the context and culture, to know the heartbeat of the community, and to fully understand its potential and limitations.  To have an effective and sustained impact on an area, it is important that we weigh all of the necessary information before acting.  This means that we should take seriously the knowledge of those that live in the culture.  They are resident experts on what will likely work best.  This does not mean that we can play an important role, but it does mean that we cannot walk into a place thinking that we know best.  Otherwise, we may only waste time and energy.

One of the strongest points to me was the planning element.  It is helpful to see that we are “intercultural” partners, rather than cross-cultural partners.  This means that we engage the issue together on equal footing, working together.  As such, it is important to get the local community involved and “rolling the wheel” first.  Then, as this happens, there will be momentum added as the other church contributes to the overall vision.

However, the strength of this element in the book is also its weakness.  In cultures, like North America, that value planning and are time-oriented, this planning may be seen as the obvious progression of steps.  But, in event-oriented cultures planning like this may be a foreign concept and not easily or readily translatable to that context.  As a result, the planning suggested in the book may drastically need to be altered to fit the context.

The mission is not merely about converting people or completing projects.  These are minor goals compared to the overarching goal, which is to connect people as growing disciples to the living Christ.  As such, we are equipping one another as partners for this all-encompassing mission!  We must ask how our partnership is aiding us in discipling others.  We must move beyond charity and allow our works of compassion to embody justice.  Really, it is about “normalizing the Kingdom” in a broken world.

Personal Evaluation of the Book

Overall, I thought the book was insightful concerning the ways that missions has morphed and detailing the ways that it still needs to be sensitive to issues in the Global South.  Missions must be a partnership that goes beyond merely “saving souls.”  Rather, it is a partnership where both may be edified and built up in the faith.  It is about transformation.  This transformation is challenging because it calls for mutual accountability and discipleship.  It is long-term partnership that engenders active listening to all parties concerned.  And, it engages the issues that continue to promote oppression and the resulting resentment from the “bottom billion.”  I would recommend this book, especially given that it emphasizes the theology of missions in considering how we should embody our call as a missional people.  That is something with which we must continually wrestle.