Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hockey as Missions: A Canadian Perspective, eh!

(With apologies to the 3.7% of the Canadian population that are not hockey fans.)

One of the trends in the world of missions has perked my thinking. “Business as Mission” (a.k.a. BAM) describes the tentmaker’s strategy of using professional skills to reach to the difficult corners of the world with a visible, vibrant witness. Could a uniquely Canadian version of this movement be called Hockey as Mission?

It is hard to imagine the Apostle Paul skating down on a breakaway or standing at the face-off circle at centre ice, but allow me some creative leeway. Let’s think about our faith and sharing it with others through Canadian cultural expressions from the rink. It’s one of those things that you can do on a cold, winter night, after the final highlight reel has been shown and the reruns of the Leafs loosing another game come on for those who make this their late-night antidote for insomnia. Hockey as Mission (a.k.a. HAM) could be a Canadian expression that helps us to understand our role in the global church.

Hockey as Mission would help the average pew sitter to understand that the world of spiritual and physical hunger is much like living in Winnipeg or Hamilton. There is only one thing that will satisfy the hungry souls of those NHL-starved fans; a franchise that is their own. But how long will it take for the league to actually consent to sending a team and unthawing the relationship between head office and their cities? How long will it take the church to understand that Christ’s commandment is for his followers to bring a relevant expression of his body to every corner of the earth?

Canadians have a rich history in sending both their hockey players and missionaries into the arena of global impact. Jonathan Goforth’s ministry in China was marked by Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered evangelism; he was a leader with the determination and heart of Gretzky. A.B. Simpson’s world-wide movement began with a small band of German and Italian immigrants; their passion to reach the world birthed the Christian and Missionary Alliance and left a legacy that rivals the Montreal Canadiens. Robert Jaffray had the skill and grace of Bobby Orr as he stick-handled his way around various political encounters, using his upbringing as the son of the owner of the Toronto Globe and Mail to influence governments and open the countries of Vietnam and Indonesia to missionary activity. Like “Sid the Kid,” Don Richardson spent hours honing his skills as a teenager talking to Portuguese sailors on the wharfs of Victoria’s harbour; here he developed his ability to listen to the stories of others and began to form the concept of redemptive analogies as a vehicle to share the Gospel. Canadian missionaries and hockey players share a determination and sense of destiny that drives them to become world leaders.

And what would Don Cherry have to say? He’d be wearing an odd-coloured sports coat with a tie that blazed a stylized fish circling the words of the fruit of the Spirit. He’d rip into the worship leader for including an anthem that breaks from the traditional HNIC hymn. He’s point out that the ushers in church are the real heroes, mucking it up in the corners and always ready to pass off to the superstars. He’d pull out a long-forgotten story of when he was a coach and the heroic ways that he led his group of ordinary boys into an impossible battle; a tale of victory that deserves a volume in Canadian history. His analysis of how Canadians are doing in the task of the Great Commission would be controversial, yet to the point.

Canadians have something to offer the world that goes beyond hockey. Our rich history in missions and the faith of our fathers needs to be celebrated. Our multi-ethnic make-up provides tools and skills for a new generation of young Christians to listen, understand, and share Christ with an increasingly global community. We as Canadian Christians have something unique and special to offer.

When God called Moses he asked him to use what he had in his hand; a rod or a stick. When God calls Canadians, it just might be that we can learn from one of the tools we have in our hand. We need to be in the game and bring what we have to offer to a world that needs to know Christ. We need to be participants – not just observers – of the Great Commission. In the words of Red Green, a man who is known more for his comedy than his theology, we need to “keep our stick on the ice.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Here am I Lord - Send Moses!

There is no excuse for making excuses. That’s the basic gist of the conversation between God and Moses in Exodus Chapter Four. God had called Moses to a specific task, but Moses spent time laying out his list of excuses as to why he is not the one to lead the people of God out of slavery into the promised land. In the end we’re told that the Lord’s patience came to a limit and His anger burned against Moses (Exodus 4:14). That must have been like a deafening roar of a lion and a terrifying experience, because in the following verses we see Moses change his mind and begin to follow God’s orders.

In the days of Jesus people gave their excuses to put off His call to discipleship. The old chorus “I Cannot Come” lists those excuses: “I have bought a field, I have bought a yoke of oxen, or I’ve just taken a wife” (see Luke 14:15-24). To others who justified their disobedience Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead,” and “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (See Luke 9:57-62). It is nothing new that the call to follow Christ was met with excuses.

Things have not changed much. Today when we hear the call of missions and global impact, but we also hear a disheartening number of groups that tell us that we should stop sending Western missionaries. “North Americans are expensive and just mess things up (either culturally or with their sense of superiority),” they say. “Don’t you know about the history of Western missions and their connection with the sins of colonialism?” And then there’s the argument that “it’s much cheaper and more effective to pay for a national worker or evangelist without having to send ‘expensive’ Western missionaries.” Such arguments encourage us to use surrogates that will go in our place, but it’s an example of how we are content to throw out tidbits of cash, but unwilling to invest what really counts; send our flesh and blood to train those national leaders and walk alongside them as living examples of Christ’s love. It’s nothing more than veiled excuses and blatant disobedience to the Great Commandment.

Remember this: Justified disobedience is still disobedience, no matter how good the excuse.

In the past the Church measured its health and zeal by its passion to send out people into the world. People like Oswald Sanders, A.B. Simpson, and many others knew that there was a dynamic link between vibrant spiritual life and personal involvement in Great Commission ministries. If we are honest and look at the Church in North America, we would have to say that world evangelization has dropped a notch or two. In some cases it has been taken off of the agenda, and the excuses listed above are given as a justification. Is it any wonder that the North American church has begun to sag, and now begins to sit sadly on the sidelines as it watches a vibrant missionary Church in the developing world take up the torch?

I’m struggling with this. How can I mobilize a generation and culture that is saturated with comfort and complacency? How do I balance the need for missionary supporters and prayer warriors with the equally weighty need to send out workers into the harvest fields? How do I communicate that the primary motivation to responding to the Great Commission is loving obedience, not guilt or other devices of manipulation? But perhaps the most important question that I must always ask myself is this: Am I obedient to the voice and calling of God in my life, or do I settle for passing this off to another?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

They Were No Fools

“He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot loose.”
Jim Elliot, Missionary Martyr

Over fifty years have passed since Jim Elliot penned the prophetic words which describe the sacrifice he and four others made along the banks of Ecuador’s Curaray River. The world called Operation Auca a failure and tragic loss of life, but the Church responded by sending many others who took up the challenge of the missionary martyrs.

Ethnographic Media and Bearing Fruit Communications produced three films in recent years, telling the story from different perspectives. Beyond Gates of Splendor told the story in documentary form, hearing from the widows and survivors of the martyrs. End of the Spear told the story from Steve Saint’s point of view, first as a young child, then as a grown man. Those who come to Missions Fest Vancouver this year will be able to watch The Grandfathers, the third part of a trilogy that considers the story of the Auca martydom. The film follows Jamie Saint as he goes back to live among the people who helped kill his grandfather, Nate Saint.

As I watch these films and review the events of January 8, 1956, I cannot help but ask some questions. How will the sacrifice of the five men be remembered? What impact does this have upon us today?

The climate in the church in the 1950s was one of rebuilding and triumphal optimism. The world was recovering from World War II and the economies of the West were bursting at the seams. There was a race to get into space, Elvis Presley and other rock and rollers shook up America, and the generation known as the “Boomers” was born. While the church faced challenges from modernity, evolution in the public school system, and philosophical liberalism, it was also enjoying a season of growth and reasonable comfort.

The death of five young men in Ecuador shook the Church from its perch of comfort and complacency. The exact numbers are not known, but thousands accepted the call to missionary service in response to the story of the sacrifice of the Auca martyrs. The growth in the number of Christian missionaries sent out from North America in the late 1950s and early 1960s was measurable. The events of January 1956 took place on an isolated sand bank in the Ecuadorian jungle, but they had an impact upon the world.

What became of the many who joined the ranks of the global missionary family? They planted churches and translated the scriptures. They started Bible Schools and equipped national leaders. They brought practical relief and development to millions of needy people. They made a difference and touched the lives of an untold number of people who today are a part of the world-wide body of Christ.

But where is this army of missionaries today? They’ve returned and are either in retirement homes, or gone on to glory. If you do the math you will realize that the decrease in numbers of missionaries going out from countries like Canada and the USA in the last decade is partially due to the homecoming of this group.

Allow me a couple of final questions. If it is true that the events of January 1956 resulted in a mass movement of young people in obedience to God’s call to world missions; and if it is true that this group today finds itself in either their national or heavenly home; then may I ask, what will it take for the next generation to take up the standard and finish the task of the Great Commission? Will it take another tragic martyrdom? What will God use to move us from a sense of complacency and comfort which rivals that of the 1950s?

While it is good for us to remember that Jim Elliot and his companions were not fools and that they made an incredible sacrifice for the advance of the Gospel, will their example move us beyond awe and reverence to action and obedience? Each generation must answer that question as it continues to address the call to serve God in the midst of a world that does not know Christ.

For those who live in the Metro Vancouver region, I invite you to come to Missions Fest 2010 (January 8-10). This is a great opportunity to rub shoulders with people who are making a difference in the world.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Finish the Race

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Missions Fest Vancouver 2010’s theme is “Finish the Race;” a fitting metaphor that matches the atmosphere of our city in the days leading up to the Winter Olympics. It is also fitting because Paul’s declaration encompasses two timely and important aspects of Christian missions. These aspects are seen in the two principle characters; the author of the book (Paul) and its recipient (Timothy).

Paul as a Finisher

The obvious reference of the 2 Timothy 4:7 is to Paul himself; he wants to finish well. His attitude to serve God as long as he is given life and breath is seen in some of the books he wrote in the last months and days of his life:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two; I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Philippians 1:21-26

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will awarded to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8

My work at Missions Fest allows me to work with many people who embody this attitude. It’s my privilege to work with those who see their “golden years” as a time to serve God and be involved in ministries around the world. I enjoy working with these people and helping then find a place where they can find significance in the global work of the Kingdom of God. But simple demographics would tell me that they are in the minority.

The so-called “Boomer Generation” is entering their retirement years as the best educated, richest, and healthiest generation ever seen in history. In Canada alone there are an estimated 200,000 Evangelicals that entered retirement, and unfortunately many of them are more concerned about their golf score or next trip to Florida, than the state of world evangelisation or the plight of the poor. I don’t think that I am the only one that would question if they are truly finishing well.

Timothy as a Disciple

Paul is able to make his declaration about finishing well because he already began the process of passing along the torch of leadership to Timothy and others. He is concerned with the on-going work of evangelisation and the health of churches that he is planted. Paul says to Timothy:

You then my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction ... do the work of an evangelist. (2 Timothy 4:2, 5b)

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift ... Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:12-16)

One of my mentors, an older pastor whom I worked with, once told me, “Never measure success in ministry in the moment; either for the good or the bad. Measure your impact 2 years or more after you have left, because then you will see the fruit that lasts. The only thing that matters is lasting fruit.”

Camille F. Bishop, a long-time YWAM leader and author of We’re in this Boat Together: Leadership Succession between the Generations, states that the “face of leadership is changing across America, and the stakes have never been higher.” This is true in the business world, but it is especially true in the world of evangelical mission agencies. Many organizations are facing the challenge of passing the torch from founders and their supporters, who are comprised of builders and boomers who were part of the formation and development of the organization.

There is a double-sided irony that disturbs me in the world of North American Evangelicalism. First, I see a generation of people interested in making an impact for the Kingdom of God who founded movements and worked hard, but have done little or nothing in terms of passing along this torch or preparing younger leaders. Then there is a generation that is known as the most digitally connected group of people to ever enter the work force, yet they are starving for relationships and mentors that will guide them. Someone has to bring these two groups together. Someone has to help these two groups see that “finishing the race” includes identifying, equipping, and releasing the next generation of leaders. This will result is an impact and lasting fruit that will.


There is a need in the North American Church for both groups of people – those who are like Paul and are leaders and visionaries, and younger leaders like Timothy who will take up the torch and run with it – to be aware of the mandate of Jesus in Matthew 24:14:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Followers of Christ are all invited to run a spiritual race in obedience to the commissioning of God and to engage in the work of making Christ known through word and deed. We are all encouraged to run that race with perseverance. We are all called, no matter at what stage of life we are in, to finish well.

Missions Month

In the month of January I will be posting weekly editorials which speak of trends and movements in Evangelical Christian missions. It is my hope that this will spark conversations and challenge people to consider their participation in the work of the Kingdom of God both at home and abroad.

Dwayne K. Buhler