Fabulous Quotes from the Mission Information Workers Conference

Last week I joined four other colleagues from One Challenge in Texas for the Mission Information Workers Conference. This gathering was sponsored by the Community of Mission Information Workers (CMIW), the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Harvest Information System (HIS) and the Seed Company. The program included 14 TED Talks (Technology, Entertainment & Design). A number of the speakers punctuated their TED Talks with insightful quotes. Here are my favorite top five five.

Let’s start with two quotes attributed to Albert Einstein.

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

The point made by management expert, Peter F. Drucker, merits some thought.

“What gets measured, gets managed.”

The words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux highlight the motives for seeking knowledge.

Some seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity; others seek knowledge that they may themselves be known: that is vanity; but there are still others who seek knowledge in order to serve and edify others, and that is charity.

Wow!

And here is a final quote by Lord Kelvin, who champions quantitative research.

“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.”

So these are my top five quotes from the conference. Do you have any favorite quotes that guide your use of Mission Information? Feel free to share them here.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” – Isaac Newton

For 35 years I’ve intuitively been involved in mission research, first for a local church, then for a whole city, then a whole country, and now for a whole mission & the whole world. Over the years these are some of the questions that have come my way about mission research.

  • Why is research important to Christian missions?
  • Why should we make an effort to count the believers and number the churches?
  • What does a mission information worker do anyway?

Based on my limited experience and understanding, I’ve tried to explain how research is helpful to Christian missions. But in recent years, I’ve discovered that my mission organization, One Challenge, has numerous “research giants” who have greatly helped me understand and articulate the importance of research to Christian mission. In this article I wish to focus on the contribution of two of these research giants, whose complementary insights, though made a generation apart, have greatly shaped my understanding of missionary research and what a mission information worker does. Like Isaac Newton, I can see further by standing on the shoulders of these giants.

Four Categories of Mission Research

Back in 1988, Paul Yaggy, one of the early champions of mission research in our organization, described four categories of mission related research. The following descriptions come from his Position Paper on OC Research.

The first is those who are accumulating factual data only. This includes demographic information regarding both the context and the institutional church. Such information is published or maintained for access and use by others as they desire.

The second category is made up of those who do such analysis to show trends and to define potential places of ministry which are in need of pioneering effort.

The third category consists of those who not only do trend analysis, but seek to discover to a limited degree some of the factors which cause these trends. These organizations publish papers along with their statistical data and analysis to assist whoever is interested in such information.

A fourth category in which OC finds itself is organizations which do all of the above but carry the analysis of the factors to greater depth with the primary purpose of understanding both the institutional church and its context with regard to past and present ministry effectiveness as well as its potential for meeting identified needs in the future. The primary output of such research, as far as OC is concerned, is a basis for decision making for its own ministries in serving the church and for carrying out the other three categories of OC’s basic strategy of motivation, training, and mobilization.

For some time this writer has wrestled with a succinct way to describe Yaggy’s fourth level.  Technically speaking, what information workers do can be classified “applied research.” — but that does not seem to excite much passion nor effectively communicate with church people what we do.  I’m more enthusiastic about “decision making for disciple making” as a mission information worker’s goal is to provide the body of Christ with information to assist decision making for effective disciple making.

To summarize, we might also say that the task of mission information workers at levels one and two is to determine the facts. At level three, mission information workers seek to determine factors shaping the trends.  And the focus of level four can be called decision making for disciple making.

The Mission Information Pyramid

Jumping ahead thirty years or so, our current director of research set Yaggy’s four categories of mission research in the context of an information model known as the “DIKW Pyramid” or the “Knowledge Hierarchy”.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIKW_Pyramid for a general overview and further references.) This model further elaborates what mission information workers seek to discover at each level of research. The acrostic DIKW is short for Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. These four words nicely describe what the mission information worker seeks at each level.  For our purposes we will call this the Mission Information Pyramid.

Mission Information Pyramid

Putting the Mission Information Pyramid into Practice

Let’s use the mission information pyramid to explain the importance of mission research and what a mission information worker does.

At level 1, the mission information workers gather factual data. This may involve collecting new data or finding usable data others have gathered. Because we don’t want to re-invent the wheel, library research will able be done to discover what others have already done in the area under study and to obtain correlative data. To gather new data, online surveys, questionnaires, censuses, participant observation, focus groups, interviews, and ethnographies are some for the various tools information workers may use. At this level, missionary research is not glamorous; it is just plain hard work.

At level 2, the data is organized and analyzed to get usable information.  At the level 2, the mission information workers seeks to answer who, what when and where type questions. As Yaggy said, analysis will show trends and places for potential ministry. The mission information worker’s analysis may show annual or ten year growth rates for conversions or church growth, the percentage of a population that is Christian, or the ratio of churches to population. Charts, graphs, data tables, infographics or maps along with written reports or oral presentations may be used to convey findings.  Aha! Here we have some information that may be useful.

At level 3, mission information workers seek knowledge, insight and understanding of the past and present. Yaggy also pointed out that here we want to discover the factors shaping the trends. I like to say that that at this level we seek answers to the how and why questions. At this level, interviews with insiders are essential. Case studies may be done to show models of effective disciple making, or the case studies may show what is hindering the process of making disciples. Focus groups and participant observation are also useful means to gain insight. The mission information workers will also consider contextual factors that are helping or hindering the disciple making process as factors outside of the institutional church often affect trends. These factors be rooted in historic, religious, or geographic realities or imply social, technological, economic, ethnic, political or environmental factors, to name a just a few. This is where an outsider may have an advantage, as a broader or fresh perspective may enable an outsider to see things that an insider takes for granted. Asking good questions and listening, along with critical reflection, will yield important insights. This is where mission research becomes exciting!

At level 4, the mission information worker seeks wisdom. Again this is a shift of focus. Whereas in the previous levels, we focused on the past and present, now we consider what to do in the future. Here we make applications.  Mission research is applied research after all. Here we need to make wise decisions. As we said earlier, this fourth level can be described as “decision making for disciple making”. This is where “the rubber hits the road.”

Informed Decision Making

There are three broad areas where mission research informs our decision making.

First of all, we will be better informed about how we should pray. This was, after all, Jesus first application of his mission research. (See Luke 10:2.)

Second, because we identified needs in the church and in the target communities, we will seek to send the right people to the right places doing the right things to meet those needs. Let’s draw upon the “five-fold ministry” found in Ephesians 4 as an example. We (hopefully) will make a case for sending evangelists to the areas that are “ripe for harvest” where God is at work or sending apostles (aka missionaries) to places and peoples that still have need of pioneer works where “Christ has not been named” (Romans 15:20). We will send pastors and teachers where the churches need strengthened. And perhaps prophets (or to draw upon an old term “exhorters”) will go and stir up the church to greater love and good deeds where sin, falsehood or love of this world has weakened the witness of the church.

Third, since our case studies likely identified out more and less fruitful approaches to ministry, we will need to evaluate our own ministries and sharpen our ministry practices, abandoning less fruitful or no longer relevant ministries and making fruitful ones evermore so. We need God’s wisdom for all of these (James 1:5). If the information itself has not driven you to your knees in prayer, the challenge of implementing change certainly will!

In conclusion I am indebted to Paul Yaggy and the current director of OC Research. By standing on the shoulders of these “research giants”, I’ve been able to see further. I hope that their insights, and maybe a few of my own, have helped you better understand the importance of research to Christian mission and what a mission information worker does.

Dayenu, It Would Have Been Enough!

DayenuA part of our family Easter tradition is to celebrate a Passover Seder on the Thursday evening of Holy Week. The part I like the most is reciting together the Dayenu poem or song,  that recounts the events of the Exodus. After recounting each event, the refrain dayenu – “it would have been enough” – is repeated.

It so happens that right now I am teaching Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to junior and senior high school students. It struck me as appropriate to sum up the key points of Ephesians 1-2 by imitating the style of the Dayenu song.

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace

  1. If he had forgiven our transgressions and had not loved us, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had loved us and had not adopted us as sons, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had adopted us as sons and had not given us an inheritance, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had given us an inheritance and had not given us the Holy Spirit, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had given us the Holy Spirit and not blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, it would have been enough!

Life in Christ

  1. If he had made known to us the mystery of his will and had not made us alive with Christ, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had made us alive in Christ and had not raised us with Christ, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had raised us with Christ and had not seated us with Christ, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had seated us with Christ and had not created us for good works in Christ Jesus, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had created us for good works and had not purposed to show the surpassing riches of His grace toward us in Christ Jesus in the age to come, it would have been enough!

Gentiles Included in God’s People

  1. If he had brought us, who were far off, near by the blood of Christ and had not established peace, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had established peace and had not made us fellow citizens, members of God’s household, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had made us fellow citizens and had not broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and had not given us both access to the Father in the Spirit – who is able to do more than we can ask for or think, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had given us both access to the Father and had not made us a Holy Temple, a dwelling of God in the Spirit, it would have been enough!

My! How God has lavished his grace upon us!

What does all this have to do with discipling all nations? In a word: Everything!

Since all peoples can become a part of God’s household, in which there are no second class citizens, then all peoples need (1) to hear the Gospel of peace (Ephesians 1:13) and (2) to learn” to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1), which Paul succinctly outlines in Ephesians chapters 4-6. Ephesians provides us with an agenda to disciple all the nations.

References to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for each strophe

  1. Forgiven our Transgressions (Ephesians 1:7)
  2. God loves us (Ephesians 1:4; 2:4)
  3. Adoption (Ephesians 1:5)
  4. Inheritance (Ephesians 1:11, 14, 18)
  5. Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13); every spiritual blessing (1:3)
  6. The mystery of his will (Ephesians 1:9, cf. 3:3-10)
  7. Made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
  8. Raised with Christ (Ephesians 2:6)
  9. Seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:7)
  10. Created for good works (Ephesians 2:10); the surpassing riches of grace (Ephesians 2:7)
  11. Gentiles brought near (Ephesians 2:13)
  12. Peace (Ephesians 2:14-15,17)
  13. Fellow citizens and members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19)
  14. Broke down the dividing wall – having in view the wall separating the court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Jews in the Temple in Jerusalem (Ephesians 2:14)
  15. Access to the Father (2:18; cf. 3:20) A holy Temple, a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:21-22). Interestingly enough, the Dayenu culminates with God giving the Jews the Temple; Paul culminates Ephesians chapter 2 with the Jews and the Gentiles being a Temple of God.

 

God is Doing Amazing Things around the World through the OC Global Alliance!

3 highlight graph 2015The Global Research Team, on which I serve, recently finished the 2015 Annual Report for the OC Global Alliance. Based on the information submitted by our field teams working in over 40 countries, we took a close look at three areas: personnel, countries impacted and ministry results.  We found surprising outcomes in each of these three areas.

  • With regard to ministry results, over 5,200 churches were started through the ministries of OC workers in 2015, almost double the number of churches started in 2014.
  • With regard to personnel, the number of workers associated with the OC Global Alliance surpassed 1,000 persons for the very first time. The news here is the large increase in the number of ministry volunteers serving alongside our teams outside of the United States. The number of volunteers working in the United States is up too, and it is interesting that our United States Mobilization Center has called 2016 the “Year of the Volunteer.” This link tells more about the “Year of the Volunteer.”
  • In 2015, God opened doors for OC Global Alliance workers to minister in 103 countries – the largest number in history and one more country than last year.

We are in awe of God’s unprecedented work!

Awesome Video: The Spread of the Gospel

I love this 90 second YouTube video that shows the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

Check it out for yourself at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gp-_ZsUagc

The spread of the Gospel from the first to the twenty-first century is a fascinating story.

It is a story of missionaries and martyrs, whose blood, said Tertullian, is the seed of the Church.

It is the story of kings and commoners, who both embraced the Gospel of the Kingdom and shaped the destiny of nations.

It is the story of amazing advances and as well as significant setbacks.

But most of all, the story of the spread of Christianity is God’s story – it is His Story – and of Christ, who promised to build his church and work through his people to take the Good News of the Kingdom to every tribe and every people in every nation.

Now that the Gospel has reached the ends of the earth, the next challenge is to reach the last peoples on the earth. There are just  6,649 to go.* Let’s work together to finish the last chapter of His Story.

*According to www.JoshuaProject.net, accessed on 2/21/2016, there are 6,649 unreached people groups.

How is God at Work in the World Today?

How is God at work in the world today? This is a question that several of us on the Global Research Team of One Challenge are working together to answer.  During the first quarter of 2016 we will gather information about what the 40 plus teams in the OC Global Alliance accomplished in 2015.  In addition to determining what they accomplished, we also want to discover how God is at work in and through these ministries. Indeed this is a more difficult task that requires divine insight.  This has motivated me to “search the scriptures” to discover how God was at work in the New Testament, presupposing that he continues to work in the same ways today.

A few months ago I started a series about how God is at work in the world today which is very much related. (These are the previous blog posts: On The Study of God’s Great Works Discerning How God is at Work God Opens Doors for Effective Ministry.)

I began with the thesis that scripture provide us with a useful framework to discern how God is at work in the world today.  I will mention, by way of review, two key ideas already developed previously, namely that God is at work in conversions and growing churches, and develop two additional points.

Conversions. Acts 2:47 says, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” What a good reminder that every person who comes to faith in Christ did so because God’s work!  So when we number those who were saved through the ministries of OCGA workers in 2015, we have in mind that God too was at work.

Churches. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” When we see the Church growing, either in number or fruitfulness or geographical extension, these are a good indication that Jesus is involved.  So we will tally the new churches that OCGA workers helped start in 2015.

This installment will develop two additional areas: God sends workers and open doors for ministry.

Workers Sent. Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2 NIV).  Here we find two complementary truths: first, it is God’s business to send out workers; on the other hand, we see that is our responsibility to pray.

A case study of how the Lord of the Harvest sends out workers is found in Acts 13 at the beginning of the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Saul (aka Paul).

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.  The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 NIV)

Here we observe that the leaders of the church at Antioch were praying; they were doing their part according to Luke 10:2. We also see two ways that God the Holy Spirit was a work. First the Holy Spirit “said” or spoke to the praying leaders at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for mission work.  Second the text says that the Holy Spirit “sent” Paul and Barnabas on their way. We might say that the “sending” of Barnabas and Saul was more accurately “redirecting” since both were leaders ministering outside of their homelands; God had other fields for them to open.

Thus, if this case study contains universally applicable principles, when workers are mobilized and sent into the harvest, this is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

Over the last five years within the OC Global Alliance we’ve been amazed to see God answer this prayer by raising up new workers from outside of the United States. Those countries that have received workers are now sending mission workers, and these now make up the majority of OCGA workers around the world. This trend within the OC Global Alliance is also manifesting itself on a worldwide scale. This is an exciting way that God is at work sending workers into his harvest field in our time!

Opportunities for ministry. Six passages in the New Testament indicate that God opens doors for effective ministry; two passages point out that God does so in response to prayer.

Let’s start by examining the two passages that highlight the importance of prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

In Colossians 4:2,3 (NIV) Paul writes: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Both passages speak to our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry, and just like the previous section, workers sent, we find complementary truths: God opens doors for ministry – that is his business; it is our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry.

The next four passages highlight the fact that God opened a door for ministry.  The first passage comes at the conclusion of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas.

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:26,27  NIV

Paul and Barnabas perceived that God had been at work opening doors during their first missionary journey to the Gentiles.

The next passage comes in the context of Paul’s third missionary journey where he writes the Corinthian church about his ministry at Ephesus. “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Cor. 16:8,9).

Luke provides an account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-20. The entire passage merits a close reading for it gives us further insight into how God was at work there. Here are several highlights.  “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10), and “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19:20).  Luke also points out that “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11).

Following his ministry in Ephesus, Paul moved on to Troas and perceived God at work opening a door for ministry there. Again writing to the church at Corinth, Paul says “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me” (2 Cor. 2:12).

The final passage from Revelation gives us Jesus’ words.

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:7,8 NIV

This final passage emphasizes that Jesus opens doors for ministry. It is interesting that we started this section with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 and concluded with Jesus’ words in Revelation.

How does this apply?

First, we need to pray. Our brief survey noted that it is God’s business bring people to faith in Christ, build the church, send out workers and open doors for effective ministry; it is our responsibility to pray earnestly for workers and open doors for ministry.

Second, we need to keep our eyes open and ask, How is God at work? Previously we noted the need to count conversions and number the churches. These are the more obvious fruits or results of God’s work. This particular study leads us to look for and quantify other ways that God is at work, which precede conversions and churches (or results).  We also need to look at who God is raising up workers for the harvest.  We need to look to where God is sending these workers.  We also need to look at how God is opening doors for gospel ministry.

Here’s how we keep our eyes open to discern God-at-work within the OC Global Alliance.

  1. We track the number of people who come to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of our workers.
  2. We also track the number of new churches started.
  3. We track workers associated with the OC Global Alliance. As previously mentioned, in the last five years we’ve seen a large increase of non-American workers within the Alliance.
  4. We track the countries where out teams have ministry. In 2014 OC workers were active in 102 countries – the highest number of countries in the history of the organization! Many of these countries have amazing “God stories” of how God opened the door for ministry. We might call the “open country doors”.
  5. We also track how teams are responding to pressing needs. In 2015 we also saw how God open doors for several of our teams to assist victims of natural disasters or women with crisis pregnancies, the poor, prisoners, children, refugees, immigrants and those who are sick. We might call these “opportunities to minister to needy people doors.” As Titus 3:14 says, ”Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”

So we look forward to collecting and telling each team’s “God stories” of how He has been at work in 2015.

I have not yet fully answered the question, “How is God at work in the world today?”  as I still have in mind several  points related to this theme that I hope to develop in the future.  Can you think of other ways God is at work in the world today? Feel free to share your insights as they may be helpful to others who are seeking to discern how God is at work in the world today.

Maps Show the Need for Church Planters in Japan

 

Japan is one of the least reached nations in the world. Just 0.43% of the Japanese are church members and about half of these regularly attend church. This means over 126 million people in Japan most likely have not understood the Good News about Jesus Christ.

In October of 2015, the Global Research Team of One Challenge assisted church leaders in Japan by producing maps that show the state of Church in Japan and highlight the work that remains to disciple the whole nation.

Japan No Church PrefectsOne of the more intriguing maps produced by the Global Research Team shows the percentage of cities and towns by prefect that do not have a church. In 29 of Japan’s 47 prefectures at least 50% of the towns do not have a church. Two prefectures have no churches at all. Just one prefecture has a church in every town. Thus we conclude that not only have a large majority of those in Japan never heard the Good News about Jesus Christ, but they have little opportunity to hear the Good News, since there are so many towns that do not have a single Church. This particular map, then, highlights the areas that need workers to preach the Good News. As Paul wrote:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” Romans 10:14,15 NASB

Other maps for Japan can be viewed at the Global Church Planting Network’s website.