Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How important is the bit of paper?

We've been in Mexico for a bit over 8 months now, and have learnt stacks of things. In some ways living here is a bit like living in Sydney - apart from everything being in Spanish, but there are some (in fact, quite a few) profound differences.

Take for example the question of qualifications.

When I was teaching a PTC course to people in Sydney, I'd regularly say 'Remember, this course is not about the mark you get in the exam or the piece of paper that you will be awarded. This course is about your godliness and equipping for ministry.' And everyone would nod and get on with it.

When I teach PTC here is Latin America the reaction is very different. Its not that the students are not interested in the subject matter or growing in godliness and being equipped for ministry - far from it. The difference is, for many of them, the piece of paper, the qualification that comes as a result of completing this course is a really big deal.

Why the difference?

From (only) 8 months of observation, here are some preliminary thoughts and reflections.

1. For better or for worse, the system of education here is much more respectful of authority. Teachers are held in the highest regard, their opinion carries great weight and therefore the qualification that they have as teacher is of great importance. Of course this can have all sorts of outcomes - ranging from a less than encouraging pattern of education to an inability to ask questions and process information. But, thats the way it is.

2. Because of this high view of authority, qualifications are an essential component in a resume when you're trying to get a job. And often we're not talking the quality of the qualification, but the quantity. The more certificates, diplomas, short courses and recognitions you have in your folder the better, because it makes you better at your job.

3. Jobs are often hard to get, especially ministry jobs where money is tight, so the more 'qualified' you are the more likely you are to get the job.

These factors, and I'm sure many more, lead to two very common questions being asked here when I talk about PTC.

(a) What degree or qualification will this work towards?
(b) Who will recognize / accredit the coursework I have done?

In my years of teaching in Australia I don't think I have ever been asked this question, and yet everytime I taught in Africa or start talking with people here in Latin America, it is raised almost without fail.

At the moment we have one option for counting PTC subjects towards a bachelor's degree - through FLET, a University based on Miami, USA. However this is an expensive option and not particularly accessible or satisfactory.

And so there is a great challenge ahead, and many questions being raised.

Australia has a great reputation when it comes to education - right up there with England and the USA (in fact often better). Should we be aiming for accreditation from an Australian institution?

The coursework as it stands is pretty much right for a degree level course, but what about the readings and assignments. Many of the required texts are not available in Spanish.

If an institution is going to award degree status, what will be the effect on other degrees offered by the institution?

These are important questions that do need to be thought about. The PTC is a world class 'product', and as more translations are completed, the questions of accreditation and recognition are going to keep coming.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't forget the gospel

I've just finished reading CJ Mahaney's book 'The Cross Centred Life' (Lifechange Books : 2002). I read it mainly because its been translated into Spanish and I wanted to know whether its one to recommend to folks here.

Its a good little book - 85 little pages - and on one hand isn't all that profund. The message of the book could probably be summarised by the phrase 'In all the stuff that goes on in your Christian life, don't forget the gospel.' There's some snappy discussions on issues of justification, sanctification, legalism, guilt and a couple of other bits and pieces which are quite helpful.

But on the other hand, its a very profound book - because here in Latin America it brings a message that desperately needs to be heard. Don't forget the gospel.

It's not that people are deliberately forgetting the gospel (sure there are those who deliberately want to change it and water it down to take out all the 'yucky' bits like sin and judgement and salvation and those people need to remember the gospel as well but I don't think who CJ is writing to.) He's writing to the people who are being so weighed down with programs and fads and trying to imitate the latest guy and denominational politics and getting the music and technology just right - that they don't have time for the gospel any more.

Over the Christmas break I'm heading to a big student conference and I'll be interested to see how the gospel fares. The promotional literature is very schmick, very appealing and 'applied' with all the buzz words you need in this day and age of Christian conferences, but in the midst of that, I wonder where the gospel will be. I'll let you know.

But its easy to criticise others, point out their shortcomings and see how it 'should be done'. But aren't we all in danger of falling victim to being weighed down with Christian stuff, that we forget the gospel? It was a good reminder and challenge to me.

This week's photo comes from Cuatro Cienegas - a small desert town about 350km NW of Monterrey where we spent last weekend. One of the highlights was being in the midst of the annual monarch butterfly migration from Canada to central Mexico.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What is successful mission?

What makes successful mission work?

I guess its a question most missionaries, mission agencies and mission supporters will find themselves asking at some stage. We're very early on in our time here in Mexico, but we're starting to think more about the shape of our ministry here, and of course the question of 'whether it will be successful or not' is coming up.

Fortunately we had a visit last week from a couple of wise and godly friends, and in the context of our meeting we read some of 1 Thessalonians - and as God would have it, there's a lot in there which helps answer this questions.

Here's a few quick thoughts about what Paul thinks (I think) makes a successful mission. (from 1 Thess 2)

Successful mission has happened when:

1. The gospel of God has been boldly declared. (v2)
Throughout Paul's mission trips in Acts and the letters he writes, there is no question that he wants to clearly and boldly declare the gospel of God - that is the reason he is there. Of course this sometimes brings him into conflict with the locals and therefore puts him in danger, but notice here that whether he gets beaten up or not isn't a mark of success or failure (if anything, it seems to be a mark of success!). Success is determined by the bold declaration.

2. The gospel declaration is pleasing to God, not men. (v4-5)
Successful mission happens when the desire to please God in what is said overturns the desire to please the human audience. Sometimes this will mean the suffering mentioned in v2 will happen, but you can hear Paul saying 'so be it.' Hollow promises are not make, untruths are not spoken, shallow and short term fixes are not proposed. The gospel is preached faithfully, fully and truthfully.

3. The missionaries don't look for glory (v6)
Because true ministry is God-glorifying, not self-glorifying, successful mission happens when the hearers give glory to God rather than rave on about how great the missionary is. It doesn't mean the missionary can't be appreciated, but it will change the motive for mission. Am I doing this to boost my own ego, or for the sake of the kingdom?

4. There is gentleness, caring, openness and a sharing of life (v7-8)
Successful mission happens not just in a one hour preaching spot or a week long intensive teaching class, but in the whole life of the missionary. In their home, over meals, in ongoing concern and love. With gentleness and compassion. For us here in Mexico as we struggle to learn Spanish, this is a very good motivation for us to keep going in our language work - it is very difficult to love people as a mother loves her children if you can't talk to them or understand their lives.

5. The conduct of the missionary is blameless (v10)
I have to admit this is a tough one, but it is true. Success is measured by the impact the gospel of God makes on the life of the missionary. If we as missionaries are not prepared to be challenged and transformed by the gospel, why do we think others should be?

6.An exhortation to a godly walk (v12)
Just as the missionary needs to live a godly life, so he or she needs to call on others to do so, afterall, the message of the gospel is a message that needs to be responded to in repentance and obedience. If we are not asking people to change, we're not faithfully preaching the gospel.

7. There is a response, and glory is given to God (v13)
The interesting thing about this survey is that the only 'result' so far is that of the life of the missionary himself. There is no mention of conversion numbers or the legacy that is left or anything like that. Success is much more about the way the missionary conducted himself and what he did.
In verse 13 there is talk of 'results' - but notice that the thanks and glory goes to God - so it is his success, rather than the missionaries.

The bottom line - if we're looking to be successful in mission, we need to look at ourselves, our methods and our motivations, rather than the numbers and spectacular stories (encouraging as sometimes they may be).