Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tradecraft For the Church on Mission

Moving to a small town not long after being married, I felt like a missionary in a foreign land. Even though we spoke the same language, cheered on the same teams, and watched the same movies, that small town environment was a new world to me.  Unfortunately, I couldn't figure it out and bailed on the ministry too quickly.  

 I could have used a book like Tradecraft.  While not serving as a traditional missionary overseas, I was crossing cultural lines.  And I was on mission, although I didn't see it that way.  I thought I was just a church staff person.  

Tradecraft examines the work that a person, any person, must do when trying to take the gospel to a particular people. Written collectively by Caleb Crider, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens, it represents the work of people who have spent many year planting church, serving overseas, sharing the gospel and making mistakes along the way.  More importantly, it is the work of people who have thought deeply about the work of a missionary, and how that can apply to any church, anywhere.  

Tradecraft starts by deflating the assumption that the problem that many people have with church is not the message, but the medium.  "Surely, if we created a space where we did all the things we had done growing up in church, only cooler, lost people would turn to Jesus in droves."  Many a church was planted on this principle, especially in the U.S.  But it did little to understand the culture that people lived and worked in, and in many cases this approach to church proved to be temporarily fruitful, but ultimately empty.  Tradecraft reminds us that we are a missionary not because of where we live, but because of who we are, or better put, who God has made me.  

"We will cover nine basic missionary skills, or tradecraft, that we believe are foundational to missionary thought and activity."

Tradecraft spends a little time on the theology of missions, although that's not the main point of the book. They helpfully point out the impetus on all Christians to serve as Christ's ambassadors, and the characteristics of spirit led churches.  The book then dives into the meat of the book, the tradecraft that a church on mission, or a person on mission, needs in order to effectively reach their community for Christ, whether it is Sikh's in the middle east or farmers in the rural south of America, these tools will help understand our communities.

Tradecraft is defined as "the collection of knowledge that serves as the foundation of all artisanal labor"  This could be glass blowing, fence building, CPA work, farming, being a soldier, and almost anything else you can think of.  In regards to the church on mission, it is tools, strategies, and guides that help us understand our community and how to effectively reach it.  

"We quickly assume the posture of antagonism when we assume we have to prove someone wrong to win them over."

"Living on mission doesn't happen accidentally.  It requires intentionality, planning, and even practice.  Everything you do should leave the mark of Jesus."

The meat of the book goes through several strategies to understand your city, and to live as a church on mission.  Mapping helps you find gathering spaces, learning spots, social gatherings, and other places where people gather, and the architectural layout of a city can help you understand the flow of the place. Things like courthouses, coffee shops, and colleges all serves as hubs that people flow into.   Rivers, parks, transit and more shape and define how people flow.  Exegeting Culture teaches how to study the map and people to draw out the ideas, and most notably stories, that shape the place you're reaching. Seldom written down, stories guide all the decisions made by people.  The chapters on building relationships and Persons of Peace help identify people who are receptive to the gospel, and how to reach them in a manner consistent with the story of the area.  The authors do a great job of guiding us away from seeing people as "prospects" to be converted, and encourages lasting relationships into which the gospel can be breathed every day.

"We are not sent out to find the person of peace. We are sent out to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom.   God then uses our proclamation to reveal the persons of peace whom He has prepared beforehand."  

"What people need now is not more information, but filters to sort through the information they already have access to."

The two following chapters on "Engaging Tribes" and "Contextualization" gives guidelines in thinking about the way people gather themselves into "tribes', or groups of people with common interest and hobbies.  This can be as vague as cheering for the same sports team to a family that sticks close together.  Learning the language that they speak, and sharing the gospel with them in that way, is contextualizing.  A great job is done of sharing the dangers of over and under contextualization.  The chapter titled "Alternatives Paths" challenges our ideas of how God works with his people through mission.  Through stories and instruction we are guided to think, support, and promote other ways the Gospel can be taken to the nations besides a typical missionary setting.  Lastly, "Protecting Indigeneity" reminds us that God is glorified by diversity, and as such we should to.  To put the Gospel into a local tongue, with songs, liturgy, and worship all their own glorifies God, and we should always strive to do so.

Not for "professional" missionaries only, I recommend Tradecraft to anyone who is looking to be used of God to fulfill the great commission.  Really, every christian should read this as it makes us think about how we view our world, and how they can be reached with the gospel.  We should all think deeply about reaching our neighbors and the nations for Christ.  I appreciate the great Bibliography that goes with the book, showing that much thought, time, and research has gone into the thoughts presented to us.  If every person took as seriously their commission from God, and worked at it as thoughtfully as these men, the Kingdom of God would be greatly advance.  

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"Our mission is not to export a culture, but to infect existing cultures with what always proves to be a radically counter cultural gospel."

"When God's people think and act like missionaries, we identify with our Savior and begin to truly serve as His ambassadors in the contexts in which we find ourselves."

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