Take Jesus Christ, and Take Off Your Organizational or Theological Hat – part 14

I was traveling with missionary candidates into four remote unreached people groups when I got clarity. God himself is hindering many Christians from going to the mission field. They are just not ready for it. More importantly, the people groups are not ready for these immature missionaries. The doctrine of your mission agency or the historically important name your agency carries is poison to the mission field and to the unreached people group. Remote people groups have not been tainted by doctrines of men and religion yet, so it is vital that they get good missionaries from the beginning.

Any good missionary training center will teach you that when you go to a foreign mission field where there are no churches, you need to let the people group interpret the word of God on their own once it has been translated and recorded so that they can hear it — or once you have learned the language well enough to disciple them personally. You are there for only a few reasons. The Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth. I have a friend that is a missionary to remote unreached groups. He says that when we bring the baggage of church tradition (doctrines of men) to the mission field, it is almost impossible to turn the work over to the local indigenous people afterward. Why? It’s because, in our minds, they aren’t doing our church tradition correctly. We do not feel that the local believers are doing church correctly; therefore, we do not feel that they are ready for leadership, and therefore we do not turn the work over to their leadership. It is not a matter of sin; it is a matter of them not doing things like we do back in our home church.

The same goes for the doctrine or missiology you learned from your missionary sending agency. Because there are so many missionary sending agencies now, people choose one based on their opinion about missions or because their marketing appeals to them. The choice can also be based on their church background, denomination, or church tradition. I must say it again. This is all deadly poison to missionary work and the people groups. The people need Jesus; they don’t need your doctrine.

Missionaries Should Not Take Church or Agency Tradition To The Mission Field

If you think you cannot get along without a missionary sending agency, you might seriously need to rethink why you are going to the mission field. How important is your doctrine to you? How important is your missiology? How important is it to you to be a part of a big organization? You may have a doctorate in missiology and not have one minute of experience in remote unreached people groups. There are two levels of authority: Christ’s teachings and the Disciples’ teachings. Church tradition or doctrines of men have been taught as a level of authority, but I do not see this in the New Testament.

Even when the disciples’ teaching is interpreted differently, we must return to Christ’s teaching to settle all differences. If you do not follow my church tradition, you have not sinned. The fact that church tradition is not sin if not followed, shows us that it has no authority. It is only a matter of preference, however, the missionary movement is divided over missionary tradition. All this has hindered the extension of the Gospel. When we give church tradition authority and teach it as Christian doctrine to be followed, we get into trouble. An example would be the belief that you must be baptized in your denomination’s church for your baptism to be valid. This is an example where men have made church tradition law. This is an error. If you decide not to follow church tradition or doctrines of men, you are not in sin. It is sin to teach church tradition as a requirement to the body of believers. It also is sin when we, the missionaries, cannot turn over the work to the local indigenous leadership because they will not do our church tradition correctly.

I will give you an example of the four men I mentioned above. We were taking a young Bible translating missionary into a remote unreached people group. Along the way, his pastors, did not follow instructions that were very important to be traveling in such a dangerous area. They also criticized me for the version of the Bible I read for about an hour. It was a 16-hour trip to get to the people group and we had to stay the night about halfway there. So we had a lot of conversations. This isn’t the point. When we got to about two hours from the people group, we met up with a friend of mine who worked in that area. He took us the rest of the way in his vehicle because the four men rented a brand new vehicle, which I had told them not to do. We were with the missionary on the last leg of the trip and the three pastors began to talk about how they take communion in their church. They went into great detail about it, and my friend told me privately, “They will never turn over the group of believers to lead themselves.” I pondered this for quite some time and I asked my friend why. He told me that they would never see that the local believers are doing their traditions correctly. What a revelation.

If you go to remote unreached people groups and teach anything other than simple obedience to Christ, you will mess it up. If you can teach Paul without causing confusion and disagreement, do so. But when you start to have problems, steer people back to Christ’s teaching. Teaching too much of Paul and not enough of Jesus will cause the local body to become more and more divided against themselves. Paul is good when taught in a balance of about 20% to 80%. Teach Paul 20% of the time and teach Jesus 80% of the time. The way to keep a balance is simple: for every hour you read Paul (or Peter or James, for that matter) read four hours of Jesus. And if you have seen the Bible reading pattern in the first lesson of missionary leadership, you will see that we all need to read two to four hours of Jesus teaching for at least two years. Only after that can we start to read Paul. Paul was a man, Jesus was God. Read the Bible through this understanding.

Teaching church tradition will create division and produce weak and sinful churches. We see them all around us today. The enemy will eventually come in and tear down the work. Remember: it is not your work, nor is it your job to teach people how to have the Lord’s Supper. It is your job to teach them to have the Lord’s Supper and then let them have it however they want. It is not your job to teach the missiology of your sending agency or denomination. They have no idea how old and important your agency is, and they don’t care. They will care about Jesus; they will not care about your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10. Unreached people groups don’t know who John Calvin or John Wesely or Martin Luther are, and they don’t care. John Calvin cant save them. Many of the apostles who have massive buildings named after them would roll over in their graves if they were still in them. They are so disappointed in us.

If you choose to ignore this part of the teaching, you may never be ready to go into remote people groups. God may never allow you to take the Gospel to them. God himself will close the door on you because you would not be taking the Gospel; you would be taking the doctrine of your church denomination or mission agency. If you insist on your missiology, it will be better for the unreached people group that you stay home. See: 1 Corinthians 3:1-8.

The main reason the Western Missionary Movement did not finish the great commission was because of their arrogant pride

So, how do you get free? Stay away from pride! (Matthew 13:33 Luke 13:20–21) Throw all your missiology and theology in the trash and start all over by devouring the Gospels. I had to do this myself twenty years after receiving my degree in theology and missiology. It took me a long time to realize many of these things. I hope that they are helping you. Very little of what I learned while getting my degree has helped me among remote unreached peoples. I could have spent those four years on the field, learning the local language and reading my Gospels.

I remember when I left the seminary, I had three books, Theology 1 (about three inches thick), Theology 2 (about two inches thick), and Theology 3 (about an inch and a half thick). I had to throw them away because they were too heavy to put into my bags. It was probably for the best. I spent three years studying those books, six semesters and I honestly remember very little. I do remember many things from just reading the same Bible the author of my theology books read. I have often thought to put together a systematic theology for our students with just Bible verses under the sub-headings. But I haven’t been compelled enough by the Spirit to do it. I find reading the Gospels the best thing for me and our students.

If you are considering joining a missionary agency or going to a missionary training center lookout. You may be crucified in Christ, but your fellow students won’t be. Bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). If you are still considering joining a mission-sending agency, which one do you choose? The fact that there is more than one agency means that you will be recruited to one that disagrees with the methods and missiology of the others. The one that you choose will obviously appeal to you more than the other agencies do. This “appeal,” is exactly what you do not want to take to the mission field. Joining an agency will form those same attitudes in you. Some agencies also have their own training, which will tend to form in you missiology that you don’t want. They are not aware of this because they also got their degrees in theology and missiology and think that they are doing the right thing. Remember that there are only two levels of authority in your life, missiology and mission work: (1) Christ’s teachings and (2) the apostles’ teachings. Christ’s teachings supersede all others. His are first and foremost. If Jesus didn’t teach it or the disciples didn’t teach it, be careful. Know your New Testament. This all applies to any denominational seminary, missionary training center, sending agency, church missions department, movement, group, organization, or program.

Missionaries Don’t Need an Organizational or Agency Hat

The chance that going to a missionary training center or theological or missiological seminary will stain you is high. It is hard to stay under their teaching and around their attitudes and not let them affect you. We send our children to secular colleges and wonder why they don’t care about Christ after and it is obvious. They were influenced. If you want to get good missionary training, shut yourself in a room for four years and read your Gospels over and over and a little of Paul and Peter.

And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

(NRSV Mark 10:37-45 boldface added)

Missionaries come from many different denominations and branches of Christianity, but once on the mission field their theology and missiology become less important; that is if they have been correctly trained by the Holy Spirit. The missionary agency you come from only matters to other missionaries. In your country of origin, you are asked, “What church do you come from?” On the mission field, the question becomes, “What is your agency or organization?” This is called organizational pride. The second question is, “What kind of missionary work are you doing?” This is called categorization pride. And the most important question for those measuring themselves to you is, “How long have you been on the mission field?” This is called simple pride. I was always bothered by this and was asked this many times by other missionaries when I was new on the field.

It’s not enough to have pride that you are a missionary, or for how long you have been a missionary, now, you need an organization too. If you don’t have an organization, you don’t have the pride. The larger your organization or agency, the more important you feel and the more organizational pride you have. If you come from one of these big organizations, you don’t even realize it when you belittle other people around you. You even begin to think that others cannot do the job as well unless they have been trained and come from your organization. This attitude only increases until it becomes difficult for you to associate with people from outside your organization.

The same thing happens to missionaries sent from large churches or denominations. Those large organizations want their missionaries to take their specific church doctrine and, “the name,” to other parts of the world. I am not talking about the name of Jesus. They go bearing the doctrine and missiology of their organizations and not the simple teachings of Christ. Men have wanted to make the Gospel complicated because of their intellectual pride. It is not enough for them to be simple disciples of Christ. Educated men and women are embarrassed by its simplicity before the world. Men are duped by the embarrassment of the world and have complicated it by adding to it. It has to be big to be important. It has to be complicated. The only problem is that this attitude is transmitted to others. If we do get to the mission field, it makes our disciples follow men and not Christ. Slaves have no names and are forgotten when they die.

The enemy is behind all of this, to keep us divided and to keep us from completing the great commission. God is hindering this attitude from arriving in the last remote unreached peoples. It is a humbling thing to go so far with the Gospel that no one can see what I am doing. There are so many verses that I have wanted to put in this chapter, but my limit is 500 because the Bible has been copyrighted. The first church was divided over false doctrines, politics, power, territory, money, buildings, and men. I saw Peter’s tomb inside the Vatican when I was fourteen years old. I was amazed that the walls and furniture were covered in gold. I knew, deep down, that something was wrong. The church has not changed over the centuries but has splintered into a thousand more factions, keeping us weak and useless to complete the task. People are too proud of their pastors and churches. When people meet other Christians what are the first questions they ask one another? Many times, people don’t even know why they are from their denomination. They don’t know the history; they just know that it appeals to them more than the others, or they were born into it. Others who know the history are proud to be divided against the other Christian denominations. Those who belong to independent churches are proud of the size of their services, the music, or the coolness of the pastor. They don’t even realize that all this is the division that keeps us within the walls and confines of the doctrines of men and away from the lost. If they do realize it, those are the proudest of all. They are the people in the congregation who know better.

If you are tired of all this or you are the person who knows better, you should live and disciple people in a part of the world where there are not fifteen churches within an hour of each other. Is your country top-heavy? Are there more agencies in your country than there are unreached peoples? Leave it! The hard part will be for you to not bring all these divisive attitudes with you. Leave your religion behind and make disciples of Jesus Christ, not converts to your church’s name. All this talk about the Bible won’t do you much good, we need to read a little of it now.

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?

(NIV 1 Corinthians 3:1-4)

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (NIV 1 Corinthians 3:5-6)

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

(NIV 1 Corinthians 3:7-11)

It is very common for someone to think about putting up another church building where there already are other church buildings. Some Christians believe that all the differences between the churches are healthy, but they aren’t. Every Christian is a different person with many idiosyncrasies, but when we divide the body by one person going to one church and the other going to a different church, we are weakened. We are not in a competition or a race to see how many churches our organization can start or how many people we can get under one roof. We know that all true Christians are part of one worldwide body, but we don’t act like it. Another problem we have is that this competitive spirit to count churches and members opens the door to the temptation to inflate and falsify the numbers. It is very common to hear the larger Christian ministries talk mainly about money, numbers of believers or churches planted. I once talked for several hours with a man who knows about a lot of the supposed rapid church planting or discipleship movements. He lives at the former U.S. Center for World Mission (now called Frontier Ventures). He lives at a place that has a lot of information. He told me that a lot of the numbers are inflated and the reason is to raise money.

Large organizations are very proud of their mega structures. I honestly don’t understand how the pastors of megachurches can keep so many thousands of believers under one roof when so many places and peoples in the world are in complete darkness. The imbalance between members inside the walls and missionaries in the field is contrary to the message they preach. When you look at the things they do and listen to their messages, it seems like they got on the Internet and bought a kit on how to grow a megachurch. Money is very important to a big organization’s message. They are big because of the money. When the money is gone, they start to panic because they depended on it so heavily.

God does not need money to finish His great commission

You cannot build a four-million-dollar church building without four million dollars. The world is not getting evangelized and discipled anytime soon, but they continue to build more buildings in places saturated with the Gospel. NOT THAT MONEY WILL EVER GET THE GREAT COMMISSION FINISHED. But their buildings are big because the money is big, and the message is big marketing that returns big money. It has to be to keep such a big thing going. Jesus taught us to be small, simple, low maintenance, mobile and exponential. He taught us to be servants, and if we want to go first into unreached peoples, we need to be slaves of all.

If you come under a big church or organization you will come out with a big hat. Your head will be so big it won’t fit through the door. Big church is big, complicated, high maintenance, fixed in one place, and mass manipulation from one big microphone. It is disturbing to hear rumors that large missionary sending agencies and unreached people group movements are not letting big money flow out to their missionaries or to the unreached peoples. I hope this is not happening. Listen, you don’t need all this in your life. Even if you start out in a small organization, they just get bigger and bigger, and then, where are you? You eventually end up in a big organization. You don’t need an organizational hat. If you think you need to be part of an organization, you are probably disqualified from going to remote unreached peoples. Repent of organizational and denominational pride, so that you can get qualified again. The apostle Paul is clearly saying here that men are leading people away from Christ with human wisdom. These churches and agencies draw you in and impress you with big buildings, numbers, coolness, wealth, and a slick marketing plan. Worst of all, they contaminate you.

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

(NRSV 1 Corinthians 1:11-17)

Real missionaries don’t take the big organization attitude to the mission field. Do you love these verses? Do they give you joy to be in Christ? They should. If you feel conviction by these verses, there are a few things you can do that will help bring you back into Christ. Start folding chairs and mopping floors. Take out the trash and clean the floors when no one is looking. Read the verses again about being the slave of all. Forget what university you went to. Forget your degrees. Stop counting how many years you have been on the mission field and with what agency. Focus on discipling your people group. If you haven’t gone to the mission field yet, get your training from the smallest program you can, or better yet, from the Holy Spirit and take off your organizational hat while in the organization. Leave the books and the hats when you walk out the door. If you get good grades they will want to put a hat on you. Leave it all, then get out into the community and disciple unsaved people. Once you have your training don’t join the mission. You don’t need it; just go quietly into the darkness and don’t ever come back.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

(NIV Philippians 2:3-7)

If you are a servant in human likeness, you are nothing. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ, brothers and sisters. Make yourselves nothing. You are not special. You might be the most highly trained missionary in the world, and you might have to burn your diplomas. Be a part of nothing in this world. Be unimpressed and unmoved with all the boasting about men and their ministries. Be invisible and become the refuse of the world.