The quest for the “silver bullet”.

Have you ever noticed in the movies how there is always that discovery which works perfectly, albeit magically at times, to fix the problem, provide the cure, or divert the crisis? A potion that restores youth, a hospital capsule that automatically does surgery, an arc reactor that can keep the shrapnel away from your heart, or a silver bullet that can slay the otherwise immortal.

We have an insatiable desire it seems for results and quick fixes. This desire spills over to every area of our lives. It has touched our churches and over the years that I have been serving for the cause of the gospel overseas, it has become clear that this yearning has touched our mission methodology as well. As I have read books and sat through seminars over the years, I can’t help but sense that as a church that has been given a mission -a mandate- we are obsessed with finding our “silver bullet”. In our mission methodology, like an alchemist of old, we have gone mad trying to unlock what everyone since the days of the apostles has apparently missed – the formula for explosive, exponential kingdom growth. A silver bullet to the monstrous need of the unreached.

In most cases such a search comes from compassionate hearts and a desire to glorify God. But as the methods come and go, each claiming to be more biblical, useful, replicable than the other, it seems that we need to be reminded that we have not been given the mandate of seeking a “silver bullet”.

We all end up employing some kind of methodology in missions. But we are in danger of sacrificing faithfulness to our Scriptural mandate on the altar of success, when our focus gets locked onto our methods and their ensuing results. In fact, we can become so concerned with seeking the “silver bullet”, that when we think we find it, like some miracle cure that actually makes us into monsters, we sometimes fail, and even refuse, to see the negative impact of that “miracle” method (Anyone see I Am Legend?) When our methodology seems to be working we may fail to see that our biblical basis is not as biblical as we think. And perhaps we are then inhibited from discerning the fruit from faux results.

Some Classic Examples

Books and articles, training courses and seminars abound promoting “the biblical pattern” for rapidly multiplying churches and disciples.

The Four Fields approach claims to have unlocked the “kingdom principles” in the parables of Mark 4 which will lead to the reaping of a great harvest. The “person of peace” approach looks to the sending of the 72 in Luke 10 as the pattern for kingdom expansion. T4T, “training for trainers”, uses passages like 2 Timothy 2:2 and John 4 as its model for rapidly multiplying “trainers” to take the message of the kingdom to others.

There is actually a lot of good in a number of these programs. The problem with them is that they often flow from less than careful exegesis, they are judged on pragmatic criteria, and the whole counsel of God’s word is not taken into consideration in the use of them.

For instance….

Four Fields looks to parables which describe the kingdom of God and its growth, without considering the purpose those parables were spoken – which was to expose the misunderstanding the religious leaders had of the nature of God’s kingdom and as judgment on them for their rejection of the Messiah.

The “person of peace” approach, appeals only selectively to Luke 10 as the model for kingdom expansion – the commands found there to hurry, to take no clothes, and to eat only what is served are ignored. Other methods which led to kingdom expansion, like sermons to large crowds in Acts 2, are also ignored by this philosophy.

The T4T approach appeals to 2 Timothy 2:2, without pausing to consider the context it is written in – the local church – and the qualifying requirement of “faithful men”. Not just eager men, not just willing men, but faithful men. How do you know if someone is faithful? It takes time in a community of accountability. And what are they being trained to do? To preach, something which is often downplayed or redefined because traditional preaching and the development of preachers is seen as cumbersome to rapid multiplication – which seems to be the primary virtue by which all tactics are judged in this approach and others like it.

All of these methods are promoted for their supposed source in Scripture and their proven track record of yielding results, of bearing “fruit”. (And there may indeed be fruit.) But there are some potential flaws with many of these systems which lead to other problems, some of which may not be seen until years down the road. The hurried development of “trainers” or “kingdom agents” or “men of peace”, circumnavigates Paul’s long view for the training of “faithful men” seen in 2 Timothy 2:2. The focus on obedience in “discovery Bible studies” used in the CPM approach can confuse the gospel and simply lead to the exchange of one set of religious principles for another. That same CPM system can lend to a lack of clarity on conversion which can lead to a confused identity. A lack of understanding of why we are not disciples and how we become them, leads to people claiming to embrace Jesus as “king” without clearly understanding their need for him as Savior. This leads to a deadly ripple effect which ends in man-powered religion, the people you “reached” having something no different than what they had at first.

You may disagree with all my observations but the bottom line is that no method is a “silver bullet”. No method, as long as fallen and finite people like ourselves are at the helm, is going to be perfect. This article is not being written to write off all methodologies nor to offer yet another method to the madness of mission methodology. This is meant simply to help us latch onto some guiding principles for our methods, and to hopefully get us to admit that more methods are not what we need.

The Bible promotes a mandate more than a methodology. Therefore, all methodologies must be tested as to whether or not they are faithful to that mandate.

There is a madness in mission methodology that is driven by one ultimate question: “Does it work?” Admittedly that question is always surrounded by lots of biblical language and qualifications, but at the end of the day the argument made in defense of many methods is: “It works and you can’t argue with results.” As one man promoting CPM methodologies told me, “Numbers don’t lie.” But as Pastor and author, Mark Dever, once wisely said, “Numbers lie all the time.”

If the question “Does it work?” is driving our methodology, we are in serious danger of swerving from the mandate.

We must admit that different contexts may call for different methodologies. But how do we evaluate these methods?

It has to be on the basis of faithfulness to the mandate, in light of the whole counsel of God’s word.

What is the mandate? We can certainly look at the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 to understand that, but to understand Matthew 28 we need to look at the whole counsel of God’s word.[1]

“Make Disciples”

How does someone become a disciple? Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in response to the preaching of the word of Christ.[2]

“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”

How does a disciple come to obey all that Christ commanded? In the context of the church, led by faithful, trained, and appointed men, where they are equipped to speak the truth in love so that everyone is built up to maturity.[3]

One of the problems with missions today, is that very often the simplicity of the mandate – proclaiming the glory of God in the face of Christ, displayed at the cross – is overwhelmed by the complexity of the method. I fear that in our quest for the “silver bullet”, we have ceased to be stunned by the glory of Christ which compels us to say, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”[4]

This was the heart of Paul as he drew near the end of his life. Motivated to a life of suffering by the grace he had been shown in Christ, he reminded Timothy of that hope and the necessity of speaking it.[5] “Preach the word, Timothy. And since you won’t be around forever, get some faithful men and train them to do the same thing. Preach the word to the end, that is our mandate, even if people don’t want to listen.”[6] There was no need for charts, or diagrams, or statistics, there was simply the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ which compels us to speak the word of reconciliation, resting in the knowledge that whether people receive it or not, whether we are “effective or not”, Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.[7]

Let us end the madness! Behold the glory of Christ and then proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. The woman at the well needed only mercy to release her to speak. The demoniac needed deliverance to proclaim his Savior. Peter needed grace to compel him to boldness. Paul needed love for the chief of sinners to control him. The result of hearing, believing and being transformed by the gospel is that we proclaim the gospel – this is our simple mandate. When we know the gospel, we speak the gospel, which leads to eager gathering around the gospel, resulting in transformation worthy of the gospel. This is how “the kingdom grows”, be it fast, be it slow, be it winter, or be it spring, there is no substitute for simple, genuine faithfulness flowing from a heart touched by the grace of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] This is precisely what many methodologies fail to do

[2] Acts 20:21; Romans 10:17

[3] Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17

[4] Acts 4:20

[5] 2 Timothy 1:8-13

[6] 2 Timothy 4:1,6;1:12-14;2:2;4:2-4

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:14-20;2:14-16

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