Leith Anderson and Challenges in Evangelical Missions

I have been attending the EMS Annual Meeting this weekend in Minneapolis, MN. The keynote speaker for the opening general session was Leith Anderson.

Leith Anderson is the pastor of Woodale Church, a growing megachurch in the Minneapolis area. He also is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He is the author of several books, including Dying for Change, A Church for the 21st Century, Praying to the God You Can Trust, Jesus, How to Act Like a Christian, and Leadership That Works, and other books and articles. He came to give us a pastor’s perspective on the global missions movement.

He started out saying, “I love Jesus; I love the church; and I love the world God gave to the Son to redeem.” Great introduction, then he quickly switched from a pastor’s perspective to the perspective of the president of the NAE, complete with a vague and broad definition of an evangelical: “those who believe in Jesus Christ and take the Bible seriously.” Who doesn’t do that?

But he gave us a short history of evangelicalism followed by several challenges for the future of missions among evangelicals.

After 1925, in the wake of the Scopes trial, fundamentalists were marginalized in society, so they created their own subculture, which was easy to do. But the 1950’s witnessed the Graham-synthesis. What he meant was that with the ministry of Billy Graham, people could rally around a personality, saying, “I believe what Billy believes.” The subculture united and moved to the center from the margins. Educational Institutions gained accreditation, evangelical press, radio, TV were developed, and evangelicals gathered unprecedented wealth.As Billy Graham is growing older, the Graham synthesis is breaking apart, and evangelicalism is fragmenting. (Added on 9/29/7) I wonder if his broad definition of an evangelical is in response to the fragmenting of evangelicalism. Perhaps he is trying to keep the forces together by widening the tent, but I think that would actually be subversive to the cause. Broadening the definition, in my opinion would lead to greater fracture and fissure as the poles within the movement get further and further apart. In other words, there is more room for disagreement and more opportunity to divide. But I digress…

His challenges for evangelical missions were as follows:

Challenge of sending

  • different generations raise money differently
    • Older give based on need, guilt, and faithfulness
    • Younger give based on opportunity and effectiveness
    • And like most older folks, he ignored even younger generations who give based on connection and relationship
  • from 1 Chr 29, he challenged us to seek donors who give more, since the one man David gave equal with the 3 million Israelites combined.

Challenge of recruiting

  • boom in Christian colleges (possible future decline with decreasing number of people born)
  • nontraditional paths to ministry–focus on practice, less on education
  • recruiting younger–missions education and involvement from the age of children, not waiting till college to begin

Challenge of proselytizing

  • great pressure against evangelism–viewed as coercion
  • ethic of conversion
  • Note: his solution is the worldwide freedom of religion, not for increased evangelism, but an opportunity for Christianity to defeat other religions by example. THIS IS EXTREMELY NAIVE AND ETHNOCENTRIC! This comes very close to our government’s goal of making all countries like America. Freedom of religion, though a great object, cannot be enforced on a people. Even in countries where religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, the dominant religious culture is biased against other religions. The gospel has to transform the culture from within.

(Added 9/29) I would add problems of definition. What exactly is missions? What exactly is the gospel? What is an evangelical? What about partnerships? etc., etc.

Creative opportunities (great point!)–trouble with traditional agencies

  • business as mission
  • ethno-tourism
  • environmental evangelism
  • working with other NGO’s
  • working with government agencies

I appreciated Anderson’s viewpoint and his analysis. But I believe it falls short of addressing a long-term future in missions. He only identified two generations–boomers and busters. But a lot of people have been born since 1970. We may not be that involved in giving and going now, but that might not be a problem with us as generations, but a problem with the disconnect with what older generations have said and what they have done. For all the wealth that evangelicals have accumulated, has that been a strength or a weakness for the church? My dear friend Mark has been acutely aware of his own personal temptations toward materialism and this has helped him see this in our church as well. I agree with him that the two great sins of our church in this day are pride and materialism. Even for all that my grandparents generation have given, my parents generation has hogged and focused on the bottom line, not on the way to serve others through wealth (Note: I am not condemning any of my personal family, my father has used his wealth wisely and has been quick to give and serve through his vocation, he is a great example to me, I would not be at this conference if not for him). The future of evangelical missions depends on our willingness to humble ourselves, repent of our sins, such as pride and materialism, embrace a lifestyle of mission that begins in the church, and incorporate younger generations in the process.

In what ways have materialism and pride infected your own soul?

Where do you see materialism and pride in your church?

What can you do to change yourself, or your church?

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