- “How To Pray for Missionaries”
- “Toward Better Short Term Missions”
- Africa Infested With Health and Wealth Gospel
- The Glory of the Impossible
- Tract: “Search For Joy” in the Aringa language
- Tract: “Search For Joy” in the Madi language
- Tract: “What Every Catholic Should Know” in English
- Tract: “For My Muslim Friend” in English
- Brief histories of North Uganda, South Sudan, and D.R. of Congo
This is a great guide in praying for missionaries. We here at Reaching Africa’s Unreached would feel honored for you to pray for us as suggested by “How To Pray for Missionaries“. Thank you Wycliffe Translators!
It is easy to be critical. I was once listening to a teacher from a European country lecture at a U.S. seminary on the evils of short-term missions. It was a highly critical lecture (with which I largely agreed), but there was no direction for what was appropriate in short-term missions. I don’t think he realized that he was actually participating in what I would classify as a short-term missions trip—a full-time intensive visit to another culture for a focused time of vocational ministry.
In the first article I laid out the history of short-term missions and some of the opportunities it has provided. The second article pointed to some of the problems that surround the enterprise. Now I want to offer a way forward.
Change the Name
This may be a personal preference, but I think it would be helpful to rename “short-term missions” and instead call it “short-term ministry.” I believe the title of missionary should be reserved for those committed to being in another culture for longer than a year. So we all live on mission in the context where God has placed us, and when we leave that context for a short period of time for a focused time of ministry, we are participating in short-term ministry. When we serve in another culture we then should call it “Short-Term Cross-Cultural Ministry.”
Short-Term Cross-Cultural Ministry Should Be an Extension of Local Ministry
At this risk of stating the obvious, your short-term cross-cultural ministry should be an extension of your local ministry. If you have thousands of Hispanics in your surrounding area, but only interact with Hispanics when you send a short-term team to Mexico, your local mission has a hole in it. There is a high concentration of Somali Muslims living near my church. Before our church considers sending short-term teams to Somalia to reach out to Muslims, it should first consider how to serve and reach the neighbors God has brought to us. It feels like the Great Commission in reverse. Local ministry and short-term cross-cultural ministry should not be in competition; rather, both should be part your church’s vision.
Ask the Missionaries
To protect against doing unintentional harm, go directly to the missionaries your church supports and trusts to find out whether they would like a team to come and partner with them. These missionaries can also provide helpful feedbackthat comes from experience and understanding. Just make sure they feel the freedom to say no and dictate the details of the trip, such as how many people should come. I know of a missionary who asked for eight people, and the church responded by sending more than 100 youth. We need to listen! Some of the best short-term trips involve just two or three key friends sent by the church to visit a missionary in difficult place. If your church doesn’t support long-term missionaries, I would suggest doing so before you consider short-term cross-cultural ministry.
Focus on Long-Term Partnerships with Local Churches
The next step is to work primarily through local churches with a long view in mind. When your short-term ministry team leaves a particular setting, Christians will still live and work where you visited. Your desire should be to serve at the request of and under local church leadership. Your disposition should be one of a learner, with the humility to take your cues from national leaders. You need to be careful, especially when dealing with money. But if you can build a level of trust, the most effective trips will be extensions of another church’s ministry. This might lead to bringing fewer team members but result in much more effective ministry. For example, a church in India has an orphanage, a pastor-training school, and a history of church planting in unreached villages. They don’t need teams of people to do projects they already know how to do. They need funds. I am familiar with this ministry, and the pastor who runs it is a good friend. Small teams have traveled there to assess these needs. With the help of a few churches and organizations providing strategic funding they have housing for the children (that the ministry in India built with people they employed), a place to train their pastors, and a sponsorship program to help a trained pastor plant a church in unreached areas. If you wonder how you could sponsor pastors in ways that do not lead to unhealthy dependence, read these helpful articles. So instead of spending $30,000 for 10 people to build and paint buildings, we spend a third of the money exploring a long-term partnership and the rest providing work for the Indian people and long-term support for the ministry. If a similar scenario presented itself in parts of Africa, I would be much more cautious. But with this very specific situation, long-term partnership allows both parties to mutually benefit in ways that I believe honor God on the gospel.
Move Away from Relief When Appropriate
One of the problems with short-term missions is that we are stuck in relief work. We paint and build houses, hold babies, and give presents. We do this because almost anyone in our churches can get involved. This type of work makes us feel good but sometimes harms people. Relief is appropriate for short periods, but if you want to get involved in alleviating physical poverty and use that platform to share the gospel and relieve spiritual poverty, you must move toward development work. It’s harder, takes longer, but is certainly a better form of mercy and justice ministry.
You can save yourself and others a lot pain if your team has a capable leader who truly disciples those being sent out from your church. If the primary purpose of your trip is to change the people you send, I think it would be best to stay home. Notice—I say primary! All of life is a call to make disciples, and that includes the people in your church. Sending them out to another culture certainly can be a part of the discipleship process (at least it can be in the West). At my home church, there is a one-year commitment to being on a short-term ministry team. The time includes a lot of preparation and prayer before going as well as follow-up at the end of the trip. Each team member must have a certain level of competency when it comes to understanding cross-cultural ministry. The church also evaluates each setting afterwards, so that if they feel they are doing something a local church they visit can and should do, they stop sending teams.
Think of Your Trip Through the Grid of Helpful Resources
There are a number of very helpful resources to aid you in thinking through a short-term trip. I will list two here so you can follow up with your own research.
2. Empowering Partnerships
3. Mutual Design
4. Comprehensive Administration
5. Qualified Leadership
6. Appropriate Training
7. Thorough Follow-Up
1. Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
2. Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
3. Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
4. Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
5. Listen closely to those who seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
6. Above all, do no harm.
Word to Pastors
Most short-term ministry participants raise support on their own from people outside their local church. So the only way to funnel generosity in the right direction is for pastors to talk about this from the pulpit. Pastors—in your application of Scripture as it relates to discipleship, missions, mercy and justice issues, evangelism, and money, speak to your congregation about short-term missions. Lead your elders and the people God has entrusted to you. Please get involved in theological famine relief. The organization I work for is constantly looking for pastors we can mentor and send to train pastors around the world with little or no access to theological education.
Final Word to All
There is a tendency in my circles to try and get everything right, to discuss every scenario, to examine every possible pitfall, and in our preparation bring every person through a process that feels like boot camp. But the beauty of gospel ministry is that God is not handcuffed by our foolishness. He is still accomplishing his purposes amongst the nations. For any harm we may cause, God is using others to bring great advances for the gospel. So become a thoughtful global Christian. Think critically about cross-cultural engagement. Be convicted if you are harming the church in other cultures. But know that in the end, God is still on his throne, and his work will be accomplished.
Books on Short-Term Missions:
Serving with Eyes Wide Open by David Livermore
Teaching Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Learning and Teaching by Sherwood and Judith Ligenfelter
Leading Cross-Culturally by Sherwood Lingenfelter
Leading Across Cultures: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church by Jim Plueddemann
Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience by David Sills
Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right! edited by Robert Priest
Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience by Brian Howell (forthcoming)
Books Related to Economic Issues and Missions:
Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton
When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbet
Money, Greed, and God by Jay Richards
Articles and Documents:
A Philosophy of Short-Term Missions at Cornerstone Church, written by Preston Sprinkle, professor at Eternity Bible College
Poverty Tourism Can Make Us So Thankful by Kent Annan
Robert J. Priest and Joseph Paul Priest, “They See Everything, and Understand Nothing: Short Term Mission and Service Learning,” Missiology 34 (2006).
Robert J. Priest, et al., “Researching the Short-Term Mission Movement,” Missiology 34 (2006).
Africa Infested by Heath and Wealth Teaching
In this article Jeff Robinson interviews Jeff Atherstone . Atherstone serves as president of Africa Renewal University (ARU) in Kampala Uganda. The interview highlights the false “Health and Wealth” teaching in Africa and particular in our beloved Uganda. We at Reaching Africa’s Unreached are in step with his closing strategies for effectively combating this false teaching. May our Lord Jesus Christ be worshiped in all the World, in all of Africa, in all of Uganda, in all the West Nile of Uganda for who He IS….the Mighty God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, our Savior and who IS good and IS GOOD in ALL situations!
The article is posted here: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/africa-infested-by-health-and-wealth-teaching
by Jeff Atherstone
Editors’ note: This series examines the prosperity gospel every Thursday and Friday during the month of June. We explore the theology, sociology, and international influence of this popular but aberrant teaching. The Gospel Coalition International Outreach (IO) is partnering with African authors and publishers to create a resource that biblically examines the prosperity gospel and that will be distributed free across Africa and beyond. In Prosperity? Finding the True Gospel, African pastors Michael Otieno Maura, Ken Mbugua, and Conrad Mbewe are joined by John Piper and Wayne Grudem in pointing pastors and other Christians beyond the deceptions of prosperity theology to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. TGC-IO aims to raise $50,000 by July 1, at which time they will receive an all-or-nothing matching grant to complete the project. For more details or to give to this worthy project, see the relief project page.
Other posts on the topic:
- “Prosperity Gospel Born in the USA” (Russell Woodbridge)
- “5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel” (David W. Jones)
- “I Visited a Prosperity Gospel Megachurch” (Steven Morales)
- “Prosperity Teaching has Replaced True Gospel in Africa” (Conrad Mbewe)
“The Poverty of the Prosperity Gospel” ( Vaneetha Rendall )
The Abuse of Authority in Prosperity Gospel Churches ( D.A. Horton)
- Why the Prosperity Gospel Is the Worst Pyramid Scheme Ever (Nicholas McDonald)
- Further Resources: www.thegospelcoalition.org/pages/prosperity
While the prosperity gospel traces its theological, philosophical, and sociological roots to the United States, its most prominent teachers (e.g., Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and the aptly-named Creflo Dollar) have made it a leading American export across the globe. Today, health and wealth teaching is proliferating at an alarming rate in Latin America and in many countries across the African continent.
Jeff Atherstone has witnessed the spread of prosperity theology in Africa over the past decade. Atherstone serves as president of Africa Renewal University (ARU) in Uganda. He’s served in that Sub-Saharan country as a missionary since 2006 and was among the founders of ARU. Before moving to Uganda, Atherstone served as a church planter on staff at Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California.
TGC spoke with Atherstone about the challenges he faces in seeking to proclaim an orthodox gospel in a region overrun with false teaching.
Is prosperity gospel teaching widespread in Uganda?
The prosperity gospel runs rampant through Sub-Saharan Africa, and Uganda is no exception. Churches don’t call themselves prosperity churches and even churches claiming to oppose the prosperity gospel have
it proclaimed from their pulpits. The prosperity gospel has attached itself to the theological framework that runs through this region. It has spread primarily through television. Preachers such as Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Myles Munroe, and Joel Osteen can be seen on TV around the clock in Christian homes throughout Uganda. Their books are found lining the shelves of Christian bookshops. These preachers have also done a great job of personally visiting this region.
In what places have you seen the prosperity gospel at work? How difficult is it for orthodox theology to gain a hearing where health and wealth teaching is so prevalent?
Sub-Saharan Africa is a patriarchal society with a great amount of respect for their leaders. The prosperity gospel has moved strongly because the movement’s leaders have paid to have their shows televised here. They have visited this region and their books are in this region. The leaders of orthodox theology haven’t paid to bring their TV shows to the airwaves, they haven’t hosted stadium-filled gatherings, and their books can’t be found. Orthodox theology needs to present their leaders to this region to gain the respect (and ears) of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Is there some biblical truth being intermixed by the prosperity teachers in these countries, taught along with the prosperity gospel?
Yes, all the time. Sermons and service times in Sub-Saharan Africa are much longer than in the West, running more than two or three hours each Sunday (not to mention multiple mid-week services and overnight prayer meetings). The sermons are filled with long stories and anecdotes, so you can often hear truth and false teaching weaved together.
Why do you think word fo faith/prosperity teaching appeals to the people of these countries?
Three main reasons.
Patriarchal. As I mentioned, the prosperity gospel has brought their leaders here through large crusades, TV, radio, and books. You can hear and see Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and T. D. Jakes everywhere. These men are presented as the leaders of global Christianity, so the people follow.
Media. Television and radio are still king in these places. While U.S. orthodox teachers use podcasts, YouTube clips, and social media to reach their people, in Sub-Saharan Africa TV and radio are still the best mediums for reaching people. Social media is growing rapidly but the sound of TVs and radios can be heard 24/7.
Energy. The word “charismatic” might be confusing so I will use “energy.” Many orthodox preachers seem boring and stand still behind their pulpits with little movement. Meanwhile, African preachers are full of energy; they sweat while moving across their stages, delivering fiery sermons. The prosperity preachers have similar energy to African preachers in their style, theatrics, and delivery. This helps them to win over the Sub-Saharan African audience.
How are missionaries working to combat it?
Again, three main ways. First, stay long. In a patriarchal society you either need to be famous or stay long in order to win approval. Missionaries who come and leave quickly don’t receive the same response and acceptance. This is confusing since Sub-Saharan Africa is very hospitable. Short-term visitors feel heard and accepted, but often the words they preach are soon forgotten.
Second, bring over leaders who preach orthodox theology. We should be getting our leaders on TV, on the radio, and in large stadiums here. The impact of these events lasts for months and sometimes years.
Passion brought over Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Charlie Hall in 2008 and 2012 and it literally changed the worship music sung in churches around Kampala (Uganda’s capital city).
Third, be faithful in preaching and teaching in theological schools. Having students in our classrooms for two or three years at a time at Africa Renewal University has dramatically changed their theology, their preaching ministries, and the course of their churches. Investing in local leaders and equipping them with the true gospel is key.
Do you meet a lot of people who are frustrated that prosperity theology has not “worked” for them? Perhaps they haven’t become more wealthy and healthy and now they are discouraged or frustrated?
Honestly, no! People in Sub-Saharan African don’t have the same need for instant gratification we do in the West. Their patience in waiting for prosperity is one of the factors that keeps this movement growing and moving ahead.
Most of the people I meet who come out of the prosperity movement are students at Africa Renewal University. When their eyes are opened to the truth of the gospel, time and again they eventually give up on the false hope health-and-wealth teaching provides. Their first months are filled with debates in class, which is extremely healthy. Eventually the truth of the gospel wins out in their lives and then in their churches.
Give us a strategy for effectively combatting this false teaching.
The prosperity gospel robs people of joy, leaving them empty, lusting after more, and searching for something they cannot find. Since God has already poured out the riches of his grace on us, we can daily delight in his presence free from the empty promises of this world. If I were to lay out a strategy for combatting prosperity theology in Sub-Saharan Africa, I would (in this order):
- Invest in long-term discipleship training through theological schools like ARU. This may sound like a shameless self-promotion, but honestly the prosperity gospel has such deep roots in these students that one sermon, conference, or book will not change their thinking.
- I would invest in bringing the leaders of orthodox Christianity to this region through stadium-filled conferences, TV, radio, social media, and books.
- Finally, I would encourage missionaries to stay long and learn to preach with the energy of the Africans while holding onto their theological convictions.