Time For Another Enquiry?

We have already had, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. Interesting title for a book and the language alone tells you how old it is!

We don’t use the word ‘heathens’ much at all now in reference to those who don’t share our faith. In fact it almost sounds like pejorative language. But this is the title of the treatise that inspired thousands ,written by William Carey, regarded as the father of the modern missions movement.

Carey’s missionary concern was for those beyond our immediate vicinity – particularly those in countries far away (often referred to as un-civilised) and his booklet advocates for the use of ‘means’ (money) to send people there as missionaries.

I doubt many have read Carey’s manifesto, but in its time it served to mobilise a generation into missionary service and its impact has reverberated ever since, so that when we ask a church about their mission program many still default to describing whoever they are supporting overseas.

William Carey :: Carey International University of Theology

Carey sought to take the ‘great commission’ in Matthew 28 very seriously and so began the idea of sending missionaries overseas with support being raised from churches back home. If you’ve been around church life for a while then you will know the deal. ‘yeah we have missonaries we support in Thailand, Malaysia and Africa.’


Yes it is good that people have gone to other countries to spread the good news of the kingdom of God. And it is good that we support them in these ventures.

But I have a question… and it might be an unpopular one, but I am wondering if Carey were around today if he would write the same words?

Question: How much does it cost to send a missionary overseas?

Answer – a lot!

Now it depends on where they go and what is needed, but generally speaking my understanding is that it is more expensive to send people overseas than it is to have them serve in their own country.

We invest humungous resources in overseas mission and I am not sure Carey would advocate for this if he were around today. We are all products of our time and culture. He was responding in 1872 to the needs of the world as he saw it then. There was an element of ‘civilising’ that seemed to accompany the missionary efforts, an approach we would see as no longer appropriate. He does address the need at home in this quote”

It has been objected that there are multitudes in our own nation, and within our immediate spheres of action, who are as ignorant as the South-Sea savages, and that therefore we have work enough at home, without going into other countries. That there are thousands in our own land as far from God as possible, I readily grant, and that this ought to excite us to ten-fold diligence in our work, And in attempts to spread divine knowledge amongst them is a certain fact; but that it ought to supersede all attempts to spread the gospel in foreign parts seems to want proof. Our own countrymen have the means of grace, and may attend on the word preached if they choose it. They have the means of knowing the truth, and faithful ministers are placed in almost every part of the land, whose spheres of action might be much extended if their congregations were but more hearty and active in the cause: but with them the case is widely different, who have no Bible, no written language, (which many of them have not), no ministers, no good civil government, nor any of those advantages which we have. Pity therefore, humanity, and much more Christianity, call loudly for every possible exertion to introduce the gospel among them.

I feel like we could summarise Carey’s thinking as ‘Christendom based’ – and a little bit ‘Bo Peepish’ (leave them alone and they’ll come home), which may have been fine in the 18th C. But today we face huge challenges in mission work here. The end of Christendom and the increase of secularism means the context has changed significantly. Australia is its own mission field today and when it comes to finding spiritual sustenance for life the church is not their first port of call. This is dissimilar also to Carey’s era.

So I guess it’s a long way of asking, ‘should we continue to invest large sums of money in sending people overseas to learn language and culture before they even begin to be effective or would be better off using those resources to support local missionaries in their work within Australia?

I realise it’s a very pragmatic question, but it needs asking.

I wonder to what extent our ongoing overseas missionary service is anchored to an old paradigm – a way of thinking that needs poking and questioning. I have hesitated to write this post – firstly because I don’t want to discourage people I know who are overseas and doing good work. If that’s you and you’re reading this then I do see you – and I applaud your work. My intention is not undermine you in any way.

But I also feel we need to hit pause on overseas sending and ask again ‘how do we reach Bob next door who has no Christian heritage and no allegiance to any church?’

I feel like in more conservative churches ‘mission work’ overseas is a bit of a sacred cow that we don’t mess with as it’s how we do ‘mission’, but I want to suggest it’s time for us to look more closely at the needs right here and trying to send our best and brightest to seed new church communities right here in Oz.

Perhaps our work overseas is completed?

Perhaps we ought to let them reach their own countrymen and women while we do the same back home?

What do you think? Is it time for a shake up? Would Carey write the same tract if he were around today?

You can read the full text of Carey’s booklet here.

If It Sounds too Good to be True…

419 scam | Agent-X Comics

If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. We all know that.

The nice Nigerian man who wants to give you $500K isn’t really out to enhance your life.

But occasionally an offer comes around that simply is every bit as unbelievable and generous as it sounds.

A couple of weeks ago an old mate rang and told me his father had passed away. He lives in SA and had come back for his final days of life and then the funeral. His dad was not a God botherer, but even so, who do you get to do the job of laying him to rest? A generic celebrant who has never met the family and can utter some inane AI generated platitudes, or someone who at least knew a few of the family?

So Al called me and said ‘At least you knew him…’ True – I did. I met Big Al, (yeah both father and son are called Al) once or twice at his place in Bassendean where he sat with his wife Pier at the kitchen table, a king brown in hand and plenty more in the fridge. He was a decent kinda man. That was about all I could remember, but I wasn’t close to him at all. When it came to the funeral I wasn’t sure quite how I’d tie it all together at the end – how I’d do the ‘religious bit’ with a group of people who by and large certainly weren’t that.

The Big Al I knew was a good bloke, who loved his family, but not a man who had much time for God. In fact I think it would be fair to say that God, Jesus etc was not his radar at all, until the day before he died. His son, Al, told me that when he went in to see the old man he laid it out for him, that he better make his peace with God – and he better get a move on because the clock was ticking. In typical Al fashion he didn’t beat around the bush. He shirt-fronted his dad with the offer of forgiveness and a hope in the hereafter. Big Al agreed so Al led him thru a prayer of confession, repentance and salvation.

When Al told me that his dad had come to faith the day before he died, I got a whiff of what I may be able to say to a crew of people who were unlikely to step foot inside a church, and who maybe had a view of God as distant, irrelevant or hostile.

That whole thing of Big Al slipping thru the door right at the literal death knock sounds absurd – ridiculous even. If he treated any of us that way – ignored us for this whole life then asked for a significant favour at the end – we’d probably tell him to think again. Not cool.

That’s how we operate, but not God.

He’s not like that. And it sounds absurd, ridiculous and even unfair in a sense, that he would extend the same grace to Big Al as he did to the every Sunday church goer who did their best to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘ts’.

Psalm 103 was made for these occasions. Read those words

he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust

Ah yes – dust… and Big Al was about to complete the cycle of life – to become dust. The two beer cans on his coffin and the other one that had been tucked under his arm spoke to where Big Al found his ‘happy place’. He didn’t mind a beer or 20…. There was no doubt he was created in the image of God and people shared beautiful memories of a dad, a grandad and a friend. But I also have no doubt Al had his fair share of regrets, stuff ups and failures. We all do.

Yet, in his final moments he meets a God whose love for him is so great that he chooses not to treat him as his sins deserve, but to welcome him with open arms. To offer forgiveness, peace and reconciliation.


Absolutely, completely seriously. This is what God is like.

Jesus once told a story about a man hiring workers – some he hired early in the morning at an agreed price, some others at lunch time and then a final crew just before knock off and when it came time for payment he gave all of them the same amount. Of course the ones who worked in the heat of the day complained against the late comers. ‘Not fair” was the cry. To which the boss answered:

13  ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matt 20

As I told this story I felt myself welling up with emotion – not that Big Al had passed away – but at this reminder of God and his willingness to love and accept someone who it seemed really hadn’t tuned in to him much throughout his life. His grace and love is just that astounding and far reaching.

I don’t know if anyone else in the room felt the utter confounding power of the words I spoke that day – but I did. They struck me with tidal wave impact all over again. God is that good – that generous…

He really is the father who welcomes the prodigals with open arms and then throws a party in thier honour.

If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is… except when it isn’t.

It’s why we call it ‘good news.’

Farewell Big Al – but only until we meet again in the age to come.

If Jesus Came Today

I was around 23 years old when I read a story in On Being, an 80’s Australian Christian magazine, that told the story of Mick Duncan and his wife Ruby working in the slums of Manila with the mission organisation, ‘Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor’. I was totally inspired by what I read of their work so I wrote him a letter and told him I wanted to come visit and see what I could learn from them. I wondered if my own sense of missionary calling may have taken me to working in a similar situation. I had to explore this!

I didn’t hear back from Mick – I don’t know if my letter ever reached him – but I decided to book a flight and then go find him – in Manila… It wasn’t the sharpest of plans. I realise that now, but at 23 I wanted to be inspired and I wanted to live for Jesus in the most radical way I could imagine. This form of mission seemed to really push that button so I flew out on a whim and a prayer.

I can’t imagine doing that at 59. Not just the crazy impulsive travel plans, but the whole thing. At 23 I owned a car and a couple of surfboards. I wasn’t married and I had nothing to lose. Everything was a possibility and an adventure! I never did find them, but I eventually met Mick about 20 years later at a Forge gathering where I listened to him teach about some of the harsh realities of slum living. I then felt glad I didn’t end up there after all.

Such is the nature of western life that as we age we become wealthier and ‘wiser’, less prone to adventure and more likely to conduct ‘risk assessments’ rather than simply wading into challenging situations. Our ever increasing affluence means we now have more to lose than before and it feels almost impossible to stay free of the entanglements of wealth. My mind flits to Hebrews 12 – the ‘sin’ that so easily entangles and prevents us from running the race we had set our course for. Could it be greed? Security? Comfort?

These are the challenges of later middle age – to not be the soil that is choked by thorns – to steer a course away from the safe and cruisy life that our society tells us we are entitled to. Does anyone really want to do that?

Jesus says. ‘You cannot serve both God and mammon’, and we seem to say ‘can’t we at least try?…’

Whatever happened to youthful zeal? When was it converted to a measured and tempered – (maybe even dull) approach to faith and discipleship?

Why the lament?

It’s possibly less a lament and more a reflection on the nature of youth, but it is borne from my reading of the gospels and the book of Acts.

We know Jesus was around 30 when things kicked off for him and he chose disciples to be with him – young men – late teens to early twenties. Paul was a very young man when he was involved in persecuting the church and when he was converted. The mission of the early church was catalysed by a group of young people.

Jesus didn’t seem to pursue older men – the (apparently) mature and wise ones. It seems he wanted to invest in the audaciousness of youth. He put all of his chips on a crew who had little to lose and a lot to live for. But just imagine – this man who is a charismatic curiosity not only doesn’t choose your best heavy hitters for his cohort, but instead chooses some relatively unknown and definitely un-tested ‘kids’ to form his core team. Not only does he choose the young, but he avoids the churchy types and goes for more blue collar, tradespeople, the non-elite.

The hopes for his movement – for the kingdom of God – have been invested in a crew of men and women in their teen years – with maybe a few in the early 20’s.

If you know what its’ like to not be chosen then you know that feeling of indignation that would arise as many of us feel sidelined and even offended. We have so much to give -so much experience! But he doesn’t choose us. I wonder if I’d be able to be ok with that?

To see Jesus choose my son or daughter and then ‘radicalise’ them in the cause of the kingdom of God? I wonder if I would be glad that he chose my teenage kid to join his band or if I’d be suggesting to my child that we wait and see where this all headed? I wonder if he would even see my PK kids, or if he’d choose the ones who had lost interest in church?

I wonder if Jesus drew his disciples quite purposefully from young adults because he was seeking out undamaged minds – paradigms still forming – because he wanted to invest in the optimistic energy of youth. He was willing to take on some loose cannons, because with their unpredictability also came devotion and focus that was less inhibited than the parents – less wed to a vision of how things ‘ought’ to be.

If we accept that Jesus chose disciples who were aged around 20 and that he had no fear of investing his life in them, then how may that inform us at this time when the church is struggling? I wonder if we have bet all of our chips on the grey hairs – the wise and experienced – to help us out of this mess.

Could it be that if Jesus came today he would do the same thing? He wouldn’t go after maturity, experience and savvy, but he’d go for the ‘drop everything’ raw passion of youth – for the pliable minds and simple uncluttered faith, that aren’t cynically deconstructing every last element of faith?

Honestly – I don’t think he would look at my 31 years of church leadership as an asset – but possibly a liability. I think I may be offended by his choices, but I sense he’d just tell me to deal with it.

What’s the point?

As I wrote a few posts back, I wonder if those of us who are older need to take more risks by inviting our young people into leadership and allowing them to genuinely shape the form and future of the church. Unfortunately most of our churched youth have long been steeped in a culture of deference to elders so even freeing them from this could be nigh on impossible.

But I sense our hope lies in listening to the ideas of a generation who do not see the world as we do and who may not see church as we see it.

And our role? To ‘em-power’. To genuinely create space and allow them to lead us. Patrick Lencioni makes the point that ’empowerment’ is giving power away – allowing someone else to have control.

If Jesus came today he wouldn’t recruit denominational leaders or senior pastors. He would go after young, willing hearts and minds, and no doubt we would oppose him and make his life hard. Who knows we may even crucify him.