Archives For Missions

Translational Living

Mark Beuving —  October 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

Theologians and missiologists often use an important but difficult-to-understand concept: “incarnational living.” Using terms like “incarnational” sometimes makes important concepts like these unnecessarily difficult, so I want to reframe this concept using terminology that will hopefully be a bit more familiar.

“Incarnational” refers to the “incarnation,” the act in which Jesus took on flesh. (You can think of carne asada, grilled meat, and make the connection that Jesus wrapped himself in meat—a gross visual, but pretty literal). With the birth of Jesus, God was becoming man, the Divine Being was embodying himself—taking the form of humanity—and thereby revealing himself to us in a new way. This is the significant even the author of Hebrews praises at the beginning of his letter:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our father by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1–2).

There is something unique about God speaking not in words, but in the human (and yet still divine) person of his Son! And in this miraculous event we have a powerful model of what it looks like to speak to our world about Jesus. So now, in an effort to make sense of what this would look like, let me switch from “incarnation” language to “translation” language. (And in doing so, I’m adapting some thoughts I gleaned from missiologist Andrew Walls.)

When Jesus lived amongst humanity, his very life was an act of translation. He was Immanuel, God with us, the very presence of God in human form. To look at Jesus is to realize, “This is what God is like.” We can use many words to convey what God would be like in human terms, or we can simply look at Jesus. Jesus was God’s greatest act of translation.

Hebrew BibleIn translating the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek in which it was originally written, translators have to ask which words in the new language (let’s just say English) fit with the words in the original language. And this is extremely difficult. For example, Greek has 3 words for “love,” and English has only one word to carry the meaning of all three words. Plus “love” in English is pretty slippery, covering everything from our “love” for breakfast food to our “love” for God. So translation carries all kinds of dangers and possibilities: We can express truth about God in new and exciting ways, but we also run the risk of mis-expressing something about God.

When God translated himself into human form (in Jesus), the translation was perfect. We look at Jesus and see God precisely as God would look were he to live as a human being in the first-century Greco/Roman/Jewish world (which is precisely what was happening).

So God translated himself in Jesus. But Christianity is a faith that requires constant translation. (This, by the way, is entirely unique. For Muslims, reading the Qur’an in a language other than Arabic is not truly reading the Qur’an. Sometime after Jesus, at least some branches of Judaism decided that a non-Hebrew Torah was not truly a Torah. But the Christian faith has had translation at its heart from the very beginning because the entire faith is grounded in God’s act of translation through Jesus.) That means that we must always be translating Jesus into our own context and for our own neighbors.

Suburban StreetYou and I are, in essence, walking translations of what God has done in Jesus. We stand in the midst of our neighborhoods and workplaces and friend-groups as an embodied statement: “This is what Jesus is like.” And just like translating the Bible, this is an extremely difficult task. It requires continuously deepening knowledge of who God is, thorough familiarity with our culture—including its interests, thought forms, and means of expression—and a commitment to “being Jesus” in a deep sense in every situation.

It has been said that you and I are likely the only Bible our neighbors will ever read. And that’s true, but not in a resigned, I-guess-that-will-have-to-do, sense. It’s actually true by God’s design that our neighbors will learn about him through the translation of our lives. You and I are acts of translation. We are God-made-flesh (not exactly like Jesus, but much like him) in the specific culture, setting, and relationships of our moment and our day.

The point is, be a good translation. Be a living, breathing example of what it looks like to be Jesus in your location in the 21st century. Call it incarnational living, call it translational living, call it whatever. God has something to say to the people he has placed around you, and he wants to say it through the details of your life.

In many American churches, consumerism is being used as a vehicle for the gospel. With lessons gleaned from the entertainment industry and the world of marketing, these churches present the gospel using forms of communication familiar to every American. Many people hear the gospel through this type of church. It’s effective. But should they being doing this? And what do we mean when we say it’s effective?

[For any theology/missiology nerds reading this, what I’m seeking to address here is an issue that involves contextualization and syncretism. If you care to explore that connection, view this footnote: [1]]

So let’s consider the consumerist model of doing church. Consumerism is all about creating products that will appeal to consumers. In the church, this can look like anything from performance-oriented bands to entertaining sermons to polished programs. I can sense many of you preparing to throw stones at other churches at this point, so before you do that, consider: all of our churches do this to some extent. I have yet to encounter a church in North America that avoids all elements of the consumerist model. I want to be clear that the enemy is not entertainment, programs, or “being relevant.”

It’s easy to be superficial in our dismissal of consumerism in churches: “Their worship is so showing…they’re so ‘seeker sensitive’…people are only going to that church because the children’s ministry is a huge production…” But the problem is actually far deeper than all that.

It’s not wrong for people to be entertained. It’s not wrong for pastors to carefully craft their sermons so their congregation will be entertained so they will stay engaged so they will take another step on their spiritual journey. Skill, professionalism, excellence—these are not the problem.

The problem with consumerist models of doing church is the way this approach shapes us. And it does shape us—deeply.

Visit the mall regularly and you will be shaped. You won’t notice the shaping, of course. You think you’re going to the mall to complete your errands, or perhaps just to enjoy the atmosphere. But you’re being trained to view life in a certain way. You’re imbibing an embodied vision of “the good life.” You are “listening” to powerful “sermons” about the way your life could be if you’d only shop here, if you’d only adopt this lifestyle, if you’d just give this product a try.

Why are so many people going to quickly purchase the new iPhone 6s when it releases? (Or the Android equivalent.) No one is actually eager to buy it for the two or three things it can do slightly better than the previous version. People are going to quickly adopt the newest iPhone because the advertisers are masters at training our desires. They know how to bypass the head and go for the gut. The malls, the commercials, the coffee shops, the auto dealers, the layout of our cities—all of it pushes us towards a specific version of the good life: have this, live this way, and you’ll be happy.

Now mentally walk into an American suburban church. The service is carefully tailored to appeal to you. Programs are designed to meet your needs. You choose which church activities you want to sign up for. The church staff is the production company and you are the consumer.

“It’s different,” you might say. “I’m not being offered a ‘product,’ I’m being offered Jesus. I’m being drawn into worship.” Yes and yes. And this is why I’m not accusing the consumerist mentality of being evil. People do come to know Jesus through this approach—often!

am arguing, however, that this approach subtly shapes our view of the gospel, its purpose, and our role in the mission of God. For the first Christians, church was anything but consumeristic. They didn’t need to advertise programs to meet one another’s needs. Their lives were intertwined enough that they just knew where the needs were and did what they could to meet them.

When church is set up in such a way that every aspect of our spiritual life is presented like a sales pitch, wrapped in entertainment value, and tailored to catch our fancy, we’re bound to misunderstand the purpose of it all. We’re bound to miss the reality that we don’t go to church or volunteer at church, we are the church. When we embrace the consumerist mentality, we get the impression that all God expects of us is to sit in on services and attend programs.

But there’s more to the Christian life than this. And the tragedy of the consumerist model is that we’ll never allow our people to experience how much more there is until we stop marketing to them. The gospel calls us to self-denial, not savvy shopping. We have to find a way to view the people in our churches as members of a body rather than costumers, attendees, or even volunteers.

So instead of assuming that attracting large groups and gathering loads of signups for our programs is a neutral way of communicating the gospel, what if we all stopped to consider how our approach to “doing church” shapes the people we’re reaching out to? What if we asked if there is a better way to do what we’re doing, a way that will communicate the gospel effectively without unintentionally validating the consumeristic mentality of the shopping mall? The reality is that many of our churches are doing pretty well in this respect, but we could all afford to do better.


[1] In my missiology classes, we talk about principles of missions: how to best present the gospel in a certain culture. One important concept we discuss is “contextualization.” How do we take the cultural forms we encounter in a given society and accurately express the gospel in terms that are familiar and compelling to that group of people? For example, when you enter a Middle Eastern society, you’ll want to start by presenting the gospel in the local language. That much is easy. Other questions are more difficult: Should we refer to “God” (a generic English term for the Divine Being) as “Allah” (a generic Arabic term for the Divine Being)? Or does that go beyond contextualization and enter the realm of “syncretism,” which is missions-talk for mixing two religions together? The goal is to find the cultural forms that can best express the gospel and to avoid those that might distort the gospel. It’s not easy to do, but it’s an important concept. Missionaries and missiologists are careful to think through these questions as they bring the gospel to new cultures. Yet few in America have ever considered how the cultural forms they utilize affect the gospel message they are trying to communicate. Specific to this post, how can we contextualize the gospel in North American cultural forms while avoiding syncretistically distorting the gospel? My argument is basically that utilizing the consumeristic methods of the shopping mall have led us past contextualization and into syncretism.

Missionaries Are People Too

Mark Beuving —  February 2, 2015 — 3 Comments

In class this morning, we discussed some of the challenges facing missionaries as they seek to plant churches in cross-cultural settings. There are many factors that make this difficult, but I want to share one factor that seems most relevant to those of us “at home,” whether because we are not overseas missionaries or because we haven’t left for the mission field yet. This factor is simple: unrealistic expectations.

I have no idea what comes to your mind when you think of missionaries, but I’d venture to say that most Christians have unrealistic expectations regarding missionaries. Paul Hiebert, a missiologist and long-time missionary to India, speaks to potential missionaries about these expectations:

“The public’s image of a missionary is a hardy pioneer who suffers great deprivations; a saint who never sins; an outstanding preacher, doctor, or personal worker who overcomes all obstacles—in short, a person who is creative, brave, sensitive, and always triumphant. When we are young, we almost believe that we can become such persons when we cross the ocean.” (Paul G. Hiebert. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985. Pg. 73)

Is that an accurate description of how you view the missionaries your church supports? Do you tend to see them as slightly super-human? These are the truly spiritual ones. They’ve figured life out, they’re willing to give up their dreams for the sake of Christ, they’re tough and brave and untouchable.


I’m guilty of often thinking of missionaries in these terms. To be clear, I do think that missionaries are extraordinary people. But that’s the thing—they’re still people. They’re obedient people, they are models of faith that we ought to follow, but they’re still human beings. So when we expect our missionaries to be idealized cowboys, we’re forgetting that they encounter the same struggles in life that the rest of us face. Not only that, but they face struggles most of us cannot begin to imagine as they seek to live and minister in a foreign culture.

So when we place these expectations upon them, or when they place the expectations upon themselves, it can have a big impact:

“It is not surprising, then, that we face depression, often severe, when we discover that we are still very human. Going abroad has neither changed our weak and sinful natures nor given us new talents.”

One of my students pointed out that it’s almost like we expect some magical transformation to happen on the airplane. But of course, missionaries arrive at their new mission field as human as ever, but with new fears, stress-inducers, and frustrations.

For those of us living “at home,” this is a good reminder that our missionaries are human. They need our prayers. They need support. They need us to be realistic about the real trials they face. They need us to be compassionate when they make mistakes or need extra help or fail to meet goals and deadlines. These missionaries are still part of the body of Christ, and we need to graciously share in their hard labor as much as we can.

And for those of us who hope to one day serve in a cross-cultural setting, it’s important that we get our expectations in order. Jesus is the only Savior, the only perfect human being, the only perfect missionary. He calls us to play an important role in his mission to redeem and restore, but accepting that calling does not necessitate perfection or superhuman capabilities. Be sure to remember that as you follow him to the ends of the earth.

Touch Nepal

Preston Sprinkle —  June 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’m thrilled to announce that Touch Nepal is now live! This ministry has been years in the making and it’s finally here. And I’m incredibly stoked to be a part of this ministry.

What is Touch Nepal? Here’s a short history.

Touch Nepal is a ministry led by myself, Mark Avery, and Adam Finlay (members of Anthem Church in Thousand Oaks) and we seek to nepal 1support indigenous (native) pastors and ministries in Nepal. We want to see the kingdom of God go forth in this predominately Hindu nation.

Our heart for Touch Nepal first started to beat back in 2005, when Adam took a YWAM trip to Nepal and met a couple Nepalese pastors—the same ones we now support. A couple years later, Adam went back to Nepal with several others from his church, including his pastor Mark Avery. After this second trip, Mark, Adam, and others continued to support these ministries through prayer, encouragement, and financial gifts.

I first met Mark and Adam in the Fall of 2012 and my heart was instantly kindled for what God was doing in Nepal. So in January 2013, we took another trip to Nepal to visit the ministries we have been supporting. During this third trip, God opened our eyes to the many grinding needs that the young Nepalese church has. As we visited ministry after ministry, church after church, we saw the same thing: miraculous conversions, contagious zeal—and lack of leadership.

The problem is not that there was a lack of able leaders, but that these leaders lacked either the theological training or financial means to be released to shepherd the church. We also were encouraged, perhaps discouraged, by the comically small percentage of financial help these leaders need to further the kingdom. Some pastors, for instance, make no more than $50 a month. A 25% increase in salary could enable them to share the gospel and raise up disciples in twice as many villages. $5,000 could help rebuild a crumbling sanctuary packed full of converts from Hinduism. A little help goes a very long way in Nepal.

Touch Nepal is committed to running as efficiently as possible. Our passion is to see all donations contribute to the growth of the gospel in Nepal. Therefore, none of us takes an ounce of salary from your donations. We all have full-time jobs. We will never spend your money on attending conferences, buying office supplies, or working lunches (“I’ll take my steak medium-rare, thank you”). We won’t spend your money on us. We’ll spend it on Nepalese ministries. While every ministry has some operational expenses, such as wiring fees and website costs, we are committed to using all donations for the direct advancement of the kingdom of God in Nepal.

That’s Touch Nepal. We support indigenous ministries to further the kingdom of Christ in this Hindu nation. Find out more at

But before you go, please watch this video. It’ll put dirt under your nails. And if you desire to partner with us in this ministry, please visit our website.



In my last post, I introduced you to a vital ministry brewing here in Zambia: African Christian University (ACU). I also made the bold claim that this school has the potential to put a real dent in the spiritual and material poverty in Africa. It may seem absurd that one school has such promise, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that it does. ACU, I believe, could be a major catalyst toward Africa’s solution. But before we talk solution, let’s look at the problem.

kids for sale

The future of Africa

After 40 years of dumping trillions of western dollars into Africa, the continent is still struggling. Hurling money oversees hasn’t helped African in the long run. Such (often) mismanaged charity has created an attitude of dependency and stripped away the need or desire for self-sufficiency, not to mention fostered wide-spread corruption both inside and outside the church. Therefore, many experts locate the solution to Africa’s demise in three main areas: leadership, education, and the gospel. Here’s an oversimplified explanation.

Leadership has been a major problem across the continent, as African Economist George Ayittey pointed out quite thoroughly in his book Africa in Chaos. Bad African leadership has crippled the continent. The solution therefore is raising up a new generation of African leaders who will better manage the vast resources in the country. Such influential leaders, who can strategically fill such a weighty role, generally come from the educated class.

This leads to the second point: education. Many Africans who want (and can afford) quality education leave the country to get it, but then they typically don’t come back. What Africa needs, therefore, is to focus on improving higher education in Africa. Quality African education will cultivate a more sustainable solution to Africa’s problems. The hope of Africa lies in Africa.

But as a Christian, educated leadership may improve Africa’s material problem but it won’t change people’s hearts (which actually may end up hurting the material condition as well.) What is needed is theological education. But not just theological education that trains pastors—though this is still a tremendous need!—but liberal arts education that’s governed by a Christian worldview. We need doctors, engineers, lawyers, businesspeople, journalists, chemists, historians, and school teachers, who can receive a top-notch education in Africa that’s focused on the Lordship of Jesus in all things so that this next generation of leaders can transform Africa for Christ. All three areas (leadership, education, gospel) are necessary.

Patricia and John

Patricia and John, two of ACU’s board of directors

And all three areas beautifully converge at ACU. The school wants to provide a top of the line education in all subjects—including theology—that are taught from a Christian worldview. So when students study business, they will learn how businesses should reflect kingdom values and further God’s reign over the earth. Aspiring journalists will look into the complex fabric of human affairs and testify to God’s stamp on human nature and history. Chemists will cultivate worship as they explore the ingenuity of God’s creation. In all of this, ACU will maintain the same academic rigor of any university in the West. Africans won’t need to go to Europe or North America to receive credible training. They can just go to Zambia; they can go to ACU. And they can seek to bring Africa under the rule of Christ as they pursue gospel-centered vocations.

But this is just the beginning. Ken has come up with a “Student Labor Program,” where students will not only learn in the classroom, but on the ground. The ACU campus will provide opportunities for students to learn agriculture by farming the land and caring for livestock. They will learn value-added business skills by selling their goods that they harvested from the earth (think: creation mandate, Gen 2). They will learn basic work skills by taking ownership of their own campus: upkeep, repairs, and other operation needs. They will even learn how to run a fish-hatchery from the lake that Ken wants to build. In all this, these students—the future of Africa—will experience discipleship both inside and outside the classroom, so that they can go out and disciple others. In the long run, Ken wants to work himself out of a job. He would love to see ACU’s alumni return to the school to take

Me with Ken Turbull, the director of ACU

Me with Ken Turnbull, the director of ACU

ownership of the project. How cool would it be to not only see the vision of ACU come to fruition, but ultimately see Zambians take ownership of the school.

Once again, I’m reminded that God is on the move around the world. Sometimes it’s tough to see this when we race around in our own little world with tunnel vision. I know, because I fall into that trap almost daily! I would love to see the global church reach across oceans to join arms with one another so that Jesus’ kingship over the globe would be unmistakable to the nations.