The Biggest Elephant – It’s a Jungle Out There!

 ‘It’s more missionaries we need, without more missionaries we will lose’


In this series of posts on the topic of what I call the ‘Biggest Elephant’ I have mentioned a number of characteristics of the Australian church (see ‘Something Completely Different’) which are to various degrees causative factors in the Western Church’s chronic lack of missional fruit. These I characterise as the ‘Elephants’ in the rather overcrowded ‘Missions Operations Room’ because they are systemic contributors to the long standing Missional Malaise in the Australian Church, yet few want to talk about them.

These ‘Elephants’ include issues such as persisting with the standard, long-failing ‘SIC’ church model as the platform for mission, ‘SIC’ being an acronym for Sunday-Centric, In- Drag (into Sunday services), Christendom-Form (the same centuries old basic form of church); the ‘Dead Hand of Apathy’ of most congregations; the use of 90% plus of available church resources for maintenance of the standard church rather than mission; the lack of Cultural Intelligence in developing missional strategies; and the repeated use of previously failed, what I term, ‘Square Wheel’ outreach activities and many more.

The argument here is that if these systemic issues (Elephants) continue to be ignored and unaddressed, as they generally are, they will perpetuate the entrenched missional failure and also, most importantly, the Desalination process (i.e. the thinning of the SALT of Matthew 5:13) that is rapidly reducing Gospel influence in society, now little more than the fading smile on Lewis Caroll’s ‘Chesire Cat’.

‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’

There is also however, looming large over these ‘lesser Elephants’ mentioned above, another what might be called the ‘Biggest Elephant’, namely that of Leadership. It is the intention of this series of Posts to focus attention on the problem of the Leadership, one that generally continues to be steadfastly ignored.

I have described the issue of Leadership as the ‘Biggest Elephant’ because it is only leadership that can address and remove the many other missional roadblocks, the ‘lesser Elephants’, that contribute to the Missional Malaise, that is the general and longstanding failure of the traditional church to be effective in local mission.

This, the third post in the ‘Biggest Elephant’ series, seeks to address the issue of the nature of the cultural landscape in which leaders are required to lead mission, a task that can be described as ‘Jungle Mission’.


Jungle Mission

Jesus was brutally honest when telling would-be missionary disciple-makers (Matthew 28:19) which must include church leaders, that the journey would be anything but comfortable. He made it clear that it would require total dedication to the cause, putting it even before family responsibilities (Luke 9:57-62); it would likely result in opposition from family members (Luke 12:49-53); it would require self-denial and sacrifice (Mathew 16:24,25); they could expect to be hated bu the ‘world’ (John 15:19); and be met with severe opposition (Luke 21:17). However, when local mission is planned and encouraged by church leaders today, such considerations are rarely mentioned, and usually what is proposed is some bland, relatively comfortable program that, once more in Tom Frame’s words, will not

oblige (people) to embrace lifestyle choices that might involve discomfort.’

The Bible tells us that God gives the spiritual gift of leadership (‘Proistamenos’ Romans 12:8) to some members of the Church so that they may fulfil His commission of Mission. This task is one of what might be described as ‘Jungle Mission’ i.e. to lead a mission into the dark and hostile cultural jungle of 21st century Australia.

The missional penetration of the 19th century missionary David Livingstone into Pagan tribes of the jungles of Africa can provide an important clues for today’s equivalent of the ’Mission Africa’ of 200 years ago i.e. ‘Mission Australia’. For mission into 21st century Australian society to be effective in the neo-pagan jungle requires a completely different type of leader with characteristics significantly different to those required for running 20th century type standard ‘SIC’ churches and the associated missional (usually called Outreach) strategies that now continue to fail.

Such leaders must be able and willing to take the Gospel (Livingstone-like) into, what is now a cultural jungle, occupied by many Pagan tribes. This means to ‘Go’ and leave ‘home’, that is the comfortable Sunday-centric church environment; to penetrate a Kaleidoscope of ever-fluid cultures; in which little is fixed such that formally unambiguous terms such a Marriage, Family, Gender now have a Humpty Dumpty fluidity (a word means what I say it means), and the idea of Truth is a lost or at least an ever varying concept. These are cultural addresses that are totally foreign to the one most current church leaders grew up in, the penetration of which requires missional leaders to face difficulty and hostility; to persevere and ‘stay’ in the alien cultural mosaic; to learn the ‘language’ of the neo-pagan tribes and understand their ‘Mindset’ in order to communicate with them, for church-speak and bible-speak are totally incomprehensible to them.

For a leader to be effective in such a task requires a high level of Cultural Intelligence (the ability to exegete i.e. unpack, understand, relate to and engage with people in the tribal mosaic), it also requires high levels of commitment, perseverance in adversity, and an ability to imagine a ‘Church- not-yet-imagined’ and then at intervals of time to re-imagine it. This repeated re-imagining is something current leaders, constrained and frozen by the ‘fatal assumption’ of a static church format, as discussed in my previous ‘Biggest Elephant’ post, are rarely willing, and inded often feel unable, to engage in.

The missional challenge is one of ‘Jungle Mission’, a task with which tragically few current leaders are willing to engage. We live in a totally different world from that in which, and for which, the current church model and its leadership paradigm was designed and developed. The urgent need is for missionary leaders who are able to recognise the nature of the ‘Jungle’ and to strategise for the missional journey into it.

The lack of such missionary leaders comes with a great and terrible cost, for until and unless that changes the Missional Malaise will only deepen and spread, and the legions of those stumbling in a Christ-less spiritual darkness will only increase.

It is important to acknowledge that most current church leaders are generally hard working, committed and faithful Christians who genuinely want to reach the lost for Christ. However, they are tasked with a challenge for which they are rarely selected, are often not gifted (summed up by one quoted as saying ‘I am only a One trick pony’) and for which they are rarely trained, and then they are asked to operate with a church platform that is not fit for the purpose of ‘Jungle Mission’.

Acknowledgment of this however, does not solve the ‘Biggest Elephant’ problem. For there is no escaping the fact that an honest and forensic examination of all of the problematic aspects of the Missional Malaise that relate to Leadership can only conclude that for ‘Jungle Mission’-

It’s more missionaries we need, without more missionaries we will lose’


To be continued . . . . . .

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