Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Reflections During Missions Conference

We've just finished a missions conference here at Southeastern with Dr. Billy Kim as our keynote speaker. He is a native of Korea who came to the United States to go to school after the Korean war and then went back to Korea as a pastor of what has now become one of the largest and most influential churches in Asia and the president of the Far-East Broadcasting Comany. He has really challenged and I think on many levels convicted us regarding our often apathetic attitude toward missions and making disciples of other nations and peoples.

He has talked several times about the explosive growth of the church in South Korea. His church, for instance, began with barely a dozen members meeting in a shack. Now it has 20,000 members. Overall, there were less than a million believers in South Korea 40 years ago. Today, there are over 13 million. According to Dr. Kim, the largest Presbyterian, Methodist, and Pentecostal churches in the world are in South Korea along with "probably 20 of the world's largest churches" (not sure out of how many). As I was hearing these stories, a statistic I had heard came to mind. About 100 years ago, 80% of Christians were found in the West (West Europe, North America). Today, 80% of Christians are outside of the west. In Europe, which used to be the major stronghold of the Church, Christianity is all but dead. I wonder if the United States is not headed in that same direction. There are at least some indications that it may be. In twenty years, will America likewise be labeled "spiritually dead and dark" as France is right now and will countries like Korea be sending missionaries to us?

It is somewhat disheartening that Christianity seems to be faltering in the West, but I think in large part that has been by our own making. Our wealth and prosperity has, in many ways I think, made us apathetic towards God. By contrast, when I meet Christians from less wealthy parts of the world, I am always amazed at their zeal and passion. One thing, however, has occurred to me that makes me quite nervous. Many of the Christians in the developing parts of the world are remarkably uneducated. This definitely extends to theological education. Dr. Kim said at one point this week that Korea admittedly does not have the theological knowledge that many Christians in the west have. I've spoken with missionaries this week who discussed regions in the world where new Christians are easily led astray by cult movements like the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses (some even to the point of making cult leaders the pastors of their newly founded churches). There is a real danger here.

Christianity may be "dying" in the west, but there is still a great wealth of knowledge in the west. The best seminaries and theological schools in the world are primarily in the United States, Britain, and Germany. If Christianity is shifting to other parts of the world, it seems to me it is essential that Christian theological education shift into those areas as well. Yet this seems a fairly neglected need.

I have definitely felt God's calling towards full-time ministry. I desire to work to some extent in a pastoral role, but I also know that my main interests and skills are more academic and related to teaching. I have also felt, to some extent, a desire to work in oversees missions for at least a little while. I am definitely beginning to entertain the notion of going to the missions field to train pastors and teach theology to people in parts of the world where that knowledge is much more scarce.

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