by Ray Tallman
An Interview with Howard Whaley.
What things do you think will affect missions during the the remainder of this century?
Whaley: Some of the more obvious but important factors will be; population growth in developing nations; continued urbanization; aging of the population and donor base in North America; competition for funding; increased scrutiny of tax exempt enterprises; continued reduction of the time it takes to double knowledge, with the attendant information and communications revolution; a widening gulf between the haves and have-nots; and continued international upheaval occasioned by economic, tribal, and religious concerns rather than traditional political issues.
What are your specific concerns as you consider the challenges facing North American missions?
Whaley: They would fall into four broad categories: personnel, theology, strategy, and technology.
What about missionary personnel?
Whaley: A very practical concern would be the manpower needs occasioned by the large number of World War II and Korean War veterans approaching retirement during the next decade or so, and the rather large source of funds that need to be strategically reallocated, I think, too, that missions will face a new generation of missionary candidates whose experience is very different from that of previous generations. They are functionally existential and orientated to multiple vocations during a lifetime rather than to one lifelong vocation.
You mentioned theology. Why?
Whaley: The potential exists for continued and escalated socio-political upheaval on the international scene. This will mean that conservative evangelicals will have to develop functional theological categories in order to address issues such as ethnicity, poverty, power encounter, injustice and the material order (institutions and governments),
I also see an increased polarization between the conservative churches of North America (exclusive) and the emerging churches (inclusive) over questions or affiliation and ecumenicity. In our country we have been able to afford the dubious luxury of making distinctions by degrees rather than of kind. But this is really not in the best interest of the overseas churches. They have more in common with other Christians of whatever stripe than they have with Animists, Hindus, Marxists, or Moslems.
Finally, the issues and problems we will be facing will increasingly have their roots in hermeneutical and theological concerns. How can we effectively lead emerging churches and address issues like universalism, syncretism, contextualization, and the nature of the gospel if agencies persist in sending out people with only 30 or less hours of biblical and theological training?
And I won’t even begin to discuss North American systematic theology and the problems it poses.
What about the other two areas, strategy and technology?
Whaley: Briefly, we will need to make use of whatever technology will help us to be more efficient and effective. This is especially true in the information area. This will test our leadership, Information is power, and if it’s available to a wider group than the leadership, it could be threatening even as it is helpful.
Concerning strategy, we need to do some creative thinking about strengthening our base at home in the light of increased scrutiny of tax exempt agencies, both by the government and informed lay persons who are concerned about cost effectiveness. Also, I think there is a special need for designing strategies and training personnel to reach urban arid other neglected masses.
What further suggestions do you have for mission societies if they are to meet the challenge of change?
Whaley: Well, I think it is always wrong to generalize. Phil Armstrong used to say, "All Indians walk in single file. At least one I saw did!" First, missions need to do some hard thinking about the most fundamental question they will face: What is their mission? Because many agencies have permitted individualism and personal guidance to be elevated to the level of doctrinal certainty, they are involved in sustaining many projects that have outgrown their usefulness and have little to do with effectively fulfilling the primary purpose for which the missions exist. Moreover, the fact that many missions are peer-oriented, democratically constituted bodies suggests that they may sacrifice effectiveness for whatever the majority will support. For leadership there is a fate worse than not being reelected, namely, the fate of being ineffective.
Second, I think we need to recover the biblical doctrine of the church as it relates to interdependence, true partnership, disciple-making, and defining strategy.
And third, we need to recruit more old-fashioned missionaries who know God, the Scripture, how to pray; who are experienced soul-winners; and who know how to listen and treat others as equals.
Some might think that you have been very hard on mission agencies. In any case, what is your thinking about the educational aspect of the missionary enterprise?
Whaley: Well, I don’t mean to sound critical. In fact, if the churches in North America were doing half of what we see many missions and churches doing overseas, there would be a vast difference for the good in our churches. Concerning training missionaries in our schools, we have a lot of homework to do. Rather than satisfy the teaching and theoretical interests of our faculty, we must learn to think in terms of educational outcomes.
We also need to get faculty members overseas to more places than the Holy Land so they can better understand the contexts in which their students will function.
As far as the curriculum is concerned, we need to teach more of the basics (they’re not getting them in the churches) and more of the Bible rather than about the Bible. We should carefully study the success of post-institutional learning experiences at Missionary Internship and various industrial training programs for clues about how to make our training more effective.
Also, I feel that we need a touch from God upon our faculties to rekindle evangelistic fervor and the New Testament vision of reaching a lost world with the gospel.
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