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Why I'm Stepping Down

Mark Junkans

After over 15 years as the founding President and CEO of LINC International, I am stepping down from my position and handing over the reins to an interim leadership team.

I’ve always believed that most founders shouldn’t stay in their post for longer than necessary. After a period of time, you tend to have had your best ideas and can become stale in your position.  You begin to know the organization so well that it’s difficult to see things with fresh eyes, and begin to take for granted the amazing miracles that happen every day throughout the whole organization.  This is especially true for natural entrepreneurs, who are more energized when starting and creating than when managing for long-term growth.

I’ve observed myself over the past couple of years, and have realized that the organization that has grown so much since our beginning, is in need of new leadership.  I believe that God has gifted me in unique ways, and that these gifts are best used for His Kingdom in a different arena.  I’ve grown comfortable in my changing role over the years, but being comfortable doesn’t always bring out the best in me, and I want to give my best for the sake of Jesus’ mission.  That being said, I have learned a lot about cross-cultural ministry in the city, and am proud of what we have accomplished with God’s help.  And all along the way, it wasn’t easy.

When LINC Houston began in 2001, we were sure about one thing, that new ministries and new ministry leaders were needed to reach our dynamic and diverse metropolitan area.  Houston’s population was already a world mission field, with people from hundreds of language groups scattered throughout our thriving metropolis.  We had great support from local congregations and the Texas District LCMS, but still had to manage to find a way to survive in urban ministry, where sustainability and growth are often difficult.  But we did learn how to survive.

To help grow our mission leadership, we hired a Mission Director, David Kim, who had just graduated from the CMC program at Concordia Irvine.  He and I became a great team as I concentrated on growing the organization and he on growing our leadership and church-planting base.  Together, we saw phenomenal growth in new ministries and disciple-making pastors and leaders for the Kingdom.  I once again felt the call of God to focus on growth and expansion, and began to assist new cities to begin LINC ministries and Dr. David Kim launched the new organization GlocalMission.

Then we changed our organizational model and became LINC Ministries International, an organization that operates in multiple cities and countries to plant ministries through courageous local leaders of impact.  God allowed us to start and support LINC ministries in new places like Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Milwaukee, Denver, Andhra Pradesh India, Thailand, as well as relaunch LINC Twin Cities under our umbrella.  We’ve partnered nationally with other mission societies to plant and multiply new ministries among specific language groups.  New LINC ministries are being birthed through our incubation model led by Rev. Dominic Rivkin VP of New City Development, with the same mission of raising up local leaders who start new ministries that impact their communities with the Gospel, and for that I praise God.

  • We have an amazing group of leaders from our City Directors to our local mission leaders.  Everyone in the organization is deeply committed to fulfilling the Great Commission in their community, and are willing to sacrifice much for the sake of the Gospel.  LINC has produced some of the most passionate and committed mission leaders in our church body, most of whom work as partially or completely bi-vocational in their ministry.
  • We have a solid Board of Directors that is clear about their governance role and passionate about the work of LINC.  Together with the board, we have continued to raise more support for the work of LINC each year, and have made wise decisions to set a firm foundation for future growth.
  • We have expanded our available resources by heeding good counsel, taking advantage of opportunity, and by working to systematically improve our donor development systems and the way we communicate the work that God is doing in each of our cities through LINC.
  • We’ve responded to multiple natural disasters by providing emergency relief, disaster case management and home repair.  In fact, LINC was the leading home repair agency in Harris County after Hurricane Ike, restoring almost 500 homes in our low-income communities.
  • We are acquiring new locations for incubating new mission starts.  God has blessed us with the means to do so, and we are committed to making sure that new churches have a place to start from to reach their communities with the Gospel and make disciples of Jesus.
  • We built a robust back office that now supports work throughout the US and other countries.  Matthew Schultz, our Chief Operating Officer, has done a tremendous job of building our accounting systems and development processes to support multiple cities and ministry startups.
  • We built an online/on-demand system for LINC Bible Institute so that we can train new leaders for ministry in our cities and around the world in a way that’s practical and scalable.
  • We are seeing multiplication happen as our new City Directors train, mentor and walk alongside local ministry leaders who are committed to replicating the process with those they are discipling.
  • We designed a completely new outcome model that focuses on the development of leadership from point of engagement through the launching and multiplication of new ministries.  Everything that LINC does on an International, City and local community level will share the same basic principles and desired outcomes.

I am proud of what God has done through this organization so far, and am excited about what He will do in the future.  The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Psalm 113:4.  Most of all, I am proud to have been a part of something that has made an eternal difference in the lives of over 300,000 individuals through the outreach and evangelism ministries of over 50 new mission churches.

What the next chapter holds

I am a starter and a builder, and will always seek new ways to expand the Kingdom of God using my particular passions, gifts and talents.  I have thoroughly enjoyed taking LINC from our first years through various phases of growth.  But I now feel it’s time for LINC to seek out a new CEO who can bring fresh energies along with new gifts of leadership; someone who will build the team even stronger, is excited by our vision, respects our values, and is able to take LINC International to the next level. 

I am as committed as ever to fulfilling the ongoing vision of LINC.  I have also dreamed that my entrepreneurial mindset could be used to further expand the Kingdom of God by creating an alternative revenue stream for ministries like LINC, even as I continue to serve as an ambassador for LINC’s ministry expansion around the world.  As part of a new type of mission endeavor, I will work together with other Kingdom-minded leaders to build Business as Mission models that incubate and grow new businesses to fund mission work as well as create new opportunities to share the Gospel and make disciples among leaders in developing countries.  I will be still be called by LINC, but as a bi-vocational Missionary At Large, and will continue to connect and work with local leaders in various places to grow and expand the Kingdom of God.  

Some are wondering if I’ve lost my mind.  Why would I leave a comfortable position in the organization that I founded and have led for so long, only to take a risk to start a new venture with no assurance of success?  But those who know me best are not surprised that God is leading me in this direction, and I truly believe that this is what God is calling me to do in this new season of ministry.

LINC will not only survive, but thrive. With a strong transitional leadership team, a solid Board of Directors, and a talented, diverse, and hardworking staff, I have no doubt that LINC International is about to enter an exciting new future of growth.  God will fulfill His mission; my prayer is that He also continues to use my wife Natalia and I to do so for His glory.

Dancing With An Elephant

Mark Junkans

Kenyan Pastor Muriithi Wanjau shared this parable at the Great Commission Summit 2014 at Concordia University, Irvine. It paints a very painful, but accurate, picture of how Western Christians generally approach partnership with are brothers and sisters in other countries.

Needless to say, his whole talk was amazing, and I was so grateful that he made the flight all the way from Kenya to address the conference.

Click here to watch his entire message to the conference, which I highly recommend.

Why no church planting movements in Western Democracies

Mark Junkans

From "An Interview with Dr. Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History (Part 2)" - Ed Stetzer

Ed: There are 34 Western industrialized democracies in the world. And among the majority peoples of those nations, missiologists have not seen a break-out church planting movement. Would you say that is because the way we think and relate to one another or is there something missing that in our context that prevents it from happening?

Dr. Jenkins: If you're in a country where there is basically no Christian presence then something can grow very, very rapidly. But in a country like Britain or Germany, it grows and defines itself up against an existing church establishment. In fact, I would argue that there have been movements like this in Western countries.

I agree with this assessment, it's more difficult to do truly missionary work when you're battling against the established norms of the church at large in society.

This is also why, I believe, a house church model hasn't really picked up steam in the US either. There are just so many "real churches" to belong to.

Small Urban Churches: Accepting Reality Without Giving Up

Mark Junkans

I love Ed Stetzer's article about small churches.  In many communities, there are limiting realities that keep a church from growing beyond a certain size.  In my context, the urban and immigrant communities of Houston, we knew that small would be our normal church size when we began.  There are several factors that contribute to this, and I believe, allow us to not be ashamed when answering the "how big are your churches" question.  Here are a few of them:

1.  Transient Communities

Stetzer address this in his article 

"Persistent turnover is a reality for some smaller churches because of their location. Churches near universities and military bases almost have a new congregation every three to five years.

Think of the kingdom impact these small churches have as they invest in and train students and soldiers before they are launched throughout the world."

In most of our immigrant communities, households tend to move around a lot due to a combination of economics, immigration and opportunity.  A ministry in a transient community will work very hard to make new disciples, only to see them move to a new community or back to their home country within 6 months to a year.  This trend is also prevalent among young urban dwellers moving into lofts, university students and other mobile demographic groups.  A ministry among these people groups will have a difficult time growing beyond a certain size because their disciples are always moving somewhere else.  Stetzer continues:

"Small churches that recognize their calling in transient places focus on discipling those God has given them knowing that He will plant them somewhere else. These are healthy churches on mission for the glory of God."

One of the blessings of this type of ministry is that the ministry can continually be training and sending out missionary families that are equipped to reach a new community.  It may not grow the local ministry when the move, but it's not a loss for the Kingdom.

2. Stagnated Communities

Another issue with long-standing urban communities is one of stagnation.  Existing families are often stuck in a never-ending cycle of poverty, and new families aren't moving into the community at a high rate.  Ministry in this type of community takes a very long time to develop and grow.  It takes years just to build trust in the community, and those that do live there don't immediately jump up and down with excitement when a new church puts up a sign and begins worship.  They've seen ministries come and go, and yet their community is in the same condition it has been for decades.  

Ministry in a stagnated community is difficult and long-term, and most church planters either aren't willing or financially able to dedicate years of unglamorous and seemingly "unsuccessful" work before they decide that they are called elsewhere.  Sometimes just surviving in an urban community takes more entrepreneurship, creativity and dedication than most Christian leaders are capable of mustering.  Stetzer sums up this idea with this sentence.

"Where there is little community growth, there may be little church growth, but that shouldn't keep us from trying."

3. Sustainability

Because of the social dynamics and economic realities in an urban/immigrant setting, a large congregation sometimes just isn't sustainable.  It takes a tremendous level of administrative skill to maintain a large congregation in such an unstable and dynamic environment.  This isn't unique to urban settings, by the way.  The median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings, according to the National Congregations Study (NCS) http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/.  Few if any small urban churches are able to financially support their pastor because the median income of the members is at or below the poverty level, and because new disciples aren't as faithful in their stewardship.  This makes it even more difficult for even a talented leader to grow, manage and sustain a large congregation in this setting.  It also takes great financial resources to purchase or lease and maintain a larger facility, which is a limiting factor in church growth in this setting.

4. Re-definition of "Successful"

After explaining the ministry of one of our urban churches and how many new believers had been baptized in the past year,  I was asked by the pastor of a large congregation "but are they successful."  While he didn't say it directly, what he really meant was "are they becoming a large church?"  I wanted to say, "are you freaking kidding me? One young, small urban church has helped rescue people from drug addiction, gangs and domestic abuse, and has baptized almost 20 adults last year.  You're asking me if they're successful?"  I controlled myself and simply responded "yes, they are very successful."  I know how much work it took for just one of those individuals to come to faith and to begin following Jesus.

Given the reality that the vast majority of our churches won't become large congregations, we still have to gauge whether we're achieving our outcomes of growing the Kingdom of God throughout the city.  The marks of a successful church, for us, are three-fold.  1. They are making new disciples, 2. They are multiplying, 3. They are making an impact in their community.  No matter the size, we expect to see new followers of Jesus, daughter churches and spin-off ministries and tangible blessings in their surrounding community through the work of their members.

For the Church Leader

If you're a pastor, denominational leader or mission developer, you probably need to re-examine the process and system you currently use to begin, support and fund new missions in these settings.  Accept that fact that the normal size for a new mission church in an urban or ethnic community will be small, but that fact doesn't diminish the missional importance of this work.  A lot of leaders I know throw up their hands and say, "it's not possible because they'll never become self-sufficient, so we don't do it."  Yes, it's true that a new church in this setting that begins with a full-time, full-salaried worker will not likely ever become self-sufficient.  So let's abandon a ministry model that doesn't work in this new reality without abandoning the mission of Jesus.  

Whatever system we establish needs to account for this reality, and empower disciple-making, multiplication and community impact.    A system must be set up to support smaller, self-sufficient and sustainable ministries that are able to multiply themselves.  You're a creative person, or at least you know someone who is.  Isn't it worth it to try and find a way to reach the unreached who are all around us?  Who knows, one of those churches will grow beyond your wildest dreams, but don't expect it to be the norm.  

How our organization approaches missions and communities

Mark Junkans

Why do we operate the way we do at LINC?

Many years ago our organization began with a unique approach to ministry. Instead of continuing to import leadership and resources into communities, we made it our priority to identify and empower local leadership. This is our approach both in church planting and community development. We believe that all communities have assets and resources that God can use to grow His Kingdom and improve people's lives.

The Apostle Paul, in his third missionary journey, invested time and energy in people from the local communities where he worked. When he got to a city, he didn't immediately call for professional leaders to move there and lead the ministry. Instead, he equipped local leaders to form new communities and carry out the mission of the church in that place. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20).

This doesn't mean that outside help isn't needed. Training, tools, access to resources, knowledge, and skills are all valuable contributions that partners can make from the outside of a community. The difference in the approach is one of empowerment versus dependency, or asset-based versus needs-based. An asset-based approach seeks to train and equip individuals to eventually solve their own problems. In contrast, a needs-based approach perpetually does for and gives to communities in need.

What communities need are individuals committed to building them up through their resources of time, energy and skill. There are a lot of reasons that people give for not investing in low-income communities. Many of these reasons are based on long-held stereotypes, past experience, lack of understanding or just misinformation. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure, people often don't act because they don't know where to start. We suggest that, instead of looking for people to go give things to, compassionate individuals should develop meaningful partnerships with local leaders already in place.

How does LINC do this work?

First of all, we empower local leaders in a community (usually through a local mission church) to identify and meet the needs of their own community. Leaders in a community are more likely to know what the real needs are. They are also more likely to know who is truly in need and who is not.

Second, we train local leaders how to impact a wider group. One of the benefits of local leadership is that they are known and trusted by the community. They often have dreams of doing something greater in their community, but have access to a limited supply of resources. We spend a lot of time training local leaders how to obtain, develop, manage and utilize more resources to build up their communities.

Third, we maintain a partnering relationship, but also purposely get out of the way so that local groups can eventually grow without the need for outside help.

Fourth, we connect leadership from one community to train and empower leaders from another community. This creates an interdependent network of communities and allows local leaders to grow by becoming a resource to others.

If you are a well-resourced individual, there is a great need for what you have to offer. It may surprise you how a different approach to missions and community work can multiply your resources instead of simply transferring them to another community.

Mercy Without Justice

Mark Junkans

Few people would argue with the need to help those who can’t help themselves. You may have a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality or you may believe that not everyone has the same opportunities to be successful and should be supported through various means until they can support themselves. Regardless of your viewpoint, there is a difference in showing mercy to someone and working for justice.

As a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to show compassion to those who are suffering and hurting. It really doesn’t matter if their suffering comes from their own actions or from someone else’s. Jesus showed compassion to sinners even though they weren’t worthy to receive it. So many times, we look for someone who we feel is worthy of our help because it makes us feel better. We want to know their story and know that our aid went to someone who really deserved or needed it.

Micah 6:8 says that we should “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God.” The issue of showing mercy without mentioning justice is a really sore spot for me. Basically, it’s like helping people out of a pit, and then leaving that pit open so that they falling into it again. There are reasons for poverty and suffering that go beyond one’s personal ambition or responsibility. There are social norms, laws and systems that make it nearly impossible for some to get out of their bad situation. In some communities, those forces working against the individual are so pervasive that when they take one step forward, they get knocked back three steps. Poverty, health, crime and low-quality education and lack of opportunity all add up to stack the deck against whole communities.

As people of faith, when we either fail to recognize these issues or refuse to address them, are we really showing mercy? It is uncomfortable when we begin to realize that the very social system that we benefit from actually harms others. What action are we supposed to take when our eyes are opened to this reality?

Doing justice is not only doing what is right, but also working to make things right. We can’t solve every problem and issue, but there are things collectively that we can do that will make a difference for the underprivileged in our society.

Mercy is good, but not enough. God also loves justice. Do we?

Peace To The CIty

Mark Junkans

Jer. 29:4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Key Points about Jeremiah 29:7

  • It is the command of God to His people to take steps to bless the community/city.
  • God tells his people to not just pray, but work for the good/welfare of the city.
  • The city to which Godʼs people were taken captives was an evil city that acted against the will of God.
  • God told his people to not simply work, but also to pray, implying a spiritual activity.
  • God wants his people to be a channel of blessing to the city.
  • There seems to be a direct connection between the prosperity of the city and the prosperity of the church.
  • Peace = Shalom - completeness, soundness, welfare, peace

What does it say about God’s people when they only convene together and never seek to bless their community? Many will argue that the needs are too great, the neighborhood is too dangerous, the risk is too high, etc. God would simply ask us to look at His Son Jesus who left the comfort of Heaven to live among us, ultimately being sacrificed on a cross. He came to bless us. We are called to do the same.

Where do you see signs of peace in your community? How is your church praying and working for the city’s peace and welfare? How are you?

Three Things Necessary for Missional Movement

Mark Junkans

I believe that there are three things necessary to foster a church planting / missional movement within our church body. These three, of course, are in addition to the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.

1. Permission
People within a system are hesitant to move forward and plant new ministries unless they feel that they have permission to do so. This permission comes primarily when I, as a church planter, learn that others have done something similar with success. It also comes from my ecclesiastical authority. So many times entrepreneurial leaders don’t try new things is because they don’t feel they have the permission to do so.

2. Provision
Missional leaders need resources. These are not only financial, but there is a great need for training, best-practices, materials and partnerships. Without proper provision, the movement may be stunted.

3. Protection
If there is a possibility of being picked off by the world and also those within the church body who are against what the missionary is doing, then the entrepreneurial spirit begins to weaken. This protection comes from the fellowship of brothers in the ministry who will band together and have each others’ back when one of them is attacked. The ecclesiastical leadership also has to grant protection to the mission leader. I am privileged to be in a District that will protect me when someone raises an issue with the ministry that I am leading. Others don’t have that privilege. Thoughts?

I have wanted to flesh this out a lot more, but need more time to do so.

Thy Kingdom Come

Mark Junkans

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21
Growing up, when I prayed the petition "Thy Kingdom Come" in the Lord's Prayer, I thought I was praying for Jesus to come back to earth.  Jesus said in Luke 17, "The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation."  In other words, you don't have to look around to find it, nor do you have to be a specialist in Biblical interpretation to know the secret signs to look for.
We don't simply wait around for God's Kingdom to come.  Jesus tells us that "The Kingdom of God is within you."  Simply put, Jesus' Kingdom resides in the hearts of those who believe in Him.  Wherever you go as a believer, the Kingdom of God is there.  When you pray "Thy Kingdom come" you are actually praying that God would send YOU into new places and relationships so that His Kingdom can pass from you to someone else.
God's Kingdom comes to any place that we go.  The real question is, "Will his Kingdom stay there when you leave?"
We need to keep praying this petition, but realize what it means for us as followers of Jesus.  Our life will radically change if we allow Jesus to use it as a conduit for his Kingdom.

 

Here's where it gets interesting

Mark Junkans

bored_009.jpg

Falling in love - Beginning a new adventure - Starging a new hobby.  These can all cause excitement, nervousness and happiness.  As with most new things, there is newfound joy in beginning the journey.  But what do you do when the journey gets boring, or is no longer interesting to you?

My wife and I were traveling from Nigeria back to Houston and planned a stop in Paris for a couple of days.  We had left our two daughters with family and really had a good trip.  After two days of wandering around Paris, I felt like staying another day and asked my wife if she wanted to as well.  However, the more we talked about it, it didn't seem that exciting anymore.  We both just wanted to get back home, the adventure had worn off after two weeks of being away.

Many followers of Jesus begin to feel the same way about their faith.  They start to grow complacent and even become bored.  Like anything, when the newness wears off, it sometimes gets less exciting.  This is natural, but could also point to a deeper issue.  That is, if following Jesus has become boring to you, maybe you're not really following Him. Maybe you're just going through the motions, or maybe you're just following your own ideas.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you don't have faith anymore.  It may be that you are no longer willing to follow Jesus into new places.

When I was in my early twenties, I was willing to do just about anything without giving it a second thought.  To say I was adventurous is an understatement.  When God called me back to Him, He used that adventurous spirit for His purpose.  I moved into an infamous east-end neighborhood where I was the minority and began to work as a missionary.  Every new situation that "normal" people might consider dangerous was an exciting adventure for me.  Sometimes I find myself driving through the same communities and don't get excited anymore.  I have to remind myself that God's mission doesn't change or lose it's urgency just because I'm "maturing."

What about you?  Are you losing your excitement for the things of God?  Are you still passionate about the mission that God has given you, or are you constantly looking for some new adventure so that your faith can be reignited again?  If God has placed you somewhere for His purpose, ask Him to help you go deeper.  Ask Jesus to lead you into places and relationships of adventure where you can, once again, recognize how He is using you for His mission.  Maybe what you need is to follow Jesus' leading again instead of your own "mature" logic.  While our faith is comforting, it's not meant to make us comfortable.  Following Jesus is an adventure, that is, if we are willing to follow.

1Cor. 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.

Gal. 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Joining God in Mission

Mark Junkans

10.07.10-Think-of-Your-Purpose-as-Your-Personal-Career-Mission.jpg

Growing up, I always remember missions as being something that we supported.  Missionaries would come and tell there stories about their work, and we would give them an offering so they could go back out and continue doing it.  There is still a need for missionary support, but we also have to remember that we are individually called to mission as well.  It may not be practical or even possible for you to go do mission work overseas.  Your mission field is the place right around you.  Your neighborhood, your workplace, your community or your club.  Your primary mission field is comprised of the relationships that you have in your life who don't yet know Jesus as Savior.

How do you move from being a passive believer to actually living on mission?  Here are a few things you can do.

1. Pray - As you pray that God would raise up workers for the harvest field, ask him boldly that you would be included among them. 

2. Look - around you there is a mission field.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see who He has placed around you. Listen to conversations and watch the patterns that emerge in people's lives.  See people as made in God's image who He loves and wants to redeem to Himself. 

3. Build - quality relationships with the people around you.  You may be insecure or shy, but occasionally inviting someone to eat with you or even just spending a couple minutes listening to them can build trust over time.  Only by building trust, do you earn the right to speak into their lives.

4. Speak - into the lives of those around you.  Listen to their stories and learn who they really are and what they struggles are.  Weave the story of Jesus into the conversation, but don't try to push them.  Be respectful, but don't fail to speak the Gospel in a way that touches their place of need.

Is it possible that God is calling you into a deeper experience of faith?  Your faith grows when you begin to follow Jesus wherever he leads you.  Some of my greatest mountain top experiences in faith haven't been when I received a personal blessing from God for myself, but when I was able to see Christ work through me to reach someone else.  Consider taking the next step today in your faith journey. What are you waiting for?

Are Mission Trips Really Mission?

Mark Junkans

The church is supposed to be about the mission of God.  However, every follower of Jesus, small group or congregation sometimes gets to the point where they don't know where to go "do" missions.

First of all, let's start by listing what mission isn't.  Mission isn't necessarily

  1. Painting houses
  2. Handing out food
  3. Running a sports camp
  4. Tutoring
  5. Collecting items for the poor
  6. Flying to exotic locations and building houses

Mission trips may include these activities, but these aren't in and of themselves mission.  In other words, just because you do something good for someone less fortunate doesn't mean that you did missions.

"Hey," you say, "we just went on a mission trip and that's exactly what we did.  In fact, we even did this with your organization (LINC)."  True, doing good work among the poor can make an impact and there is nothing wrong with this.  The problem, however, is when we exclusively turn mission into a trip or an activity that is outside of our normal context.  Don't get me wrong, I love opening people's eyes about the needs of our communities.  I get excited when youth and adults get a chance to see things from the perspective of the poor, and I appreciate the help in getting our message out to the people we are called to serve.  Mission groups are a tremendous blessing to us.

Mission may involve service to the poor, but that in and of itself isn't mission.  

Mission is working to extend the kingdom of God.  More narrowly defined, it's to extend the kingdom of God among unreached people or people groups.

We could divide missions into three categories based on the activity and role of that group.

  1. Frontline Missions
    • These are the missionaries working in and among a community, bringing the Gospel message of Christ to people who don't yet know him, and forming groups of disciples.
  2. Support Systems
    • Agencies and congregations who directly support missions.
    • This includes support staff, financial support, training, coordination and other means of directly helping to facilitate and promote mission work.  (mission agencies, congregations, etc)
  3. The Church
    • The whole church participates, or should participate, in missions by praying, financially supporting and sending warm bodies to help run outreach programs.
    • Whatever the church is doing, it needs to make sure that it isn't fostering a dependency model or one that is void of Gospel proclamation. 

Understand not only where you fit within the mission system, but how you can best serve where you are.

When you go on a mission trip to do a service project, you aren't necessarily doing mission work in a biblical sense of the word.  You are more than likely acting as a support for the ongoing mission work that happens in that place and helping to create trust with the community in which they serve.

Your main goals are (in this order) to: learn, serve and amplify the Gospel message in that community.  If you are really blessed, you will even get a chance to share the message of Jesus verbally with someone.

Above all, let your mission trip be a way for God to awaken in you a heart for the lost.  Maybe through this experience he will call you into missions as a way of life, wherever you are.

What is the answer to the question, "Are most mission trips really mission?"  It depends on your definition of the word.  

So....what is your definition of "Mission Trip"?

Hope In The Slums of West Africa

Mark Junkans

Being in the slums of West Africa is one of the most gut wrenching experiences one can have. Streets of mud, trash everywhere, people everywhere, no light, children playing right next to raw sewage, mothers bathing their children a couple feet from traffic, etc, etc. It is absolutely inconceivable how this can be real, especially in countries where oil money flows like water into the hands of businesses, corporations, politicians and the very powerful. It is also one of the most centering experiences that one can have. It reminds us of our resilience as humans to remain hopeful in almost any condition.

The joy that even the slightest word of hope brings to a person is overwhelming. The poor here hold on tightly to even the smallest strand of hope as if it were a winning lottery ticket. They are used to seeing promises made and broken by everyone around them, and yet they continue to hope that one of those promises will be kept. Religious leaders, politicians, family members and friends can all betray them, but yet they seek hope.

When I say that I have hope for my own life, it seems so shallow. What would I hope for that I already don't have? What could God possibly give me that I don't already possess? I hope that someday my life will have made even a small difference in the lives of people who have nothing but unkept promises. I pray that my actions, my words and my life would all reflect the character of the God who never disappoints, never lies and never goes back on His Word. The sure and eternal hope in Jesus is so much better than the fleeting and false hope given to people living in the African slums. I just wish that the two had more in common.

Three Things Necessary For Missional Movement Within a Church System

Mark Junkans

I believe that there are three things necessary to foster a church planting / missional movement within our church body. These three, of course, are in addition to the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.

1. Permission
People within a system are hesitant to move forward and plant new ministries unless they feel that they have permission to do so. This permission comes primarily when I, as a church planter, learn that others have done something similar with success. It also comes from my ecclesiastical authority. So many times entrepreneurial leaders don't try new things is because they don't feel they have the permission to do so.

2. Provision
Missional leaders need resources. These are not only financial, but there is a great need for training, best-practices, materials and partnerships. Without proper provision, the movement may be stunted.

3. Protection
If there is a possibility of being picked off by the world and also those within the church body who are against what the missionary is doing, then the entrepreneurial spirit begins to weaken. This protection comes from the fellowship of brothers in the ministry who will band together and have each others' back when one of them is attacked. The ecclesiastical leadership also has to grant protection to the mission leader. I am privileged to be in a District that will protect me when someone raises an issue with the ministry that I am leading. Others don't have that privilege. Thoughts?

I have wanted to flesh this out a lot more, but need more time to do so.

Luciano's Installation

Mark Junkans

Luciano and Brenda Vega-Ayala at reception after his installation service.Today was the installation service for Luciano Vega-Ayala at CDCE. He was the first Hispanic pastor that began to work with me before LINC even began and took over as pastor at the church when I took my position as Executive Director. He passed his colloquy interview at the Seminary with no problems. I can't believe that so much time has passed since he first arrived in Houston, but here we are making him an official Lutheran pastor. Very exciting for all who have known him for so long. I had the privilege of conducting the ceremony and David Kim is delivering the message. There were 20+ other pastors/lay pastors who participated in the service as well.