TRANSLATION & Are You a Mission Station or a Missional Organization? A Leadership Exercise

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/19/15.

In the 1800s and early 1900s there was a “mission station approach” to missions.  This is a fairly common term used to describe how in mission work, a foreign entity (like the Lutheran Church of Germany for example) would set up “mission stations” (such as in South Africa) to reach native peoples.

The mission station was a little enclave, sort of a transplanted European walled-city, that would provide a microcosm of European Christian culture amid the indigenous peoples of the mission field.  The language in the mission station was the language of the missionaries, and the culture was as well.  The missionaries at the mission station expected the indigenous peoples to come “into” the mission station, learn a European language, be taught about Christian culture, and accept Jesus.  Needless to say, this was terribly ineffectual.

However, it was not until the great missionary awakening, and people like William B. Carrey, Albert Schweitzer, and others popularized the more efficacious contextualization approach: where you “sift” or evaluate culture, rejecting some elements that are anti-Christ, and accept other elements that are morally neutral (see Charles Kraft’s “Christianity and Culture” and Lesslie Newbigin’s “Christ and Culture” for an extended … 300+ page… discussion on this).

A colleague of mine, Dr. Ryan Bolger pointed out in a white paper to the American Society of Church Growth (now the Great Commission Research Network) that today most churches have become “mission stations” in North America: we speak a different language, live a different culture, and we expect the unchurched people to come “into” our mission stations and adopt our culture.  This is why Darrel Guder in “Missional Church” (Eerdmans Publishing) points out that in North America we live in a culture that is hostile to Christianity … thus effectively making churches in North America missionary organizations.  (Guder’s book is phenomenal … it is a modern contextualization of classic Church Growth principles.  And, it is the most widely quoted book outside of the Bible by emerging post-modern church leaders.)

Thus, I think it strategically judicious to embrace the life of missionaries, in the North American context; doing so while embracing strategies that are effectual and successful in missiological experience and contexts.

Here is the exercise for your leaders.  A s budding missionaries, post or write down your translations of Christian-ese terms into more modern terms?

Resist the temptation to be humorous here.  This is an important exercise called “dynamic-equivalence.”   This means we must translate a word from Christian-ese into the native language in a way that is “equivalent” and “powerful” for the hearer.  Just a word and an explanation will do (you have enough work to do online this week).  But, extra insights (and points) can result 🙂