American Missionaries in Europe, An Italian Student on a Plane and Lessons from Italy – Pesaro – Congresso Missione – Part 4

Sunday 1st November 2014

I am writing this final update somewhere over the East coast of England, en route home to Dundee. This last day has been a suitable ending to the Congresso Missione. I did one more plenary session and then we had a communion service. Again the praise well led and enthusiastically joined in – in other words it was congregational praise and not a concert. I smiled at the rock ‘n’ roll version of ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’. To some that may sound horrendous but it actually worked really well. I was also impressed with the way that the young American MK preacher led the communion service – biblical, short and sweet.

I overheard one conversation that kind of summarises the good and the bad in the US/European Church relationships. Some of those who were helping with the kids work, in effect babysitting to allow parents to go to the session, were talking away next to me. They are good and fine people who at great expense to themselves came over to serve and did a great job. They are to be honoured for that. But their conversation reflected a common misunderstanding. In assessing the state of the European church their criteria seemed to be what Europeans thought of Obama’s Healthcare bill. It was even suggested that there were some European Christians who did not approve of the bill and this seemed to be a sign of spiritual growth! Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think these people should be judged by their view of the Obama bill – I just think there is something wrong when that is used as a criteria.

At the airport on the way home I noticed a young woman with a hat just like mine (classy black Stetson!). As it turned out we were seated next to one another and as the conversation moved on from hats, to other things she provided me with a great reason why gospel renewal is needed. I was very burdened for her and thankful that the conversation opened a few doors (although I regretted having given away all the books I had so the only thing to give her was a Solas leaflet). She was brought up Catholic but no longer went to church. As a student she is not an atheist, but has no real understanding of the Gospel. The church is perceived as out of date, or irrelevant, or if non-Catholic, weird and unItalian. It was a fitting reminder of why we were meeting together.

It has been a real privilege to share in all of this. John Piper is due to be speaking at the next one in two year’s time – I hope and pray that many more churches will have been planted by then. I leave you with a summary of some lessons I have learned.

1) Italy is dark, beautiful, corrupt and wide open for the Gospel
2) Italy needs more local biblical and inspirational leaders.
3) American churches and missionary organisations need to rethink their missionary strategies. Although there are many fine missionaries and organisations doing good work, in general the American churches are working on an out-dated model that is more geared for the US than for Europe. A huge amount of money is being wasted, missionaries are getting frustrated and local indigenous churches are not multiplying. It is ridiculous the number of American agencies at work in a country like Italy – often not working or co-operating with others, and often with a handful of staff. Grandiose missions statements about reaching Italy/Europe for Christ are no substitute for the real thing. Its time for a root and branch reform…I have been thinking about this for some time and will write about it later – of course I am nobody and don’t expect to be listened to – but one thing that the Americans need to grasp (and probably many of us in the UK as well), is that God uses nobodies and does not need the big celebrities and organisations!
4) Scottish and UK churches needs to think more creatively about Europe.
5) Musicians, artists, writers and other ‘creative’ people need to be encouraged in their gifts and ministries.
6) Local communities need local churches and local evangelists.
7) Europe needs more passion, prayer and preaching.
8) There is a place for Solas in encouraging, provoking and stimulating the Lords people in Europe to a biblical contextualised non-programmatic evangelism.
9) I need to repent of my busyness, do less but do it better.
10) I must not give up on doing evangelism and proclaiming the good news – even when the pressures to do so, from outwith and within the church, are enormous.

Arrividerci Italia!

3 thoughts on “American Missionaries in Europe, An Italian Student on a Plane and Lessons from Italy – Pesaro – Congresso Missione – Part 4

  1. A few years ago I read a very enlightening book entitled, “Restoring the Reformation.” It covers the 19th century British input into the evangelical churches on the continent of Europe. Lots to ponder, but more importantly much to change and implement. There is a dire need for creating partnership networks which connect up churches, for example in the USA or Scotland, with churches in countries such as Italy. The day of colonial, benefactor-style, patronising missions is over. It is a waste of time and money and, in many cases, of ministry lives spent unhelpfully and failing to address the real needs. The time has come for partnership, mutual assistance, learning from one another and, in particular, for the gospel and church to be contextualised rather than being marketed in a globalised, one-size-fits-all package. None of this is new; Lausanne have been saying this for decades and even in the 19th century people such as Henry Venn saw the issues clearly. David, maybe you are already doing this, is there not scope for congregations in the Free Church (eg St Peter’s) to look for a handful of sister congregations in places like Italy and for opportunities for exchange and partnership?

  2. I hear what you re saying David about the burden you had for the woman you sat next to and the challenges and difficulties face with missionary work with Americans. Of course cross -cultural ministry always brings up such challenges, and as such it’s not just American missionaries that face the kind of issues you describe.

    You mentioned:

    “The church is perceived as out of date, or irrelevant, or if non-Catholic, weird and unItalian.”

    Elsewhere you have commented on tribalism within evangelicalism. Aren’t these the kind of issues that the church has always battled with, just as God’s people had with Israel before Christ? We know that there is the battle between flesh and Spirit that is always being faced. Such perceptions of tribalism, wierdness, irrelevance etc must be addressed. For many, this is what is unattractive about Christian community and worship.

    To that end I appreciate what you say “Musicians, artists, writers and other ‘creative’ people need to be encouraged in their gifts and ministries”. For many people, crossing the threshold of a church is a huge step. Dare I say it – why would anyone do that if what they find when they get there to be unattractive?

    Perhaps the time has come not to think of the Gospel primarily as what goes on in church on a Sunday (and may ever be counter to what goes on in church sometimes). Then as Jesus did find oneself at odds at times with figures in religious authority and his ministry being primarily outside of the temple and the synagogue and out there among the people, attending to needs as they arise in word and deed.

  3. Thank you so much for coming and speaking to us! Europe is the forgotten mission field, and the least Christian continent on earth (according to Operation World, page 79). So it can be very difficult and discouraging to be a missionary here. Your presence was very encouraging, and your talks were great! It was helpful to me in these days just before returning to my largely unbelieving family in the US. Bless you!

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