Gospel & Culture blog
athere? Is that where you wish you'd stayed?
Dr Steffen: Sometimes. We’d been there we were or 15-year period of time in the Philippines. We were with New Tribes Mission, now called Ethnos 360, and our job initially was church planting among a the Antipolo Ifugao, which are in central Luzon, of the five groups of Ifugao.
And so a couple there - actually my home church - who was with SIL, invited us to do the church planting. And so that's how we ended up there. And when we arrived there about one fifth of the New Testament was done. As of last year - almost this time last year - I was back to celebrate kind of like 50 years almost. (The math is a little different) but 50 years celebrating the coming of Christianity into that Ifugao group. And it was great to see and there are 11 churches. So 11 churches in the whole area which means the whole area is churched. The entire Bible is translated. They have their own hymnals, they have a lot of commentaries. So they also have an association of churches of all the Ifugao. So there's assistance from outside assistance to help all the different churches as well. So out of those 11 churches 10 of them are pretty strong so it was it's good it was a fun time.
Ken: A success story of missions in the Pacific. There was something about your experience there that set off your career not just as a missionary but a missiologist. What made you turn that corner or turn missions into Missiology?
Dr Steffen: One of the two training principles we received from New Tribes Mission before we went was the three selves: Self-governing, self-propagating self-supporting in the whole church area so that they would be able to be on their own. Then the second one was the "work yourself out of a job." So the two are kind of parallel but different. So we arrived there after 20-some years after the Philippine mission being existence for some 20 years. So I started asking questions at their guests home there. “How many of works have been turned over to the local tribal people?” And there was none. And so I started asking those questions. As I was doing that, the word got back to leadership and then when we got an interview with the leadership. At our first time with meeting them over there they said "You know a new people ask a lot of questions when they arrive, and sometimes they just have to learn. You know things take longer over here than they do in other places in the world." So I thought, "This is not going well."
But then he followed up with, "You know, new people also make us rethink some of the things we've been doing."
Dr Steffen: So he said "Okay. Your idea of turning works over to the people: We're not doing it. And we need answers. And I want you to give us an answer to the field meeting, basically in six months away." And I'm thinking you're asking a green missionary, you know, other people here have been here 15 or 20 years and you're gonna ask me? And they're gonna listen to me? I don't think so!
But they did!. And he went with me during our breaks from our language and orientation school. He went with me we walked the entire Ifugao tribe trying to find where we can be placed. And we discussed this whole issue as we were going. So I came back and I started asking a lot of questions again with people. And I started realizing they had no exit strategy. It was a piecemeal approach: 1) learn language and culture. Good, that's basic. 2) And then start doing evangelism. Great. 3) Okay, community development. Great. 4) And then they get saved. 5) Okay let's gather them. Great 6) And then let's teach them; and let's teach them; and let's teach them.
So basically they exchanged their apostolic robes for pastoral robes. No exit strategy. So they never knew when they reached a place where they thought it was accomplished. So out of that came Passing the Baton.
Ken: So it's not like you invented the idea of "passing the baton." This has a long tradition in missiology, from Rufus Anderson, Henry Venn, and even New Tribes - what I’m hearing - even New Tribes in the Philippines knew this principle,
Dr Steffen: Yeah.
Ken: But the question was, "How do we from the get-go plan on passing the baton?"
Dr Steffen: Yeah. There was no plan to do it, It was acknowledged that it existed way back there in the eighteen hundreds - mid eighteen hundreds we were talking about it. So it's like it just never got implemented. And so something had to happen. I was privileged to be in that position and my field chairman protected me all the way through.
Ken: So I think of kind of in a Tom Steffen career, there's an early Steffen, a middle Steffen, and a late Steffen.
Dr Steffen: And a later Steffen.
Ken: Early Steffen is "passing the baton." That was your first academic interest.
Dr Steffen: Yeah.
Ken: Is that what got you in trouble with the missions world? Or was there some other a controversial idea that sets a missiologist against a mission board?
Dr Steffen: Yeah it was not it was not considered good to write something negative about one's organization. And I didn't put the name of the organization in the book - it's not in there - but if anybody knows your background, they can put two and two together. But that caused some conflict. But over the years the book was not ever used; but now it is. So it's like "Okay. It just had to work its way through."
Ken: I think you said its your most successful book so far?
Dr Steffen: Yes.
Ken: Has someone passed the baton? Do you know where has this worked out great? What's an example of where this has worked out well?
Dr Steffen: In Ifugao! I know that one that one! That one worked out really really well . And I don't have other case studies per se. There are other case studies within New Tribes Mission - and it's gone outside of New tribes as well. And so it has become kind of an approach. Keeping the end in mind before one starts - many organizations now use that principle.
Ken: Okay so you so you would say mission organizations picked up on the notion: plan from the beginning to to phase out.
What was the difference between Passing the Baton and The facilitator era? Is it making the same argument? There was a period of 20 years between those two books?
Dr Steffen: At least. Yeah there would be 1990 and two thousand.... at least 20 years plus in between those two books. And one of the things I started seeing actually when I was teaching here at Biola was that in the in the church planting classes so many of the students now were not necessarily doing church planting. They were working with local people - the Nationals - that were doing church planting. And so I started noticing a shift from that pioneer to more - now at that point I didn't have terms for it - and so then I started coming up with a facilitator. And I started reading when the saturation church planting movement began - actually with one of our grads here in Europe- and so forth and I was reading that he was writing, "Don't do pioneer church planting. It takes too long! We can do it this saturation church planting. It's fast!"
And I started asking, "Why is this fast? It's fast because you already got churches!" So my question was, Why weren't they doing it before? Why are you having to come back in and start saturation church planting? "We can give them this training to do church planting." Did the church planters mis this training in the beginning and not teach it? Did the people reject what they taught? Or what was going on here? And I said "What you're doing! This is oranges and apples. You're not doing pioneer church planting over there. And so that's when I came up and with the term. You're just doing facilitator church planning. You're facilitating something that should have been implemented a long time ago because for some reason - I don't know why- was missed either by the missionary or the group of locals there.
So it's different. And so that started me thinking: I went back to Winter’s three eras with William Carey and then Hudson Taylor going inland and then McGavran back in the eighties - before that with Townsend- and McGavran. That era they started. So the whole focus there was on an unreached people groups. And so then I'm thinking, The people are not going when you look at who's going where - they're not going so much anymore to the pioneer settings - we're talking Westerners- they're going into already existing national churches and working with them and helping them do it. So that's when I thought, That's the facilitator era. So we have changed eras!
That wasn't appreciated by certain groups: “No. There will never be a fourth era, okay? We don't mess with the eras!”
Ken: Really? The eras were sacrosanct?
Dr Steffen: Oh they were, definitely. This came up with like at EMS meetings and so forth.
Ken: Really? Interesting.
Dr Steffen: "There were only three eras, Okay? And you don't need to write on this just to get publicity and so forth, okay?" "Ok okay." No. Actually we have moved out of an era. And the reason we moved out of that era is because we've actually been really successful in getting the gospel into all these various places. And all these churches have sprung up and now they're doing it! So actually it's a success - not something we should be critiquing. Yea, we can critique how good those works are that we did start. But they're there. And now they're doing the work and so the role has changed drastically for the western church planter to move more into a pioneer . That doesn't mean - there's remnants of all three of those eras that will continue on into the fourth era and one of that is here will be
Western Church planters going into pioneer settings. But what happens is the numbers now are minimal compared to what they used to be during the McGavran- Townsend era - the third era - so that's when I came up with the fourth era.
Ken: The drastic shift in the way that the missions force is working
Dr Steffen Exactly.
Ken: And there could be a fifth or sixth era.
Dr Steffen: I'm not claiming there is only four and there will never be five!
Ken: Maybe a digital era for instance.
Dr Steffen: Yes there could. In 10 years from now what do we know we'll be in existence and in the digital world?
Ken: Your academic interests spanned a lot of different areas from phase-out, honor/shame. SO how do you - in the mind of a missiologist - how do you study broadly? How do you tackle a lot of subjects instead of being expert in one?
Dr Steffen: yeah and that is a problem you may be kind of an inch deep and some. So well the exit strategy of course
became a problem because of an issue that was brought up there in on the field. Out of that though, just a few years later that's when Trevor McIlwain would start the whole chronological teaching model that would eventually go global under different names. But it would eventually go global. And so the whole narrative thing was something of very big interest to me. And actually I started in narrative - using story in the Ifugao because my propositional approach felt pretty flat.
Dr Steffen: And so I realized I had to change. And so, "I'm going to try story." I tried it and it worked. But I had no structure for it. So when McIlwain comes up with the chronological teaching - he had a structure - a seven phase structure that he used. (Only four of them really are being used). But that structure gave me a way of putting into practice now - into curriculum - how we could do this. And so that that whole thing of understanding story and so forth got me - its origin was back in what happened in the Philippines - in fact in my own situation in the Philippines among the Ifugao, and the McIlwain.
And then when I came to Biola, I said, "We need a course on this." So I put together a first narrative course. And that's been being taught for I don't know how many years - a long time. And of course the whole narrative movement, I mean very shortly moved into the Southern Baptists. It was was Jim Slack was there - he just passed away a year or so ago - and he was friends of Dale Schultz who was with New Tribes. And Dale told him what was going on and he said, "We want to get this in IMB." So there was McIlwain taught in Baguio in a conference down in Mindanao somewhere. And IMB picked that dude up and took off and run with it- they've got money. They got personnel. And they got the time. And they put they put this thing and they really made it go global. And it did go global.
And so I did a book on worldview based storing that tracks the history of that movement - It's almost forty years old now, that movement. It tracks the history from when it began, how it began, and then how it diversed into all these various areas. How people did it, and what they added to it. The creativity of missionaries it's just mind-boggling: how they've handled narrative and so forth.
Ken: Okay so "phase out," and chronological Bible storying- these come out of your own experience: Trying to solve problems in the mission field. Maybe honor/shame as well? - something you experienced personally and therefore needed to study it?
Dr Steffen: I ran into a few problems I made a few mistakes. And I had no idea what I was shaming people, because I wasn't - you know I understood honor/shame in my understanding of it, but I didn't understand it from an Asian perspective. And it got me into trouble. So I knew that was an issue. But I didn't know what the answers were. And I was too busy studying "exit strategy" and narrative to go into it. But when I got over here, and got into my professorship here, I started realizing, "Man, we need to we need to get into this thing."
And as I look back now I'd say it's around 2000 - somewhere in that area - where the mission population picked it up and started realizing "This is an issue that has to be addressed." And so once again I said, "I'm gonna put a class together". And faculty said, "OK, give us the syllabus. Make your argument. And we'll see," So I think two 2004 or 5 somewhere it was the first year that that was taught as a class,
Ken: Maybe as a professor of missiology you're running into students who are working around the world, and you're having to basically come up with new classes. And that keeps you current, or keeps you creative?
Dr. Steffen: Definitely. I've always played on the cutting edge, okay? Once something's in play - here like "exit strategy" I don't like to
go back to it. I figure, "Get it started let people pick it up and refine it."
And so that's the same thing with narrative. I've done the same thing. Only I keep playing in that- because it keeps going in different directions and I so I want to keep up with it to find out where it's going, why it's going - that type of thing - so I do that. Honor/shame: the same thing. They had in 2014 (was it 2014?) I don't know 2 years ago. One year ago or two years ago, Wheaton College put on their first honor/shame conference. And it was big. It was - I mean they had to cut the -- who could go -- because of the numbers. And that thing has exploded. And what they did in contrast to the International Orality Network, they brought in people in every discipline immediately, on that first conference: So community development, teachers, business - it doesn't matter what you're doing - honor/shame is in that- and that helped get it broad immediately. It wasn't just like the church planters using their storytelling, so it narrowed the focus - but it should have been back then too, because what? Orality is in everything!
Ken: Yet it's in education, it interests development workers- yeah that's interesting.
Now "business as mission" is one other - you didn't actually do business as mission maybe? But you played one on TV. No...
Dr Steffen: Business as mission - this is an interesting one - because I started a new class in church planting- because I was hired to do church planting here and create a concentration in church planning. So we already had one class, so I said what's the next one? The next one was "Models of models and strategies." So part of those models and strategies has to be, "What are ways we are using to help start new churches?" And so back then the term was tentmaking. And so I used that one. And that one would get changed.
Actually we were influential in trying to change the term.
I brought in Ruth Siemens up at the US Center for World Mission - and so she was big in tent making - she actually started the first tentmaking organization. And in that she had where you could go and look, "I need a job in such-and-such country." She started that way back! And so "how much it pays. What are the qualifications? How long is the stay?" All that stuff was available. And then she got very sick and she passed away. And so I'm thinking, "Who do I replace her with?"
And so by that time the School of Business was started over here and I heard that Steve Rundle was interested in missions and how business would impact missions. So we talked together and I said, "Hey would you come over - and when I get on this topic - come over and give me an hour? Give the class an hour at least on this?" Yeah! Oh, he was willing to do it.
So he came over. And so I don't know third year fourth year whatever I said - I just made a quick - you know sometimes you fire stuff out? After I introduced him I said, "You know, we outta write a book on this." And that was it. And then at the start of the next semester, he gives me a call, and says "Come over. I'm wanna show you something." So I go over there and he hands me his yellow pad. I'm reading through it. Here's an outline for a book. I'm reading it. "Wow! This is good!" I said- I don't know if he said, or I said, "We've got to submit this." So we went to Intervarsity Press. They bought it. And they said, "Now we want it done like - " and I forget the time period - because they wanted it out for Urbana that next time. And we about died, but it did make it and it showed up for Urbana in that year.
Ken: You had to travel the world for these businesses as mission in context?
Dr Steffen: We did stateside ones, and - and we went to China. We traveled all over China. And when we did that, Steve Rundle decides to get a kidney stone. So he leaves me in China going to these places and people that I don't know, hoping they will be there when I show up. Anyway we got the data - and we were also supposed to go to India. We had it all booked and everything. Fortunately we hadn't bought our tickets. And that's when Pakistan and India went at each other and it was like, "Who's gonna push the button first?" And so we actually never got to India for our case studies. So we didn't get any of those incorporated. But that's how it all came together.
Ken: So now if we look at the development of orality, the facilitator era, business as mission - are these fads? And if they are, is that good or bad? What do you make of that? That maybe there is a short life, or a peak? You know, an interest in these topics and then a wane? Does that matter?
Dr Steffen: To me it wouldn't matter. But definitely when you look at exit strategy, it has changed because it went from pioneer to facilitator, right? So in a sense that will go away as less and less people go towards pioneer church planting from the West, that will be less of an issue. Orality? That will never stop, because people are moving more and more to the oral plus digital now. But we've kind of gone full circle from oral to the literate print book focus, to the digital, and now we're back to the oral plus digital. So then the books are phasing out- who reads books anymore? And who's stupid enough to keep writing books? I don't know why am I doing this? So that that makes the switch. Business as mission? You know, it's not been that long. So it'll still be there to be seen. The whole financing of mission - of the mission enterprise - is an outdated model.
Ken: Raising support?
Dr Steffen: raising support. That type of thing. And that's been passed on to Latin America - all over - right? And they have problems with it. And so a new model has to come into existence. Business as missions will be part of that model, but it won't be
the only one. But it'll be one of them.
So there's been a learning curve in missions- in business as mission I should say. Too many people got in who had no clue about business in the beginning. And of course doing business is one thing; doing business overseas is a whole different ballgame. So
things have tightened up. Organizations have people now to consult on this. So that that has tightened up that whole area. So it'll continue - how it continues - that'll move I think into to the different areas. Even Latin America - sending not just the people that are going to do the church planting but maybe sending family members with them, because one of the major reasons for attrition for a Latin American is loneliness.
Ken: Ok, so a team- based approach.
Dr Steffen: A team based approach- if their members do business - they set up businesses there - it helps fund them as well, but it also - because funding is an issue - that's another reason that they come back prematurely. So those types of things could be implemented for sure in Latin America; maybe also Chinese - who knows.
Ken: So if you look back what difference has being a missiologist made in the kingdom of God? Do you have a sense of how it makes a difference in missionary work or not?
Dr Steffen: That’s a great question. I think one of the things that missiology does if we look at it by mission history, and look at it by the social sciences, anthro;, education in the rest of it, and then look at theology, that blending of those three drive the mission strategy. And so often the missions - people start with the mission strategy - and therefore they repeat the same mistakes everybody's made back then - because they don't know the mission history.
So if they can blend those first three together, then the mission strategy has a much greater possibility of being successful in doing that. But most agencies and most people in those agencies start with the strategy without looking back and letting the anthro, the disciplines - you know - impact that - mission history impact that -- theology impact that.
Ken: They want to shortcut the process.
Dr Steffen: Short cut it. Fast fast is the name of the game.
I think where it's moving - and it's close to orality - is oral hermeneutics. Because - and it doesn't matter now where you are - because of social media, people are moving more into the oral domains that are out there. And they're multiple. And so actually we're working on a book right now called The Return of Oral Hermeneutics. It's as good now as it was for the first century Hebrews. And so I'm working with Bill Bjoraker on the book. He's a Hebrew scholar, and so we're putting the two together.
Ken: There's a only a handful of missiologists who are as productive as you are - with something like 250publications between the reviews and articles and books. How do you do that?
Dr Steffen: Well, when I came here - or when I applied for the job here, there were very few publications. The Lingenfelters were writing. Hardly anybody else was writing. So my ploy was, I'll just tell them, "If you hire me, I will put you on the map for publications."
Ken: So you had to make good on your promise.
Dr Steffen: I had to make good on my promise. And with my sterling record that was there, I had one publication in EMQ.
Ken: Was that the one where you said "Don't show the Jesus Film?"
Dr Steffen: It was very short and brief, and it was definitely not scholarly, okay? So I said, "OK. I'll do that." So I did. That's why I put a lot of time into that. And then when we had a new Dean Pennoyer - when Dr. Pennoyer came here, he said, “I'm gonna protect you from meetings.” And he gave me extra time. So unlike other faculty who had to attend all those different meetings, I was so I was relieved from them. aAnd so that I was able to focus on writing. But it helped the school which helps the university so it was about roundabout way of getting it done.
Ken: But what I'm hearing is you were highly motivated for two reasons. One was: you ran into missionary problems, you were curious about and wanted solve. That's kind of where we started. But also you needed to do something for the university. And then you had the institutional support to pull it off.
Dr Steffen: Yeah. Got it
Ken: Somehow I don't feel like somehow just being motivated and having the time to do it is going to result in 250 publications
Dr. Steffen: No. It will take a little discipline on the side.
Ken: All right, thank you Dr Steffen for that good discussion.
Dr Steffen: No, thank you. I appreciate it.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor