Book Review: “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings” by Forrest McPhail

Forrest McPhail, “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings”, 2014, 148 pages.

I don’t read a whole lot of missions and church planting books, partly because I have read a lot in the past, and partly because many do a poor job of combining a high view of Scripture and church, with a practical understanding of the realities of church planting on the mission field.  Forrest McPhail’s book, “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings” is different.  

In this short book (150 pages), McPhail is thinking biblically and theologically, but also very practically.    Some church planting books are theologically sound, but don’t do anything to address non-Western contexts or pioneer mission fields.  Other church planting books focus on majority world contexts, but seem to have forgotten that there is more to theology than telling people to mine the book of Acts for methodical insights.  McPhail is able to straddle the great divide and apply Scriptural truths to a distinctively non-Western church planting context, in his case rural Cambodia.

In this book review, I want to briefly summarize the basic contents of the book, together with some of my own commentary, so that potential readers can decide whether they want to read it.  And I hope that people do read it because this is a great little book about missionary church planting.


How to Protect Yourself from Moral Failure on the Mission Field

A frustrated and depressed man holds his head in his handWhen I recently read an article about four common characteristics among pastors who experienced moral failure (infidelity), it struck me that the lessons to be learned from their failure are very applicable to missionaries as well.  The issues that pastors and missionaries face are not exactly the same but there is a lot of crossover. You can read the whole article here

In this post, I have listed the four characteristics and drawn out what lessons missionaries can learn in order to protect themselves from moral compromise.  The warnings here are mostly for men, but I am sure that many women will be able to find value in these observations as well, if not for themselves directly, then at least for the men in their lives.

In a study of 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure in a given two years period, Dr. Howard Hendricks found the following four common characteristics:

1. None of the men were involved in any kind of real personal accountability.

2. Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship.

3. Over 80% of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.

4. Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”

Now let me offer some comments on each of these in order to help missionaries (especially male missionaries) to think about how to avoid ending up in this kind of disaster.


Putting the Prosperity Gospel on the Radar

I am glad that Benny Hinn came to Thailand in 2012.  Really, I am.  He is a false teacher and a false prophet who will probably end up with a millstone around his neck in the final judgment.  But I am glad he came because he provided the opportunity to make the prosperity gospel into a live issue among Thai churches.

The prosperity gospel has been in Thailand for many years but prior to Hinn’s visit, it was not a topic of controversy.   Various teachers, both foreign and domestic, have put on big shows, made outrageous claims and promises, and generally given people false hope while taking away their money and/or their hope.  Some churches are into that kind of thing, and others aren’t.  But Thai people are generally polite and don’t like to stir up controversy.  The Christian community in Thailand is small, people know each other, and it seems more important to affirm each other in light of the Buddhist majority, rather than cause problems.  So while prosperity preachers and self-appointed prophets came and went, barely anyone said much about this form of false teaching even as it has continued to spread and work its way into a larger number of churches through big, exciting “revival” meetings, translated books, and YouTube videos.  


What Should We Do About ISIS? 11 Constructive Recommendations

AQMI FlagThe majority of posts and articles that I see about ISIS (Islamic State) in Iraq and Syria are about how awful they are.  And they are truly awful and barbaric.  But I have yet to see many constructive suggestions for how to address the situation, other than “Take ‘em out!” or something similar.   But we need to do more than just sit around and say how bad they are, or debate about whether they represent true Islam or not.  

In the spirit of offering constructive solutions, the rest of this post contains recommendations for both state and church actions that should be taken, written by a Christian brother who has experience in the Middle East and is currently working with Muslims. He has given me permission to share these here:


  1. The Jordanians and Emirates should immediately equip aircraft loadouts with fewer dumb munitions to avoid collateral damage. If they're too expensive, countries like Saudi Arabia should help provide them to avoid the appearance of Western manipulation.

3 Reasons Historic Creeds & Confessions Should Be Translated for the Global Church

In the world of missions, anything that is “Western” or “traditional” is bad, while whatever is “contextualized” and “innovative” is good.  So when it comes to old creeds and confessions of the Christian faith, it is a no-brainer for many missionaries.  Don’t translate them. Don’t teach them.  It is a paternalistic waste of time that smacks of cultural and theological imperialism.  How could some antiquated Western document about Christian doctrine be appropriate for reaching Buddhists, Muslims, or animists in today’s world?  The old language and sentence structure in these documents are difficult enough for Westerners, so how could they be understandable and useful for those with little to no background in Christianity, or Western culture and languages?

The rhetorical answer to those questions is obvious but I am convinced that there are positive reasons to translate the best and most enduring documents of the church of the past into the languages of the global church of today.  The packaging may be old, but the content is good.  As a missionary and a church history teacher, I am always thinking about how we can take the good stuff from the past and from other places in the world and make it beneficial for the global church.  In my case, I am particularly thinking about the churches in Thailand, but the following reasons should be relevant for many contexts in the world today.  I want to suggest three ways that translations of the older creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the faith (as well as other writings) can benefit the global church.


New eBook: What Manifold Misery I Beheld! The Origin of Luther's Catechisms

Every generation of Christian believers wants to hand down to the next generation “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)  But how do you do that?  In previous generations, a large section of the church has answered, “with catechisms.”  But the study of catechisms, creeds, and confessions of faith has fallen out of favor in modern evangelical Christianity.  The whole idea of a bound set of doctrinal truths to be committed to memory seems constrictive to many, or at the very least boring or difficult.  

For many years, I too didn’t give much thought to catechisms except as something that I needed to know for a test on my way to ordination in a denomination that didn’t really care much about catechisms and confessions of faith.  However, as if became clear that I could not in good conscience stay in that denomination, I moved over to a more conservative Presbyterian denomination and had to spend a LOT of time with the Westminster Shorter Catechism as I began the ordination track all over again.  And do you know what I found?  This brief series of questions and answers was actually a great little summary of the Christian faith.  The language was a bit old, but it really cut to the chase, and gave me the language and vocabulary to express the faith in a compact package.  Who knew that a catechism could actually be interesting and useful?

As I came to learn, generations of Christians have thought catechisms to be a great tool for passing on the faith.   I thought to myself that I should really study some of the other catechisms out there so see what I can glean from them, but time was short.  As I finished my ordination exams and moved with my family to the mission field, I didn’t have a lot of time to dig deep into other catechisms outside of Westminster.  

But on our first home assignment in 2011, I took a class on Martin Luther’s theology as part of my Master of Theology (Th.M) studies and decided to do some research on Luther’s catechisms.  Why did he write them?  What did he include?  Why did he include it?  Who was his intended audience?  Was he building off of someone else’s work or did he start fresh?  It was fascinating to dig into both Luther’s writings and the articles of other scholars who provided insight on the setting, background, and use of the catechisms.  I want to learn something that I could use on the mission field.  What could Luther teach me about passing on the faith today?