Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian-Industrial Complex, By Scott A. Bessenecker alt

Overturning Tables

Freeing Missions from the Christian-Industrial Complex

by Scott A. Bessenecker

Overturning Tables
  • Length: 201 pages
  • Dimensions: 0 × 0 in
  • Published: November 03, 2014
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 9676
  • ISBN: 9780830896769

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Outreach Resource of the Year Recommendation

Best World Missions Book, from Byron Borger, Hearts and Minds Bookstore

We are more than the businesses we have become.

Much of Christian ministry has been shaped to operate not according to the witness of the Scriptures, but according to the values of the free market. We adopt metrics of success that have nothing to do with the state of people's souls or the seeding of the earth with the kingdom of God. We have borrowed our paradigms uncritically from the for-profit corporate sector. The mission of the Church is being held back by the business container into which we have placed the gospel.

Every year Scott Bessenecker travels the world with thousands of college students, ministering to those in need and learning from the global church about what God is doing in the world. In Overturning Tables he shows, through stories and analysis, that the mission of God reaches well beyond the grasp of the free market, and if we are willing to reach as well, we will see God do amazing things, even as the world sees the gospel in its fullest sense.

"I love Scott Bessenecker. There are lots of smart folks, and lots of funny folks, and lots of sassy folks . . . but not lots of folks who are all three of those—like Scott Bessenecker. He is one of those all too rare voices that is critical but not cynical, hopeful but not unreasonable, and passionate but not judgmental. He loves the church so much that he is not willing to cover up her sins, addictions and dysfunctions. This is some of his best work—diving into the belly of Christendom to battle the dragons, flip the tables and exorcise the darkness. It's a beautiful—smart, funny, sassy—little book that is destined to help us rethink how we think about missions in the twenty-first century."

Shane Claiborne , author and activist

"I'm so grateful for Scott, his role in missions and how he is hungry for new, turned-upside-down ways to follow Jesus. This book will provoke important, hope-filled conversations about how to keep finding our way to love and serve in Christ's name with our neighbors across the divides of money, power and culture."

Kent Annan, author of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle and codirector of Haiti Partners

"Once again Scott Bessenecker has pressed on one of Western evangelicalism's stress fractures. His precision with thought and word are unparalleled in both his diagnosis of the problem along with imaginative remedies for the solution. Truly a prophet of our times, Scott's vision and clarity come through page after page in Overturning Tables."

Christopher L. Heuertz, founding partner of Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism, and author of Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community

"As always Scott Bessenecker's writing is insightful, eclectic and generates new paradigms. A brilliant missions administrator with a track record of mobilizing thousands, he speaks with authority at that cataclysmic discontinuity between the power structures of older US missions built on capitalist business models, and the global explosion of indigenous and youth-driven missions. Always analyzing emergent structures, he aptly identifies numerous themes, trends, breakdowns and new directionalities that enter into the core of the massive shift in the style of missional community that has occurred this generation."

Viv Grigg, associate professor, Azusa Pacific University, and author of Companion to the Poor

"These days everything must bear the weight of productivity, and as Scott Bessenecker points out, that creates a climate of narcissism, materialism and triviality. Overturning Tables does just what it says—it overturns the neatly set table of corporate, white individualism and challenges us to shed egos, acknowledge limitations, embrace cooperation and resolve together to look for authentic signs of the kind of human flourishing Christ came to offer us."

Michael Frost, author, Incarnate

"This author is one of the few in the world whose knowledge, actual experience and first-person passion merge in such a rare way that the result is an uncomfortable but strangely freeing glimpse of the path we have been on, the consequences of that path and a way ahead. Those who care about mission among the marginalized will appreciate the refreshing and disturbing blend of the historical, theological and pragmatic critique, and its Jesus-like perspective."

Randy White, executive director, FPU Center for Community Transformation

"Scott really puts himself out there by writing so boldly about an issue that has crippled parts of the body from participating in cross-cultural missions. Whether you agree completely with him or not, you can't deny the fact that he is going toe to toe with the proverbial elephant in the room—the financial structure of the sending agency. Before you decide to stone Scott and accuse him of overstating his case, let me encourage you to read carefully what he is saying. As an African American mobilizer who has been involved in cross-cultural missions since the late '90s (over fifteen years), I could tell you story after story of African American missionaries who have struggled to get on the field (and stay!) with the current financial models employed by most US sending agencies. So, from my vantage point, this conversation must happen. Will you choose to join it?"

Richard O. Coleman, senior director of mobilization and candidacy, The Mission Society

"Overturning Tables unearths profound questions and reflections about many 'norms' and narratives adopted by Western Christian organizations, churches and groups. God's scope is expanded beyond private piety to the edges of politics and economics in a way that is thought provoking and challenging. Bessenecker's cultural observations and critique hold a prophetic mirror—calling to account the Christian-Industrial Complex. Hope is found in the stories of those living prophetically in their simple, faithful pursuit of Jesus. Overturning Tables may be the book that changes the course of missions."

Nikki Toyama-Szeto, senior director, IJM Institute for Biblical Justice; coeditor of More than Serving Tea

"Bessenecker provokes a much-needed discussion for twenty-first-century mission, challenging our historic mission paradigms and issuing a prophetic invitation to imagine alternative pictures of the church engaged in global mission. Rooted in Scripture and today's global realities, this is a must-read for the North American missions community and church leaders!"

Tom Lin, director of the Urbana Student Missions Conference and Lausanne Movement International Deputy Director

"For the Lord's Prayer to be answered, the kingdom has to come not just around and in spite of us but also through us. That will require a church ready to examine every aspect of our ministry and mission to ensure that we are in full obedience, unstained by the world. Overturning Tables is a critically important and fearless examination of current mission practices in the light of God's justice. It will afflict the comfortable—including those who are comfortable with the status quo—but it may inspire and strengthen the kind of vital mission we need to reach emerging generations. I pray that denominational decision-makers (as well as independent mission leaders) will read this book."

Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, coauthor, Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World

"The author challenges the church to find ways to serve Christ with our neighbors across the barriers of capitalist free markets, Western boomer power and materialistic culture. He identifies global trends and directions, as well as providing creative missional solutions to enable the kingdom of God to truly flourish around our world."

Robert L. Gallagher, Outreach Magazine's Resources of the Year, March/April 2015

"Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a very challenging ride. Scott Bessenecker´s prophetic words and warnings will challenge and threaten, but they are desperately needed. He confronts errant worldview assumptions and forces the reader to wrestle with the uncritical acceptance of capitalistically driven mission-sending structures. If you are willing to do some ruthless self-criticism, Overturning Tables will leave you feeling more equipped to face the future of global missions."

Paul Borthwick, senior consultant, Development Associates International, author, Western Christians in Global Mission

"Does the book convincingly expose a true evil here, in this modern-day businesslike approach to missions? Are mission organizations unsuccessful—not winning any souls, in other words—by adopting this approach? By managing stewardship responsibly, by making sure the work is done and funded, by ensuring the mission's sustainability? The book makes its case clearly, and ultimately it's for the individual missions leader to decide."

Billie Rae Bates, ForeWord Reviews, Winter 2015

"In Overturning Tables [Bessenecker] shows that the mission of God reaches well beyond the grasp of the free market, and if we are willing to reach as well, we will see God even as the world sees the gospel in its fullest sense."

Light Magazine Canada, November 2014

"Bessenecker has provided the Body of Christ with a penetrating analysis of our current status, coupled with a keen understanding of how we have arrived at this place."

Joel Rainey, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, October 2015

"This is a well-written, provocative book. It needs to be carefully read by North American leaders of Christian churches and organizations."

Grace Tazelaar, Journal of Christian Nursing, Vol. 32, No. 3

"The book provides a refreshing view of how new structures and new workers from the margins must create a new season of interdependent missions as Christians 'shed our egos, embrace our limitations' and divorce commerce from the only offer that matters—the good news."

Kathy Robinson, Baptist Standard, June 8, 2015


1. A Tale of Two Missions
2. From Corporation to Locally Owned
3. From Profits to Prophets
4. From Convert to Cosmos
5. From Solitary to Solidarity
6. From Mainstream to Margin
7. From Independent to Interdependent
8. From Growth to Flourishing


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Scott A. Bessenecker

Scott Bessenecker is associate director for missions for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and author of several books, including The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor. He sends more than two thousand students each year on short-term mission experiences in a number of urban poor locations around the world. Scott's blog, The Least of These, is at urbana.org/blogs/least-these.