Serving God or Ourselves? When our plans get in the way of God's people.
There he was. Though we hadn't seen each other in 15 years, we instantly recognized each other. We hugged and picked up our relationship where we had left off. Both of grown quite a bit and learned a bit about life and ministry from those days in seminary when we met.
That's the way it was when I saw Timothy (not his real name) at Amsterdam 2000the Billy Graham sponsored meeting. I remembered him from my time at seminary. He is fromand now lives ina country in southern Africa. We talked briefly, and he was gone.
As I reflected on our seeing each other again, I thought about our relationship years before. Had I really cared about Timothy? I'm sure I was kind to him and treated him nicely. But did I really sit down and listen to him? Did I serve him in ministry in the same way he had served me?
In my brief discussion with him in Amsterdam, he shared that he was involved in leadership training. We talked about the issue of formal training in Africa. It turned out that he was concerned about many things that I mentioned in my last column in Mission Frontiers entitled: "Effective Global Training: Does it have to be at odds with gifting?" (Mission Frontiers June 2000, page 54).
I mentioned what I had written about one school in Africa where the mentors or teachers go out into the local churches. They help the pastors use what they learnedin real ministryto apply what they are learning.
It seems that we in the West are overly-awed by our own spiritual experiences and maturity.
Timothy noted (at my prompting, he is too gracious to bring this up on his own) that he wished some of those who came over from North America to teach in his country would have been willing to make that kind of sacrifice. Instead, they have taught in the classroomjust as if they were in a classroom in the U.S.missing the element of real-life application based on living in Africa and understanding the way of ministry there.
In talking to several other leaders from other places in Africa as well as Latin America and Asia, some parallel issues arose. It seems that we in the West or are:
- Overly awed by our own spiritual experiences and maturity. We know what to do! While we have learned many things and have much to share, we also have much more to learn.
- Overly awed by our money. We often think and act like funding is a main need. Many from other parts of the world also think that way. It is fueled by Western materialism. Oftentimes, it is seen asin effectthrowing money around in ministry.
- Overly awed by technology. We think the internet and/or DVD training materials will "finish the job." Many committed leaders and servants I know don't have daily access to the internet. Most can get e-mail but sometimes that is only weekly. Access to e-mail and effective access to the internet are not the same thing.
While I was talking with Timothy another friend, Steve, walked up. He is from the U.S. and has been in a different part of Africa for 18 years. He has won the respect of the national leaders by being a servant. He had his spiritual and theological convictions, but was willing to learn in ministry in Africa. He went with students where he taught, watching them excel in things where he languishedlike naturally picking up the basics of a local tribal language in a matter of days. He had seen things that didn't fit his theological system quite the way he thought they would, and found "ministry" was done differently there.
I then talked further with another friend who was a church planter and now teaches at a seminary. Both of his assignments were in the Muslim worldwork considered unacceptable by the governing authorities. We talked about many things related to the future of their training ministry. We talked a little about doing training in the current climate of anti-Christianity in various forms around the world. Many existing patterns are not working well.
Where do we go from here in doing missions in generaland training specifically? Perhaps we need to:
- · Rethink the role of the Westerner (again)! In many places where the unreached are we "stick out" and can get others in trouble. Would we be better in mobilization or support? When we do go we need to:
- · Serve the people we are going to as well as those we go with. We talk about servanthood, but we're not particularly known for it. I have seen many Americans with a "big vision" do what they believe is necessary even if it doesn't work. This pattern is seen in workers from other cultures as well. But, it is especially so when we encourage them to make their ministry plans "look right" as they present them to donors or foundations here in the U.S.
Let's be sure we are serving God as our focus and not serving our own vision or cultural bias.
Greg Parsons is the Executive Director of the U.S. Center for World Mission. He also serves on the boards of the IFMA, EFMA, the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse and a sending agency. [email protected]