In Pursuit of Effective Models of Mission
In June, I was sitting with a friend of mine from Asia and he shared this story with me. He is involved in mobilizing and training missionaries from a country there. He had just returned from a meeting of missionaries from his nation who work in a Muslim country.
As he shared with some 100-field missionaries there, he learned that they really don’t know what to do as missionaries. They are learning the language, and some know it well. They are living their lives, which can be tough of course, but for many that is all they are doing.
But one couple was different. They too, didn’t know what to do, but they decided to put their children in the local public school. It was not an easy decision, as is often the case with kids’ schooling.
In the process, the school principal was honored that they enrolled. They met various teachers and of course, the parents of the other children. It has opened all kinds of relationships and connections with the people in their neighborhood. They are anticipating it opening doors for the gospel.
Why is it that I’ve heard of this problem before? Why would the problem of missionaries not really knowing what to do happen so often?
Here are some reasons that come to mind, reflecting on the situation in the U.S.:
We model an approach to our faith that does not train our people to think or see new fellowships of believers established in our own culture (much less another). When a church here does see new believers following Christ, we often don’t plant new churches. Instead, we build more/bigger buildings because, “it will be more efficient and we can have more programs and staff.” The few who do establish new churches, expect to have several committed couples and a full-time pastor or two.
We fight against an entertainment and vacation mentality in our world, but we run our youth programs to, well—entertain. The students aren’t involved in leadership. They don’t teach or learn from each other. They are not in accountable relationships that help them to grow in faith and discipline. We feel the need to compete with their text-message-Facebook world—in which they feel connected—but what we do at school or church makes them feel “talked at.” As thin as relationship building can be in the “computer age,” we must understand it and how to leverage it more effectively.
We in the West still struggle with cultural superiority. We are indoctrinated to believe that living in America is the best possible option. We are told that this nation is (or was) a God-fearing nation and that is why we were blessed. We sing, “God Bless America” but do we think or pray or sing, “God Bless China” or India or Saudi Arabia? This can make adjustment to another place difficult.
We have a version of Christianity that is more focused on saving people than on what happens after that. We tend to focus more on outward obedience and looking right morally (as we define it) than on issues like spiritual pride, which can eat away at one’s spiritual life and effectiveness in ministry. Often, we have not confronted the spiritual idols that drag us down and play with our expectation of God in life and mission.
But we all know stories of those who break the mold and make a difference. A brother I know, “Bill,” went to a dangerous (at the time) Latin American country and worked under a Spanish-speaking pastor in the 60s. Bill wasn’t church planting, he was working with the church there and figured that this Latin brother knew more about what needed to be done than he did.
This turned out to be a wise act of submission and servant modeling which surprised the people, who were used to missionaries who acted superior and often didn’t bother to learn Spanish well. Bill poured himself into language learning and became as “Latin” as he could. Since that time, he has had his devotions and spiritual journal in Spanish. He planned on staying there the rest of his life, he didn’t think of it as a 2 or 4 year assignment he would reevaluate each trip home.
Later, when the older pastor left, they asked Bill to take his place. While having Americans pastor churches in other parts of the world is a pattern we would not promote, Bill had won the respect and commitment of the people as a servant. He was one of them. They even paid his salary, not counting on funds from America.
Perhaps you are from another country and you can think of other “issues” that might impact your mission workers. Feel free to share those with us.