Thursday, April 26, 2012

Missions: We're Doing it Wrong

Before I even get started with this rant, let me clearly state that I do not have all the answers. Chances are good that really, I don't have any of the answers ... at least none worth hammering out and installing as policy. (Praise the Lord, because the last thing the modern church needs is one more policy.) What I do have is a Bible, a love for the church of Jesus Christ, and a passion for spreading the gospel.

Which, as it turns out, doesn't get you very far in today's missions culture.

If I sound cynical, please know that I am praying against a hardened heart in this area. But frankly, it's getting more and more difficult to keep biting my tongue and moving forward. Since founding a religious nonprofit in 2005, my family has been actively working to bring the Good News into unreached areas. Areas where you can walk for hours, stumble upon a village, and be the very first person in the history of the world to say the name of Jesus Christ. That kind of "unreached areas." You'd think that the logistics of raising up leaders would be the hardest part, wouldn't you? Or maybe even traveling to such remote places? 

You'd be wrong. The hardest part about penetrating the 10/40 window is convincing your fellow Christians that the work is important enough to support in the first place.

Now, I am well aware that not everyone is called to the same passions of faith. I know and love people whose hearts are all for the inner city, urban areas of the US. I know and love people who are clearly called to the specific task of reaching out to those who have been hurt by the church. I know others who feel that it's all about their family serving through hospitality in their own communities, or who have some other specific, clearly God-led manner in which they are taking Christ into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

And that's o.k. That's good, and that's right, and that's part of how God wants to build His Kingdom. 

But somehow along the way, amidst the good work of Women's Teas and Vacation Bible School and Building Campaigns ... somehow, international missions got shoved into a corner, slapped with a label, and forgotten.

Oh, alright. Not totally forgotten. International missions are trotted out once a year on Missions Sunday, and again sometime during the AWANA season when a child needs a book signed. Oh, and there's the ubiquitous penny/book/backpack drive, and the shoeboxes. There's always the shoeboxes. You fill up a couple of those babies, and you're gold!

My point here is this: missions are a hard sell in today's church climate. Go ahead and tell me how much your church body allocates to the act of spreading the gospel into unreached places. How about for Bible translation? Tell me where your church focuses its efforts. How many missionaries are in the budget, and what percentage of the annual budget does that represent? Who's on your church's missions committee? How does the committee decide who to fund? 

Don't feel bad if you don't know the answers to these questions. I've learned that by and large, even the most die-hard, never-miss-a-Sunday Christians have no clue as to how they're being represented in the race (and yes, it is a race--ask me about Islam in Nepal if you want to be convinced of that) to bring the Word of God into unreached areas.

Did you catch that? "How they're being represented." Because folks, that's what it is. When a church supports a missionary, it is doing so on behalf of each and every member of that body. Just as a man wearing the uniform of the US Marines in Afghanistan stands in proxy of every citizen of the United States, every missionary that your church funds acts on your behalf as he or she or they labor to harvest for Christ.

Sobering, isn't it? 

But the fact is, we don't think of missions that way at all, do we? We drop our tithe or offering into the collection plate on Sunday, and we fail to truly grasp what that means. We may remember that Women's Bible Study is hiring paid childcare workers, and recognize that we're footing the bill. We may hear that the heating system needs an upgrade, and stick another $20 in the pot. We may even know that the crisis pregnancy center is getting a piece of the pie, and feel good for helping.

But rare is the family that knows that X cents of each dollar goes into reaching new believers on the other side of the world. Even more unusual is the family that can tell you that their church supports twenty missionary projects, meaning that each group gets half a cent of each dollar. 

This isn't a post about money. It's a post about priorities. In the six years that my family has been supporting nationals, training pastors, bringing supplies to believers, and supporting children, I have become disillusioned, I admit, when it comes to the value that Christians place on the Gospel. I could rail against the churches we have asked for support, the ones who tell us that they are cutting missions funding because they want to hire a second youth pastor. Or the ones who tell us that they are too small a congregation to give even $10 toward saving souls in other countries. Or the ones who hold our work up to a complicated series of "giving matrix" and score it, then decide that we don't meet with their standards.

As someone passionate about what they do, that's hard to swallow sometimes. Because when we ask for support, I don't picture the dollar signs in a wire transfer of funds--I picture the pile of vegetables that the kids in Nepal will get with their lentils. I picture the new believer being given a Bible in his own language. I picture the face of the woman who no longer feels she has to abandon her baby to appease the gods. I see these things, and the "no" hurts.

But the problem isn't the churches. They are simply listening to their congregants and reacting to the "needs" and "wants" that filter up. The problem is the Christians in the churches. But no, wait ... even that's not quite right. 

The problem really and truthfully is on the general abdication of missions into the realm of "professionals." Because folks, that's what it's become. I am shocked--shocked!-- at how many people really believe that you have to have a 4 year degree to save someone's soul in a place you need a passport to reach. I am utterly stunned at the number of people who really think that the church is better equipped to decide who is capable of spreading the Gospel, and where it should go, and how it should happen.

I'm pretty sure that this isn't what Jesus had in mind. I'm pretty sure that He was speaking familiarly, in love, to those whom He knew intimately, when He issued His Great Commission. I'm pretty sure that He didn't set up a committee, organize a barbecue, and write up a list of detailed interview questions, then ask for a furlough visit every two years. 

I'm pretty sure that He just wanted people to hear about what He did for them.

But hey ... what do I know? As I said, I'm just a woman with a Bible who has found freedom and meaning in the blood of Christ. I'm just part of a family that lives to serve Him wherever He calls. 

I'm probably wrong.


Fatcat said...

My son wants to go into some type of mission work and we also can't believe that he has to have a 4 year degree. It's kind of ridiculous in my opinion.

You Can Call Me Jane said...

Thank you for putting this into words so well. I don't have it right either, but I share your heartache in this area.

Sandy said...

If only every church in the USA would read and pray over this post! I have been praying for God to show me where He wants me to serve, and am thankful I had your blog in my favorites!

Thia said...

I'm linking this on my blog. You're very, very right.

walnutshademom said...

Please give me info on how I can contribute financially to your family's work in Nepal.

Thank you!

Becky said...

I want to start by saying that I really enjoying reading your blog and feel as though you are a great friend. Funny, I know you have no clue who I am and yet I feel a great love and kinship with you. I also homeschool and have enjoyed following the journey of your great family. You are always an inspiration to me and inspire me to live my life better and to be a better Christian. I’ve never commented because I am just a pretty quiet person and don’t generally comment on blogs. I also don’t think my writing and speaking skills are up to par as great writers like you. I have a hard time putting my feelings into words.

The reason that I am commenting today is to share my testimony with you. I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. I’m a Mormon. I know that Mormons are in the public eye a lot right now for better or for worse. I want to share my love that I also have for my Savior, Jesus Christ. Without him we would just return to the dust of the earth and our souls would be lost. With him, all things are possible. We are able to be saved through his great atoning sacrifice to which we all are eternally indebted.

Our church has a great missionary effort. It’s really quite funny when you think about it. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints sends out 19 year old young men and 21 year old young women to spread the ‘Good News’. We also have senior missionaries that choose to serve missions when they retire. We have around 55,000 Full-Time missionaries and 22,000 Church-Service Missionaries. Right when most young people are starting college and deciding what to do with their lives our Heavenly Father has asked these young adults to leave behind the world and build up the Kingdom of God on the earth. They pay for their own missions, sacrifice two years of their lives and devote themselves entirely to service and spreading the gospel. I can think of no better way to start out your adult life then in the full time service of the Lord.

I do, however also believe that missionary service is never over. Throughout our lives we need to be spreading the ‘Good News’ to those around us by word and deed. I am so thankful for good people like you who are saving souls and spreading the word of Jesus Christ near and far. Thank you for this post and helping me remember my debt I have to my Savior to do as he has asked to spread his glorious word and feed his sheep.

The Beaver Bunch said...

My sweet friend, you hit the nail on the head. Praise the Lord we have a VERY missions focused church. They voted to increase the budget this year so that missionaries (like us!) can be sent and financially supported, in part, by our church.

But oh to covey to the folks in the pews that it is REAL people who have never heard the gospel, real children who are suffering from lack of food and clean water! Then their hearts, prayers and finances will be stirred to action! But only the Spirit can stir like that.

And we pray he does.

Mamma Sass said...

I have been a reader for quite sometime of your blog and find it so uplifting and so inspirational. In fact, it was your blog that led me to Sonlight which has been the perfect fit for our homeschooling needs.
This post took me aback a little. I had not really thought how churches might struggle to do missionary work.
In my church - I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints, known as mormons, Missionary work is a central part - the type where you go into the deep parts of the world and teach them of Christ. I paid for parts of my mission myself when I was 21, my family helped as did our congregation - or what we call wards. I served in Siberia - the deep part of Siberia - where I was the first foreigner they had ever met, and some the first mention of Christ. During my time I went to Mongolia -for a visa renewal - and got to see our churches efforts there. There it is against the law to "Proselyte" so our missionaries taught people there how to Garden, improve conditions, educated them, help with employment, offer medical help, etc and in this way lead to to Christ - as the law permitted this. Our church counsel us to serve missions in our young adulthood - usually while others are going to college; then later we have senior couples go. We are encouraged to do missionary service near home as well during these times, whether it is in our own neighborhood, the ghettos, etc, while being employed, having families, etc.
The world DOES need to hear the Good word -everywhere! My life has changed having had this opportunity, and I plan to go on a mission again, when my children are a little older. In the meantime I hope to help and teach where I am. It is a life changing service not only for those we meet and teach, but for our own conversion. I learned so much of Christ - even though I had been taught His gospel since birth. It is a great and humbling experience.
It has been wonderful to see your family reaching out to serve and teach: to go on a mission. I pray that you are able to find more support to spread the word in Nepal -for this is a great work! I pray others will catch the fire and the importance of this work. I pray that if they can not go - will not - that they might support those, like your family, who can and will. I pray for your success, as it really is God's. May God be with you!

mary grace said...

I don't see any contact info for you. Can you email me at BooksandBairns at gmail (dot) com?

mary grace said...

I agree wholeheartedly. While I am all in favor of education, and value the years of training that certain vocations require, I find the notion that a 4 year-degree is the norm for most field missionaries a little suspect ... especially when missions agencies don't even care *what* the degree is in (English lit?) just that it's there.

Greg and Amy said...

I just found your blog and read a few entries. My husband and I homeschool our children and have prayed about adoption for years, waiting on God's timing and clear "yes". We were missionaries for 6 years overseas. We had to return due to my husband's health (no he has never gotten well again). It is so hard to raise support. Westerners don't "get" it. We were faith based missionaries so if someone didn't send money we didn't get paid and thus we couldn't reach others as effectively.
Our passion is spreading the Word of God. We don't have degrees in anything. I'm not sure any other organization would take us except the one we went with. One of their main focuses is training nationals to teach their own people and help their own orphans. If you would like more info I can share it with you. I'm so glad to hear of your work in Nepal. Amy garedds at gmail (dot) com

Anonymous said...

I found this post because it was linked along with a post I had written to another site. Anyways, I completely agree with you that Missions gets shoved into a corner and pulled out for special occasions. I'm participating in a blog hop with two other ladies about Missions and would love for you to take a look. As a former MK, I often feel torn between serving in the here and now and my heart for international missions. But, I know that supporting missions is just as important as going, and we are trying to raise awareness about that - supporting by praying, giving, volunteering, and teaching within the church and even our own homes. I'd love for you to take a look!
Jen @