Missions Misunderstood

I am not a missionary. It’s kind of a big deal for me to admit that. Yeah, I know that “we’re all supposed to be missionaries,” and that people who bring the good news have beautiful feet. I’m struggling with the whole thing because of all people, I’m supposed to be a missionary because I’m employed by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. They hired and appointed and commissioned me to serve as a church planter here in Western Europe. They interviewed me, checked all of my references, confirmed my calling, examined my theology, gave me a physical, trained me, and sent me out. The organization is considered the most effective missions sending agency in the world. Surely, they know what missions is, right? Obviously, they know how it should be done, wouldn’t you think? So when I find myself disagreeing with some of the Board’s basic missiology and methodology, you can understand why I’m assuming that the problem is with me and not the wise men and women (but mostly men) who are responsible for our operations.

My problem is one of conscience. As the concept of missions is further defined by both the organization and the Christian subculture, I continue to grow less and less comfortable with the title “missionary” and with “missions” as it is understood within the organization. If, because of certain differences, I can’t represent the Board as they would like me to, how can I, with integrity, continue to take their financial support? If the people in the pews that give sacrificially (and even the stingy ones that give way less than they could) think that they’re funding certain mission endeavors of certain people, and I, in all honesty, am not one of those people, shouldn’t I quit? This isn’t a new problem. I’ve been struggling with this since before I ever got to the field. But as time has passed, and as I’ve invested myself into ministry, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly unlike the missionary I know the IMB thinks I am.

I have sought the counsel of wise coworkers. Most of them have said something to the effect of, “Don’t worry- the Board needs people like you with a different perspective on things to take a different approach toward our work.” Others encouraged me to keep seeking God on the issue. A few (usually the seasoned veterans) gave me the “when I was your age…” routine. Maybe they’re right. Maybe this is all a phase I’ll grow out of, or some immaturity I need to grow through.

Which is why I’m posting my thoughts here. I guess it’s probably cowardly to post my opinions anonymously, but I don’t want to offend any of my friends and coworkers. Even though I tend to express myself in a way that sounds confident (hopefully never arrogant), I admit that I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I wonder whether I even have one or two answers. My intent here is to question some of the things about missions and missionaries and our fine organization that I don’t hear anyone else questioning. I won’t assume that anyone else struggles with these things, but I will hope that someone out there might share their thoughts on these things.

18 thoughts on “Missions Misunderstood

  1. I just read your article. I must confess that I am over 40 and I have had time to think about these things in my youth and I still resist being called a M. It sounds very wierd to me even though I am old and modern.
    I prefer to be a follower of Christ who is obeying God’s call on my life to live out that calling overseas and that is no greater than serving him in the southern part of the US where the majority of Ms come from. but brings up another item of discussion perhaps.
    While in the states recently and going to a trad. SBC church I noticed how much they lifted up the M and it was almost embarassing how high on a pedestial they put the M. It is not enough to be a pastor or church planter in the US but to be a M overseas in our denomination is most important. Or perhaps in our org. we have various pecking orders of calling. Sometimes the M in a country where it is illegal is perceived more devoted to the call than an M who is serving in a more reasonable area of the world.
    i dont know but sometimes it feels that way

  2. Not sure why you think these thoughts will “get you fired.” You’re asking honest questions – questions asked by many of your colleagues – and owning the place you yourself occupy in the process. These are good things. Keep doing them, and following God in the process.

  3. What specifically is it with which you don’t agree? What about the methodology, approcach, philosophy or practice gives you a hard time? Might as well be hoenst about that, too. People disagree on this stuff all the time – not the end of the world.

  4. I guess, if I had to be succinct (a skill I obviously don’t have), I’d say that my specific concerns focus on the Board’s strategy.

    1. We have taken people group thinking to a human-centered logical extreme in our understanding of the Missionary Task. (I think our task is obedience, the Board says its “to reach all people groups of 100k people or more that are less than 2% reached”.)

    See my post entitled “The Task.”

    2. The Board’s focus, resources, and “attention” is based on the modern, human classification system of “lostness” and “reached/unreached.” (Despite occasional lip service to the contrary, the Board does not support missions in Western Europe as much as the 10/40 window.)

    See my post entitled “Calling.”

    3. More and more, I feel like I don’t belong in the organization. I just want to share life with people, but the Board doesn’t seem to see that as an acceptable strategy.

    Why do I say these thoughts will get me fired? I recently heard Dr. Jim Slack, the Board’s Statistician/People Group Research Guy speak about the Board’s strategy.He said that any missiology that doesn’t take into account “God’s heart for the nations” is “Old Paradigm thinking.” When I asked him about some of my ideas, specifically about Postmodern peoples being emerging people groups, he said that the Board does not and should not work with people who don’t fit the “unreached” criteria.

    Maybe I should stop trying to be terse. It obviously isn’t working!

  5. Hey Folks,

    I’m one of your supporters! It sure is good to find this blog even if most of you feel it necessary to post anonymously.

    I trust that the day will come when you can share your heart and concerns more openly without even thought of reprisals. Please know that we love you guys (generic term) and desire that God will use you greatly wherever you are and by what term you are best defined.

    Marty Duren, Lead Pastor
    New Bethany Baptist Church
    SBC Outpost blog

  6. Thank you, Marty. For me, the “anonymity” is a temporary thing until I get to think through some of these things. Most of my coworkers know who I am, since I’m always talking about this stuff anyway.

    Still, I feel pretty alone in asking questions about the IMB’s strategy and missiology. At this point, I’m looking for folks like you to help me work through all this. I’m still not sure how I want to tackle the trustee situation. I feel like those of us overseas need to talk about it with you all, and let you know how things look from this side of things. Several of us are concerned about “what’s next” from the Board of Trustees. Maybe that’s why others might not give their names here for now.

  7. At Passion I met a guy who wants to be a career missionary. He’s a fellow blogger, but I’m gonna let him come forward. Pretty easy to figure it out if you really want to, though. I’ll let you find it. Anyway, he’s out by IMB standards, unless he’s rebaptized. But he’s got good theology, good understanding. Just another good candidate told to find another way unless he respects the “authoritah.”

  8. Joe,
    I wish I could say, “I know a guy who could get him in.” Maybe I’ll hunt him down. I’d encourage him to do what God tells him to do, Board or no. I think we need someone who is “disqualified” by the new policies to articulate his position and join folks like us on the field and Wade Burleson and other trustees in the States to appeal this thing.

  9. As someone who no longer fits the definition of a “young man” (except to white-haired church-members), I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts and agree with many of them or struggle with the same issues. The problem you face (and I also) is how to live consistent with your values and beliefs. I spent a time with the IMB and currently pastor a church. I serve a people who generally are stuck in a religion and not a relationship. Programs are safe, while engaging the world around them is not. What are we to do? Changing people is God’s work. So, the dilemma — continue or change?

  10. hey bro, I am a missionary (I don’t like the word or the misunderstanding of it) too (NAMB)… I totally feel what you are saying and I look forward to reading your blog…

  11. There is a reason that no other missionaries question the organization… it’s because those who ask questions get fired. There is a history out there but it is covered by threats from the organization itself if people talk. No one wants to admit it but its almost like the mafia or maybe worse in someways. There used to be a time when the IMB was worried about telling the world about Jesus and they didn’t ask if they lived in a certain area or if they were members of a certain ethnic group. I find that the Bible says that there is only one qualification and that is if a person is lost or not. My prayers are with you brother.

  12. Wow, I had no idea (but should have guessed!) that so much politics is involved in the IMB….I, too, am called by God to be involved in missions overseas and am currently taking seminary classes online. My heart is church planting too and I’ve lately been challenged to “rethink” church by what I’ve been reading. I’ve always thought the Chinese housechurch movement is amazing but had no idea this concept is being used worldwide…now how come we’re not eharing more about this? Sadly, there’s not a lot I do hear at my church regarding missions….

    I came across this site through a link from the MBlog and have found the posts both interesting and sad. How sad that we’re not allowed to question things even when they don’t line up with Scripture. My pastor (SBC) faces this often. His infamous sermon against freemasonry shook the town we live in many years ago, half the church left and started a new church (as a previous group had done years earlier because they didn’t like the chosen color of carpet…honestly happened)he and his family were seen as outcasts (it didn’t help that they homeschooled) and were told that their children would never succeed, and his stand has been a very lonely one.

    Does it cost more among the church to speak out for the truth than it does among the world? Songwriter Derek Webb admonishes: “I haven’t come for only you, but for my people to pursue…if you love Me, you must love the church.” — that’s so hard sometimes, isn’t it! Lord Jesus, have mercy on your church!

    In no way do I want to add to anyone’s discouragment; in fact I’d like to encourage you tokeep on going – when missions (no matter how misunderstood!)is what God has put on our heart, we’ll be miserable doing anything else. I know I’m not on the field yet, but judging from others’ reactions when I share my dream, I can just imagine how discouraged you must feel at times….Please be encouraged to keep on serving Jesus where He has placed you and don’t be afraid of doing soemthing different, even if you ARE misunderstood. I think God has some DIFFERENT things in mind!Wasn’t Jesus also misunderstood?! Please do keep asking questions. And may the Lord Jesus give us all the courage to accept the answers He gives and to follow where He leads!I will be praying for you who are the ones preparing the way for those of us who afterward answer His calling. Because truly, all else layed aside, it is JESUS who call us to the field. There’s no denying it when you can’t get rid of the desire to GO, knowing you’ll never be satisfied doing anything else.

    “Bare heights of loneliness…a wilderness whose burning winds sweep over glowing sands, what are they to Him? Even there He can refresh us, even there He can renew us.” –Amy Carmichael (“Windows”, ch. 43)

  13. Anonymous,
    Thanks for your comment. I’ve really learned a lot by blogging. I’ve also been able to meet some new people, and hopefully provide them with a little window into missionary mega-themes. Most of us on the field sort of assume that people back home are aware of the Board’s current strategies and approaches. Maybe some of what I write will show what we think about those things.
    Thanks for reading and commenting, and for your prayers.

  14. Pingback: Missions Misunderstood » Blog Archive » Communication, Misunderstood

Comments are closed.