The "Saviors"

This post was going to be about the “Saviors.” I was going to write about the well-intentioned missionaries who come to the field thinking that their arrival somehow brings salvation to whatever unreached people group they have selected. The ones who feel needed, in my opinion, are missionaries that do not belong on the mission field.

I know. I know. Some of you were hoping for a post called “The Bloggers.”

In what has proven to be too long a story arc, I have outlined two “types” of missionaries that I think should not be on the mission field. These were taken from my personal experience. Some readers have anticipated the big reveal I hinted at in the first post: the Professional, the Lifer, and even the “Savior-complex” missionary that shouldn’t be on the field is me.

On a regular basis, I am tempted to try to make this ministry to which God has called me into a career. The Board hired me as a “Career Missionary,” and with that comes some pressure to professionalize what amounts to obedience. Sometimes it’s out of pride: “Hey, I’m special. Not just anyone can do this job.” But usually it’s out of the awkward embarrassment I feel when someone asks, “So, what do you do?” So much of my identity is wrapped up in my answer that question that I feel this constant need to justify the fact that I receive money to tell people about Jesus. But my time on the field has taught me that church planting is not a job, but a calling. It’s an intentionality that the churches back home graciously underwrite. But then I go to a meeting or write a new personnel request, and I slip right back into the professionalism that only serves to separate me from nationals and other believers.

I am very much a product of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mission Friends. Royal Ambassadors. Centrifuge. God called me to cultural translation of the gospel when I was in high school. By the time I graduated I had decided my career path: I was going to be a missionary. So here I am, a Lifer with the IMB. Because of my exclusively Southern Baptist education, I am not qualified for any “real” job. I am extremely grateful for the support of the organization that sends and maintains me, but I have become fully dependent upon the Board for everything that I have. Housing. Stipend. Insurance. I couldn’t begin to answer the question of what I would do or where I would do it if I weren’t doing this. Unfortunately, such dependence sometimes breeds complacency. I know what’s expected of me, and there are times I’m tempted to do only that.

My motivation for being here changes pretty regularly. There are times when
I pity the people around me here, but not in a good way. On a really bad day, I have caught myself feeling very superior. As if the reason for the lostness here is that the people are too stupid to find Jesus, and it’s such a good thing that I’ve finally arrived to set the straight. My savior complex should disqualify me from service.

This “series” began as a journal entry. I was venting my frustrations with some coworkers, and dreaming of building the “perfect” church planting team. I was writing about the Professionals, the Lifers, the Saviors, and the Whiners (don’t ask) when I was convicted of being and doing those same things that I resented so much about my fellow missionaries. I’ve come to believe that many of the characteristics that mark “someone who shouldn’t be here” aren’t brought to the mission field, they’re picked up here. Sometimes we’re tempted by laziness, other times by pride; all of them, I think, are defense mechanisms for dealing with our strange lives.

I really am convinced that not all believers belong on the mission field. Not everyone is cut out for it. I’m intrigued with that idea, because in never really occurred to me. And though I have known coworkers that have exhibited some of these same characteristics and, I suspect, struggled with these same attitudes and tendencies, I realize that judging them is the Pot calling the Kettle black.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.