Pants On Fire

As a missionary, I am tempted to lie on a regular basis. It may or may not surprise you to read that statement, but it’s true nonetheless. What’s more, I find the temptation strongest when I’m talking with a coworker, partner, or supporter. It all starts out innocently enough; someone asks, “How is your ministry going?” or “What are you seeing God do among your people groups?” For some reason, it’s always difficult for me to know how to respond to these questions. And for some reason, I’m often tempted to offer a less-than-honest answer.

The lies that pop into my mind aren’t usually grandiose- I’m not talking about making up a church planting movement or a new great awakening. No, my temptation is to elaborate with, um, ministerial hyperbole the things that are actually happening. You know, for effect. Perhaps what I’m tempted to offer isn’t a lie, per se, but the result is the same. The only examples I share are those I’ve carefully selected. Certain details are emphasized. Some information is conveniently left out. Our small seeker group of four suddenly becomes a viable church plant of six. My casual interaction with national leaders grows into a full-blown partnership. I find myself taking credit for the successes of others by frequent use of the collective “we.” Everything suddenly becomes over-spiritualized.

The temptation isn’t limited to embellishing our successes. There’s something super-spiritual about suffering on the missions field, so I often feel the urge to overstate the modest struggles we face in Western Europe. Poor customer service becomes enemy opposition, and a hard time at the immigration office is persecution. If life here is too easy, my obedience is somehow less pleasing to God and fellow believers.

Maybe the temptation to stretch the truth is rooted in our performance-based culture that encourages us to value activity over identity. Maybe it’s my desire to be important or well-known. Whatever the reason, exaggerations and half-truths are trouble. Lying is one of those sins that tends to have the “snowball effect;” the liar quickly finds himself having to compose bigger, more elaborate, and (if it were possible,) more deceitful lies to cover the first one.

It occurs to me that a great deal of the misunderstanding is my own fault. How can I expect others to know and relate to my experience if I’m not being completely forthright? Besides, God’s constant and protection and provision for my life means that there is always a truth to be told.

8 thoughts on “Pants On Fire

  1. I fudged a few report forms in my day. I wish I knew how many people I recorded that came to faith as a result of my ministry. One time on a plane a guy asked me what I did and I told him I was a pastor and we never spoke another word the rest of the flight, but I still wrote it in as a witnessing opportunity since I don’t get to fly that much and pastors seem to always have good airplane witnessing stories.

  2. Hey man I really like your honesty and insight about yourself. So I’m interested Missions where are you going now with this newfound understanding of yourself? How will things change for you? What will life be like 6 months from now? How would you counsel someone in the same boat as yourself?

  3. Watchman,
    I wonder… If we added up all the numbers that have been recorded on the report forms we fill out, we may find that (at least statistically) we have “finished the Task!” Kidding…

    Carl,
    Thanks for reading, and for your comments. I’m not sure what you’re asking me here, though. If you’re referring to the temptation to lie, it’s not so much a new “revelation” as a realization that I may not be the only one who is tempted to inflate, spin, and exaggerate. That’s why I posted about it here.

    I’m not sure I’d be a good advice-giver on this, but I guess I’d remind anyone who struggles with it that lying is sin, and that it will stand in the way of your relationship with God. It is one of the ways we can disqualify ourselves from service to Him.

    In a missions setting, lying actually defeats the purpose. If we aren’t communicating honestly about what we are (and aren’t) seeing on the mission field, how can we expect those who support us to “get it”?

    Unfortunately, our system is pretty broken in this regard. We put a real emphasis on numbers because they are the only “objective” and measurable way for us to know how we’re doing in our missionary endeavors. That can set us up for trouble.

    We are quick to recognize those who put numbers on the board, and “reward” them by giving them more responsibility and having them speak at conferences and training seminars. Until we ditch the numbers-based report system for something closer to true accountability relationships, we will run the risk of numbers inflation.

    Ask a missionary how many people there are in his people group, and you’ll typically get a pretty high estimate. Why is that? I think it’s because we’ve somehow created this ethos that values “harder” and (statistically) “loster” people groups.

    For me, I have committed to integrity in reporting, even if there are a lot of zeros in the report. I’ve also deliberately left out numbers questions in the reports that I receive from my people. Instead, we ask our people to tell stories about what they’re seeing God do through their ministries.

  4. hey stepchild, thanks for replying. my wife and I were at church last night where some missionaries from Malaysia that we support were speaking. They have been there four years and were very honest and upfront in volunteering the information about their mission that zero people have come to Christ since they had been there. But as you said, they shared stories about what God was doing which is encouraging AND honest. So anyways, keep speaking truthfully and represent the True Witness – Jesus. Peace

  5. Wow…what an insightful post. A copy of this article is going into my permanent file. I have often had similar feelings, but never knew how to express them. Well done.

Comments are closed.