You’re Afraid

robot_girl_hidingDear Pastor,

I’ve always been perplexed by your lack of direct involvement in international missions. It’s not that you shy away from preaching about international issues. You often encourage social action- you’ve led your church’s campaign to help local public schools. You support a child in a poverty-stricken village in Malaysia. You’ve raised money to finance the digging of wells in Africa.

You certainly talk quite a bit about God’s global activity and about our mandate to go and make disciples. You talk about being missional and living out your faith in your community. Your church often engages in service projects in your city- no-strings-attached ministry to people in need. You welcome people of all sorts into your gatherings.

You’re not stingy, either. Your church gives lots of money to various ministries both local and abroad. You sent a truckload of water bottles to help Katrina victims. You support missionaries in different parts of the world. You preach boldly about generous and sacrificial giving for the sake of this work.

But still, when it comes to planting indigenous churches among people of other nations that do not know Jesus, you’re not doing much at all. You redefine the word “mission,” so that everything the church does somehow falls under this new, catch-all category, but when we talk about the work of crossing cultures with the gospel, you don’t have much to offer.

After meeting you, visiting your church, listening to your podcast, reading your blog, and following you on Facebook and Twitter, I believe I have some insight into your lack of participation: You’re afraid.

You’ve never been on a mission trip or vision trip because you’re terrified buy the thought of leaving the comfortable life you’ve built for yourself. The prospect of going without Starbucks and Tex-Mex and Super Wal-Mart is hard for you to swallow.

You shirk spiritual responsibility for engaging a people group with the gospel because it’s outside your are of “expertise.” The meaning of the gospel and it’s practical application to your local expression- that you can do. But wading into the unknown waters of another culture? You’re not used to not knowing how to act or what to say.

You’re comfortable with being known and respected in your social circles. You’re the pastor, after all, and people value your perspective on everything from theology to politics to technology. Outside your context though, you’re a nobody. You have no credibility in foreign lands. You suspect this, of course, and choose to stay home.

Everybody knows that missions can be hard. In addition to language learning, thoughtful dialog, and cultural exegesis, required skills may include auto mechanics, carpentry, hunting- even self-defense. Your skill set doesn’t require getting your hands dirty. You’re more comfortable studying, preaching, leading meetings, finding the best deals on a book at Amazon.com, or managing multiple Twitter accounts. The difficulty of the mission frightens you.

So go ahead- preach about taking responsibility being a “real man.” Ridicule those who lead smaller churches or sing “sissy” songs to Jesus. Watch your Ultimate Fighting and mock anyone who disagrees with you. Your actions undermine your words. You’re afraid to be obedient in mission.

Fear, of course, is not of God. As believers, we’re not called to comfort, control, or to be the first among, well, anyone. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to lead your church to direct involvement in God’s global mission. You’re capable, you’ve got the resources, and you’ve been commanded to go.

What are you waiting for?

6 thoughts on “You’re Afraid

  1. Thanks for the honest reminder that we have all too often we “redefine the word “mission,” so that everything the church does somehow falls under this new, catch-all category…”

    May we all take a long hard look at ourselves, our churches, and repent for not assuming the going from the start. This is one of the paradoxes of faith: those who go are those who follow. And those who do not go are not following – Jesus anyway.

  2. I am a pastor who has spent quite a bit of time in missions, both in my home town, in Mexico, Latin America, and even in Morocco. I get your point, and don’t deny that some don’t get involved personally due to fear, but there are a lot of pastors who are actively involved in missions. Also a lot of pastors who are called to do exactly what they are doing exactly where they are doing it. This kind of sweeping generalization and accusation does not help, instead it alienates those who really care about the same things you care about. Shaming pastors into getting involved is not the way I see the Spirit moving believers. If there are pastors that you know struggling with the issues you raise I would think a humble discussion with them about your perceptions would be more effective than lobbing generic oracles over the internet.

    I could write a similar one to missionaries I know who are running away from life in their home country. That is obviously not the norm, but it happens.

  3. To all. Obviously, this post is a characterization that is meant to paint a picture of a big problem. Not every pastor in American is afraid to encounter missions and “get their hands dirty.”

    Jeff, I agree, there are many American pastors that are actively involved in missions. At the same time, I have never met one that was willing to sacrifice much of his church’s resources, including his own salary, for the cause of providing for people being sent out or current on the field.

    Being a missionaries is simply drastically different than being a pastor, but most of the pastors I have met in my missionary journey are more interested in reminding all involved that the “local church” (insert “them”), is the entity that should have the authority over missions (insert “missionaries”).

    It is time for American pastors to humble themselves to the difficult task of global missions by helping and encountering more workers to thrive as missionaries.

  4. Jeff,
    I apologize for offending you with this post. Clearly, I meant to exaggerate in order to communicate. I suppose I was going for a bit of irony- criticizing “manly-men” pastors by calling them sissies. Obviously, there are many pastors who effectively lead the way in missions, and there is plenty of fear on every side of the equation (writes the anonymous blogger).

    My point in all of this is to say that those Christian leaders who are leading their churches in active involvement are the ones who are truly courageous. I think they’re also the ones who spend less time talking about how missional they are and more time actually being on mission.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. Too late to the conversation and no one will read this except Eric. But there are NOT a lot of pastors doing missions. Especially 10/40 window, strategic, most needed missions type work.

    As a former M and now missions pastor I have worked with the IMB for over 10 years seeking to mobilize churches and pastors to do, not talk about, missions. The vast, vast, vast, majority will not do it. I am so glad for the Jeff’s, the David Platt’s, JD Greear’s and others out there doing it. These are true men of courage. BUT they are the huge, gigantic, minority.

    Jeff may be right in methodology but “encouragement is not moving pastors toward a biblical model for panta ta ethne.

    Eric your statements are correct. I like the bluntness of what you say. It needs to be said. We always act as though all pastors are really wanting to do missions and we need to simply encourage them in this direction. It is not true, the majority have zero to little desire to do missions. Like the pastor of a mega told my IMB friend “Show me how missions can grow my church and we will do it.” That is the norm not the exception. Eric press onward !

  6. Ken,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I agree that many pastors are not leading their churches to involvement in missions. I think your frustration might have to do with the pond you’re fishing in- the current SBC model is essentially outsourcing. Some pastors have had bad experiences with organizations like imb. Others are repelled by what seems to be a “You keep the money coming, we’ll get the job done” sort of attitude coming from the field. Not that these are valid excuses, though, for neglecting the mission.

    I would encourage you to find the few churches that ARE motivated and involved and put the spotlight on them. The Upstream Collective does a great job of this, and I’m happy to be part of that. A lot of time and energy is spent trying to motivate churches that don’t get it. I think a better solution is to build up those that do get it, few though they may be.

    By the way, I realize that it wasn’t the point of your comment, but I may not share your perspective on what is “strategic” or “most needed” regarding missions. I’ve written quite a bit about the “Missionary Task” and my belief that the “10/40 Window” is just marketing. I’d love to read your thoughts on that.

    Thanks again for your comment. I appreciate the work you do.

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