Something to Prove

So the Upstream Collective is leading another of its Jet Set Vision Trips, this time to Prague and Budapest. I encourage you to follow along over at the Upstream blog, and on Twitter under #js2011.

Vision Trip, or Missions Tourism?

But I want to mention something that the trip leaders aren’t likely to. Something that most field workers would like to say, if they weren’t worried about offending churches or losing partnerships or support:

Churches, you’ve got something to prove. And no pressure, but this might be your last chance.

See, missionaries on the field are skeptical of your supposed interest in the work. And not without reason.

Nevermind the Great Commission. It takes a celebrity to get you to come to the field. You’ve been ignoring the Holy Spirit’s guidance for years, but when Ed Stetzer or Michael Frost come calling, you’re all in. And what happens when the next trip is to Tokyo? You forget all about Prague, Budapest, and the missionaries you met there.

Which brings me to another point: Rome? Marseille? Barcelona? London? Paris? It’s not hard to find pastors who would be willing to sit around in coffee shops in these European cities. Try Bangkok or Mumbai– those cities will get you out of your comfort zones. If the goal is to challenge the way you see church, God, and mission, these are the cities you need to visit.

Let’s be honest, there have been some complaints about the attitudes of past Jet Set Trips toward the missionaries who hosted you. Kind of a know-it-all condescension. No doubt this comes from your “success” in planting and leading churches in the United States. But surely you recognize that “what works” back home doesn’t necessarily “work” in other contexts. Even if your methods did actually work here, the truth is that we really don’t want to import a spectator, resource-intensive, attractional American megachurch model. Setting up franchises is not our goal.

Missionaries around the world are watching these vision trips, looking on with curiosity and cynicism. They hear you say that you want to be actively involved in all aspects of the mission, from selection to training to strategy. But no matter what you say, those missionaries don’t believe you. The truth is that they haven’t actually seen churches doing those things (at least not very well, anyway). So forgive them if they’re a little jaded, but they’ve heard all this before. Now, they’re just looking for reasons to write you off.

So you see, dear pastor and church leader, you’ve got something to prove. You say you’re serious about God’s global mission, but we want to see it. We want to see you lead your churches to think and act like missionaries, so that when you do come to the field, you come as peers– partners on mission– rather than as consumers, shopping for the next big thing.

Everyone’s heard all about your “missional” approaches to ministry. About how you’re concerned with incarnation and contextualization. But it’s time to put up or shut up. If you’re truly serious about your role as sending and being sent, let’s see it. We want to hear you asking the difficult questions. Let’s have some informed discussion about world events. Let’s consider together how we might engage people in redemptive relationships and proclaim the gospel to all.

You want to be on mission? Prove it.

11 thoughts on “Something to Prove

  1. This is great. When we came back from 2 years in Europe, we noticed how arrogant American pastors/church planters sounded. It may not be their intention, but it’s how they came across to us as we went through culture shock. Great post. Can’t wait to see the dialogue.

  2. I feel horrible, but the truth is I don’t really want a group of people coming to my city in Europe being loud and obnoxious and judging my painfully slow ministry. I also have no idea what to do with people that don’t speak the language here. But that being said, I’ve met some really cool Americans too. I just prefer small groups that are willing to listen to us and lower their voices in public places.

  3. P. Smith,
    No reason to feel horrible. The “ugly American” should stay home.
    But you must know that the people who come on these trips with the Upstream Collective really are a different breed. We do our best to filter out the bad ones and only bring those who are serious about joining the work as full partners. These guys “get it,” and will actually be a blessing to your city and work. Being practitioners, though, they will certainly have opinions and questions. This isn’t judgement, it’s peers encouraging one another in ministry.
    We’ve all had bad groups come through. Jet Set vision trips aim to change that.

  4. I have seen what you have seen as well… but that “know-it-all condescension” can cut both ways. A pastor from America could just as easily cite examples of individual missionary arrogance.

    Let’s be careful not to encourage a “us and them” attitude. Let’s serve one another as we work together to see God’s kingdom come. None of us have all the answers… we need each other and should be members of the same family (if not the same local body).

    So, I think we missionaries have a lot to prove as well.

  5. Absolutely right, Tim!
    The relationship between missionaries and churches is one that needs to be carefully guarded and intentionally developed. It really is “us, God’s church” on mission, isn’t it?
    For all the missionaries watching the Jet Set Vision Trip, please know that the number of churches who think and act like missionaries is growing. In fact, Tim’s church is leading the way for sending churches. I’ll post more about that in the future.

    And for the Jet Setters and former vision trip participants- many missionaries are truly interested in partnerships that invite you to full participation in questions of strategy, sending, location, and cultural engagement.

    Thanks for the reminder, Tim!

  6. Good stuff. I am a missions pastor who also served as an m and I am just glad there is someone talking about churches and missions. I agree with Tim, it is both. We do what we call LTSE. Long Term Strategic Engagement so we love the idea of sticking with our UPG’s till for a long time. In our mobilization efforts for our UPG’s we have seen churches that just irritate us to no end. One trip and never to come back. I have also seen missionaries who simply want our money and really do not want us to engage in any of the work. So it is both. We look so forward to seeing what God does in both the churches and the field.

  7. Sorry, but I have nothing to prove…

    Although I can appreciate your thoughts I must say they are painted with a very wide brush. Surely you don’t hink I came to central Europe for coffee and tours. Try this, you have all types of attitudes and situations in the church and in the field (referring to the M’s.) We have all seen pastors and M’s knock it out of the park with their understanding and support and we have also seen both groups fail miserabley. For instance, I have been trying to connect with a company M in SE Asia for the last year and have basically been told “we don’t need you!” I have had 3 teams ready to travel for 50 hours to go as hard, deep, and as long in search of UUPG’s and this M (when he will even return an email) says “we’ve got it covered.” I have had this same thing happen from an M in Brazil. We always wind up sending our teams where they are wanted, but is discouraging that we want a long term partnership and the desire is not reciprocated.
    All this is to say, we are not the heroes and neither are the M’s. The only hero here is Jesus. We are all both the senders and the ones being sent. There is no us and them, just a single body under the headship of Christ. So…what is the answer?
    Deal with people by remembering they are people. Don’t paint with a broad brush. Know that some pastors (actually many pastors) have a heart that beats for the nations. Liberally extend grace and understand that sometimes there are uncontrollable, external factors that effect actions in spite of what is desired.
    Nope, I have nothing to prove to man…I have an audience of only one.

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