Most of the visits I get to my blog in the English version is thanks to a series of articles I wrote almost a year ago, called "When missionary organizations say jump". It's a series about what to avoid when becoming a missionary, and many have linked to it before, most notably, Marc.
I noticed now that there is no index in my blog for all the articles, so here it is:
I have seen ugly stuff concerning missionary work. From the missionary who works more for his own than for the kingdom of God, to the missionary agency who forces his missionaries to act in a colonizing way. I have seen churches disappear because the missionary organizations force their missionaries to change their path.
I have seen politics and deception used in the worst possible way. I have seen money wasted in incredible ways. I have seen missionaries create a culture apart of the place they are working in. And all this makes me sad. Makes me feel frustrated. So I really understand what Simon says here.
But, you know, all this is not a reason to quit. All this should fire us up, and make us want to do something about it. By something I don't mean to just criticize others and attack them, while I accept that there is some room for righteous criticism. But mostly, doing something about it is going and doing it the right way. Learn with the mistakes of the others, and search or the right way. In short, changing the world by example.
It's not time for us to quit. It's time for us to rise up and do the little we can to spread the kingdom of God where we are. To live Christ. To bread Christ. It's time for us to take a stand!
It's a sad fact that when someone becomes a christian, there is a process of changing his culture. And I am not talking of those few things that have to be changed because they go against the will of God. I'm talking about everything: The way you dress, speak, the kind of music, the activities, even holidays.
For example, here in Portugal, the music we use in church has no portuguese influence. They are the same used in USA, but translated. I guess this happens all over the world. Another example is mother's day. In Portugal it is celebrated in a certain day. But evangelicals, because of missionary influence, celebrate the mother's day in a different day. I could go on and on.
This may seem to small to be important, but the fact is that portuguese christians get to a point where they are no longer portuguese, but a mixture of portuguese with the traditions of the countries where the missionaries come from. That wouldn't be very bad, if it wasn't for the fact that they don't know how to relate to portuguese anymore. And how can we reach the ones we don't understand? It also makes the jump from non-christian to christian more difficult. People not only have to embrace Christ, but also this new christianized culture.
We need to be very carefull not to "colonize" countries when we go there as missionaries. We are not here to convert the culture. We are here to help people get closer to God, expand the kingdom of God, reach the oppressed and marginalized. We are here to love.
Marc just wrote an excelent article sumarizing my series of articles "When missionary organizations say jump". He did such a great job, that I had to mention it here. I mean, he just made my articles sound much better!
Once I read in this article a very funny answer to this question. It is one of the funniest things I have ever read since I wasn't expecting it. But then the best jokes are allways done just after you say something serious enough.
Well, what's a missionary? And you can forget about searching the bible for it: It's not in the lists of gifts and no one is called a missionary there. So, where do you go to find out what a missionary is? Well, you have to dig deep into the church tradition. Or maybe not so deep...
The concept of mission is understood everywhere in the modern church. A missionary is someone that goes to another country to plant a church. That's the basic concept. We call that embrionic church a mission. So, if missionaries are church planters, who planted churches in the early church? Well, that was the work of an apostle. So, reason would lead you to believe that missionary = apostle... But that's not exactly so.
The apostle was sent by a church. A missionary is sent by a missionary organization. The apostle supported himself financialy most of the time, the missionay is fully funded by the missionary organization. The apostle empowered people to follow Christ as a community, while the missionary most of the times creates a leadership that ministers to the "laity". The apostle left the church early in its development, even before there were leaders assigned, and so the community was given room to grow on their own. On the other hand, the missionary stays in the church until a leadership is fully developed, and in many cases, becomes the main pastor of the church.
I believe it's time to consider this differences. Why did the apostles plant churches that didin't need their presence to grow? And why do modern missionaries plant churches that depend on the "clergy" so much? Until we can answer this questions properly, we'll never be able to make a difference.
To end this interesting and grumpy series, I would like to speak about what should happen when everything works:
Joe gets vision, language knowledge, a correct basic understanding of the culture, spiritual preparation (some bible school may be part of it), financial support with no strings attached, and he goes to the place God showed him. When he gets there, he starts investing in people, being salt and light, creating relationships, integrating in culture, helping people in a genuine way. People start to embrace the kingdom of God, and a church is born.
The church grows (I'm not talking about numbers here), and becomes a real family, with everyone learning to follow Jesus in everyday life, discovering their gifts, practicing their gifts, ministering to each other. A real new testament kind of church. And then, the missionary becomes the full-time pastor of this church and creates a leadership to minister to the laity...
Well, if this was a podcast (audio article), in that last phrase you would listen to the vinil scratching. Wait a minute! The missionary becomes the leader? Creates a distinction between clergy and laity? The clergy ministers to people while they sit on their pews? Not in my Bible! And I would love to see anyone showing this happening in the new testament! Go ahead, give it a try.
When the church is planted, dear church planter, it's time to move on. It's time for that community to rise up and start walking on their own. If you did a fine job, the church will be just fine. A nice leadership will rise within the church, and they will be able to stand on it's own (keeping relationships with other churches, of course). If you fail to do so, even if you teached everyone to be a minister, they will see you as the special one, the leader above them. And that place belongs to Christ.
Do you want to know what happens to churches where the church planters stay as pastors? The church planter is seen as someone above, and people fail to minister one to another, they become dependent. That church will never be able to stand on its own, and they will have a crisis when the church planter retires/dies. Some people even call this kind of church planting colonialism.
Do the work, and then leave in proper time. That's the best gift you'll ever give them. One day, it will be time to go.
A rule I have learned with time is this: If you want to understand what kind of community a missionary will create, follow the money. Where does the money come from? What kind of churches or organizations are funding the mission?
Some people may say: No, if you want to know how the community will be like, you have to see the background of the missionary. Well, in my experience, as strange as it may sound, money speaks louder than the missionary tradition. If the missionary as a vision, and the ones funding have another, the missionary will be oscilating between the two, and end up being "convinced" or substituted.
Beware of money with strings attached, you may not like those strings. If some organization is sending you, they will tell you when to jump and how high, and you may not like the game. If for some reason the vision God gives you changes while you are in the mission field (and that will probably happen), you'll have no say on it. They will say jump and you'll have no option but to do it. And that will create great stress on you.
You want to have freedom in the way you plant churches? Get funded the opposite way. Discover where God wants to send you and what kind of church he wants you to plant, and then present the project to churches or people that might support you. And if it's not enough, get a job in the country you are going to. But do not accept money from people that will try to force their own vision on you. It's better to have to work in a secular job than to have to put up with the stress of pleasing people that don't have the same vision you do.
Why do you need this freedom? It's not so you can do your thing, it's so you can do what God really wants. Because you are the one in the field, you are the one that will start to understand what kind of strategy is needed. You are the one God will be dealing with. And you don't want to get to a position where you have two lords: God, and the missionary organization.
I have allready talked about the problem missionaries have in creating relationships. It happens mostly because they are not in the same places "normal people" are. They don't have a job, neither they have other easy way of meeting people.
To make matters worse, many of them create a different habitat for their own families. They hang out with other missionaries, they create special schools for their children, and in the end, they end up creating a habitat that looks like home.
The trap is easy to fall in. Missionaries need to be with other missionaries to share experiences, take a break from "the work". And without noticing it, they start creating their own neat world, like a bubble inside an hostile environment. The trap is in this: A truth that is streached until it becomes a lie. Missionaries do need to be with other people that are having the same struggles they are, but not to the point where they create a separate world just for them. Not to the point where they start seeing other missionaries as their community.
Have relationships with other missionaries, but beware of separating yourself from the real world. After all, that's the world you are trying to reach.
Christianity has everything to do with family, and nothing to do with business. It makes me sad when people forget all about it and start looking at mission work like if it were a business.
When I start earing language like "targets", "5 year plan", "percentage of efectiveness", "expected growth", I start geting all hitchy. Lighten up, people! That's not even in your hands! All you have to do is live in obedience to God. It's the Holy Spirit that works in people. And if you are doing your own plans, then you are on your own. God likes planning his own work. Maybe this is why so many missionaries and pastors get stressed, depressed, and run havoc.
And then there are meetings. And meetings. And more meetings. And they are all formal, all about objectives and planning, all boring. Where is the love? The relationships? Are we just a bunch of people that get together to make a project happen? Is that the only thing that connects us? If that's it, forget about results, you are allready a failure.
Get a life. No, really. A family life. Meet people, get to know them, create real relationships with the people involved. Love them. And when you get to a point where you are together independent from the "project", then you have conditions to start doing something. Imagine the project died, would you still be with them? Let me ask it in another way. Do you meet with others frequently just to hang out? Are those relationships self-preserving, or they exists only because of a project?