Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Passion Without Purpose

“I understand the big picture, but what do I do on Tuesday?”

Though not many will verbalize it, that’s what many missionaries say each week, all over the world. They go to the field with a deep commitment for the BIG PICTURE, i.e. taking the Good News to those who have never heard and establishing churches. After they raise their support and get on the field they find themselves frustrated. They’re lost and don’t know what to do. Their daily lives are filled with just living on the field (learning a new language, trying to find their role in ministry, surviving daily in a land that will never be home). They wake up on Tuesday morning and ask “I’m not sure why I’m here?”

Why the frustration? One reason is that they really don’t have a role on the mission field. They have a passion, but it’s not matched with a clear defined purpose.

This may come as a surprise to some, but volunteer work (and that really is what a missionary is, a volunteer) depends on two things – First, a need and second, someone qualified to fill that need. In today’s mission world the need for North American missionaries is not the same as it was thirty years ago, not even five years ago.

What are the needs of countries such as Costa Rica, Sweden, Bulgaria or Cambodia? I can tell you what is not needed, North American church planters. In each of those countries there are churches and there are Christian leaders who are capable of handling the BIG PICTURE in their own land. Granted, in some nations the churches are small, they all probably have doctrinal problems and the percentage of evangelicals are in decline, but they are nevertheless the church of their own place. Being weak does not constitute a need for North American church planters.

Missiologically, bringing in a foreigner, who in most cases will need a minimum of two years to function in a different language, is a waste of human and financial resources. If the BIG PICTURE is to reach the nations, even if the country was saturated with expatriates, twenty years later the countries of the world would hardly be touched. Though this is a self-evident truth, North American churches and sending agencies continue to appoint people to go to the field and do PIONEER church planting. The well meaning missionary arrives on the field and soon realizes that he is at best redundant, at worse he is irrelevant and on Tuesday he asks the question once again, “Why am I here?”

In looking at NEED, the most effective role North American’s can play on the mission field today is that of a specialist, people who have the skills that can used in the role of a FACILITATOR.

By definition, facilitation is, “the process of making something easy or easier.” A facilitator is somebody who aids or assist in a process, especially by encouraging people to find their own solutions to problems or tasks.” What does the church in China need? An outsider to establish a congregation or someone to facilitate the church in China to reach it’s own goals in evangelizing their nation? I would argue for the latter.

FACILITATORS are people who have a specific talent to do specific tasks. They may be computer experts developing a network system for a National church or school; a research specialist to help identify the unreached cities and peoples of the country; an experienced businessman to help in create micro-business enterprises or a health care worker to help fight the battle of AIDS. Though the job description may be varied, the crucial question for the FACILITATOR is to find the area of need and then fill that need.

How to determine NEED will be discussed next time.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

It's Not Just About Money

I sat down in my pastor’s office while he was on the phone. There was a stack of missionary letters on the corner of this desk, so I thumbed through them while waiting for him to finish his conversation. I was struck by the one common theme in each letter, money.

Please pray about: Tickets back to the field, $4,500…$750 monthly support still needed…purchase of land, $30,000…$2,000 for computer and printer.” All legitimate needs. All, probably, worthy of support. What struck me was that seemingly, EVERY letter had a plea for money.

The most difficult aspect of missionary/pastor relationship is over the issue of money, and that’s tragic. Pastors, who are generally friendly and outgoing people in a non-formal setting, get weird when they see a missionary at a fellowship meeting (one reason I stopped going to them), because missionaries, if they don’t have their hand out, will have their calendar out trying to book a meeting. And, though everyone knows the reason missionaries are on the road is to seek the limited funds available for the work we have been “called” to, it’s sad that that our relationship seems to be around only dollars.

I was on the east coast last week and made an appointment with a supporting pastor. He told me that if I was ever in his part of the world to stop by and I took him up on it. This pastor is both gracious and generous, and was kind enough to provide lodging for me as well as supper. He showed me around his church and talked about his vision and which is truly impressive. I’m not sure what he was expecting, but I told him I was not there to hit him up for money, did not really talk a lot about our ministry other than my philosophy of missions. My real reason for visiting him was an unconditional thanks for his partnership.

To my missionary colleagues, I understand your struggle as raising support is the necessary evil of our profession. Though dollars are important, our greatest need on the mission field cannot be solved by additional support. I desire people who know me and really know the ministry I am involved in. I wish for people who will read my newsletters and not be afraid that the only thing they will see is monetary considerations. I long for partners to share in the ministry, not just support the ministry. Perhaps if we change our attitude of what missions is about we will find the equality of ministry that we long for.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Special Birthday

It was a Friday afternoon and Rev. Gilbert Thomas stood before the final assembly of the Vacation Bible School at the Bible Baptist Church of Gardena, California.

“Boys and girls,” pastor Thomas said, “two thousand years ago Jesus was hanging on the cross. He looked up into heaven as He was dying and said, ‘Father, I’m dying for…’” Pastor Thomas paused and looked down on the children in the church and said, “You can put y our name right there kids, for Jesus died just for you.”

When the invitation was given I stepped forward, along with my brother and my cousin. At the age of eight one wonders if a decision of that magnitude is valid. My brother is convinced that his salvation did not take place until over thirty years later. I have no idea about my cousin or the countless other kids that went forward that day, I can only speak from myself.

It was fifty years ago, August 19, 1955 that I embraced Jesus as my Lord and my Savior. I started my journey well. I remember running home and hugging my mom in the kitchen proudly declaring I was “saved.” I remember my first real Bible and how I had underlined almost every verse with dark blue ink, as every word was real and important to me. I went through a “prodigal” season and, like Peter, denied I ever knew Him. But even in my most rebellious days, I never forgot that August day. As a returning son in 1967, the reunion to my first love was nearly as wonderful as that day as an innocent eight-year old boy.

Tonight, alone with my thoughts in a motel room far away from family and friends, I reflect on that day. That summer day, fifty years ago, seems like another lifetime, yet, in other ways it feels just like yesterday. I have no way of knowing if that was the day I was redeemed, but it was the day I said, “Father, Jesus died just for me, and today I want to come and tell you that I’m sorry He had to go to the cross and I want to be a Christian.”

They say that when one comes to Christ there is rejoicing in heaven. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I wonder tonight if there is also rejoicing on spiritual birthdays? Happy birthday to me.