Saturday, April 01, 2006

Justification of Role

Every one justifies what they do. So, when my friend asked me last week in Serbia if I believed the day of North American missionary was over, my answer was probably self-serving. There is no question that what I did thirty years ago in Kenya isn’t what I would do today. Yet, there are many people still going to Kenya, and other places in the world, doing ministry that the national church should, and indeed are doing. I’m not sure there is any place in the world, where there is a strong Christian presence, that requires Americans to be involved in hands-on church planting. My self-serving belief is that Westerners should only be going to the field to be a resource for the national church. To be a good resource one should have the gifts and expertise to add value for what God is already doing throughout the world.

“The problem I see,” I continued, “is that mission organizations continue to send people to the field to either do pioneer work or as facilitators for the national church though they have no gifts in those areas of need.”

“If that’s, true,” he asked, “Why do agencies continue to send them?”

“It’s a combination of things. First, and foremost, the American church wants to be involved in global outreach. This is right and noble, even if it’s not always effective. Secondly, [admittedly a more sinister and uncharitable opinion] it’s an economic issue,” I replied. “With each support dollar a missionary raises the organization siphons off between 12 to 25 cents. Missions has become a business. Mission organizations don’t recruit people for a task; they recruit them to be a part of the grand scheme of world evangelization whether they have gifts for the task or not. If people were recruited for a specialized task, half of those on the field would have to come home. But everyone feels their job is essential because everyone justifies what they do.”

While this is true of faith organizations, which rely on field people for their operating budget, it is no less true of large organizations that have salaried personnel. I’m always amazed with those denominations that have tons of money but don’t seem to be any more effective than the mom-and-pop groups. I’ve met some of these salaried people who are as lost on what they should be doing as the independent franchisers.

If we recruited people for a task two things would happen. First, those serving overseas will be people with special and proven skills. Whether that skill is helping in organizational management, teaching (specialized subjects) or assisting in social development programs (micro-business enterprises, facilitating global English-medium based projects, etc.), a focused task skill will always be in demand. The numbers for such people are significant, though not enormous, which leads to the second development for task (purpose) driven missions – fewer people on the field and the death of many missionary-sending agencies.

Will there come a time when there will never be a role for Western missionaries? No. Because we are a part of the Body of Christ worldwide, we will always have a function. And, our role should certainly be more than just funding nationals. But to serve as an essential component of the Body, we need to continue to define what is our greatest contribution. Those of us who understand our role will always have a part to play, but then again, everyone justifies what they do.