Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Challenge for the Non-Residential Missionary

When I determined, back in the late ‘80’s, that as a resident missionary (RM) I had accomplished much of what I set out to do (plant churches, disciple believers and establish a training institution), I began praying and thinking about what my future role would be in missions? In seeking the advice of the Missions Director of my organization on possible mission opportunities he was of absolutely no help. His advice to me was, “Well, I guess you can come back to the states and be a pastor of a church.”

Number one, I had been a pastor in the U.S. prior to becoming a RM and found that pastoring was not where I was gifted. Number two, I found my niche as a cross-cultural worker and once a person experiences fulfillment and job satisfaction they are not looking to settle for something less. Being a pastor in the U.S. meant, in my mind, going back serving in a community where if half the churches in that city died tomorrow God would still have an adequate witness. I had embraced the vision of taking the Gospel where Christ had not already been named lest I build on another man’s foundation (Rom. 15:20). Returning to the states to pastor was not an option.

One of the reasons some RM’s do indeed opt to return to do ministry in the states is that financially it is their only recourse. (I know some are prone to say they could return and get a “real” job in the “real” world. Thus are the thoughts of people who do not value vocational ministers of any kind). In hindsight I could have served cross-culturally working among the many people groups living in the U.S., or served as a missions pastor in an established congregation. As it turned out, I was given opportunity to train potential RM’s, which over the years, has evolved into my present role as a NRM. Most of my ministry today is teaching and training national church planters and instilling in them the vision of taking the message of Christ cross-culturally in their own country and region.

Though there will always be a need for the RM, some will never leave the field even if their presence is no longer needed. New missionaries going out today are compelled to be RM’s because of one crucial reason…FINANCES. In the mind of the American Christian they still believe that missionary work is only valid if the person lives overseas. Even working among people groups in the U.S. is not considered real missions. If a person is physically sitting in a mud hut along with the natives he or she is deemed an authentic missionary. If, however, a NRM, who at one time sat in those mud huts but now serves as a consultant and teacher to the leaders of the national church, they are not perceived as a legitimate missions project. Funding is best maintained if they remain on the field as RM’s even if they are ineffective or not needed.

Those who claim the role of a NRM are few. Not everyone who takes a short-term trip overseas should assume the title of a NRM. Those who have embraced the work of NRM’s are most often missiologists as well as scholars who know the context of the people with experience and a certain expertise born out of their time as RM’s. NRM’s are neither franchisers nor chief’s…they are facilitators in the truest since of the word.