Missions Misunderstood

Posted July 23rd, 2006 by E. Goodman

I’ve just finished answering D Birchfiel’s “Seven Questions.” You can read my responses at OKpreacher, assuming that he decides to post them. One of the questions he asks is, “What do you wish Southern Baptists knew about your ministry?” That was the most difficult question for me to answer; not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I had such a hard time narrowing it down to just one (or two…) That, of course, got me thinking about all that I wish the people that send and support me knew about missions in general, and our ministry specifically.

Here’s a list of things I wish you knew:

-We appreciate you. I know that there is no way I would be on the field if it wasn’t for your monetary support, and no way I’d be able to stay here without your prayers.

-Missions is not the same as evangelism. It seems like so many of us confuse the two. Missions is more than gospel proclamation, or even sharing Christ across cultures. It is about incarnational living that demonstrates what life in Christ might look like for people in the host culture. We call it cultural translation, and it’s hard to quantify.

-We cling desperately to emotional, financial, and prayer support that you have committed to us. When we hear about divisive arguing and politics among the people we depend on, it makes us nervous.

-We don’t send three-color printed brochure newsletters anymore. We blog. If you read our blogs, you can get a better idea of what life is like for us.

-We feel like dorks. We are a bunch of nobodies that God sent to other places. Sometimes I wonder if He wasn’t just sparing you from our presence in the States! It makes us uncomfortable that you would allow us to represent you on the mission field.

-We expect you to do the same thing we’re doing. Granted, most of you don’t have to learn a new language, but your job really is the same as ours. Only we have better medical coverage.

-God is working overseas. He’s doing amazing, supernatural things that constantly remind us of His presence and grace. We see it on a regular basis. Forgive us for not consistently sharing it with you, it’s just that sometimes we think you wouldn’t understand.

-We like when you ask questions about our work or otherwise show interest in what we’re doing. It reminds us that we’re part of a bigger family, and that our ministry matters to someone.

So I guess those are some of the things I wish you knew about our ministries. Now you know.

Filed under:Communication, Misunderstood Posted July 13th, 2006 by E. Goodman

It happens every week. The shiny silver saucer floats down the pew, picking up fingerprint smudges and wadded-up bills. Or maybe your church uses those velvet bags with the wooden handle horns that jingles with change and does cartwheels as it’s passed from hand to hand. We call it the “offering.”

You put in some money, 10% of your income, maybe more. Maybe less. You give some pocket change or a check, you might even use pink little envelopes that have your name pre-printed on them next to little boxes you can check if you read your Bible that week or brought a friend to church with you. You might give with joy, celebrating God’s provision. Maybe you give begrudgingly, out of duty or guilt or tradition. Or maybe you’re excited to give, knowing where the money is going and how it will be used.

Thank You.

Thank you for giving money to support us. I know it isn’t really us your giving to, but God. But without your gifts, we couldn’t be here. Without the faithful giving and cooperation of God’s people back home, we wouldn’t get to know the blessing of seeing God work in these different cultures. I have benefited from your generosity. I have been able to follow God’s lead in my life and represent you on the mission field. He is using your obedience and sacrifice to support mine. I understand that with your support comes great responsibility. I don’t deserve the funding I receive. I haven’t really earned the trust you put in me. But I know how important it is for me to be a good steward of that support, and to administer the money in a way that pleases God, and extends the Kingdom.

Thank you.

Filed under:Communication, Finances, SBC Posted July 13th, 2006 by E. Goodman

A few days ago, I took part in a great discussion about faith. A Catholic, an Atheist, an Agnostic, and I (sounds like the beginning to a bad joke) sat around a table in the smoking section of a cafe that was really too small to go to the trouble of designating “sections.” We took turns sharing what we believed, but mostly what we didn’t believe, and we let everyone speak their mind. After that, we sat in silence while we all processed how differently each of us approach and express our spirituality. The Catholic is religious, but hardly spiritual. The Atheist is spiritual, but in a soulful, dreadlocks and hemp poncho sort of way. The Agnostic is not so much religious as superstitious. As usual, I presented myself as spiritual but not religious. When I say it that way it makes me sound like such a rebel.

After the silence, the Agnostic (appropriately) asked us, “But how do you know?”

Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what she meant by the question. I guess I wasn’t the only one guessing, though, because we each took turns answering a different version of it.

“You know a religion is right for you when it is such an influential part of your family and cultural history,” the Catholic answered. “Common sense should give you some clues,” said the Atheist, accidentally sounding snobbish. “You just know,” was the only answer I could come up with. I immediately wished I had come up with something better, you know, more evangelistic.

But then I got to thinking, how do I know? Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Way to the Father. Salvation is found only in Him, and He came that we might have real life; I believe all of this to be true. But how do I know?

I know because I have been convinced by supernatural means. I believe something that is unbelievable because something unbelievable happened to me. I know I have been born again in the same way I know I was born physically. And I know because in Christ, I am not the person I would otherwise be. I know because God has opened my eyes to the spiritual reality.

The national language differentiates between two types of knowledge. One can “know” something in the factual sense of the word. I know where the bank is, I know my phone number, and I know how to drive a car. But there is also another type of knowing, one that explains one’s relationship with the subject. This type of knowing starts with an introduction and deepens in familiarity through time and experience. I know the store keeper. I know the city.

Next time I sit down with the group of friends, that’s the word I’m going to use, and that’s what I’m going to tell them. “You know…” I’ll say, “Ever since our talk about our faith a couple weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about that question…” And that’s when I’ll tell them how I know.

Filed under:Christianity, Evangelism, Holy Spirit Posted July 11th, 2006 by E. Goodman

Last week, we were visited by a church planting professor from one of our seminaries. He taught a seminar for some of the workers in our country as part of the IMB’s professor-exchange program. He shared church plating strategies and theories, and some basic principles from scripture.

I sent our Journeymen.

These girls have been great at building relationships and engaging the culture here. I’ve learned a lot from them about sharing life with people by publicly working out their faith. They are pioneers in relational church planting in Western Europe. Their experience makes them the experts; there really isn’t anyone who can teach them how to minister in this context. Unfortunately, these particular Journeymen don’t feel as though they know what they’re doing. They don’t understand that despite being young and not having seminary degrees, they are leading the way for cross-cultural missional church planting in the world. There aren’t any books written about it. There are no formulas, programs, or training materials to teach them how to do their jobs. They are learning by doing and having a great time on the journey.

The Journeymen came back from their time with the church planting professor very discouraged. It seems that the professor, who has tremendous experience and by nature of his position presents himself as an expert in all things church planting, questioned a lot of what the Journeymen were doing. His questions, of course, were coming from a perspective of no cultural insight, and no understanding of our team. He bullied them. Why weren’t they passing out Jesus films? he asked. Why were they just hanging out with nationals if that hadn’t worked yet? Why weren’t people coming to the Lord and churched being planted? Why don’t you just…?

On an academic level, these are good questions, and a good start to a discussion that needs to take place. When I met the professor for coffee the following week, we had a great conversation. But the girls still haven’t recovered from it. They are still questioning their ministries, and the direction of the team. “We’d hate to do it and our friends would hate us, but maybe we should be passing out tracts.” “What’s the point of doing relational ministry of it takes years and years to build a relationship in Western Europe and I’m only here for two or three?”

So now I’m trying to encourage them. The professor doesn’t know our context, I reasoned. Our strategy is not accidental, I remind them.

So now I’m convinced: seminary training doesn’t make us better church planters.

Filed under:Reflections, Uncategorized Posted July 1st, 2006 by E. Goodman

Despite the fact that people are always telling me that history is important, I’ve never really been a history buff. In fact, I learned nearly everything I know about history by watching Hollywood movies. I didn’t even know about the Apollo 13 thing until, well, Apollo 13. Forest Gump taught me about three Presidents, Elvis Presley, and the Black Panthers. Saving Private Ryan exposed me to the horrors of World War II… okay, so maybe Tom Hanks taught me all the history I know.

Anyway, I read something the other day about how a large percentage of the homeless population in the U.S. are veterans of the war in Vietnam. Many of them came home after the war and were never able to integrate back in to American life and culture; at least not enough to hold down a job and support a family. I guess it would really change a person to be recruited by his country (or worse still, drafted) into the military, trained to kill people and blow things up, and sent off to fight Asian Communists. I can’t imagine how war must affect a person. But I don’t think that war is the only reason we can still find veterans walking down the middle of the street talking to themselves in obscenities at three o’clock in the morning. I think it’s America’s fault.

I think that Americans weren’t really all that into the fight against communism in the first place, and when President Johnson sent all those boys to Vietnam, the country was indifferent. While they were gone, Americans decided they were against this unwinnable war, and began to resent it. They protested against it. And when the boys came back they weren’t welcomed with the ticker-tape parades like the heroes of WWII. No, they were showered with shouts of “Baby Killer!” and other mean things. No wonder the soldiers didn’t fit in when they got back. They did exactly what they were trained and sent to do, and when they got home, we blamed them.

Sometimes it seems like that same sort of thing happens to missionaries.

Now I would never even consider comparing the experience of a soldier fighting in a physical war to what we go through on the field. Especially not those of us in Western Europe. The comparison I’m making is not to the effects of the battle, but to the necessity of support from those who sent us, and the profound effects of anything less than total support.

My recruitment to work for the IMB began when I was four years old. It was a denominational program called “Mission Friends,” and we were taught about brave IMB missionaries who left their homes and went to live among the primitive tribes of Guatemala or wherever. My missions education continued throughout my life: Royal Ambassadors, Sojourners, Centrifuge. They told me what missions was, and how it was done.

So I “enlisted.” I felt God’s calling and made the decision to enter “full-time ministry,” whatever that meant. I went to a Baptist University for training, and then on to Seminary. Both trained me well in the ways of church planting, Bible scholarship, and cross-cultural communication. The IMB put me through a crash-course orientation, and I was off to the “Foreign Field.”

We hit the ground running. We sought out Persons of Peace and worked to learn the language and engage the culture. We started groups and shared our faith. And it affected us. We worked to live out our faith in this foreign context, and it changed us. Doing what we were sent to do had the side effect of allowing us to see ourselves from another perspective. We found it harder and harder to relate to the fat, lazy American Christians and their fat, lazy American Christianity; so full of themselves and their politics and their megabuildings. We began to resent being sent by religious people that wanted us to set up American franchise churches and who threw money at us to “just do our jobs.” We grew frustrated with the increasingly restrictive rules that they imposed without any regard for the impact those rules might have on our ministries. We are becoming jaded.

It wasn’t until the first time I returned to the States on vacation that I realized that the churches, those same people that cheered us on and prayed over us at our appointment, had changed, too. New missions trends, theories, and ideas had swept through the Christian subculture, and the focus had moved on to different unreached people groups. Missions-minded churches were still sending volunteers, but they craved something more “extreme.” Some churches focused only on local “missions,” buying into the idea that overseas ministry is only for rich megachurches. The majority seems to think that by getting involved in IMB politics and trustee antics they are somehow supporting us and furthering the kingdom work. The churches sent us, and then for whatever reason, forgot us.

Now missionaries compete with other missionaries for support. We talk up our flashy new programs to try to get volunteers to come to us and not to Central Asia. We tell stories of how hard it is here to legitimize our work, to prove to you that we, too, are doing real missions. We print up professional-quality prayer cards to attract your attention to our photo on your refrigerator.

Filed under:Missions, Misunderstood, Subculture Posted June 25th, 2006 by E. Goodman

For the last few days, I’ve been reading about Jesus in the Gospels. (I got the idea from Mentanna) I’ve been thinking about how all followers of Jesus see Him through their own cultural lenses. All of them. And I’m struck by the idea that our different interpretations of Jesus can be so, well, different.

Reading just the Gospels has challenged my perspective on Jesus. If you read about Jesus without reading the rest of the Bible (not that we should…), you would likely get, well, a different Jesus. You might get a Jesus who is:

Pro-taxes (Render unto Caesar…) Matthew 22:21Concerned about helping the needy (Especially widows and orphans) Matthew 25:40Anti-violence/war (Turn the other cheek) Matthew 5:39Anti-religion (Rebuked religious leaders) Mark 12:38-40Concerned with Personal Health (Healed the sick) Mark 8:22Against Unethical Capitalism (Money-changers in the Temple) Matthew 21:12Remained in the Jewish tradition (His religion was Jewish, not Christian) Matthew 12:35Made and Drank Alcohol (Cana Wedding) John 2:1-11Grace instead of Judgement: Luke 6:36-38Forgiveness over Justice: Luke 6:28-30Told stories instead of preaching sermons: Matthew 13:34Left the meaning unclear: Mark 10:4-11

Never planted a church…

This Jesus would be called a “Liberal” by some believers today.

Anyway, just an observation. I understand that we should look at all of Scripture, but I’m wonder how much of the “Christian religion” is based on the teachings of Christ.

Filed under:Christianity, Definitions Posted June 22nd, 2006 by E. Goodman

Last weekend, I sent my Jman girls to Madrid for a church planting class taught by a visiting seminary professor from the states. They said that they really liked what the teacher had to say, but that they came away discouraged, feeling like he didn’t approve of our team’s strategy as they shared it with him. Now, he’s invited himself to visit our team’s house church time next week.

Now I’m feeling defensive. Is he coming to confront us about the direction of our work? Why would he want to sit in on our worship time? We don’t really invite others to come along, so it will be strange, anyway.

Filed under:Reflections, Uncategorized Posted June 22nd, 2006 by E. Goodman

The guys in boy bands aren’t usually friends that grew up together, singing barber-shop quartet songs on the street corner for tips. No, they are strategically selected by professionals through shopping mall casting calls that attract thousands of talented applicants. 23 seconds to prove you’ve got the right stuff, and then “Next!”

“We’ve got the ‘Bad’ boy, the sporty one, the funny one, the good dancer… We need the cute one!”

In a lot of ways, putting together a church planting team with the IMB is a similar process. We know what we want before we know who we have. Our time on the field and Spirit-led strategy tell us what sort of team we need on the field. A strong self-starter. Someone with administration skills. At least one who is gifted in evangelism. A couple that can lead us in prayer. In our minds, we put together the perfect church planting team designed specifically for the location, culture, and strategy. Like a missionary boy band. We write personnel requests for each of the positions and then let the organization handle the selection process.

Which is good until my “Already has the language, gifted in teaching, experienced graphic designer.” request is filled with a “Willing to learn the language, gifted encourager, slightly interested in design” applicant. Hey, we can only send people who apply. Then there’s that balance: Someone with experience, but not so much that they come in thinking they’ve got all the answers. Young, but not immature. Outgoing, but not annoying. Flexible, but reliable. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would look like if I could put together my “dream team.” Guess what? It would look a lot like the team I’ve got now. Here’s an example of who I’m looking for right now:

ISC Couple. (Career workers are over-rated and expensive)
Age: 28-34 (Young, but not too young)
From: California (Outside the Bible belt, with postmodern worldview)
Children: None (Hard to go out all night with kids)
Education: University, Graduate School (People here are highly educated)
Abilities: Language, team player, Cultural adaptation (Basically, someone with a head start)
Experience: Three years teaching in public schools. Published author, songwriter. (“Secular” experience, artistic/creative)
Spiritual Gifts: Teaching (discipleship), Encouragement (team maintenance)

You might look at the profile I’ve written and say, “Yeah, we’re all looking for them to be on our team. But I’d like to add a couple of things. I’m looking for someone who fits the above criteria and:

Doesn’t think drinking is wrong. This almost always results in what I like to call “condemnation evangelism.” We need people who aren’t so totally overwhelmed by the sin of the people that they can’t see, well, the people. Sin is flaunted in front of us, but we have to be able to recognize and appreciate the good things this culture has to offer, and to be able to learn from these people.

Isn’t worried about their “witness”: The fact of the matter is that here in Europe, you don’t have a witness. That you don’t drink, smoke, or use certain words does not communicate anything, especially to people that do not see these things as bad. People don’t see Jesus in you for what you don’t do.

Enjoys the adventure: Every day on the field is different. We love to find people that don’t just wait for things to become “normal,” but are open to trying new things, meeting new people, and loving every minute of it. People can tell if you don’t want to be here. It makes them not want to be around you.

Humble in self, confident in Christ: Everyone that comes to the field comes to the point where they have to give up. We’d like to have someone who already has. In a foreign language, you don’t have a personality, much less a sense of humor. When people have to put a lot of effort into understanding you, it makes you feel stupid. We need folks that are okay with making fools of themselves every day. Sometimes twice a day, just for good measure. They need to have the confidence in Christ that will motivate them in spite of that.

Fun to be around: Sure this one is hard to quantify, but who wants to work with a guy that has no personality? Or someone that takes themselves too seriously? We’re looking for people who are interesting, fun, and know how to tell stories. We want the couple that makes you feel good about yourself when you’re around them; like you’re not a weird missionary.

To me, a couple of people like the one I’ve outlined here would make for the perfect church planting team. If you are the person I’ve described, send me an email…

Filed under:Missions, Strategy, Team Posted June 20th, 2006 by E. Goodman

This post was going to be about the “Saviors.” I was going to write about the well-intentioned missionaries who come to the field thinking that their arrival somehow brings salvation to whatever unreached people group they have selected. The ones who feel needed, in my opinion, are missionaries that do not belong on the mission field.

I know. I know. Some of you were hoping for a post called “The Bloggers.”

In what has proven to be too long a story arc, I have outlined two “types” of missionaries that I think should not be on the mission field. These were taken from my personal experience. Some readers have anticipated the big reveal I hinted at in the first post: the Professional, the Lifer, and even the “Savior-complex” missionary that shouldn’t be on the field is me.

On a regular basis, I am tempted to try to make this ministry to which God has called me into a career. The Board hired me as a “Career Missionary,” and with that comes some pressure to professionalize what amounts to obedience. Sometimes it’s out of pride: “Hey, I’m special. Not just anyone can do this job.” But usually it’s out of the awkward embarrassment I feel when someone asks, “So, what do you do?” So much of my identity is wrapped up in my answer that question that I feel this constant need to justify the fact that I receive money to tell people about Jesus. But my time on the field has taught me that church planting is not a job, but a calling. It’s an intentionality that the churches back home graciously underwrite. But then I go to a meeting or write a new personnel request, and I slip right back into the professionalism that only serves to separate me from nationals and other believers.

I am very much a product of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mission Friends. Royal Ambassadors. Centrifuge. God called me to cultural translation of the gospel when I was in high school. By the time I graduated I had decided my career path: I was going to be a missionary. So here I am, a Lifer with the IMB. Because of my exclusively Southern Baptist education, I am not qualified for any “real” job. I am extremely grateful for the support of the organization that sends and maintains me, but I have become fully dependent upon the Board for everything that I have. Housing. Stipend. Insurance. I couldn’t begin to answer the question of what I would do or where I would do it if I weren’t doing this. Unfortunately, such dependence sometimes breeds complacency. I know what’s expected of me, and there are times I’m tempted to do only that.

My motivation for being here changes pretty regularly. There are times when
I pity the people around me here, but not in a good way. On a really bad day, I have caught myself feeling very superior. As if the reason for the lostness here is that the people are too stupid to find Jesus, and it’s such a good thing that I’ve finally arrived to set the straight. My savior complex should disqualify me from service.

This “series” began as a journal entry. I was venting my frustrations with some coworkers, and dreaming of building the “perfect” church planting team. I was writing about the Professionals, the Lifers, the Saviors, and the Whiners (don’t ask) when I was convicted of being and doing those same things that I resented so much about my fellow missionaries. I’ve come to believe that many of the characteristics that mark “someone who shouldn’t be here” aren’t brought to the mission field, they’re picked up here. Sometimes we’re tempted by laziness, other times by pride; all of them, I think, are defense mechanisms for dealing with our strange lives.

I really am convinced that not all believers belong on the mission field. Not everyone is cut out for it. I’m intrigued with that idea, because in never really occurred to me. And though I have known coworkers that have exhibited some of these same characteristics and, I suspect, struggled with these same attitudes and tendencies, I realize that judging them is the Pot calling the Kettle black.

Filed under:Missions, Strategy, Team Posted June 16th, 2006 by E. Goodman

I was home from college for summer break, and our pastor began a sermon series on the book of Romans. When I returned home for Christmas, he was on chapter 2. I’m convinced that’s why our church wasn’t Calvinist. I never thought I’d post a “series” of posts. I guess I’ve never had a single coherent thought that would call for it. (Not that I do now, mind you.) But here I am, posting what will be part three of my “Some of Us Shouldn’t Be Here” “Series.” How many parts does “Left Behind” have?

If the Professionals are the most visible missionaries that shouldn’t be on the field, the Lifers are the most common. Imagine a person who grows up in the American Christian subculture: youth group, visitation, mission trips, Sunday School. He responds to the invitation to consider “Full-time Christian Service.” Twice. When it’s time to go to college, he chooses a fine Southern Baptist institution, and majors in missions. Then he’s off to seminary for the MDiv. He takes his first pastorate at the age of nineteen, marries at twenty, and has three kids by the time he reached the IMB’s minimum age requirement of 24. He makes contact with a Candidate Consultant, answers all the questions right, and is appointed for missionary service. He prayerfully selects the field to which God is calling him from the Board’s list, and the next thing he knows, he’s on the ground as a career missionary. In many ways, he’s prepared for this his whole life: he has the degree, the “experience,” and the endorsement of his home church. He’s a Lifer.

I call them “Lifers” because while these folks actually worked very hard to get to the mission field, they only do just enough to stay on the mission field. Their label comes from the fact that if they can just stay beneath the radar, not draw too much attention, they can be supported by churches back home for life. Never mind that they don’t have the gifting, people skills, or work ethic to be church planters. Ignore their inability to detect differences between their host culture and the American culture they miss so much. Overlook the fact that they don’t have any friends back home, either. We, the Convention, called them to full-time service through our altar calls and missionary slideshow guilt trips. There is great need, and they answered the call.

Sure there are drawbacks. Separation from family. Monthly Ministry Reports. No Dr. Pepper. The whole “living in a foreign country” thing. But for lifers, it’s worth it. You get paid to do… well, no one is sure what it is you do, exactly. Great insurance. A month’s vacation. And a hero’s welcome every time you’re home on furlough.

Besides, you can stock up on brownie mix and your favorite jeans on your next stateside assignment.

Lifers shouldn’t be on the field because they may or may not have heard God calling and then they quit listening. They have the Board to maintain them in a strategic place where they live in permanent survival mode. They’re content. Fat and happy. Apathetic, even. But this is what they are. If they weren’t missionaries, what would they be? What would they do?

Lifers love to suffer for Jesus. If nationals don’t like them, they count it as persecution. Their loneliness is due to the “soil being hard,” not their abrasive, annoying personalities. They blame not knowing anyone in their city on “Things are slow here,” instead of the fact that they tell the same stories over and over. Hey, it wasn’t that funny the first time. They sign their prayer newsletters with subtle lines like “Blessedly Tired,”or “Joyfully Busy,” just to let you know how much missionary stuff they’re doing. Their reports reveal how much they dislike and distrust the people they’ve been sent to work with.

Lifers shouldn’t be on the field, but they are. And they will be long after I’m gone. They’re in this thing for the long haul. For them, being missionary isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Filed under:Missions, Strategy, Team