Missions Misunderstood

Posted May 19th, 2008 by E. Goodman

Several people have asked about what’s next for me. The truth is, I don’t know. I still don’t know what I’m going to do for a living after we arrive in the U.S. Sure it sounds irresponsible and immature to up and leave a perfectly good job and regular paycheck for, well, nothing, but I am.

I am and I’m not.

For those of you who know me (and some of you know me, but don’t know that you know me…), it will come as no surprise that I have been working on a new thing. I’m really excited about getting a real job and being a regular person (you know, rather than a missionary), but I’ve also been working with some colleagues on a new initiative to get churches more directly involved in missions.

I’ve written quite a bit about the centrality of the local church to missions, and the current trends that conspire to keep her on the sidelines. Everywhere I turn, I’m finding people and churches who are looking for a more biblical missiology and a better way to do missions.

upstreamlogo-thumbnail-2300072 That’s why we started the UpStream Collective, a small group of missional leaders who are committed to training churches to develop innovative strategies for incarnational missions in Europe. This is not a new sending organization. It’s not a business, or even a ministry (in the traditional sense). We’re just a group of (former) missionaries who are looking for ways to share what we’ve learned on the field with people back in the States.

We’re going to focus on four things:

abouteuropelink-thumbnail-2511365 The “About Europe” Meetings: This summer, we’re taking a road trip. We’re asking friends in several cities across the country to host small get-togethers where we’ll talk about the church’s role in missions, and share some practical ideas for engaging people with the gospel. If you’re interested, please check out the “About Europe” website.

skybridgelink-thumbnail-6587176 Skybridge Community: There are lots of believers who live and work in Europe, but aren’t “missionaries” because they have real jobs. Because they’re not part of the missions sending system, many of them don’t have any kind of support (spiritual, emotional, prayer, help, etc.) that they need. We’re going to connect churches who are serious about missions with expatriate professionals in Europe who are serious about missional living. For churches with few resources, this is a great turnkey strategy for immediate missions engagement.

jetsetlink-thumbnail-7279863 Jet Set Trips: A couple times a year, we’re leading a vision trip to Europe. A few days in a European city is all you’ll need to get a clear understanding of the postmodern, post-Christian spiritual reality there. What’s more, it will give you a unique insight into what the U.S. will look like in just a few short years. Participants will see the sights, talk to the people, and explore innovative ways to develop and coordinate strategic missional work among the unreached.

missionsmisunderstooflogo-thumbnail-8273916 Missions Misunderstood, the Book: Okay, so that’s not exactly what it will be called, but we are working on a couple of books, and we plan to continue blogging. We are committed to promoting dialog about missions, and to sharing ideas freely with all who might be interested. We’re going to organize several campaigns geared toward churches getting more directly involved in missions.

Tags: book, future plans, UpStream

Filed under:Reflections, Training, Uncategorized Posted May 15th, 2008 by E. Goodman

I’m not the sensitive emotional type. I never cry at weddings. I hate romantic comedies. I think that pictures of babies in flower pots should be considered cruelty. I don’t save souvenirs, birthday cards, or mementos.

As I pack up to leave the field, I’m experiencing this strange sensation- emotion. Everything I do is taking on a new meaning (“this may be the last…”). I’m hyper-sensitive to the uniqueness of the sights and smells. I have a new-found desire to take it all in, to enjoy my final moments here.

It might just be coffee with milk, but you can’t get anything like it in the U.S. I’m watching the European league soccer finals on TV here, yet I feel so close, so involved. I don’t want to lose that. The man at the kebab shop. The cashier at the store. My friends, neighbors, and the familiar strangers I see in the city every day. I don’t want to forget them.

So I’m taking it all with me. I’m taking pictures of mundane things like street signs, sunsets, rooftops, and advertisements. (I actually stole a menu from my favorite coffee shop!)

As I go, I’m wondering whether it’s made a difference at all that I’ve been here. I don’t imagine that the city will be any different after I’ve left. But all of the things that were so strange to me when I came here now seem to mean so much.

I’m mourning the loss of what was my life in Western Europe.

Tags: leaving, saying goodbye

Filed under:Personal, Reflections, Uncategorized Posted May 12th, 2008 by E. Goodman

In the comments section of my last post Now Tell Us How You Really Feel, a reader asked about some of the details of my transition from the field back to the United States. In the past, I haven’t written as much about these sorts of details; partly to protect my anonymity, and partly out of my belief that we tend to focus too much on these details and not enough on the theory behind them.

“now that you are leaving the organization, and leaving the country where you serve, what will happen to the people whom you have worked with (the nationals) and what are you leaving them to go on with (the big ‘reproducibility question)?

Back in January, I wrote Nothing To See Here, Folks, a post about the intangibility of our relational ministry here. The fact that we only have relationships (not programs), means that my leaving only affects those people with whom I have spent time over the last couple of years. I really don’t see my move as “leaving” anyone, though. I plan to stay engaged in redemptive and discipling relationships with my friends from a distance. I have already planned my first return trip back here in the Fall.

I do wish that we were further down the road in terms of seeing a church established. It would be a thousand times better if I could leave friends with the support of a strong network of national believers. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As I leave, I am struggling with the discrepancy between what I hoped to accomplish (God through me) and what I actually accomplished (not much, apparently). This weighed heavily on the timing of my decision to leave. To be honest (and really, why not?) , I suspect that this sense of guilt has kept me here on the field well past the time I knew I should leave.

“who is going to continue your work once you leave? is your team strong enough to keep the momentum going? have you all picked a new team-leader?”

As I mentioned above, I plan to continue (in one form or another), the work I started here. Our team is a different story. I’ve spent the last year or so working with some of my teammates to develop their strategies and thus help them reach a certain level of independence (strategically speaking). Due to circumstances beyond our control, the entire IMB team here will be leaving this summer. Work here is set to resume after the first of next year, and I doubt that my strategy (arts, social action, culture exchange) will be implemented by those who come behind me.

“do you feel that God has led you from point A to point B to point C, but may eventually lead you back to point B (at some point)? that asks a lot of you with regards to the will of God, but i’m just curious.”

My answer to this question sort of depends on what you mean by “back to point B.” If point B is where I live now (well, for the next two weeks), then my answer is yes, absolutely. But if by “point B” you were referring to the organization from which I am resigning, then I’m my answer would be no, not likely.

I’ve always seen this whole thing as a big adventure. I am pursuing what I believe to be God’s direction for my life, and while I often second guess His leadership (behind his back, of course), I’ve learned not to doubt His provision and sovereignty through it all. When I left the States for Western Europe, so much was unknown. I was in the (desirable) position of having to totally and completely depend on God. He was my only stability. Now that I’m moving back to the U.S., I happily find myself in that same situation.

Tags: continuing the work, leaving, moving, Team

Filed under:Ministry, Reflections, Relationships, Team Posted May 6th, 2008 by E. Goodman

I’d like to thank everyone who’s sent emails and comments in support of our move. I’m not sure what it means when people seem to be glad you’re leaving, but I’m going to take it as an encouragement.

One thing that many people are asking is whether I’m going to really let someone have it in a blog post now that I’m leaving the organization. One friend wrote, “So are you going to let loose on your blog now that you’re free?”

I think I know what they mean. When I’m out from under the Board’s authority, I shouldn’t have any inhibitions about writing a negative post about my former employer. The thing is, I have boldly expressed myself about the things that have bothered me about the organization and about missions in general. I don’t have to “let loose” now, because I’ve used this blog as an outlet for years now. Maybe I’ve tried to be diplomatic about it, but I’ve freely expressed my thoughts, questions, and ideas regarding my organization, co-workers, and denomination. My conscience is clear.

The longer I’ve been on the field, the more uncomfortable we’ve become with our missionary system. I’ve written about that at every turn along the way.

In I posted my concerns about narrowing parameters in the Southern Baptist Convention, and questioned whether or not there was still room for me here:

Some bloggers are asking whether we’ve gone too far in restricting the parameters of who is “in” and who is “out.” Others are insisting that we haven’t gone far enough. Through all of the discussion, the boundaries are drawn and redrawn, and I get the feeling that I’m no longer welcome. I can’t help but wonder, “Is there still room for me?”   -Is There Room For Me? 2 October, 2006

Way back in December of 2005, about finances in the organization, I wrote:

People are tired of sacrificially giving their hard-earned money to a faceless corporate institution that both defines “the Task” and measures its own progress in fulfilling that task. “It’s going to cost us $800 million for us to finish the task,” the organization might say. But beyond that, there is no real accountability as to how the money is spent or even as to where the financial figures come from.    -Financing the Machine, 21 December, 2005 

I’ve regularly addressed my missiological concerns, but rarely as concisely as I did here:

I cannot accept a missiology that essentially puts us on “auto-pilot” in terms of to whom we should go. The second we assume where and in whom God is going to work, we get ahead of Him and disqualify ourselves from full participation in what He’s doing. This missiology is essentially either/or; missions is either relating to those people that God leads us to, or it is targeting the next “lostest” people group according to our statistics and research. It cannot be both, because the second assumes a monopoly on the first. How else can we explain so many of our workers feeling called to work among “reached” peoples?   -Messed Up Missiology, 3 December, 2006

I haven’t pulled any punches when voicing my concerns with Church Planting Movements as Strategy, either:

I refuse to believe that the reason we aren’t seeing Church Planting Movements is that we just haven’t gotten it right yet. I’m tired of seeing good, faithful people feel pressure to produce something that is totally out of their control. We have people on the field that feel like complete failures because they haven’t seen God re-create what He did in Asia, and it weighs heavily on them. It’s time to re-evaluate our strategy and goals.   -Where Are The CPMs?  25 January, 2007

I have tried to be honest about my questions and concerns along the way. I believe that the process has helped me grow and learn. Even though my thoughts here haven’t always been well formulated, I appreciate the outlet for discussion. Many of my readers (if “many” can be applied to so few) are still with the IMB, and I would like to continue to dialog with them about ways to be even better about doing missions.

So no, don’t hold your breath for some scorching exposé about my organization as I leave. For all my questions and concerns, I really like the IMB, and I’m thankful for the opportunity they’ve given me to serve.

Tags: IMB, My conscience is clear

Filed under:Uncategorized Posted May 4th, 2008 by E. Goodman

If you read my last post, you know that after six years, I am moving back to the United States. I’m filled with mixed emotions as I try to sort through what this means for my life and retirement plan. I’ve moved into that pensive, reflective mode; everything I do here may be “the last time.” This may be my last trip to the mountains here, my last coffee with these friends, my last night to be rudely awaken at all hours of the night by the sounds of drunken teenagers on the balcony and and garbage trucks on the street.

As I reflect on all that I’ve learned and on all of the ways I’ve changed, it occurs to me that I’m better at some things than I was when I came. I’m a better conversationalist, for one. For all the hours and hours of hanging out with friends in smoky bars, I can pretty much talk about anything with anyone.

I’ve become a lot more patient. You’ve got to be when navigating the bureaucratic systems of socialist Western Europe. I’m more understanding of the plight of the immigrant for having been one myself. I recycle. I read the newspaper. I frequent mom-and-pop shops (when I can find them) even when there’s a Starbucks next-door.

I’ve grown to be better at spiritual things as well. I can talk about my faith much more naturally than before, and avoid using Christian clichés. In relationships, I’m no longer so overwhelmed by a person’s blatant sin that I cannot love him. I have come to know the maintaining power of ongoing conversational prayer throughout the day. I read my Bible because I’m convinced of my need to hear the gospel (which builds faith), not just because a good missionary ought to. People who think differently than I do don’t seem as ignorant, and people who do things differently don’t seem as wrong. I’m a better citizen, a better friend, and, hopefully, a better example of what it’s like to have life in Christ.

Tags: , Practice makes better, reflecting, transition

Filed under:Christianity, Personal, Reflections, Uncategorized Posted April 23rd, 2008 by E. Goodman

It is comforting and empowering to know for sure that you’re doing what you need to be doing. The big decisions are a lot simpler when you’re sure of the parameters. You rest easier in the face of troubles because there are some things you just won’t question no matter what. So there’s something disquieting about changes to that plan you were so sure of. Like the sense of betrayal you feel when the ground moves in an earthquake.

When we arrived on the field six years ago, we knew for sure that we were where God wanted us to be. That didn’t make the transition to life in Western Europe easy, but knowing that you’re doing what you’re supposed to do can demote things like language learning and culture shock from overwhelming to intimidating. I’m so thankful that God has proven Himself over and over to be our provider. He has maintained us on the field, and we are thankful that He has used many of you to encourage and support us along the way.

You can probably guess from the preamble that this is your standard resignation announcement. It is. And it’s a lot harder to write than I thought it would be.

We know what it’s like to know for sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. That’s what makes our decision to return to the States so simple. We feel God’s direction, and we don’t want to stick around to find out what it’s like to ignore that. I used to always hate when people played the “God card.” You can get away with pretty much anything with a heartfelt “God told me to.” Hopefully, that’s not what we’re doing here. I don’t think it is. Some of you might be discouraged to hear that we’re leaving. Please, don’t be. Trust God on this sort of thing no matter what, because He is orchestrating His work around the world.

We will be leaving the field at the end of May. We’re moving to Portland, OR. We’re going to finally get “real jobs” and get involved in the community. We’re pretty excited about going back to the U.S. and putting into practice all that we’ve learned in here in Western Europe. Surely God will bring us to someone who wouldn’t mind exploring things like house church and relational ministry with us. Portland seems like a good place for that. Besides, we hear that there are lots of coffee shops in Portland, and that the public transportation system is good enough that you don’t need a car.

Would you please pray for us as we move? We’re a little bit anxious about living in the States again, and about fitting in and making friends. Also, please pray for the people of Western Europe and the work here. Our team is preparing to undergo some major changes, and we want to be sure that we deal with them in a way that points people to Jesus.

Tags: Moving on, resigning, returning to the states

Filed under:Personal, Reflections, Uncategorized Posted April 21st, 2008 by E. Goodman

Nearly anyone can live abroad. But incarnation is about more than just location. Successfully entering a culture that is different from yours requires that you learn the rules. If you’re trying to influence across cultures, the rules are crucial.

Society is made up of rules. There are rules for how a person should act in a given situation. There are rules for personal interaction, managing your money, and the volume of your conversation in public. There are rules about when it’s appropriate to make noise in your apartment building. There are rules for seating on the bus. What you wear, where you walk, how you order your coffee; there’s a rule for everything.

There are always consequences for breaking the rules. At best, being a rule-breaker will get you labeled (foreigner, rude, ignorant, proud). At worst, failure to follow the rules will get you removed from the community altogether. (Okay, so maybe that’s not the worst thing that could possibly happen, but you get my meaning here.) This is why many missionaries are marginalized, ignored, or “persecuted.” It’s not their message; nobody’s hearing that. They don’t have a voice because they’re trying to apply the rules of a culture two thousand miles away (or two thousand years ago) to their host culture.

Learning the rules can be very difficult, because they aren’t posted anywhere for you. No, you have to do your homework if you want access. The shortcut of mimicry will surely have you breaking all of the rules. You can’t deduct the rules by observing how insiders live. Often, their behavior seems to contradict their rules. There’s probably a rule about that. The rules are not the same for everybody. Even if you’re language-capable enough to ask, no one would be able to tell you all the rules because those who operate inside the culture assume that everyone shares their perspective on things. They don’t know that the rules where you come from are different from theirs. But you do. That’s the first thing you learn on the mission field.

Tags: access, breaking the rules, cultural rules, entering culture, Rules

Posted April 17th, 2008 by E. Goodman

I’ve spent the last couple of days reading through my blog. I’m amazed at how much I’ve written about pretty much the same thing. There were times when thoughts and questions flowed and I posted frequently. There were other times where everything dried up and I hardly wrote anything at all. There were seasons where I got distracted, focusing on denominational politics and organizational frustrations, and long periods of a broader, hopefully more kingdom-centered focus.

God has taught me a lot since I’ve been on the mission field. I’m really not the same man I was when I left the United States. From my national friends, I’ve picked up a passion for social awareness and action. I’ve moved away from distinguishing between “spiritual” and “everything else.” I now value environmental stewardship. I have put away (or, at least tried to put away) willful ignorance. I believe strongly in promoting peace. I recognize the sanctity of all life, instead of just being “anti-abortion.”

I have a new love for the freedom of expression, and I oppose the stifling of dissent. I’m excited by asking questions, and I’m content with the unknown. I’m realizing how little I know about anything at all, and yet how much my former worldview required me to be all-knowing. I’ve learned that you really can camp out on the philosophical “slippery slope,” and that agreeing with people I disagree with or don’t like isn’t the end of the world.

I have learned to worship without music or a guy with a guitar. I have come to realize that prayer should be a two-way conversation between God and me. I’m working on reading the Bible for what it says and what the Holy Spirit illuminates to me instead of picking verses that support my arguments. I’ve altogether quit thinking of the church as a building with a paid staff and youth group games on Wednesday nights.

I came here to tell people about Jesus. Now I realize the power of publicly living out the joys and struggles of my faith. Though I still struggle, I can now see through the lies of materialism. I find my identity in Christ instead of my profession or the successes of my ministry. I’ve learned not to assume that I know what’s going on around me spiritually. I’ve come to enjoy the spirituality of conversation with believers. I’ve learned a lot from fellowship with people who don’t believe.

I drink more coffee (if that were possible). I talk with my hands. I shout at people while I’m driving. I’m a lot more patient about waiting in line, but protective of my place in it. I don’t pretend to cough just to make a point when someone is smoking nearby. I listen to music just for fun. I think in two languages (with really bad grammar in both.) I ride a bike. I recycle. I speak in a quieter voice in public. I wear sensible (yet stylish) shoes.

No, I’m not the same guy I was. Hopefully, I’m a little bit more like who God wants me to be.

Tags: , change, Evolution, learning, worldview

Filed under:Misunderstood, Personal, Reflections, Uncategorized Posted April 16th, 2008 by E. Goodman

When you’re a carpenter, people pay you to build things out of wood. Mechanics earn their living by fixing cars. Authors are paid for writing books, lawyers bill for their counsel, and teachers are compensated for teaching.

What is a missionary paid for? There’s really no tangible service being performed, and we don’t produce any material goods. The people who pay my salary will likely never even meet me, much less benefit from my services. Nevertheless, they give.

I’m humbled by the sacrifice and generosity of those who support us on the field. But there’s something strange about missions offerings. Many supporters talk about missions money as though by giving, they’re doing me a favor. I’ve had a number of conversations with church leaders who talk about their missions offerings like they were a big gift to me, their charity case. Again, I am grateful for the sacrifice of those who give, but money given to missions is supposed to be given to God.

Thanks. Really. But don’t do me any favors. If God called me to the field, He will provide everything needed to keep me here. Since He doesn’t need your money, I don’t either.

People support missions for lots of different reasons. Many feel some sense of obligation. Some give to satiate their guilt. Others give as an act of worship. The pious give out of pity and duty. I’m sure certain people feel led by God to send their money, and it’s obvious (to me) that most give out of their own kindness and generosity.

If giving money to support missions keeps you from actually being involved personally in what God is doing around the world, you should keep your money.

Tags: Favors, Finances, Giving, Money

Filed under:Finances, Missions Posted April 8th, 2008 by E. Goodman

All around you there are groups of people who are influencing and being influenced. You can (and should) be part of the discussion, but you’re too busy doing something that nobody else cares about. In your little “Christian” subculture bubble, you have no influence and few friends. Here are some tips to help you become interesting enough to actually make some friends this summer.

  1. Get a hobby. It doesn’t always have to be a really expensive one, either. It seems like everyone is into photography these days, (which is cool) but a new digital SLR can be pricey. Lomography can be really fun, or why not try something less consumeristic, like making your own camera? Share your pictures on Flickr or your own photoblog.
  2. Start a campaign. Find something to be passionate about and work to get other people excited about it too. You could design a web site about it, record a podcast about it, silkscreen or print T-shirts, or write a manifesto.
  3. Go camping. Borrow a tent (everyone has one, but few people actually ever use them), and pack a sandwich. You don’t have to make it a big deal. Camp in the backyard even. Spending time in nature is a good way to enjoy and appreciate its Maker.
  4. Teach yourself something new. The Dangerous Book for Boys is full of awesome stuff you should know but probably don’t. Your paper airplane skills will surely help you connect with some cool people. The interwebs are full of how-tos and useless information. Some things I’ve taught myself (with varying degrees of success) include: making my favorite chicken enchilada soup, writing a basic web page in html, home movie editing, how to read a map, and painting with oils.
  5. Read a book. Not disposable airport novels, but something that will inspire, intrigue, or challenge you. Become an inspired storyteller by rediscovering children’s literature. Start with Lemony Snicket’s A series of Unfortunate Events or anything by Roald Dahl. There’s certainly no excuse for any literate person to not have read On The Road, by Jack Kerouac or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye, and these are idea for reading with a friend or discussion group. Steven D. Levitt’s Freakonomics, made me want to be an econo-sociologist, as did Malcom Gladwelll’s The Tipping Point, but don’t bother with Blink, just read his blog instead. Now these books will give you something to talk about.
  6. Go geek. Read Wired magazine, hang out in a comic book store, or go bowling even when you’re not on a youth group lock-in. Start collecting vinyl records, modifying vintage furniture to disguise modern technology, or scroll frame-by-frame through every episode of Lost looking for clues and easter eggs. Be sure to start every sentence with “basically…” “actually…” or “technically…” Geeks are the best friends you’ll ever have.
  7. Volunteer. There are literally hundreds of charities and non-profit organizations that could use your help. The “nonprofit sector” section of your city’s craigslist is a great place to start your search. Be sure your lifestyle doesn’t contradict your cause., though. A fair-trade Peta vegan pretty much has to swear off KFC.

This list won’t make you an instant mover and shaker, but if you pick a couple and really go for it, you just might have a circle of friends to take pictures of and cook for on your volunteer do-it-yourself grassroots camping and Comic-Con and road trip in July.

Tags: , Books, Hobby, Interesting Person