Missions Misunderstood » Blog Archive » Think Like A Missionary

Posted September 24th, 2008 by E. Goodman

The more I interact with pastors, the more I’m convinced that they need to be applying missionary thinking to their lives and ministries. The problem is that there are few missionaries or missiologists speaking into the American church, and even fewer American pastors who are listening. After all, what could a missionary have to teach a pastor?

I believe that American pastors need to consider 4 missiological concepts: indigenaity, sustainability, communication, and obedience.

  • Indigenaity is a botanical term that means a plant is native to its soil. Sure you can reproduce Daniel Montgomery‘s (Louisville, KY) Sojourn Community Church in, say, Southern California, but you shouldn’t. Missionaries around the world recognize that in order a church must be “native” to the community in which it’s planted. Cultures are curiously layered habitats. When your church prescribes the cultural application of the Word of God for people, you kill their ownership in that church.
  • Sustainability refers to a church’s ability to thrive through the passage of time and trials. Your church doesn’t only need to be relevant to today, it needs to be prepared to make itself relevant to coming generations.
    • Sustainable is always small, cheap (little or no money involved), decentralized, and amateur.
    • If your church is built around you (meaning either that you do everything or that you’re the reason people come and participate), it is not sustainable. A quick look at all the ailing copycat churches will give you an idea of what your church will look like when you’re gone.
    • A big splash today usually works against your church’s sustainablilty. If people come for the show, the coffee, or the quality child care, they’ll only stay until someone comes along with something bigger and better.
  • Communication isn’t universal. Neither is it simple. All sorts of things, verbal and non-verbal, factor into the transmission and reception of a message. You have to realize that how you communicate the gospel affects what gospel you communicate. A legalistic means of evangelism will result in a legalistic view of salvation. An impersonal, one-size-fits-all presentation will get you a generic and impersonal church. Missionaries have to learn not just a language, but the appropriate local use of that language. So do you.
  • Obedience is something I think all pastors take seriously. Nevertheless, being obedient means we cannot afford to assume. As soon as our fidelity to a system, program, pattern, or method becomes greater to our utter step-by-step dependance upon God’s Holy Spirit, we lose our way. Yet we talk all day long about models and styles of church, and rarely about how we were led to do what we do. Let’s stop having conferences and writing books about how and start talking about why.

In short, while you were becoming a Christian, you were also being removed from  your own culture. The common process of discipleship into a modernistic religious framework (which American Chriatianity is) necessarily hinders your ability to relate and communicate with your home culture. Pastors! You’re not a minister to your own culture, you’re a missionary to a foreign culture!