Missions Misunderstood » Blog Archive » Lifers

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