A Hundred Different Directions

advertising-quiz-250x150-8595413You’ve worked hard to build a missions-minded church. You have a couple that are really excited about ministry in Indonesia. You have a young lady who’s been to Kenya over a dozen times. Your church has planted churches in inner-city Detroit and suburban Ohio. You take mission trips to Nicaragua and Lisbon every year. You sponsor needy children through Compassion. Every other Saturday, you send people to volunteer at the rescue mission. You’ve sent out missionaries to Wales, Yemen, Ecuador, and Belarus. Your church does missions. You’re going in a hundred different directions.

With an endless number of opportunities for service and overwhelming need all around, it can be hard to know what to get involved in. You’ve been sure to teach your people to be involved in service and to be missional, so they are. Odds are, you’ve got people involved in everything from digging wells in Africa to literacy programs among the urban poor.

But is missions a point of division for your church?  Each ministry requires time and money. That couple who started a ministry to homeless teenagers is always asking for time at the end of your worship service to share about the work. Your international missionaries plea for money, the orphanage advocates need volunteers. You’ve got fundraiser dinners for student mission trips, canned-good drives for immigrants and refugees, and gift-card collections every Christmas. The people involved in each ministry think you need to give more time from the pulpit to their causes. They feel that money spent on other things would be better spent in support of their work. They resent the “apathy” they see in everyone else (who are likely involved in their own ministries), and they judge the attention given to less crucial activities. They accuse you of playing favorites when you fail to mention their charity concerts and bake sales. They compete for the church’s time and attention. Sure everyone is “on mission,” but everyone is on a different mission. You end up divided, overwhelmed, and less effective than you ought to be.

How do you decide what to say “yes” to, and what’s a “no?” Does your pastoral staff make the decisions? Do you have a missions pastor? Does everything go to a committee? Most churches arrive at their missions involvement through democratic consumerism; individuals somehow hear about a ministry and decide that it’s something the church should get excited about. The opportunities that get the most votes win. The church is influenced by slick marketing on the part of missionaries and nonprofit organizations. They follow the latest trends, looking to rock stars and former celebrities for guidance on what to support. “Missions” becomes buying a T-shirt, going on a trip, dropping money in a beggar’s cup. Where’s the unity in this? What’s the theology behind it? How can your church be unified in its efforts?

The answer isn’t to ask people to back off their involvement in any particular area. Instead, consider revisiting the basics of your church’s missiological priorities and values. Do an in-depth study of the biblical foundation for missions. Highlight examples of ministry opportunities that reflect those values, and warn your people against things that might be a distraction. Provide your church with a common vocabulary to talk about these things. Explore the gifts, resources, and interests within your faith community. Emphasize commitment, sacrifice, obedience, blessing, and love. Explain the purpose of our presence.

Given some principles, your church members will be able to make smart choices based on the priorities you help establish. They’ll be able to avoid unhealthy distinctions between “social” ministries and strictly “spiritual” ones. They won’t be tempted to put the plight of depressed suburban teenagers on the same level as that of children dying from easily preventable diseases. They won’t focus so heavily on evangelism that they miss the discipleship we’re commissioned to do. Reproducing “what works back home” won’t be as attractive to them. Throwing money at a problem will cease to assuage their sense of guilt. They won’t buy into the lie that missions is about “suffering for Jesus” or fall for the convenience of outsourcing missions. They’ll finally be free of the three boxes- “Pray, Give, or Go.”

With a common understanding, your church can be unified in its mission endeavors. You may still be involved in different types of ministry in different parts of the world, but you’ll be united in your understanding of the part you play. You’ll have established criteria for what gets mentioned during worship gatherings and what gets financial support. You’ll be able to say “no” without feeling guilty. Missions will have meaning; it can be your reputation in your community, and the focus of your unity. Instead of going in a hundred different directions, it’ll seem like your just going in one.