I know what you're thinking. "Another 'what's wrong with the Church and how I have the answers!' article." Those types are so tiring and I hope to not do that here. Just want to offer my perspective. No more, no less.
You see, the way churches interact with the Great Commission today seems to be out of balance with history. Things are, for lack of a better term, off. Before I get into that and share my perspective let's be clear about one thing: I LOVE how this generation is seeking to reach the unreached and go to the ends of the Earth. There is a youthful recklessness that is almost required for frontier missions. It's a great time to be alive for sure.
So, let's dive into what I see as a few problems of today's mission movement:
- Misplaced Focus
- This is not referring to geographical focus (that's further down on the list). The problem here is a misplaced focus away from the bedrock of the Gospel. The story of Jesus Christ is why we go. His death, burial, and resurrection are too important to be bogged down with other agendas. These agendas may be good ones too. Sponsoring hungry children, helping women gain skills to be financially independent, and encouraging men in their career pursuits are all good and Godly ways to spend one's life. However, they are not missions. Any humanitarian work is good work but its not missions. In the last century we have equated Mission Work with Good Work. All mission work is good work but not all good work is mission work.
- I can already hear my justice obsessed brothers and sisters recoiling from what they think I just wrote. Here what I did not say: That all humanitarian work should stop or that churches can't take part in humanitarian work. In fact, who better than the church to be a bastion of care for those Christ loves? I also did not say that any trip that focuses on this type of work is lesser or even not worth doing. What I did say: that kind of work is not missions.
- Misplaced Motives
- Think back to the last time your students went on a mission trip. When they came home, all wearing the same t-shirt no less, they were tired and had big smiling faces. They were sunburned, had a couple scrapes, and blisters were on each of their young hands. As a parent, it was awesome to see your teen in such a state and you probably thought, "Wow, this is unusual. Maybe this is the turning point for them. Maybe things will be different." For a time, it would be. They would be in church every Wednesday night the rest of the summer and do every scheduled activity. You saw them willing to help out a bit more around the house. Finally, the bible on their desk looked like it was actually used! The problem? Five weeks later, all that is gone. Life is back to normal and their eyes can't be taken from a screen for five minutes. What happened to that vigor they brought home from their mission experience?
- I hate to break it to you guys, it was never there. All of it was just an illusion to both you and them. An emotional after effect of mild culture shock. Unfortunately, a week in Managua isn't going to produce a 180 degree change in anyone. We have misplaced our motives if heart change in goers is one of our priorities. The goal of missions (both short and long term) is Gospel Proclamation. If your hope is to see heart change in your congregation then set up a discipleship program. The mission field is not discipleship express.
- Misplaced Maps
- Can you tell I'm a baptist preacher with my alliteration? Next we have misplaced the map. Specifically, WHERE we should go for missions. For every missionary in Japan there is 10 in Uganda and for every short term team to Kazakhstan there are numerous to Haiti. Because of our misplaced emphasis on humanitarian work we tend to geographically focus on the poorest of the poor countries and ignore developed nations like Japan. We also prefer established ministry bases in places like Haiti and Honduras over frontier fields like Central Asia. Seriously, there is a whole tourism industry that caters to student mission trips in places like these. Compounds have popped up to be a home base for groups going there. I've stayed at such a place in Mexico and it was great but we missed out on much of the local work by being so removed from it. Let's push back and go to hard places and eschew creature comforts.
Luckily, here at Silk Road Mission we push for the church to reach the unreached. Just so happens that many live along the ancient Silk Road. Whoa! Its like our name makes sense now! The hard soil will take some work but with proper cultivation we could see a revival along the Road. However, as long as our missions movement is bogged down by misplaced focus, motives, and maps we will not be as effective as we could be. Let's press on to reach the unreached of the Silk Road!
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Thanks and that's all for now travelers.