Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The American Perspective on Missions

I read something interesting this morning, The Other Side of Global Missions by Jason John. He makes the case for global missions as not just an opportunity to spread the Gospel but also to transform those who go. The whole thing is interesting but here is the conclusion that makes the point very nicely.
Global missions is God's universal mandate to take the gospel there and his gracious provision for us to be forever changed here. Stand in the midst of East African poverty. Build a home in southern Mexico. Walk the hurricane ravaged streets of Haiti. Sit in agnostic-packed European university classes. Observe the afternoon prayers of Muslims in the Middle East. Your assumptions, perspectives, and ideologies will be forever shifted. You will never be the same. Your homes will never be the same. Your family, your job, your neighborhood, your church, and your city will never be the same. All this is a deep and profound expression of God's grace towards you.
Wow, I get that! I also don't quite get it. I am not sure that God's intent in the Great Commission was to shake His apathetic American sheep from their affluence and entertainment induced stupor. Not that we don't need that, we certainly do. I just wonder about the mindset of America Christians. It sometimes seems like we read the Great Commission like this:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the other non-American nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but in America just invite them to church (Matthew 28:19 re-mix)
Yes, we should be sending missionaries from America to all parts of the world but I also believe we should be inviting and supporting missionaries from all parts of the world to come here. America is no better and no worse when it comes to being a mission field. Don't let the "church on every street corner" fool you. America is full of lost people and a whole bunch of them are "members" in good standing in a nice, new local church with a praise band and a snappy, well planned out sermon each week. America is no more a "Christian Nation" than Liechtenstein or Lithuania or Mongolia and the sooner we drop that mindset the better.

We should also support native missionaries overseas instead of assuming that we have to send American missionaries so it gets done "properly". For the cost of sending one American missionary family to Honduras for a year, how many local native missionaries can we help equip and support? Which is likely to be better received? Given the American tendency to confuse American cultural, patriotic religion with Christianity I sometimes think we would be far better off equipping and supporting native missionaries. When I went to Haiti my group stood out like a sore thumb. We were all Caucasian, none of us spoke the language and we clearly were not not Haitian. I impact Haiti a lot more in front of my computer trying to raise awareness and sending money than I did playing with orphans and looking confused when they spoke Creole.

America is part of the global mission field in the same way that Haiti or Ethiopia or Thailand is. It is not God's launching ground from which missionaries go to the rest of the world. It is so hard to get out of that mindset that sees America as God's chosen people, uniquely called and qualified by our freedom and affluence to take the Gospel to "those" countries. The American understanding of the Gospel, the American way of doing church, are  not terribly healthy for Americans and not something we should be exporting.

In spite of the popularity of mission trips to transform American Christians, it doesn't seem like much has changed in American Christianity. In many ways I think we would benefit more from the sober counsel of "foreign" missionaries coming here. Let the elders from a church in Africa come and look over your church budget. Have some elders from China sit in on your next business meeting. Host some missionaries from Central America in your home and show them your family budget. Invite a Haitian pastor who was robbed and beaten and had his daughter raped to your next pastors lunch and tell him how busy you are and how ungrateful your church members are.  You want to see American Christianity impacted, let the world come to us and perhaps then we will see just how out of whack our priorities are!

I absolutely see the value of global missions and I get what Jason is saying. I was changed and impacted far more by my trip to Haiti than the children I visited were impacted by me being there. I hope to go back soon and take some of my kids with me. I also want to be careful that I don't see global missions as merely a way for me to become a better American Christian. The mission field is not a one way street and the Great Commission it is not unique to America. We need a much bigger view of global missions.


Brian said...

The first sentence of the excerpt is what catches my eye.

"Global missions is God's universal mandate to take the gospel there..."

Christ is already everywhere, so we do not have to take Him there...

When people look at it that way it becomes an us versus them mentality. We (the ones that are put together and look great on the outside) need to help you (the ones that do not have Christ "the right way").

I know you are saying the same thing. I just do not understand why we need to take the Gospel to places. The Gospel is already at every place we go.


Arthur Sido said...

Swanny, that is a great way to put it, the "us versus them" mentality.

Brian said...

I really dislike the "us verses them" thought process.

It actually drives me nuts.

It should be more horizontal than vertical.

How about "we" instead.

Aussie John said...


I struggle to separate the concept of being a "missionary" from simply being a member of the church of Jesus Christ.

Surely,being genuine member of His family (church)means that we ARE "missionaries", at home, the next suburb, and other nations: As Jesus said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In context He was speaking to those few gathered, but I don't believe for a minute that He wasn't speaking to ALL on whom the Holy Spirit would come in saving, converting power.