My family and I are preparing for service in Paraguay, South America with New Tribes Mission. The biblical goal is to “make disciples of all the nations” – literally to every people group.(Matthew 28:19). As found in the book of Acts, we see that Paul and many others in the early church put this into practice by establishing mature churches among previously unreached people. Paul did this because of his desire to take the gospel to where it has not gone, (Romans 15:20)
The world has changed a lot since then BUT God’s Word has not. In brief, the ministry’s goal is to reach the unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ, to see God’s Word translated in the heart language of a people group and see God build His church in another group.
Preparation for us to serve required specialized training to equip us to be part of a team to accomplish the above-stated goal. The task before us is complex, difficult and requires a long-term commitment to trust in the work of our sovereign God. Presently, we are in the stage of ministry which requires time seeking those whom God has prepared to join with us in ministry. Contacting, sharing, and following up is the “formula” of team building. Let’s not forget while praying for wisdom every step of the way. Once in Paraguay, it appears that my role will be in the realm of field administration. It has been a long road for my family and I, but we continue to press forward on the road God has for us to walk.
Let me share with you a real challenge which I face. Not in every case but many times in sharing with people, I have observed a worldly way of thinking. A way in which I think has subtly slid into churches and into the way missionaries are viewed. A thinking which claims that our identity comes from what we do instead of what God has done. Amy Medina, missionary to Tanzania spells out this distorted view within our churches today. She has written perfectly what I have been seeing and experiencing as we prepare for service in Paraguay. My prayer as you read the following is that you are challenged.
Imagine what it would look like if western churches hired their staff with the same priorities that they choose overseas missionaries to financially support.
First of all, a Children’s Pastor would definitely be out. Not strategic enough; he’s only supporting the children of believers. Youth Pastor? Also out, unless he targets neighborhood kids. How about a Music Pastor? Or Pastoral Counselor? Nope. Those are just supporting roles. Not enough front-line ministry. Administrative Pastor? Receptionist? Good heavens. We could never dream of paying someone for those kind of inconsequential jobs.
How about a Preaching Pastor? Well…..that’s if-y, but he probably doesn’t make the cut either. After all, he’s only feeding the Body. Most of the time, he’s not actually reaching the lost. So that pretty much leaves only the positions of Community Outreach Pastor or Evangelist. Yet how many churches even have those paid positions?
I’m not suggesting that churches go about firing two-thirds of their staff. I just want to talk about a double-standard I often see.
Let me introduce you to the class system among missionaries.
Who is on the A-List? Well, that would be the Church Planters. Among unreached people groups gives you A+ status. Pastoral Trainers and Bible Translators might be able to squeak by with an A. The B-List? Doctors and other health workers, community development and poverty alleviation workers, ESL teachers. The C-List? Administrators, missionary member care, MK teachers, or anyone else considered “support.”
Whatever tends to be the current trend in “justice ministry” also often ends up on the A-List. These days, that’s fighting human trafficking. It used to be orphan ministry, but that’s pretty much been relegated to B-status now. It’s cool, but not that cool.
Granted, this class system doesn’t usually originate with the missionaries themselves, but it’s come out of the culture of missions in their home countries. How many missionaries have sat before missions committees back home who examined if they fit into their “grid” of priorities? And often that grid looks exactly like the hierarchy I just outlined.
My husband and I worked for eight years in TCK ministry at a missionary school. When trying to raise support, we called and sent information packets to over 200 churches in California. We heard back from two. Churches told us, over and over again, ‘Sorry, but that ministry doesn’t fit into our strategy.’
That all changed when we transitioned to theological training of East African pastors. Finally, we had churches calling us. It was nice. But frankly, kind of frustrating. We didn’t change ministries so that we would become more popular with churches. We switched because that’s where God was leading us. But the truth is, we don’t consider theological training to be any more strategic, or any more exciting, than what we were doing at that MK school.
Unfortunately, the missionaries themselves are often acutely aware of this hierarchy, and it makes many feel like they are second-class. Over and over again, I hear things like this from missionaries:
Yes, I love my job as an MK teacher and I know it’s really important, but I fill my newsletters with pictures of the slum I visit once a week. After all, that’s what my supporters are interested in.
Yeah, I’m a missionary, but not a ‘real’ missionary. I live in a city and spend a lot of my time at a computer.
My visiting short-term team was supposed to help me out with my ministry to TCK’s, but they only want to spend their time with orphans.
Why do these missionaries feel this way? Maybe because when Christians stand up and say, I’m called to missionary care! I’m called to teach MK’s! I’m called to missions administration, the churches say, Well, sorry, you don’t fit in our strategy. We’d rather get behind the exciting church planters and the pastoral trainers and the child-trafficking rescuers. Except, we expect them to do it without all the other people they need to be successful.
And so what happens? The talented church planter gets bogged down by administrative tasks. The mom who is gifted and called to women’s ministry has no choice but to homeschool. The child-trafficking rescuer has a nervous breakdown because he has no one to help him work through the trauma of what he is facing. Missionaries are particularly prone to burn-out. Could this be partially because they are trying to do too many jobs themselves?
I’m all about strategy in missions, and it’s important for churches to be careful in their vetting process of potential missionaries. But can we expand our idea of what strategy means? Missionaries, as an extension of the Church, must function as the Body of Christ. Could the Western Church function by only hiring evangelists? I realize that mission work can have different goals than churches back at home: Missionaries are working ourselves out of a job; they are doing everything they can to replace themselves with national believers. But to get there, they need the Body of Christ.
We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans 12)
The legs can’t do anything without the arms and fingers and neck. So go out today and find your nearest missionary accountant or counselor or MK teacher. Join their support team. Encourage them in their pursuit of their calling. Affirm their value to your church or your team. And remind them they are never second-class.