Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mission, Missions, and Missional

I got a call the other day from a well known national ministry. They found the number for Adventures in Life in the telephone book and assumed we were a church.

As such, they were calling to ask me, as a supposed youth pastor, if I was interested in my students participating in a mission trip in Las Vegas.

A few years back I was working with a denominational group that was putting together a missions conference for their local congregations. One of their goals was to celebrate what God was doing as the members of these local churches served God in their neighborhoods.

As I talk with pastors and leaders about missions, I constantly hear about a renewed focus on local mission opportunities.

These experiences have got me to thinking. Is it possible that the church, in our rush to embrace the term missional, has defined all of what we do as mission so that we feel better about ourselves?

Think about it like this. If youth pastors are missionaries, if sharing Jesus with the barista at Starbucks is mission, if giving socks to homeless people is missions work, then what isn’t mission?

It is as if we have decided to define all that the church does as mission, so that we can look at ourselves and conclude we are doing a good job missionally. We have changed the descriptions enough so that no matter how little, or how much, the church does, we look heroic.

So here is what I am wondering. How much does this new thinking impact the church and her involvement in cross-cultural international mission? Is it possible that we are raising an entire generation of people who see no need to leave our shores and involve themselves in the work of God “over there?”

Could it be that with these new definitions of mission and being missional locally, we are robbing the church of some of the very people who 50 years ago might have gone “to the ends of the earth?”

I am not sure what the answers are to all of this, but I just can’t stop thinking about it.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, December 14, 2009

In Short-Term Mission, Who Serves Who?

I recently came across an organization with a web site that offers mission-adventure and mission-wilderness trips.

For anyone serious about quality short-term mission work, this should be a real concern. Because the focus of these types of mission adventures is almost always primarily, or first, on the person going.

In a practical sense, let me give you an example. I was recently contacted by a church about serving with us alongside one of our partner ministries in Mexico. In order to make sure that their students were not exposed to anything too different from their home church, they asked me to get the pastor in Mexico to agree to limit the way he and his church worship God.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of self-centered thinking worries me. Unfortunately, many of us in the short-term mission world are as guilty as anyone in perpetuating it.

We regularly talk about, and even promote our ministries as places where you can come and really experience God’s passion, as if that is not possible in your home church.

Short-term ministry advocates call on people to leave their comfort zones and go serve, yet the emphasis is typically on the benefit they will receive as a result of going. You are changed. You are discipled. You will never be the same.

I have used those same phrases myself!

How do we square this with the Gospel account in Matthew 16 that to really seek after Jesus, one “must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me [Him]?” Isn’t a discipleship model focused primarily for our own benefit not what He desires for us?

The church example I cited above is a logical outgrowth of this type of me or my church first thinking.

When our primary concern is about our own growth and discipleship, as opposed to those with whom we serve, we make demands. Demands that we be served or that things be how we want them.

If we truly believe that we are called to emulate Jesus and serve others as part of living a missional life style, then we have some work to do.

Any thoughts?