Some of the following I have personal experience with as pertaining to missionaries and missions. Others I have heard from others. One major challenge in missions is the various expectations that come from others as to what your role and activities should be. Here are a few (in no particular order):
1. Money. People on the mission field expect or at least strongly desire that the missionary give money without strings attached. On the other hand, those who empower missionaries financially, expect the missionary to be a good steward and overseer of the finances. Missiologists seem to disagree as to whether missionaries should control money, help others without controlling them, or avoid money as much as possible.
2. Organization. Many missionaries, locals, and supporters presume that missionaries should create their own organizational edifice. This may be an NGO, evangelistic organization, Bible school, church or other. On the other hand, there is a growing thought among many locals and missiologists that missionaries should empower without taking over leadership. Is another organization always the answer? Some local Christians see missionaries getting in the way… as unnecessary and even competition. (Often this is all too true.)
3. Denomination. Supporters and mission boards expect the missionary to plant churches and/or disciple believers into the same denomination. On the local front, working with Christians of a number of different denominations is often a practical (and desirable) necessity. Missiologists tend to recommend that missionaries develop local Christians and churches in such a way as to allow them to develop their own distinctive characteristics (self-theologizing). This can create a great deal of conflict. Added to this, mass media and competitive religious groups tends to mean that if you do not guide young believers in your own denominational distinctives, the result will NOT be a distinctively local Christian faith. Rather it will be that of a competitive denomination (or cult).
4. Primary Ministry. There is little agreement as to what a missionary really should do at the core of his/her ministry. Some options are:
- -Evangelization (often mass evangelization)
- -Church-planting (often church planting movements)
- -Mission mobilization (training local leaders)
- -Church growth
- -Felt needs (social or wholistic ministry)
This is a short list. There are many more options. Options are not bad, but the problem occurs when supporters and partners do not value or even recognize the area of missional focus that the missionary is involved in.
5. Information. Mission boards and supporters love statistics. They want to know how many, how often, and how much. These numbers are often deceptive. The best missions often look bad on paper. Supporters like statistics but often are more moved by tear-jerker stories of tragedy and changed lives. At one time, there may have been little problem with all of this. But today, information flows so well. A tragic story given to supporters in the US, may become a podcast or youtube broadcast spread around the world. The story becomes embarrassing gossip when it is picked up by people in the mission field. Stats sent by email can be forwarded and rerouted back to partners who could take offense at the self-serving nature of the reports, deceptive numbers, and lack of recognition of the partners.
6. Spirituality. Mission supporters expect missionaries to be pious… spiritually guided… and disciplined. Locals on the mission field may do more than expect it… they assume it… at least until they know the missionaries better. Missionaries, on the other hand, rarely are particularly spiritual (as it is commonly defined). Willingness and flexibility define a missionary better than spirituality. They have little personal discipleship. They often have few that they are able to share fears, concerns, and doubt. This is partly because of distance from potential accountability partners. But it is also because sharing concerns can have negative repercussions vocationally. Missionaries are often expected to work in churches that they are uncomfortable in (because the church meets local needs, not that of the missionary). Missionaries are often expected to attend events or activities that do not meet their own spiritual needs. The disconnect between their outer life and inner life, can lead to crises of faith.
This is probably a good place to stop. One could go on. Every job has its share of paradox, controversy, multiple leaders, and disagreements about goals, expectations, and procedures. The importance of recognizing expecation disonnance is that the more that local partners, foreign supporters, mission boards, missiologists, and missionaries themselves understand the conflicts, the better we can grow, function, and prosper as willing servants of God.