Fromm, Freedom, and First Corinthians

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In the movie, “Support You Local Sheriff,” James Garner as sheriff gets Bruce Dern to sit quietly in a prison cell with no bars in it, later even getting Dern to help him install the bars, by convincing him that crossing the imaginary walls surrounding the cell would be far more dangerous than sitting quietly and passively in his place. While humorous, it speaks to a human feeling that life is safer and better when one doesn’t push beyond certain boundaries. As a child, being wrapped up– cocooned– in my quilt at night seemed so much safer than exposing myself to the unknown darkness of my bedroom.

Erich Fromm was a German Psychologist, 1900-1980. One of his works was “Escape from Freedom” written in 1941 (aka “Fear of Freedom”)— a timely writing in light of the expansion of Fascism at that time (overlapping as well with Bolshevism, and later Maoism).

As one of Marxist sympathies, Fromm saw history in terms of economic and class struggles— with an overall historical progress. Such progress he saw bringing greater freedom to people. Yet, such freedom does not bring happiness. In fact, freedom tends to lead to social disconnection and loneliness. As such, people look for avenues to address the “problem of freedom.”

Not everyone accepts Fromm’s thesis. I recall listening to an old audiotape by a Libertarian/Objectivist speaker who argued that he and people he knew embraced freedom. He may be somewhat correct but I suspect that a broader sampling of the public would support Fromm’s view that freedom is rather scary. Additionally, the speaker appeared to be speaking with the opinion that absolute freedom would position himself as one of the “winners” rather than one of the “losers.” This is a fairly dubious presumption. In the seesaw battle between Freedom and Security, people gradually shift their resources toward Security.

Fromm argues that three bad ways that groups address freedom are:avt_erich-fromm_9948

  1.  Authoritarianism.  Find security by allowing an individual, someone else, make the choices… having both control and responsibility for what happens.
  2. Automaton Conformity.  In the Philippines one might say “Pakikisama” (at least in its negative sense). Individual choice is replaced by control via group norms and taboos.  This forms a closed or legalistic society.
  3. Destructiveness. People struggle with choice and deaden the fear of freedom with addictive, criminal, and other self-destructive behaviors.

All of these have relevance in church. Authoritarian churches place their power in one charismatic, controlling leader, who makes decisions for the group. Other churches place a lot of fear, shame, and guilt on individuals within the church to ensure conformity to church values (often become quite legalistic as these norms are eventually given moral weight). The third one, destructiveness, is typically more individualistic than characteristic of a church as a whole, except in times of corporate stress (typically as a church splits or undergoes a crisis of leadership), or in embracing heresy.

All of the above are linked to spiritual abuse in some manner, but especially the first two.. Authoritarian churches have the abuse primarily centered on one single abuser (or a small power bloc), while with “automaton conformity” the abuse is more tied to the overall culture… a repressive conformity.

Healthy response to freedom (and in Christ we do have freedom) is seen by Fromm as “self-realization.” Within a Christian context, this may be transparency and mutuality. The body metaphor of the church (each part working together for the good of the other) seems quite relevant here. It seems like, applying some of Fromm’s thoughts, the church can’t simply declare we have freedom in Christ. People struggle with such freedom. Rather, it must train people how to embrace such freedom in a positive interdependent way.

Different people have different comfort levels when it comes to freedom in the church. Paul gives wisdom when it comes to the question of whether one can eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul’s answer is YES you can. However, don’t eat if it bothers you (be uncomfortable by this freedom) and don’t act on your freedom so that it causes problems with others.

With this in mind, I believe we can now get to I Corinthians 10:23-24.

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.…

The church of Corinth struggled with freedom in Christ. I have heard these verses used to push radical individualism and an antinomian mindset (Destructive response to freedom). I have heard them used to form a new quasi-legalism (Automaton Conformity). After all, since there is always the possibility of a “weaker brother” lurking somewhere, we should always avoid exercising Christian freedom. And I have known people who, so disturbed by the freedom they have that they run desperately to an authority figure to tell them what to do (Authoritarianism).

But a better understanding is not found filtered through individualism, but through a relational, mutual, community of the “Body of Christ.”.

I have great freedom to do as I wish in Christ. However, I support and build up members of my church as they, likewise, support and build up me. So I exercise freedom as it is healthy for myself and others. And I limit the exercise of my freedom, not out of coercion, but out of love.

If you are interested, you can read Fromm’s book on-line HERE.

A review of Fromm’s book from a church perspective by Barnabas Ministry is HERE.

Three Recommended Posts

I usually do my own blogposts… but there are three articles I would like to recommend:

1. Four Ways the Church Misunderstands Spiritual Formationaieoljbbt

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whatgodwantsforyourlife/2016/03/4-ways-the-church-misunderstands-spiritual-formation/

This is pretty simple… but I like it. Some may think this isn’t that relevant to missions, but they would be wrong. Not only does it apply to churches, but to mission groups as well. There is always the temptation to to avoid a holistic view, but fall into one of the four ways listed alone. And when the results are not as expected… go for “more of the same.” Spiritual Formation but be seen relationally/socially.

2.  Who Are We?   (Questions to Ask Your Ministry Team)

http://us4.campaign-archive1.com/?u=67a4ab449147e3ebb304f566f&id=d8b60943ba&e=3f058e7892

This is also simple… but the profound is often disguised in the simple. A ministry must consider certain questions regarding its identity and mission. A lot of the thoughts here tie to Group Dynamics. And understandably so. So many mission teams fail in not dealing with the basics.

3.  Three Types of Missionary Pespectives

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu/2016/03/23/3-types-of-missionary-perspectives/

Nice article showing three common perspectives: Multiplication, Martins, and Maturity.  Or

Becoming a believer.
Belonging to the Church.
Being a disciple.

It is nice, in part because missions is often much more narrowly. God’s mission is broader than ours commonly. I think I will add this model to the one I use for Mission locations:

Missions is to be done:

Where the Local Church Isn’t.
Where the Local Church Hasn’t.
Where the Local Church Can’t.

Since all three perspectives can (and should) be done in all three locations. That results in NINE possible combinations.

Hell, Paradise, and Self-discovery

I suppose I should have better things to do than hunt and peck a post when I am sitting on in the lobby of a beach resort in Baler, Aurora Province, Philippines. I am here with seminary faculty for a post-graduation retreat. A few meetings and a lot of fun.

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I don’t really do fun. It is not that I am against fun. I appreciate fun as an abstract concept, more than something for me personally. I brought along  book my sister sent to me that supports an annihilationist view of Hell. It has been interesting so far but one can only appreciate so much Hell when in Paradise (or paradise, without a capital “P”).

I was asked to do a bit on personality types as it pertains to education. I decided to keep it simple (not sure I could go beyond simple anyway). We did a test for Kolb’s Learning Styles as well as for Enneagram. Their relevance ties to the fact that we have a temptation to teach the same way we like to learn. But with so many personality traits and types we need to adjust ourselves to the students… yet still challenging them — balancing elements of paradise and hell (or at least heck) to draw and push them to greater things.

Tonight I will lead the group in Johari window and an exercise in revealing oneself to others. Such revealing of one’s feelings can be paradise to some and hell to others. In the end, it tends to be cathartic and promotes community, as long as a place of mutual trust can be established. Broken trust quickly moves a group from paradise to hell too.

My enneagram is group 5 that suggests I like to withdraw from the world to study it. Kolb sees me as an Assimilator, combining reflective observation with active conceptualization. I guess that sounds about right. But I need to still get out, walk around and see the beauty of paradise, before I begin reading more on hell.

Paul and Barnabas Test and Defining “Missionary”

A few weeks back a friend of mine was writing a thesis and asked me for a good definition for the word “missionary.”barn-paul

I struggled with this because I have my own understanding of what a missionary is, but it does not have a short definition, and it lacks the precision that would be preferable for a “Definition of Terms” section of a thesis. So I started going through all of my notes from the Missions classes I teach and realized that I never had written down a definition for missionary beyond my own conception of the term.

Part of the problem is that I really don’t care for the common understandings of the term. Here are a few, including my own.

  1.  Dictionary definition.  (Merriam Webster).  “a person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work (such as to convince people to join a religion or to help people who are sick, poor, etc.)”  This is not that bad of a definition, except, of course, it crosses off a huge percentage of people who identify themselves as missionaries, as well as who we so consider. For example, Paul, Barnabbas, Philip, Silas, and others never, as far as we know, left their own country (the Roman Empire) to do mission work. India has a huge number of in-country missionaries, Indians reaching out to unreached people groups in India. For me, a good definition for missionary should pass the “Paul and Barnabas Test.” If they don’t fit the particular definition for missionary, it has problems.
  2. Ralph Winter described missionaries in terms of work that is cross-cultural. His focus was on “frontier missions,” proclaiming Christ where Christ is not known or at least indigenized. He lamented the broadness of the definition of missions by some that led to almost all activities of the church outside of itself being called “missions.” Again, my problem is that it does not pass the “Paul and Barnabbas Test.” Barnabbas was a Hellenized Jew, living among Hellenized Gentiles, from Cyprus. Paul was a Hellenized Jew, living among Hellenized Gentiles, from Asia Minor. When they went out on their First Missionary Journey, where did they go? First to Hellenized Jews in Cyprus followed by Hellenized Gentiles in Cyprus. Then they went to Hellenized Jews in Asia Minor followed by Hellenized Gentiles in Asia Minor. Any definition that excludes Paul and Barnabbas seems problematic to me. Additionally, this strong demarcation between church and traditional mission work has led to some mistaken views, I believe. One I will mention is the concept of the “Missionary Call” being somehow separate from the more general call of Christ to all to serve Him. It may seem to make sense, but, frankly, Paul and Barnabas were called to go out of the church based on the church of Antioch. Remember, God did not call the two to go on Mission. God called the church, and the church called Paul and Barnabas. Of course, you can add Peter Wagner to the confusion, who further separates out the Missionary Call, and the “Apostolic Call.” His logic falls apart, however, if one doesn’t accept Ralph Winter’s concept for missionary.
  3. Early Church. The early church appears to have described missionaries with the title “apostle”… one who is sent out. Far more than “The Twelve” were described as apostles. Even Jesus was called an apostle. The Didache further gives information on apostles (“sent out ones”). They appear to be people sent out of the church to minister. Although they were welcome to visit established churches, such visits should be brief since their work is elsewhere. Not a bad view. However, the related term “apostle” was butchered in subsequent centuries when it became associated with governorship of the church (a strange thing indeed), “apostolic succession”, and most recently in some denominations as part of church hierarchies (almost the opposite of the original idea). The problem with this definition is not so much the concept of missionary described, but the confusing baggage associated with the word “apostle.”
  4. My Definition. I don’t like identifying the term missionary with culture or nation, since that seems a bit artificial. To pass the Paul and Barnabas Test, I focus on the idea of its relationship to the existing local church. First, churches have three basic ministries: Member Care, (local) Church Growth, and Missions. Missions is Kingdom Expansion even if it does not lead to the growth of the ministering local church. So any work that a local church does outside of itself to grow the Kingdom that is not done specifically to grow itself, can be seen as Missions. A missionary would be one who primarily ministers in this capacity. But there is a problem with this definition as well. The big problem is that almost anyone can be called a missionary, and almost anything called be called missions. I personally don’t have a problem with this, and hope it compensates for problematic tendencies of some to “over-professionalize” and “over-theologize” the concepts of Christian missions and missionaries.  However, there are roles in God’s Kingdom that are rather unique, going to other cultures to plant church or be involved in Helps ministries— acting where the Church Is Not, the Church Has Not, or where the Church Cannot. It is useful to have a term that describes this type of ministry and this type of ministry participant. So although I personally like my view of missions and missionaries… I recognize that it does not satisfy people who like definitions.But it, at least, passes the Paul and Barnabas Test.
  5. Donald McGavran.  The definition I eventually gave my friend is the one from Donald McGavran:  “A missionary is a Christian of any culture or nation who is sent, across cultural and linguistic frontiers (where there is no curch), to win men to Christ and incorporate them in Christian churches.” This is an extremely narrow definition and has the inherent weakness as such (including not passing the Paul and Barnabas Test). But it does at least describe, intelligently, what people picture when they think of the term “missionary.” Perhaps it would be wise here to separate, as Ralph Winter did, between Regular Missions (and thus “Regular Missionaries”) and Frontier Missions (and “Frontier Missionaries”). As such, McGavran’s definition is pretty good for a Frontier Missionary.
  6. Delos Miles. He describes four types of church growth: Internal Church Growth. This is church growth that does not demonstrate itself in numbers. Expansion Church Growth.  This is church growth of the local church through conversion. Extension Church Growth. This is the local church planting daughter churches. Bridging Church Growth.  This is classic missional expansion. A person who accepts the ministerial calling to the fourth type of growth (Bridging) could be described as a missionary. However, if one includes Extension church growth, one includes local missions, and absolutely passes the Paul and Barnabas Test. My only problem is that tying missions only to church growth may be inadequate. For a Christian minister who cares for children by running an orphanage in a foreign country I believe should be seen as a missionary. Placing a strong demarcation between “spiritual” ministry and “social” ministry is, in my mind, a failed experiment. Liberal Christians extolled social ministry to the neglect of spiritual outreach. Conservative Christians focused on spiritual outreach to the neglect of social care and justice. Both groups harmed Christian ministry in the process, I believe.

Maybe it is okay not to have a careful definition. A little murkiness is okay, sometimes. I used to be an engineer… and extremely broad term. I liked to think of an engineer as someone who professionally did some aspect of engineering. That is pretty broad and pretty vague, but it does fit reality pretty well. Reality can be a bit vague or murky, so it is okay if our definitions are too sometimes.

Bartleby, Joshua, and the 2016 Elections

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This year, the US and the Philippines are both holding presidential elections.

In 10th grade in High School (I think), we read “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” by Herman Melville. We didn’t really understand what this short story meant. I am comforted by the fact that there is no consensus on one single meaning for the story. In it, a scrivener, a copyist named Bartleby, decided to reject doing what is required of him in employment. His response to all requests for labor was “I would prefer not to.” For weeks, perhaps months, after, my friends would find opportunities to say, “I would prefer not to.”

I feel that with the political landscape right now. As a missionary in the Philippines, I cannot vote in Philippine elections. The rest of my family are dual citizens, so they can. But for me, the lack of ability to vote does not bother me— I would prefer not to.

In US elections my feelings are less ambivalent. I voted for years… usually for the candidate of one political party. The electoral system appears to push everything toward a two party system. Each election I have become more dissatisfied with my own party, without finding any charms in the other party. As a moderate conservative (in the American political spectrum…. or possibly a conservative moderate) I had found a home among the Republicans and not the Democrats. I briefly dabbled with the Libertarians but then decided that they were wrong practically… and eventually decided that they were also wrong philosophically. Over time, the Republicans have seemed to become more out of line with my beliefs, while the Democrats remain as far away as ever.

So in recent years I have not voted. In the Presidential elections four years ago, I did not vote. I won’t be this year either. There is no one I could vote for with clear conscience. I know this because it happened before.

Many years ago, former Colonel Oliver North ran for the Senate out of Virginia. He was running against Chuck Robb. I had problems with North. His popularity came from “sticking it to the Democrats” during the Iran-Contra hearings back in the 1980s. He supported Ronald Reagan, making him popular with Conservatives. However, ultimately, he had behaved in a manner that was criminal, and yet appeared to be proud of it. He expressed himself as a man of deep Christian faith, while proud to act in ways that appeared to be disctinctly non-Christian. This concerned me as well. On rare occasions one’s faith may serve as justification for civil disobedience to the law of the land… but it should not justify that which is both illegal and morally odious. In the end, I voted for North because I did not like Chuck Robb. I have felt bad for that for decades later. I determined never again to vote for someone because “the other guy is worse.”

Many of my politically-driven Evangelical friends are unhappy when they hear that I plan not to vote. Some seem to think it is Un-American or Un-Christian. My suspicion, however, is that they have the false belief that if they could convince me to vote, I would vote for “their guy.” Not going to happen. Four years ago, I would not have voted for Obama, but I would not have voted for Romney either. Perhaps I could have wasted my vote on a 3rd party candidate… but not sure I would agree with any of them either. This year I am sickened by the thought that a Clinton may be back in the White House. However, it sickens me even more that Trump might be there. Less disturbing are the other candidates in the Republican side, but I really have problems with candidates who seek to compete with each other regarding who is “more Conservative,” as if one should be proud of being ideologically straight-jacketed, as opposed to maintaining a flexible and negotiating approach to governance driven first by character and wise insight. Disturbing Christian TV talkers and ‘Christian’ University presidents supporting or “blessing” these candidates does nothing to raise these candidates, but rather lowers these personalities, in my estimation.  It happens in the Philippines too. A preacher over here kept running for public office and losing because an American “prophetess” claimed that he would be a President of the Philippines. She added the requisite caveats to ensure that she would not get dubbed a false prophet when it did not come to pass. But Americans probably should keep their weird ideas for their own political system. The Philippines has enough weirdness without importing any more.

I see a different perspective in Joshua Chapter 5.

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

People like to prophesy or give God’s blessing on certain candidates. I know a group of ministers including missionaries who poured oil on the mayor’s chair in Baguio City, Philippines, to “ensure” that a pagan never will sit in it. Maybe they should have poured the whole bottle.

Perhaps, we should spend less time trying to figure out the political landscape as to who are THEY and who are WE. We should recognize that God is on God’s side, and our role first of all is to remember that and seek God.

My suspicion is that my friends who think it is Un-American not to vote, would change their mind if they figure out that I will absolutely not vote their way. Voting for a bad candidate simply because they are not part of the other party is bad. In fact, it disempowers as one’s own party learns that it can do whatever it wants because one holds the party unaccountable. Some of my friends are shocked that political candidates they like are now expressing support for Trump. Why is that surprising? That is how politics works… rally around OUR candidate no matter what. Show loyalty to the party at all costs.

But as a Christian I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to show loyalty to any governmental party no matter what. As a missionary, my relationship with government should at best be with a light touch. Some missionaries get into trouble by digging themselves too deep into local politics. (Magellan being the first of many such examples in the Philippines.) Some on the other hand get into trouble by acting as if missions can be done while ignoring politics all together. I have also seen American missionaries who seem to be unable to leave American politics at home but go on and on about it. (I wonder how many Americans would value a Filipino missionary who keeps going on and on about the Marcos and Aquino political dynasties, or the merits of the Bangsamoro deal?)

Ultimately, I think I need to find a way of having a positive influence politically both in the Philippines and in the US. I am pretty sure a positive influence does not come from supporting “the lesser evil.” But I still have not got the manner and level worked out yet. For now, I think I still have to embrace Bartleby’s courageous (and pathetic) cry,

“I would prefer not to.”

Yet this view must be tempered by responding as did Joshua:

“What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

 

Toxic Ministry

Ministry is dangerous to one’s holistic (or “wholistic”) well-being. For those outside of the ministry, this may seem strange. Is not the language of pastors, missionaries and others in Christianity laced with “Praise God” and “Hallelujah!” and so forth? Is not the stories told by these people full of statements of victory?Toxic 2.jpg

But that is a symptom of the problem.

  1. People in ministry commonly don’t feel that they can be REAL with those not in ministry. There are reasons for this. For those on TV, revenue appears to be generated by being UNREAL… driven by three P’s:  Personality-driven, Prosperity-driven, Popularity-driven. TV doesn’t seem to smile on real people. In the church, churches hire clergy to solve problems, not have problems. Being real can adversely affect one’s livelihood.
  2. People in ministry commonly don’t feel that they can be REAL with those who ARE in ministry. If they are in a hierarchical system, sharing personal struggles may get one’s problems shared with the wrong people. In non-hierarchical systems, there is often a rabid individuality that leaves ministers with limited avenues to share burdens.
  3. There is often a competitive edge to ministry. Many connect success (in people, money, buildings, or other metrics) to ministerial competence or even spirituality. A church that is not thriving is often seen by others (to say nothing of the minister him/herself) as caused by the clergy. A failure of ministry is often seen as the minister being a failure. Pastors and missionaries often compete with each other (tacitly often, but sometimes explicitly) for members, opportunities, and resources. It is hard to share burdens with others who one views as “the competition’
  4. People’s view of those in ministry hamper healthy relationships. Regardless of the wisdom of the metaphor “priesthood of all believers,” most Christians think of the church as having tiers:  different castes: senior pastors or missionaries are commonly seen as the top tier. As such, socialization with “lower tiers” is discouraged or awkward. Of course, pastors and missionaries often perpetuate this by maintaining the (Biblically questionable) belief in a minister or missionary call that is qualitatively different than the call of other Christians. It is also encouraged by ministers themselves, allowing the perpetuation of the belief that the prayer of a member of the clergy is more powerful than that of others. Ministers are often lonely and alienated within their own church.

Missionaries have the added alienation of working in a different culture or country (a “stranger in a strange land”). Additionally, the removal of a healthy safety net of cultural norms and taboos means that missionaries may find that temptations they had back home now can be yielded to without obvious and immediate consequences.

So what can be done? I am sure others have a better list, but here are a few obvious ones.

  • The church needs a far better ecclesiology. Clergy are not ‘super-Christians’ who operate from glory to glory. They are not qualitatively different than the laity. They are members of a team (God’s team as identified in a church or ministry structure) who have been specially trained for specific roles, who have chosen to commit to those roles, and have been called by the church or mission agency to act in those roles. But they are people. As Ezekiel 34 notes, Religious leaders may be shepherds, but they are also fellow sheep.
  • Ministers need accountability partners… both inside the church or ministry, and outside. The partners need to be mature and trustworthy so that those in ministry can share deeply of their pain and struggles. (I have known so many in ministry who put on the fake mask of “Blessed Victory” only to take it off when talking to me personally of their Pain.
  • Counselors need counselors. A pastor or missionary acts as a counselor for those he or she is responsible for. A minister is not an emotional sponge of unlimited capacity. They can share in the burdens of others… but they need to be able to share their own burdens with another as well.
  • Ministers need mentors. A minister should not only help others grow, but should work with another who helps him or her grow.Sometimes one needs several mentors: perhaps one for ministry, one or spiritual development, one for family or personal health.
  • Ministers need socialization. A minister needs friends. Inside the church they need friends. Outside the church they need friends. Outside the denomination they need friends. Inside the profession they need friends. Outside the profession they need friends. And yes… often outside the faith they need friends. A minister needs a supportive family… even if they don’t have people they are directly related to, they need a supportive family.

SB Missions, Churches, and Missionaries

Thom Rainer’s blogsite had a podcast on why it is important for churches to ensure that the missionaries they support have commonality of doctrine, vision, and focus. Associated with that post was a comment by a listener that appeared to be asking (paraphrasing and reading into it): “Why should churches select and support individual missionaries when they can (and should) be giving to the Cooperative Program?” After all, the International Mission Board is more competent to select and oversee missionaries than any one church. For those not in the know, the Cooperative Program is a collection from Southern Baptist churches for common support of international missions, regional missions, seminaries, and more.

i thought about responding to that comment on Rainer’s site, but decided to do it here instead. I don’t normally focus on denominational missions, but I will this once. 10248_orig

TWO DISCLOSURES

Disclosure #1.  My wife and I are Southern Baptist missionaries who are not tied to the Cooperative Program of the SBC. Relatedly, a lot of our support comes from non-Southern Baptist churches and individuals.

Disclosure #2. I believe that if your church is Southern Baptist, you really SHOULD be supporting the Cooperative Program. I really believe that. It is a good system, and the legacy of Luther Rice, Lottie Moon, and others, is worthy of admiration and continuation. Many of the best missionaries I know (or knew) are/were funded by the CP. That being said, I believe that every Southern Baptist church should directly support missionaries or mission organizations beyond the cooperative program.

Here are a few reasons.

  1.  Churches that don’t directly support missionaries become disconnected from missions. The Cooperative Program, as good as it is in so many ways, insulates churches from missions decisions, missions partnering, and missionaries. When churches are taken out of the loop… except as a money source, it is hardly surprising if it is difficult for church members to feel connected to missions or motivated to see themselves as part of the mission movement. Churches, ultimately, don’t want to “Just Send Money.” And rightly so.
  2. Churches that don’t directly support missionaries or missions don’t understand missions. I remember talking to a missionary who came home on furlough. He was invited to speak at a church that has no connection to cross-cultural missions. He noted that he was presented to the church much like one might present a novel archaeological discovery. That’s understandable since they did not know much about missionaries except images of missionaries trekking through jungles and mountains in the 1800s.  When a church doesn’t understand missions, they have trouble being effective if they decide to be involved in missions. I have seen churches all over the world who have repositioned their missions giving to short-term missions teams and projects. Unfortunately, they commonly don’t understand that short-term work is made effective through integration with long-term plans and connections. Few things are more frustrating than talking to church leaders who really don’t understand Christian missions (though most will mouth support for the concept of Christian missions).
  3. Sometimes the big organization is wrong. Sometimes, the individual church may have a clearer vision for missions that the top people don’t. A few years ago, the IMB decided to make drastic cuts of resources to the Philippines… especially in areas of theological education. This was horribly misguided. The Philippines has the potential to be one of the great missionary sending countries in the world. They need proper training, and empowerment. To remove Western missionaries from the role of training and empowering this potential mission force (something they are especially competent to do) and moving them mostly to cross-cultural pioneering (something they are less competent than locals in doing) was hugely flawed (yes… in my opinion). It was often other individual SB churches and groups that recognized this “error” and provided a well-needed corrective. A few years ago the IMB was “encouraging” missionaries to step aside who believe that women can be pastors. Since Biblically this is an uncertain (at best) issue… and the SB has a long history of “Bible women,” women serving in a pastoring capacity even if not embracing the title, it seems like a disturbingly arbitrary method of selection, and deselection, of missionaries. Ultimately, individual churches can SOMETIMES do things better.
  4. SB missions is able to leverage the dual benefits of collaboration and autonomy. Some denominations (and religious sects) tightly control and allocate resources for missions. This gives greater focus and ensures resources for priorities, but it also leaves a lot of gaps… areas that are not seen because those making decisions see the big picture, but not the smaller details such as local opportunities, and threats. Autonomy greatly broadens the vision by adding more people and perspectives to the mixture. However, it also can lead to a wasteful lack of cooperation, and failure to leverage the scale of the denomination. Ideally, bringing together both the cooperative program as well as state convention, local church and NGO missions brings the strengths of each, and compensates for each’s weaknesses.

In the end, SB churches do need to seek out missionary candidates and mission agencies in which they share doctrine, vision, and focus. They also need to collaborate through the Cooperative Program. Both are needed and neither should be ignored.