Dialogue is in contradiction to Evangelism. Or is it? Dialogue is generally thought of as conversation between two equals (certainly equals in terms of roles in conversation) so as to achieve mutual understanding. As such it is not driven by a desire to coerce another, or change another’s mind. From this standpoint, it is certainly understandable if Dialogue is seen as contradictory to Evangelism. Some even explicitly (or at least implicitly) say this:
Leonard Swidler: The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn; that is, to change and grow in the perception and understanding of reality, and then to act accordingly.
Peter Feldmeier: Be without covert or ulterior motives. Do not secretly be trying to convert them or prove yourself superior.
Frankly, I agree with them. Dialogue is not to be manipulative. It should be built on mutual respect and openness to learn.
So does that put it at odds with proselytizing? Does it work against evangelism?
No, I don’t think so:
Dialogue IS NOT Evangelism… but it IS Foundational to Evangelism
Dialogue helps one…
Understand each other (head level)
Have greater insight with each other (heart level)
Reduce social distance (relational level)
So consider three forms of evangelism
#1. Testifying. Sharing one’s own experience (serving as a witness of what God has done in one’s life).
#2. Proclaiming. Sharing the gospel message and Christian dogma.
#3. Arguing. Seeking to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian faith over the faith of the other (two-way conversation where each is seeking to change the mind of the other).
Now consider these. Testifying is a more personal form of evangelism and that certainly is helped by a reduced social distance. It would also be aided by an understanding of the thoughts, beliefs, and values of the other so that the testimony can be presented in a way that would be understood well by the other and be relevant to the other. The same could be said in terms of proclamation and even argument.
So, dialogue is not evangelism. the process and goals are different. However, healthy dialogue helps to bring connection between the two and better understanding of each other which is pretty necessary to effectively evangelize.
Let’s be honest here. Most of the evangelisitic methods that have been created are based on the presumption that the other person is already (essentially) Christian. For example, the Romans Road presumes that the respondent accepts the authority of the Holy Bible, and essentially has a Biblical understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, and what sin is. The respondent may or may not be “born again” (having allegiance to Christ) already, but probably already is already at least nominally or culturally Christian. Hardly surprising that such methods don’t work well with those of distinctly non-Christian religions or cultures.
If you are interested in knowing more about Interreligious (or Interfaith) Dialogue, consider clicking on the menu above for “My Books” and look at the book “Dialogue in Diversity.” It can be clicked on to purchase, or simply to preview some of it.
So… let’s talk about some well-known expansions of Christianity. One of these was the growth of the church in the Roman Empire, and adjoining territories during the first 3 centuries. The church grew rapidly. If I remember right (and am quite prepared to be wrong), the church averaged growth of around 20% per year. That is pretty huge. Both Islam and Christianity is recently growing around 3%, more or less, per year. Some smaller religions are growing at a faster rate, but 20% is pretty huge for any group.
China has been an area of great growth of the church (both “underground” and “above ground”) in the 20th century. In recent years, people have been writing about the apparent growth of the underground church in Iran, mirroring in some ways the growth of Christianity in the Iranian diaspora. Perhaps a fourth one worth mentioning is the African Indigenous (or Initiated) Church (AIG) movement.
What do these movements have in common? One is that there was persecution. That cannot be discounted. However, persecution is not a magic growth formula. In fact, the Chinese church has undergone several waves of persecution going back to the 9th century AD. Of those waves of persecution, it seems as if the only that last of these resulted in growth (Maoist persecution).
Persecution can lead to resiliency, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee growth— perhaps nothing guarantees growth. But a few more things seem worth noting for these growth movements. There Christianity is
…a religion of (relative) poverty. In some cases, Christianity in these movements was the religion of the poor, and the poorest of the poor. In other cases, Christianity is impoverished in terms of structure. Religious structure, in this case, refers to some things like complex organization, physical religious buildings, and paid clerical class within the church.
… a religion of the people. It is started, expanded and propagated by locals, rather than foreigners, and often by laity rather than clergy.
… a religion in which missionaries are not active. Or… if they are active, they are taking on a background, supportive role rather than a leading or controlling role. In fact, the AIC movement often found itself in conflict with missionaries. In China, the Christian church really began to grow after missionaries left the country. Successful missionary work done by foreigners there is now more often in terms of assisting with training or other support roles rather than leadership or apostolic tasks. Much of the early church growth in the Roman Empire happened in the 2nd and 3rd centuries when Apostles/Missionaries as a group were slowly fading away. By the 3rd century, they were barely recognized as a group. I would also suggest that the Iran church have thrived in the absence of foreign missionaries planting and leading churches, while in Iraq, the access of foreign mission workers has NOT been a boon. (Again, open to correction in this area.)
So suppose these three things are true? What does this mean for foreign missions? I would suggest three things.
Missionaries today seem to be selected wrong. Many mission agencies, including the main one in my denomination, tend to select missionaries based on their “evangelistic spirit” and sense of calling to plant churches. Maybe, however, this is NOT what is needed. Maybe we need missionaries who support locals who are called to be evangelists, apostles, and churchplanters. Perhaps missionaries should be selected on their passion to serve locals rather than lead, and support locals rather than replace.
Be very careful as to where missional churches send short-term mission teams. In many places in the world they can easily do great damage. And in places where they can go, they are more likely to be useful in supportive tasks requested by the receiving Christians, not doing the stuff that their sending churches think is needed.
However, missionaries, in the broader sense of the term, should be everywhere. The church is universal and we tend to remember this when we learn and grow with and from each other. Perhaps this means having people who are less thought of as “missionaries” (leaders, evangelists, churchplanters) and more as cross-cultural workers, supporting local work, as requested by locals.
This last point may seem a bit odd, but it is pretty straightforward. When Christians come to the US to serve, they do so without much “hoopla.” Some may pastor churches or be involved in various ministries, but there is no presumption that as a foreigner that they must have a very specific role of leadership or task. Rather, the assumption is that there are needs, and if that person can meet that locally-determined need, then they can serve. What makes sense in the US, should perhaps be recognized as making sense elsewhere as well.
Years ago I wrote an article on Asian Christian Theology, where I expressed some questions or concerns about how some consider this. (You can read it by CLICKING HERE).
Recently I was in a meeting where exploration of supporting Asian Christian Theology books was explored. Some questions came up that commonly come up when this topic is being considered. For example, what defines Asian Christian Theology? If one is Asian does this make one’s theological writings Asian or not? Many Asians are trained (and sometimes indoctrinated) in Western schools or traditions. Will the results of these Asian writers be Asian theology, or simply Western Theology written by an Asian.
Additionally, do Asian Christian Theologies have characteristics that make them distinctly different AS A GROUP from Western or other Christian Theologies? Considering the variety of Asian cultures it seems doubtful that there is one unifying theme. Continental identity does not seem adequate.
Further, does Asian Christian Theology have unique methodologies (or at least foci) different from Western? Perhaps there is a greater focus on narrative over propositional truths. Maybe the dominant metaphors would be different. Perhaps systematization would be less valued. But if an Asian wrote a systematic theology with a strong focus on propositional truths, would that make it “un-Asian”?
For me, the key point is not on any of the above. I would suggest something different.
The above figure suggests theology as a man-made construct that relates God’s unchanging revelation to Man’s changing culture(s). Since human cultures are diverse and changing, good theologies should be:
Making sense within the culture
<Consider reading the post where I talk about this more. It was meant to be part of a book that I never finished. Click Here.>
With this in mind, what is an Asian Christian Theology? It is one that is
Relevant to people living in a present Asian culture
Has practical value to these same people in that culture
Utilizes metaphors, thought processes, and such that make sense to people in that culture.
AND… effectively links accurately and fully to God’s revelation.
I could add a fifth point. Ideally, it should speak to people of other cultures as well. That is because we are not only part of a local community of faith, we are part of a universal community of faith. As such, it should not serve as a wedge between local and non-local Christians. (Theology should both unify and diversify.)
Ultimately, the best test of whether a theology is Asian is “Does it give God’s answers to the questions that come from Asians within an Asian culture?”
A few weeks ago a friend of mine who teaches at a small missions school asked me what is the most valuable way to teach missions anthropology. I suppose the most valuable way to teach missions anthropology is to do missions anthropology. However, the question was given in the context of a course taught in a predominantly classroom environment.
I think I said at the time that I think the most important or valuable is to do ethnographic research. I still think that is probably the most important… but perhaps I would say things a little different now that I have thought about it more.
The most important or valuable way would involve three things that all, potentially, tie together.
Do a simple ethnographic study of a sub-culture or micro-culture. Ideally it is on a group that one is actually interested in, or one that one plans to minister to. Choose a topic of interest as the focus of curiosity. Determine the right method of research. Carry out the research. Analyze the findings. Reflect on the findings in terms of ministry and culture.
Hold dialogues with people of other cultures. These can be semi-structured or unstructured. Write down the conversation. Reflect on the conversation.
For both items 1 and 2, present to a small group in a clinical case format. That is, one presents the work as a case to a small group. One then interprets the case, and reflects on it theologically, ministerially, and culturally. One then opens oneself up to questions, clarifications, comments and insights, from the rest of the group. Then one reflects on the experience of the small group. (And being part of the small group, one also is on the other side, listening and responding to the ethnographic studies and dialogues of others in the group.)
This I find the most effective for a few reasons. First, it is embedded in the real and relevant. That makes it more practical, and usually more interesting. Second, it helps to learn through the experiences, words, and actions of others. Third, it pushes one towards change of values and perspective. It helps one to see the world from others’ perspectives (both those being studied, and those in one’s group.) Fourth, the actual behaviors can be easily tied to the more academic topics such as taxonomies of groups, and special terminologies.
describe a bad thing. But let’s try to think of some ways that are a bit more positive. Being a parent (or a pet owner) and leading a government involves a bit of playing God— embracing some of the roles that God has, but on a smaller scale. In fact a couple of metaphors for God are “Heavenly Father” and “King.” However, I would look at being a Community Developer as also being an analog for many of the roles of God A community developer seeks to take on a redemptive role among people, and to help and transform.
What are some things one learns as a community developer?
One generally learns that what people need and what they think they need are not the same. While a CD practitioner may start with paying attention to felt needs, staying with felt needs usually means working on fixing symptoms rather than curing the disease(s). Ultimately, that doesn’t bring long-term change.
Symptoms of a problem are less important than the underlying problems and one must really learn to seek the underlying problems and work on them.
Solving problems for people tends to backfire. Solving problems for people tends to make them more dependent… and that dependence often makes the underlying problems worse, not better.
CD practioners are generally seen as needing to live with and identify with the people they serve.
Serving is the critical term. The goal is not to lead long-term, but to train, empower, and release people to lead themselves.
Let’s just stop at these five and consider how these may be analogous to some of the areas of theology that we struggle with.
God does not always give us what we want. God does not always answer our prayers as we wish and this does not always give us what we want. This is based on His love for us, not His indifference or his anger.
God focuses more on our underlying problems (such as our moral brokenness and social disconnectedness) rather than the symptoms that we tend to talk about more, and more interested in having “fixed.” God may uses awesome signs to open the door… but seeks to move from there to more core issues soon. These core issues are not fixed by miraculous signs.
God doesn’t hand out “prosperity” because it is typically bad for us. As broken, selfish, disconnected people, the power associated with prosperity is likely to make our situation worse, not better.
God does not help us from a distance. God is not fully transcendent. God is very much immanent— in the temple, in the incarnation of Christ, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The presence of God is not irrelevant but key to our transformation.
God chooses to work primarily through people. Dependence on God is tied to recognizing our need for God, but is NOT tied in God trying to keep us incompetent. God seeks our development and empowerment to serve. God serves us so we can serve Him, and others. We are blessed by God, not to live in a state of being blessed, but to be blessings for others.
Consider Quote from Corbett and Fikkert’s book When Helping Hurts:
As numerous scholars have noted, prior to the twentieth century, evangelical Christians played a large role in ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor. However, this all changed at the start of the twentieth century as evangelicals battled theological liberals over the fundamental tenets of Christianity. Evangelicals interpreting the rising social gospel movement, which seemed to equate all humanitarian efforts with bringing in Christ’s kingdom, as part of the overall theological drift of the nation. As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation. This shift away from the poor was so dramatic that church historians refer to the 1900-1930 era as the “Great Reversal” in the evangelical church’s approach to social problems.
It is important to note that the Great Reversal preceded the rise of the welfare state in America. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty did not occur until the 1960s, and even FDR’s relatively modest New Deal policies were not launched until the 1930s. In short, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not— as many asserted— to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor. <Corbett and Fikkert, page 45>
In the 1960s another shift reaction occurred but this time in Missions. During this time, theological liberalism was having a growing impact on Western Protestant missions due to the growth of belief in pluralism among Protestants, and a unique interpretation of Missio Dei. The former reduced the feeling that non-Christians needed an allegiance shift to Christ. The latter saw Missio Dei, the understanding that God is working on mission everywhere at all times on earth, as making the role of Missio Ecclessiae doubtful. In fact, from a mission perspective, if God is working in other cultures, for a missionary to come in an challenge the beliefs and practices of a people, could it not be a working against God? As such Missions is seen as a ministry of Presence rather than Proclamation.
In reaction to this, there seemed to be a narrowing of mission work among Evangelicals to proclamation and church-planting. Exacerbating this was a focus on what I would call Apocalypticism. That is, Christ is returning any moment, so what should we work on right this minute to be ready for this return? While this focus may seem reasonable, the result was that anything that might be considered a “long-term investment” in terms of ministry (such as poverty alleviation, cultural transformation, community development) were seen as too slow and not a priority. Further, Kingdom of God over the decades tended to be associated more and more with Heaven so problems on earth (ecological and social injustice) were seen as lacking value. We still find these problems. I was reading a recent mission CPM book that discouraged social ministry or even friendship evangelism as “slowing things down.”
I could go on. But let’s stop here a moment and think what’s been going on:
Evangelical Missions has often been reactionary. Rather than centered on God’s word, it tended all too often to react against theological liberals, or pluralists, or liberationists, Catholics or others. (Often these other groups were seen as “the enemy.”) As such, Evanglicals often were guilty of what they charge others (of not treating the Bible as authoritative and basis for faith and practice).
Relatedly, short-term marketing choices were often given formal “blessing” regardless of whether they were based on solid principles.
There has been success in Evangelical Missions over the last 6 to 7 decades, but there has been a cost. It has lost relevance in many sectors not because of opposition but intentionally pulling out of those sectors. Failures in social justice and poverty alleviation, and focusing on Heaven only, have resulted in reinforcing the charges of Marxists that religion is about serving as an opiate for the masses. Failures to transform (or even try to transform) societies and cultures has led many to see as a failure of Christ and Christianity, rather than simply a failure of Missions theology. Focusing on UPGs (and an abusive use of Matthew 24:11) led to poorly considered and invasive tactics.
This post is long enough. But we can clearly do better.
I was in a seminar in our seminary about doing research. The issue came up of what sources are legitimate for research. When the issue of blogs came up, the speaker, one of my colleagues, said that while many professors don’t allow citations of blogs or “personal websites” not all feel that way. For the speaker, it depends on who the blog writer is— what is his or her academic credentials. The speaker specifically named my blogsite as one she deems to be acceptable for citations.
That is an honor. So many weird blogsites out where if a student says “I got this information from a blogsite or a personal websites” is akin to saying “I found it scribbled on a Scrunched-up Piece of Paper at a Bus Stop.”
But it did get me wondering about how I thought about my blog being used for citations for research. I guess the best answer I can give is “ambivalent.”
First, I do put a lot of work into this blog— content-wise, even if not in terms of look or style (Howard Culbertson’s webpage has great stuff even if the style is… awkward.) Since I put a lot of thought and work into it, I feel great that people are able to make use of it. But… on the other hand,
Second, I use my blog as a bit of a ministerial and reflective diary. As such, some of my thoughts are disorganized, and perhaps a bit half-baked. Do I want to be referenced for things I am not even sure whether I believe myself? On the other hand,
Third. My words are my words. As such, quoting what I put on a blog is probably better than quoting what I say off-the-cuff. Given a choice, I would rather be quoted in something I had thought, written down, and edited, rather than something that just came to me in a moment, and then perhaps incorrectly, copied down by another. In addition to this,
Fourth. Some of the things that I put on my blog are original thoughts. Some of those thoughts tarnish over time. But some thoughts that started out as tentative blogposts did eventually mature into something I feel pretty good about. Among these are:
Questioning the primacy of Power Encounter (as espoused by Charles Kraft) and suggesting that Love Encounter is far more important, and more universally applicable, than Power Encounter. I feel pretty solid on that one.
Suggesting the incompleteness of the Three Waves of Protestant Missions (by Ralph Winter) and suggesting that we are entering a fourth wave where UPGs are being replaced by GUCs (great urban centers). Yup, time seems to be supporting this one pretty good.
Suggesting that Christan perfection is better identified in terms of redeemed flaws rather than flawlessness, and that our aesthetic language may create some problems in Biblical understanding that is not really in the text. I think this is a pretty important one… and I see that in recent years it has been a growing trend to express Christianity in terms of metaphor of an aesthetics of flaw and age.
Even if I am wrong on these, they express well-developed thoughts that are worthy of consideration regardless of whether they are in peer-reviewed journals, formally published books, or not.
I guess my final conclusion is not so much dwelling only on how I feel about being cited in a blog, but what should I do about it.
I think it places a responsibility to put more quality effort into my posts. I should take research more seriously as well as citing works. I should also (at least consider) figuring out ways to make my blog more user-friendly.
If some people take my writings as more authoritative than a message scribbled on a scrunched-up piece of paper at a bus stop, that places a certain responsibility on myself to not just treat blogging as a scribbling on a piece of paper that will be thrown out and read by no one.
Celia and I have gone through our most recent book, Dialogue in Pastoral Counseling and Training, and made a few modest changes. Some of these were fixing small glitches. Played with the structure in spots as well. I think the book is stronger now.
Yes, I know that this blog is MOSTLY about missions, and this particular book is more for training chaplains and pastoral counselors. I have noted that there is a strong overlap of pastoral care and missions, despite the seeming opposite goals. Several of the chapters are quite relevant to missions. The most obvious one is doing pastoral counseling in different cultures. However, theological reflection, group dynamics, family dynamics, and supervisory relations are just a few of the topics that are quite relevant.
As of January 6, 2020, the update of the book has already taken effect for the Kindle version on Amazon. I assume that the paperback version will have its changes approved and available no later than January 9th. The Book is Available by CLICKING HERE.
By the way, the next book, I think, will be back to being more formally missions. The topic would be Mission to Samaria. The overarching theme of the book is on missions that focuses on the neighbors we tend to ignore. Anyway, that is enough for now. Hopefully, it will happen this year. Still need to work on the online courses for Pastoral Care, and for Cultural Anthropology. I probably should do that before I work more on the new book.
to share with you my view of anger. I think anger is neither good nor bad. It is an emotion and emotions are not good or bad. Emotions begin to take on ethical concerns when tied to motives and actions. In this sense, then, I believe that anger itself is neither righteous nor unrighteous. Thus, the term “righteous anger” is neither self-contradictory, nor even paradoxical. But it may not be a useful term.
“Righteous Anger” seems to have come out of the cultural belief that anger is in itself… bad. Some prefer the term “righteous indignation. Of course, to some extent indignation can be seen as a different emotion, or perhaps a more nuanced emotion. Often indignation suggests anger that is motivated by injustice. Thus Aristotle saw it as a healthy state— between envy and spite— a golden mean. Therefore, righteous indignation is anger motivated by the injustice at the success of the undeserving. (Are there, however, people who deserve to be successful and people who don’t?)
In Christian circles, I think indignation is usually just a euphemism. A person who is clearly angry may choose to defend himself by saying… “I am NOT angry… I have righteous indignation.” That has the double problem to me as it seems to be both emotionally dishonest, and suggesting false virtue.
For Christians, it is big concern since the Bible describes God as angy at times. The dominant emotion of God in the New Testament is Love, the dominant emotion used to describe Jesus in the Gospels is compassion, and the dominant emotion ascribed to God in the Old Testament is mercy. The latter two, compassion and mercy, could perhaps be better said to be emotions tied to motivation and action. Nevertheless, anger or wrath are certainly described as emotions of God.
Some would argue that God doesn’t have emotions. Emotions are neurochemical responses that we have as biochemical lifeforms. God is spirit not flesh so emotions are not really part of His nature. From this view, God could be seen as not having emotions as we do (impassibility), and the emotional descriptions of God are simply attempts to make God make more sense to us (anthropomorphisms). I would argue oppositely. I would argue that God does have emotions, and created us with a biochemical analog of this characteristic of God.
That being said, I do think that sometimes the anger of God is used in the Bible to help explain something about God to us, rather than explain His actual emotional state. A good example of this is in the theological concept of Propitiation. The concept is drawn from a term in the Bible meaning to assuage or satisfy the wrath of God. As it is used by some theologians, it says that God is full of anger because of our sins, and the only thing that can fully satisfy or remove that anger is the blood (death) of Jesus. I personally, think the language is more metaphoric than literal. My main reason for believing this is that Jesus was able to walk around for over three decades on earth without appearing to be full of rage about people’s sinful behavior. Many Christians like to use the expression, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” In the case of Christ, it seems more like “Love the Sinner, Inspire the Good.” The term “propitiation” seems more like a metaphor for salvation, much like “justification,” “redemption,” and “adoption.”
Additionally, in some places in the Bible, hate or anger appear to be emotion-laden terms that actually refer to a much less emotional activity. When it says that for God, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,” this seems to be less about emotion, and more about choice. After all, God actually chose to bless both brothers. However, the salvific history of God runs through Jacob.
Other places, it is not that simple. Jesus showed a wide range of emotions that have the spontaneity of the emotions we are familiar with. In Christian theology this should not be surprising since we see Jesus as fully human. However, such genuine emotions does not seem to be out of touch with the description of God’s quality. Thus, Jesus as fully God is not inconsistent with his emotions.
I like the quote of B.B. Warfield in this regard,
“Our Lord’s emotions fulfilled themselves, as ours do, in physical reactions. He who hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:20), was weary (John 4:6), who knew both physical pain and pleasure, expressed also in bodily affections the emotions that stirred His soul… Not only do we read that He wept (John 11:35) and wailed (Luke 19:41), sighed (Mark 7:34), and groaned (Mark 8:12), but we read also of His angry glare (Mark 3:5), His annoyed speech (Mark 10:14), His chiding words (e.g. Mark 3:12), the outbreaking ebullition of rage (e.g. John 11:33 and 38), of the agitation of His bearing when under strong feelings (John 11:35), the open exaltation of His joy (Luke 10:21), the unrest of His movements in the face of anticipated evils (Matt. 27:37), the loud cry which was wrung from Him in His moment of desolation (Matt. 27:46).”
When I was young, I was told that anger was okay, ONLY if it was directed in support of the holiness of God. Jesus expressed anger at the sellers at the temple because it lowered God’s glory by turning a place of worship into a den of thieves. But is this the only time that anger is good?
Years ago, I was driving in Baguio City, when I saw a small girl walking on the sidewalk. She was carrying her books close to her, was hunched over, and appeared to be crying or on the verge of crying. Right behind her were two boys slightly larger than her. They were saying things that appeared to be derisive (although I could not hear them) and were tossing small pebbles at her. I also noticed that others who were around were ignoring her situation. I felt angry. I stopped my car in the busy traffic got out of my car and yelled at the boys to stop what they were doing immediately. Was that unrighteous anger. I don’t know. Perhaps it was. It certainly wasn’t directed towards defending God. But I would argue that God has called on us to focus more attention on defending the weak, the innocent, the disempowered, and the marginalized, than on defending Him. God can defend Himself quite well if the need arises. I think this type of anger is quite appropriate.
Since anger is built into our limbic system to trigger quickly, even though it is a “secondary emotion,” almost before we can identify the trigger, it seems as if God designed us to be angry… at times. Overcoming anger is not always a virtue.
That being said, in missions one must also realize that in many cultures, anger is seen as almost always wrong. It is also true that many people have used “righteous anger” as a justification for unspeakable evil at times.
So where are we? My post has been pretty convoluted. However, it seems like the answer is that we should throw out the phrase “righteous anger.” Anger is anger. It can be triggered by appropriate things as well as inappropriate. It can motivate one to good actions or evil actions. It can be healthy to express anger in some environments and unhealthy to express that same anger in another context. In the end, I just don’t see it as a useful term. The guidance of St. Paul in Ephesians 4 seems appropriate:
Before I get into this… a bit of a confession time. I may not be the great exemplar of a missionary. I am not adept at language. I am an introvert, when it seems as if the extrovert is the ideal promoted. I am prone to be a bit grumpy. I am also not particularly evangelistic. Oh yeah, and I am horrible at fundraising. (Not all of these are that important. I think the jury is out still as to whether introverts or extroverts make better missionaries. And, in the age we live in, missionaries in most parts of the world are needed more in skills training and leader development rather than being evangelizers or churchplanters… the latter roles issionaries are usually second-rate as compared to locals.) It is still fair to say that these are all pretty good reasons for me NOT to be involved in missions. Confession time over.
You know… some people just really really should not go into missions. I know we have really rousing missions conferences with “altar calls” to get people to commit to mission work, but some really should be discouraged from this. I know many people think that God gives certain people a divine moment that tells them they must be missionaries— no turning back. Not so sure, and this matters, because there is dangers to the wrong people going into cross-cultural ministry. That is because although mission work can truly advance the Kingdom of God, done wrong it can also hinder or undo it.
The people who always make me the most nervous here in the Philippines are the highly ethnocentric missionaries. Usually, these are Americans who often embrace many of the “Ugly American” stereotypes that we were warned about back in my Navy Days before our ship sailed into foreign ports of call. It is interesting that the US Navy tried to drill this concern into our minds while many groups (especially churches sending individuals or short-term mission teams) do not. Some such mission folk are loud and abrasive, and think they know more than locals. Some seek to bring over their churches from the US bringing their own style, doctrines, and prejudices to be imparted into their mission churches. I know of two people who were kicked out of the Philippines because they were missionaries. The Philippines is so lax on enforcing rules regarding mission work that it is hard to imagine any being sent home for illegal mission work. However, the fact was that it was the local church they were working with here that turned them in to the BI (Bureau of Immigration). I never did find out what this American couple did that would motivate Filipinos to turn on them (a rare thing indeed). While I said this as if only an American thing, I have seen a few other nationalities (I will leave these unlisted) that feel the temptation to bring in their superior attitudes to the field. If you feel the need to bring your political perspectives and train up your people in them on the field, you are probably in the wrong job.
Some people struggle with being self-driven, and self-accountable. While everyone needs accountability in mission work, the oversight is commonly less than at home. In most cases it is easier to get away with laziness or acting out when one’s boss is hours away. If you need someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you are working, mission work is probably not for you.
Some people struggle with flexibility. Cross-cultural work involves cultural flexibility. Mission work, in general, requires activity flexibility. Rarely is one day like the next. If one needs routine, or can’t handle being expected to behave in ways that are markedly different than one was raised up, mission work is probably not the best for you.
If you are success-oriented, and want to be a big name… again probably not ideal to be a missionary. Even if you are fairly well-known to a small group of people where you serve, people in your home country are likely not to know you. The activities likely to get one to be well-known (like getting killed for illegal trespassing on lands of hostile locals, or getting caught sexually molesting MKs) are exactly the things one REALLY SHOULD AVOID. Frankly, most famous missionaries, like St. Paul or William Carey, really became famous mostly after their deaths.
If money given to you as a steward for ministry feels like your own money… you probably should not be a missionary.