Role of a Missionary

I have struggled with a good job description for a missionary. Some descriptions appear to me to be entirely inadequate, or even counter-productive.

  1.  Missionaries are cross-cultural ministers. This is a common descriptor. There are  three major problems with this one for me. First, it doesn’t pass the “Paul and Barnabas Test.” We often think of Paul and Barnabas as quintessential missionaries. However, Barnabas was a Hellenistic Jew from Cyprus, and Paul was a Hellenistic Jew from Asia Minor. Where did they go on their one joint mission trip? To Hellenistic Jews and Hellenistic Gentiles in Cyprus and Asia Minor. If a descriptor does not include them, it hardly seems a good descriptor. Second, the functions associated with missionaries, such as church-planting and evangelizing under-reached people groups in local or diaspora settings, often are the same as truly cross-cultural ministry. To take these types of pioneering work outside of the field of missions research and education seems… fickle. Third, the closest term in the New Testament to the term today of “Missionary” is “Apostle.” Apostles appeared to be ministers who were called as “sent out ones” from the church to reach those outside of the church and establish new churches. I can see value for the term “missionary” to be broader today than the term “apostle” since the church has broadened in 2000 years. However, I struggle to see value in narrowing the term. Apostles were clearly not always cross-cultural. Peter was, after all, described as an Apostle to the Jews.
  2. Missionaries are full-time and fully financed. The same problems exist here as for the term “cross-cultural.” Paul and Barnabas were neither full-time nor fully financed. Both supplemented income with non-ministerial work. Both stepped back from churchplanting for periods of time. The skill sets for part-time or bivocational missions workers are pretty much the same as full-time and fully financed, so taking these ministries outside of the study of Missions research and education appears to me to be unjustified. And again, apostles in the New Testament seemed to have a pragmatic fluidity as far as support and schedule, so it is hard to see why the term missionary should be more limiting.

While I see value in the Missionary process described by four Ps (pioneer, parent, partner, participant), I still prefer to go with descriptors in terms of three relationships with the church:

Relationship A:  Where the Church IS NOT.  Where there is no viable church, missionaries work to establish churches. Ideally, this is temporary in a specific location.

Relationship B:  Where the Church HAS NOT. Where there is a viable church, but one that is not yet competent, or not yet motivated, to carry out some of its functions, missionaries can come along side at motivate, train, and empower the church. Ideally, this is also temporary in a specific location, unless of course the missionary serves in a specific location, and church ministers come to them for training and empowerment.

Relationship C:  Where the Church CANNOT. Even viable and skilled churches may lack certain functionality for ministries that need to be handled by missionaries for an extended period of time. Hospitals, Christian radio, translation and publishing, may be outside of the skill set or financial capacity of local churches for an extended period of time. This still should not be forever, but missionaries may be needed to serve in a specific location and ministry on a long-term basis.

These descriptors seem fairly useful.

  • They are consistent with Paul and Barnabas’ ministry on their first missionary trip of church-planting. But they are also consistent with the stated purpose of the second missionary trip of Paul:  “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” (Acts 15:36). It would also make the epistles of Paul an important aspect of his mission work.
  • The three descriptors would also draw together various forms of research and education that cover evangelism, churchplanting, and church empowerment (especially as an “outsider”).
  • They would include the functions of the New Testament apostle. The descriptors may be broader than our understanding of the term in the New Testament, but it does not exclude the functions of an apostle. (Note: I am describing the term “apostle” as used in the 1st century church, not the second century, and CERTAINLY not the way it is used today by “apostolic” Protestant churches.) 41nm958yhyl-_sx344_bo1204203200_

There is a fourth item as well. These descriptors would strongly embrace both Diaspora and “Reverse” missions. Since there are many unreached groups in traditionally mission-sending countries, missionaries to these countries are very justifiable. In a very realistic sense, there is much work in the US, Canada, Europe, and more– where the church “Is Not.” Additionally, many churches in traditionally “Christian” nations are unable or unwilling to carry out ministries. As such, missionaries from other areas are quite justified to come in and work with churches that “CANNOT” or “HAVE NOT.”

Bi-vocational Missions

I have been reading a book “A Higher Purpose for Your Overseas Jobs” by Roberto Claro> Also had the opportunity to attend a one-day seminar led by the author. Strangely, I had assigned the book to my missions students before, but had not really taken the time to get into it personally.Higher Purpose

I found the book extremely practical, but without the cardinal sin of ignoring the underlying principles of missions. The book focuses on the OFW (overseas foreign workers) experience of approximately 8 million Filipinos. The question is whether one can use their work overseas as an opportunity to serve God missionally. The writer likes to separate between same culture outreach overseas (also known as Diaspora Missions), and cross-cultural missions. I consider both to be missions… but I have to admit that it is mostly a matter of nomenclature rather than a fundamental difference.

The paper version of the book is available on-line (Amazon) as well as a number of bookstore chains in the Philippines. Recommend a paper version, but a free pdf version is available at HERE.

A nice blogsite for a lot of information about Philippine Bivocational Missions is Philippine Bi-Professionals.

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Diaspora Missions and the “Recovery of the Soul”

This is just some thoughts on Diaspora missions. I have a number of friends and colleagues who are experts on Diaspora missions. I am not such an expert. But writing is my way thinking and learning.  Diaspora refers to the “scattered seed” or the scattered people group in other countries. Filipinos are commonly thought of as a group with a large Diaspora. Close to 10% of Filipinos work overseas. This is a huge number with a lot of sociological implications… many of them not good. However, rather than focusing on the problems associated with the Diaspora (or OFW) phenomenon, I would rather focus on the REALITY of the situation. It exists, so how do we work with it?

1.  Diaspora missions is sub-cultural missions. Missions can focus on cultures (dominant culture), sub-cultures, or micro-cultures. Sub-cultures are different from micro-cultures with sub-cultures involving groups that are unique within the broader society 24 hours a day.  Micro-cultures are unique only part of the time. For example, taxicab drivers have a distinctive culture part of the day and then go home and join the larger culture the rest of the time. OFWs normally are recognized as a different culture 24-hours a day.

2.  Typically, Diaspora missions is Marginalized Diaspora missions. If the Diaspora are Integrated or Assimilated into the broader society, there is little need for a separate missions methodology. It is possible, theoretically, for Diaspora to exist within a Separated relationship with the broader society. This might exist in some scattered people groups such as the Romany. However, with groups like the Filipinos, they are thinly scattered within the broader society because of work status. Rarely do they live with the option of being in a sub-cultural enclave.

3. Marginalized Diaspora missions needs to deal with more than simply conversion. Marginalization suggests that the people have lost important aspects of their culture without gaining some other coping mechanisms from the dominant culture. While most of us don’t FEEL like we need culture… but we do. Partly, this is because culture provides a narrative, a structure, and a set of coping mechanisms. Without these, there is emotional and behavioral chaos.

Why is this? Take the case of Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs). Filipinos who work overseas typically are:

a.  Uprooted from their religious, familial, and social bonds, norms, and taboos. This forces them to try to create new bonds, norms, and taboos.

b.  Not only are OFWs removed from the extended families, they are commonly removed from their nuclear families. In many sub-cultures new norms and bonds form that are hugely in conflict with their home culture. Infidelity not only causes a lot of legal and financial problems, it creates a lot of internal tension, and family destruction.

c.  OFWs relate to the broader culture in different ways. In some cases they are welcome and legal. In some cases they are legal but unwelcome (or are at least denigrated). In some cases they are welcome (at least by employers) but illegal. I have seen some places were Filipinos are looked at as a people of servants, because the OFWs take on the roles that the local people don’t want to do (much like the migrant worker situation in the US). Often the OFWs have more education than the people they are working for. All of this adds additional stress and questions regarding self-identity and self-worth.

I am sure there are more. But all of this gives some suggestion of roles needed in Diaspora Missions.

  • The disorientation of the new culture may make OFWs open to spiritual redirection. Conversion and church development are important, but this is just the start.
  • The church for OFWs needs to provide a role more in line with the 1st century church. The first century church created a new family and structure (without rejecting one’s old family).
  • OFWs need to be helped to develop healthy new social structures. They can’t simply copy the ones from home. Yet, assimilating into the new culture can be very unhealthy, as is maintaining a culturally damaged (marginalized) status.
  • OFWs need to be helped to integrate their lives so that they are not developing a compartmentalized life (two families, two sets of morals).

In clinical pastoral counseling, there is language used referring to the “recovery of the soul.” The term soul in this case is closer to the older meaning for spirit… the self empowered and meaningful life. The ideal of clinical pastoral counseling must follow through into Diaspora Missions. OFWs need to feel empowered, but that empowering must have meaning/direction… and that direction needs to be healthy, not unhealthy. 

That is a major challenge with Diaspora missions. To a large extent OFWs gain power (money) through working overseas. But the direction of that power tears families a part and creates marginalized sub-cultures. Diaspora missions needs to step in and work with OFWs to redirect… the recovery of the soul.