We are doing very well these days. The 1 year anniversary is under the belt, it is frigid out but not so bad, my best friend is about to become a father, and so many people are in our lives right now, doing wonderful things and teaching us so much. This whole blog was sparked by a conversation of what it means to be a missionary, and why that word makes us cringe so much. (Disclaimer – We don’t consider ourselves missionaries, and we never want to be considered as such. Or, everyone is a missionary. Whatever.)
A couple years ago now, Sheri and I were on a mountain in central Vietnam, discussing some of our biggest weaknesses and how to deal with them. Sheri very wisely boiled it all down to pride. “Then how do you get rid of pride?” I asked.
She laughed. “That’s the question of the century. When you figure out the answer to that one, let me know.”
Ever since then, the majority of our efforts at refinement, growth, and sanctification, have been an attack against pride, against self, and against ego.
By the Lord’s grace, I think we’ve made some progress. If anything though, we have learned how to recognize it. At least now we can see when self is getting in the way of the purity that is required by complete surrender, humility, and obedience to the call and purpose of God.
But in this, as with everything, there is a balance that must be found. How do we rid ‘self’ from the matter of ‘mission’, without losing the individuality and joy of the calling?
Side note: I use the words mission, missionary, and missionally with the loosest connotation. I don’t mean the typical white-faced, awkward, Jesus loves you zip off pants and short sleeve button ups 20 years in Kenya and 18 children imagery conjured up by the terms. Our mission should be God’s mission – love, praise, and eternal reconciliation of all things. Wherever we are. That’s all I mean.
Anyone who’s ever gone on a mission trip can probably attest to the possibility that there might have been some mixed motives. Maybe you were following the Lord, certainly, but maybe also it fit well with your schedule, it was to a country you ‘really had on your heart’ (read: really wanted to visit), it came at a really convenient time, you weren’t doing anything else that summer and didn’t want to apply for jobs, it came ‘highly recommended’ by super-spiritual people, you figured you would grow a lot, and at the very least you would feel really good. You have to admit, at some point, ‘self’ comes into consideration, which might possibly blind you to the true leading of the Spirit, the purpose of mission (specifically that mission), the needs of the people you’re serving, the things they don’t need in general, the things they certainly don’t need from you, and the likelihood that you’re solely and uniquely equipped to fulfill what they do need.
At the most, the consideration of self can be potentially destructive rather than productive. At the least, it can lead to a lack of fruitfulness.
But, on the other hand, following the Lord into mission or intentional service and obedience does not require you to hate where you’re going, what you’re doing, the people you’re doing it for, and for it to be the all-around worst possible fit. The Lord creates us and equips us uniquely to fulfill certain roles. I honestly think this is extremely important.
More so, joy can be found in being utilized towards a specific purpose, especially your specific purpose. Of course though, the Lord does not require the experience to be joyful. That is not a requirement, or even worse, an entitlement we are justified in having.
Let me clarify even farther: there is a wide range between total self-absorption and self-abasement. We have to find the balance between pride and self-contempt.
Just because you don’t want to do something, or you’re not equipped, doesn’t mean the Lord isn’t calling you to it. But it also doesn’t mean He is.
‘How much I like doing something’ isn’t necessarily a measure of purpose, and ‘how good of a fit it is’ is not necessarily correlated to obedience. On the other hand, neither is ‘I really didn’t want to do this, so it must be the Lord’.
We have to be more nuanced. We have to be more humble.
If you occupy the majority of your time or thought with ‘self’ in your intent to live missionally, then you’re probably doing something wrong. On the other hand, you can’t be at a healthy place to give if you’re not making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Maintenance and self-attendance are an important part of longevity in anything.
If there is adventure involved in mission, it doesn’t mean the Lord isn’t fulfilling some full, specific purpose through it. On the other hand, focusing 100% on ministry could mean there’s a lot of facets about the Lord and his work that you’re likely to miss.
Going somewhere for a week doesn’t fulfill some grand, larger purpose, but it doesn’t mean you won’t.
Spending your time ignoring people who could be considered ‘the least of these’ isn’t very Jesus-like, but neither is calling someone ‘the least of these’. I can promise you, you won’t be thanked for that.
I wonder what would happen if we approached missions with complete transparency:
Local: “What are you doing here?”
Missionary: “Well, I’m here to help you of course.”
Missionary: “Because you definitely need it… and I love you.”
Local: “…But why really?”
Missionary: “Because it makes me look like a good person, and because you look like you might be the least of these, and that’s what I’m supposed to do, I’m pretty sure. And because poverty is way more beautiful and exotic if it’s in Africa.”
Local: “Well, what will you guys do?”
Missionary: “I don’t know, I think we’re picking up trash later. And here, we made some extra food earlier, if you want some. It’s probably pretty cold by now though, but, it’s free. But mostly, we’re just here to love on you.”
Local: “What does that even mean?”
Missionary: “…I don’t know, actually. I think like… well… But like, tell me, what’s it like to be poor? Are you like, spiritually empty? This country is super spiritually dark… so they say”
Local: “Spiritually dark? What – Wait, how are you even able to be here?”
Missionary: “Oh, a bunch of people gave me a ton of money. Literally thousands of dollars.”
Local: “Oh, then can I have some?”
Missionary: “Oh no, it was for me. Plus I don’t want to reinforce any bad habits or practices. You know, teach a man to fish…”
Local: “Oh. Well, how long will you be here? Does that mean you could help me get a job?”
Missionary: “Well, no, we don’t do that. Anyways, my group moves on in a week. Yeah. And to be honest, I’m kind of glad, I miss Mexican food. And Netflix. And I didn’t really like your country anyway, the people aren’t as nice, and it smells. And anyway, I’m going back to school in a few months. I just really feel the Lord calling me anywhere but here.”
Something that I thought was interesting about my industrial supply job, was that my boss originally moved me here for 3 months. “Just give it a go,” he said, “We’ll see what happens.” But after three months, he instantly kept us here for another year, without thought, or even promise that business will pick up. In fact, I specifically told him that business was looking pretty grim.
But now, in the middle of our contract, I am completely of the opinion that even a year is not enough. What can you really get done in a year if most of your time is spent thinking about what’s happening next. We’re trying to find out. But we know this: things can happen in a second, but they don’t change overnight… Or, something like that. It takes all of about 45 seconds to make a deal. It takes many years to get a business financially solvent. How important does that make the 45-second deal? I’m not entirely sure.
Timing is so important in following Jesus. So are long times, and discipline: total abandon. But so is spontaneous surrender: small, life changing moments when you’re the least qualified. It all counts.
Of course, there is a place for short term missions, and there is a reason the Lord calls people to them. I will never deny that. But it’s probably not to change anything large scale, and it so far hasn’t been statistically proven to give people enough of a taste of missions that they move out long term. So why is it? For you to grow? Is that it? What are you taking from these opportunities, and what are you giving? What is being changed in you, and what are you changing? Why are you doing the things you do, and is the way your perspective is shaped around them really healthy? Is it Biblical? Is there any hint of pride in our gravitation towards the short, and our fear of the long? Can you reconcile your call to total submission to the Lord with your call to yet another short term mission trip?
I’ve talked before about a need-based approach to missions, and I still think that’s very important. So, of course, is a Spirit led approach to missions. And I think it’s crucial, at the end of the day, to reconcile the two when you consider the way you live your day-to-day life.
It is okay, I think, to rest your theology on the fact that the Spirit of the Lord leads the way He leads, and who can say otherwise. But I don’t think it is okay to stop asking hard questions. I don’t think it is okay to settle for things that come in pretty-made packages, sound nice, and look good on Instagram. Or your resume. I don’t think it is okay to excuse putting a little more ‘self’ into mission because a trip comes that way, or because it’s easier, or because everyone else is doing it. I think we have to be very careful, because the shorter our attention spans and our ability to commit, the greater our inability to perceive need, discern the Spirit, work effectually, and respond in a way that truly honors the Lord and his people.
The question is not long term vs short term, this program vs that job. The question is, what is the Lord really saying, through His voice and through His word?
I know Christians who are sure of where the Lord is calling them and keeping them, and they are struggling. I know Christians for who the same is true, and they are flourishing. I know Christians who have their dream jobs and it is killing them. I know Christians who muddle through uncertainty and ill-fitting positions full of joy, purpose, gratitude, and hope. I know Christians who don’t have a clue about where the Lord is leading them, but they find contentment. I know Christians who hop from one short term opportunity to the next, because it is clear that that’s what the Lord specifically said to do. I know Christians who hop from one short term opportunity to the next because they are terrified of getting stuck in something that isn’t a good fit. So which way is right? Which way does the Lord specifically ordain? All of them? None of them? Is it Biblical to be dissatisfied with your job, live short term, go on that specific trip, move to India, work a secular job, or just send someone money? Why? What verse is that?
Which part of our missional perspective has pride infiltrated? Which parts of my everyday living match what the Bible says, and which parts am I too afraid to test, for fear that the answer is ‘no’? What does the Bible say we should actually do?
We should know these things.
We have to be very careful of assigning meaning, or especially precedent, to things just because they sound good or feel good or worked for someone else. We need to really test our motives, our actions, and our plans against cold hard Scripture and life-giving Spirit. We need to be as wise as ever. We need to be purposeful about the truth we know, and flexible towards the Spirit we follow; unyielding on the person of Jesus, but in our humility completely adaptable, in case we are for one second swayed by that horrible, pervasive thing called pride.
I’m just asking for a bit more discussion and a bit more thought. A bit more questioning and a bit more honesty. A bit of self-evaluation and genuine reflection. Where does your perspective come from and why haven’t you challenged it? What are you taking for granted, and what have you never asked? Is your faith the back-breaking, ground-up agglomerate of painfully researched, unbiased perspective, experience, and most of all grace? Or is it just what everybody else has told you, what you think you’re supposed to do?
Let’s figure this out.
Danny and Sheri