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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Professionals

Perhaps the most visible type of missionary that shouldn't be here are the Professionals. They are the missionaries that built the IMB into the huge corporation that it is today. These are the folks that fill their days with professional missionary things like going to conferences and making appearances at meetings. Usually, the Pros are big on networking. They like to name-drop, brag, and make guys like me meet people that they think are like me so that we can know each other and so later, when they drop our names, they can say things like, "You know, I introduced them!" The Professionals are the ones who have a hard time not having a "real job," so they put lots of effort into making church planting look like one.

The reason professionals shouldn't be on the field is that they are not really planting churches. They are not really sharing life, culturally translating the gospel, or facilitating a house church movement. No, these guys don't have time to do real ministry, they're too busy being missionaries.

Professionals are usually the ones that get promoted up the responsibility food-chain and put in strategy leadership positions. At first glance, they look like they're really doing something. They're well spoken. They have a great web site. They bring in lots of volunteers. They're sharp dressers. They prioritize primary action items and draft mission statements and publish team goals and objectives in sleek .pdf prayer newsletters.

The reason that Professional Missionaries shouldn't be on the field is that they have effectively redefined the concept of missions for the churches that support us. They have changed the stereotype from the four-pocket short-sleeve dress shirt wearing homely couple with seven children to a jet-set Blackberry addict with places to go and people to see. They are the reason we have conferences about how to "reach" people and strategy documents and ASR reports instead of, well, churches.

Don't worry, I'm not saying we need to fire all of the Professional Missionaries. We don't need to. They are the ones that get burnt out and go home as soon as they realize that no matter how hard they try, they cannot make church planting into a corporate position. They realize that no one is competing with them for the next leadership position, and that there is no prize for starting a new church planting partners network. They go home to work for Xerox or Saddleback.


A 10-40 Window Missionary said...


Risking being called "disgruntled" again (I'm not sure if I am even "gruntled" - much less, "disgruntled.")...

How much of these "professionals" have come about because of what is happening on the field related to "New Directions?" In the days before "New Directions" those attending meetings, mobilizing mega-churches, speaking all around the world were the Area directors, Assistant/Associate area directors and mission chairmen/field leaders or field administrators for larger missions. They would take our story to Southern Baptists quite often. We, the missionaries on the field had our opportunities during furlough.

Now, in Strategy Coordinator's training, our missionaries are told that this is their job. They are the ones who have the passion for their people group and are encouraged to advocate for that people group as loud and as long as they can. So, in essence, our own Strategy Coordinator's training has fostered this "professional missionary," while the front-liners are the ones who are charged with starting a CPM. It is the SC who recruits the most warm bodies for their team, raises the most money "off the books" who now go on all of the junkets. And that is encouraged.

Like you, I have seen quite a number of SC and Strategy Associates leave the field for positions in the corporate world or at some mega-church. It is my hope that we could ALL be involved in actual, hands on Church Planting.

Michael said...

Stepchild and Associates,
to an extent I agree with you, but it should be all the people with too much self-importance that should leave. if you are talking about a particular person and if you say this about them because of their hubris rather than a shadow of envy
( I also know about envy, when I see someone that naturally does something I wish I could do I get envious then banish it quick as possible) then I would agree with you. But networking is a much needed skill among our missionaries and not only with those among one region or people group

since what one group in another region has in excess
(such as a particular evangelical resource that can be dubbed)
may be just perfect for a need in your area. We cannot ignore that the world is becoming closer together each day and the whole "isolated-missionary-just-leave-me-alone-so-I-can-make-a-cpm" career path is not in vogue anymore--it just doesn't work as well as others in certain times and places. People have different gifts, some are good a cpm's and cannot do networking or organisation; others aren't good at cpm's for various reasons(me being one of those people) and are good at other things that are still neccessary. I call them facilitators and missionary support.
It is true that there is a problem when there are too many of these "professionals" because the organistional form will get too top heavy.
so I agree and disagree.


FreedomFries said...

I think you're making a real mistake with this series of posts. Whether you intend to or not, you're making it about people. Everyone who reads this will get someone in their mind who "fits" and who "doesn't need to be here." True, others will see themselves and possibly recognize that bringing in hundreds of teenagers every summer or doing an independent study of innovative church planting methods among postmoderns or putting your prayerwalks on an ipod are not NECESSARILY equivalent to being a good missionary. Others, though, will look at the good things they do -- websites that communicate with those who support them, occasional conferences to try to figure out what's helping in other places, networking to encourage one another, genuine advocacy for a Jesus-needing people group -- and question whether what they do is worth it. The answer is in the fruit, isn't it? You're right: doing all these things you mention does NOT make a good missionary. But neither does NOT doing these things make a good missionary.

I'm still waiting to see the churches. In the meantime, I'm going to try to improve my website, try to learn from my colleagues (both non-company and company), fill out my reports to be accountable, AND get out every day into my city to engage people who need Jesus, contextualizing His good news, and trying to glorify God in everything I do.

stepchild said...

a 10-40 missionary,
Good question about the effects of New Directions. The typical SC training does focus on networking and strategy development (and speak little about people). I'm going to think about that...

I'm pretty sure that jealousy isn't my motivation here, but I appreciate your warning. I agree about the importance of networking. The charicature I presented in my post was of someone who does only that. I also agree that in this day and age, the isolated missionary is a bad idea. For lots of reasons. But accountability and teamwork are themes for other posts.

Thank you for your warning. You may be right about these posts being a mistake. I was planning to do a couple more, but I think it may be wise to move on. I certainly don't want to tear anyone down or discourage my fellow workers.

You make a good point about people reading themselves into the stereotypes I describe. The problem is that I'm not sure how else to show what I mean when I say, "Some missionaries shouldn't be on the field." And I think that is something that needs to be said. The reason I wrote it is that though we rarely discuss it, our organization wastes too much time, energy, and resources on dealing with "personnel issues." I think that we could avoid many of these issues by recognizing that not everyone belongs on the field, and rethinking our policies for missionary service.

My first post was (pretty clearly, I thought) critical of the Board's past hiring practices. The second, I assure you, was a charicature of a person who spends their time on the field looking busy, but not really doing anything. I think the "Professional" isn't so much a description of a real worker as it is an outline of the pattern I think many of our folks are tempted to become because it looks glamorous, and has indeed become the new standard for what a missionary should look like. I certainly wasn't saying that all the stuff we do with websites and networking and conferences and the like is bad. I would say that they are necessary things. But, and you said it well- these things don't necessarily make you a good missionary. I would go further and say that if these sorts of things are all that you do, you probably shouldn't be on the field.

In any of my posts, I run the risk of someone reading and taking my words personally. I could fill the header of each post with a disclaimer saying "Oh, and don't worry, I'm not talking about you." but that might defeat the purpose a bit, which it to ask questions and get people thinking. Maybe a little introspection would be good thing. These posts are the outworking of mine.

CharlesMcFatter said...

I would ask that you continue this thread of posts as far as you had planned. I believe it gives laymen special insight into the "real" workings of today's SBC missionaries. I hope and pray that your postings also give those on the field insight and encouragement to reach people in their assigned areas with the gospel. You help me understand why I should continue to support the IMB with prayer and tithing.

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...


I would concur with "charlesmcfatter." Some of the posts on this blog remind me of the medical intern who was doing his four month Obstetrical/Gynecology rotation. He was the happiest intern that the nurses ever saw. He never complained about the long hours or the many night's sleep he missed on this rotation. Finally, one of the older nurses asked him about his demeanor. He told her that when he was in his surgical rotation he felt every symptom his patients had and just knew that he was a candidate for many different surgeries. And while on the internal medicine rotation he just knew that he had either cancer, heart disease or some other disease. Now that HE was in Obstetrics, he had nothing to worry about.

In many ways we probably identify with things you have written, but we none know you, so is it us you are identifying? Or is it our behavior that we see in this post?

Ilegeteme non carborundum -- Keep it up.

Ewinwe said...

you may say that we do not know him, but we do. in fact, i daresay that you may know stepchild better than most. he's in every region, every cluster, maybe on every team. which is why *i* also advocate a continuation of posts.
maybe some folks back home will pick up the thread and seriously look at what it takes to do missions work, as well as what it does not take. better to learn about this stuff before you apply to get sent halfway round the world, eh?

of course, the pragmatist in me would answer that you don't have to get pregnant to know that children are the anticipated natural result ...

GuyMuse said...

Micah Fries has a bit different angle to the professionals discussion at his blog here.

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