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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The "Saviors"

This post was going to be about the "Saviors." I was going to write about the well-intentioned missionaries who come to the field thinking that their arrival somehow brings salvation to whatever unreached people group they have selected. The ones who feel needed, in my opinion, are missionaries that do not belong on the mission field.

I know. I know. Some of you were hoping for a post called "The Bloggers."

In what has proven to be too long a story arc, I have outlined two "types" of missionaries that I think should not be on the mission field. These were taken from my personal experience. Some readers have anticipated the big reveal I hinted at in the first post: the Professional, the Lifer, and even the "Savior-complex" missionary that shouldn't be on the field is me.

On a regular basis, I am tempted to try to make this ministry to which God has called me into a career. The Board hired me as a "Career Missionary," and with that comes some pressure to professionalize what amounts to obedience. Sometimes it's out of pride: "Hey, I'm special. Not just anyone can do this job." But usually it's out of the awkward embarrassment I feel when someone asks, "So, what do you do?" So much of my identity is wrapped up in my answer that question that I feel this constant need to justify the fact that I receive money to tell people about Jesus. But my time on the field has taught me that church planting is not a job, but a calling. It's an intentionality that the churches back home graciously underwrite. But then I go to a meeting or write a new personnel request, and I slip right back into the professionalism that only serves to separate me from nationals and other believers.

I am very much a product of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mission Friends. Royal Ambassadors. Centrifuge. God called me to cultural translation of the gospel when I was in high school. By the time I graduated I had decided my career path: I was going to be a missionary. So here I am, a Lifer with the IMB. Because of my exclusively Southern Baptist education, I am not qualified for any "real" job. I am extremely grateful for the support of the organization that sends and maintains me, but I have become fully dependent upon the Board for everything that I have. Housing. Stipend. Insurance. I couldn't begin to answer the question of what I would do or where I would do it if I weren't doing this. Unfortunately, such dependence sometimes breeds complacency. I know what's expected of me, and there are times I'm tempted to do only that.

My motivation for being here changes pretty regularly. There are times when
I pity the people around me here, but not in a good way. On a really bad day, I have caught myself feeling very superior. As if the reason for the lostness here is that the people are too stupid to find Jesus, and it's such a good thing that I've finally arrived to set the straight. My savior complex should disqualify me from service.

This "series" began as a journal entry. I was venting my frustrations with some coworkers, and dreaming of building the "perfect" church planting team. I was writing about the Professionals, the Lifers, the Saviors, and the Whiners (don't ask) when I was convicted of being and doing those same things that I resented so much about my fellow missionaries. I've come to believe that many of the characteristics that mark "someone who shouldn't be here" aren't brought to the mission field, they're picked up here. Sometimes we're tempted by laziness, other times by pride; all of them, I think, are defense mechanisms for dealing with our strange lives.

I really am convinced that not all believers belong on the mission field. Not everyone is cut out for it. I'm intrigued with that idea, because in never really occurred to me. And though I have known coworkers that have exhibited some of these same characteristics and, I suspect, struggled with these same attitudes and tendencies, I realize that judging them is the Pot calling the Kettle black.


David Rogers said...

Yeah, you kind of left us hanging for a while there.

In any case, I agree that the great majority of missionaries come over for the right motives, but somewhere along the line, in the midst of all the stress and attacks on your self-image, it is easy to get derailed.

Also, there are some people who are probably just not cut out for cross-cultural ministry. The best thing in the long run is to admit it and find an area of service where you won't be a square peg in a round hole for the rest of your life.

It shouldn't be about pride or shame, just about being a good steward with your gifts.

Jack Hanson said...

I feel your pain, but also wanted to let you know I appreciate your blog. I've got a similar challenge in that my entire formal education is centered around biblical studies and theology, but I am not using any of it at the moment in a professional or vocational capacity. This causes ongoing dissonance for me. Why all the education, if it's just going to sit there, unused? Still, I guess God can do whatever he wants with us, right?

I hear what David posted as well, but want to say that simply recognizing your "square-peg-ness" doesn't mean that making the jump to something that fits you better is very easy. Deciding that what you are currently doing doesn't fit you so well is easy. Knowing what to switch to, particularly if you don't have much experience in it, is another story altogether. This is as true for vocation as it is for spiritual gifting, I think.

David, this isn't to pick at what you're saying - I agree with you. I'm just trying to expand a bit on what you said and add a little bit of my own thinking as well.

Publius said...

I was talking to a good friend of mine last night, who was struggling with his own calling. He knows he's supposed to do something, he just doesn't know what. And I thought aloud to him, "You know, historically speaking, I think about the worst thing a Christian can do is say, 'Hey God, look what I'm going to do for you.'"
It can't be our idea. In fact, I'm pretty well convinced that we are the most useful to God when we're out on the edge with no idea what we're actually doing, but depending on God daily, engaging people as we meet them with no real agenda in mind. That's not at all to say He doesn't use our giftedness - He gave us our talents for a reason. But that He uses them when and as He knows best.

So yes, square-peg/round-hole is bad, but I seriously question whether any of us know, before we find the right hole for us, just what shape our peg really is. So to speak. But God knows. He made us the way we are. Happiness is letting Him put us in the right hole.

mr. t said...

Thanks for this series of posts. I can relate to every profile you mentioned in some way. You have a gift for writing, keep it up.

David Rogers said...

I agree there is the biblical principle of God showing himself strong through our weaknesses. Some people would say the bottom line is calling. And I think there is a lot of truth there. But since calling is so subjective, some people tend to get a lot of their stubborn subjective interpretation of their call mixed up with God's real call on their lives. Also, I think what Rick Warren has to say about spiritual S.H.A.P.E. is quite appropos in this discussion.

stepchild said...

I agree that calling it what "qualifies" someone for service. The problem is that the IMB does not agree. If it did, we would allow the individual sense of "calling" to guide our strategy and candidate selection.

Doug said...

I hope it's not too late to post to this entry. When the Lord called me, He called me into the ministry. I planned on becoming a pastor, but later felt the Lord leading me into international missions. Me, my wife and infant son spent 2 years as ISCers. When we came back and applied to be career, the Lord closed the door. We pursued international missions with the IMB for 5 years until the Lord finally told me to stop. It was frustrating. He then led me into prison chaplaincy. I love what I'm doing. I don't feel that the IMB stiffled my calling. It was all part of God's plan. He had me on the road to international missions until I reached the off ramp for prison chaplaincy. Maybe I'll get to go back to the field someday down the road. Who knows what lies around the next curve in God's plan for my life.

stepchild said...

Thanks for your comment, and for sharing your story. I agree that God can use the IMB to "speak" to us and lead us in His will. But I do not believe that everything that the Board does is necessarily Gos's will.

I have come colleagues that have had to move a couuple of times due to changes in their region's strategy. Each time, they say something to the effect of, "Well, if the IMB tells us to move, God must be telling us to move. I think that's pretty reckless.

I'm glad to hear that in your case, God led you to a ministry where you feel you need to be.

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