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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Game of "What If?"

I'm sure this might sound like a poorly disguised attempt to find a job, but it isn't. Not exactly, anyway. Lately all I can think about is what I would do if I weren't doing, well, whatever it is I do. Maybe it's that everyone is on vacation for the month and the city is empty. Maybe I'm having another third-to-mid-life crisis or something. Whatever the cause, I can't get this thought out of my head: If I were to pack up and move back to the United States, what would I do?

I'd want to live in a city. I'm addicted to the fast-paced urban jungle life. The suburbs would bore me and a rural setting would kind of freak me out. After years of simple/house church, I certainly couldn't ever go back to the traditional sort, so I'd have to find some like-minded individuals to be my spiritual family and to help me plant other spiritual families. That much I'm sure of.

I would definitely get a job. I'm not really skilled at anything, so I'm not sure what I'd do, exactly, but I'm really not comfortable as a professional minister. What sort of job requires no special skills, pays well, and would allow plenty of free time for me to plant churches? Other than the job I already have, I mean. I could wait tables, or serve coffee, provided I didn't have to remember orders or actually make the coffee. I guess there's always politics.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of being on the field is the isolation. Email and prayer newsletters can't make up for the years of my experience here while life has marched on there. My friends and family back home don't know me, they remember me. Needless to say, I don't have a lot of "contacts" that could help me find a job or get involved planting churches. It'd be like starting from scratch.

The other big side-effect of being a missionary is financial. We are well taken care of here. The IMB does a tremendous job of making sure that we have everything we need, and even a lot of things we don't need. Despite the complete support of the faithful people who send us, it is very difficult to save money on the field. Some of it has to do with how expensive it is to live in Western Europe. More of it has to do with the cost of flying home on vacation. More than I'd like to admit has to do with the fact that we have Starbucks here... Starting over in the U.S. would be an expensive endeavor. A car. A house or apartment, at least enough to pay the rent until I got a job. Thinking about money gives me a headache.

Anyway, this question of "life after missions" is really bothering me. Even though I'm not planning on returning to the States any time soon, I feel like it's a question I should have answered or at least thought through. Just in case.


Watchman said...

Funny, I asked myself that same question and now, after 18 years in as a minister, I'm actually doing something different. Being a minister is an odd profession, at least I found it so. People seemed to think the stork brought my babies.

If I were you, I'd think long and hard about giving up a full time missionary position. Some guys would kill to go at it full time.

stepchild said...

Please don't take the introspection of this post to mean that I take for granted the support I receive. I would need to hear very clearly from God about it (probably twice!) before I'd consider it. Ministry is something I'll never let go of, but ministry as a profession is something I hold to very loosely.

Thanks for your comment, and for sharing from your experience. Are you saying that your children weren't brought by the stork?

stepchild said...

By the way, yours is my new favorite blog. I really appreciate your honesty and your writing skill. I identify with what you have to say. Please keep it up.

Watchman said...

I like your distinction of "Ministry as a profession..." It has been this journey out of the profession that has led me to embrace it wholistically, ie. giftedness, personality, passion, etc.

No, the stork did not bring by babies. I firmly believe it was Santa Claus. :)

cafeaddict said...

funny you should mention the "what if" game. we just played that about 3 weeks ago and came up with about 5 different possibilities. seems like we always tend to play the game when things are stressful or not going like we want...yet we remain here....

think this game of ours has something to do with our hesitation to commit to anything long term? seriously, i find that if i just entertain other options then i don't feel as constrained by the one i am in. anyone relate to that?

Anonymous said...

Some say that leadership is all about contingency planning. I say what if games are for weenies. The Boss will tell us what to do next it is our job to know what to do now. I tell my friends back home that God is not angry with me enough yet to make me minister in the US again. Stay on His good side and you will be fine 'overseas'.
Your friend in Central Asia.

Paul Burleson said...


Just a word to remind you that you have been prayed for a lot this week. Keep up the good work whatever and where ever it might be as is your custom. Thanks for your unique life and ministry.


Anonymous said...

I think the issue effects all of us in changing our comfort zone. Have you ever read "Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life"? Very interesting read.

Honestly, I think that the biggest issue for those IMB Ms leaving the field is the fact that a job in the corporate field requires more specific hourly and weekly goal setting and achievement. Many Ms come to the field from seminary and have never worked in the corporate field. Honestly, their work ethic is bad. So, what do they end up doing? They work for a church!

Bryan Riley said...

Is there ever life after missions or is our life always to be on a mission?

stepchild said...

"Professional Missions" is, of course, what I'm referring to here. In my post I mention that I would always want to be planting churches, no matter where I am.

Missions is about cultural translation of the gospel relationship. So "life after missions" would mean being back in my own culture. You don't have to "translate" when you're already fluent. ;-)

Anonymous said...

It bothers me that so many "M's" out there talk like working for a church would be the most horrible fall that could happen. We say that "missions" is not EITHER in the States OR overseas. It is a BOTH/AND issue. Then we get overseas and we turn into some kind of cross cultural snob. We start to think that unless someone is living live in a different culture that they are missing the point. I don't know that I buy into the the thought that once you serve cross culturally you couldn't go back to the states. This is our journey to see the King. His Kingdom is larger than borders. We just have to realize that it is different. Not good or bad. Just different. Culture, in the states, is fast and relationships are slow. On the field I have noticed that culture is slow to change and relationships really move. In the end, it is all about the same job.

stepchild said...

I'm sorry you're bothered by my comments. Because I'm not called to be a pastor/preacher, working for a church in the States isn't even on my radar. My comment in this post about not wanting to return to a church in the States meant literally that: I wouldn't even want to attend a traditional, congregational American church! Years of being part of a simple church has really ruined me for that.

I understand your "everyone is a missionary" mentality, but I disagree. That's a great way to try to motivate lazy Christians to start thinking in terms of ministry, but living and working in one's own culture isn't the same as living in a foreign one. "Missions" overseas is very (radically, drastically, essentially) different from "missions" in the States. Crossing cultures is the difference. Basic survival requires culture and language study that isn't necessary in the U.S.

I don't know anyone who would say that if you aren't overseas you're "missing the point." I certainly don't believe that our work here is any more important that what goes on back home. It is different. I would surely return to the U.S. if God led me that way (remember, the original post was me thinking through all that?) but I wouldn't want to go anywhere near the American Christian subculture.

I'm not sure where you're serving/living, but the speed of life and relationships can differ greatly from context to context. I'm not sure where you served, but I assure you that relationships in Western Europe are not fast.

Again, I'm not saying one is better than the other, or that God can't call someone from one to the other (and back again.) But there is a fundamental (hehe) difference between working in cultural translation and working outside one's own culture/worldview. (In my opinion, of course.)

Mybe I'll write a post about this...

Bryan Riley said...

As someone who is just moving into missions and ministry from a "secular" calling, for me part of the call and part of the reason God moved me was because of my weakness. In my culture I was becoming less and less able to function as God called me to. Whereas, once I was in the groove of my calling, my family all found that living as we were meant to live was much easier.

With respect to being fluent in this culture, the culture of the U.S., I'm not sure anyone really is. It is all in flux, different from place to place, even as you mention in your post (urban versus suburbia versus rural--and it goes so much deeper than that), that fluency may escape you. One thing that American culture does share in common is fierce individualism, materialism, and self-worship. Those strongholds make it difficult to live the Christian life.

GuyMuse said...

I too have thought of what life might be like for us if/when the Lord would lead us back to the States. I'd like to think I would continue to do what we do overseas planting simple churches, but would have to find some kind of employment to support us in our calling.

As Ms we encourage "lay" people who have jobs, families, etc. to go out and plant multiplying churches. Why can't we do the same? It might be good to see some of their challenges from a real life perspective. I have often thought about all we expect our church planters to do. Would we be willing to do the same were we in their position?

Interesting post and comments.

Erika Cordoba said...

Dear Stepchild: I loved your blog and comments.They´re so realistic.
Felt really identified with your experiences.I´ve been in India for the past 6 years and I wish my transition would be a lot easier back home. Now I´m here in South America and desperatly need to re-adjust, but what "I´ve been doing is so much what I am". I do struggle.I miss my home in Asia, friends, food, life in Pune.
Thanks for writting.I know our settings are a lot different but things you go thru are very much the same.

Bryan Riley said...

There need to be more "simple" churches here in the US. The organizations that have begun to exist seem to be more and more like businesses than anything else. Of course, check out vtmbottomline (Paul Burleson's blog) for a good discussion of the things of the flesh/world versus the things of the spirit.