Thursday, October 4, 2012

Answering 7 Common Objections to Long-Term Missions

During almost 500 meetings I set up to raise support for service in Germany, I glimpsed a snapshot of current evangelical sentiment towards long-term, cross-cultural ministry. Many exciting things are happening today in the evangelical world, whether in short-term ministry, church planting, or expanding our social consciousness. Yet I cannot escape the conclusion that a major change in the tides has come to the evangelical world regarding missions. Time and time again I encountered intelligent people, both laymen and pastors, who argued passionately that long-term, cross-cultural work is "no longer the way God does things."
The arguments have come from many corners, but regardless of the source, the next generation of long-term, cross-cultural missionaries seems to be listening. I regularly hear about people who have been, in essence, reasoned out of their calling. Anyone who cares about God's mission to the nations should be interested to address the ideas being used to deconstruct 20 centuries of missionary precedent. So let me briefly introduce the most popular objections and offer an alternative way of looking at each of them.
  • "It (long-term, cross-cultural missions) destroys foreign cultures."
In contrast to the way that American capitalism, franchising, and media encourage people to wear the same things, watch the same shows, and worship the same cultural idols, Christian missionaries have historically been at the vanguard of linguistics, studying local culture, and contextualizing the faith in a truly native way. Like any other branch of Christian ministry, international missions work has endured embarrassing and lamentable chapters. But in many cases Christian missionaries are some of the few people interested in preserving a language, even a whole culture, in the midst of the homogenizing effect of globalization.
  • "It's based on outdated theology."
If missions no longer concerns us, we must think (at one level or another) the gospel itself is no longer necessary or urgent. But to the extent that we think the spread of the gospel is no longer necessary or urgent, we are no longer truly Christians.
  •  "It's unnecessarily offensive."
The Prince of Peace himself offended people when he preached the gospel. Of course, Christians sometimes offend others by sheer rudeness, and where that happens it should be rebuked. But if your version of Christianity does not offend your non-believing friends, even when articulated civilly and sensibly, you have good reason to ask whether it's really Christianity you're explaining.
  •  "Short-term teams can do the same thing but more efficiently."
In every other field of human endeavor---whether medicine, accounting, or teaching---we think a person needs education and experience to do their job well. But it is increasingly popular to assume that everyone---no matter their commitment, education, or experience---can do equally well in explaining the gospel to people of a different culture. This is a kind of insult to the unevangelized. This view testifies to our belief that people outside our neighborhood or borders are somehow less sophisticated, or more easily appealed to, than we would be. Real work takes real time, and real people deserve our long-term attention.


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