Missions Mistakes: Faulty Mindset
By a Christian Worker on the Field
We have to make one thing clear. We all share a commitment for the advance of the Gospel. We are heart broken by the simple idea that many have not heard of the message of salvation. Yet, I wonder how are we going to reach the millions upon millions who reside in countries that are considered hard to reach? These countries are known as Restricted Access Nations (RAN) because of the challenges in place for church planting. In these countries it is not possible to have a religious visa. They make it illegal to share the gospel with others. There are anti-proselytizing laws in place. There are also internal socio-political factors that add to the challenge of advancing the Gospel.
A quick overview of the distribution of missionaries among conservative mission boards will reveal that these countries have been neglected far too long. When I have asked “Why?” I have heard many reasons that reflect an underlying philosophy that has prevented our churches, in our movement, from being obedient to the Gospel call. We do obey the call to go and make disciples, yet we fail in the “all nations” part. If we were to visit all nations, we would meet many brothers and sisters from European countries, Asian countries and even from the so called “Third World” countries. They are ministering in the RANs, yet we are not. Why? Let me submit three simple reasons.
Model. Our commitment to our models of ministry undercuts our ability to carry out the message of our ministry. Mission boards have by the very nature of their structures and policies cut themselves off from being able to service the next generation of servants who want to serve in RANs. We have been doing the same thing for decades and are failing to adjust to changing times. Ask mission boards how they are doing in their recruiting efforts and you will find that the numbers are discouraging. Yet, talking to members of the next generation you find that there is no lack of desire. The willingness of the servants of tomorrow is met by an unwilling desire to change by traditional mission boards of today. We are not going to reach RANs by doing the same thing over and over again.
Philosophy. There is embedded in the thinking of many that a missionary must be “full-time” dedicated to Gospel work. Young adults are wanting to use their skills and abilities to serve in the marketplace as a means of Gospel outreach. I have heard countless pastors and mission board administrators ask “How can a person be a missionary when they work 40-50 hours in a secular job?” In their mind there is dissonance. Interestingly, for young adults it makes perfect sense. Some mission boards have been talking about “Business as Missions” (BAM) and “marketplace ministry” yet the policies they keep in place are a deterrent if not a complete obstacle to BAM. There is a very practical disconnect between these policies and the necessary activities that come with Business as Missions and marketplace ministry. While many talk about this “trend in missions” they are not on board, if not directly opposed to making the necessary structural changes in order to honestly be involved in BAM and marketplace ministry.
Bias. Many still view a missionary as having a Bible college degree along with a Masters in theology, and a few years of experience in a local church. This profile fits what is considered to be a proper religious professional. These are the people who should be missionaries they say. If a young adult with an MBA and an entrepreneurial bent wants to serve in a RAN then there is an internal disposition that concludes this person does not fit the proper profile of what a religious professional should be. This bias is not often articulated yet clearly seen by the actions of many. Ironically, it is the young entrepreneur who is bringing value to his community that is given an open door in a RAN setting and the traditional religious professional finds himself frustrated by all the “closed doors to ministry” that they encounter.
If we don’t seriously think through our models of ministry, our philosophy of ministry, and our bias regarding ministry we will continue this trend of not participating in reaching the restricted access nations of our world. Yet, I can guarantee that our young adults will not wait for us to change. They will
go ahead and forge their own paths. Because of this, I am not hopeless about their future. They will find a way - with or without our involvement. The gospel will be preached in the hard-to-reach places of our world, and souls will be gloriously saved. Do you want to be part of it?
Dave Smith, Director of Open Door Baptist Missions
Another mission mistake that should not be repeated is a false understanding of our responsibility.
Being an MK and a missionary, I’ve been around missionaries all of my life. I’m always fascinated by their stories – how they came to Christ, how Christ led them to the mission field, and how they are reaching people with the Gospel. There’s also another side that we don’t hear about as often – those who should become missionaries but don’t, and those who do become missionaries (or try) but shouldn’t.
During our missionary service in Papua New Guinea we hosted several college interns. I remember one who was intent on becoming a missionary but after a while, my wife and I realized that her reason for wanting to become a missionary was a life-long adoration of missionaries. To her, becoming a missionary was the most spiritual thing she knew. It was great that she admired missionaries, and it was great that she wanted to be “spiritual,” but that didn’t mean that the Holy Spirit was calling her to be a missionary.
Another intern was amazingly gifted. He loved Jesus and embraced challenges and thought God was leading him into missions. Again, while those are good things, it didn’t mean that God was calling him to be a career missionary.
Then, there are those who it seems that the Holy Spirit may be leading into career missions, but they feel like they just don’t measure up. So, what is a “missionary” and what are the things that have to be carefully evaluated as part of the process of determining the Holy Spirit’s leading?
When evaluating career missions (full-time, financially supported), two extremes need to be avoided. The first is the idea that the missionary must be “super spiritual,” extremely gifted (learning languages, able to endure incredible hardness, given to acts of mercy, teaching, administration, etc.), and a theological scholar with multiple graduate degrees. While missionaries may seem “super spiritual,” they are human and they struggle with limitations and the sins that easily ensnare them (Heb. 12:1) like all believers. In the same way Jesus chose the disciples to launch the Great Commission, He still chooses dedicated, everyday disciples to build His Church.
Then there is the other extreme – the idea that since it’s all God’s work, anyone can be a “missionary” doing just about anything, as long as it is not sin and is done for Jesus. Jesus instructed His followers to count the cost and to be willing to take up their cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24-28). Being a disciple of Christ is serious and being one “sent” by the church for the purpose of preaching the Gospel, making disciples and planting churches among a targeted people carries an added responsibility. Therefore it must be considered carefully.
In Acts 13, it was the Holy Spirit who called and purposed Barnabas and Saul to be sent as missionaries, but the local church at Antioch played a critical role in confirming the Holy Spirit’s leading. It is the responsibility of the local church to devote the time, resources and energy to evaluate missionary candidates and confirm the Holy Spirit’s leading. Too often, local church leadership will ignore or not take seriously their responsibility. Just as bad, missionary candidates will often avoid evaluation by church leadership. Missionary candidates should not be seeking sending churches, but sending churches should be prayerfully seeking, preparing, and sending missionaries. For those sincerely seeking God’s will regarding career missionary service, scrutiny by their church leadership should be desired, and not avoided, to affirm God’s leading.
In past years, churches have tried to support as many missionaries as possible in as many places as possible. However, the investment and accountability for each missionary was limited. A healthy, growing trend is that more churches are supporting fewer missionaries, but with a greater financial and personal investment in each missionary. The result is that churches are being more diligent and careful in evaluating missionary candidates making sure they are adequately prepared and fit the church’s mission philosophy.
I think making a distinction between being a career missionary and being on mission as a disciple of Christ is also helpful. All Christians are called to be on mission in making disciples of Jesus. While fewer American missionaries may be sent in the traditional, career capacity, the opportunities for Christians to be on mission globally are growing.
J.D. Greear in his book, Gaining by Losing, points out that many of the unreached places in the world that are closed to career missionaries, are open to business people and other professionals. He believes that we are living at a time of unprecedented opportunities for Christians to be on mission and make disciples worldwide. While our focus is often on Paul and the other apostles when reading about the wide-reaching missions impact in the Book of Acts, we must remember that the Gospel spread mostly through everyday believers being on mission. Greear estimates that “enough Christians already live in the 10/40 window to sextuple the mission force there – that is, if those Christians were effective disciple-makers.” 
Regardless of one’s background and career, Gospel opportunities abound. Christians should not seek employment just based on salary, benefits or favorable location, but consider finding secular employment in strategic locations to partner with church planters, missionaries and national church leaders for the sake of furthering the Gospel.
For those whom the Holy Spirit calls to be set apart and sent in missionary capacity like Paul and Barnabas, there is no need to be intimidated. Jesus has promised to never forsake us. He has given us His Word, His Spirit and His Church to guide and help us each step of the journey.
 Greear, J. D. and Larry Osborne, Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (Zondervan, 2016), p.77.
Neal Cushman, CGO Projects Coordinator
My dad, Walton Webber Cushman, was an inventor. In his lifetime, he produced more creative concepts than could be understood, not to mention be assimilated by his contemporaries. With hundreds of U.S. and international patents to his credit, Dad knew what it meant to truly innovate in the world of industry. He invented guidable parachutes, engines, transmissions, ice breakers, all-terrain vehicles, residential furnaces, and even a type of eyeglasses.
One of the lessons that I learned from my dad was the value of recognizing good ideas. He felt that if someone had a good idea, it would not get off the ground until another person recognized its merits and supported the idea. Dad famously spoke about inventions like the ball point pen, invented by László Bíró in the 1930’s. This revolutionary writing tool changed the way that people communicated in print material, yet it was not until the mid or late 1940’s until Milton Reynolds, a businessman from Chicago, supported the idea, putting it into production for the American public. So a really good idea—some say the most successful invention of all time—sat dormant for a number of years until another person recognized it as a good idea.
However, some ideas are not winners. Thomas Edison created a concrete piano early in the twentieth century, much due to his desire to get a piano in every American household. They would be cheap and virtually indestructible, but they sounded terrible. Thankfully, knowledgeable musicians pushed back against this bad idea.
My point here is directly related to missions in the twenty-first century. There are many ideas about how to complete the Great Commission that are being circulated and tested by missionaries, seminaries, and mission agencies. Churches may or may not be aware of these approaches, but I think that it would be safe to say that they often do not have a leading role in deciding which ideas are good and which ones are bad.
For instance, some voices in the world of missiology are saying that since it is so expensive to send American missionaries to the fields of the world, we should rather seek out local believers in each culture and pay them instead to do the work. By this approach we could support half a dozen or so local workers for what it would take to support one American missionary.
Good idea or bad? If the church has not educated itself regarding this topic, how would it know? Since there is a significant volume of literature that has been written on this subject in the last twenty years, the church is culpable for not knowing about the issue. It is not my intent to answer this question that I just raised, but rather to challenge believers to engage in missions education.
What was the title of the last missions book that you read? Are you aware of what missiological trends are being discussed today? What are children hearing about missions in Sunday School? Do we have a strategic plan for our missions program in our church?
All of these questions point to the need for the church to educate itself in how to fulfill its role in completing the Great Commission. Of course, since you are reading this blog, you have already demonstrated that you are doing this—evidently I am “preaching to the choir!”
If you believe that the church owns the responsibility for accomplishing the Great Commission, then I think that you would agree that it should take the lead in missions. It follows, then, that it must educate itself. Good idea or bad?
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.