By Shane Bennett
What with it being Lent and all, I thought about giving up Practical Mobilization or maybe mission mobilization in general! That’s a thought. But one that raises all sorts of Psalm 137 feelings, you know, “May my right hand forget its skill, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” I’ve been hanging with mobilization so long now we have a hard time knowing where one of us stops and the other one starts.
I have been thinking about confession this Lent, though, prompted by a sweet little devotional by N.T. Wright currently featured on YouVersion. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but “missiony” people have a little bit to confess. Well, some of us do. Maybe not you. Definitely me.
I don’t think any of these items are mortal sins. Mostly they’re just dumb. And for the record, I’m pretty sure I’ve done them all.
1. Talking as if my thing is the only thing.
This makes me crazy, probably because I want my thing to be the only thing! But you’ve seen this, haven’t you? A missiony person describes their work or ministry in terms that make it clear God has given up on alternatives. Their thing is it! Oh, God may have done other things in the past, but, well, that’s the past. This goes for Muslims, human trafficking, international students, water, orphanages, schools, youth, Europe, Asia, the whole of mighty Africa, and the persecuted church. To do this is to catch a fish and kill the pond.
Good news: It only takes a couple lines of text or a couple sentences in a talk to communicate that your thing is a good one on a table full of good ones.
2. Measuring spirituality in terms of passion for my thing.
The tag-along younger sibling to “My thing is the only thing” is the sometimes subtle, often overt, implication that the non-missiony person’s spiritual maturity can be gauged by their passion for the thing I’m promoting. Paul seems to have used this reasoning in Philippians 3:15, “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”
We need to be cautious. We’re not Paul.
3. Playing “the God card.”
“God told me…” “I feel like God would have us…” “God just doesn’t seem to be blessing…”
It is so important to hear and follow the voice of God. It’s also so easy to use the concept to try to get your own way!
4. Motivating with fear and guilt.
Here’s the classic example: “If not you, who? If not now, when?” My friend Steve Hawthorne says, “If not me, someone else. If not now, later. But if God is doing this, I don’t want to miss it.”
I love that: Motivation based on what God is doing, not what our enemies are doing (fear) or others are not doing (guilt).
5. Speaking in jargon.
I happen to love our jargon. “The 10-40 Window” “Unengaged Muslim Peoples” “Contextualization” are rich words for me, often with pleasant associations to people or places I love. No, really, it’s true. Of course, we’ve got nothing on theology students (Think: supralapsarianism!), but we can cause normal people to glaze over in a jiffy with our jargon.
Let’s do the hard work to speak in a language our audience can understand without consulting the Perspectives book glossary or simply feeling dumb. You know, contextualize our message to the recipients!
6. Asking too much.
You can’t ask God too much, but you sure can ask too much of your pastor, church mission team, or even potential candidates. At my organization, the uber-cool Frontiers, our front porch, “get to know you” form used to ask for roughly the same amount of info required to get on the gubernatorial ballot in 39 states! It was too much.
It might also be too much to ask your pastor to cut support to workers you don’t find strategic or to pony up cash equivalent to half the outreach budget for a big splash missions conference.
At the same time, avoid…
7. Asking too little.
“Could you allocate $107 for a mission conference? That will cover gas to bring retired missionary Ed from the denominational rest home to speak to the Mature In Christ And Other Ways Sunday School class. If he’s able, we’ll have him stand and be recognized during morning worship.”
Maybe you can think bigger and ask for more?
8. Asking too late.
I am the poster child for this mistake, not inviting people to engage until it’s almost too late. But just to give you hope that change is possible, I’m already plotting a fall break cross-cultural trip with a couple of local churches! It’s like the book of Acts happening right now!
See also Look Smarter Than You Are: Ten Things You Need to Plan Ahead. That’s something else for our list…
9. Failing to plan.
Yes, lots of mission-types are great planners. But not me, so much. That’s why I put this on the list. In fact, if you’re a good planner, could you help a brother out? Let me know how you do it and how I, even decades along in life, can learn how.
10. Failing to pray.
Count Zinzendorf and his Mighty Moravian brethren kept a 24/7 prayer meeting going for 100 years! I’m happy now to see a 2/1 prayer meeting! Some of us, including me, need a restart of the whole prayer thing. Start now. Grab some buds and pray, start a prayer ripple or even just go to Al Jazeera and pray through the headlines!
Those may be the top ten traps for many of us. Here are a few frequent foibles I suspect we’d also do well to avoid.
11. Prioritizing cheap above all else.
We all want to be good stewards of what often feels like limited resources. I get that. But it’s easy to go overboard. It’s easy to think poor, talk poor, and focus on saving a dollar at the expense of time, relationship, and talent.
If our default is to do what’s cheapest, maybe we should take a closer look at our understanding of stewardship.
12. Asking for funds in multiples of Starbucks drinks.
This sounds like it could be an incarnation of one of the mistakes above, or several. Can we just agree not to do it?
13. Passing on undocumented statistics.
And this? Take ten minutes to Snopes it, Google it, or email a smart friend. Accuracy is worth the effort.
14. Acting odd for the sake of effect.
OK, this might be a little judgmental: Sometimes some of us do stuff, like wear out-of-date clothes or say things Britishly, not because that’s who we are, but because that’s how we want to be seen. We have a peculiar passion, so we affect a peculiar persona.
We do this at the risk of alienating normal people. The logic is simple: “Mission people are odd. I’m not really that odd. Therefore I’m not a mission person. Whew.”
I’m happy for odd people to be involved in the world, but I also want the bulk of normal people to pay attention and jump in as well.
» What other mistakes have you seen missiony people make? Comment below.
If you’ve ever wondered if you should comment on a Practical Mobilization article, this is a good time to start. And if you know a missiony person who might benefit from reading this, please forward and get it in front of them.
(Just don’t send it back to me; I already know I make these mistakes! Thanks for reading my confession.)