In This Issue: Top Ten Myths about Missions
- Introduction – Top Ten Myths about Missions
- Myth #1 – Only Extraordinary People Need Apply
- Myth #2 – Missions Means Going Overseas, Planting Churches
- Myth #3 – Non-Christians (Especially Muslims) Are Hairy, Scary Meanies
- Myth #4 – It’s All about Money
- Conclusion – Can You Help Me Out?
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Introduction: Top Ten Myths about Missions
By Shane Bennett
This past week marked the end of the Perspectives semester for me. I wrapped up by teaching the final lesson seven times in churches from Ohio to the Puget Sound (I don’t know why we don’t all live there!)
When I teach lesson 15 (or lesson 12 in the PathWays curriculum), I spend a fair amount of time talking about what “people in church” think. And although I’ve talked to a few people in church, I fear I may overestimate my grasp on what they actually think.
One thing I do know is that God loves the church and so do I. So when I’m talking to a Perspectives class about “the church” I try to be complimentary, considerate, and cautious and encourage others to take the same approach.
George Miley has spoken extensively about the beauty of the church and her potential to join in the purposes of God. I think it was him who said, “Most people in most churches want to do what God wants them to do. Sometimes they just need to understand what that is.” Realizing this helps me back off from aggressive, full-contact mobilization. It also tones down remarks I might want to make about churches that don’t see things the way I do.
All the same, I want to understand how the average Lou and Sue, sitting in the pew, think about missions stuff. What begins to crackle in their minds when the pastor introduces a “missions” speaker? What synapses fire when a video rolls about poor kids in Faroffistan? From what I’ve seen there are some serious misconceptions floating around in our churches, at least some of our churches. We could call these collective assumptions, beliefs that simply don’t reflect reality, “myths.”
I’d like to float out my top ten and invite you to reply with additional misconceptions about missions you’ve noticed.
Myth #1 – Only Extraordinary People Need Apply
“God is only looking for little Jesuses or Pauls to carry his love to other cultures. If you’re normal, you don’t measure up. If you missed a quiet time this year, forget it. Don’t bother dreaming about learning a foreign language if you said a swear word in your own language last week!”
Now, it’s my hunch that some people embrace this because it gets them off the hook. “I’m not good enough, so God can’t use me. Dang,” followed by, “Whew, that’s a relief.” Others though, disqualify themselves with sadness and regret. They honestly wish God could use them, but realize that he’s looking for better raw material.
Certainly, God has used some extraordinary people in the Bible and history: Deborah and Solomon, Dr. Luke and Dr. Livingstone come to mind. But the guest-list is also packed with misfits: Gideon, Rahab, Peter, and Balaam’s donkey. If that beast qualifies to speak for God, maybe a lot of the rest of us do as well.
I think our mobilizing energy could often be better used helping people see that God wants to use them, rather than arguing that missions is important, valid, and good.
Myth #2 – Missions Means Going Overseas, Planting Churches
My friend and teammate Jon Hardin makes this apt and wry observation:
“Many people have the sense that at the end of a missions event, there will be two doors out of the room. You must choose one as you depart. Over the first door a banner reads, ‘Future overseas church-planting missionaries.’ If that is you, you walk out that door to the polite applause and eternal awe of the rest. Over the other door a banner reads, ‘Loser. Attend this event again!’ If that’s you, you know what to do.”
There are dozens of main avenues of involvement in missions, and alternate routes as varied as the people who love Jesus. Yet many people in church seem to have an unspoken sense that being involved in missions means something like going to Africa to preach and plant churches. If people can’t imagine themselves doing that (and most believers can’t), then they revert to myth number one: God doesn’t use people like me.
As mobilizers we’ve got to find ways to help people see the myriad of buy-in points for joining what God is doing cross-culturally. My favorite wake-up call is for women who’ve managed a household and raised children to adulthood. They’ve developed skills in the accomplishment of those tasks that could bring great help and hope to young missionary families. Let’s help them do that. (Remember the column about missionary nannies?)
Myth #3 – Non-Christians (Especially Muslims) Are Hairy, Scary Meanies
Caveat: Yes, many people are suffering at the hands of Muslims. Yes, some Muslims have done mean things on a massive and deadly level. Yes, some verses of the Qur’an suggest that Muslims should kill all who don’t believe like them.
That said, personally I know more mean Christians than mean Muslims. Don’t you? I know more Christians than Muslims, so I’m not trying to establish a ratio in absolute terms. I’m just saying maybe we need to challenge this myth about Muslims. I’ve been invited in and served food by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists alike. I’ve seen Muslims behave like Jesus, another argument against the meanness assumption, more times than I could relate. And many times that Jesus-like behavior has been directed to me.
Without presuming to address all the issues this entails, can I encourage us as mobilizers to find ways to help people have one decent conversation with someone from another faith? Perhaps you’ve seen this in Missions Catalyst before, but it bears repeating: According to Dr. Todd Johnson, eight or nine out of every ten Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian. A lot of “us” have never met any of “them,” either.
A cup of tea and a chat might begin to dispel the “mean” myth.
Myth #4 – It’s All about Money
I raise support to fund my work and family. (It’s nice that you assumed Missions Catalyst generated enough revenue to pay me and the other two on the team! Did you think you were the only one whose subscription was free?) Maybe you raise support too. It’s been a part of the missions process for a long time.
Unfortunately, we seem to have given the impression that supporting missions is mostly about money. Mainly by saying things like this: “You, Lou and Sue in the pew, should give me your money, in smallish but regular doses.”
Since most missions efforts (at least as we approach them now) require money, how do we do what needs to be done and dispel this myth at the same time? One option is to only allow half of us to raise support. (Hmmm, which line do you want to be in?) Lately I’ve taken to challenging people to think in huge ways about how God might give them funds to pass on to missions efforts. “Imagine in 15 years you have the capacity to write a check for $12 million to endow a mission agency…” Other times I just breeze right over the money question. I’ll say, “Anyone can give money. What about your skills? What about your life?”
We who raise money to fund our ministry habit need grace and wisdom in this area. Maybe we need some new thinking as well. A friend and I are working on an article and maybe a book about how missionaries raise money all wrong. If you have thoughts about that, or about any of these myths, feel free to write.
Conclusion: Can You Help Me Out?
Help me field test the reality of these myths: Forward this column to one person you know who has some interest in missions, and to one person you know who doesn’t. Ask them if Lou and Sue really think these things.
Next month we’ll look at the remaining six myths. They have to do with God’s view of Americans, the sins of the clergy, whom you should vote for in your country’s upcoming elections, and a brief interview in which Bono talks about how much he likes Missions Catalyst. (OK, I’m kidding about most of those, but the first one is true!)
Questions? Problems? Submissions? Contact publisher/managing editor Marti Smith.