Part 4: Missionaries to America
I once heard someone tell a story about a Messianic Jewish Rabbi and a Christian Pastor. The Rabbi asked the Pastor: “Do you believe in a fast God or a slow God?” The Pastor didn’t understand the question. The Rabbi went on to explain that for the Messianic Jewish people, God was always at work but just usually over a long period of time (references: Egyptian slaves for 400 years before being rescued, in exile for just as long before the Messiah came, etc.). The Pastor then responded: “Well, then I guess I do believe in a fast God.”
I think most Christians in America would echo that pastor’s sentiment.
We typically stake our faith in God on His ability to move quickly. We don’t typically look for how He moves over longer periods of time. And I would argue this has far more to do with our being Americans than it does being Christians.
We look more American than Christian when we act as if God only moves fast (and typically on our timetable).
America is not a Christian Nation
So why does this matter? Because it shapes everything about how we think about and plan to reach the “unreached people groups” in our very own country.
Why do we support foreign missionaries in long-term strategies to reach “unreached people groups” but not our own country’s missionaries? It is interesting that both our standards and expectations are so vastly different for people we call “foreign missionaries” and people we call “church planters.”
In one breath we tell someone sensing a call to new work: “Go reach the unreached!” And if they are a foreign missionary we give them all kinds of grace to learn those unreached people in their context, build relationships over time, and ultimately make disciples in such a way that it produces a local expression of the Church. But if you are a church planter in America, while you will be affirmed in your goal, you will not find as much affirmation in using the same process as your counterparts going into foreign mission fields.
Instead, the expectations will be very American: we want results that are fast, big, and quickly scalable. This is fascinating considering the work to reach unreached people is not any different no matter where you go in the world. But for some reason in America we somehow think reaching people should be inherently easier and quicker than anywhere else in the world. Do you find this mindset as fascinating as I do?
We look more American than we do Christian when we think God’s kingdom functions like customer acquisition in the business world.
Putting our Money where our Mission is…
We see this most easily in how and where we spend our money internally as existing local churches and how we distribute our financial support as sending organizations.
We can easily justify large expenses on the kids areas of church buildings that get used once a week (I mean I’m talking 10’s and 100’s of thousands of dollars), but can’t justify spending that money (or even a small percentage of it) on models of the church that would interact with those families daily? It’s odd to me that just because a ministry doesn’t fit the brick and mortar model the church has sanctified since the Roman Empire it somehow doesn’t justify as a significant venture worthy of financial backing.
Shouldn’t we be saddened that the models which follow most closely the call for us to be incarnate in our world are seemingly the least supported financially? Why can we more easily justify spending $100,000 on a sound system for our building but not $10,000 on a ministry that doesn’t look like the “big box” model of church? Why can we justify spending 10’s of thousands of dollars on foreign mission-cations that we will never get back but not that same money on microloans for people trying to make it in our communities (because we’re afraid they may not pay the loan back)?
I had a friend recently lament how much easier it is for many American churches to successfully launch building programs (where they will construct a facility and try to convince people to use it) than it is for them to financially support building the kingdom of God in the midst of their community.
We look more American than Christian when we will fund raise and invest significant amounts of money into buildings and technology but not in supporting missionaries to the very people groups we claim to want to reach in our own country.
You are a Missionary
We are called to be missionaries to our own unreached people right here in America (or at least to support people who feel called to be). So why don’t we act like that? Unfortunately, the answer is because we look far more like Americans than we do Christians.
Maybe during Lent God can remind us that His work in our country is no different than His work around the world. It takes time. It takes intentionality. And it takes prioritizing the mission and letting God take care of the results:
“I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:6
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