Now before you call me a heretic, let me explain myself! I, too, am a missionary and send out good reports of what our mission is up to and what we are personally involved in. And of course I want to hear the encouraging stories of what God is doing around the world. (Did you know the Christianity is still the largest faith in the world?) So what I mean when I say that I’m tired of hearing good reports from missionaries is that in the midst of the testimony, we can miss the overall picture.
So many mission organizations and non-profit charities and NGOs are rooted in a good idea and led by visionaries. I love visionaries. We need them. Without them, we would not forge ahead and take new ground. I am part-visionary myself. But sometimes what happens with visionaries is that they forget to look behind them and measure the actual result of their work.
After listening to a visionary, we leave feeling inspired. We imagine millions of people turning to God, millions of children being adopted, and 99% of all disease being cured. But in reality, the work that this missionary is involved in may only have 5 staff and 2 converts. That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with starting small and having God-sized dreams. We should have that, but we as a Church can often get lost in the gap between reality and vision.
I have heard so many reports from missionaries about what their mission does and why it is awesome (and given many myself). But reality shows that even if we took every do-gooding organization and welded them all together, they would still only make up a tiny row boat in the sea that is The Need of the World.
You see, it’s awesome to hear about the 30,000 Christians that converted to Christ in China, but the reality is that China is still only 8 PERCENT Christian. That means that NINETY-TWO PERCENT of the population is NOT! That is around 1, 242, 000, 000 people!
And it is sincerely encouraging to hear about a pastor in India who has planted 17,000 churches (really, I’m not being sarcastic- it is encouraging), but guess what? Only 3 PERCENT of the people in India are followers of Jesus. That’s still 1.2 BILLION people who don’t follow Him! And I won’t even start on the countries in the Middle East.
Pardon my usage of capital letters and bold font, but those numbers are huge! We have no where near hit the mark. In a vineyard of grapes, we have picked possibly a handful.
I know it can seem discouraging to look at these numbers. That is not my motivation in bringing them to our attention. In fact, it is precisely my point. We must look at these numbers if we are going to dream (together with God) about ways to reach them. If we assume the job is done because someone presented a moving slideshow at church, we are in danger of getting blind-sided.
We should not be intimidated by these numbers. I’m sure the Holy Spirit could give us a million different ways to reach the above people. But we must be willing to look at the cold, hard facts and begin to ask the the questions. We must be willing to commit to be a part of finding these lost sheep.
If a 501-business functioned the way that many churches and missions agencies do, they would go bankrupt. It’s great and totally necessary to have vision and to have goals and to have a mission statement, but at some point, we have to look at the work being done and ask are we hitting the mark?
Do we even know what we are aiming for?
Are our ministries bearing fruit? If so, why? And how can we multiply it? If not, let’s stop doing it. Because Jesus said that He wants us to bear much fruit. I do realize that fruit is not just in the numbers of people being saved, but I do think that a lot of it should be. He did say that the harvest is ripe and that it’s His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. (A good book to read on the subject is Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results. It’s aimed more at local church pastors but can be translated into any situation.)
A couple of years back, I attended The Justice Conference in Hong Kong. I remember a man speaking who had worked for the UN for many years with their anti-slavery program. His presentation still stands out in my memory because he shared with us how so many NGOs and non-profit groups get all of this funding from their governments or private individuals yet accomplish so little with it. Why? Because they just rock up to their country of focus and begin trying stuff. Most of it doesn’t work. His encouragement was to look at the research and find out what works and then do that. Why reinvent the wheel?
I think sometimes we missionaries can be afraid of research and science and facts because we think it will limit our ability to flow with the Holy Spirit when we minister. That is bogus. You do not have to be controlled by reality, but you should be aware of it. This is exactly the response that Joshua and Caleb had when they scouted out the Promised Land.
They did not deny reality (yes, there are big giants), but they reminded the people that the Lord had promised to give them the land.
The Lord is not afraid of what we might find if we research. It could be really encouraging. We may find people who have accomplished church planting movements and seen masses of people come to know Him, continue to walk with Him, and change their societies by living out His ways. In fact, I know we will.
In this day and age of social media connectedness, it is really inexcusable to not seek guidance or advice from other missions and missionaries who have gone before us and seen good fruit. We are a Body. God wants us to work together. There are some principles that stand the test of time and culture that we should know and take with us when we go overseas (or when we stay at home on mission). David Garrison’s book, Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming A Lost World is a very interesting read. He shares the lessons learned from a panel of successful church planters: what occurs in every church planting movement, what occurs in most, and what hinders.
We can not see societies change if the Kingdom of God does not come. And the Kingdom comes when people turn to Jesus and become like Him. Abuse, poverty, slavery, disease, war will never end unless people come into right relationship with God. I am more convinced of this after 10 years on the mission field than I was when I boarded my first plane. We can try to do all the good we want to do, but unless people become new creations, their worlds will stay the same. Some things might change on the surface and parts of society may shift for a time, but true and lasting change only comes from Him.
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