Reaching Your Community: Short-Term Mission Trip or Sold-Out Missionaries?

Vector horizontal illustration of big city and skyscrapers with clouds sky.

In the last generation or two, the primary way that churches and ministry leaders in our (Western) culture have attempted to reach people who don’t yet know Jesus has been to build strategies around an “If you build it, they will come” approach. The church building was the hub, and we only had to wait for people who wanted to know about Jesus to come and find us.

I’m not saying that such an approach was never effective. However, the approach reveals something about how Christians have tended to think about our place in American culture, and still do to some extent: to do ministry well, we have to get people to come to us.

Here’s the question: Is that paradigm the way we’re supposed to reach people?
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Serve Morgan – A Weeklong Church-wide Service Project

Last week things were kind of quiet on the blog and here’s why: Our church spent the week up in Morgan, UT, a town about 20 minutes away from our church. We’ve been doing these projects for a few years now, and every year I’m blown away at the response from our church and the relationships that are built in the communities where we serve. (You can check out posts from previous years’ projects here and here.)

We’ll have a highlight video ready soon, but here’s a news story that a local TV station did on “Serve Morgan” last week (there’s a great video of the news story that I can’t embed if you follow the link):

Hundreds of volunteers from Washington Heights Church in South Ogden are giving their time and energy to bless the city of Morgan for a service project this week.

The volunteers are showing up in the truckloads. They’re working on construction and demolition projects as well as painting, cleaning and helping people move.

Darrell Eddington is a local horse owner who arrived home with a truckload of hay, something that would’ve taken him several days to move into his barn, but with the help of about a dozen volunteers, the work was done in a couple hours. “It’s kinda hard for me to humble myself and ask for help, but I needed it today,” said Eddington.

Pastor Roy Gruber says Washington Heights chooses a community each year to bless, and this year it was Morgan. “Life is good when we realize it’s not just about us,” says Gruber. “It’s about extending a hand with no strings attached and helping people in need.”

Gruber says city officials in Morgan provided them with a list of projects in the town that could use a helping hand, but volunteers have also been out looking for people they can bless.

“If we are looking to add a piece to our life that we feel we are missing, find something to do to serve somebody else,” says Gruber.

You can also check out photos and stories from the week on the Serve Morgan Facebook page. And if you’re curious how to plan this kind of “serve” project for your church, shoot me a message and I’ll be happy to get you some info.

Am I Giving Them "My" God or Jesus?

As a youth pastor, one of the ways that I try to view my role is as a missionary to teenagers. Just as a foreign missionary enters another culture to tell the people there about Jesus, I attempt to share about the Good News of Jesus with teenagers (and their families). If we don’t understand that a large part of our calling is as missionaries, then we’ve missed the big picture of why we work with teenagers in the first place–to see teenagers come to know the Savior of the universe.

For those who would be a missionary to another culture (whether a foreign culture or a subculture within our Western culture), it can be challenging to preach and teach simply the Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus of our own cultural making. In foreign missions, we would probably like to thing that we (as Westerners) have come a long way since colonialism and “converting the heathen” and making native people act like us as a sign that they had truly accepted Jesus. However, I think we are as prone as ever to assuming that a correct or faithful manifestation of the Church in other cultures would look a lot like how we “do church” in our culture, especially American culture. I have a missionary friend who has shared that in Kenya, some churches do their best to look like “successful” American churches, often acquiring (unnecessary) sound equipment like we have in churches in the United States, trying to be the loudest church on the block.

Passing Along an Unbiblical Representation of Jesus
I believe that there are times when we do the same thing in youth ministry. Trying to share Jesus with teenagers, we sometimes expect that a teenager’s experience in following Jesus will (or should) look exactly the same as our journey with Jesus. The signs of this are quite subtle, but they’re there. Perhaps there are ways of doing youth ministry that impacted us as teenagers, and so we assume that the teenagers we serve need to have exactly the same experience. Or more dangerously, perhaps we have a view of Jesus that has been shaped more by our cultural experience than our study of the Bible, and we teach that view as a part of core doctrine, unwittingly passing along an unbiblical representation of Jesus.

In an instance I’ve seen before in youth ministry (and probably been guilty of), we might teach teenagers to build strong friendships with only other Christian teenagers, because we believe that’s what would be best for them. However, that view runs contrary to what we Jesus do (and model for us) in Matthew 9 when he hangs out with people of ill repute. How many times have we encouraged teenagers to hang out with (for the purpose of showing them that no one’s too far from God to come to know Jesus) the “wrong” kind of people so much that they are accused of being drunks, prostitutes, and maybe even pot heads? That may not sit well with us, but if we were to ask our students to model Jesus in this area of his ministry, that might be what ends up happening.

My God, or the God of the Bible?
Here’s my point: We err when we give teenagers “my” God rather than the God of the Bible. And sometimes, that’s a difficult distinction to make, especially when we’ve been in ministry for a long time, and we feel like we know best what teenagers need. But to be faithful missionaries, we need to point teenagers to Jesus, point them to the cross, and point them to the Bible. Sure, there’s plenty of shepherding to be done, but at the end of the day, our prayer is that they would know Jesus and have the Holy Spirit dwell in them in such a way that God would lead them to the expression of faith that he would want, not that we would want. And that’s a scary thing to have happen, because it very well might result in our students doing things that we’re not too comfortable with, but that are far more closer to what Jesus had in mind than our comfortable, sanitized lives.

Video of the Week: Carter’s Idea

A Compassion International speaker on our summer “Servant Leadership Experience” showed this video to cast a vision of helping disabled kids through Compassion International. Definitely an amazing kid and an amazing video:

Video of the Week: InterVarsity Impact in Northern Utah

This is a really cool video of how God has been using the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter at Weber State University in Ogden, UT:

Sermon from a Japanese Pastor

This past weekend, we had the blessing of hearing Pastor Masahiro Okita from Japan preach at all of our English-speaking services, via translation. One of the missionaries in Japan we support as a church works closely with Pastor Okita, and it was very cool to hear him share how God has been working in Japan since the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th, 2011. What was very interesting (and sobering) is how Pastor Okita described pre-earthquake Christianity in Japan: churches from different denominations and traditions did not work together much, and Japanese culture–including the Japanese church–was obsessed with success and material things. Take a half an hour to watch the sermon or listen to it during your workout, and hear how God used the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to unite the Church and open many doors for the Gospel:

How Much of Your Budget is Spent on Missions?

Here’s a common question in many evangelical churches and circles: “How much of your budget is spent on missions?”

Usually, to answer this question someone only has to pull out his or her church’s year-end report and look up a line item, commonly titled, “missions.” At this point, a dollar amount or a percentage of the operating budget can be reported.

I think that’s the wrong approach to take when determining how much is spent on missions.

At this point, it’s important that I make myself absolutely clear: It is important–and I would go so far as to say it is a biblical mandate–that local churches support ministry efforts outside their own organization to spread the Good News around the world and in their own community. Jesus was clear to his disciples (and to us) that we are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV). We can also derive from Acts 1:8 that we are not to be so focused on our own local context and what we are doing that we forget there is a world around us in need of Jesus, whether in our own regional area or halfway around the world. If a church spends very little money supporting ministries outside their own walls, it’s probably a sign of an unhealthy church.

However, I think it’s a mistake to classify as missions only endeavors that are happening overseas or other areas outside our immediate community. I believe this for two reasons. First, the word “mission” itself comes from the Latin missio, which means “the act of sending.” This reflects Jesus’ clear teaching in Matthew 28 and Acts 1: the Church is a missions organization, period. Whether you’re loving your next door neighbor or going to a foreign country, to be a disciple is to tell others about Jesus and be his witness. Second, it’s time to stop fooling ourselves about the spiritual landscape of the United States. It doesn’t matter if you live in the Bible belt, the Pacific Northwest, or in Utah (like I do): we live in a mission field.

So, if someone were to ask me how much I think a church should budget for missions, this is my answer: 100% of the operating budget. Every dime, every volunteer hour should reflect the fact that the Church is a missions organization, and everything we do should seek to glorify God by spreading the Good News of Jesus in word and in action.

Some will protest that a part of a church’s job is to help feed the flock. After all, won’t we just end up having shallow, immature believers if we don’t offer plenty of growing opportunities such as Bible studies and conferences? My answer: being a disciple of Jesus has always been tied to passing along what we know about Jesus to others, so they can begin a relationship with him. Part of this certainly involves “equipping the saints” (Ephesians 4:11-13). But any activity, any initiative that has only the purpose of feeding a follower of Jesus without the expectation that those who are being fed will in turn feed someone else more resembles an ingrown toenail than it does the Body of Christ.

KONY 2012, Invisible Children’s Detractors, and Loving, Christ-Centered Discernment and Disagreement

Update (3/9/12): Probably the best roundup of links I’ve found anywhere on KONY 2012 is at Rachel Held Evans’ website, so I thought I’d point you there right at the top of this post. I’d also encourage you to read this post from missionaries who lived in Uganda for 17 years (they now serve in Kenya). I’ve updated the list below accordingly.

I don’t usually write on this blog about issues or controversies that aren’t related pretty strongly to Discipleship, or Family, or Ministry (hence the blog’s name). But, I’ve found myself trying to catch up on this issue (The controversy surrounding Invisible Children’s film about Joseph Kony, KONY 2012), and since we as a youth ministry (and probably many readers) have hosted Invisible Children at our church, I thought I’d try to help by providing a small resource page linking to pertinent news stories and sites.

Before we get to that, let me first say that I’m posting this before I’ve come to any sort of a conclusion about KONY 2012 or Invisible Children. I wasn’t really aware of the amount of concern that some have regarding the current KONY 2012 campaign or Invisible Children until very recently, and I haven’t read or digested as much as I would like to on the issue. A friend pointed to a Facebook discussion about this “discussion” from her Twitter account, and I wasn’t really too surprised about the content of the arguments. Whether western aid really helps political and social issues on the African continent are really not a new issue, and neither is the question of whether certain non-profit organizations spend their money wisely on the causes they seek to support.

What concerned me was the tenor of other Facebook conversations I perused after reading that first one. I don’t spend much time on Facebook, so I saw pretty quickly that I’m a bit late to the game regarding KONY 2012, since many people were promoting the film by posting links on their wall or by changing their profile pictures. I also saw there are a small, but vocal number of people concerned about the film. And I was disappointed that a couple of the conversations have simply deteriorated into an online shouting match. Searching a few blogs, I found the same result.

For followers of Jesus who are engaged in this discussion, please remember that while what you are arguing says a lot about your passion and opinions, how you say it says a lot about your character. So, let me suggest we take a minute to read Proverbs 17:27-28, helpful words that are helpful in any online argument:

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
      and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
      when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

And know that as I offer that advice, I speak as a life-long hot-headed know-it-all whose quick words have gotten me into a whole lot of trouble.

Now that we have that out of the way, here are some important stories and posts I’ve found on KONY 2012 and Invisible Children, loosely organized for simplicity’s sake into three categories: those who support IC and their project, those who don’t, and (mostly) neutral news sources. I make no claim on the accuracy or quality of these sources; I’m just putting them here to be helpful.

In support of Invisible Children and KONY 2012
Invisible Children’s website (which as of today redirects to a single page about the film)
Official response from Invisible Children
Washington Post, “Invisible Children responds to criticism about ‘Stop Kony’ campaign”
Clutch Magazine post on “White Savior Syndrome” (warning: crude language)

Not in support of Invisible Children and KONY 2012
Visible Children
The Daily What
Added 3/8/12: An article from The Telegraph

(Mostly) Neutral
CNN blog post
Christianity Today article on the topic
Added 3/8/12: Matt Cleaver has some really good thoughts here, including more helpful links.
Rachel Held Evans’ website (tons of links here)
Drs. Scott and Jennifer Myhre (missionaries who lived in Uganda for 17 years)

If you have helpful links you think I ought to include, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll update this post if needed.

And, in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video causing all the stir:

Video of the Week: What is a Trader from RightNow.org

This is a great video with an amazing description of what a missionary is:

Hat Tip: Brian Kirk