I recently had the chance to travel to Hungary with my good friend Justin Southwick, pastor at (Mosaic Community Church in Peoria, AZ) Justin pastored a church in Miskolc several years ago. Since then, he has gone back to encourage, equip and sometimes train local pastors there. In other words, he has done a great job at building long-lasting relationships with the indigenous people.
As a pastor of a “missional” church, I have gone back and forth on the idea of short-term missions over the years. In our church family, we place a high emphasis on equipping one another to live everyday as missionaries, living everyday life with Gospel intentionality. As I’ve struggled with all that that means, I have sometimes soured on the idea of Americans going to foreign countries to plant “American” churches. As a result, I have also wrestled with the idea of short-term missions; people traveling to another country for two weeks or so on some sort of “missions trip.” I mean, after all, isn’t everyday our primary mission field? Why should we travel to another country to do what we should be doing everyday? And, if we’re not doing it in the everyday, what business do we have going somewhere else?
This past trip to Hungary was a great time to process some of these issues through a missional hermeneutic; not just of Scripture, but all of life. I mean, if our church family is trying to equip, encourage and challenge our people to live everyday life as missionaries, then why in the world do we need to travel to another country to live that out? But then again, perhaps being taken out of our everyday context is just what some of us need to remember how to redeem the everyday.
So, in no particular order, and mostly because I like to write to sort out my thoughts, here are some thoughts prompted by my recent trip to Hungary:
- Sometimes We Need To Be Taken Out Of The Everyday To Appreciate It
Do you know the saying, “A fish doesn’t know it lives in water”? For anyone striving to live everyday life as a missionary, traveling to another context can be quite valuable. We are forced to consider and sometimes participate in other customs and ways of life. We are immersed into another world. Lord willing, this causes us to examine our everyday context through a new lens.
We marinate in our everyday and we become numb to the very people and cultures we are called to reach. Traveling to another culture can help jar us awake again and force us to consider the cultures and customs in which we live but we must pay attention, asking questions that we should be asking of the everyday.
- Ask Lots Of Questions
A good missionary strives to understand and engage the culture to which they have been called. That means they ask lots of questions. What is the “story” of that culture? What is their history? What do they celebrate and why? How do they view family? What are their afflictions? Where do they gather and why? What do they value? What is their pace of life and why?
This goes back to the first point. When you are placed in a culture you’re unfamiliar with, you will naturally ask these questions. Lord willing, you’ll be reminded to ask them of your own culture as well.
- You’re Not There As A Tourist
OK, this one could be up for debate. But, if you’ve traveled somewhere on a “short-term missions trip” of any sort, you are not there to be served. You are not there to be entertained. You may have the chance to see some things, but that’s not why you’re there. You are there for other people and not yourself.
We had the chance to see some amazing things while in Hungary, but I was continually convicted that, though I personally wanted to make the most of our trip, I didn’t travel that far so that I could see old buildings and cool rivers. That was just an added bonus that we fit in when we could. I was constantly reminded of how we live everyday for ourselves rather than others. It’s sad that I had to travel to another country to be reminded of this, but it is what it is. We live everyday as tourists, wanting to be pleased, but that’s not why we’re here.
- Practice What You Preach
So many of us Christians are good at compartmentalizing our lives. I know churches that are great at overseas missions that don’t encourage, equip or challenge their people to walk across the street. They will spend thousands of dollars sending people to other countries without challenging people to invite their neighbors over for dinner. Short-term missions is a great way to challenge ourselves to the everyday task of living as missionaries. But, if we’re not doing it at home, do we really have any business going to another country in the first place?
- We Are Not The Hope And We Don’t Have All Of The Answers
One thing I sometimes worry about with Americans doing foreign missions is that we tend to believe that because God has blessed us with some money, that this can fix people’s problems. Not only that, we are notorious for exporting our “way of doing church” in the name of missions. A church family in Glendale, AZ shouldn’t necessarily look the same as a church family in Nairobi. We are not the hope and we don’t have all of the answers. Our job, when we go is, to equip “the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Jesus is the hope and He has all the answers. Our role is to equip local people to figure out what that looks like in their everyday, not to make them like us.
What are your thoughts on short-term missions?
(Re-Post)I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all of the implications of what it means to live on mission for Jesus. What would it really mean to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? Would some of our current, cultural expectations/practices of Christianity be any different if we intentionally followed Jesus rather than tradition? Over the past few days, as you might imagine, I’ve been thinking about this in light of Halloween.
Halloween is obviously a contentious holiday in the minds of many Christians. On the one side, we have those who say that it is purely an evil holiday and Christians should avoid it at all costs. We should meet it head on with dark porches, locked doors and rebuke. On the other, we have those who simply say that we should adopt any and all means necessary to reach the lost. Somewhere in the middle, we have what many people have come to refer to as the “missional” position.
Yes, Halloween has some negative connotations. It is often associated with dark images, so we should not have our children dress up as Satan Himself (even though most of our representations are probably pretty far off; after all, he is described as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14, etc.) rather than a horned-tailed red-suited goblin). We should not wholeheartedly embrace or promote a culture of death and we should be aware fo the traditional connections, etc. It seems that discernment has become all but a lost art for much of American Christianity.
I can’t help but wonder where Jesus Himself would have chosen to hang out. I can’t help but think that we are called to live on/in the missio Dei (Matthew 28:18-20, John 20:21, etc.). As strange as it might initially seem to many Believers, Halloween is the one day/year when meeting your neighbors is handed to you on a silver platter. They come to your door, you go to theirs. It is perfectly acceptable to break the unwritten laws of suburbia and sit out in your driveway with a fire pit and chat with people! It is the wide-open door to relationship that many of us long for the rest of the year. This doesn’t mean hand out tracts out instead of candy. It does mean looking for those conversations that may lead to something deeper. It means looking to serve and love your neighborhood above and beyond because Jesus has loved and served us “above and beyond.” It means being a blessing to those around us because we have been so richly blessed in Christ.
We must never uncritically adopt the traditions of fallen culture, but they are ours to redeem. Do we eschew Halloween and things like it in pursuit of some sort of feigned holiness or do we purse the footsteps of Jesus even into the dark places?