Question 2: How Should Missionaries Change in this Environment?

Photo: Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin (bombed in World War II).

Another question:

This one comes from Indiana:

My question is how does the work of the missionary need to change? Many churches and pastors are taking on more of a missional focus and adjusting their responsibilities to equip the church to be more missional. How, if any, are missionaries changing their focus/responsibility?

Churches and Christian organizations are very slow to address changing environments.  I think there are number of reasons for this:

1) Christianity is a religion of theological absolutes and this often translates as organizational inflexibility. Any change has to be theologically justified first.  Where if a McDonald's restaurant finds that it's McChicken sandwich is not selling, they just quickly change it to a McRib Burger.  "Whatever works, we will do as soon as possible."

2) Christians often downplay the social sciences or other secular gauges of their culture because they think any misalignment or change in the environment is just the result of secularism and bad things.

So I think the response has been pretty slow.

I think there are a few things that missionaries now have to grapple with (and we are grappling with big time):

1.  Churches want higher levels of accountability and involvement. They no longer want to just send their checks in and hope it does some good.  They want to know that things are being developed, that there is some success, and they want to see it and experience it first-hand. I think this is good. And Three-Worlds is being structured this way. 

2. Churches need a good reason to go global through mission-agencies. Churches can easily by-pass mission agencies and go international using their own people.  Many churches also choose now to go global by going local (reach out to the local Russian community for instance).  More and more mission-agencies will have to add value to those that invest.  In other words, "why are we needed?"  At Three Worlds we are not just serving mission-fields.  We are trying to engage young people (in Europe/Middle East AND the USA), we are trying to encourage emerging, empowered and accountable young leaders (in both Europe/Middle East AND the USA), and we are trying to create healthy inner-connectivity.  We hope to help churches do their global work.  We don't need to do it all, but we find areas of partnership and we try to assist churches with understanding the realities on the ground.

If mission pastors from the USA, or youth from the USA, or college kids can develop their global engagement skills through our region, we want to help facilitate that...and that's what we are doing.

3.  Missionaries aren't for life anymore.

With the skepticism in religious institutions, our average missionary is not going to spend 30 years or even 10 years being a missionary with one organization.  The average tenure is now about 4 years.  For people under 30, the average tenure is even shorter.  That means we can't structure ourselves in a way where all our work in the region is dependent on people having multi-decade tenures.  This is a very big switch from the past.

4. Not all ministry needs to come from North America.  The North American church (and European church) is declining.  A lot of the most dynamic Christianity comes from places like Nigeria, South Korea, Indonesia, and Central America.  We do not always need to be in every country now or establish long-term missionary presences around the world.  This often hinders local growth.  Instead, we have to come alongside new emerging leaders in strategic and limited ways.  There's a need for theological instruction, there's a need for sound giving practices, and a large need for personal, spiritual, financial accountability.

5. Evangelism is not enough. Younger generations of Christians want to see that we are having an impact on our communities or the countries we are working in.  Helping people start businesses, cleaning the environment, and improving the quality of people's life.  This is good in my opinion.  Furthermore, evangelism without building healthy leadership structures, discipleship programs, and theological substance often leads to chaos--or worse yet, heresy.

This is why at Three Worlds we are concerned with Red, Green, and Blue--seeking to support the church internationally in a number of areas (read more at the link).

6. Specialization matters. With the Global and Christian landscape changing as much as it is, it's more important to be careful in hiring missionaries now (this term is not even helpful anymore in many places.  It's vague and implies evangelism only.  And it certainly doesn't help in getting visas in much of the world).  The one-size-fits-all model of missionaries is not as useful. Western mission needs to be more about strategic assistance for the global church--and this means hiring people that have the skill-sets to offer the specific assistance needed.

These are just 6 ways that I think things have to change for missionaries and mission-agencies.  Now whether they are really re-calibrating with these things in mind---I'm skeptical.  But here at Three Worlds, the combination of the global shifts in Christianity, the economic recession, and the debilitated and fragmented nature of the Church of God means we have no choice but to internalize these 6 things and make them part of our DNA.

Thanks for the question.