“We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and influence of the Western nations.  Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power.  They have to learn to go against the stream.” Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret

It’s hard to believe that it was twenty years ago when I was sitting in Prof. Mike Goheen’s living room studying the works of Rene Padilla, David Bosch, and Lesslie Newbigin.  We were studying in Sioux Center, Ia., where mowing your lawn on a Sunday might land you in jail.  And Prof. Goheen (who would go on to complete a dissertation on Newbigin) would say, “If Newbigin were here, he’d tell us that this town needs a missionary encounter!”

Returning from India to the West, Newbigin saw with new eyes the profound secularization of so-called “Christian” culture.  If you’ve ever been to the Third World and returned to the United States, you may know the feeling.  Suddenly, it becomes a bit unbearable to hear “God Bless the USA!” playing on the radio as you shop for a pair of $100 jeans, which replace the pair you bought just a week prior that were ruined when you spilled your Double Tall Sugar-Free Vanilla Soy Latte on them.  You get the picture.  Newbigin did too.  And he believed that missionaries needed to be sent to the West, a culture blinded by power and prosperity.

All this contemporary talk of a “Christian nation” would likely aggravate Newbigin, who believed profoundly that Christians more interested in preserving power looked like the Temple High-Priest than the Suffering Servant.  Newbigin once wrote, “The real triumphs of the gospel have not been won when the church is strong in a worldly sense; they have been won when the church is faithful in the midst of weakness, contempt, and rejection.”  While we’re busy figuring out how to save ‘pagan’ civilizations elsewhere, Newbigin believed that the people who needed the Gospel most were…

…you and me.  With our Big Mac’s, Big Churches, and Big Military.  Ouch.  I’m convicted.

This “big idea” has had a profound impact on me over the years – Don’t send missionaries – invite them.  Invite them from places where they have nothing else to depend on but Jesus, and ask them how to live and love and serve.  Invite them to teach you…the one who is supposed to have all of the knowledge and power that the world knows (in an iPhone!).  Invite them to tell you about Jesus, and how he shows up among them.  Just invite them.

I’m curious…how does “big idea” sit with you?

3 thoughts on “Don’t send missionaries. Invite them!

  1. Chuck, your post resonates with me in a powerful way. My wife and I recently read “Revolution in World Missions” by KP Yohannan an I’m convicted/convinced more than ever that myself along with the USA as a whole are far removed from what it really means to live out the gospel. In “Revolution in World Missions” one can see the contrast between christian life in America and christian life in Asia. Wow! is it eye opening.

  2. Oh, wow… I don’t normally read your blog (no offense), and I don’t normally write comments in response to a blog…but I happen to be pretty passionate about this topic for a number of reasons. Having grown up as a missionary kid overseas, I have a high degree of respect for our brothers and sisters who are living, loving and serving Jesus in a simpler context. It seems their faith is deeper, stronger and (maybe) simpler. When you have nothing else, and can depend on no one, not even yourself, Jesus truly does become everything. In our Western (read: American) culture we have much to learn from them. We arrogantly believe that we are the ones that have much to give, and, indeed we do have many financial and intellectual resources with which to bless our sisters and brothers, but we incorrectly assume that the manner in which we “grandly bestow” our gifts is truly a blessing. Sure, helping others with medicine, food and finances is helpful as long as we understand that we must reciprocate by being vulnerable with our own needs. We, in the West, are spiritual paupers. We must humbly hold out our empty hands and receive the spiritual nourishment that our global family has to offer. They may not have the erudite knowledge of the Scriptures that we have spent hundreds of years developing, but they live out their simple faith every day, often in the face of incredible pain and difficulties. We have much to learn from them.

    To your point about “big”… It hits a nerve. I’ve been recently challenged to “think small” (which, by the way, is no reflection on my physical stature! ha!) Here’s a paragraph from Dave Andrews’ “A Divine Society: The Trinity, Community and Society”…

    “If the church is going to be an effective agent of community development, we need to change our model of church. When I was young I was brought up to to try an be ‘a great man of God’. As William Carey, a famous Baptist missionary, said: to ‘expect great things from God; to attempt great things for God.’ Hence, I was always looking for something great to do. However, one day I was confronted with the example of Jesus. The approach practised by Jesus was not great. To the contrary, it involved consciously setting aside any aspirations that he may have had to greatness. In addition, Paul says, those of us who would follow the example of Jesus need to empty ourselves of our ambition to do big things — so that we can do little things with a lot of love over the long haul — as little brothers and sisters of Jesus — who was prepared to empty himself of all his privileges and make himself a mere mortal (see Phil 2:1-8)”

    A challenge, indeed! In the West, we have been duped into believing “bigger is better”. (Supersize Me??) Not so in Christianity. If our example is Jesus… he humbled himself… he left his “bigness”, his “greatness” and became small… Then, God exalted him.

    We do have a lot to learn… Stay on the journey, my friend!

  3. On a similar theme, some missionaries serve in places like Nigeria where there’s a far higher proportion of Christians than there is in San Francisco. Hopefully, one day, Christians in Africa and other places like Korea will see San Francisco as a mission field and start sending missionaries here.

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