Mission Myths 9 & 10: The West vs. the Rest

I’ve been commenting on an article by Shane Bennett that appeared several years ago in Missions Catalyst.

In his two-part post on Top Ten Myths about Missions , Bennett explained:

I want to understand how the average Lou and Sue, sitting in the pew, think about missions stuff. … From what I’ve seen there are some serious misconceptions floating around in our churches, at least some of our churches. We could call these collective assumptions, beliefs that simply don’t reflect reality, “myths.”

If you want to read all ten myths now, check out the article online. You can see my other articles on this topic by choosing God:World under “Categories” on the right-hand column of my blog page.

Myth #9 – God Only Uses Americans and Other Westerners

Perhaps this is less myth than practical assumption. God has gifted Americans generally with a sense that we can overcome problems and accomplish worthwhile goals. It might go without saying that this gift has been unwrapped and used to whack our siblings on the head more times than I care to count. I’ll say it anyway, just so you non-Americans hear that we Americans (at least some of us) acknowledge and regret this.

Being gifted thusly by God, we can sometimes think we’re the only ones concerned about God’s global kingdom. When we venture to other countries (maybe yours!), we might think that God arrives when we do. We’re pretty sure he wasn’t here before we showed up!

One of the most hopeful trends of my young life is the growth of the church and the embrace of God’s purposes for all nations from the global east and south. God is increasingly raising up mission efforts from Africa, South America, and across Asia. Praise God for you, our brothers and sisters, who are joining or re-joining this great global cause.

I think this misconception arises because no one has told us otherwise. How often do we hear of the huge missionary movements rising out of the non-Western world? We have to make a point of reading magazines and websites about the global church; we certainly won’t hear about this on the evening news. The rest of the world has so much to teach us American believers. It’s good to remember that there is one Church and one body in the world, and God is using every part to bring glory to Himself.

Myth #10 – God Has Given Up on Americans / Westerners

Conversely, some believers consider the growth of the non-western church and the decline of the church in many Western lands as an indication that God no longer uses people like Americans. Or maybe he primarily wants to use our financial resources to fund the work of others. Two things: God certainly wants Westerners to use their financial resources to further his work. Even with the scary economic situation (The Dow closed down over 400 points while I was writing this!), Americans are still among the richest people on the planet. As we have been given much, we are expected to give much.

Secondly, God is free to use whoever he wants, however he wants. His decisions in this regard are often surprising and puzzling for us. Our role is to think carefully about what God is doing and how we might best join in. Sometimes that means writing a check for a budding mission agency in Eritrea. Other times that means writing a check for a passport application, a plane ticket, immunizations, and an Arabic phrasebook!

I’ve been reading book after book extolling the indigenous missionary movement and basically telling Americans that we’re too worldly to qualify for doing more than giving money out of our abundance—and woe to us if we don’t give enough. This idea seems to have caught the support of a lot of westerners lately. I think we embrace it partly out of relief. It’s a lot less intimidating to write a check than it is to get on a plane or try to embrace a foreign culture.

It was refreshing to hear Bennett proclaim the truth that God can still use us, as imperfect as we are. Sure, sending money may be more efficient. It might even be more practical. But in reading the Bible, and over years of experience, I’ve noticed that God doesn’t seem to care very much about efficiency. That’s our value, not His. When we’re deciding whether to send money or go ourselves, it still all boils down to asking God what He wants us to do and then doing whatever He says.

—–

Over the last seven months, I’ve brought you Bennett’s “Top Ten Myths about Missions.” What other misconceptions do we have about the mission of the church? If you believed one of these myths, what difference has learning the facts made in your life?

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One thought on “Mission Myths 9 & 10: The West vs. the Rest

  1. The last few years, I keep hearing people talk about how much better it is to just send money, instead of actually going to help missions organizations, because of the burden it is on them. On one hand, I understand that having missions teams come to “help” is sometimes not all that helpful.
    HOWEVER,
    I can’t stress enough how important it is to go ourselves. Sending money is important, don’t get me wrong! But when we step out on a limb of faith and say, “OK God, I’m going! And I don’t know what I’m doing or what to expect… please catch me!!” there is an opportunity there for God not only to use us to change someone else’s life, but our own as well. Some say you must be “called,” but the truth is, we are ALL called to go preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.

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