I have served as a missionary with the North American Mission Board (SBC) since 1993. During that time I have hosted and/or helped coordinate hundreds of mission teams from around the nation. Those teams have helped our mission efforts with outreach ministries such as Vacation Bible Schools, Backyard Bible Clubs, Sports Camps, Day Camps, Block Parties, Prayer Walking, Open Air Concerts, Food Distribution and Door to Door Surveys. Teams have also helped us build or repair church buildings, repair homes for the needy or the elderly, build or repair parsonages, tear out damage due to disasters and then rebuild in those same disaster areas. The bottom line is that we could not have accomplished all that we have in the two decades we have been missionaries without the help of mission teams.
However, after all this time as a missionary, I have noticed a disturbing trend. It is what my friend John Theilepape calls "feel good" missions. What I mean by this is the most people want to do things that make themselves feel good. While that is not bad in and of itself, missions should be something that we do for the Lord in service to others, not just something that makes us feel good.
For example, when we have built new church buildings, everyone wants to be the framing crew that gets to put the exterior walls up. It is very gratifying to arrive on the scene with a concrete slab in place and jump out of the church bus with 30 men and ten hours later all four walls are up. It makes us feel good to be part of that. But it is much less exciting to be the crew that comes the week before and digs the ditches to run the sewer lines through, or to come two weeks later to install the toilets and sinks in the bathrooms. But the building is useless without those sewer lines and bathroom fixtures. It all has to be done in order for the building to be used for God, even though certain parts of the project make us feel better than other parts.
Likewise, everyone wants to lead a Vacation Bible School for a mission church in which dozens of unchurched children show up to hear the Gospel for the first time. But fewer people are willing to lead multiple Backyard Bible Clubs in neighborhoods all over town to which only a handful of children come. But in mission areas, the big crowd that shows up for Vacation Bible School is only possible because of the many small groups that came to Backyard Bible Clubs a few weeks before. Likewise, successful Open Air Concerts in which large numbers attend and give their lives to Christ are only possible because of the Prayer Walking teams that saturated the area for weeks before the concert. One may feel more exciting than the other, but both are equally important in the overall effort of sharing the Gospel.
If mission teams want to impact an area for Christ, they must come to the point where they are willing to do whatever is needed to advance the missionary enterprise instead of insisting on only doing what makes them feel good.
The same is true when it comes to funding missions. Everyone wants to fund a soup kitchen, and the need for that is great, but few people want to fund an outreach ministry to business leaders. Perhaps if we funded more outreach programs to business leaders, then those local business leaders would be able to fund the soup kitchen on their own without having to rely on mission dollars from some distant source. People love to give money to buy school supplies for needy children, and that is very important, but hardly anyone wants to buy office supplies for the missionary himself. But how is the missionary supposed to pass out flyers about the backpack give away if he does not have the basic office equipment needed to print the flyers? Churches finance committees and mission committees must see the need to fund both types of ministry, because they are both important in the overall missionary effort
At some point, we must get over our need to feel important about ourselves and instead think more strategically about our mission activity and mission giving. We must stop asking what would make us feel good and instead ask what would it take to actually advance the cause of Christ in a mission area. We must stop making missions about us and make it more about Jesus. I think that if we had a Christ-centered approach to missions that was focused on overall strategy instead of a feel good approach to missions, we would be able to accomplish a lot more in our mission work. May that day come soon!