Following Christ or Culture? (2)

Welcome back.

Sam Rima is the Director of the Doctor of Ministry at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. [I’m an instructor there in the DMin cohort on Entrepreneurial Leadership].

Besides sharing his rather amazing story during his visit yesterday, we had a terrific conversation about emerging leaders that provoked a couple of questions. Here’s one of them:

Has there been a recent shift in recent years in the mindset of church planters and missionaries

  • from one of going where the need is greatest or the challenges biggest or the conditions poorest, far from family, etc …
  • to one of going to the places they’d enjoy living, where the quality of life is better and the conditions best, close to family or where they’d live anyway if they could…?

What do you think?

Photograph enjoying a meal at Santorini’s with (left to right) Sam, Alex, Niza and Octavio.

Into the mystic…

Alex McManus


23 responses to “Following Christ or Culture? (2)”

  1. Nice. Missionaries going to comfortable places, i guess it depends on who they are, what their background is, etc. Being in Russia this summer, I could live there, perhaps its my Nicaragua-Cuba-Sandinista-Soviet Union experience in the early 80’s. I would not call it comfortable living, yet being in Moscow for even 4-5 hours felt like being in Hollywood. On the other hand, the camp we served in was as rural as can be.

  2. The post creates more questions and few answers. I think I would need examples of the type of mission areas/countries you are speaking of. Would Belfast, Ireland fall into a nice place to visit and live? or Spain? or England because of what? What if someone went to England to live and minister among the destitute…. And how do we define “need”? Are we using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

    And, are pastors missionaries? – if so, does this apply to them?

    If I looked at the long term missionaries with whom I am familiar, I would say they’re in tough places – including some who recently committed to Rwanda and Pakistan. I also know of a few older couples who left secure US jobs and are in Zambia. There are many more.

    I’d be very interested in hearing from the younger voices and see what they notice and perceive.

  3. James Petticrew Avatar
    James Petticrew

    Good question Alex (and Sam) I am eating, sleeping and living with a group that has several potential church planters and I haven’t heard nice places to live mentioned yet in the discussions we have had about where we think God is calling us to. Don’t know American well enough to say if that is representative or not. I suspect in the UK its the opposite, there has been an upsurge in the Uk of so called Eden Projects. Groups of mainly young people moving into areas with bad reputations and working to change those areas from the inside out and start a worshipping community for the people there that makes sense to them.
    I see the danger though, if I didn’t feel God’s call so strongly I could see how staying in the States would make good long term sense for my family. The other two Brits who did my course stayed on in North America, were they looking for an easier life, should they have gone where the need was greater, I have to leave that between them and God.

  4. David, Sally and James:

    Thanks for the input. I’m wondering, though, if in your experience, there seems to be a shift. I’m not even suggesting this is wrong. I’m just wondering if there is a different approach that has become acceptable or at least more common.

    Twenty years ago, I don’t think I ever heard any one say first, “where would I like to live?” Is this more common today when picking a field of ministry? Or is it, in your experience, the same?

    Sally, yes. Pastors are missionaries…as is everyone else.

  5. Good thoughts! I have to say that my experience includes only a few church planters and missionaries, that is, in the traditional sense. More and more, though, we have to admit that those terms are becoming redefined. Now the mission field could be China or Mexico or my own neighborhood. To plant a church I could be a part of a specific denomination, rent a building, or start a house church.

    As time progresses, I would have to say that, yes, there is a of people picking places they want to live. There are more places to pick. So we will have more picking comfortable places, but also more choosing of uncomfortable places. It would just seem that there are more numbers involved than 20 years ago. Maybe I am missing it, since I was only 5 then….

    I have to try not to get cynical and say that there must be a shift because of the increase in comfortable lifestyles and our individualized, compartmentalized society. This seems to easy and it has to be the case that there are a good number of people fighting against that.

  6. Hi Alex,
    One of your thoughts come to mind – ‘the future is urban.’ This idea that missionaries can find the least reached, the ones least touched by the Gospel in urban areas because the world is moving towards those localities. Maybe that contributes a bit to missionaries moving to places that are a bit more hospitable.
    Great compelling question!

  7. James Petticrew Avatar
    James Petticrew

    I have thought a lot about this, maybe its because of the kind of people I have been mixing with recently, but I honestly haven’t heard anyone say that there was a nice place they would like to live and so they were going to start a church there. Though now I say that I wonder if there is a Scottish community in Hawaii that might need a new strategic church

  8. Tony, Interesting thought. Do you think it’s more common now for us to consider the city more hospitable than the country or suburb?

  9. Thanks, Nate. So there are about the same percentage picking “comfortable” and “uncomfortable” as before just more in terms of total number.
    Do you hear others asking where are the most strategic and/or neediest parts of the world and thinking about investing their lives there?

  10. James, I’ll have my scouts looking for those Hawaiian-scots.

  11. Alex…( my rhetorical questions are strategic 😉 )

    Your question is a very complicated question that when approached organizationally, or via organizaed religion can vary depending on the individual, the sending/sponsoring church/organization/movement/institution, the denomination, the demographics, and… God., but isn’t there a more foundational one to ask?

    At the Leadership Summit Bill Hybels posed the question, “What is your holy discontent? What is it that wrecks you like it wrecks God?” The idea is to seek it, identify it, expose yourself to it, fuel the flame – do something about it that includes risk taking… as in, what are we willing to risk to pursue it?

    It’s a question that requires KNOWING God! How else will we know it wrecks him? If we know him, he will reveal what he wants us to do and how to do it for a season, a life, etc. It is not static and it is not permanent. It looks differently to different people. Then the question becomes moot because you just go where God tells you to go!

  12. Sally, approach it personally. Has there been a shift in your experience? Have you heard, sensed, felt this kind of shift in recent years as you’ve interacted or listened to others?

  13. I would have to say that yes, in some ways I have seen a shift – specifically in myself. In high school and college, I would’ve planned on heading someplace remote and entirely out of the normal radar – a village somewhere, very rustic. My perception of missions was that it had to happen in villages. But now, as I’ve grown, I’ve sensed (and experienced in Africa) that I am not a very good village dweller. Some of my friends were naturals – totally at ease there – but not me. And since that experience, mentors andmy inner sense have guided me toward what sort of a culture (because they are all in need of people truly living out the gospel) I would most likely fit into. Where would I naturally connect with people? Who would find me most interesting, most attractive, most easy to relate to? That being said, it wouldn’t necessarily be “easy” by any stretch. Moving to Minnesota from California hasn’t been easy, much less some European country I can hardly point out on a map. 🙂 Difficulty is relative, I think…Malawian villages were difficult for me, but easy for others. And what I “like” can come from my own preferences of culture, God’s putting an affinity in my heart, or nay number of sources. Might part of that be how God leads?

  14. My previous church focused on eastern Europe or inwardly addressed “felt needs” of the congregation and the immediate community (providing support groups). Also, they started an English “camp” for Hispanics in the suburbs. According to my understanding of mission, yes, those were all intentionally designed to be safe. The Youth missions trip were designed in the same way. In my daughter’s HS years, the missions destinations were Sweden and Vancover, BC!

    But to some of the people going, it was a big stretch to get them out of their inward focus safety zone, and they could argue it was dangerous.

    My other church focuses on risk taking mission to serve in Africa, but there are not a lot of “takers.” Life is pretty tame around the North Shore of Chicago… sacrifice is a relative term – affluence plays a huge role.

  15. James Petticrew Avatar
    James Petticrew

    Alex the more I think about it the deeper the connection I see, Kilts and Grass Skirts??? Do you think this constitutes a call?

  16. Hmm… I don’t think I’ve seen that trend among the missions minded people I know. Most of my friends who are missions minded are passionate about the Muslim world and China. Those are two areas that are definitely not friendly to Christians (China is not nearly as hostile as most Muslim countries, but still isn’t *that* safe).

    Maybe one trend I am seeing is that tentmaking seems to be becoming the predominant means of going abroad. In the case of Muslim countries and China, it’s the *only* way of gaining entry into those nations. You cannot enter these countries as a “missionary”. So maybe this is related actually, in that these people are going with skill sets that will allow them to be self-sufficient and employed, rather than them being completely dependent on donors. And therefore, their lives may seem more comfortable than their predecessors who had no locally employable skill sets and thus, lived less comfortable lives. But that’s just my own theory. 🙂

  17. tough call…it seems the places in our land where the most need is, is the last place the best leaders want to the suburbs need another church? are only the upper and middle classes entitled to quality leadership?what about the poor,the spirtitually bankrupt, those whose life choices have left them anything but stability?the ethos of the amrerican church that i have seen and been exposed too…is me first.mimiized risk maximize gain and don’t get your hands dirty.i have watched my peers for years plant churches in only the wealthiest parts of the city.i have watched with the eyes of the outsider, and have asked the question is the gospel only for corporate america?both Jesus and David revolutionized the culture of the day, not with the established, buth with the outcast, the common, the unwanted.paul suffered beatings at thessolinica, was thrown out of the city dragged before magistrates.yet the word went forth with demonstration and power.time would fail to speak of Jesus relationship with the samaritans, or his journey to tyre and sidon,or his visit among the gaderenes. all unwanted people of His day.we are in the heart of the city of miami.i see brokenness virtually everyday on a level i never thought i could handle.yet the word goes forth with demonstration and with power.i have prayed and asked of God that i might be an eye witness to His majesty.He has taught me that only thru the brokenenss of humanity that His glory comes.i cannot speak for all, but as for me my hearts desire is to give my best to the least of these.whether they live in the crack house or the white house, we are determined to be servants and agents of change in a cultural revolution of the modern take the ring of this gospel to mordor if need be that the dark lords slaves become free.
    to journey into the mystic where dangers abound and dragons lie in wait, but victory is sure.may we not be timid brothers and sisters, may we not seek the path of least resistance, or the most comfortable or safe.sans peur

  18. Alex, honestly I don’t hear too many people asking what strategic and needy places need service. There are a few by whom I am incredibly challenged who are willing to take the risk and just go (a couple of my friends are spending two weeks in Africa with a Sudanese man who is at school at Bethel).

    It seems that God has laid on my heart and a few who are very close to me that as we don’t necessarily have the means or the call to travel the world, we are called to think strategically within our specific contexts. Hence, the fight club mentality church/service model that I have been dreaming of and invisioning. It’s all about being creative and remaining ready to serve strategically and radically wherever we go. Even within our own houses, our own neighborhoods and our own communiites. Radical risks taken within community in an effort to show Christ’s love and get over our own selfish selves. I can see this growing. It will start small and grow worldwide, but it is a necessary thing to advancing the Kingdom.

  19. Great discussion…
    Alex – to your question, it would seem to me that cities are more hospitable than the country, especially in the developing world.
    In my experience, I’ve seen more and more people willing to go to the more inhospitable places to further the Gospel. I’ve seen it more in those that are in their 20s, who haven’t got as much responsibilities in life quite yet. I get the sense that there something brewing in the Church with that age group, that there are more and more young adults ready to go, especially once they hear about the state of the Church around the world.

  20. Lately I’ve approached it with some of the “strategy” that was displayed in the parable of the talents.

    It seems to me that the slave who was rewarded in the end had characteristics that need to be present in us as well. Of these characteriestics I would say the most important is their sense of ugency. It says of the two faithful slaves that they left immediately.

    I can almost see them rushing out the door as the master handed them the responsibility that his money represented. And while they weren’t naive, I somehow think that there weren’t many strategic planning sessions before they took advantage of their first opportunity.

    Seeing this and trying to represent the same quality in my own life has led me to this philosophy. We are responsible for the opportunities at our feet. Meaning they shouldn’t be stepped over on the way to something else. What I’ve seen happen is that these lead to bigger opportunities to advance the kingdom. “Faithful over litte….ruler over much.”

    I think as we take advantage of the incredible opportunities God has placed right at our feet (though sometimes we are blind to them) we will ride God’s wave of opportunity right to the center of what it is he is trying to do on this planet, be it uban or suburban.

    But to address the issue, if I were a betting man I would say urban, more often than not, will be the final destination.


  21. alex, there’s one question about your post that comes to mind, especially in light of the title. are these people going to places they’d enjoy living, or are they going to places that they fit into the culture? i thought that is where you might be headed, but only elle seems to have touched on this. so… i see more people looking to maximize their impact. they want to make the biggest splash possible, and the general thought is that this can be done by “going” to a culture that you easily relate to. the side effect is that the culture they are immersing themselves in is their own culture. so, they “go” to a place that end up being familiar or comfortable. i’m not saying that these people are doing wrong, but i do wonder if some are mistaking their biggest impact for their God impact. then again, who am i to question their calling.


  22. Two things come to mind. Career missionaries who are members of our church were on home assignment recently, and mentioned that over the course of their ministry (They are near retirement.) the outlook of the new missionaries coming in has changed. Now the families with children want to be placed in the cities where they have access to good schools, sports, etc. Even if they’re homeschooling, they don’t want to take their children into a “cultural immersion” setting, whereas in the past, young parents would have been willing to send their children off to boarding school so that the parents would be free to do the “pioneer” work, or take them along and do homeschool. Is this wrong, or just a different time with different understanding? I think the bottom line is that we each need to have faith that God can take care of us wherever He calls us to go. But He deals with each of us based on our maturity, gifts, and responsiveness. We can’t judge another’s call. Right now I’m trying to connect with college students through my sons’ friends. Does this mean I’m not being faithful because I’m not teaching Bible classes in the housing projects instead? No one can answer that question but me, because I must follow God’s call on my life, wherever it leads.

  23. Bonnie, Thanks for the comment. I remember a young missionary couple that had chosen to build an orphanage. I asked them why they hadn’t chosen a particular city for their work.

    I would never raise my children there, she said.

    My point here is not that she chose a smaller more rural setting. Lots of faithful Christ Following people have done over the centuries. What struck me was the “no way” attitude.

    I don’t know if this is more common today. It seems to be. Thanks for your thoughts.

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