The church of Jesus Christ has been sending thousands of workers and putting hundreds of millions of dollars each year towards “missions.” During the last 30 years alone with the amount of workers that have landed in various countries, the question must be asked… “Why haven’t we completed our task of seeing churches planted in every ‘tongue, tribe, and nation’?” To oversimplify here would be unfair… and there are exceptions. The issue of missionary turnover and lack of success IS complex, but there are some common threads that continue to hamper efforts, hurt potential career missionaries, and dampen the focus and zeal of sending churches. When young couples that could have “changed the world” come home broken or discouraged, it is difficult for local churches to send the next family into the fray.
So what are some of the current reasons we’re not making the progress we should?
- Unrealistic expectations for families. The sacrifices and hardships that wives and children will endure must be acknowledged and prepared for! Family issues top any list when actual reasons for missionary turnover are tallied.
- Workers are not ready for the extreme discipline of culture and language acquisition. Some gospel workers go to the field not even knowing phonetics and phonemics. How are they supposed to hear and mimic fine differentiations in sounds? How can they avoid being seen, AND HEARD, as outsiders? Some learn phonetics but have never mastered it in a live situation where they must start from scratch and go through the pain of being seen as a ‘slow awkward outsider’ for months.
- Many workers have a deep-seated sense they are NOT connecting with the people they are living among; they rightly wonder if the sacrifices they are enduring have a point to them.
- Vague goals – “I want to minister in Mongolia”, “Make disciples in Syria”, or even “I want to plant a church in northern India” are not enough to guide the worker through the many complex choices ahead of them. The long-term missionary lost in his business efforts who occasionally has religious discussions is becoming common.
- Social Media/Internet – which provides a haven for the lonely, frustrated, bored missionary. This hidden cause is quietly allowing missionaries to ‘live’ overseas, without fully BEING in the country they live. (Often times families and supporters are complicit as they ask the missionary to ‘regularly connect’ with them; not realizing how much of a day is spent anticipating that small Skype session.)
- “Diaspora” work now draws many missionaries to stay right here in the USA! Such re-labeling masks a significant shift in missionary allocations happening in some agencies. Churches in Iowa end up funding missionaries working in Minneapolis while churches in Minneapolis fund missionaries going to India (or to a college campus right back in Iowa!). When Paul and Barnabas were commissioned and sent out in Acts 13 they did not head off to Jerusalem. Of course, other ethnic groups were present in Jerusalem… but there was also a church in the area.
Obviously, each of these areas has many nuances and complexities to them, but these 6 issues are the main components of what is hindering progress towards planting actual churches among those language groups still without the gospel.
What hindrances do you see to finishing Jesus’ assignment of reaching every people, language, nation and tribe for His glory?
OPEN USA supports workers in the 10/40 Window, who are doing Business for Transformation. Radius trains cross-cultural workers in the skills needed to start healthy, viable and reproducing churches in the least areas of the world. For more info see radiusinternational.org.