This spring I attended a missions workshop. The speaker suggested that missions in the last 300 years had three assumptions (or goals) informing their approach to missions:
- They were to upgrade deficient Christians.
- They were to correct heretical Christians.
- They were to convert the heathen.
The speaker brought up these goals/assumptions in order to provide a corrective and chart a course for missions into the future.
Though the speaker was addressing international missions, his critique is valid for short-term mission work in the United States. I mean, just how arrogant can we be? We assume we will go to a vulnerable community and upgrade poor Christians. We assume we can/should correct the Christians who think differently than we do (largely because of socio-economic cultural differences). We assume we can convert the heathen poor through our concerts, vacation bible school, service projects and projectors…
Our unintentional arrogance, pride, and ignorance undo the very work we set out to accomplish. But what if we went about it differently?
What if in our missions we:
- were to respectfully learn from different Christians?
- were to allow different cultures and contexts to critique our assumptions and provide correctives to our understanding?
- were to partner with those who do not yet follow Christ in order to promote the well-being of their community?
To be clear, I am not advocating some ‘anything goes and everything is true’ missional position. I am suggesting that we can all learn from difference, and that in many cases differences allow us to more closely approximate the truth of the Gospel that transcends our cultural biases, assumptions and limitations.