On Missions and Selfishness

A few days ago, I was talking with one of the missionaries at the compound here in Kenya. The topic of missions came up, and we began to discuss the frustrations faced by missionaries when mission teams come and give almost no thought to how their presence, words, and activities affect the local people. In fact, we concluded, many times the mission teams leave the field more damaged than how they found it (wrongfully assuming that their purpose was to ‘fix’ anything in the first place).


This conversation reminded me of something that took place many months ago at a Missions in Action chapel service at Olivet. During this particular service, members of mission teams from the previous year were on the stage and some shared their experiences with the collected student body. As it turns out, Twitter can be quite a menacing mistress, as dozens of tweets started flying around talking about how ‘full of themselves’ these mission-trip members were, or how ‘holier than thou’ they seemed. Not only that, but many of the tweets were downright ridiculing international missions…

“What’s the point of going overseas when there are so many needs in our own area?”

“Missions trips do more harm than good.”

“They’re talking about this just to make us feel guilty.”

Etc. etc. etc.

While there were certainly tweets that were more pointed than that, and cause quite a stir between some people who were quite argumentative, there was one tweet that still sticks in my mind: “The only thing these people are talking about is what they experienced. Mission trips aren’t about you!”

It was a tweet meant to bash the people on stage who were sharing their thoughts, but it struck a chord with me that resonated with the conversation I had with the missionary a few days ago. It has me wondering if we sell missions and ministry on a faulty platform.
I think we tend to view mission trip experiences as an exercise of our holiness, or at least an event that facilitates our sanctification. We see them as avenues towards building a better tomorrow for us and the rest of the world. But what if the purpose of missions isn’t for us at all? What if the purpose of mission trip experiences was to sacrifice any benefit toward ourselves for the sake of helping those to whom we are going to minister?

I think we have bought so much into the mindset that missions is about making an investment – which out to provide a reasonable rate of return! – that we forget that the whole point of mission (and, by extension, ministry) is to give ourselves away, to forego any expectation of a reasonable rate of spiritual return, and to simply offer ourselves as servants (not workers, who at least get paid) for the Kingdom.

It irks me to no end to see members of mission teams come in and neglect even the basics of doing cross-cultural work. Sure, some mistakes can be understandable, but when ‘veteran’ workers come and even the locals become annoyed with attitudes and insulted by words and actions, it makes me wonder why on earth such people do missions work in the first place.
Taking this more to heart, I have begun to wonder if I have taken the same approach to ministry. Do I administer my ministerial duties for the sake of building my reputation? Will I commit to certain programs and themes in my future church in order to rake in more potential members, or make people feel more comfortable in my church? Will my style of pastoring be based on who I am and what I need? Or will I be the pastor who offers himself to his people regardless of any amount of personal benefit?

Before I came to Kenya, I was asked by a few people the following question: “How will going to Kenya help you be a better pastor in the States?”

I think I have the answer to that question: I am not here in Kenya to be a better pastor in the States. I am here in Kenya to be a minister in Kenya. The purpose of my time here is to love the people here, and to be obedient to what God desires of me here. I am not here for the purpose of becoming a better pastor, or to become more spiritual. Will I learn a lot that can help me as I pastor in the States? Sure! But that’s not the reason I’m here.

I am wondering, what is the reason we do what we do in the lives of others? Is it to generate a ‘God-moment’? Do we treat people like stocks, where we keep depositing our time and energy just so we can get a nice return on our investment? Or do we invest ourselves in the lives of others for the sake of others, and letting that be enough?

When we treat people like shares, and the Kingdom like the stock market, all we do is make a fool of ourselves.

Would it be okay for us if we never see the results of all of our time, energy, and resources? I think the answer to that question would reveal to us quite a lot about ourselves.