Culture? You Mean Missionaries Have Culture?

I am reading a great book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp. One of the big points he makes is that the pastoral culture has become toxic. I see a ton of parallels in our missionary community.

 

Culture: Who ever thought that we missionaries had a culture, anyhow?

 

Everyone else has culture and we love to observe, participate, and study those curious cultures; but when have we ever stopped and taken a good look at the culture we have created for ourselves?

 

As a member of the missionary tribe for more than twenty years, this book made me scratch my head and start thinking about our culture.

 

Tripp stepped back from his pastoral role and took a hard look at his tribe’s culture. As he did, there were several things that he was able to observe that were common to those that were leaving or considering leaving the pastoral ministry. While there have been several studies of the reasons missionaries leave the field and ministry, none that I am aware of have delved into the missionary culture to consider its impact on tribe members.

So in the days ahead, let’s step back, get down from our pedestals and look into the mirror of God’s Word for guidance in discerning our tribe’s culture. We need to ask some hard questions, peak under some rocks and ferret out some answers. Who are we as a community of missionaries? What is this culture that is unseen but seeps into everything we think and do? Has this culture captured us and put us into places we didn’t want to occupy? How has our culture colored our ministry? What has our culture done to our personal relationship with God and fellow man?

Ponering our Culture

Pondering our Culture

Hey missionary tribe! I don’t want to do this alone.

We need one another if we really want to face the famous “prison of our culture” as Dr. Sherwood Lingenfelter has identified it. In the days ahead, I want to take a look at our culture and how it has shaped us. Will we find some things in common with the pastors that Tripp writes about? I think we will, but we will also see some unique things that come with the cross-cultural context. We might just find some things that can improve the effectiveness and lives of both missionaries and the people we serve.

 So please chime in here, leave a comment or send us an email and as a tribe let us look into that mirror together.

Want to read the book? You can order it here. (affiliate link)
Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

 

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13 Comments

  1. Oh my, Kelly, where do I begin? I am constantly brought face-to-face with missionary culture in our ministry, which forces me to face my own. I look forward to this dialogue.
    For starters: My theology, and the way I approach theology, has been forever altered by the realities my family experienced on the field. My view of God (though still too small, I’m afraid) has been released from its box. I am much more likely to let scripture speak for itself rather than trying to fit it into my own grid. That can make it really challenging interacting with and working with non-missionary co-workers in ministry stateside.

  2. Ok, I’ll bite. A big part of missionary culture is not to talk about it. There is too much shame involved in being honest. We can’t afford the drama that comes with openness because it takes away from the work we are trying to do and could threaten our relationship with our supporters. The longer one is a part of it, the less one is willing to open up. It’s only after leaving that we find the freedom to discuss it. Probably not profound, but true!

    • Hi Franz! Thanks for being bold and chiming in here.

      Ouch! You hit another soft spot didn’t you?

      One of the issues is that we missions types often feel more obligation to our sending supporters than we do toward God.(or at least we act like that at times) Is that because we cannot see God and he isn’t on FB or Twitter with us? One of Paul David Tripp’s great points in the book is how our attitude of caution and hiding our weaknesses makes us even more vulnerable. Wonder how we might begin to shift that paradigm? Hmmmm!

      • How to shift the paradigm? A way to start might be to take the pressure off of the missionary and find a way to educate his supporters in a non-threatening way to dispel the myth of the super-missionary. Invite open dialogue that has nothing do with money and everything to do with the care of the missionary. Paul David Tripp makes a good point regarding hiding our weaknesses, but many supporters prefer not to know the truth, it’s simply to inconvenient! Its more than the average supporter would care to invest. Our feeling of obligation to our supporters is a result of fearing them more than we fear God. Most of us are man-pleasers by nature and this is encouraged by the leadership structures of our organisations. My closest friend pointed this out in my life and as I repented, my eyes were opened to this serious dilemma.

  3. Ok, I’ll bite. A big part of missionary culture is not to talk about it. There is too much shame involved in being honest. We can’t afford the drama that comes with openness because it takes away from the work we are trying to do and could threaten our relationship with our supporters. The longer one is a part of it, the less one is willing to open up. It’s only after leaving that we find the freedom to discuss it. Probably not profound, but true!

    • Hi Franz! Thanks for being bold and chiming in here.

      Ouch! You hit another soft spot didn’t you?

      One of the issues is that we missions types often feel more obligation to our sending supporters than we do toward God.(or at least we act like that at times) Is that because we cannot see God and he isn’t on FB or Twitter with us? One of Paul David Tripp’s great points in the book is how our attitude of caution and hiding our weaknesses makes us even more vulnerable. Wonder how we might begin to shift that paradigm? Hmmmm!

      • How to shift the paradigm? A way to start might be to take the pressure off of the missionary and find a way to educate his supporters in a non-threatening way to dispel the myth of the super-missionary. Invite open dialogue that has nothing do with money and everything to do with the care of the missionary. Paul David Tripp makes a good point regarding hiding our weaknesses, but many supporters prefer not to know the truth, it’s simply to inconvenient! Its more than the average supporter would care to invest. Our feeling of obligation to our supporters is a result of fearing them more than we fear God. Most of us are man-pleasers by nature and this is encouraged by the leadership structures of our organisations. My closest friend pointed this out in my life and as I repented, my eyes were opened to this serious dilemma.

  4. One of the biggest challenges is learning to step out of the spotlight and let others take the stage. To become a relevant and useful tool in His hands right here- and in the harder places. I think for all the “knowledge” about humility and self sacrifice, we have so far to go as a serving culture toward becoming relevant servants in these parts of the world- the call is to go deeper and farther into a humble, sacrificial giving of ourselves to His Church.

  5. One of the biggest challenges is learning to step out of the spotlight and let others take the stage. To become a relevant and useful tool in His hands right here- and in the harder places. I think for all the “knowledge” about humility and self sacrifice, we have so far to go as a serving culture toward becoming relevant servants in these parts of the world- the call is to go deeper and farther into a humble, sacrificial giving of ourselves to His Church.

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