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Missions 101

Don’t Glamorize the Christians “Over There”

Apr. 20, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

The grass is always greener on the other side. Or so we think.

How many times have you heard the purity of the global church (especially the persecuted church) extolled in contrast to the vile American church? I’ve lost count. There is usually a formula to how it is said: “X Christians in X country risk X in order to share the gospel. X Christians have undivided and passionate devotion to Christ. They are way more committed to the gospel than the American Church.”

If it were so simple...

blog-pics-120005e29ea5d7We tend to glamorize things we know little about. I remember in high school and college
thinking of how great it would be to a be a leader, but never realized the sacrifice, hard work and impossible decisions that had to be made. I wanted the title without the responsibility. Before I was married I had a plan for how to love my wife and my children in God’s perfect way. I knew exactly what I would do. I had examples. Lo and behold - it’s not so simple.

The Global Bride of Christ is a complex, messy and mistake-prone place where saved sinners find a home. Jesus loves the church so I am as slow to criticize her as I would be slow to criticize someone else’s bride. We have varying degrees of theological and character flaws, which we can not agree to all the time. None of us are perfect, and we need to hear that sometimes.

I wonder if part of the glamorization it comes from misreading missionary biographies. There are some amazing stories of what people have done. But - their stories are not normative and often biographies are just highlight reels of someones life. Not everyone needs to be a hero. It’s similar to reading David and Goliath and thinking we should be like David, when we are more like someone in the crowd watching.

My friend recently attended a conference in Asia for missionaries from a certain country in the region. This is a country supposedly known for missionary zeal. The conference, led by evangelical leadership was racist - filled with messages on how great and superior their culture and people were, how God had chosen them to finish reaching the nations and how God had given them visions to confirm this calling. Another missionary called it a "western funded joke."

I was working with pastors in another country that ride bikes between villages to plant churches. They are doing amazing things from my perspective. I was a little thrown off when the pastors began fighting over who got what bike.

I was worshiping in a house church. Some of the people in the church had been in jail and some of them had parents in jail, all because of their commitment to Christ. We sang two (western) songs and then was the time for the message. I had never heard a sermon do so much magic on a biblical text. It was a bad sermon - real bad.

I was in a country where I was training pastors, when a person from a local tribe told me of her shock that I would train people from another tribe, since in her mind they could never become Christians. They were evil - no good came from them.

These of course are isolated instances and do not reflect every Christian in the region. But neither do our over the top stories we share on a regular basis. Let’s be thankful for what God is doing all over the world, but let’s not place anyone on an unattainable pedestal. There are amazing ordinary Christians in the town you live in as well as around the world.

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International.  As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

Tags:  global christianity
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