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The 14 Worst Types of Missionary Newsletters

Jul. 20, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio


From Amy Walters at SEND.

1.    The Banker. Nothing but support updates and requests for money. Oh, and maybe a story about visiting a church and asking for money. “It’s not too late to join our team.”

2.    The Paper Cut. Focused mainly on the long, paperwork-filled process of getting legal documents, like visas or residency permits. As boring and painful to read as the actual process of gathering the documents and waiting in line. “The officials did not accept our documents (which is very normal for the first attempt, although it was over very small mistakes). However, to get a second appointment would mean waiting the next day in a long line (this whole process has been full of long lines all over the city for different steps) to see if the quota is still open. So, the next day Leon* waited in line for 5 hours, only to find out that no, the quota is closed. This means that we cannot apply for the temporary residency until after the New Year.”

3.    The Cluster Bomb. No communication for months and then a sudden rush of updates. Often this happens when the missionary needs something, like more support or home service is coming. “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we will give another report about how wonderful our time was on our recent trip!”

4.    The Itinerary. Basically, a long list of activities, locations and events in paragraph form. The audience feels tired after reading it and bouncing from one place to the next. “We were able to combine visits to see Kim’s* father in Pennsylvania, children and grandchildren in Lynchburg, Virginia and Buffalo, New York to meeting friends and attending a new career conference in Ocean City, New Jersey.”

5.    The Treasure Hunt. Mostly filled with cultural tidbits and mundane details. But buried somewhere deep inside, like in a sidebar or at the very end of a long letter, is a great ministry story. [After nine paragraphs about other things] “Praise God for a girl in my class who has now received assurance of salvation.”

6.    The Novel. Anything longer than three pages. This usually happens because the missionary hasn’t written in months. “And one more thing…”

7.    The Christmas Letter. Almost entirely made up of family updates, with little or nothing said about ministry. Added bonus: long description and pictures of a recent family vacation to an exotic location. “Another family invited us to join them at a nearby resort.”

8.    The Cliff Hanger. A desperate call for prayer or help that is not followed up and resolved in the next letter.“Ended up in hospital, trying to find what’s going on. Our life here is but a moment, so easy to take it for granted.”

9.    Generic. As boring as the title, either from lack of interesting details or mainly focusing on day to day stuff. So general that it could be cut and pasted into anyone’s newsletter and still apply. “While at home, I did a lot of cleaning, sorting, and washing windows.” 

10.    The Shock & Awe. Too much going on, from too many different styles of fonts, to too many colors and clip art and photos and graphs and sections. The eyes don’t know where to look first. “Above: My fourth great-nephew and I pose for a comical photo on Thanksgiving Day.”

11.    The Snooze & Blah. No pictures. No colors. No graphics. Just words.

12.    The Judge. A negative assessment of the host culture, either subtle or blatant. “Is it possible to be both different and wrong?”

13.    The Gory Details. Goes into great detail about something incredibly gross or personal, like a recent surgery or explosive illness. Also could include pictures. “We could admire the iron in our toilet bowl.”

14.    The Bait & Switch.  Teases you with the promise of a great story but instead gets sidetracked with related but unimportant details. “So we landed in [the city], got in a van and rode out to join the teen camp that was starting the next day. 10 days later we took part in the English camp. The time at the camp definitely got us back into life here quickly.”

She offers to helpful tips here.

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The Ideal Missionary-Church Partnership

Aug. 28, 2015By: Evan Burns

Here is a sermon by Sinclair Ferguson, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC.  The sermon is on the role of a missionary-sending church's partnership in the gospel from Philippians 4:10-20.  (It's interesting that Philippi was not even Paul's initial "sending church").  His exposition is quite helpful and very well-articulated. 

022215930-partnership-puzzle-conceptFerguson outlines a few principles from this passage that should instruct the partnership of churches with their missionaries:

  1. The church has a genuine care for the missionaries. 
  2. The church longs to find avenues by which that care might blossom in practical ways.
  3. The church wants to be generous and honoring to the missionaries.
  4. Not only does the church send their gospel-driven missionaries, they also send their very best ministers to care for the missionaries when times are tough.
  5. The NT practice of fellowship is not based on affinity, interests, or just hanging out.  The NT word for "fellowship" (koinonia) is chiefly used for partnership with a purpose.  In other words, true biblical fellowship comes from caring for one another in the context of partnership for a mission.


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I'd Rather Be a Chicken's Head

Feb. 25, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

In China, there is a well-known idiom that says, “I’d rather be a chicken’s head than the tail of a phoenix."

The idiom expresses a commonly held notion: It’s better to be in a position of prominence, even if in a less glamorous sphere, than in a low position yet a more prestigious context. In the West, there is a similar saying that talks about being a “big fish in a small pond.”Screen_Shot_209680e81090

In daily life, this sort of thinking can take many forms. Many Chinese businessmen, for example, will leave their low positions in a major company in order to take a high position in a local unknown company. One would like to wish that pastors and missionaries would be immune to such sentiments. In fact, the sin nature needs no passport. It crosses every border.

Within the church, becoming a missionary is often regarded as one of the most selfless and sacrificial things a person can do. Of course, this can be true. Leaving family, friends, conveniences and the ability to communicate easily are not things one forsakes easily. On the other hand, it is possible for the mission field to become a place of unchecked ambition.

The Significance of Status

What happens when Westerners come to a country like China (or any number of other places)? They inherit the title “foreigner.” Initially, this will offend the westerner’s sensibilities. However, missionaries come to find that the “foreigner” status carries particular advantages. Within the church, Western Christians are often regarded as an “expert.” This is nothing more than sheer assumption since they come from a “Christian country” (so they think).

Compounding the problem is the fact that many missionaries receive similar accolades from friends and family in their home country, who could not imagine living in a “foreign” country.” Back in their home culture, they are basically anonymous, . . . until they decide to become missionaries. Then, they become “chicken heads” . . . having a place of prominence in a place few others want to go.

I note these things in order to highlight a subtle danger that can undermine missionary labor. In the environment I’ve described, vain ambition may still fester beneath the surface of everything one sees. How?

Missionaries can all too easily confuse their “status” with significance.

What might this manifest itself in practice?

The work of missions is inherently lonely and slow. Yet, we live in a world of sensationalized marketing and high-speed methods of communication. Those who support missionaries want to see high numbers of people being trained and won to Christ.

However, the missionary knows that reality is less glamorous that his or her supporters really want to hear. What are they to do? If they are not careful, missionaries settle for being “chicken heads” rather than a “phoenix’s tail.”

The Pragmatics of Praise

I will list two ways that one might confuse status with significance. Others could be mentioned. In each case, the potential temptation is as subtle as it is dangerous.

1. “Networking”

When a missionary lands in a new city, one of the first things he or she must do is meet people. So begins the long process of “networking.” Ministry is about relationships, right? What’s the problem?

It is quite easy to confuse “networking” for ministry. The situation is comparable to having a Facebook page. Because someone has a lot of “Facebook friends,” he or she should not mistakenly conclude that those connections represent meaningful or close relationships.

Networking is important but it must not be confused with ministry itself.

It is easy to make oneself seen and known to others (just as one sees a chicken’s head); however, a person must continually ask himself, “What is the significance of these relationships?” In other words, are we building up people or just our network? It is healthy for missionaries to regularly ask themselves, “Do I simply know a lot of people? Or, do I actually know a lot about these people?”

Having a large network may afford a certain status, but it does not ensure significant ministry.

2. Statistics

People like numbers. This is no less true in mission circles.

Statistics are regarded as objective evidence that one’s strategies are effective. The problem however is that statistics must still be interpreted and can be manipulated.

I know first-hand of a school in Asia who advertised that they trained at least 1,200 pastors every year. Unfortunately, this was spin. I have direct knowledge that the school only enrolled between 100–140 students (not all of them pastors). Why the discrepancy? They counted every class a student attended as though the school taught a separate person. So, if a single student took 10 classes in a year, the school counted it as having taught 10 separate pastors!

Why the manipulation? People want to look good to both to their supporters and to their supervisors. No doubt, this sort of number twisting is a grievous offense. However, those who are leaders within mission organizations also need to do a bit of self-examination.

Practically speaking, what is sort of ethos are you fostering within your group?

For example, what sort of books and methodologies are emphasized? What kind of requirements do you have for missionaries? Who typically leads trainings within the organization? Or, ask yourself this question, “What kind of person typically gets promoted into leadership positions?” In their ministries, have they reported rapid multiplication, perhaps even something like a “church planting movement”?

Put simply, what are the things we make a big deal of? If we continually emphasize statistics, we will foster an overly pragmatic ethos.

Statistics do not measure significance. Yes, people will notice us if we report high numbers, but they do not make Christ’s church become beautiful . . . like a phoenix.

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Use of Time - Arab vs. American Time

Aug. 27, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

From Paul Hiebert:


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Is the Modern Missions Movement Anti-Local Church?

Apr. 29, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Visit most campus ministries in the US and you will find new believers being discipled by ministry staff, students growing in their faith, attending Bible studies and worship services through the week. Almost none of them will be part of a church - including staff.

Many of these Christians have then hit the mission field, getting support frimgresom friends or the churches that their uncle, cousin or friend from 2nd grade attends who want to designate some money in their budget for missionaries. Steve Shadrach, who does the primary support-raising seminars for support-based positions (campus ministries, missionaries, etc.), recommends not approaching churches when looking for support. They are too slow! These missionaries, having raised support head overseas with a team, an autonomous group that partners with local ministries. None of them will get involved in the ministry of a local church. Most will not attend a church at all!

When Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck wrote Why We Love the Church, it was not just about combating the emergent church movement and "progressive evangelicals." It spoke to a bigger problem. Not only were people at ease in frequently criticizing Christ's bride, there seemed to be a lot of people doing "ministry" without any connection to a local church. Do a little research of your own: Go to a local Christian school and see how many faculty members are plugged into a local church. Then head to the closest college campus ministry and see if their staff have a church to call home and whether they encourage any students to attend any church. Really - go to any type of para-church ministry. Most likely, what you will find is the majority of people see no need. They emphasize the global church and their personal relationship with Jesus.

This is why it does not shock me when I travel overseas and find that the majority of missionaries and their families do not have a church to call home. Pioneer church planters might get a pass here because there is no church, but everyone else - seminary professors, teachers, evangelists, linguists, social workers, you name it, have a hard time plugging in. This past year I spent time in three eastern european countries. The overwhelming majority of missionaries there did not have a church they called home or attended on a regular basis.

Some readers might see no problem with churchless Christianity. I’m not going to spend time critiquing that here. I’m just assuming there should be no such thing as a churchless Christian. Some might also criticize me for painting too broad a brush here. I will be the first to admit that some situations make it difficult for missionaries to find a church to be a part of where they are serving. Just to give an example - I have friends who served in west Africa who wanted to be part of a local church, but every time they went the pastor and church members inundated them with financial requests. It became so stressful for them it almost caused them to come home. So there - I admit it. Hard for sure. But is this the case for everyone? It can not be so!

With this in mind, I offer three suggestions for getting back to church-based missions. It seems bizarre that we even need a category for this, but it’s necessary based on where we are today.

1.I think it would be best to drop the “sending organization” paradigm. I’m not against missions organizations (TLI is one!). However, no organization should be sending out missionaries. The local church is who prepares, commissions and sends. I have had to think through this as it relates to TLI. Will TLI open our hiring up to anyone on staff, or should we require that each staff member have a sending church that claims them as their own and sends them in a manner worthy of the gospel? We chose the latter, believing that TLI coordinates the sending. We don’t send anyone. The church does. 

2. Missions organizations would be wise to put the heavy lifting of missionary care on the local church and make sure that it is communicated up front to the church. Should mission organizations, with certain expertise, step in and help missionaries? Absolutely! But the primary care, especially if there is a long-term need, must be accepted by the local church. Is there some co-laboring in care? Yes! Should a missionary find a home church where they serve? Ideally! But again, the local sending church should bear the responsibility. 

3. No church or individual should support a missionary unless they have a primary sending church that has trained, commissioned and committed to sending them out. I know for smaller churches it is harder to be the primary sender, but they could still withhold support unless there was a primary sending church standing with the missionaries. Similar to individuals not giving to a non-profit unless audits are done, so individuals should not give unless a local church in behind those requesting support.

More could be said, but maybe we can start here. Let's love the church while reaching the nations.

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