Monday, April 27, 2009

Surprisingly Interesting

I was worried. This past Sunday the speaker for the day was introduced. At first I thought she was a missionary and I was sad as missionaries are not always the most eloquent speakers (and are often quite frankly to me boring). Then, to my horror I heard she was actually a missionary but someone who did work for our denomination supporting missionaries. "Nooooooo!" I screamed inwardly anticipating an even worse experience then I had dared to think before. I prepared myself for the worst . . . and was pleasantly surprised.

I can't remember everything she shared but I know that I found several things she said quite interesting. One especially stood out. First, said that our denomination had been surveying our overseas missionaries as part of their commitment to helping each missionary come up with a "health plan:" a plan for them to maintain physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological health. The survey asked a question that went something like this:

Imagine God sitting down and thinking specifically about you. What is the first thing that comes to your mind that He would be feeling towards you?

Our speaker said that the surveyors were surprised to find a high amount of people said that the first word they thought of was "disappointment." Many others said "anger." This troubled me immensely - our missionaries are out there trying to share the love of God but are not feeling it themselves? When 4 or 5 friends had gathered after the service I mentioned that I had been shocked by the survey results. What then shocked me even more was that 2 of the 5 of us mentioned immediately that they too thought the same things!

I guess there are lots of people who may believe in a forgiving Father, but often feel God's condemnation more then his love and grace. I certainly don't want to judge anyone but I wonder how many millions of Christians are out there feeling and thinking the same thing? And more importantly, what can we do about it? If you do the experiment, what words come to your mind?


Stan, Tara, Jermaine and Makeda Loewen said...

Mark, I have been thinking about this post a lot today - but not because of what I believe God feels about me... I was very disturbed at the intro to the topic.
Are most people in church really bored when missionaries speak? Are missionaries not interesting enough? Should churches focus on developing more eloquent mission minded disciples?
I think the reason this got under my skin so quickly is that Stan and I work with an ministry whose mission is to "bring the church and the poor together for the benefit of both".
We go on some mission trips ourselves but may more accurately be described as "supporters of missionaries". We wonder, pray and agonize how to bring the incredible stories of the orphans, the oppressed, the poor and those who spend themselves serving them to the church.
How can we express what it is like to have a mother (with absolutely no access to health care) place her dying baby in your arms and asks you to pray because she believes that is her last and only hope? How can we inspire the church to care for the precious orphans who desperately grab our hands as we leave their orphanage and beg us not to forget them. How can people be challenged that compassion is NOT a feeling but action.
What would it take to get people to stop yawning and start fasting as described in Isaiah 58?
God is amazing and is doing incredible things and working in incredible people all around this world. How can that be communicated from behind the pulpit?
Mark, I think you can speak for the average "church guy". You made some pretty sweeping generalizations about missionary speakers. What would it take to change those feelings and opinions? What would grab your imagination, your sense of adventure, and your heart? What is God's role, what is the speaker's role and what is the listener's role?
Thanks for making me think :)

Mark said...

Hey Tara (or shall I call you by your old camp name? OK, no that would be mean), thanks for commenting!

Well it seems my post hit you in a way that was completely away from my intended meaning - very interesting. And yes, I can see how my reaction to having a missionary getting up and speaking could get under your skin! I would agree that I have a bad initial reaction to hearing that a missionary is going to speak but I'm not sure if I really speak for the "average church guy" or not. I only know that I speak for myself and my internal reaction. I know lots of people who get excited when a missionary is getting up to do a report, but sadly I'm not among them. The crazy thing is that I often am great challenged and encouraged after they begin talking but it is my initial belief that "this is going to get boring" that's the problem. I think I got it when I was in church as a child/teenager. I remember sitting through very long, very dry missionary speakers and now I have a negative association with them. I wish I could just make it go away it's not that easy. I hope it didn't come across that I was saying all missionaries are boring (as I don't think I ever said that), rather I anticipate they'll be boring. I think a lot of people approach sermons in general with the same negative bias. It's not really fair, but its their reality.

I believe in missions and I believe in evangelism and mercy missions to the lost and hurting. And I would love to hear passionate and well spoken people tell us more about what God is doing around the world. So how do we change things? Obviously no one can just point their finger and say "you need to change!" and everything will be fixed. People with negative biases like myself have to challenge them. God needs to move in the hearts of the missionaries and the listeners. And I believe that the missionaries need to put time and energy into developing their communication abilities - or delegate such important tasks to those who have such gifts. I once had a homiletics prof who said it was a sin to bore the congregation with a bad sermon. Does the same apply to missionaries? I think so. Everyone (as you hinted) needs to do their part to be open and receptive so that people are moved to action. Thanks for making me think about this Tara, I appreciate your honest reaction to my post. Take care!

Lee said...

Oooh...great topic Tara - I think that a big part of the solution is connecting with people's hearts. When I was a kid, missions Sunday was boring because they talked about the logistics - that this missionary was going somewhere, to tell someone about God. And the mission statement of the program is.....etc.

I don't think it has to be eloquent. I don't think it needs a lot of facts - I think we need a lot of love and a lot of connection - just tell me about who you met. What they struggle with. What their gifts are. How they help you and how you help them. How life is different there than here. How something I can do here, can make a difference there. I would be on the edge of my seat.

We had a speaker from Compassion Canada at church the other day and I was so excited because I love that organization but I left a bit disappointed because we learned a lot about head office policies etc and not so much about the kids - I bet we could have had twice as many sponsors sign up if they had come up and said, 'let me tell you about Daniela - she's my sponsor child and she lives in Honduras - she is 9 years old and has 5 sisters. Daniela has become part of our family and we write to each other each month - her favorite food is plantain and I keep meaning to pick some up and try it myself! etc...