Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What happened to "missions" ???


As usual, you open the door for me to say lots of things. I hope I can be more restrained!

First, let me say something in general about "being heard." This is a common plea -- even demand -- in current comunity life, whatever that community may be. While "not being heard" is a very real problem, the fundamental issue too often is found in the second part of the question you heard: "Is there a chance they will hear us AND CHANGE BACK?" "Will they change" is the real question. It is possible to hear clearly, to understand, and to refuse to change because one is operating with different values, concerns, or goals. Yes, we need to work to communicate clearly and to understand, but that does not guarantee agreement.

There are plenty of times in our denominational life together that I have not felt that I have been heard (often it is because I have not been clear). There have also been times when I did not feel I had permission to speak. But there have been other times when I worked very hard to be understood (and to understand); I believe I have been understood (and I understand); but to no avail.

Second, I share your difficulty in dealing confronting anger in others and dealing with my own. I have no problem with passion, but I am more likely than not just to disengage and walk away when my perception of the anger level rises. Unfortunately, the perspective of the other may be that it is only a spirited discussion. While I have strong feelings about the health care debate, there is no way I would stay in some of the meetings I have seen on tv, much less participate in the shouting match.

I think you were with us a few years ago when GEC did an exercise on "Wired for Conflict" during which we exposed our personality types and the ways we deal with conflict. It was interesting. I was especially intrigued by the way some of our colleagues identified themselves (I identified my self as a "compromiser" -- I also remember there were not many of us!). I especially remember some who identified themselves as "collaborators," and thought to myself "that is not the way I experience them." Unfortunately, we did not take the next step. There have been several meetings that the only reason I stayed was out of a sense of duty to the churches I serve and strive to represent.

Third, now back to the IM issue. I have had the same question you report. And my answer is "I do not believe IM is going to 'go back.' If you want to support IM through United Mission, World Mission Offering, and unrestricted gifts to IM you are free to do so. However, you are not going to be able to demand that everyone else do so."

I have made no one happy with that answer, but it is the truth. I don't like it, but I am moving on.

Fourth, the larger question of "mission." "Foreign missions" was one of the cornerstones of Baptist life as I grew up. I always thought it was a non-negotiable given. In the last year, I have begun to wonder.

I have had two group meetings with predominantly laypeople since Pasadena, trying to interpret and answer questions. In both settings we talked about denominational issues about fifteen minutes, then went on to over an hour discussion of the struggles and future of local congregations. The passion for "missions" (whether international or national) was not part of the discussion. The historic emphasis on "missions" is wavering because of the growing concerns of congregations for themselves. It is also wavering because the word "missions" has been robbed of clear meaning--even church people use "mission" when they mean nothing more than "purpose." We have known for years that "mission" has different meaning in different ethnic settings. We use "mission" to embrace and elicit financial support for any- and everything. We loosely throw around "missional" as if it were a trump card to make a position or program unassailable.

While IM and NM (and regions) have the ability to define their respective missions, I do not believe that translates into being able to define the meaning of "mission" for churches, let alone individuals. And the pragmatic problem is that we have little control over the value that churches place on our definition of "mission." Given our polity, it seems to me that the burden is on us hearing and responding to them -- not vice versa.

Who we are, what we do, and how we do it are equally important value questions. It seems the focus has become what I want to do and how I am going to get you to pay for it.