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One of the privileges I have is being part of mission emphasis celebrations at churches all over the denomination. Usually, I am the preacher of the day. Very often the pastor or a missions committee member says something like, "We are all missionaries and our mission field is right out that door." I must confess some mixed feelings about that.

On the one hand, it is absolutely true that the mission field is all around us today. Actually, that has always been the case. There never was a golden age when every single person in our communities was a committed Christian believer. However, in past generations, we didn't see that so clearly. And reaching out to someone nearby whose life or culture is very different from our own is more difficult and personally challenging than delegating someone else to do that outreach on our behalf far away. Inviting that neighbor or co-worker to church or into our homes in order to show them Christ's love may require changes in our personal lives or church culture that may be uncomfortable. 

Also, today, it is clear that many in North America need a cross-cultural approach if they are to hear the Gospel. That is not only true for recent immigrants from the Middle East, Asia, or other parts of the world. It is true even for lifelong Americans who were raised in a culture that emphasizes the acquisition of material things and remarkable experiences rather than a life of loving faithfulness to the God who provides salvation through Jesus' blood. This includes our own children, and ourselves. Leslie Newbigin, the great British missionary to India, returned to his homeland in retirement and wrote powerfully about the need for a missionary approach to those in the West.

On the other hand, and I tread carefully because I am about to gore some sacred cows, these expressions can undermine the value of training and of calling in mission. We must all be witnesses for Jesus, wherever we are placed by God and with whatever knowledge and resources we have available. But there are a multitude of possible errors and much-unrealized potential in missions, especially when crossing cultures. By definition, when you are in a situation of cross-cultural communication, the cultural rules you are familiar with may not apply and, since culture is often invisible as water is invisible to a fish, you may not even recognize the issues. Doing this well requires some study and/or training in issues of cross-cultural communication and the particulars of the culture you are connecting with. 

When I hear the word "missionary" several pictures come to mind. One is of our team in West Africa painstakingly working with a Muslim people group in one of the most resistant situations in the world. Most of them have spent 20 years or more investing deeply in the language and culture of the people they are trying to reach with the Gospel. They share their difficult way of life, to a very large extent, and love them deeply, desiring that they receive life through Jesus so much that they make great sacrifices. A North American church planter faces different issues, but he or she also needs training and the call of God to understand the particular culture to be reached and effective methods for reaching it. Of course, those church planters and missionaries need a host of people alongside them, physically or in prayer, in order to be effective. We all know how to cook, but some are called and gifted to be chefs of the Gospel message.

I really hope that some of you will write a comment on this blog. I'm sure many of its readers will want to take issue with it, or at least nuance it in some way. Have at it!


Thoughtful article, Steve.  I think you were so guarded, its a little hard to tell what you're actually arguing.....are you saying that the phrase "We are all missionaries and our mission field is right out that door" is accurate, inaccurate, or simply a tool that we can use rightly or wrongly?

Whatever your argument, it is a conversation we need to have because I see it as a key faultline in the CRC right now - who will do the work of mission, professionals or everyone?  Or, rather, who should be doing it?  In many ways, every congregation faces the same challenge with professional staff - does the pastor, youth pastor, church planter, etc. do ministry or does he/she facilitate ministry?  What is the difference between a professional pastor or missionary's calling versus that of every other member?  I tend to think there is no difference, but that we all team up financially to allow one or a few persons to dedicate their time fully to the task of the ministry we all participate in.  Easy to say, REALLY hard to do.

Thanks, Steve, for this subject.  I believe that all disciples of Jesus Christ are called by Christ ala the Great Commission to "go and make disciples of all nations..."  And as many others have said so eloquently in the past, today the nations have come to us-to our cities, workplaces, and neighborhoods.  My old hometown of Holland, Michigan, while never as homogeneous as one might think, is now a quite diverse and increasingly multi-cultural community. These changes challenge me to update my thinking about what I will experience whenever I go back home.

You rightly remind us that any outreach to our neighbors, next door, in the next office, or in some other local setting means extending friendship and hospitality to persons with quite different religious, social, and ethnic backgrounds and life experiences. And training in cross-cultural communication could be very helpful.  I've found over the years that as we break out of our own little social cells in order to listen to and grow in appreciation for our neighbors, the bonds of friendship and mutual hospitality unite us more than our differences divide us.  Often we have to do this even within our own families.  Who doesn't have an in-law who we'd rather avoid than learn to know and embrace?  Or a next door neighbor.  Or someone in the workplace.

So, where does God's call to the church and all its members to make disciples come in?  Well, as we learn over time what's going on in the lives of others, and as our prayers lift up to God those for whom we have a deepening concern, we will find numerous little ways to express the care and concern of Christ for our newly made friends.  It may take months, sometimes years, but our care for another will one day earn us an invitation from them to share the hope that is within us, and to recommend to them the real Evangel, the Good News of the saving love of God in Jesus Christ.  Sounds simple?  No it's not.  It will require each of us to change our priorities and alter our old habits and ways of seeing others.  It's anything but simple.

But the motivation for each one of us to become 'missionaries of Christ to the neighbors who surround us' is simple.  Our hope and our call from God to engage in mission rests upon the solid biblical foundation of the Gospel as given in John 3:16.

May God bless us each one as we learn to listen and respond to what his Spirit is saying to the churches.

Carl Kammeraad, pastor, on sabbatical in the post-Christian city of Cambridge, England 


I believe we are all called to be engaged in Christ's mission beginning in our Jerusalems and to the ends of the earth. We are called to this by Jesus in John 20:21. An important little word in this challenge of Jesus is the "as." We are sent "as" Jesus was sent - particularly in Jesusstrategic incarnational way (John 1:14). Only by "dwelling among" and entering into the particularities of the culture, sub-culture, and lives of the people where God locates us (our neighberhoods, places of work, etc.) can we "be" and "proclaim" the gospel. This is not done without prayerful and careful intentionality. A primary task of our local church community is to train, and mobilize us for this incarnational, missionary calling. When we genuinely enter the harvest field, we naturally seek out this incarnational, contextualizing training. Sit down with your unchurched neighbor and share the gospel. You will soon discover the need to find language that best communicates the gospel story in language your neighbor understands. Until we do this, we are not fully proclaiming the gospel. Following the incarnational strategy of Jesus is part of proclaiming the gospel.

So yes Steve, we are all called to be God's missionary people in all the different ways God has gifted us and given us diverse talents. However, we must take the time to do it Jesus way. And you have a right to be concerned that some would take this lightly or assume that it can be done without careful and prayerful preparation.

Amen! However, being discipled by Jesus and following him and his incarnational mission strategy requires using all the talents and learning and wisdom God has given us. I find too many who "simply trust in the Holy Spirit" using that as an excuse to not do the hard work. And some of the results I've seen are not very helpful to the mission or kingdom. 

This is just the sort of vigorous conversation that I was hoping would follow my original post.  Some excellent points have been made.  Beginning with a love for those who don't yet know Christ (which is inspired by God's love for us) and engaging with them in an incarnational way is certainly key.  Each Christian has a responsibility to witness where they are and along the way of life.  Fundamentally, the mission is one: locally and globally, within cultures and across them.  And there is lots more cross-cultural work to be done locally than ever before.  I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from engaging in witness where they are while they wait vainly to be fully prepared.  That will never come.  Reliance on the Spirit is vital even as we engage in constant learning of the content of faith and the methods of sharing it. 

I guess the genesis of the original post is a concern that some want to make missions out to be something simple or easy.  Especially when crossing cultures, which is much of mission work now, it isn't.  And there is a qualitative difference, it seems to be, between the short term missionary who travels to a place where she doesn't speak the language or understand the culture, and the person who has invested deeply and over decades in understanding the uniqueness of the people with whom she is sharing the Gospel.

Thanks for a lively exchange.

Okay, I'll weigh in here. I appreciate what has been said thus far. All I can say is that if ALL Christians are called to join God and participate in his mission in the world, then ALL Christians are missionaries of a sort whether in their own corner of the world in their community or as professionally trained missionaries.

I believe that part of the church equipping people for works of service includes how they are missionaries in their work places as well. Too often we make it sound as if the only valuable work of a Christian is how they serve in the church. People are looking to be equipped for ministering in the work place too.

Snowbird travel and transition got me behind on reading this link.  On 11/11 Steve wrote:

"And there is a qualitative difference, it seems to be, between the short term missionary who travels to a place where she doesn't speak the language or understand the culture, and the person who has invested deeply and over decades in understanding the uniqueness of the people with whom she is sharing the Gospel. "

"Qualitative difference" - we can't afford an inferior witness.  And the Holy Spirit notwithstanding, even in God's economy to a large extent "you get what you pay for."  STMs are misspending a lot of our mission resources.

For me - and I belive for the American churches - this is a foundational question that still needs a lot of clarifying debate and resolution.  After reading Fikkert's When Helping Hurts, I pretty much came down again on my original side of the fence I've tried to straddle out of convenience (if you can't fight them, join them), but now I'm 90% in favor of not sending STMs abroad, for both missiological (as per the discussion) and economic reasons. 

Who is carrying on the best discussion of that?   Are we close to resolution?


My situation is this, we are working at growing a deeper partnering relationship with a Zambian pastor and his church (s) we have been supporting for some time. Two of us recently went there and firmly believe that working side by side even in stms is valuable. They want it and we want it. I can't help think that the discussion should not be all about best use of $$ because we all know it is not cheap to send people to Africa, but rather the significance of building such a relationship for the long-haul. It is valuable for them in connecting people and for us. Sometimes we need to experience a different culture just to see what God is doing and can do. Some people might say, "just send them money", but is that necessarily the best option for every situation?

There is so very much to say on this topic; that is why Steve hit on something that is getting this much repsonse.  Just a couple of comments and questions: Allen and Ken write:. "...working side by side....two way blessings..."  When will the Zambian pastor be making a visit to your church to help you in the work there?  Correct, its far from only about $$; but read the literature and ask how many short-termers ever keep up the relationships, even corresponding, let alone mutual re-visits?  And NO, don't EVER just "send them the money."  Unless there is a well-structured and supervised organization and plan in place, most money will do very liitle good.  On the "blessing" front, I am so very tired of the cliche of hearing young people say "we thought we were going to help them, but WE were the ones to be blessed."  My understanding of Christian stewardship is that we expect NOTHING - not even that ephimeral blessing - in return. But yes, invest it the most wisely.  In a world where mission dollars are scarce, I can't justify a California reformed group going to Uganda for two weeks to "set up a library, build something, and help start a church" at a cost of $83,000 ($4,300 each person).      If you haven't yet read Fikkert's  When Helping Hurts, go to Chapter 7 "Doing Short-Term Missions without doing Long-Term Harm" and when you can tell me that you are meeting 90% of the critieria that he sets forth, I'll give you my "blessing."! Lou    


I'm with you on this one Ken. 

Lou, I hear your passion but also your angst.  I believe the Holy Spirit can work in people's lives despite us and our imperfect system.  But I picture you saying your comments with a lot of finger wagging.  This is a tough issue the church is working through.

BTW, this pastor from Zambia has come to see us 3 times in the past six years to encourage us, report and has blessed our congregation in many ways by doing so.  And seriously, it would be silly to even think that some of their folks could come here to work with us... unless we paid for it.  You have to work with what you've got.

The idea of a cross-cultural or transnational partnership is gaining some traction as an alternative to one off STM visits.  This can be a real advance it seems to me.  But, there are significant potential pitfalls to be avoided as well.  As Lou said, money that is sent without adequate supervision and structure does very little good.  In fact, it can do a lot of harm.  When we were living in Romania the average monthly income was around $100.  One of my students figured out that one year at Notre Dame would cost more than her father made in a lifetime.  So, what appears to be a small amount of money to Americans and Canadians can really distort the system in many parts of the world.  For LOTS more on global partnerships you can take a look here.  Steve

Not at all.  The idea is to improve them.  That can be done with better orientation and even more so with better debriefing and follow up.  My last post suggests that STM visits are best done as part of long term relationship between a church here and a church or community there.  That kind of partnership, rather than a trip here and a trip there divorced from any long term strategy, is a much better way to go, in my view.

SMS discussion is necessary so people can wrestle with purpose vs intent of interacting globally with other Christian people in lands far from home. There is a  more 'at home' opportunity the previous posts have brought to my mind.

In the mid-1990's my wife and I traveled to Lusaka, Zambia and established relationships with several Reformed Churches in Zambia which we continue in a different way now. The pastors, church leaders and students we met there we are still in touch with now, via Facebook, emails, and personal contacts. During one of my visits in 1999 I stayed at the Kamwala Congregation compound with the pastor's family. I want to share this story now.

I love Fanta orange soda and in lieu of drinking only bottled water each day my 'cool drink' would be Fanta. I bought enough for the family to share and yet for ten days they smiled and said no thanks. This seemed odd to me because they lived a very humble (sustainable) life-style. Their car was twelve years old and we spent two weeks driving to funerals in the searing heat (no air conditioning). Finally their smiling polite 'No thank you's' sank into a lesson for me. I was spending more money buying 'cool drink' each day than they were spending on food for the day. This was a God blessed 'I got it' moment that I carried forward in my approach to STM.

Now we provide guideance, encouragement, and advocacy for students seeking higher education here and in Zambia.

Also my wife and I keep in touch with the families that taught us money is not all they need. Followup with Zambians and other African students and immigrants here (relatives) keeps a trans-ocean link going forward. When and if we travel to Southern Africa we  let folks know that we are praying and thinking of them. They have shared this insight with us: The money spent for us to experience, visit and verify what they are doing weighs heavy on their hearts because without building a sense of family and community our STM leaves a spiritual and connectional void. So we still aid students when we can,

AND that is VERY important.

Thanks Fronse,

I had a similar experience this past summer in Zambia.  We were in Chipata about 4-5 hours from Lusaka.  We support a Reformed Pastor there.  It was a very necessary trip to establish a deeper connection with the people there.  They were soooo greatful and our relationship was strengthened.  We saw many needs and projects first hand and are now making plans to work together on some of these projects.  We've already established a new Zambian Ed fund to help students go to school and especially college.

In online conversation shouting is done in all uppercase -- SHOUTING.  Sorry, didn't mean to shout ;-)

This doesn't sound like shouting to me.  It sounds like an important lesson was learned and applied well.  Thanks. 

I'm not sure what 'shouting' means in this context. I shout for joy for the lesson and God's revelation . That is all.

The cultural purpose of sharing my story by a personal example is Old Testament to me.

Wrestling with the challenge of cross cultural missions is surely complicated by the reality of the "global village".  We are so easily led to think we can intervene meaningfully in almost anyone's life, just because it's so much easier to do!

I do really wrestle with this, especially after 20+ years with an agency that worked VERY hard to promote STM.  Three factors in high quality STMs are surely the dimensions of the preparation, the accompaniment, and the followup.  Some good data is beginning to be collected that suggests that the most meaningful and lasting changes happen in the lives of those who travel when the preparation is excellent, there is competent coaching accompaniment during the experience, and when returning home the STMissionary gets incorporated into a strong support group where s/he can process and integrate the experience and be helped to be accountable for sustaining the changes.

It's expensive to do it well, and surrounding the experience with every effort to make it sustainable in every way is vital.  Equally important is to pay attention to reducing the unintended negative side effects.   We often are tempted to say that helping the poor is not rocket science!   As a matter of fact it IS rocket science, and dangerous without wise counsel.

Yeah, it's real hard to be critical of STMs when you hear so many wonderful testimonies.  I'm thankful for all the ways God uses our stumbling and our weaknesses.  And he does!

And yet we wouldn't want to say that is an excuse to be sloppy about our programs.

What's important is to be realistic about how we use resources, and what unintended damage we might be doing, especially when we don't let mercy temper mercy, as Keller puts it in his book Ministries of Mercy.  His point is that it is not merciful to show mercy in ways that perpetuate dependence or harmful behavior.   

Ken, you and I know that God accomplishes his will through all kinds of bad situations, including when we ourselves screw up - he's still there working it out for good.  At the same time, he also expects us to keep on learning how to do it better.  THAT is the secret of good STM programs - are they willing to discipline themselves to keep doing it better, better stewardship, better cross cultural communication, better understanding of the cultural practices and what MY good intentions might mean in THEIR culture....  better orientation, better followup.  If there is not a rigorous process for evaluating and improving, that for me is a signal of a program to stay away from.

My life lessons have taught me not to worry about being judged, rather I remain open to all comments, criticisms and especially the guidance of people teaching life lessons of Faith and Love of Christ. It has been my STM (before I knew the term existed) purpose just to try and make a positive difference with believers here and wherever God places me. I continue to learn what it means to be Re-formed in Christ.

Hello all.  I'm almost hesitant to jump back into this wide ranging duscussion.  I've been somewhat absert for various reasons; here just a few comments. (turned out to be QUITE a few!)

I understand that to some I come off as a bit "judgemental" - personally, I like to think of it as "discerning" (in the sense that the Apostol uses that, as distinguishing the spirits).  And to say that the Holy Spirit can use any of our efforts is true, but can also be a trump card to stop discussion.  At least I was sensing it that way. 

When I speak at Mission Emphasis Weeks I often refer to the historic distinction formerly used: "evangelism" is close by, in our own context; "mission" was usually farther away geographically and cross-cultural/linguistic.  As others point out, that disctinction is breaking down as times, places, etc. "globalize".  So call it what yiu will.   But I feel that for reasons of effectiveness and stewardship, there are compelling arguments in favor of keeping our non-career efforts reasonably close to home - more effective where language and culture are not great barriers - and less expensive - freeing more dollars for long-term presence abroad.

I just got back from a weekend away, taking care of young grandchildren while our daughter and her preteen went with a church group, coordinating with an established house building group in Baja California (south of Tijuana) , to raise a house for a family.  This is a return visit; our daughter is a native Spanish speaker and served as translator.  Six local churches there cooperate with the program, which has three long-term volunteer staff on site.  I think this is a great program, but not very repeatable for churches/volunteers from much farther away if you want to take the stewardship factor into account.  This is a three hour trip (plus border wait of a couple hours).  Most of the other criteria for good STM are met.  Now if this were to go to Africa, even for two weeks, I would have serious questions, although I duly note that some of our dialogue partners on this site have long-term invovlements.  "You have to know....." 

I think Karl has underlined again the three components of good programs, and uses the word "expensive" in a broad sense. It will "cost" folk time, effort, money, to do all the steps well.  And most American Christians - pastor and youth leaders among them - suffer from the "instant gratification" syndrome of our culture.  So too often we end up with half-baked results.

A book I hadn't heard of was mentioned by Karl: Keller's Ministries fo Mercy.  I'll have to get that.  Meanwhile, I heard no one respond to my sorta challenge to read Chapter 7 (really, the whole book) of Fikkert's When Helping Hurts.

OK, I have to get to preparing my message for a "quinceanyera" this weekend.  The daughter of a young boy who came from Guatemala when he was 13, now his daughter is 15, and he and his wife invited us to go to celebrate this specail occasion with them up in Los Angeles (two hours away).  I value long term relationships and this will be a significant occasion to renew relationships in a place where we ministered for 15 years on site.   (interested in the community building dimension?   go to ) I could write half a book about how hard it is to plant a sustainable church even with that investment of time and money, at least in that place!

Appreciatvely, Lou

Here I am again... Two things:

I made a mistake on the Sol del Valle (that's in East San Fernando Valley, greater Los Angeles) web site if interested:     It is      We set that up to deal with the community needs and oportunities after starting the church of the same name.

And more importantly, I DO (shout ok on that?!) want to "affirm" any and all who are out there witnessing.  It strikes me a lot of this is our categories; STMs yes come in many variaities, but still is a category that needs lots of clarification.  I'd be interested to hear more about the church/agency/organization involvement and guidance in some to the overseas efforts.

May I suggest that we do some more research (lots of web info is "out there" on this topic) and reading...?


I feel benefit from reading from all who share. Knowing it is not easy I too often hesitate to share my thoughts online, but the more I read discussions I feel an 'e'-connection with like minded people. For me it is OK to 'hear' via words. So Ken I am glad you have benfited.

OK, I just gotta make two comments and then no more.  

One is that the idea of short term missions is useful when we contrast it to career missionaries, but of course there really is no such thing as an STM.  We are ALL missionaries for life if we are followers of Jesus. Every minute, every day.  Ok, got that off my chest.

Now I also want to recommend a book by David Livermore about short term missions.   He's spoken and written about this with about as much wisdom as anyone could, and he's a follower of Jesus, and he's worked with CRC agencies and is now working on another book with Dr. Kurt Verbeek of Calvin.   I highly commend him.

Good morning all, tho this  is especially for Ken.  I'd written: "I DO (shout ok on that?!) want to "affirm" any and all ," to ,,,,,," ","... which you commented "that wasn't nice".  Truthfully that didn't bother me at all - we long-time missionaries perhaps get a bit thick-skinned.  Or maybe its being of Dutch/Frisian descent!  So no apology needed, Ken. 

I notice that Karl has bowed out of the conversation for now, and I want to follow suit.  Let's all do some reading and reflection on this important topic, and maybe revisit it after the Livermore/VerBeek book comes out.    Adios. 

Fraternally, Lou

I support missionaries because they do stuff that I don't want to do. I am not a Type 1 personality. More like a 3 or 4.

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