Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a lover of all things related to missions. Peering into the window of missionary life was perhaps one of the first things I remember of my childhood that completely fascinated me- while regular weekly sermons may have been boring to sit through, never once was I anything other that completely engaged when a foreign missionary came to speak. The world of missions for me came to embrace the best of everything that makes my heart tick: Jesus, theology, other people, travel, and experiencing different cultures. It is certainly no surprise that all these years later, this precise area of theology is what I would get my doctorate in. I love missions.
When one is studying missions for the purpose of being a practitioner in the field, one of the first things a person must decide is what “people group” God is calling them to. Determining a people group is crucially important because this will determine the course of the rest of one’s studies and preparations for becoming a missionary. A missionary can’t simply show up in the field one day and expect to be successful– one must first learn and study everything about the “people group” and culture they are called to, first. This process can actually take years for some, because it would also include difficult aspects such as language fluency and the like. However, when one is done with the hard preparation, they’re usually sent off with some bare essentials to begin learning a new culture and finding ways to inject the teachings of Jesus into that culture.
When talking with missionaries, I’ve often found them describing their particular calling in one of two ways: often they’ll either say, “God caused me to fall in love with this culture/people group” or, “God just really broke my heart for this culture/people group.” With the latter description, the missionary has often noticed something desperately broken in a particular culture that screams out the need for the teachings of Jesus, and the need becomes so glaringly obvious that it almost becomes gut-wrenching to look at those needs without doing something about it.
Lately I’ve been having one of those moments in life where my heart is broken and grieved over a people group who desperately need to hear the message of Jesus, in order that it might change their hearts and culture. It is a people group we have historically failed to send missionaries to, we have neglected, and through nominal encounters with Jesus, they have grown to feel inoculated- falsely believing they are no longer in need of the one who alone can radically reshape and renew us.
The kind of missionary the world most desperately needs are missionaries who are sent to introduce the message of Jesus to one of the last unreached people groups: Americanized Christians.
Christianity in so many parts of America has been blended together with American, nationalistic culture to the point that the Jesus many believe they are following is just a false American caricature of the real thing. In many ways, the tradition of Jesus has become a civil religion that is able to exist in complete harmony with American ideals instead of being something that was designed to turn culture on its head– showing those within culture a totally different way of living and being.
This week my heart feels particularly broken for this obviously unreached people group. Case in point: I issued a call to love our Muslim neighbors in our communities– loving neighbors being what Jesus called the second greatest commandment– and it was met with outright hostility, and even calls for acts of violence against Muslims. One Christian minister said that telling people to love their Muslim neighbors was a “slap in the face” and that we should do no such thing. Others said it is impossible to exist with Muslim neighbors. And, even some “Christians” said that the only approach to Muslims is to kill them before they kill us.
Or, there’s the response I get when I suggest that we should actually love our enemies (a core aspect of the message and life of Jesus): outright disgust, and immediately objections that surely, Jesus didn’t really mean that.
Better yet, there’s the times when I suggest that Jesus invites us to give our loyalty to God’s Kingdom instead of earthly nations, and the Christian response is quite predictable. “Go somewhere else” I’m often told, or as one internet commenter said recently, I’d do better to just “shut my mouth and pay homage to our soldiers.”
Day in and day out, I am faced with the heartbreaking reality that perhaps the last unreached people group has been sitting right in our very pews– those who have succumbed to an Americanized, civil religion, that is only loosely based on Jesus.
And so, the kind of missionary the world most desperately needs is the missionary who is dedicated to introducing American Christians to the message of Jesus.
It is a beautiful message.
A counter-cultural message.
A message of hope, transformation, and healing.
But, it is also a costly message- one that invites us to deny ourselves, and to follow in the footsteps of one who willingly died for his enemies.
And this message is precisely the one this last, unreached people group, desperately need to hear.
I hope you’ll join me– right from where you are– in becoming a missionary dedicated to evangelizing Americanized Christians with the radical, countercultural message of Jesus– because that’s the kind of missionary the world most desperately needs.
I really admire your spirit here, but dang, Americanized Christianity makes me feel hopeless because they are too overtaken by modernity. The progressives are modern through and through, and so are the evangelicals. And while everything modern isn’t bad (I’m obviously pro-medicine, technology, etc), the underlining narratives of modernity are crumbling our authenticity. In Asia, at least I don’t have to justify all my beliefs by way of science and reason; in Asia at least a hyper individualized anti-authority spirit is not pervading the church. Other things are, but I’ve lost my fight for Americanized Christianity, of both the evangelical and progressive form.
Great post. I agree completely. Another angle on this subject that many may not touch on is how Middle Class “Americanized” Christians love evangelizing to people who reside overseas that may not look like them or speak their language. They however, often refuse to reach out to those in their own backyard who might not look like them and speak a different language or dialect. In this respect, evangelical fundamentalists may not be the only offenders.
I agree, so sad. Our missionaries are doing just that… Visit Mormon.org.
Absolutely, as I heard a friend of mine who also no longer attends church….” Jesus has left the building.”
I posted a blog about how I believe both Arminian and Calvinists both would enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the Calvinists went wild.
Yes, there needs to be mission work to Christians in America….
While I appreciate the Progressive Christians’ attempts to align their religion with secular, post-Enlightenment ethics, Jesus’ hate and fear isn’t “a message of hope, transformation, and healing:”
By whitewashing Jesus as a secular Progressive, Progressives become the enablers of the rightwing Crazies, who can also read the Bible, and just as easily, or even easier, feed their hate and fear.
Jesus simply wasn’t a very nice person much of the time. Stop the whitewashing. Stop the enabling.
Great point about confronting Americanized professing Christians. I’ll keep it simple and say we need more boldness and direct confrontation done in truth and love, not one without the other which is so rampant in our day and age. Take Paul Washer and his ‘ten indictments against the modern church’ as a brief primer on most all of the issues, then go from there. It would take tons of grace, patience and stubborn determination to wake up a country like ours from a collective standpoint. Throw away the far extreme fundamentalist camp, the progressive left camp and the camp that is somewhere in between and the truth is there, it really is, but it will only get lost on so many it attempts to reach unfortunately.
The hard fact though, is take his tact and perspective, which I believe to be as close to orthodoxy as you can get and he’d probably end up stoned like Stephen in the book of acts in probably 70 percent of the churches nationwide. Those who have never heard a gospel presentation are the most likely to respond as needed, with a fertile heart able to accept the message and produce genuine fruit leading to repentance and saving faith. Many have had their hearts calloused to a salvation of mental assent which only leads to hell. None of this mamby pamby nonsense which is all grace and no law. Your heart is changed and you live and look differently than before or you are not a child of God sadly. Washer has said that two things can save a people like us; either a total reformation of our teaching and preaching from the pulpits and downward or fierce horrifying persecution upon the professing Church.
I honestly have not agreed much with some of your articles, but this changes things for me Benjamin. I look forward to finding out more about the book
Ben Corey, first off I want to thank you for being there, for making this community where we don’t have to feel so alone, especially when faced with the certainty of our Americanized, fundamentalist brothers and sisters who are so sure they are in tune with God’s Spirit. Having been raised in that tradition, I can be a sucker for it, though I’ve pretty much moved away from it.
I am not sure about your word “missionary” because it implies these folks don’t know the Lord, and I’m not sure but that they do know Him. I’m not sure we should judge whether they know the Lord even though their walk looks very different than ours.
Could the word prophet be more accurate because a prophet is someone close to the outside but also on the inside enough to speak the language and use scripture skillfully to call Americanized Christians out on their cruel, politicized, unChristlike beliefs and actions? Ben Corey, I believe you are one called to this.
I hope you write more about this, about how we can be prophetic voices. Deidre Riggs wrote an interesting post about calling out injustice that seems very human and wise:http://www.deidrariggs.com/2015/02/16/confronting-injustice-working-values-into-vision/
Richard Rohr has been writing a great series of meditations on what it means to be a prophet. I sometimes wonder if that’s my calling too, but then shrink back because the word “prophet” could bring up some destructive, intrusive behavior on my part. I was placed in a very conservative Facebook group that believes that earthquakes come about because of humans’ defiance and that the judge in Alabama who ruled against gay marriage was protecting Alabama against God’s judgement. I read and listen but haven’t felt called to speak out and am not sure I would be heard. But there are people in that group that I know have the life of Christ. I sometimes think that as the body of Christ, that members of the body look very different to each other because of how they operate. A kidney and an intestine do opposite things. And there is the certainty state of mine that I’m not sure can be argued with.
Well, I’ll look forward to reading more of your perspective.
Troublesome, stirs the soul, leaves little room for controversy if we are prone to evangelize. I am considered ‘the devils advocate’ when I suggest we love our enemies in the midst of a controversial subject, and especially a people group we have antagonism toward.
Nailed it !!
agree with you!
Missionaries…I know a bright, young girl that just graduated from Baylor with a degree in Public Health. She had been on missions before and her goal is to go to Viet Nam or Cambodia to serve God.
I had a long talk with her about the millions in Texas that had no health care and that she could help a lot of people right near her home.
She just said God told her to go….
Yes, yes and yes! But here’s the thing: and I noticed one of your readers slipped into this kind of thinking – it’s pretty easy to see that there is a certain political/social group that is much more closely aligned with a nationalistic religion aka God and The Flag, yet there is another group (political party) that uses the same “tools” to bring about the Kingdom, i.e. politics – and well, if we look at the past 7 years – it has also used drones and declarations of war. Christians should be suspicious -and avoid- taking sides in politics. Our “mission” is one of transformation – transformation begins with our hearts, the hearts of our families, our communities…outside “issues” beyond our sphere of influence draw us into controversy and unnecessarily fragment the Body of Christ. They also draw us into erroneously thinking that if we had the right “king” then everything would be right. I long for the day when Christians in the United States realize that we don’t need an earthly king and that we desperately need to repent of being king-makers.
“missionary dedicated to evangelizing Americanized Christians with the
radical, countercultural message of Jesus– because that’s the kind of
missionary the world most desperately needs.” Is it ok if I get this made into a bumpersticker?
Raised in a “fundamentalist, independent” Baptist church, I too was drawn to foreign missions. But God had other plans for me that included becoming a Presbyterian and being involved in politics on behalf of those without health insurance. There also slowly came to me the realization, starting with Falwell’s Moral Majority in 1979, that the fundamentalist Christians who had taught me were no longer living by what they had preached when I was young. I was appalled to realize that over the 15 years since I had left the Baptist church, it seemed to be more important to embrace politics (particularly by embracing the Republican Party), proclaim hyper-patriotism, and trumpet going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq than to teach the full gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometime during the 1980s, I also heard for the first time about Christians coming from other countries to be missionaries in America.
I had an “Aha” moment when I read today’s posting – yes this is what is most needed today – missionaries to Americanized Christians. These Americanized Christians are worshiping the idols of patriotism and fear. They have definitely become an “unreached people group” who seem to have no functional understanding of what it means to be “saved” and “live for Jesus Christ.” I hope you will write some more on this topic, particularly about what strategies work best in reaching out to Americanized Christians and calling them to read, understand, and live by the “red letters” of the gospels and the Word of the Lord in the epistles.
So interesting, myself and many others have been getting louder about messages like this. I think God is up to something big, thank you for sharing. I know I don’t have quite as large of a forum as you do but we all have circles of influence, and I hope I reach them as you do.
We can never go wrong when we follow what Jesus taught, not the various interpretations MEN have put on his words. Thank you and keep the faith.
Beautiful message Ben. I really believe here in America we’ve lost our way. The Way. Too much theology and not enough love.
I was wondering when we were going to start talking about doing missions here in ‘Merika. YES! Absolutely! That is why I have decided to follow a calling into the mission field. And wouldn’t you know it? It would be right here. There definitely seems to be strange and peculiar ways of looking at Christianity through American eyes.
“For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed…” ~St. Paul, the Apostle (2 Corinthians 11.4, NRSV)
Got a question for you Dr. Ben Corey
St. Paul, the Apostle (ἀπόστολος) — does the word “apostle” mean “missionary,” i.e. “Apostle to the Gentiles” is equivalent to the statement, “Missionary to the Nations,” etc, etc?
If so, then I can see why missionary work was considered one of the highest professions of the early church period. It would also give new ideas to women becoming “apostles” because many of them are missionary today.
Thanks in advance.
Hi Ben, if you still enjoy peering into the window of missionary life you will probably appreciate my wife’s memoir. Check out the reviews & summary and you’ll see what I mean.
Incidently, other religions have the same sub groups, and struggle with it too, as you have indicated you struggle. Millions of Muslims, wonder why a few are hijacking and shaming them and their religion. Mormons have an embarrassing splinter sect also claiming to be “even more Mormon”, by having child brides, multiple wives, and abusive subjugation of women. Jews have Small groups of zealots that want all Arabs killed, or who believe Christians and Muslims both are all dangerous. All good people, should minister to their other people nearby, and change this.
Rev., you are so right. Chrinos? Christians in name only? Jingoism beats Christianism? My biggest frustration with religiosity, is the self righteousness, and tribalism it engenders. The tribalism, I am afraid is leadership as much as human frailty. Churches need members, donations, and resources. The leaders are businessmen, maybe first, before being spiritual leaders. Instead of exploiting human nature to keep them in the tribe, we should teach the opposite, and stifle human nature to make followers more godlike, seeking Jesus, not seeking tribal and social and state comforts. Hating, proposing crimes against others, and attempting to derail other free Americans because of their beliefs, their flaws, or their color, without a thought as to how in un-Christlike that is, is a sorrowful aspect of too many “religious” people.
Darn, you mean I should pray for Americanized Christians and not flee to another country as soon as I can?
Okay, yeah, the main group I consistently have trouble loving (to say the least) is Americanized Christians. So this post hit me hard. Thank you for writing this.
I love that you used an image of Jesuits, who were missionaries extraordinaire.
I was looking at a Wikipedia list of heresies in Christianity, and came across Gallicanism, and while not perfect, I think is a close idea to what Americanized Christianity (of any religion or sect) adheres to (i.e. the rejection of the temporal authority of X, in which X is also the spiritual leader, in favour of the state or other local authority). In this case, the Americanized (or any state-worshiping) Christian rejects the temporal authority of the Church (for Orthodox and Catholics; the Bible alone for Protestants) and relegates it only to a personal spiritual matter.
I wonder if there is a history in Protestantism that stresses individualism over obedience to the Church authority that plays into the desire to join in state worship.
Having come to the states from overseas, admittedly a western nation, yet one with a much smaller degree of these issues…..yes yes yes, a thousand times yes!