Can I be involved in mission if I'm not on the field?
I don’t know how many people ask this question. I see a lot of writers presuming the question and responding to it with two extremes: “If you’re not called to stay, you’re called to go” (even I feel the guilt on this one) and “everyone is a missionary.” When I personally hear the question asked, it’s usually in the form of ‘what should I do at home?’ The stock answers are: ‘pray, give, mobilize.’ Rather than talk about specific tactics of involvement, let’s discuss levels of participation and the attitudes they imply.
0. No involvement at all. I mention this in passing simply because it is a real ‘level’ of participation (‘none’). People say “I’m not called” or “missions isn’t my thing” or “I think we should do here before we do there” or “we have a lot of troubles here.”
1. The guilty checklist participation. I don’t know how I should be a part, or I feel like I should get involved, but I don’t want to–so when someone presents a low-level option (like participation in a mission offering), I do it quickly and consider the item “checked off.” (Additional opportunities to participate, or persuasion or pressure, may anger me.)
2. The trophy participation. I decide to do something “significantly above and beyond”—like hosting a missionary family, or going on a short-term trip. Afterward, I think of the missionary component of my life as “complete.” I look back on my photos as a kind of ‘trophy,’ and feel a little (or very) proud that I’ve done this and many others have not.
3. Busy involvement. I do lots of missionary things. I’m at prayer meetings, I pray through Operation World, I give, I go on repeated short-term trips, I help out when missionaries visit, I invite people to opportunities. But if I’m honest, this is a ‘less guilty’ form of the checklist: I’m doing things because I should be involved, and these are opportunities for involvement. I do things, and leave the results to God, because only he knows the eternal impact.
4. Serving a long-term strategy. For one reason or another, I don’t believe I can go to the field right now–but I have a heart for a particular place, and I am purposefully seeking to make a significant impact. I do this ‘part-time,’ meaning it is not my full-time occupation (although it may consume a lot of hours). I find ways to serve a long-term, comprehensive, thoughtful, prayerful strategy. I say ‘yes’ to some opportunities presented to me, and ‘no’ to others, based on the strategy I serve. I listen to others (particularly those with long experience, and particularly locals), do some things (like trips or giving), and collaborate with a wider network.
5. I serve a strategy as my full-time occupation. I am part of a team, accountable to some form of sending organization (be it church, denomination or agency). I may live directly amongst the people group or place I am trying to impact, or I may have to live in a remote place (in the case of a restricted-access people group). There is a lot of blending between stage 4 and 5.
You can see that each of these levels use a lot of the same kinds of actions (praying, giving, going)—just from different motivations and with different long-term goals behind them. An individual can make a difference in an unreached people group from any place in the world. The ‘level’ of difference will vary depending on the resource investment (time, talent, treasure) and the strategic nature of the action. It’s true that simple actions (prayer, giving) can further the kingdom amongst a group. (For example, money contributed to Bibles will be useful.) But thoughtful actions chosen for particular impact are likely to have a longer-lasting result.
Can we be part of mission without going to the field? Yes, but we still ought to think as a missionary does.
Choose a field to impact, whether you go there or not. The more fine-tuned your focus, the more impact you can have, because your focus leads you to high-impact opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise discover.
Explore your field and find voices of wisdom. You don’t have to go to the field to learn from people who are active in it. I develop all of my in-depth Cluster Forecasts from an office in the United States, simply by emailing people, asking who I should talk to, and arranging Skype interviews. You can learn a lot simply by asking to spend an hour with someone who knows a lot about the field. (If you want to know how to conduct that kind of interview, email me, and I’ll set up a time to walk you through the process.)
Find a strategy or a group of people who want to make a long-term difference, and ask how you can serve them. In nearly every ‘larger’ unreached people group, a network already exists. Some are tiny and some are large; many have been around for decades. Find these, and leave your ‘great ideas’ behind: seek to serve them for a while, and learn from them.
Become a great advocate for the strategy. Listen to the experts and learn to speak intelligently about your field, and then watch for opportunities to share what you’ve learned in other settings (small groups, and larger groups). Kindly encourage people who have a ‘busy involvement’ in missions to consider a ‘strategic involvement’ (maybe in your field).
Spend some time looking for new opportunities for impact. As you become more knowledgeable about your field, God will use you—your talents, knowledge, experiences, resources, connections—to bring new opportunities to the network that otherwise wouldn’t be available. That’s why you’re there. Don’t shy away from humbly and charitably offering these ideas. Don’t feel sorry if some (or even all, at least at first) of the ideas don’t work out. Lots of ideas are unworkable, for a variety of reasons; but one idea out of a hundred could become the thing that breaks open a great opportunity. (And someone might be able to take the germ of a bad idea and turn it into something great-—that should be welcomed, too.)
Being involved in mission at home isn’t about the things that you do. It’s about the being involved, just from a different place. The trend of globalization makes this more possible than ever. So be involved, and you’ll find that the specific tactics of involvement (praying, giving, going short-term, going long-term, recruiting, and so on) will become abundantly clear.