One picture often used in mobilization as a symbolf of commitment is the anecdotal story of early missionaries who “packed their belongings in a coffin.”

When Beyond and others train people in CPM/DMM methodologies, one of the things we talk about is “exit strategy.”

These are two diametrically opposed ideas: one is to go and spend oneself, even "unto death"; the other is to go with the firm plan that the task will be finished and we will leave. Who is right?

The answer, I think, is "both." A lot of it has to do with attitude.

Early missionaries packed their belongings in a coffin knowing they weren’t going to last long. Disease, warfare, and other trials filled the region. It wasn’t a commitment to necessarily spend 40, 60, 80 years on the field. The SVM saw nearly 10,000 missionaries go to the field. Many went to areas with endemic tropical diseases where they lasted not more than 2 years.

Today, the situation is different. When mission agencies today send people to a place, we are doing so knowing they aren’t likely to die of disease (and while warfare is marginally possible it is sitll less likely than it was). Instead, we are sending them to help catalyze a movement.

A movement is by definition intended to be led by the local church. (E-3 evangelism is far more effective than E-1). If disciples are making disciples who make disciples who make disciples, as soon as you’re past the first generation you’re past the local missionary. As soon as you reach 3rd generation, the missionary is far less necessary to the process (and may be a hindrance). If the movement is sustaining 4th generation, the missionary needs to help the movement but may not need to be locally placed.

Just because a missionary has an “exit strategy” doesn’t mean they lack a “coffin-committed mindset.” We can spend our lives on behalf of a people without dying in a very short period of time.

(Even people who only commit to 2 to 4 years can be play a strategic role, however; which is a point for a different essay.)