In the past week and a half, I have learned some interesting lessons. For one, if you enter into “politics,” people begin to treat you differently than they did before. Every action you take and every word you speak or write may be analyzed under a magnifying glass, and possibly used against you. You have to be guarded in what you say. Words can be taken out of context, and you can easily be made out to defend points of view with which you do not really agree. You are also faced with the dilemma of either saying things directly, or toning it down a bit, in the interest of political expediency—
If I say it this way, would I run the risk of alienating someone who doesn’t really understand all of the background behind the position I take on this issue? Is there another way to say the same thing, without sounding quite so controversial? Or is there a way to say what I believe that would “strike more of a chord” with the voters, and better serve to “rally the troops” for the benefit of the cause at hand?
I suppose all this is one of the reasons why being involved in politics has never held much of an attraction for me. I am frankly a bit relieved this is now behind me. I value highly the prerogative to be able to say what I mean and mean what I say.
I would be remiss to not make clear here my respect and admiration for those who choose to enter the realm of politics with a sincere desire to defend their convictions and serve others, as well as a firm resolve to not compromise in matters of integrity. The world is, no doubt, a much better place as a result of these type of people being willing to assume the risks of doing this than it would be if the only ones in politics were unscrupulous power-brokers.
At the same time, as a Christian, I know the Bible teaches we are to speak the truth in love. There are different ways to express our opinions, each perhaps just as open and honest as the other, but some that lead more “to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. ) than others. In this light, I hope to be led more by love than by political expediency in what I say. Sometimes, though, the most loving response is not the one that “sweeps things under the carpet” and “skirts the issues.” As Proverbs 27:6 so poignantly reminds us: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
As an employee of an organization such as the IMB, sometimes we are faced with a similar dilemma. Do we dare to speak out and say what we really feel, or do we “toe the company line,” motivated perhaps by the risks of lessened job security, or hurting our chances of advancing on the organizational ladder. At other times, there are things we choose not to say, more out of respect for those in authority over us, and love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Though I definitely can appreciate the dangers involved with diverting to the other side, allowing for an organizational anarchy in which “each one does what is right in his own eyes,” I think that a healthy organizational culture and climate is one in which the opinions of each co-worker are valued and sought out, and, in general, people do not feel afraid to “speak their mind.”
On a personal level, I am quite confident that all my supervisors within the IMB, all the way up to the office of the president, would be in essential agreement with what I am saying here. By no means am I inferring that any of my supervisors is trying to “censor” my voice on issues that affect the work and ministry of the IMB. I have never for one minute felt that to be the case. Yet, for some reason, I perceive a certain air of carefulness on the part of many to not say anything that might perhaps “upset the cart” and cause them problems later on. As I indicate above, if the true motive for this is respect for leaders and love for others, I have no problem with this whatsoever. I do wonder, though, if, at times, it goes a bit beyond this.
As best as I can understand, the answers to the questions I am posing here are not simple. There are pitfalls on either side we do well to avoid. There are many questions and issues “in the air” that are being discussed and debated among Southern Baptists that affect, in one way or another, our job as missionaries. I am not so naïve as to think that the opinions of all IMB missionaries are in lock-step agreement on all of these issues. However, I think that the opinions of the missionaries themselves are very important opinions that ought to be valued highly and taken into consideration.
Sometimes the truth can be a bit uncomfortable. No doubt, there are sometimes people who find employment with a particular agency or organization whose ideals really are out of step with those who are “footing the bill.” When this is the case, I believe a commitment to sound ethics demands that we be above-board and non-secretive about what we believe.
At the same time, however, it seems to me there are many political currents in the air that would seek to steer the official position of Southern Baptists in one direction or another. This is almost unavoidable. It is, I guess, the “nature of the beast.” What I sincerely hope, and am calling out for in this post, however, is that our missionaries not be a “political football” in this process. I would hope that each and every one could feel the liberty to express how they truly feel, without fear of retribution. Of course, as with every rule, there are exceptions. But, in general, I believe that the field missionaries themselves are in many ways the best equipped to speak into issues related to missionary strategy and approach.
We are, of course, at the same time, accountable to those who send us out, i.e. the churches and individual church members that make up the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe there is another sense in which we are sent out directly by God. However, I understand that our financial and spiritual covering, so to speak, should not be unconditional. A hypothetical change of financial and spiritual covering does not necessarily imply reneging on God’s call upon your life, though.
Where I believe we could make some significant progress in all of this is through more open lines of communication between missionaries and the churches and church members that send us out. Up until recent years, this communication has been relatively limited. Generally speaking, missionaries have shared in supporting churches during their home assignment, and sent out prayer letters while on the field. At the same time, actual issues related to missiology have pretty much been left up to the administrators in the home office, who have served as intermediaries between the field missionaries and the supporting churches. In the Southern Baptist system, we also have the Board of Trustees as an additional link in the communication chain.
In recent years, though, new channels of communication, primarily through the internet, have opened up, and made the free interchange of ideas much less unwieldy. For the most part, I think this is wonderful. At the same time, more and more members of supporting churches are making trips, and are able to interact directly with missionaries, national believers, and even unbelievers, on-site on the mission field itself.
It is truly a new day for world missions. Some of these changes can at times be perceived as threatening to the status quo. There is also the temptation to use the blogosphere to “grandstand,” showing off your knowledge in a way that goes beyond your personal experience. All in all, though, I believe that missionary blogs, especially the ones that dare to discuss issues related to missiology, can be very helpful channels of communication.
There are many of them out there, some of them a bit more controversial, and some of them not so at all. Some, due to security concerns, write anonymously. My interaction with fellow colleagues on these sites is, without a doubt, one of my favorite aspects of participation on the blogosphere.
Some of my personal favorites (though I don't necessarily "sign off" on everything they all say) are…
The M Blog, by Guy MuseTales from Middle Earth, by "Strider"
Returning to Biblical Missions, by Ken Sorrell
Travel Light, by Tim Patterson
Missions Misunderstood, by "Stepchild"
re:frame, by Derek Webster
Klineberg's Klippings, by "George Klineberg"
Another interesting avenue of open communication related to missions and missionaries are e-mail and internet-based discussion forums. I, for instance, am a member of a discussion forum that links missionaries (mostly IMB) from
I was pleased to hear a few months ago of one IMB trustee who actually asked permission from the forum members to join the discussion group, in order to learn more about the issues being faced by the workers themselves, and gain a better perspective in his responsibilities as trustee. While the thought may have crossed the mind of some that perhaps this was an intent to “spy” on other people, in actuality, the vast majority of forum participants thought it was a great idea, and gave an overwhelming “thumbs up” to allowing this trustee to join the discussion group.