Saturday, June 16, 2007

Political Expediency & Open Communication

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. 14:19) 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 Muse

Tales 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 Latin America (and a few outsiders like myself) in which assorted topics of vital interest to the everyday practice of missionary ministry are brought up and freely discussed. At times, the discussion is quite lively, and not everyone agrees with everyone else. Almost always, though, the opinions expressed are well thought out, and bear a mark of authenticity forged in the context of actual on-field missionary experience.

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.

It is my hope that, little by little, as illustrated by small steps like this, we can move more and more in a direction of open communication, trust, and mutual support between those of us on the mission field and those who so graciously “hold the ropes” as vital team-members in the task the God has given to each of us, as members of His Body, to make disciples in every nation.

12 comments:

bryan riley said...

As you know, David, we are always first and only servants of the King, and not of any organization, and therefore should always speak what He tells us to speak, live where He tells us to live, go where He tells us to go, and stop worrying about the rest. It sure takes off the burdens.

Some abuse this and claim to be doing God's work when they are just living for themselves, but simply because people abuse this doesn't make it less true that we must live in fear of Him alone.

David Rogers said...

Bryan,

I think you are right on target here.

By the way, the only reason I didn't include you in the list of recommended "m-bloggers" is because the context of this post is more specifically SBC and IMB-related.

(*For any readers who may not be aware, Bryan and his family, though from an SBC background, are currently serving as missionaries with YWAM). His blog is Charis Shalom.

selahV said...

Dear David, to thine own self be true, but be truest to thy Lord. I think when we seek to be true to the Lord and not man we will find some folk who love us, others will dislike us, but our Lord knows our hearts and motives and He is the only critic worth listening to.

Some friends will flatter us, praise us and pat us on the back today and be our greatest critics tomorrow. I found this true in ministry. I the 4 churches my husband pastored through the years, many of the people who praised us, served us dinner and vocally supported us would turn against us when we followed the leading of the Lord which differed with their opinions and agendas.

I'm glad you aren't the one chosen for the political arena. Not because you are less deserving, nor that you wouldn't have been a good VP. No, it is because your first Love could easily be left behind sitting at the hearth of your soul as you pursued the efforts of your mind and the agendas of others--be they positive or negative. Your heart for missions tells me where your efforts belong. And I'm so grateful that I found out you were in the blogworld as a result.

I watch your dad's legacy of sermons every Sunday that I'm unable to attend church. Recently, due to my husband's heart attack, we have been forced to stay home on Sundays. Dr. Rogers has so blessed our hearts with encouragement and comfort. I just wanted you to know this.

I don't much care about the politics in our convention. I care about the politics affecting the witness of our convention. And my heart cries out unto the Lord for healing and unity. He has heard, and He will answer in His time. I know this because He is dependable and His promises are true. sincerely yours, selahV

Anonymous said...

David
You have written an excellent post about issues and tensions that exists, although we sometimes wish to think they don't. Freedom of communication, respect for differences of opinion, and accountability to our sending agency all play a part in this process. That's why I was glad to see the motion regarding the BFM2K pass at the convention. As long as we talk about issues, strategies, methods, etc., that fall within the bounds of the BFM2K, there really shouldn't be a problem, although we all know that is quite the case. I feel you are helping to lead the way, along with the others mentioned, in making that more of a reality.
Thanks for your contribution.
I appreciate you and am praying for you.
Joel
IMB M

Strider said...

In my sitemeter I noticed a truckload of hits from your site and thought you must have put up a new post that mentioned me. I am glad it was a postitive mention. Thanks.
When I began my blog one of my prime considerations was that the IMB story was being missed in all the rhetoric. I wanted to show others what God is doing 'out here' and how our cooperation- far from being a burden to great to bear- was in fact, bearing much fruit. I don't know George's blog but the others plus yours are exactly the blogs I wish all SB's read. If they did I think we would spend less time arguing and more time rejoicing. Thanks again for your ministry.

Anonymous said...

Thank you David. I have grown tired of the postings and the comments on a lot of the blogs that are merely reflecting the messiness of convention politics. I was disappointed to read the Florida Baptist Witness' "articles" on your answers to their questionnaire.

In the past year and a half, I feel like in a lot of ways I have learned things more with greater passion as I read the blogs (including yours) than I have in seminary.

The last few weeks have pushed me to the limit and before today I was strongly considering unsubscribing from the 4 or 5 rss feeds that I read on a semi-daily basis. My reaction of disgust was also moving in a deeper way within me to leave this community of believers for one that did not include such deep hostility.

This posting along with one at 12 Witnesses gives me a new hope. Thank you and I pray that God will bless you in your ministry in Spain.

A Simple Student @ SWBTS

Lu said...

Thank you for this, David. As a former IMB M I have watched the explosion of M blogs with excitement and wonder. What a great tool to help those at home stay connected with what you are doing overseas, and at the same time what a dangerous tool if used to air out all sorts of dirty laundry.

One of my biggest struggles overseas was knowing when to seek outside help and when to keep quite and just follow leadership . Our team was steep in such ugly turmoil. For a long time I never knew if it was just me and I needed a huge character adjustment, or if there really was something horribly wrong and I needed to tell someone about it. How do you know what to write about and when? It is such a difficult dilemma....

It took me years as well to realize that while RVA and our regional leadership had no intent to harm and truly wanted what was best for us, their instructions still set us all up for failure. It is a difficult line to walk between obedience to leadership and doing right by the others serving with you.

Yet out of the failure I have seen fruit; the things we worked our butts off to get off the ground have finally begun to see the light of day and bear fruit. Proof that no matter how much we screw up, God still takes our efforts and turns them into harvests for His Kingdom.

If you're ever near Nashville while on STAS please drop me a note at Lu at pobox dot com. I'd love to buy ya'll a meal to say thank you.

Bryan Riley said...

David,

To be honest, when I first read your post I was tempted to be upset that I was not included. Praise to God, who is always faithful, He reminded me gently that such a feeling is one filled with all sorts of sin (pride, envy, self-promotion, lack of love), and then I was able to see exactly what you have written here before you even wrote it and I was able to learn from the post and enjoy it. Had He not convicted me and had I not taken that thought captive, I'm sure I would have missed out on much.

Thank you, though, for expressing your consideration and for including me here.

Given the other comments and the thoughts Lu gave about the explosion of M blogs, I feel compelled to share this as well... There was a time when I didn't look first to the God Who Is Our Comfort for comfort and I struggled a lot with internet pornography. Satan was being successful with using the internet for my harm. And I felt hopeless against that sin and battle. Then, not only did I repent, but I began to seek comfort from God, through His Spirit, the Comforter, and He gave me blogging as a ministry and connection and freed me from that awful addiction.

I love how God turns Satan's weapons into good and even against him!!!!

Bart Barber said...

David,

Let me know if you are ever up for election for thoughtful, stimulating missions writer of the year. I'll want to politic for you.

GuyMuse said...

This whole "open communication" post is one that has needed to be spoken. I appreciated your thoughts, "...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 believe the more informed people are about what is really going on, the stronger we all become. In my own experience, by trying to be open and communicative, people have been able to point things out to me that I otherwise would not have considered. Others have sometimes rightly corrected unintentional errors on my part.

One of my frustrations as a missionary is that there is very little feedback. Like Lu above, we too have longed for more interaction with fellow believers and leadership about our work. I too am glad to see the proliferation of different internet media forms that allow us to communicate more directly and openly with fellow believers and supporters.

Tim Patterson said...

David,

Thanks for including me on your list, even though we are not on the field at this time.

One of the main reasons I began blogging was to interact with others on mission. It is a wonderful tool that has helped me to learn a lot over the past year. I hope we do see an increase of "missional bloggers" to help bring missions back as the main focus.

Thanks for being a voice for what I believe is the "main thing" and what is really on God's heart.

Colin said...

David,

I intended on blogging about you, but, alas, Luther, Calvin and the rest of the Reformers have put a damper on my extracurricular activities.

This is what I want to say:

You are a classy guy. You are one of the very few statesmen I have had the chance to dialogue with over these issues. I sincerely enjoy reading your opinions on issues, and disagreeing agreeably with you on certain matters.

You are a stalwart Christian witness, a gentleman, and a noble warrior in the service of our King.

Colin