A few years ago I read an article written by a pastor concerned with the content of ministry updates given by missionaries visiting churches stateside with the goal of raising support and awareness of their overseas ministries. The concern of this pastor was that missionaries’ talks are filled with entertaining stories but are not focused on the subject of their main task: converts. On a very base level, this article raised eyebrows because our church culture wrongly sets up missionaries as heroes who cannot be reprimanded or rebuked. On another level, as a missionary at the time, I was very convicted but, at the same time, quite concerned.
The assumption of the article was that missionaries have lost their focus on “the main thing.” However, there are many reasons why missionaries may not discuss converts, and to assume that the main task of all missionaries is to evangelize is a simplistic view of missions and ministry in general. For example, some missionaries don’t talk about converts because their main task on the field is training pastors in a seminary or Bible school. Of course, these missionaries desire to see converts, but their main job as a missionary is to establish and train. Other missionaries, much like a believer in any nation, may be faithful evangelists, but the Lord has simply not seen fit to bear conversion fruit through these faithful endeavors. The list goes on, but my main concern regarding the lack of conversion stories among missionaries is far greater and involves the American church.
My biggest concern is simply this: missionaries prefer to share entertaining stories rather than conversion narratives because that’s what the American Christians want to hear. They want to be entertained and hear about difficulties and challenges that they don’t face in America. Like reading a novel about a CIA agent, hearing a missionary share is evaluated based on the degree of excitement, emotional turmoil, intrigue, and fantasy. As people who must convince others to fork over their hard-earned cash to support their ministry, missionaries must do what they must do to keep them on the field, pay their bills, keep food on the table, and, yes, make converts. The reality for the missionary sent from America today reads much like a tagline from a movie poster: “They laughed, they cried, they gave.”
I whole-heartedly agree that missionaries, as shepherds, have a duty to focus on what God focuses on and, in that way, shepherd whoever may be listening to them. But, at the same time, the pressure is not only on the missionaries that pastors are criticizing for not converting more people, the pressure is on the pastors to better shepherd their sheep so the Christians in the pews are ready to give in response to missionary sacrifice and service over spectacle.