“Major issues arise when we allow the values of consumerism to infect our pursuit of mission.”
Sign No. 2: Learning has gone out the window.
When convenience and “bang for the buck” are driving factors, there is little reason to engage in mission as learners. After all, we probably won’t return. Our commitment to the local people is not a sacrificial relationship where we tie our wellbeing to theirs.
There are only two groups negatively affected by our lack of commitment to learning: ourselves and everyone else.
When we fail to learn the language and culture deeply, we are easily deluded about what the real needs and solutions are in a local community. We view everything through the glasses (paradigm) we brought from home. And we return home quickly, just as clueless, thinking we learned something significant.
For example, how many times have I heard a short-term visitor say these words, “The local people are SO happy, even though they are so poor. They smile all the time! Those people on welfare back home don’t know how good they have it!”
It would have been better for that person NOT to have come at all, rather than fall into the cliché of romanticizing the poor overseas while demonizing the poor on their own doorstep.
So by not taking the time to learn deeply, we miss out on being changed by God ourselves.
The antidote? It’s actually simple, and yet incredibly difficult. The answer is to invest a lot of time and effort toward deep, prayerful learning. This investment towards understanding is the first, most basic step toward change. Yet not many are willing to pay the cost. Are you?
Sign No. 3: Return on investment is your primary measurement.
Money, money, money.
Because our main way of thinking and behaving is economically driven, it’s not surprising that we have fallen into the trap of allowing economic measures of success in mission to become central.
Return on investment becomes the ultimate measure. How many wells can we have dug for our money? How many school rooms can we build? How many children can we sponsor?
The problem with these economic measurements is not that those things are bad. It’s that we fail to measure all kinds of important kingdom things.
When was the last time your mission committee measured kindness, companionship, spirituality or patience? Justice, mercy, humility, joy or love?
These are the values of the kingdom. And they simply cannot be gauged using our Walmart tape measures.
So, we tend to overlook them. We tend to bypass them in search of the tangible. It’s not that we believe they are not important, it’s just that our priorities easily get swayed by our consumerist mindset. For further reading on this topic check out Scott Bessenecker’s groundbreaking book, Overturning Tables.
So, what can be done? Consumerism will not just magically disappear from its central place in our society. It needs to be replaced by something. The answer lies in a sacrificial return to the values and life of Jesus—not just in cross-cultural mission, but in every part of our lives.
This is the same Jesus who asked us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24). There is nothing convenient about carrying a cross. It is an instrument of death: Death to convenience. Death to comfort. Death to affluence. Death to easy answers and low-cost solutions. And death to flag-waving triumphalism.
Cross-cultural mission is HIGH-cost, and often low return.
It is a willingness to love our neighbors to the point of moving into their neighborhoods. Here and overseas.
It is a call to pour ourselves out on their behalf, even if they get our couch dirty and they overstay their welcome. Here and overseas.
It is an invitation to embrace the poor and their children, even if we fall sick to the same diseases and experience the same oppression. Here and overseas.
It will not be completed in two weeks. It will more likely take two decades.
And it may just cost you everything.
And that’s about as far from a Lucky Supermarket experience as you can get.
Craig Greenfield (@) is the founder of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness in a Broken World (Zondervan, 2016). A storyteller and activist living in urban slum communities for the past 15 years, Craig’s passion is to communicate God’s heart for the marginalized around the world. Get a free copy of Craig’s first book Urban Halo at his website. This article was originally published on Craig’s blog.