There is a temptation for a missionary to think of herself as a sort of super hero, a savior, a rescuer. We kind of like being needed. And if we think that we have some indispensible wisdom, tool, or key to the Gospel, then we're quite likely to enter our host culture with our hands on our hips, chest puffed out, and a "Aren't you glad that I showed up!?!" attitude.
But then if we aren't needed, why do we go?
Oh, but I think we are needed. The question is not "Is there a need?" The question is "What is the need?" And maybe even more importantly, we need to ask, "What is my best contribution?" Must the foreign missionary always lead the charge? Or might my best contribution be a listening ear, a helping hand, and a teachable spirit?
The challenge is that most Americans don't know how to show up just to be present and participate. We're typically trained, equipped, and sent as leaders, and by the US understanding of "leader," that means that we're going to have our own plans and vision and goals. We have mission statements! We have resources! We have know-how! We have funding!
We come to do. We're comforable in capes.
But what if we came like Jesus?
What if we asked more questions? What if we gave away our power? What if we dined with more sinners, washed more feet, and carried more crosses? What if we lived by the upside-down principals of the Kingdom, and really did take the lowest place? Will I enter in humbly, and only move to a place of honor and visibility if invited by my host?
I think there is a fear among us, those who go to foreign places for the sake of the Gospel. The fear is that if we aren't fixing and solving, we're failing. But what if we're called to participate rather than initiate? What if we're meant to be the servant rather than the leader? What if our presence is more valuable than our presentations? Will I enter into the work that robs me of my super hero persona? Can I have goals and ambitions for the Kingdom of God that don't put me on top? Can I write a mission statement that is based on yielding, listening, and joining?
Can we consider the possibility that as strangers, we might be wise to yield to our indigenous brothers and sisters? Or will we assume that God only calls us to lead?
All the way back in 1907, during the height of the missionary era, V.S. Azariah, the first Bishop in India, said, "No country can be fully evangelized except by its native sons." He went on the speak at the first World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh saying,"Through all the ages to come the Indian church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self-denying labors of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We ask for love. Give us FRIENDS."
Can I be content to give love? To be a friend to the French Church? Or will I worry that I just won't have enough bullet points in my newsletter if I'm not running the show?
More recently, missiologists such as David Garrison of the International Mission Board have studied church multiplication movements and noted that whenever a movement happens, "local leaders, and not outside ministers or missionaries, give direction to the movement and take responsibility for it."
When French people ask us what we are doing here, we tell them that we are here to support the National Council of French Evangelicals' goal to have one church for every 10,000 people in France. We are here to join their efforts in facilitating a church planting movement. But then we are quick to say that we are not leading the church planting team here in Lyon. We believe that French people will plant the best French churches. We are here to help. To serve. To encourage. To bless. And we are thrilled to be in the helper roles.
We hope to open a regional training center, to equip and empower French church planters, but even there we will work with and yield to French leadership.
Does that mean that I no longer consider myself a leader? Of course not. I can't help being a leader. That is who God made me to be. But my understanding of what a leader does and how a leader can lead are definitely changing. I am leaning more and more into flat models of leadership and gaining a deep appreciation for collaborative work. There are venues where I am blazing a trail (I can't help it!) but I'm making sure that I'm building a coalition on the way, inviting other leaders in, and benefiting from mutual submission from the start.
I am leading differently. I am listening more. And amazingly, I am seeing more fruit.