Today I reflect on American culture and how it influences our thoughts and decisions. This reflection was prompted by a conversation I had with a friend in which I explained our reasons for moving to India. I said, “We are going to build relationships with other disciples and encourage them. We are going to spend time with the orphans. We are also going to try to qualify our non-profit as a certified adoption agency.” Of the three reasons I listed, only the last one is quantifiable in the short term. None of them are grandiose. Worst of all, none of them seem sufficient to justify our move, at least through the American cultural lens.
I got to thinking: are we really going to accomplish anything? Is it worth it, if we do not come home with big “results” to share with those who support us? What results are we hoping for, realistically?
We Americans are obsessed with speed, numbers, and results. We believe in all things “mega” – the bigger, the better – and we supersize things that were never meant to be supersized. We get annoyed when we have to wait 5 minutes in line at the store. We expect to “get ahead” in life, and quickly. And while I believe it is wise to be efficient, accountable and purposeful, I think some of these American ideals are a hindrance for people who want to follow Jesus. For example, as I evaluate the purpose of our mission according to American cultural values, it does not seem significant. The relationships we build will not be seen as “progress.” The nine boys in our orphanage will not have been adopted by the end of one year. We will not have built wells or churches. We will not have conducted mass revivals or evangelistic campaigns. When we return, America will shake its head and say, “what a waste of time.”
But then, should American values be my standard by which to measure success? As Christians, our measuring stick is God’s Word. What does it say about missions? How did Jesus do it? This is a question worth asking, and an answer worth researching.
Upon observation, it appears that Jesus didn’t shoot for big numbers or speed. He spent most of his three year ministry with twelve regular guys. He fled a large crowd once when popular sentiment was so strong they “threatened to make him king by force.” His family members were perplexed that he did not make an open show of himself to gain popular support. While scripture is clear that He does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), he did not stake his mission on the easily swayed masses. Instead, he focused on the slow, tedious and unassuming task of training leaders who would reach the masses. His twelve disciples were his plan; relationships were his priority, not results. By American standards, his mission would have been considered insignificant with only a few hundred followers, including the eleven remaining apostles. But have you read about what his disciples did?! As recorded in Acts, they “turned the world upside down” as each did his part. They reached individuals just as Jesus had reached them. Jesus’ ministry was multiplied eleven-fold when the eleven faithful apostles began preaching the gospel, and it continued on.
I suppose we must, in the words of author Robert E. Coleman, “decide where we want our ministry to count – in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone” (Master Plan of Evangelism). While our mission fails in America’s eyes, it may still be significant for the kingdom if we are obedient to God’s plan.