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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Missionaries and Technology

Written by: on November 29, 2018

What do The Four—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google—have to do with missionary effectiveness and sustainability in the 21st century? A lot. Global connectivity is one of the present realities that mission leaders need to address as they adapt their ministries to be relevant to the culture in which we live.

Consider the story of John Allen Chau, the 26 year old missionary who was recently killed while attempting to bring the gospel message to the Indian North Sentinel Island people. The incident has sparked a global conversation around missions and missionaries—a conversation that is dominating Goole searches, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and the blogosphere.

Mission historian Ruth Tucker observed: “His story, however, has certainly gotten traction. I googled the island, and at the time of this writing noted upwards of forty million results. By the time I entered ‘john a’ his name popped up and there were more than seventy million results.”[1] Google, a means of measuring the impact of a story, is being used as proof that this story is relevant.

The BBC headline asked, “John Allen Chau: Do Missionaries Help or Hurt?”[2] Good question. I found this story because some missionaries that were cited in the story attended the same pre-field training program that I did. So when the training program posted the story on Facebook, it popped up on my feed.

The Washington Post published missiologist Ed Stetzer’s article, “Slain missionary John Chau prepared much more than we thought, but are missionaries still fools?” Stetzer states “From his social media postings, journals and reports of friends and family members, it is clear that Chau had a genuine passion to evangelize people who had little or no access to the Christian gospel.”[3] Notice that social media postings are being used to measure a missionary’s motives posthumously.

As I consider the way that global connectivity has quickly moved the story of one missionary’s death to a conversation about the credibility of mission work in general, I’m convinced that missionaries and mission agencies should actively consider the opportunities/threats that The Four present for modern missions. Author Scott Galloway offers much food for thought in terms of how missions should or shouldn’t interact with the technology giants.

In his advice to young professionals, Galloway writes, “You need a medium to spread your awesomeness, as the path to under-compensation is doing good work that never gets explicitly pimped or attached to you. Yes, it’s unseemly, and your work and achievements should speak for themselves. They don’t.”[4] I chuckled as I read that, because one of my mottos in ministry has been, “It’s amazing how much you can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit.” I think Paul had a similar perspective: “For even if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I would be telling the truth, but I refrain from this so that no one may regard me beyond what he sees in me or what he hears from me…”[5] Galloway tells young professionals to get out there and toot their own horns, while Paul refuses to boast.

Unfortunately, as missionaries are typically dependent on the generosity of others, there are many who are following Galloway’s advice instead of Paul’s. There’s a fine line between using email, blogs, and social media to stay connected with supporters to keep them informed about your work and using those same media to “spread their awesomeness.” Those missionaries that learn to walk that fine line will protect their own souls from the traps of pride and self-righteousness while sustaining healthy relationships with their support base.

Galloway also encourages young professionals to ignore the need for balance during the early years of their careers, saying, “My lack of balance as a young professional cost me my hair, my first marriage, and arguably my twenties. And it was worth it.”[6] It was worth it? Losing a marriage was worth it? Worth what? The words of Jesus came quickly to mind: “For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life?”[7] Humans were created for relationship and balance. Six days you shall work—the seventh you shall rest. This isn’t a suggestion for mid-life career people. This was ordained for all people and all times. Sabbath is an act of faith—a way to live into the reality that God is God and I am not. One day a week, I take my hands off the wheel. I stop. Lack of balance is an epidemic among pastors and missionaries alike. We wear busyness like a badge of honor instead of confessing it as sin. The pervasiveness and seduction of constant connectivity make it harder than ever to simply stop and rest. Missionaries who choose healthy rhythms and prioritize a weekly Sabbath will succeed at creating sustainable ministries in the 21st century—but they’ll have to swim against the stream to do it.

[1] Jesus Creed, “John Allen Chau: A Missionary Historian’s Perspective,” Jesus Creed (blog), November 28, 2018, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/11/28/john-allen-chau-a-missionary-historian-perspective/.

[2] Toby Luckhurst, “Missionaries: Serving God or Playing God?,” November 28, 2018, sec. World, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-46336355.

[3] “Slain Missionary John Chau Prepared Much More than We Thought, but Are Missionaries Still Fools? – The Washington Post,” accessed November 28, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2018/11/28/slain-missionary-john-chau-prepared-much-more-than-we-thought-his-case-is-still-quandary-us-missionaries/?fbclid=IwAR0ZqqZ7h22OBqYb4fmm9zVECsxtqTr_gFu3QpCGzjI_E1O5Q-qOFxC5kqI&noredirect=on&utm_term=.188b6a8848a4.

[4] Galloway. 229.

[5] NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved. Romans 12:6.

[6] Galloway, The Four. 245.

[7]  NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved. Mark 8:36.

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

7 responses to “Missionaries and Technology”

  1. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jennifer,

    It has been interesting to follow the reaction of people across the globe to John Allen Chau’s death. A similar story of Jim Elliott, Nate Saint and others killed in similar circumstances in Ecuador in the 50s. These men have been idolized for decades with books and films about their experiences. Is that because we thought differently about missions in the 50s or just a consequence of our social media filled lives now?

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Jenn!

    I love it when you talk about sustainability. In fact, I have used your thoughts with some of my Pastors when looking at our mission fields. I should pay you royalties (grin). You could be a consultant for us…

    Thank you also for exposing the author’s statement about being out of balance, and being okay with that. Your comments of losing relationship with your kids, or divorcing your spouse, or losing the Sabbath rest, and NOT being okay with that. Well done, well done!

  3. mm M Webb says:

    Jennifer,
    I love your intro and digital link to our missional challenge, to finish the Great Commission! While it is a tragedy to see another missionary martyred, Chau is proving that social media generates and moves information rapidly and globally. I wonder how his sacrifice will influence mission?
    Regarding “tooting” your own horn comment, I agree with you and Paul. In my brief glimpses, when God is glorified, things seem to happen that are so amazing.
    I support your “challenge” to swim against the stream. However, I think there is still a lot of missional adapting that should be explored under the guidance of the Holy Spirit when serving and reaching the Jetsons in the digital age.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  4. Jenn,

    I celebrate that you are able to swim against the stream in various parts of your life to create a sustainable and healthy life of service. Our whole world seems intent on pushing us in the other direction, so it clearly needs to take discipline, and tuning out the powerful noise pushing us in the opposite way.

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