Uh oh – it’s a rant. If you love rants, jump on in. In fact, I want your thoughts so please do read this and leave a comment.
Let me be clear up front: what I am about to rant about is language, illustrations, wording and the implications of how we say what we say. It is not about attacking people or their decisions.
I wish I had a snazzy term for what I am about rant about . . . missionary money guilt trips or biting the hands that feed us. Either way, here’s what happened:
Yesterday, John and I went to church and thoroughly enjoyed the service. There was a great testimony about God’s provision in desperate times and then one of our missionaries preached from Joshua 24. It was a great sermon on being faithful and how we have to remember God’s mercies and faithfulness to us.
But then it happened. The missionary gave a closing example of “serving the Lord” and it had to be this: his daughter who has just become a doctor gave up the top-dollar job offers she was receiving in the U.S. to serve overseas in a developing nation without adequate medical care. He quoted, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
You might be thinking, “What on earth is wrong with that? That’s so amazing that this girl is serving people who desperately need it.” And you would be totally right. Again, I am not questioning her decision at all. I think it’s wonderful that this is what she felt called to.
HOWEVER, this is a terrible terrible terrible story to preach to people. Here’s my opinion on why:
By implication you mean that any doctors in the congregation that work here in the Seattle area and make lots of money are serving money rather than God. If they were truly serving God, this kind of story suggests, they would all be in Africa. Are people in Seattle not in need of medical care? Does getting paid for the work negate the doctor’s ability to serve God by serving his people?
Even for all of those who are not doctors, it seems to tell us that we should use a kind of reverse logic and turn down big money job offers because only then are we truly serving God.
It can even teach people to think that the only way they can serve God is to leave their jobs and become missionaries. They discount the idea that God may have called them to serve right where they are in their engineering or accounting or programming jobs. There are people who have gone to the mission field who were not called to that work. Serving the Lord in missions doesn’t automatically fix all your questions about finding meaning in your work.
Lest you think I’m overreacting to a minor incident, this kind of teaching also happened at our church a year or two ago when another missionary shared in our Sunday school class. He shared how he gave up his business dreams to “serve the Lord.” Again, I’m not critiquing his decision to do what he felt called to; what I take issue with is the premise that you cannot serve God in business. He told us excitedly about how his own daughter is going into missions as well.
It happened when our church commissioned a couple going into long-term missions. All of us tend to revere the people who ostensibly, “give up everything.”
These kind of illustrations and examples become prescriptive rather than descriptive. We use the phrase “serve the Lord” in a horribly narrow way and it hurts our congregations because they fail to understand how their own work can also serve the Lord.
Yes, it is harder to love God when you have lots of money. We have had times of plenty and times of need and it’s definitely the times of need that force us into greater dependence and trust, that bring us closer to God as we see how much we need him. BUT . . . this does not mean that people aren’t called to the difficult work of serving God and making lots of money and still learning what trust and dependence looks like in that setting.
Maybe I’m overly sensitive to this, due to both growing up as a missionary kid and all the calling research I have done since, but I think missionaries need to be especially aware of their own tendencies toward these stories. In some ways, they’ve chosen a simple way out of the money vs. God struggle by taking up a life of radical dependence. Those of us who work and try to make a living have to wrestle with money and God in a different way.
And it strikes me as extremely insensitive when missionaries dismiss the money struggle for others, because it is often the doctors that stayed home who are financially supporting missions work overseas. Without wealth-generating church members, churches cannot survive and missionaries cannot be sent. These wealth-generating church members should not be told that the only way they serve God is by giving away their money. They should also understand how they serve God through their work itself (that’s another whole topic). Seriously, folks – we need to talk about this in church!
Ok – rant over. Your turn.
Talk to me: Am I just nitpicking details? Do you notice these kind of stories and what is your reaction? Have you ever felt guilt-tripped that your work wasn’t serving the Lord? How does serving God or Money play out in your life?