Thursday, June 28, 2007

kiss the ass that feeds you, Part III

Why should a missionary have to manipulate people (ie: support letters, partner meetings, etc) as a means of the CEO providing?

I flinch every time I receive a newsletter of some sort. These newsletters are the epitome of our westernized faith culture: American product marketing meets reliance upon the CEO in some sort of bastardized way. Much like the churches in North America, each missionary newsletter tries to “wow” the reader into liking their product. A missionary’s mission must be hyped, pimped, and sold.

Also, NOT ALL, but many of these newsletters contain details and pictures of the missionaries “doing good things”. This seems to oppose Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:1-4. So much for announcing our good works before man.

If the CEO has called you to a task, he will provide. And he will assign you a situation that you have the ability to handle. Things may look a little messy and scary for a while, if not for the duration of your life. But it’s OK, so don’t panic. I know – easier said than done.

The CEO provides far better than any guilt-ridden humans with twisted arms. Uncle George may not be a model for everyone to follow, but I think he's worth a look.

This has been a difficult series to write. It has exposed my own heart in ways I didn’t realize needed exposing. And I’ve feared that I may be stepping on the hearts of my missionary friends. Hopefully, none of them take these reports as a finger-pointing at them as much as they’ve been a pointing at myself. But if these reports have made even one missionary stop and think about the CEO’s provision versus some sort of guilt-ing means, then maybe this series was not too big of a waste.


George said...

Dear agent B,
I read your KTATFY series of posts. My cynicism was stimulated as I read. There is certainly some truth in your observations but I am not too sure about the conclusions. Because I am not a missionary and wanted to hear feedback from someone who I believe has a heart for God's mission in the world. So I asked a friend for his response to KTATFY. I want to share his perspective with you. He will remain anonymous.

Thanks for inviting me to give you my perspective. Let’s see.

First comment: I once heard a man say, “Cursing is the feeble attempt of a weak mind to express itself with force.” There is a real respect vacuum in my mind for the man who has written these blog posts in such a fashion. In reading his words, I found myself becoming more and more angry…and in reflection, I have realized that my anger was not with his question, nor his perspective, for both are valuable. My anger was incited by words that are void of content, yet emotionally loaded. He has employed the very marketing techniques that he criticizes in missionaries, designed more to engage the emotions than to communicate content. In order for me to venture an even-tempered response, I must first attempt to restate his position in a way that is sensible and balanced, then decide how I feel.

My understanding of his position:

There are three ways for a missionary (or any person employed in ministry) to pay his bills. Those options are (1) to be fully employed by a church or sending organization, which guarantees consistent support much like an employer (faith rating: 1-3 mustard seeds); (2) to depend on wages from individuals and congregations, thereby obligating oneself to manage one’s own “support-raising”, and working with a less reliable income (faith rating: 4-6 mustard seeds); (3) support oneself, by working a “real job” in the mission field, by writing grants, prayerfully waiting, living off investments/retirement/savings, etc. (faith rating: 7-9 mustard seeds).

First observation: Essentially, Mr. B seems to have said that it takes less faith to accept support from other Christians than to just live off your own income. Absurd.

Second observation: Not only has Mr. B has singled out the two options that he likes least and relegated them to “reduced-faith standing”. He has further lumped every other option together and grossly labeled that conglomeration the better alternative. This is a fallacy, as he has taken no position. He has simply criticized some of the options and given his allegiance to “none of the above”. I would like to ask, What exactly would he suggest? What is his plan?

Third observation: Mr. B has stated and affirmed that he believes “there is always some degree of ass-kissing in order to receive money.” This assertion alone is perhaps the most off-base of all his comments. Where is room for generosity, compassion, charity, compulsion by the Holy Spirit, or even tithing? Is there no such thing as a gift? I am afraid that in many ways, this assertion blasphemes the very concept of grace, and completely rejects the possibility that a transformed believer might ever give a financial gift out of a genuine desire to exalt Christ. With this comment, I fear that Mr. B has either grossly mis-spoken or has given the reader a glimpse of a very ugly part of his own heart.

My Response: Forget the previous conversation, and pretend that you have a heart for some mission function, perhaps an orphanage for retarded children in a third world country. And you have no previous training to care for the physical disabilities you expect to encounter. But you find a Christian Medical training program that can prepare you for the responsibilities, so you save up the money yourself and attend. While there, you make friends with several individuals who have similar passions, but they also have limitations: one is in a wheelchair, and cannot live in a third world country; another has children or parents who are themselves disabled, and must remain as a caretaker for them; a third has recently had premature twins, who may need consistent medical attention for at least the first two years. Upon your completion of school, these individuals present you with a check for $15000, and ask you to let them partner with you. They themselves have a heart for the work, but they cannot do it. “Please send us reports, let us rejoice with you and weep with you. Let us intercede for you in prayer. Let us give to you what we ourselves would desire to invest in the same work if we were able.”

Mr. B has named these people ugly, selfish, reprobate employers (as though it were a dirty word), whose only interest is their own agenda, expecting missionaries to conduct “mission” in accordance with their own twisted mentality – who want missionaries to be puppets or they will simply cut the strings. That, Mr. B, is garbage. The Givers that God has set apart for His cause are not “employers”, nor are they even “supporters” (as though they were cheering from the stands). They are Partners. They share the burden, the drowning weight of love and concern for souls who are perishing in a field that is ripe. They are Co-laborers, they are Harvesters, they are as much a part of the mission as is any missionary. And they do not expect reports just to pat themselves on the back, but to share in the joy of the Harvest! To rejoice in the Coming Kingdom, which is being made manifest thousands of miles away, yet rips to the depth of their dreams in their own bedrooms. They wake up in the middle of the night, sick for fear for their partners overseas. They give more than they can afford in order that the work shouldn’t suffer for their own lack of generosity. They can barely forgive themselves for having stayed in the mother-land, yet they are confident in the hope that they are twice bearing fruit…in a daily lifestyle that glorifies God, and simultaneously on the other side of the world, where they are buying rice for a missionary family.

I have heard the true story of two sisters who shared a heart for the mission field. One went to school to become a missionary, the other a nurse. The two agreed that the nurse would live a frugal life and would bear the financial burden of the other’s missionary labor. Neither sister every married, and the two women both lived very long and somewhat lonely lives. Which do you think made the greater sacrifice? I know. And it had nothing to do with who was “supporting” the other, because they were Partners in a real and selfless way. I know numerous missionaries, and I can tell you that 100% of them would prefer to call their Givers by the name Partner rather than Supporter. Money is empty, and it is the smallest need of the missionary. Love, prayer, sympathy, concern, accountability, encouragement; these are the needs of a missionary, and a financial supporter will never provide them in the way that a Partner will.

I myself have struggled with these questions. About ministers accepting salaries from churches; about missionaries who seem to me to be “selling” their program to churches; about church missions committees who redirect funds based on measurable Return on Investment. I acknowledge that wrong motives will creep in where money is involved. But I know myself the sickness of wishing I could do more, wishing that I myself were suffering from Malaria in a muggy forest hut, wishing that I could know the joy of telling someone about Jesus who has never ever heard the story. I have given far beyond what I was able to bring God glory. And for poor Mr. B to suggest that I could only do such a thing in order to get my butt kissed is such a misjudgment that it makes me want to puke. Yet, I have done these things knowing that I would be misjudged, and I feel no need to justify myself in his eyes. It is a little thing to be called ugly by a blind man.

Perhaps this response has not been so even-tempered as I would have hoped. But I truly believe that it has been more carefully weighed than the empty criticisms of the Agent who threw the first punch.

g13 said...


although i do not necessarily agree with everyone of agent b's points i do appreciate his willingness to offer a critique. i think that the western church has to constantly re-evaluate the way that we handle our money in hopes that our expenditures will be more carefully considered and, God-willing, more efficacious in the future.

most christians i know would not dare critique the way that "missionaries" - which is, unfortunately, a term that should characterize all christians but has been reduced by the western church to refer to a precious few - solicit or utilize money. again, i think this is a conversation that desperately needs to take place.

for the latter reason, it doesn't make much sense to reduce this dialogue into a holy pissing contest.

i apologize for using the word "piss" by the way. count me among the weak minded.

Agent B said...

George –

Thanks for reading and stopping by the agent b files.

I don’t know what to make of this doctoral dissertation comment under your name. I mean, basically you’re saying, “I have an anonymous friend, who doesn’t read your blog, and who has an opinion I trust, so here’s his/her view...”

Because this is a response from someone who doesn’t read this, thus doesn’t know some of my background, history, idiosyncrasies, and pathetic attempts at humor (ala the “faith of 1-10”), I cannot respond to him/her.

This blog is my report from the fringes of the empire. From the outskirts of the church. From the aftermath of the evangelical nightmare. I expose the ironies, ills, and idiosyncracies of the church only, but only after I see them in myself.

I don’t debate. Because in the end, I’m going to do what I want and so will you (or your friend). Instead, let’s discuss, exchange ideas, question things that don’t seem to work, and point out my or your inaccuracies with true and better examples. Discussion is what I had hoped to accomplish with this series, and all reports found here.

Otherwise, here are some corrections of your friend's inaccuracies. All the best to you, and please stop by again. – B

Fact 1: There is no “cursing” in this series of reports. The word “ass” is used, much like in the ass-friendly king james bible. I’ve heard that “cussing = lack of brain” accusation from christians often. This claim is a weak and nervous response by christians due to their discomfort outside the church culture. It’s also a manipulative and strong-armed tool to “get those around me to align themselves with my beliefs”. And this is a long overdue agent report in the making...

Fact 2: I am Agent B. Not “Mr. B”. Get it right.

Fact 3: In the “Kiss the Ass That Feeds You” series, I poorly communicated my thoughts of a) missionaries that receive support and b) partners that give financial support. I never intended to sound “absolute”, as in “everyone receiving money is an ass-kisser and everyone giving money has an agenda”. I, as a “missionary” on occasion have received money from a supporter. On average it’s a one-time, anonymous gift. We do have one consistent supporter from Canada for the last five years. We’ve given him every possible “out” to end this commitment, but he continues. Thus, I would be a hypocrite to lump all missionaries receiving support as ass-kissers. My report only asks questions of missionary’s methods for asking as well as their heart. Because I knew mine back when I shared those same methods (letter writing, newsletters, etc).

james said...

Great posts and responses there B. When i think of the missionaries of old i think back to those, should they truly feel the call to go, just up and went and trusted that God would meet their provision work along the way. Not say that this is the only true method of doing this of course, but it seems the whole of the church today has forgotten how to do this.

And i think Agent B has done this well.

mike said...

hmm i am reminded of the the spiritual secret of hudson tayler - much lauded by every would be and wanta be missionary i have ever met - in which he committed to not asking for any support but living off what god provided.

also, context is everything and i think when it comes to blog posts that is even more so. there is a context to everything we all write on our blogs and for someone to come in and leave an anon comment, or anon quote from someone who hasn't been a part of the conversation is more than a little well, dumb.

there is a dialogue and a conversation going on here and what George has done is the equivalent of eves dropping, then reporting what he heard to an anon friend and then posting it here.

that kind of think bums me out.

as far as the cussing thing. give me a break. weak mind? really? some of the smartest people i know cuss and some of the dumbest are people who get their panties in a bunch about it.

i mean, fuck dude.

spiritual pissing contest. that is awesome.

Tangerinetinselbreeze said...

Agent B it appears as though you've gotten an invisible spanking.

Can I say that a couple of times I have been shocked and offended at some of your perspective. But, I think Jesus shocked and offended the religious of his day. Not that you are Jesus or anything. But, you do have a genuine heart. You have also allowed me to examine issues in my own flesh that I would not have looked at the same way had you not added your thoughts here. I love your lack of judgement even in the face of criticism. Now some might say, " lack of judgement?" I do not feel that recording your observation and opinion regarding the matter of financial missionary support is meant to be a judgment of the heart of supporters or missionaries, maybe I am wrong. I do not think that I am. I have seen your tenderness with many situations in life since I have been listening on your blog and do not find you to be malicious.
Just keep on, keeping on. You sharpen us. Trim trees, play gigs, love your wife and fam, minister to your fold. And have a cold beer on a hot summer day with your neighbors.


Agent B said...

Thanks Tang.

I've been spanked by more than a few drive-by commenters.

In the agent network, this is like a badge of honor.


Anonymous said...

i usta be a drug addict and was so until about 4 months befoer i went to collage. in those 4 months i made a irrational and illogical decision to sponsor 8 kids through compassion on the basis of faith. then 2 weeks before college started i decided to go. i asked for money from my church to help that year and money from my parents. i also just finished writing a letter to the church this year cause i cant both sponsor the kids and go to college. i think God wants me to do both but im def overextended...way overextended. when i wrote this letter i "kissed ass" cause i didnt know what ealse to do. what i really wanted to write is, "im scared, anxious and broke, and think i f-ed up bigtime and i need money" which i know dosnt sound spiritually strong on any account but is honest. i think right now im trying to do too much. but im obligated to make it through this time and just try not to over-extend myself in the future. all i want to do is serve God and love people and be poor and homeless and minister to those people. But i know i need more biblical knowledge thus education. and i have these eight children, thus need for income. if i could drop one i would choose education because ultimatley that seems like the most self based thing right now. your blog disturbed me. iono what to think about it. i know my heart is honest and loving but despit that i still mess up big time. iono if you can help me cope with this because you dont know my past but any comments would be appriciated

Leanne said...

I'm thinking there's got to be a way to be neighbors. We could write a book about it.

Oh, wait. It's already been done.

I think it was called........The Bible.

*takes a breath*

..............yeah, I thought and thought but I've got nothing else to say that you probably don't already know. ;)

Mark said...

Thank you for working on this difficult series. It has helped me think more clearly about the nature and function of "money" in mission work. As you mentioned, there is room for diversity. Even in Paul's own life, there were times when he chose one philosophy for fund raising, and at other times, with another.

To me its just part of the dance with the spirit, and some dances are just more "moving" than others. Glad to have you in my life bro.