Exporting what we don’t have?

You’ve probably heard the phrase that someone is “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good” or vice versa. But is it also true that it’s possible to be too overseas minded to be any local good? Doug Wilson thinks so, applying Matthew 23:15 to current “missional zeal” in his brief post titled “Here and There Both.”

What you practice at home is the show you take on the road. What you grow in your fields is what you load on the trucks. Compassing sea and land doesn’t generate a new message. The way you live when you get on the plane is going to be the single best indicator of how you live when you get off the plane. In short, don’t expect geographical location to fix anything. The principle is this: you export whatever it is you are manufacturing…Not only do you export what you have, you cannot export what you don’t have.”

Reading, PA, by J. Kourkounis, New York Times

Wilson is absolutely not against foreign missions. But his point is that there is a nuance; this is a both/and situation and not an either/or. If someone feels called to overseas missions, one of the signs church leadership can look for before confirming their call is to see what their local missions efforts look like. Or, if someone has been approved for foreign missions work, what are they doing in the meantime before they are sent?

I think this can be generally applied to those of us who aren’t explicitly called to missions, too. Are we praying, thinking, loving, giving, and acting locally as well as globally? Are we concerned for the Amish in Lancaster or the white middle class family down the street to hear the gospel, and burdened for those in the country’s poorest city (Reading, PA) in addition to the lost in Eastern Europe and the starving and orphaned in Africa? Wilson writes:

“This is why reformation and revival in our churches here is a necessary precondition for effective evangelism there. Say that someone says he has a real burden ‘for the lost’ in Wango Bango. Say that the person at church he is speaking to suggests they spend that afternoon going door-to-door at student housing for the local university. There are lost people here too. Suppose further that the evangelistic ardor of the prospective missionary suddenly wanes. This is a bad sign, and it is a bad sign of what I am talking about.”

I want to be careful because there is definitely nuance. I know that the church, the body of Christ, is a complex, diverse organism and not everyone can be the hands of giving or the feet of going or the mouth of preaching – and not everyone can be all of them at once. So I agree, to a point, with Wilson that “The first step in foreign missions is domestic mission. The first step toward Africa is right across the street.” I’d also recommend the related book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, by Corbett and Fikkert (Moody, 2009). Is Wilson right? Does his position need to be nuanced more? Is he way off?


One thought on “Exporting what we don’t have?

  1. Joel – Yes Wilson is exactly right. No nuance needed. Ha! In all seriousness, for my part I agree with his position. If we cannot be faithful in the small things (e.g. loving/serving/preaching the gospel to the lost that God has put next door to us), how can we imagine that we will be faithful in the great things (e.g. a life of self sacrifice for the lost in Wango Bango)? – JRM


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