barbieMany of us with ministry jobs keep a folder of sermon ideas, current event stories or market trends. Thanks to the Internet, my paper files are thinning out in lieu of digital ones.

My job as vice president of communications at Passport, Inc. requires keeping close tabs on our organization’s voice and making sure our teams of leaders are in harmony with that voice. Every organization seeks to clarify how its mission is communicated — and how it should not be communicated.

Tagged in my digital file for the latter is an Instagram account named “barbie-savior.” It is a satirical example of what our organization consciously avoids.

Satire can help reveal blind spots. For example, we who are Baptists pride ourselves on our missional DNA, but are we paying attention to our own selfies?

The Southern Baptist mission narrative was informed by a sending board in Virginia and circulated by a media house in Nashville. Cooperative Baptists picked up the global mission baton with a strong story of “Doing Missions in a World Without Borders.”

At some point our new network outpaced the old model, or maybe the new system struggled to keep up with an inspired stride of desired hands-on engagement. Whatever the cause, the local church (Baptist or otherwise) began to create its own avenues for doing global mission. Some congregations have had success, though objective evaluation of the “success” of independent ventures is hard to track or quantify — which raises some questions:

  • How effectively can the local church navigate the changing landscape of cross-cultural ministry on its own?
  • Can individuals, congregations or partner organizations (such as Passport) thoughtfully strike out on their own mission adventures independent of collaboration?

The answer is yes, of course we can. But should we?

Following our hearts to the ends of the earth because someone in our congregation has a connection to that area can feel like an obvious open door for a church.

A group of volunteers travels abroad and comes home ready to raise the support needed to build a house, school, clinic or orphanage. Eventually church leadership moves on to a new congregation or another door opens, and the long-range plan for the prior missional engagement loses traction.

What is the testimony of the body of Christ when hopeful communities and empty buildings fade from the church’s vision?

I fear the orchestration of long-term, large-scale collaborative mission is at risk of extinction when individual churches decide they are autonomously capable of large-scale mission. Perhaps this is a blind spot.
What happens when a large church sends a couple to another part of the world but hasn’t considered emergency evacuation, member care and other important factors?

What happens when a church with multiple denominational affiliations sends its mission teams to work with missionary field personnel, but doesn’t support the mission offering on a regular basis that provides such full-time personnel?

What happens when a church eager to keep peace between those affiliations waters down the global mission message and leaves its congregation unaware that there is a difference between the missional voices of the sending agencies?

Passport has a long history of supporting Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions because we trust the coordination and long-term viability of its field personnel. We trust that the voice of CBF is in line with Passport’s thoughtful theology of mission, justice and grace. Therefore, a portion of our summer offerings is designated not only to a specific project, but also for overall support the field personnel.

Steven Porter and Sam Harrell, coordinator and associate coordinator for CBF Global Missions, are seasoned mission professionals. They think about the long view and orchestrate a vision that we can participate in at every level. They lead a team devoted to thinking systematically and creatively about how we can best invest in the lives of people participating in meaningful work around the world.

Likewise, Passport seeks to communicate a mission that involves fewer Barbie selfies and more family portraits of people collaboratively working to build a broader, more beautiful fellowship of Christians. NFJ

By Colleen Walker Burroughs

Colleen Walker Burroughs is vice president of Passport, Inc., and founder of Watering Malawi.