Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Seven Questions with Ernest Goodman"

1. What were some of the key issues that led you to serve with the International Mission Board?

Every summer through high school and college I served as a summer missionary through the NAMB Sojourners and Summer Missions programs. God used those experiences to give me a taste of ministry outside my comfort zone, and to show me that He wanted me to do some sort of career cross-cultural ministry. I was raised Southern Baptist, from Mission Friends on, so it made sense that I'd go through the IMB.

2. What is your greatest passion?

My greatest passion is exploring ways to live out my faith that make sense to me. I am grateful for my heritage, but I've really yet to see an expression of Christianity that isn't heavily influenced by human religion and American culture. In a lot of ways, I feel like it doesn't fit. I'm really excited about re-asking those questions that everyone already knows the answers to, in order to find the edges of religion and relationship with God. I think that working out my faith publicly, sharing life with people, is the sort of thing that God uses to show others what life in Him would be like for them.

3. What is one barrier that you are experiencing in your ministry at this time?

I guess that would be me. Any time I start believing lies, I disqualify myself from service. Yet I find myself losing God's perspective on a daily basis. I start to think that I'm somehow needed here on the mission field, or I go to the other extreme and feel worthless for not producing more fruit. Both are lies, and these really get in the way of my obedience.

4. What is one thing you would want every Southern Baptist to know about your ministry?

That missions is about obedience, and obedience is not a finishable task. We've created this concept of missions as a finite, manageable project, and we've planned out just how many people and how much money will be needed to "get the job done." That's a misconception that I come across all the time when talking with the people that send and support us. They want to know why I would waste time going to Western Europe instead of somewhere in the "10/40 Window." I say, if God continues to call people to a place, that's a pretty good indication that He's working there.

5. What has been the biggest culture change that you have experienced since leaving the States?

Returning to the States! I guess I hadn't noticed how much I had changed until the first time I went home on Stateside Assignment. Even the most familiar things seemed so foreign. It was hard to go from informal house church to highly-structured congregational church. And I was frustrated that no one seemed to really care about what we were doing overseas. It seemed that Christian subculture in the U.S. has really made it easy for believers to get caught up in things that don’t really matter.

6. There has been a lot of blogging about pressure from the IMB towards missionaries to produce converts. Do you feel pressure from the IMB? What type of ministries are you doing to reach people and start churches?

To a certain extent, the Board's current strategy brings with it some pressure to “perform.” In our pursuit to facilitate “rapidly reproducing church planting movements,” we’ve kind of been caught in a pattern of looking for “what works.” When you sit through conferences and seminars on the latest methods and strategies, and you’re asked to report back numbers of salvations and churches planted, it’s hard not to feel some “pressure.” That said, I think we all agree that it doesn’t really make any sense to measure our success by numbers, since God is the one who saves and He alone can build the church.

Personally, the fact that I am a professional missionary, that I am paid to minister to people, is something I struggle with. Sometimes I resent my calling, and other times I have a whole life-crisis because we’re not seeing the “results” we had expected. Through the process, however, God has really redefined success for us. We are successful when we are obedient to what He leads us to do.

Our team is always looking for creative ways to enter and engage the culture through relationships with nationals. God has recently brought us into some opportunities to participate in existing activities within the arts community in our city. We’ve put together a team of artists who are church planters, and we’re excited to see how God is going to allow us to share life with the creative people around us. God has really given us a vision to share our faith through personal, intentional relationships. We believe that the naturally existing social structure we find in so much of Western Europe can be a highway for the spread of the gospel.

7. What are two or three things that you hope to accomplish in the next year and are there some prayer needs that we could begin lifting up in prayer?

We’ve noticed that God isn’t necessarily calling people to a lifetime of career service anymore, and that there are more and more Southern Baptists that really want to be part of what God is doing in Western Europe, but not as paid, professional missionaries. I think this is great- it’s certainly more reproducible and culturally appropriate to have church planters who have real jobs and the natural network of relationships those jobs bring. Over the next year, we’re looking for new and creative ways to build our team with people that are not dependent on IMB financial support.

Our greatest prayer request is that God would move mightily in the lives of the people of Western Europe. That He would do something so great, that people wouldn’t be able to help but recognize its Author.

There’s been some discussion recently about the morale of our missionary force. As politics and petty religious debates have taken center stage in many Southern Baptist circles, many of our people have become discouraged by the lack of interest in what is actually happening on the field. I would certainly consider this a matter of prayer, and I would encourage everyone to get involved in the lives and ministries of our missionaries by reading their blogs and praying for them regularly.

Ernest Goodman is a Southern Baptist Missionary. Ernest isn't his real name and he must keep his identity hidden because of where he serves in the world. To find out more about this missionary go to his blog.


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