Michael tried so hard to be one of them. It was a sad and funny and oddly relatable moment if you’ve ever had that awkward experience of walking into a lunch room full of people, trying to find a decent spot to park your big old caboose, not finding said comfortable spot, and settling for a seat by yourself.
He was “The World’s Best Boss” just trying to be one of the guys, but it wasn’t working for him. It was weird. For years, Michael Scott sat in his office alone, eating his potato salad sandwiches. Changing his routine on a whim was strange. Nobody liked it. It made everyone clam up and act…awkward.
I wish I could remember which episode of The Office this moment was from — maybe one of my trusty readers knows, but the point was clear: Michael didn’t fit in. He was the boss (a pretty bad one), trying to be friends with his employees. He was like Oprah-approved, dude-bro millionare Rob Bell trying to help a suffering man who lost a loved one by telling him his tour would be back in Atlanta someday and it would all be okay by then. It’s really difficult to speak into somebody’s life if you a) you hate God’s Word like Rob Bell, and b) you haven’t worked to genuinely relate to them. That’s just a fact.
Take, for instance, the 40-year-old mega pastor who wears skinny jeans and
probably maybe is on steroids. His congregation is entertained by him and perhaps really enjoys his motivational speeches, but they don’t understand grace. Sure, they leave wanting to improve themselves. They totally want to be as successful in their fields as the pastor is in His — but they aren’t encountering Christ, they are encountering…the pastor.
So, Christian who is really concerned with the Gospel and the authority of God’s Word: what do you see in these three completely arbitrary examples that may or may not help make my point? You see frauds, don’t you? If Michael Scott really wanted to be “one of the guys” he’d take a demotion and a smaller paycheck. If Rob Bell really wanted to reach that suffering man, he’d quit his Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Tour, sit with the dude in the midst of his agony, and point him to truth. If Steven Furtick was really doing the work of a Shepherd, he’d look and smell like his sheep and point them to the Chief Shepherd.
The point: Are you taking a group on a short-term mission trip to another country? You all will look and feel like the Michael Scott, Rob Bell, or the Megachurch Pastor with ‘Roid Rage.
You’ll feel that way because you’ll be treated that way.
You don’t know the language, you don’t know the culture, you don’t know the people, and, by their third-world standards, you’re rich. They live hand-to-mouth, and only have a couple changes of clothes. You have a different change of clothes every day! Your teeth are white, your skin is…probably white. You are not one of them, but you sure have it all together. Like the Megachurch pastor’s congregation, they want what you have, so whatever steps it takes to reach your level, they’ll go for it. They get to be friends with a rich American dude!
Without long-term relationships, you’re Rob Bell on his tour. You’re Michael Scott trying to fit in. You’re Steven Furtick with all the answers.
Sharing the Gospel in another country without knowing the culture is dangerous. You simply don’t know what they‘re hearing when you say things like “sin,” “Jesus,” or “God.” To the people I worked in overseas, sin was just refraining from beating your wife too much, or abstaining from the MaryJane, or breaking Kuman social norms. Are you taking a mission team to another country hoping to share the Gospel or do some street Evangelism? I promise, you’ll get lots of confusion, decisions, and raised hands, but not for the reasons you think.
Trust me, if you want to make a positive difference overseas with a mission team, dig a septic hole, put up some gutters, bless the missionaries. These people are on the ground, have deep lasting relationships, and know the heart language and culture.
You do not.