Economic Segregation of the Church
and missions.

Psalms 49:1-2 Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: (NIV)

Living in the Southern United States, it's fairly common to hear churches verbally lament the ongoing segregation of the church. They, of course, are referring to racial segregation. While no longer a result of enforced policy, it is a truism to state that (at least here) the church is the most segregated institution in the country on Sundays. While some of this is voluntary segregation due to cultural stereotypes and divisions, we believe that far more of it is unwittingly trained behavior combined with (or fueled by) the economic disparities that many people groups face. Do not take this wrong... we are not trying to make racial or cultural stereotypes in this document. There are very successful African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc. in every region even as there are Caucasians. Our point is that a quick look at neighborhoods (and inner-cities) will find economics to be a predominate dividing factor rather than ethnicity. Find a neighborhood that is poor and you'll likely find a diverse mix of poor from all ethnic groups in that area. In fact, being at the same economic standard (whether poor, middle-class, or rich) often becomes a unifying factor in that particular area. While this is the way of the world, it should not be the mode of the church. This article seeks to address some of contributing factors and ongoing practices that have, perhaps unwittingly, invaded the church in regards to this trend.

Missions Trips

Missions trips are not planned by churches on the basis of where they can be most effective, rather they are based upon the 'feels good' standard. The effect has been to place a greater value on a soul in some far away place than locally. Consider a group of 10 people paying $2000 each to fly half way around the world to minister. Is spending that $20,000 (which in fact would be closer to $25,000 or more if other factors and time where added in) for a week of ministry good use of the church's resources? Simply put, the answer is no! That same amount of money could facilitate ministry to locals (where there is no language barrier) for 10 weeks! Or if the burden is to effectively reach those far away, supporting indigenous missionaries (who all ready know the culture and language) is far more effective. In many countries that same amount of money will fund 1 to 4 individuals (sometimes more) for an entire year. In contrast, trying to use that same amount of money to support a foreign missionary from the Western world, barely scratches the surface as estimates exceed $100,000 per year for total costs of sending them to these far away places. Going back to the missions trip, are we to say that reaching this far away people is more important, that these souls are worth 10 times what local ones are? This certainly has become the implicit message of many of today's churches.

James 2:1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. (NIV)

Another formative dynamic may actually be at work. The determining factor for many missions trips these days, and even support of missionaries, is not trying to maximize resources, rather it is the aforementioned "feels good" factor. The more exotic the location, the more culturally divergent from our own, the more pride. Just attend a typical missions conference and look at the places receiving 90% (or more) of the attention (and money). It's easy to be excited about taking our (professed) superior western culture, technology, and education, to these places... just think of the wow factor. Sadly, all too often, the gospel gets lost (or highly hidden) in jumble of this rich western culture. What is the church selling? Western standards, wildly rich and lavish life styles (in comparison to what those people have), or the heart of the gospel which says we are all equal?

James 2:5-6a Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor. ... (NIV)

Some claim that the "feels good" mission trips (hereafter referenced as FGMTs) are beneficial because they get people excited about missions. In fact the missions they get excited about sometimes barely resemble what missions are all about. (Hearing about a youth group that raised thousands each to go half a continent away, with no plans other than the their recreational activities and a vague hope that "an opportunity" will present itself, is one such example). When individuals who have had a multiple trip diet of this type of missions end up in long(er) term missions, and suddenly find out that it's really a lot of hard work, perseverance, and only periodic amounts of fun, they quickly become disillusioned as this isn't what they signed up for. The FGMT experience has set them up for a fall.

Many of the FGMTs aren't even available to some of the church. With exorbitant costs, only the well-off are welcome to participate, relegating the working poor to second class status at home too. "Perhaps they can do some of the local missions," is often the thought. Leftovers.

James 2:2-4, 9 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? ... But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (NIV)

Right about now, a disclaimer is in order. There ARE churches working to create a true balance in their missions; through education, through local hands-on outreaches, funding itinerate and indigenous missionaries, and the occasional cost-conscious missions trip. These churches are to be commended and encouraged to keep reexamining what they are doing and the "why" behind it. It's hard for these churches to resist the pressure towards the "feels good" mentality, especially when their teens and adults ask "why can't we do missions trips like those other churches" or move from asking questions into temporarily joining with other churches to participate in their experience.

Mark 16:15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. (NIV)

Acts 1:8b will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (NIV) [See also Acts 26:20]

Truly missions is to the whole world, but not to one group at the expense of another. The principle of Acts 1:8 was to start in your home town (Jerusalem), then take a look at your own culture (Judea) and then the ones looked down upon next to it (Samaria). Finally, the rest of the world is in view. Nowadays, in many churches, that verse could be re-written as:

... you will be my witnesses in your home town (as long as it's a nice neighborhood and they decide to come to your church), and to the all foreign places around the world, and then perhaps the less desirable places in our own country, minorities and the poor.

Notice that priorities have been turned inside out. It's not that we've run out of people to minister to locally. In fact, in most places in the western world, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface. The problem is that there's no glamour in reaching them, in fact there's just lots of hard and often seemingly unrewarding long-term work. The aversion to long term struggle and perseverance is a reflection of the work ethic pervading so much of today's society: If we can't have instant success and the rewards of it, perhaps you should look to something else (whether a new job or a new wife) is often the advice. Perseverance, patience, and faithfulness - to keep on doing what is right and needed by God's standard - is what believers are called to.

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)

Galatians 5:22-23a But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (NIV)

3 John 3-4 It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (NIV)

With volumes of people that call themselves Christians, the western world in fact is quickly becoming lands where many missionaries are needed. In countries which were once thought Christian, now it is merely a title, no longer reflecting belief or practice. Multitudes of people right here have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ - now the fastest growing segment of our population. This includes many who attend churches where the gospel can no longer be found. The church has lost its' voice. Perhaps one reason it's easier to send missions trips to far away lands, is that the illusion (or self delusion) that this is a "Christian" land can be maintained. Those that live here are acutely aware of the truth though they often refuse to accept it. Many believers in those far away lands have long since seen through the veneer of superficial Christianity that's being exported to their countries - sometimes through the actions, beliefs and mind-sets of the very FGMTs that are sent to help them.


Back at home, the so-called church growth movement professes to be evangelizing the lost - so long as they meet the target demographics of upward mobile middle class and the well-to-do. Keeping the "feels good" facilities going has become a primary budget item. Why if the "feels good" facility wasn't there, people would stop coming. The church, like its missions, is now all about the feel. It's hard to wonder how the persecuted church of the past ever survived, having only Biblical teaching, singing, and simple fellowship of believers.

Home Missions

News reports in the missions area almost always focus on foreign missions and now sound like this: [Insert Church Name Here] "sent more than 4,000 of its members on mission projects around the world." (From a mega-church press release, July 2005)

When the church stops merely professing to love everyone and starts living it, the church will again have a real voice in this land. Parachuting into foreign lands (usually not literally) for missions trips is the same way home missions are often completed. Go out and knock on a few doors, spend a day at a homeless shelter, maybe another elsewhere and call it done. Welcome to "feels good missions," the home edition. Real missions has to be different. Witnessing to people requires time... lots of time. You need to befriend people for them to want to listen to you. Your investment of time proves your words. Consider Jesus, who never compromised His message, yet spent so much time with "undesirables" that He was accused of being one of them...

Luke 7:34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."' (NIV)

When one large church organization publicly announced that they were going to reach 10,000 homes for Christ in a one day effort, in a rare focus on home-missions, it showed how far we've fallen. This was parachute home missions at its finest. There was little effort to get to know the people and to befriend them, rather it was the message that God loves you and we do too... so long as you come to our churches (because otherwise we'll likely never see you again).

James 3:13, 17 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. ... 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (NIV)

Love that seeks a return is the world's version of love. God's love, as demonstrated by Jesus Christ, is selfless and gives generously - to a people who don't deserve it and have nothing of value. If the church copies the way of the world in seeking to reach only those who, in their view, have something to give back in return, what message do we have? The answer is that we look no different that the world we profess not to be a part of. [Today's churches don't look only for monetary return, they seek the power that comes from numerical influence, they seek the status that comes from having the biggest church, and many like things.]

Philippians 2:20-21 I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (NIV)

We are called to love people, invest in their lives, and share the gospel with absolutely no expectation of return, even in terms of appreciation. Are we willing to keep doing what we're supposed to be doing (because of Whom we serve) even when there is no appreciation, no return, and no short term results?

Luke 6:32-36 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (NIV)

Perhaps this is why God singles out children, widows, poor, prisoners, and the like, as those we are not to be forgetting. They have nothing to give in return. And yes, the occasional FGMT, or a one-day parachute outreach, combined with a minuscule portion of the budget being designated for these things counts as forgetting them. (Consider that the majority of church budgets are spent on those who do have the means, versus the children's and youth ministries who often can barely function or could be doing so much more if properly funded - all this without looking at missions.)

The appearance that the church is doing something is misleading. Holding up these FGMTs, an annual parachute evangelism day, and a plethora of children's and youth programs (with little or no funding) sends a wrong message. It's because the church can say, "we're doing something" that their occupants assure themselves that it's being looked after. Symptoms of this problem abound, for example: Youth groups have to appeal to non-Christians (through fund-raisers) to fund their programs. Evangelistic outreaches, especially for teens, charge for admission! Where did the church get the idea that the lost should pay for us to have the privilege to evangelize them?! Multitudes of conferences professing to help marriages, relationships, strengthen your walk with the Lord, encourage your prayer life, teach you how to witness, etc., are being offered by churches - and you're all encouraged to attend (just look at what our church is doing now!) - as long as you can ante up the fees. Telling the church that you need to attend, that it's urgent that people attend, and then excluding people through economics is segregation at its' finest.

Whatever your church claims to be doing does not release you from personal responsibility. Claiming that the corporate church was (or should have been) doing it is not an excuse. Believers, all believers, individually are responsible to God for what we are called to being doing - by the One we call our Lord and Master!

Matthew 25:31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (NIV)

Imagine what the church would look like to the world when it's filled with the "least of these" or even if it never is filled with them yet is willing to keep on giving. Imagine how much cost-effective missions could be done if we started working to reach the multitudes of immigrants right here with the gospel of Christ. Think of how far our missions budgets could be stretched when we look to the immigrant population for our "foreign" missions trips. When to maturity, these native believers are already equipped and capable of returning to the lands they came from, with no need of expensive language training and cultural sensitivity classes. Plus they have a ready audience, versus westerners who have to work for years to establish such trust. It's time the church started to act in wisdom!

Colossians 4:5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (NIV)

This article was written with the purpose of sparking much needed discussion about these very things in our churches. Do you disagree? Give scriptural reason (and send it to us). Do you agree? Then speak about it (and let us know), but more than that... do something about it! Multitudes of discussions and conferences offering solutions can be as misleading as some of the things already considered. It's easy to start thinking that all the talk is doing enough, ultimately ignoring those we profess to be trying to help. For the sake of a world needing to hear, I pray that our actions start matching our words.

Luke 10:2 He [Jesus] told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. (NIV)

Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2005.
Duplication permitted as long as the source is cited.