Fear Plans


Heard this story before?

A young man – a high school student, say – desires to serve the Lord. He wants to carry the Gospel to people without it around the world. So he talks to his parents. His parents, while happy to discover their son’s godly aspirations, caution him to earn a degree in something that will enable him to pursue a career if necessary. At the same time, his youth pastor presses upon him the merits of a seminary education. Not long after, someone at the church returns from a medical missions trip and gives a testimony about how caring for physical needs opened the door to minister to spiritual needs.

Now the pieces seem to be falling into place…

Soon our young friend has a plan. Why not be a medical missionary? He’ll do all of his medical training, get some work experience in the States, squeeze in a Bible education somewhere, and look for an opportunity to serve in overseas missions (however you do that!). But how will he pay for all of this? A couple hours clicking around on the internet reveals that his school bill can practically be paid for if he’ll sign a work contract!

The parents breathe a sigh of relief – maybe their son won’t starve to death after all! And the high school student has actually come up with a plan that he’s confident will hold up to the scrutiny of others. And his church and pastors still feel proud of this young man and rejoice over the Lord’s work in his life.

I despise these plans (and so do most missionaries). Because the awful truth is that they all but guarantee that our young friend will never make it to the mission field. But the story gets played out over and over in our churches. Why do plans like this lead a student astray?

– The plan was formulated without the voice of experience

Not all advice should carry equal weight. If you want to know how to become an engineer, don’t ask me! Ask my dad. He knows because he’s walked that path. But if what you really want to do is carry the Gospel to a far off land, you’d best start by asking someone who’s made it there! Until you do, you don’t even know what you’re planning for! For instance, the plan above assumes that there is this grave danger of missionaries coming home from the field and finding themselves in financial straits. Is there such a danger? The kid’s parents certainly aren’t the ones to ask!

I was the first in my family to serve in vocational ministry. My parents understandably had some real concerns and reservations about their son becoming a missionary. How does a missionary get the money to buy things like – I don’t know – food? Honestly, I had to ask them to trust me and the training I’d received. Once they saw our family launch to the field, it was easier for them to believe that there might just be more to the issue than they originally saw. There is. And if your plan sounds like the one up above, there’s more than what you’re seeing, too.

– The plan majors on pursuing financial success, not ministry success

But wait, say some, shouldn’t we be wise as we make our plans? Of course! But it is not abundantly obvious that it’s wisest for a missionary (or other preacher of the Gospel) to have a ‘fallback plan.’ What path is wisest depends on where you’re trying to get! And, frankly, if the destination you wish to arrive at is ‘international-church-planting-readiness,’ the above path is generally the wrong one to take!

In other words, the above path is a great one to take if you are trying to ensure financial security by means of professional qualifications. But if you wish to prepare yourself to make an impact as an overseas missionary, there’s a different set of qualifications that you ought to pursue. Our friend from the story above would reach the end of his path financially secure, alright. He would also (in all likelihood) be largely unprepared for the ministry he has enlisted in. Not only that, but it’s hard to believe that any path that gets you to the mission field around 40 or so is the wisest. Not only that, but it’s still unclear that the path of medical missions is at all a strategic one! By all means, be financially secure. But plan for ministry success first! You might just learn a thing or two about missionary finances along the path!

– The plan is based on fear, not on faith

Forget that we’re talking about missions for a second. Is there any endeavor in the world where it is wise for those who seek to achieve it to first spend years preparing a backup plan? But we are talking about missions. You know, that endeavor where Christ guaranteed the power of his presence. You know, the endeavor about which he said, ask me to act, and I will. Ten thousand endeavors may be frustrated, but the Great Commission will still continue forward.

Beyond all this, it’s a little unclear just what these kids are afraid of, anyway. Are they afraid of starving? Do they think they won’t have clothes to wear? After all these things do the Gentiles seek. Surely such worries are not to be nurtured, but to be resolved by the scope of God’s promises to his children!

I know the wisdom advocates are raising their protest yet again, but isn’t it true that wisdom and worry aren’t the same thing? Is it wise to build fences against beasts that God has promised will never bite us?

The truth is, the plan of our young friend in the illustration above is a ‘fear plan.’ This student didn’t start by saying, ‘I want to serve the Lord as a missionary. What’s the best way to do that?’ Instead he said, ‘I want to be a missionary. But I’m afraid. What can I do to eliminate the risks that I fear?’ Such plans are not only strategically deficient; they are deficient in faith. God’s promises to you will be kept – why not make a plan that acts like it?

What do you think? How can we help young men and women pitch their ‘fear plans’?

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6 Comments on “Fear Plans”

  1. ForTheLamb01 July 17, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Reblogged this on Project Egypt | Ramblings From Egypt and commented:
    A must read for any person, young or old, who is thinking about following the Lord’s call into world missions.

  2. Jason Holt July 20, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    Fantastic article. Unfortunately I hear these kinds of plans all too often…

  3. Jason Holt July 20, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Fantastic article! Unfortunately I hear these kinds of stories way too often.

  4. CharRG July 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Reblogged this on China Adventures. and commented:
    Wow!! I could have hardly said it better!

  5. Sharon Van Eenwyk September 23, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    It’s also interesting that so many mission organizations also have a “fear plan” by requiring missionaries to raise far more support than they actually need, because they fear that some supporters might stop supporting them, or fear that the missionary can’t survive in a foreign country without their Western conveniences, or fear that some unexpected crisis might come up, etc., etc., etc. The result is that these young men and women have to spend years trying to reach the unnecessarily high quota required by the organization and often give up!

    • Jake September 24, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

      I think there’s a lot of truth to that, Sharon. There’s certainly something to be said for determining the least amount of money necessary and fastest way to get it! Thanks for your comment and sharing this application of the principle.

      I would caution any who have these thoughts, though. I have very often found that those who find support-raising most distasteful are those who are those who are most afraid to do it. (I know because I was one of them – ha) The truth is, there are some things we fear because they’re totally out of our control – such as what might happen to the exchange rate when we live in the field, or whether or not there will be financial ruin in my home country while I’m gone. You’re very right in insisting that we reject those plans that are based on these fears. But there are other things that we fear almost entirely because they are largely in our realm of control! I was afraid of raising missionary support because I didn’t know how to do it, I couldn’t imagine how it could happen, and I was overwhelmed by the size of the task. But the thing to remember is, it would be unwise to shirk away from support-raising because of fear, too! Any decision with fear as its underlying motivation is unlikely to serve us well, regardless of what we’re afraid of.

      But I certainly agree with your point, Sharon. Many organizations have not worked hard enough to cut out the excess. Thanks again for your comment!

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