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Mission Malpractice: Week 5 | Day 6

Just as malpractice exists in medicine, a tragic history of malpractice exists in the Church, where the good intentions of mission have gotten corrupted. Br. Keith Nelson explores how we might do mission in a different way, with a curious, listening, open-hearted approach to others.

Question: Where have you seen a spirit of mission that is respectful and curious? Where have you noticed mission “malpractice”?
Share your answer in the comments below or using #5marksoflove
Activity: Icons of Hope


Transcript: Professor Robert Heaney of Virginia Theological Seminary introduced the brothers to a phrase that I find actually incredibly helpful, “Mission malpractice.”

So as I understand it, in much the same way that malpractice exists in the practice of medicine – you know, a doctor, someone who is a trained healer, never intends deliberately to hurt a patient, but sometimes through negligence, through insufficient training, it happens – in the same way, in the history of Christianity, we see a really tragic and kind of trenchant pattern of mission malpractice, in which there are missionaries sent out primarily from European countries to non-western countries, bringing with them the gospel, bringing with them the desire, the good desire to spread the gospel.  But also with certain blind spots so that that good intention gets clouded or actually kind of corrupted by the interests of colonial trade, by racist denigration of the wisdom of local peoples, the wisdom that’s already active within a place, by not listening to the unique needs and unique world view of the people to whom they are sent.

It was one of the most discouraging things for me that led to a really prolonged hiatus and made high school in my early 20s from Christianity altogether, because if that was the mission of the church, then words like “mission” and “missionary” actually became kind of dirty words to me.  They were words that I didn’t really want to have anything to do with.

If we take a step back from that and we think about doing mission in a different way, doing mission in a way that is curious about – if all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God – spreading the gospel with this open-hearted, listening approach that is curious, “How might God already be active in this person, in this place?” rather than presuming that it’s something that we bring that isn’t there already.  And then also just asking ourselves the question, “In what ways do we as the church today participate unwittingly in mission malpractice?” And in sensitizing ourselves to the ways that we do that, beginning to transform unjust structures by stopping and saying, “No, we can do this a different way.”

In the church today, where have you seen a spirit of mission that is respectful, and curious, and where have you noticed a spirit of mission that contributes toward the kind of mission malpractice that we’re talking about?

– Br. Keith Nelson

Question: Where have you seen a spirit of mission that is respectful and curious?  Where have you noticed mission “malpractice”?

Week 5 Activity: Icons of Hope
Icons are images that open us up. They act as windows that let the light of God shine in. This week’s activity invites you to compose your own “icon” for the Kingdom of God. Draw or paste in pictures that help you recall God’s vision, to create a collage that lets God’s light shine in.

Watch Video Guidance | Download Activity as PDF | Sample Completed Activity

One thought on “Mission Malpractice: Week 5 | Day 6

  1. Sad to say,” mission malpractice” is too often present with those, whose intentions are golden, but who forget the first and greatest commandment. I heard recently of two preachers on the streets in England who got into a physical confrontation, and the police had to come and break up their fight. Fortunately, such an occurrence would seldom be found, but anytime we as Christians fail to follow and practice the law of love, we contribute to “mission malpractice.”
    This term is one I had not heard before reading your homily, but one I shall not forget. Thanks for coining a new phrase in my vocabulary with an awareness of its meaning, lest I become such a one.

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