Taking Down the Ministry Pedestal

Apr 11, 2024 | 1 comment

I first heard the phrase “ministry pedestal” during my field orientation. Several of our trainers shared that senders would often revere us as extra-special super Christians because of the sacrifices we were making in the name of Jesus. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I really didn’t know what I was getting into, and frankly, moving to a land without Diet Coke did feel like a pretty big sacrifice. 

But it wasn’t just regular senders who put me and my colleagues on a pedestal. Almost as if on cue, when a Bible teacher got up to speak to us at our annual meeting, they would start by saying, “You’re all my heroes.” That phrase, even when it came from the president of my organization, grew to make me more and more uncomfortable as time passed. 

Whether you agree that people should be put on a pedestal or not, as goers, you’ve probably been put on a pedestal. Though I was never a fan of cross-cultural workers being put on a pedestal, I underestimated how detrimental the pedestal is to both goers and senders.

In October 2023, I was asked to attend a conference for local churches and present a workshop on “Issues That Cross-Cultural Workers Are Dealing with That Senders Aren’t Talking About.” 

Instead of guessing what people would say based on all of the contact I have with cross-cultural workers, we at Global Trellis decided to conduct a survey. Many of you took it, and because the survey was anonymous, it ended up functioning like a holy confessional. Three hundred and fifty-eight people took the survey. We ended up with so much data, we didn’t want to overwhelm people who came to the workshop and leave them feeling vomited on with information, unsure what to do with all they heard. 

Combing through the responses, we came up with eleven broad categories of issues—such as sex/sexuality, kids, politics—that people thought might jeopardize them being on the field if senders, supporters, or organizations knew about them. 

As the committee processed the responses, we started to notice that the data was primarily related to being human and not to the work you are doing on the field. I was sharing the categories with a friend of mine who is a Christian, but she’s never served on the field. Her response was pivotal in my thinking. She said, “Those on the field are dealing with the same things I am.” In part, she’s right.  

But part of me really recoiled as she spoke, and I thought, You don’t get it. What they wonder will jeopardize them being on the field isn’t just about being human, it could cost them everything.

When you are on the field in a different culture, often in a fishbowl with the added layer that your job may be on the line, the stakes are higher and can be catastrophic. 

As we worked through the data, we wondered, “How did we get here?” Assuming we’re all well-intentioned, how did we end up with such a disconnect between goers and senders? This is where the pedestal enters in.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC

If you picture a pedestal before you, it has a left side and a right side. On the left side are the senders, and on the right side, the goers. Both sides play a role in how we got “here,” to the disconnect. Starting with the sender’s side, this is what we’ve noticed. 

Senders often think that those who are called to foreign lands are “not like me, they are superhuman.” And will use language like, “You’re my hero.” Senders are trying to honor the sacrifice and reality cross-cultural workers face, but instead of honoring, they are elevating.

On the goer’s side, if you’re told, “You’re my hero,” it is indirectly communicated that you must be superhuman to do what you do. It’s easy to internalize the message “I need to be superhuman. I cannot simply be human.”  You realize a lot is at stake and feel the pressure. You are trying to be worthy of the money, effort, and prayer that has been invested in you. 

With the sender’s side saying “You’re superhuman” and the goers side saying “We need to be superhuman” it keeps humanity and the stakes at odds with each other. This is not simply something for the senders to change or the goers to change.  In order to take down the pedestal, we all need to change. 

On the sender’s side

The work for the sender is to recognize the stakes. It’s not just your kids struggling with anxiety. You wonder if it gets bad enough, are we going to have to leave the field? Are we losing our home, our community? How will our other kids’ schooling and education and friendships be impacted? Can we find housing? How will we support the additional costs of leaving and being off the field?

On your side, as you factor in the stakes for those you’ve sent, it creates space for their humanity. You understand and acknowledge the pressure that they are under. In the movies Superman or Wonder Woman have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Think about it, simply being Clark Kent or Diana Prince isn’t enough. Often, this is how goers feel, that they aren’t enough.

Friends, it’s not that you expect less of those you send, it’s that your expectations are more in line with reality and the (often) slow, meandering work of God.  Maybe part of your work is to spend some time exploring your expectations of the work and the “results” of those you send.

Bottom line: to help take down the pedestal, senders need to recognize how the stakes squash the goer’s humanity and re-calibrate their expectation of “results.” This will allow for the goer’s humanity to emerge and the pedestal to come down.

On the goer’s side

You already know the stakes are high. What you might not have realized is how being put on a pedestal and being called a hero has diminished your capacity to be fully human. You need to embrace your humanity. Often you are laser focused on the needs around you and the work you have come to do, and secretly wonder if senders think you are doing enough. Friends, this squelches your humanity.  

Reinforcing the idea that you need to be superhuman, we noted that many responses on the survey were given with an apologetic tone. In particular, words or phrases to soften or provide context for what was being said, instead of saying what respondents wanted to say.  Examples included: “I don’t completely agree, but…,” “sometimes,” “struggle with,” or “I wrestle with.” 

Maybe part of the work for goers is to explore what it means to be human without being overly apologetic for the God-given limitations that being human entails. There is no shame in simply being human. 

Bottom line: to help take down the pedestal, goers need to recognize that it is enough to be human. Though the stakes are real, they should not be in the driver’s seat. This will allow for the stakes to be appropriately factored in and for the goer’s humanity to emerge and the pedestal to come down.

As a child, I loved to watch the show Wonder Woman with my sisters. I’d get a tingly feeling when mousy Diana Prince saw a need and ducked into a corner. I couldn’t wait for her to start spinning around and turn into Wonder Woman. When we asked the question, “How did the disconnect between senders and goers come to be?” It’s rooted in this idea of Great Commission workers being super humans doing super human tasks. 

The good news is that if we each work on our side of the pedestal, we can knock it over so that we are all on level ground, at the foot of the cross before Jesus. Instead of elevating goers over senders or senders over goers, how about if we look for and connect with the humanity in each one of us?

Being human in a broken world that cries out for redemption isn’t easy. But it can be beautiful. 

Questions for you to journal or discuss with others:

Have you heard about the pedestal and cross-cultural workers? Was this concept a part of your sending church/organization culture? In what ways have you inadvertently been a part of perpetuating it? 

If someone were to ask you about the relationship between humanity and stakes when it comes to cross-cultural workers, how would you explain it?

If you’re a goer: What are ways you can embrace your humanity? What are ways that you have set your humanity to the side? 

If you’re a sender: As you think of a goer you know/support, how can you support/acknowledge the stakes they face? What are ways you can acknowledge the stakes that goers carry?

Thanks to SC and Christine Rollings for co-creating this concept.

Workshop to share with your senders: In January many in Global Trellis participated in a survey about what they think might jeopardize them being on the field. The results poured in and were so insightful! Thank you for helping to get this 52 minute workshop into hands of member care providers, care committees, M committees, and individual senders. We’ll go over:

— The overall results
— Discuss the “Ministry Pedestal”
— Unpack three areas with more detail
— Provide you with a discussion guide

Access it here.

Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Supporting cross-cultural work.



1 Comment

  1. Shelby Hofer

    Hello! Love your content! Can you make it shareable on social media (aside from just copy and pasting a link)? That would be really helpful and allow the content to go further! Or perhaps I’m missing the share button??


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