Saturday, April 20, 2013

Irrational Confidence and Missions

Growing up in Houston in the '80s and '90s was a great time to root for their NBA team, the Rockets.   Those teams won a couple of titles and were a fun bunch to cheer for.  As a kid, one of my favorite players to watch was Vernon Maxwell.  Although not a star, he was a fearless competitor.  He was never the best player on the floor for either team, but if the score was close at the end of the game he was never afraid to take a big shot.
Basketball commentator Bill Simmons introduced the concept of "the Irrational Confidence Guy -- the guy who isn't one of the team's best players, but he'll have stretches in which he THINKS he is... Vernon Maxwell was the best Irrational Confidence Guy ever -- he had so much irrational confidence that his Houston teams fed off it."  In another article, Simmons notes that, "Maxwell helped the '94 Rockets win the title and was so irrationally confident that, more than once, he tried to start fights with Michael Jordan because he really, truly believed that they were on the same level." 

Simmons noticed something in this player that I couldn't have articulated as a kid.  Vernon Maxwell was irrationally confident and that characteristic served to help his team succeed on basketball's biggest stage - twice.

Sports can give powerful insights into different areas of life and ministry and over the past year or so I've been thinking about the connections between 'Irrational Confidence' and Missions.  I've become convinced that 'Irrational Confidence' is an underrated and exceedingly necessary characteristic for cross-cultural missionaries.

Most cross-cultural missionaries have job descriptions that fall somewhere on the continuum between audacious and ridiculous.  Our team, for example, moved to Mozambique with the 'irrational' objective of helping a church planting movement start and flourish among an unreached people group to the point that those churches have established and faithful local leaders (elders).  We also hoped to see a good chunk of that accomplished within our team's 10-15 year commitment!

As our family started fundraising and looking for a church to sponsor our work over here, I realized just how crazy my 'pitch' sounded.  Ultimately, I was asking churches to send me to do something that I had never done before... in a culture where it had never happened before... using two language that I didn't even know, yet!  I would say that certainly takes a high level of 'irrational confidence'.  (And praise God for the Donelson Church and their willingness to believe in Rachel and I!)

'Irrational confidence' is a necessary characteristic for cross-cultural missionaries.  Some have an irrational self-confidence, while others have an (ir)rational confidence in the power of a certain Resurrected Lord.  But, my hunch is that cross-cultural missionaries who are able to survive on the field over a sustained period of time will have a healthy dose of both.

So, where does that 'irrational confidence' come from?

Interestingly, three of Simmons' top five all time 'Irrational Confidence Guys' were part of those two Houston Rockets championship teams ('94 and '95).  The other two guys (Sam Cassell and Robert Horry) didn't emerge as irrational confidence guys until later in their careers, though.   It makes me wonder if something about the health or make-up of those specific teams contributed to those three ultimately succeeding in those roles. 

Having done absolutely no research whatsoever(!), I would like to suggest that spiritually healthy cross-cultural missionaries tend to draw their 'irrational confidence' from one or more of three different areas.

1. Rachel and I never imagined living in Africa, but we both had strong, stable families of origin and healthy home churches that provided us with layers and layers of confidence.  It seems like a good portion of missionaries we interact with could tell a similar story - a confidence that comes from supportive parents and churches that consistently modeled a solid faith in the power of God.

2. A second group of long-term cross-cultural missionaries actually grew up on the mission field.   They might say that their 'irrational confidence' comes in part from the fact that they grew up in a similar scenario and have seen the faithfulness of God to bless even tiny mustard seeds to grow into large healthy plants.

3. I would guess that the rest of cross-cultural kingdom workers would fall into a third group that say their 'irrational confidence' came from a dramatic calling or experience that led them to the mission field.  When they experience challenges, they find solid footing in a knowledge that they were meant for that particular service. 

No matter how we attain it, though, I believe a healthy 'irrational confidence' is a necessary characteristic in order to serve long term as cross-cultural missionaries.  We need to be able to stand in the face of extremely long odds and be willing to take the shot.

May God raise up more and more people all over the world who, whether or not they are the most talented or qualified, have an unshakable and irrational confidence in Christ and his coming Kingdom.

Grace and Peace,

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