I will note, that these statements do not define every church body or individual believer for that matter. There are people called to missions outside of their community and that is a wonderful thing! I myself am going to spend 9 weeks in Brasil this summer, which is why I have begun to think about this issue once again. That being the case, let me try to explain what I am feeling in regards to 'missional idolatry.'
There are many signs within the church that point to, and reveal, this idolatry. The first is the large number of people, especially young adults, who feel 'called' to missions. It is good that some feel called to 'go', but how come very few feel called to do ministry in the local area? Those who feel 'called to missions' have plans, vision, and excitement for God's intervention. These are all good things and I would be excited as well if there was equal excitement for ministry in the present location and time, which is rarely the case. I have noticed that when somebody plans to go 'on missions' there is a lot of hype within the body. People are willing to spend money, they make announcements, and there is a stir of excitement in the air because 'something is happening.' Why don't we get that excited and focused when a new ministry opportunity is opened up in our own community? Are lost people different here in the states then in South America? Are the prostitutes better off? Are children just that much cuter in Africa?
The highlight of youth programs has become mission trips, and the most prominent ministry of churches are their sponsored missionaries. These missionaries come back and share stories of God moving and working, and everyone is excited, its just too bad that those types of stories haven't become commonplace within the body itself. Missions give a church credibility, and it is how some congregations edify themselves. There is pride in how many countries have been visited, and how many people choose to go serve for 1 week or 1 month in Africa. Have you ever seen the big maps in the atrium with the pins sticking in all the 'missions' locations? Why not make a map of all the houses in the neighborhood that have been reached out to? . Sadly the greatest congregational participation in ministry occurs when it is focused outside of their own community. Missions, it seems, has taken the place of 'ministry' in the church; this ought not be so.
Many people enjoy and feel called to mission work because it is 'easier' to do ministry in another place. In many countries the people have an intrinsic knowledge and openness to spiritual things, and are therefore eager and willing to hear and learn about Jesus. In the same note, many cultures don't have the same biases and preconceived notions about Christianity that we face here in America; which does make it easier to do ministry over there then over here. Going somewhere else, to minister to people you don't know, is also a way to escape from our own fear and insecurity. Sometimes we are too timid and shy to stand up for Jesus to our friends, but we aren't worried what a stranger thinks. We then conclude that if I feel like it's 'easier' to do minister to people in other places, then I must be 'called to missions.' Missions is then used as a way to ignore insecurities and issues rather than really facing and overcoming them. If we become powerful ministers here, then feeling called to go somewhere else will carry that much more weight.
For some church bodies, mission work is a way to have the appearance of an active ministry, without fulfilling their God-given function in the place where they have been established. Missions are not bad, but we have not empowered people to have a 'missions' mindset in the work place, home, and even our own church body; which causes us to become hyper focused on missions to mask and hide this inadequacy.
In of this, many desire to go to different countries to do ministry because they don't know what it is like to be empowered and activated in their own hometown. The way we do church doesn't properly make disciples, and therefore we have little ministry outside of the four walls of the church. The people who then have a heart for the lost find themselves desiring to go somewhere else, even though there are lost, hungry, and depraved people all around them. 'Missions' has risen as the forefront of Christian experience and service, when it should only be one aspect thereof. Let us decide individually and as a church, to create a powerful culture of ministry and missions in the here and now. As we all grow in maturity in the Lord, our gifts, and our calling, we will hear the true call for missions rather then respond out of our own insecurity and desire. God will be calling some to 'go', but He is calling everyone to be missionaries.