The Selfish Missionary: An Interview with Keith Keller

No other human has had as big an impact on my life than my friend Keith Keller.

Keith has an unmatched heart for strategically building up disciples around the world.  He isn’t the type to read a book and talk down to your because you haven’t sold all your stuff yet.  Instead, he leads by example.  His is a kind of leadership that forces you to consider whether you’re supposed to go to the nations or send others to the nations.  Either way, when you walk away from spending time with Keith, you walk away with a Great Commission impression left on you.  I’m a better man for having had this impression left on me over the past 20 years.

Soon, Keith will be moving with is family and two other families to The Czech Republic.  Recently I had a chance to ask him about this transition.  Along the way I learned about the importance of community in the missions effort, how painful some yard sales can be and that, yes, even missionaries can be selfish.

When people talk about world missions, Africa and China enter into the discussion pretty quick.  But that’s not the route your team is going.  Explain your decision to move to the Czech Republic.

 

If you throw a dart at a map you’re gong to hit a place that needs Jesus and a place that needs people who love Him so much that they can’t help but share Him. (Unless you hit the ocean part of the map)

 

If the people living next door to you don’t know Jesus, there is a need. And in most cases, here in the South, even if they say they know Jesus, there is still a need. If you don’t know if they need Jesus or not and / or you have never shared with them, then, there is another need for them to have a neighbor who loves Christ so much that they can’t help but to share.

 

For us, the issue of where to go was not simply based on need (see above paragraph) but based more on access to the gospel. There are still many places around the world where there is little to no access to the gospel. In other words, people can and will wake up each day, get dressed, head out the door, see their neighbors, pass people on the way to work or school, spend time with people at work or school, eat lunch, visit the post office, store, café, walk their dog while visiting with friends and go to bed at night and not one time cross paths with a person who has a contagious love for Christ and is following Him wholeheartedly.

 

That’s the Czech Republic. It’s one of the most atheistic countries in the world. CNN did a report that puts Czech Republic on the list of countries where religion could become extinct in the next 9 years.

 

We choose the Czech Republic, in part, because of the spiritual poverty we have seen there.

 

For most people in the states, world missions means taking the church as it appears in our country and transplanting it into a completely different context.  That approach would mean complete disaster for your team in the Czech Republic.  Tell us about the differences between the typical non-believer in the US and the Czech Republic along with your team’s strategy for disciple-making among the Czech people.

 

The existing church in the Czech Republic is in a tailspin and the ground is approaching fast! Every alarm is going off. There is already debris scattered on the ground from other crashes. To replicate the current model would just add to the debris field.

 

One of the major, culturally engrained characteristics of Czechs is their skepticism and mistrust of anything institutional and organized from politics to the church. Their heroes over the years are people who have stood up against the man.

 

A majority of Czechs do not believe in any concept of God or that God exists. To start a church as we know it and then try to invite atheists who don’t like institutional, organized religion, much less God would not have great results.

 

We still believe that the local church is God’s plan to multiply disciple-makers. But, it won’t look like the type of churches we’re used to seeing. It will need to look more like a community of disciple-makers.

 

To us that means, that each believer is a multiplier of disciple-makers. It means delivering biblical education to the kitchen table of every believer. It means looking more like living in relationships with friends who have a passion to see Christ exalted all around us, more than “hired gun” professionals who do the “work of ministry” and the rest of us are just volunteers.

 

It will look like living with a community that cares deeply about helping me address the idols of my heart more than conforming to a certain set of behavioral modifications that make me look better.

 

That means that the pastors of the churches (communities of disciple-makers) of tomorrow do not even believe in God today. We are hoping to create communities where every believer becomes a “team of church planters.” By “team” we mean “community” and by “church planters” we mean “disciple-makers who are multiplying.”

 

We will start by using conversational English tutoring as a way to build gospel-intentional relationships. We pray that as the gospel is shared through these communities of disciple-makers that leaders will be raised up who can multiply into other communities of disciple-makers.

 

There are two other families joining yours on this move.  This means uprooting kids and hoping they adjust to their new culture.  Talk about the challenges and rewards of doing missions as a community of families.

 

I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I love the other families involved in this with us. They are both from the church where I was on staff in Texas. We’ve known each other for a long time. One of the other families has 4 kids, around the same ages as our boys and they have all been friends their entire lives.

 

I just talked about community a lot in the last answer and I really believe in it. Czechs are by and large atheist and agnostic. It would be easy to fall into a trap that says their problem with God is a scientific or intellectual one, but it isn’t. It’s a relational problem. The solution is a relational one.

 

What better apologetic for the gospel than a loving community? By the way, love doesn’t always mean mushy, rosy, and warm fuzzies. I’m reading a book on confrontation right now and realizing how little we love each other toward Christ in the church. Community means spurring each other toward love and good deeds. Community means loving each other enough to speak in grace and truth in such a way that we are transformed more into Christ-likeness.

 

I’m the most selfish person I know. I’m nice enough to fool a lot of people. But I’m selfish. Living within community is helping address that idol. It’s hard. If I could call all the shots we might do things a little different. We would do things that kept me happily selfish. That’s the challenge.

 

The reward is the community. We’re not alone in this. We pray together. Our gifts complement each other. My team is a blast! They are some of the most fun people I know.

 

Our kids are at the age where they are outside of the grid for making smooth transitions. At least that’s what the smart people who study these things say. We had a yard sale and they boys had to sell almost all of their stuff. It was a rough few days. But I know that God will give them back the reward of relationships within our community in place of all the stuff that they had to give up. By the way, you don’t make a lot of money selling your toys in a yard sell.

 

Our kids are excited (at least for now) to be on this journey and I’m thankful for the community that they will be a part of together with the other families. Most missionaries don’t have an opportunity to go as a team from the same church like we are doing. This is a special group.

 

In your current role with United World Mission, you are encouraging young adults to test drive world missions.  This seems especially appropriate now that many people are graduating college and having a hard time finding work.  What other reasons are there for young adults to give one or two years of their lives to world missions?

 

One of my greatest desires is to see an entire generation living a life-style that reflects God’s heart for the nations. That’s called a Great Commission life-style. A great diagnostic question is, “Did my life-style this week result in aiding the multiplication of disciple-makers among the nations?” If it didn’t, then what did I aid or advance?

 

I believe one of the best ways to help a generation develop that life-style is for them to serve for at least two years overseas helping to advance the gospel in places where there is little to no access to the gospel.

 

I’d love to see as a part of our cultural fabric among the next generation advance this kind of Great Commission life-style.

 

That was my goal as a youth pastor and my goal now – to help raise up a generation who will be the generation to complete the Great Commission.

 

Our prayer is that those who serve with us for a couple of years will benefit by being infused with this type of life-style wherever they go next, whether back to serve in churches in the States or some other place in the world.

 

A lot of people seem to have a hard time discerning God’s will in regards to their role in world missions.  What do you say to someone who perhaps is waiting for the writing on the wall or some other supernatural sign before they commit to world missions?

 

There isn’t anything else. The Great Commission (Go therefore and make disciples of all nations) is the role of the church (if you are saved, you are the church) not the job of a few “hired” staff members or people who are “called” into missions. I think this is one of the ways our current church structures has hindered the church from completing the Great Commission. We’ve made it someone else’s job.

 

I don’t believe that everyone is meant to sell their house, make their kids sell all their toys in a yard sell and move overseas to learn a new language. There is still a need for some people to do that.

 

We also need people who are willing to go on short-term trips to help in other ways.

 

We need people who are living life-styles that help other’s go. We need people who are praying for their brothers and sisters around the world, longer than the amount of time they read blogs from facebook. We need people who are willing to invest as partners in the gospel to see Christ exalted in places where He is not worshiped yet.

 

You might not be the one to move, but you are called to be partners in the Gospel to the world.

 

That’s where our journey started several years ago. We began to wrestle with the question, “What is our role in the Great Commission, especially when it comes to seeing Christ exalted in places around the world where there is little to no access to the gospel?”

 

The more we gave, prayed, researched and learned the more God began to move in our hearts to go. If you’re not sure what your role is, start with giving. At some point move to praying and I believe God will take it from there.

 

Some organizations are funded to the point that their missionaries do not have to raise any support but your team is still raising its own support.  What are the benefits of raising your own support as opposed to going with a fully funded agency?

 

I grew up in a tradition where our money went to the church and the church’s money went into a denominational fund that paid missionaries full salaries. I don’t think that’s wrong. Right about now that sounds great.

 

But I also grew up without really ever knowing a missionary personally. I didn’t pray for missionaries by name. Our family didn’t receive prayer letters from missionaries we knew personally. We didn’t have a prayer card on our refrigerator.

 

As a person who supports other missionaries I know the joy that our family has in praying with our boys for people we know and support personally. We receive their letters and talk about them as a family. We love it! I can’t imagine not doing this as a family.

 

We also give to our church that also supports missionaries, but the joy of giving personally is an incredible blessing!

 

We have many families who give on a monthly basis in order to help us go to Prague to see churches multiplied. What’s great about personal support is knowing that we have a team of people praying for us, who are personally invested, many at a sacrificial level.

 

I’ve heard it said that each disciple has a greater need to give than any charity has a need to receive. I believe that is true. I’m thankful for the opportunity to go, and I’m also thankful for the blessing of giving to others who are serving around the world.

 

It might sound cliché but I truly believe that the greatest benefit of raising support is the one received by the people who support us. But it is also a great blessing to know that we have a wonderful team of faithful supporters praying for us who care about our family.

 

 

There are days that I wish I could strike it rich, maybe discover an oil well in my back yard, or find that Babe Ruth baseball card I threw away as a kid. That way I could set out on this adventure fully self funded. I wouldn’t have to ask anyone else to give. We could just go and do great things for God and not worry about support anymore. We could do great things for God and we wouldn’t have to have faith, hope or love to do any of it.

 

And, no one else would have to share in the joy, and the blessing and the reward of partnering in the gospel with us.

 

See, I told you I was selfish.

For more information on how you can support Keith and his team, go to his website at http://thekellerupdate.wordpress.com/.