Missionaries Ought to Know About ...
What Missionaries Ought to Know about Each Other
From Builders to Busters
Ronald L. Koteskey
this as a pdf file
"I just don't understand them at all." "They are so
different from me and from the missionaries who came to the field when I
did." "The way they think just doesn't make any sense at all to
me." Who are we? Are we really different? If so, how are we
different? Why are we different? Can we work together effectively? Let us
explore some of these questions.
Who are we?
George Barna, founder of the Barna Research Group, has studied the
characteristics of people born at different times in the United States.
Three groups of such people are now in the missionary force.
- Builders. People born before 1945, before the end of World War II,
were intent on building a comfortable lifestyle and building America
into an economic and military super-power. As missionaries they were
(and are) hardworking, committed, frugal, and ready to go anywhere at
any time and do anything necessary to take the gospel to all people
- Boomers. People born during the twenty years following World War II
(1946-1965) were the baby boom, the "war babies." Born into
prosperity, they became well-educated, questioning, protesting,
idealistic, and tolerant of many different lifestyles. As missionaries
they brought specialized knowledge, a desire to continue their
personal and professional development, and a greater emphasis on
caring for their families.
- Busters. People born during the next two decades (1965-1984) were
called the baby busters because there were fewer of them. The baby
busters, children of the boomers, grew up in a world different from
that of any previous generation. Many who came from broken homes and
were victims of violence feel alienated, forgotten, cheated, and
disillusioned with life. As missionaries looking for meaning in life,
they are interested in spiritual things, open, honest, and aware of
their needs. As such they make good team members.
How are we different?
Builders, boomers, and busters are different in too many ways to
discuss here. However, here are some of the major differences between
builders and busters especially relevant to missions. Of course, the
boomers are somewhere between the builders and the busters on many issues,
and they have additional differences with both. All of these differences
are generalizations that are not true in every case, but they are often
found in members of each group.
- Length of service. Builders are likely to be "career'
missionaries who expect to spend their lives with one people group or
agency. Busters are often short-term missionaries who expect to work
on a project for a few years at the most, then return home.
- Loyalty to agency. Builders are likely to stay with their mission
for life no matter what. Busters may leave when they become
dissatisfied with something in the mission.
- Word meanings. The missionary "family" may mean life-long
commitment to certain values. Busters are more likely to think of that
"family" in terms of support and relationships.
- Expected leadership. Builders usually respond well to authoritarian
leadership, such as sitting in rows and accepting what the Bible
expert tells them. Busters often want participatory leadership, such
as sitting in a circle for Bible study, a circle in which anyone's
interpretation of Scripture is as valid as any other.
- Orientation. Builders are often task oriented and want to get the
job done. Busters are likely to be social-emotionally oriented and
believe that relationships are more important than turning in a good
report to headquarters at the end of the year.
- Women's roles. Women builders usually see their part as supporting
their husbands. Women busters typically want to work in equal
authority with their husbands.
- Choosing an agency. Builders frequently go with an agency to which
they are called or one serving a people or country to which they are
called. Busters tend to go with an agency that seems the most caring-a
mission that will care for them.
- Expectations of agency. Builders often ask, "What can I do for
my mission?" They wonder whether the job will be big enough.
Busters are more likely to ask, "What can my mission do for
me?" They wonder whether the benefits package will be big enough.
- Attitude toward nationals. Builders are likely to take positions of
leadership and be somewhat reluctant to turn responsibility over to
the nationals. Busters often work well under the authority of the
- Attitude toward conflict. Builders tend to deny that they are in
conflict or approach the conflict indirectly. Busters usually openly
acknowledge the presence of conflict and approach its resolution
- Need for care. Builders tend to be independent and self-sufficient,
saying they can make it on their own. Busters are much more likely to
openly admit that they need help.
- Learning styles. Builders tend to be cognitive and emphasize such
things as correct theology and biblical interpretation. Busters are
often experiential and want time to experience God, to meditate and to
relate to him.
- Spirituality and discipline. Builders are often highly disciplined
and have their devotions daily. Although very interested in spiritual
things, busters often find it difficult to maintain a consistent
These differences, and many others, are not just minor ones but may be
large enough to cause significant disagreement between builders and
busters. On the one hand, builders may to think of busters as immature,
lazy, materialistic, lacking ethics or morality, disrespectful, and
emotionally unstable. On the other hand busters may think of builders as
rigid, inflexible, old-fashioned, cautious, predictable, boring and more
interested in the past than in the future.
Why are we different?
Western culture, particularly that in the United States, between 1970
and 2000 (busters developing) was quite different from that between 1930
and 1960 (builders developing). Although builders and busters may have
grown up in the same country, they grew up in quite different cultures.
Since their developmental years were spent in these different cultures,
they have often internalized different values.
Missionaries today are aware of the problems that face multinational
teams, and they have come to terms with many of these problems. Cultural
problems between missionaries from different countries have been
recognized and dealt with to some extent. However, cultural problems
between missionaries from the same country are often not recognized as
Included in those cross-cultural problems are the much deeper
philosophical issues between modernism and postmodernism. Builders were
reared under modernism, in which reason was king, individualism was
prized, and scientific method yielded facts which were certain and
objective. However, busters were reared under postmodernism in which
experience is king, community is prized, and there are no absolutes. Over
the years Christianity has grappled with modernism and come to some
conclusions on which parts of it are compatible and which are not. The
church has still not come to terms with postmodernism, nor separated the
wheat from the chaff.
Can we work together?
Not only can builders and busters work together, they must work
together. They both have strengths and weaknesses, and their strengths
complement each other. However, rather than seeing themselves as being
complementary, they often view themselves in conflict. Rather than
complimenting each other for strong points, they tend to criticize each
other for weak points.
Let us see how builders and busters can work together to help fulfill
the Great Commission. To make disciples we need to be both rational and
relational. On the one hand, the modernism-influenced cognitive builders
may be so intent on getting the job done that they offend the very people
they are trying to reach. On the other hand, the postmodernism-influenced
experiential busters may spend so much time chatting with the people they
are trying to reach that they do not get the job done before they leave.
Builders may spend an entire career in a relational culture and never
win enough people to produce a national church filled with disciples.
Busters may spend a term making great friends with people and bring them
to Christ, but never actually disciple people there to leave a strong
However, working together effectively, with the career builders giving
stability to the procession of short-term busters, may result in a sound
There have always been, and will remain, generational differences
between older and younger people. However these differences between
builders, boomers, and busters are much deeper (cultural) issues, and they
must be resolved to some extent for maximum effectiveness in carrying out
the Great Commission. As these individuals from different generations form
"multicultural" teams, they will find that they have the
differences in the cultural values discussed here as well as other
differences (music, worship style, dress, etc).
they will also discover that their core values are the same, and their
goal is the same-making disciples of all people groups.
Member Care Consultant