Abstract: The character of a missionary should include apostolic passion and acceptance of diversity in the Body. If missionaries and their families don't show brotherly love by accepting people with different cultures and perspectives, their mission should seriously question their call from the Lord God.
Site search Web search Search this site or the web powered by FreeFind
The Character of a Missionaryby Aramus Crane
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God perpared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-9
A sending agency should "enquire into the characters, tempers, abilities and religious views of the missionaries." (Carey W. An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. 1792.) Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect missionary. However, the predominant reason that missionaries leave the field is because of interpersonal problems with his or her colleagues. Since the basic message of the gospel is grace, love and peace (read Paul's Letter to the Galatians), this demonstrates that a plurality of missionaries do not meet minimum qualifications. Most blame lies on us, the leaders of sending agencies.
Seeing the size of the task of reaching the billions of unreached people, it is tempting to try to pump out as many missionaries as possible, even if they don't meet minimum requirements. This is like flooding NASA with low wage high school graduates to shorten the time before we have a man on Mars. It is counterproductive at best and malpractice at worst. Although many would like to deny it, the law of supply and demand functions also in the determining of missionary salaries. Even at present levels, many missionaries are undersupported, a sign that supply outweighs demand. In this series, I will attempt to provide an apologia for increasing the field time of the God-enabled missionary and keeping home some of those called to be at home, supporting missions. As the opening verse implies, I believe that God has fore-ordained the works that He wants us to do, and that includes our career. One of the assumptions of this series is that it is as wrong to field someone who God has called to minister in secular work and support foreign missions as it is to keep someone out of the field whom God has called to the field. Inappropriate enquiry into the "characters, tempers, and abilities" of the missionary does both.
This series is not intended to be a complete how-to manual for sending boards or test for candidates. It is intended to pioneer thinking in the subject and to serve as a foundation for leadership and candidates to form such guidance. Neither will this series deal with the basic character traits accepted by the Christian community for membership in that community, like honesty and commitment to God. Instead, we will examine some that ministries may be overlooking today.
Prerequisite #1: Apostolic passionThe first need of a missionary is a passion for the Lord and for introducing others to the Lord. The most motivational source of that passion is a burning love for God and others. However, fear for His omnipotence can stimulate obedience when one is not exactly in a loving mood. J. Hudson Taylor observed that the unfaithful person who was thrown out into utter darkness and gnashing of teeth in Matthew 25 was not a stranger, but a servant of the Lord. (China's Spiritual Needs and Claims, 1895) That this destiny is a potential for believers can be sobering for a missionary. However, this can produce some negative character traits like regret and spite for being "forced" into the field. If the missionary is not passionate, he will quickly lose his bearings.
"Those who have apostolic passion are planning to go [into missions] but are willing to stay. You know you have it when you are deeply disappointed that God has not called you to leave your home and get out among those who have never heard His name. If you will not suffer and sacrifice for something, you are not passionate about it. If you say you will do anything for Jesus, but you don't suffer for Him--then you aren't really passionate about Him and His purposes on earth."---(McClung F. "Apostolic Passion" Perspectives: A Reader Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 2002. p. 185)
Of course, like I Corinthians 7:23-24 says, apostolic passion is usually stronger among those who are not concerned about family. One of the missionary's biggest discouragements is finding those who have not been able to reconcile the needs of family and self with the demands of God. These people are likely to have less moral integrity because of the need to diminish their passion and sacrifice what is morally correct because they have a duty to their family. However, this does not mean that married people with families cannot be passionate about God. Nor should people discourage them from entering the field. There are many people who successfully reconcile the needs of ministry and the needs of family. Although the missionary family has no biblical precedent, most missiologists believe that missionaries with families are usually more effective at reaching family-oriented cultures. It can be debated whether this ability to relate offsets the relative lack of apostolic passion.
We who have followed this passion into the field have been chosen for a mission. We are to bring the peoples to praise the Lord. Having a passion does not mean that one will not have moments of discouragement. But, the candidate's passion is for the Lord and for introducing others to the Lord must be evaluated prior to their being accepted for service.
"For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? For when one says, 'I belong to Paul,' and another, 'I belong to Apollos,' are you not merely men?" ---I Corinthians 3:3-4
We missionaries must understand that our mission is not to change someone's religion Roman Catholic to Baptist, Pentecostal to Greek Orthodox, etc. Our goal is to introduce people to a relationship with God. The Bible sets this as the first priority. (I Corinthians 3:1-9)
Since I am from a scientific background, I put much stock in precedent. Of course we need to be innovative, but there is a lot of wisdom in how saints have acted and God has moved in the past. Let us examine Biblical precedents with regards to how a new convert's social life should be modified.
In the New Testament, those who followed Jesus, stayed in the Jewish assembly so as to demonstrate loving acceptance and to bring them to the knowledge of "the Way." Standard practice today is to plant churches. This usually results in uprooting the young convert from his social contacts in his former church. His social calendar is refilled with friends and activities of the new church. Donald McGavran called this a conglomerate church in his article "A Church in Every People." (Perspectives: A Reader. op cit. p. 617)
New believers in all countries tend to be the most effective evangelists. Thus, this destroying of relationships with non-Christians hinders the spread of the gospel. It also makes others, who know the person, think that Christianity is a religion that doesn't have a place in their culture. A person should usually not be uprooted from their social and religious associations except those which are causing the person to sin.
However, if large numbers of believers are thrown out of their former fellowship, there is Biblical precedent for forming a new assembly. In the New Testament, the new believers worshiped in the Synagogues with those who were not followers of Jesus. Later, the religious leaders threw them out. Until a new convert gets thrown out of their church, there is merit in allowing him to continue to use his former relationships to bring others to know the Lord. Unfortunately, many Christian missions these days plant churches even where there are already healthy churches. This usually results in fractures in the Body of Christ and in human empires being built at the expense of God's Kingdom.
For instance, in Romania, I have witnessed many fundamentalists, both missionaries and domestic laity, create division among the believers. This is caused by directly or indirectly communicating that Christians who are Orthodox, Catholic, or another type of Protestant must leave their church in order to be "true" Christians. The fact that some of these have taken the Perspectives course "15 times" demonstrates that acceptance of other believers is not something that someone learns easily.
Non-acceptance of other groups violates a fundamental principle of Christianity and is the definition of the word cult. (Of course, everyone defines the word to exclude themselves, deconstructing the English language.) Winter calls the understanding of the practices of other cultures "the most important single issue in evangelism today." (Winter RD. "The New Macedonia" Perspectives: A Reader. op cit, p. 351.)
"It is a clear-cut apostolic policy against forcing Christians of one life-style to be proselytized to the cultural patterns of another. This is not a peripheral matter in the New Testament. True circumcision is of the heart. True baptism is of the heart. It is a matter of faith, not works, or customs, or rites."
Many evangelicals have attitudes that are anti-Orthodox and/or anti-Catholic. We would better overcome our prejudices by examining solid research and by practicing love. We have a lot more in common than many want to admit.
Instead of creating a separate Christian culture, the saints that have preceded us tried to make Christianity pervade the culture of the people.
"Paul's letter to the Galatians...shows us how determined he was to allow the Galatian Christians to follow a different Christian life-style. Thus, while we do not have any record of his forcing people to meet separately [from the Jews], we do encounter all of Paul's holy boldness set in opposition to anyone who would try to preserve a single normative pattern of Christian life through a cultural imperialism that would prevent people from employing their own language and culture as a vehicle for worship and witness. Here, then is a clear case of a man with cross-cultural evangelistic perspective doing everything within his power to guarantee liberty in Christ to converts who were different from his own social background." (ibid)
If a Christian leader wants to promote effective evangelism, Christian liberty, and avoiding pride and division in the Church, he should probably focus on bringing the new Christian to some level of maturity. Then, the new believer can re-evaluate their associations under the direction of the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Someone whose goal is, as one missionary wrote me, "to bring Orthodox to the Lord" has no place in the mission field. Such a person's sending mission has a hole in their screening process.
Go to Part 2