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The Character of a Missionary (Part 3)

by Aramus Crane

Abstract: Our perspective from our missionary work in Romania is that a missionary must have character traits such as reason and flexibility in order to learn what he needs to know and serve God in a foreign culture.

Prerequisite #5:  Education and reason

"You shall love the Lord your God with...all your mind." ---Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:37)

A missionary can also be shocked by the range of education levels among his peers.  Some will be less educated and more closed-minded and some will be smarter and more graceful.  Matthew 24 and Revelations 6-17 imply that apostasy will grow in the Church.  We have seen this from the age of the New Testament church and will see invalid doctrine until the return of Jesus Christ.  

Although the fear of God enables one to be wise, wisdom and intelligence are very different.  So don't count on missionaries being any more intelligent than the common man nor be disheartened when you encounter them.  Each person has his gifting from God and some are not gifted in intelligence.

It is helpful to have a decent level of secular education.  Without having a decent handle on history, probability, statistics, and research techniques, one can draw incorrect conclusions on statistically insignificant research.  We see this in The New Anti-Catholicism (Jenkins P.  Oxford Univ. Press.  258 pp.) so evident in evangelical circles.  In 2002, we saw the media coverage of the misconduct of some priests slide "into much more dubious attacks on the Church as a whole."  Yet, according to research, "sexual misconduct appears to be spread fairly evenly across denominations....  But anti-Catholic attitudes are too ingrained to be displaced by facts" (Lott J. Wilson Quarterly  Summer 2003, p. 118)  

Through their closed-minded denominational pride, many of us Protestants are short of knowledge of church history.  Some think that we were the first ones to translate the Bible into the vernacular language or the ones to introduce the theology of salvation by faith into the Roman Catholic church.  

"Luther produced not the first but the fourteenth translation of the bible into German.  Unfortunately, the marvelous emphasis on justification by faith---which was preached as much in Italy as in Germany at the time Luther loomed into view---became identified and ensnarled with German nationalistic (separatist) hopes and was thus, understandably, suppressed as a dangerous doctrine by the political powers in Southern Europe."

"The issue may have appeared to the Protestants as faith vs. law, or to the Romans as unity vs. law, or to the Romans as unity vs. division, but such popular scales are askew because it was much more a case of over reaching Latin uniformity vs. national and indigenous diversity."  (Winter RD  "The Kingdom Strikes Back"  Perspectives:  A Reader. op. cit p. 210)

It is often helpful for the new missionary to learn the best practices of those who went before.  Similarly, missionaries should learn the essential doctrines of previous saints.  If someone's idea is different from the bulk of the historical church, he needs to find verses to back him up.  Also, he should try to find some logical reason why none of the millions of saints before him thought of it.  If he goes a step further and is unbending in asserting that belief on others, he is in great danger of turning a church into a cult.

To you, this may sound like clear common sense.  But there are missionaries, pastors, and laity, who insist that their little denomination is "God's true church."  Many of them press the fringes of biblical Christianity.  God's Word doesn't pass away. (Matt 24:35)   However, we had better compare what we understand of that Word with the consensus of the saints. Otherwise, we may create a fracture and battles within the Body with peculiarities in our logical processes.

Often, mission agencies search for people that are ultraspecialized.  ThD's excel in academic settings, but many of them have little understanding of areas outside their specialty.  They may not be as well placed in missionary positions.  Missionaries should teach practical Christianity as well as agricultural and domestic crafts, economics, reading, writing, mathematics or other subjects to a people.  For this reason, the Christian engineer, banker, and housewife can make the most effective missionaries.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Salem, North Carolina are examples of areas where missionaries practiced their trades, supported theirselves, but reaching the lost was in their minds through all of their activities.  R. Pierce Beaver commends these people as an example for us to follow today.

"They were to be primarily messengers, evangelists, preachers, who were not to stress heavy theological doctrines but rather tell the simple gospel story of God's loving act of reconciliation of men to Himself." (ibid. p. 246)

One of the things a missionary should know is the social structure of the peoples where you are working.  Paul G. Hiebert divides them into tribal, peasant, and urban.  For more information, see "Social Structure and Church Growth" Perspectives:  A Reader op cit, p. 422.

Prerequisite #6: Flexibility

"To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law--though not being myself under the law--that I might win those under the law..."  The Apostle Paul  (I Corinthians 9:20)

A missionary's duties usually change as the group of believers grows.  He must be flexible in adapting himself to new situations.  If not, he must be humble enough to turn the work over to someone who God has blessed with the appropriate abilities.  A director of Greater Europe Mission told me that they pick one personality to pioneer a work and another when the ministry has grown.  A "Rambo" type of individualist can do a lot of good in the former stage and a lot of damage in the latter stage.  According to Perspectives, there are three stages in a missionary's work:  

Some characteristics of the Pioneer Stage:

The Pioneer Stage is when a missionary makes initial contact with the people group.  This is a time when the missionary must teach and demonstrate love, like David Brainerd, the Moravians, and a host of saints did before them.

Everyone who has ever witnessed to someone else knows that communication can range from easy to impossible.  Establishing that first convert is often the most difficult time because of the cultural difference in communication.  When I first went to Italy, in 1987, I found myself witnessing to a national within a week.  I had almost no knowledge of Italian, so I had a Bible in one hand and an English-Italian dictionary in the other.  The simple bridge diagram took me two hours to share.  That was my Samaria experience.

Ralph D. Winter explains in a very convincing way how Acts 1:8 shows Jesus making distinctions between cultural rather than physical distances.
E-0 (Jerusalem) is when one speaks to people who are supposedly already believers.
E-1 (Judea) is evangelism to people within one's culture but are not church-goers.  (e.g. Luke witnessing to the Greeks­)
E-2 (Samaria) is outside one's culture but within a similar one.  (e.g. Paul witnessing to the Greeks­)
E-3 (the ends of the earth) is in a completely different culture.  (e.g. Peter witnessing to the Greeks­)

Some characteristics of the Parent Stage:

After a group of believers has been established, the Parent Stage begins. In this stage, the missionary trains leadership within the people group.  One of the missionary tasks is helping leaders develop a system to discern the will of God in different situations.  The foreigner will have some difficulty in preventing a reproduction of his home culture.  We also need to help them to be moderates, not going to an extreme.  In many cultures, including the Ibibio people of southern Nigeria and many Repenter groups of Romania, people were converted to Christianity because they saw God as a lenient God who forgives to such an extent that there was no need to be righteous.  (Regarding the former, see Kraft CH.  "Culture, Worldview and Contextualization" Perspectives: A Reader p. 384.  Experiences with the latter are described in "#".)

"Jacob Loewen chose to never answer directly any questions from the new Christians such as, 'What should we do?'  Instead, he would ask them, 'What is the Holy Spirit showing you?'...[When, per chance, they discovered their way didn't work,] they felt free to change it in needed ways, since it was their own and did not come with the prestige that often accompanies the suggestions of respected outsiders." (Kraft.  op cit)

Some characteristics of the Partner Stage:

When leaders have risen up and can run the group, the expatriates partner with the church, thus the name "Partner Stage".  

Modality missionaries have the goal of establishing pioneering works and planting new churches, often where Christian churches are flourishing.  This often creates division in the body of Christ.  In countries like Romania where the Body of Christ is already well-established in the Partner Stage, sodality ministries are often the better methodology.  

"Protestant missions, being modality-minded, have tended to assume that merely modalities, e.g., churches, need to be established...In this blindness they have merely planted churches and have not effectively concerned themselves to make sure that the kind of mission structure within which they operate also be set up on the field."  (Winter RD.  "The Two Structures of God's Redemptive Mission"  Perspectives:  A Reader. p. 228.)

Some characteristics of the Participant Stage

In the Participant Stage, a missionary only comes to work only when invited by the church.  Since this is a stage of a typical American church, the reader is likely familiar with this stage.

Willie Nelson said "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run."  A missionary should know when to tow 'em, know when to grow 'em, know when to walk with them, and know when to leave.

Go to Part 4

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