Every missionary going to the field must make sure to take four men with him, and leave three others behind. Individualistic Western missionary candidates are often so self-sufficient and satisfy so much of their need for social interaction online that the idea of taking others with them is a new thought and seems intrusive. But each of these men are essential members of every effective mission team.

When Frank and Marie Drown, missionaries to Ecuador’s Shuar indigenous peoples, left for the field in the 1940s, president Gordon Weiss of the Gospel Missionary Union gave wise counsel to the departing missionaries. His advice was not just wise for the 1940s, it is just as pertinent today. He told them that four men must go with them to the mission field: the spiritual man, the intellectual man, the social man, and the physical man.

Take four

Let’s consider these four men.*

  1. The physical man: Missionaries need to develop and maintain robust physical health to survive and thrive in the rigors of the mission field. Changes in altitude, climate, food, water, demanding schedules, exposure to tropical diseases, amoebas, and parasites can sideline or send home a missionary in short order.
  1. The intellectual man: Missionaries who cultivate a keen and consecrated practical intelligence learn the culture and language more easily and with much less stress. Sharpening your intellect to be interested in your surroundings, how things work, and why they are as they are will help you in life when your former social cues, normal routines, and second nature tasks no longer work.
  1. The social man: Missionaries need to love people, enjoy being with them, and look for opportunities to make personal relationships. The ability to make deep friendships out of casual social contacts is profoundly helpful for personal evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and mentoring others.
  1. The spiritual man: Developing a strong spiritual life maintained by regular and consistent prayer and Bible study habits is the most important of these four. Remember that your battle is not against flesh and blood but rather against spiritual powers that are to be engaged with spiritual weapons. Success in your Christian life and missionary career has a lot to do with getting as close to Jesus as you can, and staying there.

Leave three behind 

To Mr. Weiss’s four men who must go with the missionary, I would caution that there are three men who must be left behind: a ladies’ man, a man’s man, and a selfish man.

  • The ladies’ man. A ladies’ man is one who dresses and acts in such a way as to attract the ladies’ attention and seeks to be charming in his interaction with them. They are his focus.
  • The man’s man. A man’s man is one who is so focused on sports, hunting, fishing, and other manly activities that he cannot relate to others such as widows, children, or young families. He is either out with the boys on his latest competitive activity or he is still talking about the last one. He lives to make other men think he is the pinnacle of machismo and manliness.
  • The selfish man. A selfish man is one who lives for his own desires. He is often lazy, gluttonous, wasteful, and spends excessively on himself. He is insensitive to others, eats in front of the hungry, refuses to serve others if it cuts into his plans, or flaunts his money and possessions in front of poorer people. Certainly most missionaries aren’t such an “ugly American.” But some live lavish lifestyles compared to their national friends, drive the nicest cars, put their kids in the most expensive international schools, and openly talk about it all. They justify this lifestyle as what they deserve for so much sacrifice, and never consider how it hinders their impact. A selfish man lives for himself.

Four minus three

Effective missionaries have always found that taking the first four men with them and leaving the next three behind results in the best missionary. Four minus three equals the best one. The spiritual man, the intellectual man, the social man, and the physical man minus the ladies’ man, the man’s man, and the selfish man equals God’s man.

The best missionary will be the one who lives for God with both eyes set on pleasing him, maintaining a heart for God and a mind for truth. When we imagine God deciding to use a man, looking down on earth to choose a missionary, or desiring a man to serve him and others, we should envision this kind of man. Missionaries are men and women of great gifts and abilities, but their strength and effectiveness are dependent on the God who has called and sent them. Be God’s man.

*Both men and women have been, are now, and will always be godly and effective missionaries until Christ returns. This short article is a talk prepared as a charge to a group of deploying male missionaries, thus the references to men and the use of masculine pronouns. Please know that I do not mean to be sexist or to imply that only men should be missionaries. Feel free to exchange specific masculine references for other pronouns, or the word “person,” as you read. These principles are applicable to all missionaries.