15 things every (faithful) missionary needs
Only by God’s kind, saving, and sanctifying grace can anyone attain the characteristics, competencies, and commitments of a faithful missionary.
One of the questions I’m frequently asked by pastors and church leaders is, “What makes a good missionary?” Sending churches, seminaries, and people who support global mission around the world want to know what characteristics and qualities are necessary for effective missionary work. Furthermore, aspiring missionaries also want to know what it takes to be a faithful missionary.
Often, missionaries are described or depicted as “Super Christians” and most people feel as if they could never attain such a standard. So, what is the profile of a faithful missionary? I do not believe that missionaries are “Super Christians” and think we need to answer this question from a different angle and perspective. I like it examine this question through the lens of three primary categories. Characteristics. Competencies. Commitments.
- Humility. The apostle Paul in Philippians 2:1-11 outlines for the church in Philippi what is required of servant leaders. Paul, noting the example of Christ, sums up his definition of a servant leader as one who is humble and is continually putting others interests before his own. Humility manifests itself through selflessness,
- Courage. Moving to a foreign land, learning a foreign language, and sharing the gospel with often resistant people is not the faint of heart. Being an ambassador for Christ among the nations requires courage and boldness.
- Diligence. Sinful hearts do not often change overnight. The missionary task is challenging and exhausting. Mission work requires hard and faithful work over a long period of time.
- Flexibility. Life on the mission field is constantly changing and is often filled with unexpected developments and transitions. The changing dynamics and nature of missionary requires missionaries to be flexible and adaptable.
- Resilience. Resilience is often described as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Due to the difficult nature of missionary work, resilience is a critical characteristic for missionaries to cultivate. There is a sense of toughness and tenacity that is necessary for missionaries to embody as they progress forward in their work.
- Able to teach. Missionaries, as those who have been sent by Christ and the Church, need to be able to teach and share God’s word. This competency does not entail the need to be an eloquent orator or noteworthy speaker, but rather the ability to rightly divide the word and to share the truths of the Scripture in cross-cultural settings.
- Evangelism experience. Missionaries are sent with a message of hope to proclaim to a lost and dying world. As ambassadors of Christ, missionaries must be able to persuasively proclaim the gospel. Personal experience sharing the gospel and calling people to repentance and faith is vital to the missionary task.
- Discipleship experience. The imperative command of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is Jesus injunction to his followers to “make disciples.” Discipleship is primary is the missionary task. Missionaries need to be able to teach and model what it means to follow after Christ.
- Interpersonal skills. Missionaries need to cultivate and prioritize the ability to relate well and interact with those around them. Missionaries are in the people business and as a result need to be able to associate and connect well on a personal level with all kinds of people. Strong interpersonal skills are essential for missionary life and work.
- Analytical thinking. Analytical thinking and the ability to problem solve is a competency that might be curious to some, but is integral to Great Commission work. Missionaries are regularly faced with a host of unique challenges and problems that require analytical thinking and oftentimes creative and innovative solutions.
- The local church. The local church is God’s primary agent for the accomplishment of the Great Commission. Missionaries who are sent out by local churches to plant local churches are to prioritize the role of the local church in the missionary task. A commitment to the local church entails active local membership in place of service as well as a commitment to strengthening existing churches while focusing efforts on establishing new churches.
- Baptist distinctives. Baptist are known to be a people consumed by the Great Commission. A commitment to Baptist distinctives in global mission results in an emphasis and focus on regenerate church membership, priesthood of the believer, believers baptism by immersion, autonomy of the local church, and religious liberty.
- Primacy of evangelism. There is much included under the umbrella of “evangelical mission” in the world today. However, missionaries prioritize the primacy of evangelism in Great Commission work. Undoubtedly, Jesus example is a witness in both word and deed, but the greatest need of the nations is salvation from sin that is only available to those who repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Teaming approach. Teaming is the biblical approach to missionary work depicted in the New Testament. A commitment to a teaming approach entails that the team exists for the work and that there are both pastoral and practical reasons for the necessity of teaming on the mission field.
- Partnership with nationals. Related to the teaming commitment noted above, missionaries are committed to teaming and partnering with national believers. Missionaries understand that they have much to learn from their national brothers and sisters around the world and regard these vital partners as peers and co-laborers in the missionary task.
While the list of characteristics, competencies, and commitments is not comprehensive or exhaustive, it does reflect the core essentials of a missionary profile. The list includes many things that mission organizations and sending agencies look for in missionary candidates. With that said, there will be a tendency for some to examine this list and immediately feel inadequate, incompetent, and incapable of ever reaching this standard. After all, this description above seems a little like “Super Christian” to many of us.
Left to ourselves, none of us are able to meet the standard listed above. Each of us, regardless of age, gender, background, heritage, or vocation fall short of this missionary profile by nature of our sin and rebellion against God. Only by God’s kind, saving, and sanctifying grace can anyone attain the characteristics, competencies, and commitments of a faithful missionary.
So as you look at the profile above, be sure to look in light of the sanctifying power of Christ. After all, being a “faithful missionary” starts by recognizing and acknowledging one’s flaws and weaknesses before the Lord and imploring God to do his transforming work in our lives.
I’m convinced that those who begin from that humble posture can be used by the Lord to do great and mighty things for his glory among the nations.