5 Questions I’d Ask a Missionary Before I Supported Them

I’ve rubbed my boney shoulders with lots of former and current missionaries, been through 2.5 years of cross-cultural training through New Tribes Mission, and have heard of some of the most beautiful examples of the Body of Christ in an indigenous context among people who, just a generation ago, were afraid of the spirits.

Unfortunately, in Papua New Guinea and even among the people group where I work, I’ve witnessed the destruction that untrained, undisciplined missionary-efforts cause on cultures and lives.

Here’s a quick example:

Around our village years ago, 6-8 different denominational “churches” were planted at different times in hopes of saving the nationals from their sins. Without learning the heart language and culture, and hoping to work faster rather than building a solid foundation, they quickly marked national pastors, gave them some Bibles in a trade language, and claimed to get people “saved.” I’m sure there were wonderful photo opportunities, and the message sent back to their home church was “Mission Accomplished!”

Not so fast, Jack.

They didn’t do the work of evangelists, because the message the nationals heard was completely different than what the missionaries intended to communicate. Interview any one of these church leaders and 100% will tell you that salvation comes through participating in church activities and following each denomination’s pet Laws.

In one church, as long as you avoid smoking and come on Sunday, you’re saved. In another it’s firmly believed that white people killed Jesus on the cross and got all of his power and the key to material possessions. You’ll find some “church” leaders called upon to remove evil spirits from land that will accomodate a new home in the near future. Some of these men will participate in sorcery killings.

These were well-meaning missionary efforts, but the damage that was done has lasted much longer than the good fruit produced. “We’re good people,” one man told me. “We follow God’s Laws and have all heard God’s talk.” This, coming from a man who just the month prior to our conversation beat his wife to a pulp.

If a missionary isn’t willing to slow things down just because he wants some quick, shoddy results and cool Facebook pictures, the dude needs to reevaluate why he’s even going overseas. Truthfully, between you and me, it would’ve been better if he hadn’t gone at all.

If I were thinking about supporting a missionary, here are 5 things I’d be asking first:

1. Have they been trained for cross-cultural ministry?

Individualistic Societies vs. Community, Time-Oriented vs. Event-Oriented, Modern vs. Animistic — if a missionary hasn’t done the work to deconstruct the way he’s sees the world versus a man in a hut in a 3rd world country, he will make all kinds of false assumptions. How do you learn culture to appear more natural? How do you learn a new language to sound less foreign? How do you introduce and teach an entirely new Biblical worldview in order to replace the old, faulty one?  Does he know how to translate the Bible in a way that communicates truth?

Every missionary will make mistakes, but to avoid the long-term, destructive ones, they need to be trained well, and meet some people along the way who have done it. I expand on the “yuuuuuuuge” -ness of training here.

2. Have they received a Biblical education? 

This one is obvious. Your missionaries should be comfortable and able to defend their theological bend, and should have been taught the full counsels of God. Not only that, an accurate understanding of suffering, marriage, ecclesiology, and Satanology is absolutely necessary for your missionary’s long-term prospects.

3. Will they learn the culture and the language first?

Imagine if we hadn’t learned that our people believe that whites killed Jesus on the cross. The implications and horrific misunderstandings we’d see later would be astounding.

Language and Culture are inextricably-bound, so if your missionaries insist on teaching in English, miscommunications will happen all over the place, and when they least expect it. Teaching and ministering in the heart language should always be preferred over secondary languages, for communication’s sake!

4. Do they teach the Bible chronologically? 

God revealed Himself progressively to mankind, laying the foundations of His character, sin, Satan, and substitutionary atonement way back in Genesis, gradually adding more revelation over time to provide a clearer picture of the reality of the world.

This method takes time, but we want our missionaries to be master-builders rather than slapping together a few pieces of sheet-rock and cardboard, don’t we? This is key.

The vast majority of the world is animistic, that is, they believe the world is controlled by spirits that must be manipulated to achieve material wealth and harmony. To jump into the middle of the story of Jesus is to assume they already know what sin, death, and an all-powerful God is. Rather than uprooting the old worldview, your missionaries would be tacking on a Christian vocabulary to an animistic one, causing an innoculation to the truth.

People that seek to manipulate “God” for material wealth and harmony through power words and witch craft are not actually functioning as church. Yeah, we want to avoid that.

Are they teaching with translated Scripture so that the authority is God’s Word and not the missionaries? That’s a big one.

5. Are they making disciples or making dependents?

Do the people love the missionaries more than the Word of God? Would the church completely fall apart if the missionaries gave over the teaching to national, capable, believers? Are the missionaries ministering in a way that is replicatable, or do they use forms that, if the missionaries left, would be lost?

How do the people in the church identify themselves? Do they see themselves as the Body of Christ or members of the rich American’s church?

Finally, will your missionaries work hard to see their people reach their own people with the truth of God’s Word?

Well, these five questions are a pretty good start, and any missionary who’s done his homework won’t be bothered by these questions — he’ll be encouraged, and excited to inform and educate you.

What do you think?

Read: Why I Would’t Support a Missionary Who Hasn’t Been Adequately Trained

72 comments

  • Reblogged this on Church Set Free and commented:
    Doesn’t matter what denomination, covenant, communion of Christianity you subscribe to. In fact, much of what is said here applies to “domestic mission”, “home missions”, “community-based” work as well. These are important questions to consider in evaluation ANY mission support.

  • Hi Justin, I really enjoyed the article and have re-posted it. Just a note on your comment on Tok Pisin being “baby talk like”…it isn’t:-). It is a fully developed language that can communicate any truth that any other language can communicate. In many parts of PNG (and possibly some places in Chimbu) it is people’s mother tongue, or at least one of their mother tongues and would be a very acceptable means of communicating the truth. The problem with many denominations is not so much their use of the trade language, but the other ideas you have mentioned–methodology, lack of cultural understanding, denominationalism, etc. Even if Tok Pisin isn’t a person’s mother tongue, people can still be saved and discipled thru it (my guess is that most of the Papua New Guineans in Heaven will not have been saved thru ministry in their mother tongue–I even know a Kuman woman here in Wewak who gives a very clear gospel testimony and has never been taught God’s Word in Kuman). Any, all that is just being picky about one little phrase out of an article that was very good. Thanks for sharing.

  • Just found you from Little Monk’s reblog. Wonderful information and obviously wisdom borne of experience. May I add that your insights are also applicable to any people group or subculture within a large one. As Christians, we must learn to increase the intersect of the Venn diagram with the group we seek to influence with Christ’s truth–this includes generational gulfs, economic differences, educational, etc. As Paul says, “I become all things to all people….” Thanks for such a great post.

  • Great article, Justin. I agree completely. I’m so thankful for the training and experience I’ve received through working with NTM. I’m finding that many US support Christians (like my current role) have very little understanding of tribal missions. Your concise article does a good job of explaining the other side of the story, the side beyond some cool pictures of nationals with their hands raised. Keep up the good work, both in Kuman and in writing 🙂

  • Excellent thoughts for anyone considering supporting a missionary. And it helps if the missionary sending organization has a “corporate culture” that matches these principles as well. Resources are too scarce and the Gospel too important to just rejoice when anybody, anytime, goes anywhere. Yet many of the denominational missions agencies want us to simply sit back, rejoice, and send the cash. I think we need to know the theology, philosophy, training, and skills of a missionary before we invest funds in his/her work because those funds could be supporting another missionary that would give lasting results. –and I’m glad to be supporting the Bullingtons!

  • Good food for thought.

    I think these 5 questions relate well to the strategic ministry focus. I think they do reflect a rural, unreached context and don’t necessarily apply completely to urban, globalised, unreached where culture and language are much less well defined and learning language may not be necessary if there are competent go betweens. An understanding of culture is critical as is a solid theological background. Chronological Bible teaching is often difficult where people already have parts of the Gospel and the teaching needs to start where people are at. The disciple / dependant distinction remains critical regardless of the context.

    I would also want to ask some questions about their ability to work and relate to others and their commitment to maintaining home base support. The longevity of missionaries often hinges on these two aspects.

    • Colin, I grew up as an MK in the largest city in South America (São Paulo), and have ministered as an adult, in Rio, as well. While you can do some initial evangelism in English, you will really struggle to fully disciple people in Brazil, even in a very white-collar, urban context, over time, if you don’t “bother” to learn Portuguese. You will not fully get the culture or the thought processes and such if you are not reading and thinking and doing life with people in their own heart language (in person, in social media, reading, writing, listening, being a part). It just is not going to happen as a general rule. Using a go-between, long-term, is not an appropriate solution. This article was written from a rural background, but the same holds in an urban context, even in a megalopolis.

  • Language is a hard barrier. It takes for a person years to master a local language. In this period, everything one needs to be an effective missionary might be learned. Missions does not happen overnight. Even people who went early returned permanently. Others just stopped. Those who stayed long were not that effective. Others returned to encourage and support others who go. There are no tried and proven ways except the language learning.

    On matters related to culture. Both the believer and the missionary strike a harmony of understanding and tolerance. This is not really a major hurdle. There could be adamance on those who became Christians but the love of Christ can reconcile both. Of course, there could be divisions and those who came to Christ might separate for whatever reason. The outcome though remains the same. Everyone is a faithful steward. No one gets discouraged because of cultural differences.

    Churches should send missionaries. That is the goal. Denominations might be the approach of some but this solution is never an excuse for responsibility. You should feel personally responsible for the missionary you help rather than psychologically think that a denomination will catch all the problems.

    Checking ourselves against the New Testament is our constant attitude towards God.

  • Justin, I taught missions for 16 years at a seminary after serving for years in Zimbabwe, learning the language, and seeking to train leaders indigenously and contextually. Thank you so much for the powerful, succinct, yet critical article.

  • i’ve been on the receiving end, expected to “produce.” Some agencies want results to justify your presence there. Otherwise your support gets cut off.

  • I am all for the chronological Bible teaching and always recommend it to other missionaries as well but sad to say the response is quite often that “it tales too long”. It seems that some missionaries are just not willing to take the time and do a thorough job. Neglecting to do so will be at their own as well as the new church’s peril.

  • Hey Justin! would you like to join me and a few other friends for a live video broadcast on this topic 1/4/2016 at 9am PST on Blab on the topic: “Stop Sending Missionaries! Why More Is Not Always Better”? here’s the link: https://blab.im/david-joannes-stop-sending-missionaries-why-more-is-not-always-better would love for you to share your thoughts. if you want to join, email me at davidjoannes@gmail.com or just follow me on the first link. Great article btw!

  • I agree strongly with 1,3 and 5. But, the 2 depends… Jesus did not require a theological education for his disciples. In fact, wherever they went the same thing was said, of them, these are unlearned men. I’ve seen some of the most amazing movements start from people who have simply started a simple discipleship movement. While I do have my masters degree, I see some of the most practical and reproducible ministry models come from those with the least theological education, who simply focus on the word, and applying what it says. The book “contagious discipleship” explains some of what my friends are doing. Another is “miraculous movements.”.

    4 depends on the culture. I agree, chronical is best in many cases, but I’ve been in some cultures where starting from Ecclesiastes is best. It depends on the people group, and their understanding of God. Myself, however, I choose chronological.

    • That’s interesting since 2 is the most important. It doesn’t matter how wel a missionary has cross-cultural training or how well they know the language if what they are teaching is faulty, it can cause a lot of damage or in the case of the gospel it can render it useless. Consider Galatians 1:8-9. I’ve served on the mission field for 10 years and observed many ill-equipped missionaries pushing false doctrine with with some good doctrine. It is not a pretty sight. Now maybe someone who is on a short-term mission trips can just focus on preaching the gospel, but I don’t think that is the type of missionary this author of this article is speaking of, else why would he be emphasizing learning the language, the culture and t aching the Bible chronologically? He seems to be speaking of long-term missionaries and as such one cannot just preach the gospel and walk away, he/she must be committed hing the full counsel of God on all matters of life. The Bible doesn’t just teach the gospel and then be silent on all else…neither should we, and ANYONE who plans on being a full-time minister, even a missionary must be theologically prepared for the sake of those who he will minister to. Let’s consider it in a more secular way…if you had a life-threatening heart condition would you go to a “cardiologist” whose only training was attending a 6 month vocationally course on the cardiovascular system? As for the disciples, they knew the Septuagint and they heard first hand all the words of Christ and we’re both appointed and empowered to teach them in a way that others were not. In addition the scriptures were not competed at the time they were appointed, but we’re still being added to through them, which isn’t anything we can claim today since we have the full cannon of scripture and none of us are being used by God to add to it. Scripture does not take the role of teacher lightly and neither should we. Consider 2 Peter 2:1-2, James 3:1-2, Titus 2:7-8, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and 2 Timothy 2:2.

  • I praise God for the Christian And Missionary Alliance. Not only are the missionaries trained as you cited, but they are salaried so that they are able to evangelize without the pressure of “producing results.”

  • I would ask the question – how long do you plan to stay where you are going? If you have already decided that you will be there for 3 years or 5 years and then move on – not a cent. Every situation is different and no one knows how long it will take to learn language, culture, etc. and do the work that needs to be done.

    • Yep, these days, in a rapidly changing world, a lifetime commitment is crucial. Eventually, when the church is mature and stable, then the missionary needs to be absent for the sake of the church’s growth and sustainability. But until then, the missionary needs to be able to express the “why” behind leaving: because he/she is Christ’s slave and no longer his own. Once that is expressed, leaving for reasons other than health becomes more of a “loving the world” issue.

      • “But until then, the missionary needs to be able to express the “why” behind leaving: because he/she is Christ’s slave and no longer his own. Once that is expressed, leaving for reasons other than health becomes more of a “loving the world” issue.”

        As someone who served on the mission field for ten years and has just recently returned home, I have some input to offer there. Being a slave of Christ doesn’t mean that we don’t make our own decisions based upon observation, reasoning and circumstances, but that the decisions we make are done in a righteous manner and to His glory. It would be great if God sent us a text message giving us exact instructions for every decision we will make that day, but unfortunately that is not the case.
        Consider Galatians 2:20. We are dead to sin and Christ lives through us but we still have our faculties and are expected to use them. In doing so, there can be many righteous reasons why someone might chose to leave the mission field.

        I thInk it is wrong to assume that in every case a young man who feels a call to missions and pursues it is more diligent in his obedience to God than that same more mature and experienced man 20 years later who feels it is time to make a change by leaving the missions field for a reason other than health. In doing so you are judging the decision itself rather than the man and his motivation for making such a decision. An on top of that you are assuming that God never brings such a change to someone’s path for reasons other than health.

        Considering that all Christians are slaves to Christ It seems kinda strange to me to single out missionaries by suggesting that a missionary who wants to change his career path for reasons other than health is guilty of loving the world. Would we say that of a Christian college student who changes majors, or of a Christian financial advisor who changes companies or decides to go back to school for another career path? Are missionaries more of a slave of Christ than those serving God in their secular careers or in spite of if? Are missionaries required to be more obedient to Christ? Are they automatically more accurate in initially choosing their career path than anyone else (there are people out there who are missionaries who probably shouldn’t be missionaries in that specific capacity).

        I think more grace should be offered on that topic. I hope I’m not coming off as too harsh. I just wanted to challenge your perspective and offer some things to consider. But having said all that, I like your article. Those are good questions. I’d alter them some based upon the circumstances since countries, ministries and missionaries vary which I’d offer further explanation is asked. I’d be a stickler for number 2 though.

  • Hey, I just wanted to say that while in principle I agree whole heartedly with what you’ve written here…I’ve seen first hand the damage that can be done when people don’t take the time to learn ….I feel like you missed out on a huge area… a person can do all you’ve mentioned but if they don’t love the people they serve, then what’s the point? Also Jesus said to “go” share the good news but the work of salvation is God’s, not ours. It is the Holy Spirit of God that will bring understanding. You could study a culture for the rest of your life and never be truly ready to share the gospel in the right way…I just think there needs to be balance.

    • Love is necessary, Amen. But it has to be Christ’s love working in and through us through faith, our new, resurrected man. We lose our love for the people when we’ve taken our eyes off of Christ.

  • What an excellent article. Well written, Justin, and as a local personnel officer of a reasonably large international mission agency with sending entities around the globe, I couldn’t agree with you more. Language and culture acquisition are prime requirements for missionaries who are sent, to the point that in some situations, no ministry will be undertaken until they are proficient enough in the heart language and are able to understand the culture. Unfortunately in some circumstances, the church does not understand this and I can empathise with Mike McGuire having been on the “receiving end” of this misunderstanding of the church (a generalisation). I believe that some Asian churches are notorious for this (also a generalisation).

    With regard to theological preparedness, one can’t overemphasise this enough. Granted, there are many well gifted and capable people in the field who the Lord has used to proclaim the Gospel who have not had the benefit of a structured theological education, but in response to Derek’s comments, with respect, the disciples, though being unlearned men, were trained by The Master Himself. One can’t get better training than that.

    Justin, thanks for a well written article (that I picked up through one of our missionaries serving in Senegal). May the Lord bless you in your service to Him.

  • These are excellent and important questions, but as a fellow missionary they would not be my first five. Here’s my five plus one:

    1. What is your devotional life like?

    If your walk with Christ is half-hearted and not maturing, you’re in for a nightmare on the field. Stay home.

    2. Would the people who know you best describe you as someone who is equally capable at listening as you are at sharing your opinions?

    Coming onto the field with a fixed set of seminary answers for every foreseeable circumstance can actually be destructive. Relationships are a give and take and we need to approach the task as lifelong learners. We will especially have more to learn from national brothers and sisters than we ever imagined.

    3. Have you ever worked a secular job for more than a year?

    If you haven’t held down a job with a boss who had certain expectations (and bonus points if it was a job you didn’t like; double bonus points if it was manual labor), it will be difficult to learn the disciplines that come with such experiences in a context where there is frequently less accountability.

    4. Are you going with an open-ended commitment and a long-range outlook?

    Nationals can smell if you’re in it for your own glory, if you are just looking to scratch an itch, or if you’re padding a resume for a stateside church position down the line. If you are going to a place Christ has not been named, expect to be buried there and be surprised if you are not.

    5. What experiences have you had working as part of a team?

    Knowing how to negotiate relationships on a team is essential. No one should do this work completely alone. Even the Apostle Paul had companions.

    For married people:

    +1. Tell me about your spouse’s commitment to this work?

    • As a missionary who has been on the field for thirteen years, I have to say this list is the one I would support wholeheartedly. It’s practical and addresses key issues. Real life experience and the ability to walk humbly with God on a daily basis is what separates the servers from those who do harm.

      • Thanks for reading and the kind words, Tamara. Humility to acknowledge failure and the need for Christ are essential to Christian character.

  • I note no one in the article or comments has yet offered what I would ask first (and do on a regular basis). What percentage of the money is spent directly toward the object of the mission, vs administrative, fundraising and other costs? In financial terms, that’s called program%. The most reputable and effective charities (all types) spend less than 15% on themselves, with the rest going to whoever is being helped.

  • Yes! And I’d want the missionary to know that I understand his job is obedience to God, and not to a chart or some results; that I get that other missionaries might learn the language faster or be sick less; that I know that it’s really God’s job and God’s choice how He uses His missionary. Because over-arching the whole experience, He is conforming them to the image of Christ – and that’s not always pretty.

  • I do not agree with the point about “do they teach the Bible Chronologically.” That is ridiculous. The Old Testament itself in the Hebrew format is in a THEOLOGICAL order teaching about the coming of the man called, “Salvation” AKA: Yeshua/Jesus. Claiming the Bible has to be taught in a Chronological order is preposterous.

    • So teaching Genesis 1-3 first to a people who believe the world came from an egg hatching is preposterous? Just jumping to Jesus without teaching the Creation narrative to these folks would be awfully confusing wouldn’t it?

  • All I can say after 17 years of missionary work is you hit a “home run” Great article and very true. I personally have seen much deception and Tom Foolery that takes place in the name of missions. Thanks for your input and validation to those of us that are doing work of God in foreign mission. God bless you.

  • I think Paul said it best as ‘ becoming one’. You really do not have to be fluent in the language, just be willing to humbly admit you need help and willing to learn. In fact humility is your best calling card. Remembering the heart of man is the same the world over. Do not support a missionary if you are more concerned with them promoting your temperal kingdom instead of His eternal kingdom.

  • Great series of questions, great article. I am a missionary and believe your questions are right on. Thank you!

  • I loved the article and it really makes you stop and think.

    I sent my son on a mission trip to Haiti when he was 16. The youth directors leading the trip had been about 6 times and really encourage him to go. There wasn’t much prep work as far as preparing for the trip. I lot of social media and money request but no real work . While on the trip the youth directors bought him alcohol and when he declined they began to tell him all the youth that do the trip do it.
    The was no consequence for the youth directors in fact one is in sementary school now because of her missionary work in Haiti.

    I regret ever sending him. We did nothing to help anyone except add another trip to the youth directors resume.

  • After 10 years serving as a missionary/teacher in Southern Africa, my experience shows me this: The Word of God trumps all culture – always and everywhere. Most Southern African countries claim to be “Christian” nations, but sadly the word “Christian” is flippantly and ignorantly used. If the evangelists and ministries of old had placed more focus on Discipleship vs converts (decisions for Christ) Africa would be much stronger spiritually. Learning a culture is not required or biblical. When any aspect of any culture (including the U.S) is contrary to scripture, Christians need to point out the error (in love) in accordance with scripture. We are all using (supposed to be) the same play-book (bible), so why is there such a difference in Christianity?

    • Deryc–I believe that it is in the best interest of a missionary to understand the historical and cultural background of the people he or she is ministering to. It will help to address areas in which the culture is unbiblical if you know what the culture is. For example, if you don’t know that men often have their legal family AND a lover who bears legal children to him, you may not know to address his responsibility as a believer to cut off the sexual relationship with the lover, while choosing to support their children they have had together GENEROUSLY and fairly. This is how doctrine plays out in real life. But if you don’t know this is part of the culture for a long time, you may not address it as soon as you should, and you might not even realize it before you baptize the man. And how do you deal with the women in your congregation in this situation? Will they be allowed to be members? What if they continue having a physical relationship with that guy? And that is only one tiny cultural issue we have in Brazil. You can learn more about a particular cultural history to find out why this practice is considered acceptable, but you don’t have to. I will say, this particular practice is one that came with the colonists over 500 years ago, and it is not a result of the 60’s American sexual revolution! It is also good to understand how race and color figure into the situation I just mentioned, because in many cases it DOES. (Male white privilege/black woman/little historical power and ability to say no, etc…marry the lighter woman when “financially” settled and done with education, keep lover(s) on the side, etc…women get support for the children by continuing to have one-night stands at motels, which are rented by four-hour blocks, etc….)

      Some things like whether a person should be addressed about a problem in person or through a mediator, whether people should be addressed corporately or individually, and many other cultural things are areas we should seek to know about the people we seek to reach in order to reach them effectively. What does our body language say? Some common American hand-gestures are very obscene in other places, such as the American OK sign. Should a man speak directly to a woman who is not his wife? Social cues are important.

      Paul ministered cross-culturally, and he was himself a TCK (Third Culture Kid). He ministered to people as they were, whether free or slave, whether under the law the Jews were bound under, or as one who was not bound to the Torah. Obviously he had some understanding of what each of these cultures and mindsets were. (I Cor 9:19)

      I do agree that you can’t spend all of your time in cultural study, without spending time in the Word, and without allowing the Word of God to flow out of you as you minister to people, but I would encourage cultural understanding, so you can better communicate the Word.

  • This is a wonderful list for ONE type of missionary — those sent to evangelize. As someone who worked alongside local Christians in East Africa for over 8 years, missionaries aren’t only sent to reach the unreached. We worked alongside amazing Christian leaders in Uganda but we had other gifts and experiences to offer in administration and capacity building that allowed us to assist in building the existing church. I know many missionaries like us who are called to partner but there is still the assumption that the only true missionaries are evangelists — in fact, we were told by someone that we were not “real missionaries”. In a case where you are going to support an existing church, the key question is to ask whether you are willing to be humble and submit yourself to the local church leaders. Damage is done when people come in and say “this worked for us in the US” and insist that they know best when they lack knowledge of the local church history and context.

  • Justin,

    I enjoyed reading your article. I think I agree with what you are trying to say; however, I feel unsettled after reading. I am not sure if I know how to type it out, but it seems as if you are saying there is an exact ‘recipe’ to follow to make sure it is 100% okay to support anyone going on mission. Maybe that unsettles me because it seems to magnify the role of human preparation while decreasing the emphasis on God’s sovereignty. I guess what I am trying to say is that if anyone considering going on mission could, in your opinion, successfully answer all 5 questions then there would probably be no one going on mission.

    I have been on several mission trips; while I 100% agree with you that attempting to be prepared is critical and even biblical at that – we must also have a huge element of faith and trust that God will work His will for His glory. I am apart of a community that is often asked to support missionaries; as you know I’m sure, people can almost always justify reasons not to give…I just hope this article doesn’t give people more reasons to aid in that justification.

    Again, I really did enjoy reading your article. I mean none of this harshly and hope to hear back from you on your thoughts.

    God Bless.

  • I agree with most of the above except not sure formal Bible education necessarily produces even a more knowledgeable Bible student, much less a more mature one. One question I would like to see asked ( because we see this abused) is some sort of accountability for ” boots on the ground” – really doing work!

  • I kind of agree with what you are saying but I went to the mission field without training as a missionary (individualistic vs community etc) and the damage that happened where I was working was from those who had been trained lording it over others for those feel good/”I am saving the lost” moments. My initial training was in church leadership and I did some church planting learning from one of my lecturers. I used the exact same principals on the mission field. He taught me that it takes 10 years to make a different/ a change in a community. Your first year is to work out the community (find the culture of the place) and to see the issues and what that community needs. For the next 2-3 years you are building relationships and starting to share the gospel with those around you. You are now beginning to interact with the community. During those years you are also starting to build a core group of believers (either new Christians or older Christians in the area). You also start to begin ministry in the areas of most need in that community. This is the planning stage. By the fifth year you are established but still small with a good core of like minded people. After this point you start training (discipling) yourself out of a job while continuing to build ministry into the community and after 10 years you are one in the community and the work you established starts to influence and make a big impact on the larger community around you as well as the Christian community you have built.

    My lecturre took 10 mins to explain this to me and to this day I still follow it. I have now had missionary training and it has made things a little easier but my first term (not in a mission organization) I used this method to great success and I was making an impact (positive) in a closed culture after a short time.

  • Good article. I think our idea of “mission” gets grossly intertwined with our organizations. Expanding our orgs becomes what “missionaries” are best at…not mission of God. Does God have the same opinion of our “work”?

  • Except they can answer all those questions correctly and still be terrible missionaries. Not that they are irrelevant questions, but I’d ask them about there history with God first. Do they have a prayer life? How has God revealed the cross to them personally, as in do they really know the transformational power of Christ’s blood? You can teach the story of the Bible, but does the punchline really hit home? Are you willing to suffer for or even die for the lost and God’s glory? Is there transformation from light to darkness, does your ministry and preaching have power? I Cor 4:20, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in mere talk but in power.” What is a disciple? Someone who can recite the right verses back and teach others to parrot these verses? Or someone who has met Jesus and follows the voice of the Holy Spirit? Bible school and missionary training can be valuable tools, but they are useless in a vessel with no life in him.

  • Thanks Justin for this well written post. I used to raise similar objections regarding some missionary work. Some perceived me as a missionary hater, because I am one of the people missioned to (I couldn’t find a better term to describe, people like me who are preached to by missionaries). Another issue that still bothers me (I didn’t know about this until I came to the land of the missionaries) is why do missionaries exaggerate their suffering when asking for support from church members. It has been four years in the US and I have listened to more than a dozen missionaries only one said their missionary trip bolstered their spiritual growth, the rest emphasized how awesome they were in doing a favor to the ‘natives’ (I hate that word). One missionary was in village known world over for its beef, but together with a local church pastor they lied that they traveled more than 100 miles to find beef. After heart-wrenching stories of infectious diseases the offering bucket did rounds. I wish we will have more people talking more honestly about missionary work like you!

  • I agree with Justin. However, the large majority of missionaries I’ve rubbed MY shoulders with were honest, capable, language-savvy, and culturally relevant. Most of the people who abused the process of enculturation were short-term missionaries who simply wanted to dip their feet in the missions lake. Of the 10 churches we’ve been instrumental planting and pastoring, all are now pastored by indigenous pastors, fully-trained in the Bible School we built and led for 15 years. Our greatest concern, however, is that future missionaries may want to short-circuit the laborious process of embedding themselves in a country by taking the time to learn the language, study culture, and apply the truths of the Gospel to local situations and peoples. Emmanuel, God with us. May we always be God’s heart, voice, and Word to all those we come in contact with.

  • I would also want to know the accountability process and other support they have in place: financially, emotionally, physically, and very important – spiritually. Do they have someone that is pastoring and shepherding them. The missionary life can be very lonely and good support from the home front is so important to keep the missionary encouraged in their own faith.
    God bless and strengthen all who faithfully serve Him either here on the local mission or on the foreign field.
    Blessings,
    Phyllis

  • i am ernesto rico jose jr and a missionary here in the philippines. I am seeking an assistance from missionaries that are called with the Spirit of Rauch or the messiah our Lord God and Lover… I am in the poor area where drugs are the number one source of doing evil deeds by many people here without the knowledge about the Lords unfailing love, i am also doing a therapy to the sick poors like cancers and paralitics. I am not after anything but a help from fellow workers of the Kingdom og the most high is highly appreciated!!! Shalom lakhem!

  • Excellent article. Things I have often thought about as my heart desires to do missionary work in the coming years.
    Thank you to the missionary family that forward this article to me (THANK YOU).
    Printing out for reflection and future reference.
    Rev. Dolores

  • Please don’t forget that we missionaries are just human. If you won’t support anyone without all the credentials. ..you wouldn’t have supported Jesus or his disciples in their ministry. After all… it’s His calling us that we have answered…not man’s.
    I’m curious, how long have you been on the mission field?

  • I am an aspiring missionary thanks for the info and ideas,,,our closer relationship to our maker and knowledge of Him will see us through,God bless us,

  • “But until then, the missionary needs to be able to express the “why” behind leaving: because he/she is Christ’s slave and no longer his own. Once that is expressed, leaving for reasons other than health becomes more of a “loving the world” issue.”

    Justin, as a brother in Christ and fellow (although “uneducated”) worker in the field I would caution you against such hard line statements. I hope for your sake, your family’s sake and the sake of your people group that if one day you feel the Spirit leading you off the field for any reason other than health, you will leave. If you don’t, you will bring unnecessary suffering.

    Also, I would encourage you to think of a greater scope than just the NTM and tribal mindset of missions. I know NTM well and admire the work they do.

    “Finally, will your missionaries work hard to see their people reach their own people with the truth of God’s Word?”

    Could you tell me how your people are getting the funding to be sent to the NTM training so that they are as equipped as you to reach their own people?

  • Agreed. Here is another side of all of this: being an US stateside missionary is fun and fulfilling, but is also hard work. Oftentimes the things that everyone THINKS as hard aren’t as difficult as the untold things. There are certain aspects we don’t often talk about because it isn’t what most want to hear. Here are a few of those untold truths the Church should know… http://unveiledandrevealed.com/2016/01/11/stateside-missionary-life-7-truths-church-know/

  • Good artical. It would be a good idea to expand some of these to their own post. I think people would read it and as much traffic I think this title will get over five years it might be profitable to readers.

  • We have been missionaries for almost a decade with no plans to quit. My wife is from the country where we serve. She speaks the language fluently and I have learned to speak the language. Not knowing the language makes it almost impossible to share the gospel and impossible to answer all the questions people have. It took us several years to become established in the community we serve. I was a novelty at first, then seen as a source of money or things. It took several years before the unrealistic expectations of the local people (and mine) to wane.

    Our home church that sent us had expectations too. They wanted results to justify giving us support. They also wanted to have control over the ministry on the field of which they did not understand (the whole world does not operate like suburbia, USA). Later the church decided to stop supporting career missionaries and focus on sending short-term teams. They misguidedly believe they can build relationships with people who speak different languages by sending teams for 7-10 days once or twice per year, they do mimes, play with children, give away food and clothes, do prayer walking in the community, etc. They believe they are making an impact in the spiritual lives of the people they encounter. The reports being posted are always glowing and stating how God is working through the team. But career missionaries know better. Imagine a group of non-English speaking people from a foreign country going to a city in the USA and spend 7-10 days playing with the children, doing mimes in public locations, giving away food and clothes and prayer walking around the city. Would any church leader from America say that the team from a foreign country made a significant impact on the community and is building relationships with the people? NO! If anything, it would be slightly higher than sending a team on a vacation. (thus the term “vacationaries”).

    It is wishful thinking on the part of churches to believe that sending short term missionary teams is the same as sending career missionaries.

    Also, it takes a very long time to teach people the message of the bible at a level where they can understand it. There is now a popular practice for mission teams where people are shown five bible verses and asked to repeat a written prayer. In a matter of 15 minutes, a person is declared saved. pictures are then taken and posts are made on blogs or Facebook. At the end of the trip, statistics are compiled and posted. The English only speaking mission team goes home thinking they saved dozens or hundreds of souls in a week, yet, the career missionary only has a handful of believers after years of work. Also, those who were declared saved via short-term mission teams rarely if ever persevere in their faith.

    The questions asked are a good start, but one must take into consideration many additional variables. There is no magic formula to doing missions correctly but Satan is eager to offer many formulas that appear to be effective when in truth… they are not.

  • Justin: I have read your article and having seen the same scenario for 35 years that you have seen I wholeheartedly agree. Until you know why a people do what they do you will bear very little fruit for the Lord Jesus Christ. ( I didn’t say Any,I said little.) One saved,called and sent to bear fruit

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