The Church has roughly 3,000 times the financial resources and 9,000 times the manpower needed to finish the Great Commission (source).
The growing missionary movement we’re seeing is exciting, but we shouldn’t let the pendulum swing too far, as I’ve written over here. Churches that are becoming increasingly missions-minded should still be choosy in who they’ll offer their support to going forward, because missionaries who aren’t prepared well and dive head first into church planting overseas will cause more harm than good, as I’ve written over here.
So, as a fella’ that has been through extensive missionary training and has seen some train wrecks, I’m doing my best to put together some questions and principles to educate your mission board.
This is what we have so far:
Alright, now that you’re caught up, here’s the next question I asked in 5 Questions I’d Ask a Missionary Before I Supported Them and then 2 major questions about the Bible I would ask a missionary before I supported them. These two questions (setting aside a correct understanding of salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone) to me outweigh all other questions in importance.
Earlier, I wrote this:
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.
These two follow-up questions are paramount:
- What do they believe about their “calling“?
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the missionary cause is the idea and oft-abused notion of “calling” and how it impacts a missionary’s long-term spiritual health. The old adage “What you win them with is what you win them to” is applicable here.
The Bible calls us to preach the Gospel to every tribe tongue and nation, and it doesn’t change, regardless of emotion or cultural values. From the beginning to end, Scripture tells us clearly the narrative we are to be participants in: God expanding the reach of His glory to the ends of the earth through human agents — which was first through individuals, then Israel, and now through the Church. The purpose or calling of the church is made crystal clear in passages like Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8, 13:47, 28:28, Romans 10:13-15.
If your church’s prospective missionaries were won to the work of cross-cultural missions through shallow emotional tactics, then count on their abrupt and permanent return when their love for the people wears thin. However, if their calling and love for the people is rooted in their new life in Christ through faith in the unchanging Word of God, this is a missionary who will be able to stabilize the proverbial ship when it gets real rough out there. They’ll be able to proclaim with total confidence, “This is God’s will for my life — His Word says this is what I’m to be about,” and no amount of suffering and hardship will be able to steal their joy long-term, because their life in Christ as revealed in Scripture was what brought them fulfillment to begin with.
This is what I’m not saying: God doesn’t use emotional tactics and statistics to lead certain people to reassess the direction of their lives. I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t take into account gifting, moments of clarity, God’s providence in bringing influential people into his or her life, etc. I’m simply saying that your prospective missionary should give much, much greater weight to the Bible’s clear teaching on the purpose of the church than subjective feelings when sharing their calling with you.
2. Will they be about Gospel-work or putting out little fires?
Contrary to popular belief, those people aren’t “happy the way they are.” Many of these people groups haven’t been religiousized for quite as long as our Western nations have, or at all. They are, as Romans 2 tells us, a law to themselves, and they break those laws constantly and are guilty of condemnation. Your missionary will see drug addiction, tribal warfare, spousal and child abuse, and all kinds of disease. They’ll be stolen from, lied about, lied to, and made fun of. With all of these social issues, where should a missionary start!?
Well, I suppose they could try to do what we do in the US and try to put out all these little fires one by one. Your missionary could teach on women’s rights and why society does better when women are respected, and then he could focus on teaching 2 principles the following year. Then he could teach people why they shouldn’t do drugs and alcohol. But then in a couple of years your missionary would start hearing that the men are beating their wives in secret again, but when he’s around they hug and stuff. Okay, so now your missionary will need to teach the men how to respect women again. The cycle would be endless.
Yeah, okay, there are a couple problems with this methodology.
First, who is the authority for all of these cultural changes? This people group has been doing this for thousands of years, believing this to be an appropriate way to live, and now your missionary, the Westerner, supposedly has the right way to live. He hasn’t reached their heart, only their behavior — He’s Westernized them, maybe even religiousized them a bit. And what does the Bible teach us about religious people? Their WAY more apt to believe the Gospel of grace for sinners, right? Ah. No.
Which leads me to problem number two: Why fight all those little fires, when the root issue of all of those social problems is sin? Why waste all of that time when you have people dying, separated from God, only to spend an eternity in Hell? Medical work can prolong life so people can hear the Gospel later, but cross-cultural evangelism requires laser-focus: first learn the language and the culture, teach them how to read and write, translate the Bible into their language, then teach the translated portions of the Bible in order to clearly communicate the Gospel. Sinners are going to sin. Moral behavior is just as damnable to God as immoral behavior when it isn’t connected to Christ by faith. So, preach the Gospel, teach the Word, and let the Holy Spirit be their authority and reason for change.
To reverse the order is to assume man is basically good and can improve themselves on their own.. And that’s very wrong.
Okay, the rest is up to you and your convictions about the ceasing or continuing of the sign gifts, the Lordship/No-Lordship debate, Dispensationalism/Replacement theology, and eternal security or lack thereof. Each and every one of these views (and many more) will have implications for the work being done overseas, some way more detrimental than others. But my goal here is not to defend the cessation of the Apostolic gifts. So sorry.
What questions would you add?