What A Local Churches Expects From Her Missionaries

Wayne Muri is a pastor in Michigan with a passion for God's glory around the world. Job descriptions are a big thing, and in some ways very helpful.  As far as missionaries go, God himself has written your job description.  Your job is to evangelize, disciple, plant churches, train leaders for those churches, and then repeat.  We have no control over the job description and we dare not tamper with it.  It’s God’s master plan and the only one that works.

Expectations are another thing altogether, which is the topic of this essay.  We as your supporting churches don’t think our expectations are unrealistic, but neither do we want you ignorant of our expectations.  That’s where relationships break down.

So I’m going to be blunt with you and explain exactly what we expect from our missionaries.

But first I have to say this--we’re crazy about you people.  We love you to pieces.  We’re glad to be a part of your team.  We don’t have very many missionaries so you’re in a fairly select group as far as we’re concerned.  There is a lot being passed off as missions that isn’t even close to missions…but you’re doing it right and we’re thrilled with that.

And we trust you.  We have pledged some serious dollars to your support and everything we’ve heard and seen has confirmed the wisdom of our choices.  We think you’re trust-worthy and we have no qualms over increasing your support as we can.  Be encouraged.  We’re in your corner.

Now, here’s what we expect.  Please take these things seriously because they arise from our love and respect and appreciation for you.  We want you to do well.  We want to set you up for fruitfulness and God’s blessing.

We expect you to be courageous; to take risks.  I say that because we view you the same way the American people view their military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.  You are our troops.  You are invading enemy territory.  You have been drafted to serve as the advancing army of the church.  We are the support system for you.

In most instances, Satan has held uncontested sway for centuries or even millennia in the places you are serving.  As a result, their minds are twisted, they’re blind to the truth, and God’s word does not penetrate easily.  In addition, Satan does not yield ground without a struggle, he counter-attacks, and he fights to the bitter end.

We realize it’s a battle…a spiritual battle for the souls of men and women and you must view yourselves as God’s expeditionary force invading the strong-hold of Satan.

But remember the words of Jesus:  The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church.  You are agents of the church and the forces of Satan cannot withstand the power of the gospel you carry.

And do keep in mind the powerful encouragement of the Apostle Paul…Romans 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  [33] Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.  [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?   [37] No!  In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Missionary work is not a day at the beach.  It’s war, and we need you to be bold and courageous and take risks and “snatch them as brands from the fire” (Jude 1:23).

We expect you to resist discouragement.  There is plenty to discourage the fainthearted.  You earnestly desire to communicate the gospel clearly and eloquently, and yet you feel handicapped by the language barrier.  No matter how long you’re there, you’re always a guest, a foreigner, and they don’t take you seriously.  Climate can be a problem, along with Malaria and random other diseases. And then there’s the deadening frustration when nothing happens, there’s no significant results.  But remember Noah (120 years of fruitless preaching); Adoniram Judson (seven long years before convert one); Philip called from a spectacular revival in Samaria to witness to one soul down in the Negev.

Satan wants you to be discouraged; lonely; frustrated; disappointed; angry; depressed.  He wants you to give up.  He wants you to lose your drive, your passion, your zeal.  He wants to stifle your creativity by making the things you try not work out.  He wants your enthusiasm to dry up and blow away over time.

We expect you to be like David when Ziklag burned--he encouraged himself in the Lord, and like Joshua and Caleb—undaunted by giants, and like David facing Goliath—declaring that the glory and reputation of our God is at stake, and like Paul and Silas—singing songs at midnight when your bound in stocks and sitting in jail, and like Daniel—whose instinctive response to the signing of a decree outlawing his religion was to pray to the God of heaven in full view of everyone just as he always had.

If you give in to discouragement and frustration, you are no good to the cause of Christ.  We cannot afford to see our agents on the ground in enemy territory sitting in their tents feeling sorry for themselves when things fall apart.  You have got to be eternal optimists.  Our side has already won.  You still have to play the game but the score has already been posted and the celebration is going to begin any time now.  Always remember that.

We expect you to stay humble.  The great weakness of every Christian is pride, and the additional weakness of everyone in ministry is self-sufficiency.  You have got to maintain a good grip on your besetting sins.  You have to continually examine yourself for evidence of pride and self-sufficiency.  As soon as you start operating under your own power and according to your own wisdom, God withdraws, and you are on your own.  And that’s where you crash and burn.  Don’t start down that road.

Gentlemen—let your colleagues and your wives hold you accountable in these things; submit your spirit to God daily for rebuke.  Stay humble.  The moment you cease to be humble and transparent, God can’t use you anymore.  At that point, you’re wasting time and resources and opportunity on the mission field.  And, you present a horribly distorted picture to your disciples of what Christianity looks like.

Guard yourselves daily against the natural tendency to assume that your way is the best way;  that you deserve appreciation and admiration;  that the nationals you work with are in any way inferior to you as an American;

Guard yourselves from the inherent urge to indulge yourself; to cut yourself some slack; to take it easy; to cut some corners.  It’s human nature but it needs to be resisted with everything you’ve got.  Remember the example of Jesus.  He had a serious job to do but there is no record that he was ever in a hurry. There is evidence that he withdrew from time to time to refresh himself.  But the main thing is--he never wasted time.  That’s why he got the job done in three and a half years.

Work every single day in such a way that at the end you can look back over it with no regrets, convinced that God was pleased at how you used the day he gave you.

Psalm 26:2  Prove me, O Lord, and try me;  test my heart and my mind.

Psalm 139:23-24  Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

We Expect You To Take Care of Your Soul.  Dr. Piper has correctly called this the peril of the professionally holy.  We mediate on Scripture for the benefit it can be to someone else, and over time we end up with dry rot in our own souls.  You must be everlastingly hungering and thirsting for righteousness, ever yearning, like Paul, for the power of the resurrection in your own life, always pressing forward toward the prize of the upward calling in Christ.

Your whole identity and self-worth has to come from Christ, or you will quickly become a people-pleaser; an approval junkie; and worthless to the cause of Christ.

We Expect You To Be Wise Beyond Your Years.  You have to be able to see to the heart of the issues;  to be able to keep the main thing the main thing;  to avoid being dragged down rabbit trails and distracted from your high calling.   You have to resist the tyranny of the urgent;  to evaluate what opportunities to pursue and which to let pass;  to set God-pleasing goals and priorities;  to keep souls and the gospel paramount in your planning.

Satan wants to keep you off balance.  He will try to induce you to give your energy and time to good things, rather than the highest things.  If he can do that, he’s rendered you ineffective.

We expect you to be wise; to exercise Godly discernment, insight, direction.

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  You know what that means don’t you?  No wandering of the main road and getting lost in the woods.  Many have.  We expect you to resist that.

We expect you to take care of your families.  Paul made it very clear that it’s not noble to neglect your family for ministry.   If your wife is wounded in spirit because of neglect, Peter says the Lord will not hear you.   The Proverbs says that you are to rejoice with the wife of your youth, and I can only assume that means both of you are rejoicing.   Paul says that your children are your first disciples, and if they are not growing and changing then you have no business trying to help others.

We expect you to invest adequate time and energy on your family so that they are a help in the war you are fighting, and not a hindrance or distraction.

We expect you to maintain healthy relationships--both with fellow missionaries, and with nationals whom you are training for leadership.

There is much at stake in how missionaries treat each other.  Paul and Barnabas disagreed and went their separate ways, but not with rancor or bitterness, nor did they throw bricks at each other in letters.

Paul rebuked Peter sharply before the council, but Peter received the rebuke with humility and when he wrote his second letter he mentioned that the things brother Paul wrote were, as we all know, Scripture.  That’s a high compliment to pay a brother.

New believers are watching how you treat your wives, how you treat your children, and how you treat your colleagues.  The reputation of Christ is very much at stake as they observe.  They are forming ideas of what it’s like to work and serve with others.

Jesus didn’t pray for doctrinal purity for his disciples when he was approaching the cross.  He didn’t pray for separation or success or safety.  He prayed for unity.  Of all the things that came flooding to his mind for the disciples, unity was at the top of the list.  Unity among the brethren, the same way the Father, the Son, and the Spirit enjoy unity.

The nationals are also very sensitive about whether or not you will ever allow them to function as equals.  Will they ever measure up?  Do you have to be an American to be on par with a missionary?  Will the missionaries ever accept us into their circle of fellowship and trust or will we always be children in their eyes?

Jesus called his disciples friends…and treated them as such.  We expect you to do the same with your colleagues in the cultures you serve.

We expect you to guard your health.  Your body is like an intricately engineered machine, and it can only function at maximum capacity when it’s in good working order.  Don’t squander your health.  Take reasonable precautions.  You can’t be as effective when you’re sick.  God can use us in special ways through sickness, but let the sickness come from the hand of God and not through our personal neglect or carelessness.

There’s more to be sure, but let’s stop with these.  Give attention to these and you will be far more effective than the vast majority of those who call themselves missionaries today.