If one were to scan the globe in order to evaluate the health of world missions, there would no doubt be many good reasons to celebrate, as the Gospel is clearly moving forward in significant ways. But a closer look would also reveal that mission organizations, local teams on the field, and more than a few individual missionaries are not doing well. There exists a good deal of dysfunction at both an organizational level as well as in individual workers. Perhaps this is not surprising, since missionaries are just people, fallen creatures who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Certainly, it is wrong to put missionaries on a pedestal viewing them as super-saints who are beyond the common struggles of the rest of God’s people. But it is equally right to expect that those who are taking the Gospel to lost people must represent the name of Jesus well. One doesn’t need to look very far, however, to find struggling marriages, sexual addictions, issues with child-raising, deeply divided teams, and huge rifts between field missionaries and their leadership. It is not helpful to grumble and complain about all the problems in modern missions, but it is important to take a serious look at the problems that do exist and to examine realistic answers and solutions. What are the problems and issues that are widely evident on the mission field today? What might be some of the root causes underlying these issues? And most significantly, what can be done to help missionaries be strong, healthy, and effective on the field? The goal of this article is to challenge and encourage local Church and mission leadership to have a clear vision for the vital role of the local Church in intentionally preparing and equipping laborers for the harvest, both across the street and around the globe. The purpose of this article is not to condemn but to exhort missionaries, missionary organizations, and the Churches which equip and send them to the field. That missionaries would be servant leaders who guard their hearts, and nurture their teams and those beyond.
In one of Jesus’ many encounters with the Pharisees, He made the point that healthy people do not go to the doctor, it is sick people who seek a physician’s help (Mark 2:17). If modern missions is in a state of relative health and vitality, then there is no reason to seek the great physician for help and healing. If, however, we take an honest look at the mission landscape around the world, what do we find? Is the patient healthy, or are there symptoms that would indicate the need for a Doctor? Even a quick survey reveals a number of symptoms that are prevalent among mission agencies and missionaries across the globe that indicate the need for attention.
Conflict and Strife. The problem isn’t conflict, which is inevitable wherever people interact, but how conflict is addressed and reconciled. “To stifle conflict is to squelch vitality and the capacity for growth and change” (Short & Greer, 2002, p. 109). Matthew admonishes people to be careful and extend grace toward others, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2, NIV). Proper methods of conflict resolution are clearly delineated in Scripture, but these are often ignored even by Christian leaders. Instead, conflict is frequently met with avoidance, authoritarianism, or manipulation resulting in discouraged or wounded workers and diminished trust between missionaries. The goal must not be to avoid controversy, but to rise above it through application of truth. Paul Akin, Senior Aid to the President of the International Missions Board (IMB) noted, “The most common reason missionaries go home is not due to lack of money, illness, terrorism, homesickness, or even a lack of fruit or response to the gospel. Regretfully, the number one reason is due to conflict with other missionaries” (Akin, 2017, p. 1). Worse than the loss of missionaries from the field, this most pervasive reason for missionaries leaving the field reveals a fatal flaw in the exhibition of the faith; for when Christian leaders cannot live in harmony as transformed people, they are reduced to peddling a product that has proven unsuccessful for themselves. Genuine faith leads to changed beliefs, changed thinking, and changed behavior and relationships. Then all things can become new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17, NKJV).
Yet, instead of addressing conflicts directly and for restoration purposes, conflicts are inappropriately addressed indirectly through resentment, avoidance, gossip, and secret meetings that assure a lack of objectivity or genuine resolution. Conflict takes many forms and is most evidently seen in the power approach to negotiation that often includes intransigence, secretiveness, bluffing, threats, or the outright use of force (Barsky, 2007, p. 72). Unfortunately, there are far too many examples of conflict on teams and within mission agencies where healthy resolution is not achieved. This kind of conflict is one of the leading causes of attrition on the field.
Poor Decision Making (Leadership Failures). Mission leaders do not have an easy job! They are working to bring the Gospel to the most unreached people and places, with far too few resources of time, people, and money. They work hard to recruit and mobilize new laborers, and then they must figure out how to legally get them into countries that often do not want them there. Unfortunately, these and many other pressures can cloud a leader’s initial desire to serve God, and drive them into less noble personal or organizational pursuits. For example, wealthy or prominent donors sometimes feel their donation provides an implied authority to dictate how funds are to be used. When mission leaders are inappropriately concerned over financial resources, it can create a diversion from the faithful pursuit of Spirit-guided decisions that lead to fulfilling God’s will and purpose for the organization. Instead of seeking guidance based on the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Scripture, organizations can become overly focused on means and methods – the details of how and where missions should be executed – and lose focus on who missions is about and why missions are engaged. Without direction from the Holy Spirit, anchored in the authority of Scripture, things can quickly go awry. Well-intentioned pursuits can be derailed over personal ambitions, missing God’s plan for the organization and the communities whose needs God has resolved to meet.
When the Holy Spirit and the Scripture are usurped by pressing needs and even good human agenda, then relationships with indigenous churches and with other mission organizations become strained or broken. In general, the consequences are observed in the overall lack of impact. In Thailand, for example, less than 1% of the Thai population identify as Christian after some 100 years of mission work (World Factbook, 2018, p. 1). “Despite the sacrifices of many missionaries and investment of financial resources, regrettably evangelical missions have failed in Asia” (Jun, 2019, p. 68). In the wake of poor decisions, missionaries serving in the field become disenfranchised in the process as they are left to pick up the pieces and try to explain poor decisions that have no solid biblical basis and in which they may have had little to no input.
A Breakdown Between Beliefs and Practice. In the process of approving a candidate for missionary service, a great deal of effort is put into determining what they believe. Mission agencies would not think of inviting someone into their organization who did not believe that Scripture is the power of God in their life, as Jesus proclaimed, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, NIV). But, a person’s theological convictions become rather pointless when their practice and behavior do not match their stated beliefs. Missionaries follow the call to go to foreign lands in order to fulfill the Great Commission by “teaching them to observe all that I command.” But it is a great tragedy if missionaries themselves do not observe and submit to the authority of God’s Word. If mission groups were committed to translating God’s word into foreign languages but were not themselves dedicated to following the Scripture in the process, it would be ironic and displeasing to God. If missionaries refuse to accept the authority of God’s Word and choose instead to impose their own values and authority, then their faith is not in Christ but in themselves (Erickson, 2007, p. 680-681). This, nevertheless, is often exactly what happens. It is usually not so blatant that a person says one thing and does the opposite, but there is often a break down between belief and practice. There are missionaries, for example, who claim to be doing Church planting, lead workshops on the latest strategies for Church planting, and work alongside national Church planters, but they are not personally a part of a local Church, and do not meet together regularly with the gathered body of Christ. (Dunham, Personal Conversation, 2018).
How is it possible that some missionaries and mission leaders do not really believe what they claim to believe? Cognitive dissonance is the state of mind whereby an individual holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. (Craig, 2013, p. 91). The problem is not that they do not say the right thing, but that a person can claim to hold a belief yet at the same time live in opposition to it, often without being fully aware of the duplicity. The result is that one’s behavior and actions do not line up with what one claims to believe. Consequently, there is a disparity between what they say they believe and what their actions reveal. If there is a disparity between what one claims to believe and in how one behaves, then one’s true convictions are always revealed by how one behaves. “The implication of the concept of cognitive thinking affirms that one’s beliefs influence one’s thinking, and one’s thinking in turn influences or dictates one’s actions and behavior. Likewise in Christian faith, one is transformed by faith in Christ into a new creation through an internal awakening. Genuine faith in Christ positively impacts and transforms an individual’s thinking and in turn the behavior of new believer, thus radically changing the person” (Langteau, 2014, p. 15). But, the opposite is also true. When one allows values and ideas to creep into one’s thinking that are not fully in line with biblical truth, one will begin acting and behaving in ways that are not Christ honoring, even while potentially achieving humanly laudable goals.
On the mission field, bitterness, resentment, and an unwillingness to forgive others are far too common. Virtually any missionary would agree that unforgiveness is essentially unbelief, and that it refutes the biblical teaching that every Christian requires undeserved mercy and grace. And yet, it is a common experience that missionaries who feel wronged often deny the extension of mercy and grace to others. When people refuse to show grace to others it is really a tacit rejection of the mercy and grace they themselves are desperate for. Resentment is unfulfilled revenge. Biblically, there is little grounds for expressing dislike and rejection of a fellow Christian much less fellow missionary. Our perfect Lord did not dislike and reject us but while we were yet sinners Christ willingly died for us, (Romans 5:8). The world looks on the outer appearance and judges based on the superficial, while God and His people do not. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b). Dismissive attitudes and disparaging comments betray a heart problem that is prevalent on many teams.
THE ROOT CAUSES
It would be tempting to wrongly identify these symptoms as the main problem. Of course, each of these symptoms create all kinds of problems for those working on the field as well as the mission agencies and the churches that send them. But treating the symptoms is not really solving the problem. It is necessary instead to get to the root of the problem and deal with the deeper underlying issue that is causing the symptoms. What then are the root causes?
The root issue is not a lack of zeal. The question is whether missionaries’ zeal is based on the primary goal of glorifying God, or whether their zeal is for lesser goals as we find in the book of Romans, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge” (Romans 10:2, NIV). “The missionaries of the nineteenth century were men and women of compassion with a deep conviction and desire to save perishing souls from perdition. However, there was a shift in mission strategy from doing missions purely for the glory of God to doing missions to save the heathen” (Jun, 2019, p. 67) The modern approach to missions has become very specialized as missionaries labor with a single focus like church planting, Bible translation, or social justice. These are worthy goals, and important work for the cause of the Gospel. But, it is possible for the most noble goals, even church planting and Bible translation, to supersede the pursuit of God’s glory and this is a critical error. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17 is very instructive about what must always come first in ministry. Jesus began his prayer, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you . . . I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:1,4,5 ESV. Italics added). Modern missionaries may be just as zealous as the pioneers of previous centuries, but is our zeal for the glory of God?
It is also often wrongly assumed that the problem is a lack of understanding which can be solved merely through more academic training before sending workers, or even while they are on the field. Chiang Mai, Thailand is one of the largest mission training centers of the world! Countless seminars and workshops are being offered throughout the year on almost any topic related to missions and missionary care. This training sometimes serves a very valuable purpose in equipping workers for effective ministry, but is often merely addressing administrative or academic approaches to lesser goals. Consider that at the same time, Chiang Mai has also become a major hub for Member Care where workers with broken and shattered lives come for help. These workers have been to many seminars but are often no longer able to function much less do ministry because they have been crippled by the symptoms and problems mentioned above. The extensive amount of training that is being done is not making missionaries more resistant to stress, burn-out, and conflict! That is because training and equipping are not addressing the root causes. At best training is simply managing symptoms, and at worst it is ignoring the real problems all together.
It is the contention of these authors that the root problem in modern missions is a lack of spiritual maturity that glorifies God. Underlying symptoms like moral failure, ineffective leadership, conflict, and strife are evidence that many cross-cultural workers lack the kind of maturity and godly character that are required to deal with these problems biblically and effectively. Knowledge alone is not maturity. In academic circles, success is measured by evaluating one’s knowledge and competence. Perhaps it is assumed that if a person has sufficient knowledge that they must be mature. But this is clearly an error. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees as well as the Scribes had a vast knowledge of the Scriptures, but their pride and failure to grasp who Jesus was were signs of their lack of godly maturity. How are we to understand maturity then? “Scripture… uses the word telios (perfect, mature, complete) to describe maturity… The mature believer is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. His words and actions flow consistently out of an inner thought and emotional life which has been committed to Christ” (Brenner, 1985, p.503). Dallas Willard addressed maturity in terms of spiritual formation. “Spiritual transformation into Christlikeness, I have said, is the process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it takes on the character of the inner being of Jesus himself …becomes a natural expression of the inner reality of Jesus and of His teachings. Doing what he said and did increasingly becomes a part of who we are” (O’Rourke, 2016, pp. 269-270).
Mature Christians live to glorify the Father, as Jesus exemplified. But, when people are not mature, they respond to the challenges of life and to difficult relationships with harsh and uncaring words that lead to strife and conflict. Immature leaders lack the capacity to understand and care for the needs of those they are leading and are unable to make wise decisions that reflect the heart and priorities of Christ. The symptoms described above, and many others that could be added to the list, are all indicative of the pervasive lack of godly maturity among many present-day missionaries.
THE ANSWER IS IN THE SENDING CHURCHES
This brings us to the very crux of the problem. If these symptoms really do describe the condition of a large number of workers on the mission field, and if the underlying cause is truly a lack of biblical maturity in the lives of those who are sent as ambassadors of Christ, then what is to be done about it? Who is responsible to develop potential missionaries to an adequate level of maturity so that they can be effective in the work of the Gospel? What can be done to ensure that workers are on a path toward maturity before they are sent, and then are progressing in that path once they are on the field?
In answering these questions, it is important to be clear about who is responsible for the work and process of bringing about spiritual maturity in the life of a believer. First and foremost, it is Christ, through the mediation of His Spirit based on the authority of His word, who alone can ultimately transform a life and make a person perfect or complete in God. At the same time, each individual follower of Christ has a part in the process. But, this does not mean that Jesus calls each individual follower to disciple themselves to be a mature believer. Disciples do not make themselves! In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, Jesus called His disciples to go make disciples. In other words, those who have already progressed in their walk with Christ to a place of “doing what He said” are to come alongside immature believers and “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The reality that so many missionaries on the field lack spiritual maturity is evidence that they have not been discipled in a way that produces godly maturity in their lives.
Therefore, while it is true that Christ alone can bring about life transformation and that each individual must submit themselves to this life transforming power, it is the ministry of the Body of Christ to be discipling new and immature believers into a godly maturity that can and will be multiplied as these growing and maturing believers disciple others. The entire missionary endeavor is built upon this God ordained strategy, and there will be no success apart from this plan. The current reality, however, is that we are expecting those who have never been fully discipled to a place of maturity to go and produce in the lives of others what they themselves have never experienced. So, this is a call to the Church to get back to the fundamental task of making disciples. The most effective thing any local Church can ever do to engage in global missions, is to make healthy, reproducing disciples at home. Mission organizations and sending agencies do play a critical role in preparing workers for the mission field and for cross-cultural engagement. But, it is primarily the responsibility of the local Church to make sure that those who are being recommended for this work have been developed to a reasonable level of spiritual maturity through the ministry of the local Church.
The discipleship link between local churches and missionaries is critical. Ultimately, missionaries are sent by local Churches, not by mission organizations, as reflected in Acts 15:3. Missionaries are therefore actually an extension of the sending Church for the Great Commission. The link between God’s people within the sending Church and the missionaries on the foreign field must be strengthened and maintained by communication, prayer, and encouragement, because together they are one Body that glorified the Head and reaches out to see others set free in Him
Many pastors and Church leaders may feel that they are already doing a great job discipling those in their congregation. But, we would like to suggest some key areas where work needs to be done in the discipleship process. These are specific areas that relate to the symptoms mentioned above:
- Discipleship That Orients One’s Life Around The Glory Of God As Our Highest Aim.
The primary goal of missions must first and foremost be to glorify God. Consequently, even if missionaries fail in the tertiary objectives (as in the example of Jim Elliot who was martyred in Ecuador in 1956), they can still see the main goal completed as God is glorified. Francis Chan eloquently stated, “Our greatest fear… should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter” (Chan, 2008, p. 92). The focus of missions must be on the “why” of missions instead of merely the “what” and “where” and “how,” so that Christ is glorified and we do not merely succeed at the things that ultimately do not really matter. It is important that a prospective missionary has the proper motivation; is compelled because the harvest is ripe and because Christ commands, is committed to missions for Christ’s glory alone, and is prepared to go (Moreau, 2004, p. 16).
To maintain proper perspective, Chuck Colson had a sign on his desk which stated, “Faithfulness Not Success.” Dr. R. Scott Rodin explains, “It was a daily reminder to him that success in the kingdom of God was radically different than in the world. In fact, the idea of success itself had to be replaced by a radically new idea, the call to absolute faithfulness for followers of Jesus Christ” (Rodin, 2017, p. 1). What are missionaries to be faithful to? First it must be understood that Christ is the head of the Church, he gave the command to missions, and missionaries respond to Jesus’ call. Maintaining the proper perspective focuses and re-focuses the missionaries’ eyes where they should be, upon Christ rather than even noble human agendas. “God will never allow His approval or blessing to become a mere rubber stamp superimposed upon plans and activities concerning which His counsel has never been sincerely sought” (Prince, 2006, p. 278).
2. Discipleship That Provides Ample Opportunity To Demonstrate Servant Leadership.
Leaders must be able to nurture trust that fosters collaborative change. This is “transformational leadership which concerns itself not with power, but the empowerment of others” (Short & Greer, 2002, p. 206 & 207). Servant leadership is based on the core beliefs of the New Testament which Jesus modeled and is transformational. Before moving to the foreign mission field, prospective missionaries should exhibit the biblical requirements for spiritual leaders recorded in 1 Timothy 3. Although specific to elders and deacons, as leaders these traits are also characteristics of effective missionaries. The candidates should be able to identify examples of disciples they taught and of hospitality they showed to others (especially to those who are not their friends), because the lifestyle of serving Christ must be exhibited before going overseas if it is likely to be practiced on the foreign mission field. Candidates must be examined by the sending church and tested according to Scripture.
Missionaries are called not just to fulfill the job description of a particular organization, but to fulfill the high calling of being relational and restorative (reference 2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Pastor Chumsaeng Roeng, the founder and first director of Wycliffe Thailand, explained the need for missionaries to engage and encourage both indigenous Christians as well as non-believers, and confided that he has met few missionaries that were actually willing to do so (Langteau, Jun, Gossett, & Samora, 2019, p. 27). Leadership is a relationship, and effective leadership requires relationships in which individuals know they are valued and respected. “A relationship characterized by mutual respect and confidence will overcome the greatest adversities and leave a legacy of significance” (Kouzes & Pousner, 2017, p. 26). Missionaries are called to be fully devoted to Christ and engage others regardless of the cost, and there is always a cost. God’s economy works through the Body of Christ, because goals are not about personal agenda or even organization’s objectives. The Holy Spirit moves in ways that transcend what secular organizations and financially driven operations could ever achieve. It is about Christ and the authority of the Bible, caring for and supporting each member in the Body while reaching out to those who are not yet in the Body. The biblical perspective is radically different than the world. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19).
Consequently, mission organizations must be led by servant leaders who know the Bible, seek to follow Christ, and who are willing to have diverse leaders within the inner circle who can respectfully share opposing perspectives without fear of marginalization. The human reluctance to be surrounded by colleagues who don’t fully agree with every aspect of the tangible agenda is a mistake that can lead to increasing divergence from wise planning.
3. Discipleship That Tests One’s Commitment To The Word Of God As The Final Authority Over Life And Ministry.
Cultures exist within individual mission organizations. These cultures develop and take on a life of their own in relation to how people interact internally, as well as between partner organizations and with the indigenous church. Remaining faithful to the authority of God’s Word and submitting one’s own cultural values to the Bible are paramount for avoiding error. Shared values are integral to motivating individuals and the group to rise above challenges and personal self-interest. “People simply don’t trust leaders who can’t or won’t disclose or live by a clear set of values, ethics, and standards” (Kouzes & Pousner, 2017, p. 34). A subtle but increasingly incongruous divergence can develop between the biblical call and organizational cultures. Disparity can be observed in how members of an organization interact with each other in ways that become less than productive for the people they are designed to serve, less than glorifying to the God they affirm, and less consistent to the authority of Scripture. Jesus declared, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40, New International Version).
4. Discipleship That Equips People To Value, Respect, And Love Other Cultures.
It can be observed on many mission fields that a significant percentage of missionaries choose to live within Western-style communities and associate primarily with other Westerners. They only occasionally venture out into the throng of humanity for meetings, and afterward retreat into their gated house or community. This is a sign that churches are not teaching and preparing people, before they head overseas, to love and embrace those who are different. Chumsaeng Roeng, an indigenous pastor and the Founder and First Director of Wycliffe Thailand, referred to the impersonal interactions as “meetings and smoke” because the generic conversations never develop into personal relationships, and represented a business discussion rather than a deep spiritual partnership that would have eternal impact (Langteau, Personal Conversation, 2018). The Apostle Paul advocated acclimating to the culture of others when he stated, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1 Cor 9:20, NIV). Likewise, during workshops, some missionaries eat Western food and sit at separate tables from the indigenous people. Those decisions were made by people divorced from the culture they came to visit briefly rather than who lived among the people. By contrast, missionaries who were discipled in biblical missions tend to immerse themselves into the new culture, establish local friends and confidants, and properly acclimate for effective ministry. This approach creates bonds and relationships that grow, and creates the real sense of belonging, which is needed (Winter, 2009, p. 466-467).
It is often assumed that it is the role of mission organizations to teach cross-cultural workers about the regional cultures of the world. This is certainly true, but long before a new candidate shows up for cultural orientation training, they must already have a heart that values different cultures and has a burden to love those who are different from them. For there is only one race – the human race. This must be a part of any discipleship process started in their home church. It is tragic, to say the least, to see how Christians around the world treat those who are from a different culture or language group. Christians are not exempt from ethnic prejudice, and dealing with this sinful reaction to people made in God’s image must be addressed in the process of spiritual formation of every believer. In the modern world there are few places where one cannot find people from another culture. This makes it possible for any Church (or mission organization) to learn from people of other cultures about their beliefs, traditions, and customs. Imagine inviting someone from a different culture to share how indigenous people interact with each other, and how we can better understand their culture. We may find that this interaction is often very different from what was explained in a book or classroom.
5. Discipleship That Embraces Suffering And Hardship.
There are so many things that can be difficult and challenging living in a different culture. Jesus and Paul both gave repeated warnings that following Jesus would involve suffering. And yet, many workers leave the field because they were not willing to suffer the hardships they encounter. Often, the most painful thing turns out to be interactions with fellow missionaries. Discouragement is one of the strings on the enemy’s guitar, and he plays it often. We can expect to face discouragement, just like we can expect to face temptations. Discouragement is faced by all Christians in general but can be especially daunting among missionaries who are isolated from their home church body and from their first culture. As the Body of Christ, missionaries should care for one another as the Apostle Paul exhorted in Scripture, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thes 5:11). Missionaries can also be encouraged by the faithfulness of Christ regardless of circumstances, as both biblical and contemporary examples attest. “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Rev 2:10b, NIV).
“That skinny Townsend won’t last two months!” (Heftley & Heftley, 1984, p. 38). The derogatory words of rejection by the missionary in Guatemala who was assigned to meet young William Cameron Townsend upon his arrival in 1917 were harsh and unloving. Those confidently uttered words proved to be completely erroneous, and Townsend not only remained in Guatemala for well over a decade, he recognized the need to learn the Cakchiquel language and then translated scripture into this language for the first time. Ironically, few people remember the name of the man who uttered these condemning words, but young Townsend went on to establish Wycliffe Bible Translators, and he developed the organization with servant leadership. The result proved, once again, several important lessons, including:
1. The enemy is a liar who rejects people, while God’s mercy and grace in contrast knows no boundaries, and;
2. God’s people must not rely on worldly perspectives which fail to apply Scripture to life. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, yet our opposition sometimes comes from within as well as without. So instead of listening to the voice of men we must listen only to the truth of God’s Word, which tells a different story.
Words of discouragement are uttered for various reasons. Sometimes, as in 1 Samuel 17:33, we read words of conventional wisdom that were nonetheless untrue, “Saul replied, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’” In other cases, as in 1 Samuel 17:28-29, it is far more accusing: “Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, ‘Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.’ And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?’” Indeed, David’s brother claimed to know “the evil of your heart” and from David’s reply “What have I done now?” it appears this wasn’t the first time he was falsely accused!
Charles T. Studd was a remarkable missionary who served in Asia and Africa. Studd also acknowledged people pressured him to leave the mission field but, “He always gave the same answer, that God had told him to come out when every voice was raised against him, and that only God could tell him when to go home. To one who reproved him for not going home, he wrote: ‘Had I cared for the comments of people, I should never have been a Missionary’” (Grubb, 2014, p. 74).
6. Discipleship That Practices Often The Biblical Model Of Resolving Conflict.
The Bible records proper means of addressing conflict directly and transparently, and through progressive steps depending on the response. Addressing conflict should initially and primarily be for the purpose of restoring relationships so they can be won over. If it is not ultimately feasible to reconcile, even then the offender should be treated like a non-believer who is cared for, not like an enemy who is hated. The final review, findings, and dismissal are not done in secret meetings but transparently and openly. Again, Matthew records, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17, NIV).
God’s people who are fully devoted still experience stress in relationships on occasion, but though they may be shaken they keep their eyes upon the Lord. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25, NIV). Few people in the church and fewer still in the world intentionally refuse to be known as someone rich or powerful, but willingly choose to be mistreated for God’s glory. Yet missionaries are essentially choosing to be mistreated. Missionaries ultimately serve Christ rather than people or organizations. The Apostle Paul stated, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10, NIV).
The International Missions Board (IMB) provided three ideas as solutions for addressing missionaries leaving the field over conflict with other missionaries:
1. Missionaries must have realistic expectations and perspectives of teams. Mission organizations are not perfect and consist of sinful people.
2. Missionaries must be flexible and adaptable. Missionaries live in cultures where they have little control over what happens, providing great opportunities for trusting God.
3. Missionaries should be equipped spiritually, physically, and emotionally prior to arriving. (Akin, 2017, p. 1).
Wycliffe Bible Translators USA posted on their Facebook social media page on October 3, 2013, “When prompted to feel anything other than grace towards someone, remember that Paul challenges us to “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another.” —Romans 13:8. Anything else will only cause hurt” (Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, 2013, p. 1).
Missionaries are to be equipped by local sending churches to exemplify the Body of Christ in a foreign culture and among competing worldviews. Missionaries, as all Christians, will be known by their love, reference the words of Jesus recorded in John 13:35. Anyone can tolerate someone who they agree with, but genuine tolerance and hospitality doesn’t exist unless it is expressed toward someone in disagreement. The Bible records in John 1:14 that Jesus came in both truth and grace. Truth and grace are not and need not be mutually exclusive, but if either are real they will be expressed in unison. Love must not be merely in words but in truth and action, as stated in 1 John 3:18. No missionary should leave the field because of another missionary. God is calling His people out of their comfort zones, in contrast to the conventional wisdom or the personal attacks that would dissuade them. Missionaries can expect to be misunderstood or even intentionally maligned along the way, for so also was their Master. Though it may be uncomfortable or fraught with opposition just as was experienced by the spiritual forefathers, missionaries must resolve to glorify God and obey Him alone regardless of the cost. The goal must be above all to glorify God, then to honor and nurture the Family of Christ, and finally to care for those not yet in the family of God. May Christ be honored in all things and may He find us faithful.
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:7-11
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Dr. James D. Langteau is a faculty member of the Peacebuilding Department at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and is a consultant with SIL-International. He is critical incidence/stress management certified, and previously founded and served as the first executive director of the Marinette-Menominee Jail Outreach, Inc. He earned a master degree in discipleship ministries from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and he earned a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Liberty University Graduate School of Education.
Commander James R. “Randy” Blankenship retired from the United States Navy in 2013 after a 28 year career culminating in his appointment as Commanding Officer of the USS Fort Worth. Commander Blankenship graduated from the Naval Post Graduate School with a master degree in Science and Engineering (Space Systems). Randy served in Wycliffe Associates as Areas Director of the South Pacific from 2014- 2015. He led a team of project managers throughout the South Pacific and Indonesia supporting Bible translation efforts.
Pastor Tim Dunham is Founder and Director of the Family Connection Foundation (FCF), a non-profit organization which provides homes for orphaned children, opportunities for better education, and training for families to be stronger and healthier. FCF focuses on Thailand and neighboring countries. He is lead pastor of Chiang Mai Christian Fellowship (CCF) Church in Chiang Mai. Pastor Dunham earned a master degree in counseling from Denver Seminary.
Dr. Ho Jin Jun is a leader in cross-cultural missions. Dr. Jun helped found the Korea World Missions Association in 1990 and served as general secretary from 1990 to 1996. He was the Founding President of Korean Evangelical Missiological Society in 1997, and he was General Secretary and President of Korean Evangelical Theological Society. Dr Jun earned a ThM from estminster Theological Seminary in 1977, a DMiss from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1979, and a PhD from University of Wales in 2000. Dr. Jun is currently Director of the Indo-China Study Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand.