Friday, October 21, 2016

The High Calling of a Missionary

What does it take to be a missionary today?   The answer is a very simple one: a calling.  So far away in years from the first time the Gospel was preached, though,  if one were to ask the average church goer in America, "what does it take to be a missionary?" ; they would probably respond with such answers as, "courage", "funding", "training and know-how", a "love for people", or some other generalized rhetoric.

What does it take to be a missionary?  Above all, it takes a calling from God.   Too often in today's clime,  people look at offices in the church, and decide, by singular will or group vote, who should be a missionary, a pastor, a deacon, a teacher or the countless other offices and positions in the church.  They ask God only afterward, to bless their decisions, which are made almost entirely on human rational and preferences.  They like 'Bob' because he is a nice guy and goes along with the flow; they like 'Steve' because he is a successful businessman who will bring others to church;  they prefer 'susan' because she dresses her children well and is soft spoken;  but very few churches truly seek out whether or not a missionary is called.

'Called' people do not all look, act and think the same:  even among the disciples of Christ, one saw the tender spirited John, and the boisterous, 'thundering' sons of Boanerges;  the questioning Peter and Barnabas and the serious Levy.   'Called' is not a personality test and cannot be assessed by a psychological inventory. 'Called' is a selection that God has made,  with the church at hand to discern and anoint a calling.

'Called' is not a preference nor a career choice.  Many people go into missions today as a career option, and why not?  Some mission boards have benefits and salaries as good as large corporations: once I even overheard missionaries discussing about not choosing a mission board because they didn't offer college tuition benefits for their children:  the idea that missionaries should even have the expectations of corporate level benefits shows a new 'lukewarm' attitude towards the Gospel.  While it is not wrong to want or be grateful for a liveable salary nor great health care benefits, nonetheless the 'expectation' that we would not go out into the world to evangelize without OUR requirements being met, shows a faulty understanding of the Gospel, and too often a lack of a true calling.

The Character of a Missionary

Beyond being called by God to do the work of an evangelist or missionary, the character of a missionary comes into play.  Character is not 'Personality'.  Personality and temperament can greatly differ as mentioned above: different people are good at different things:  a studious person may may a good researcher, helper, theologian etc, but a pastor, evangelist or the like one would expect not to be too introverted, or unable to speak before crowds. 

A missionary travelling into different cultures, radically different cultures from their own, cannot be intolerant: cannot shudder (openly) at pagan practices, even if faith in God demands that we have nothing to do with idolatry;  a missionary in a foreign field will encounter even brutal and suggestive practices,  which while they should never receive nor endorse, nonetheless are not even understood as wrong in the other culture:   patience and a lack of condemnation are required of a missionary.

There are basic values and disciplines though, which have to be regarded as fundamental to missionary work.  We know of a couple of missionaries,  who claimed to go to a foreign field, who spent most of their time in the US,  living off contributions, and doing no more than volunteer church work, as any church member might do.   Additionally (a true scenario); they involved themselves in copyright fraud, theft, illegal entries and burglaries, and even in severe beatings of a person who used to contribute to them, who suspecting fraud, committed no more crime, than stopping, and switching their contributions to another missionary.  Another designated missionary to children, from a large church, was found to be under a restraining order to stay away from his former wife and child, and yet was entrusted weekly with the 'children's church' :   my point is that somewhere, even under grace, there have to be limits in Christian conduct for those who represent the church.

A missionary, above all, must be HONEST.  A missionary should love people, even when they are frustrated and angry (you can do both),  and preach and teach in a non-condemnatory way.  A missionary should be expected to be sober, vigilant as to circumstances, knowledgeable about the Bible, and in love with the Lord.  A missionary should stay at least daily in prayer and praise: the spiritual warfare in non-Christian countries is so great,  that today in intolerant countries one can be killed without staying daily in the Word, Prayer, and Praise. 

A missionary like pastors should never willfully strike another human being.   Some people one runs into today make us all understand why and how one would feel like striking another, such as a dirty mouthed, lewd person making suggestive comments about a wife daughter, or these days even a son. Missionaries are to show continence and restraint:  our aim is not to hold up our own righteous indignation regarding our reputations, but the ensign of the Savior.   More than most, I know what it is like to be 'pressed out of measure' and I have fallen apart at times and even outright (at home only) cussed out some people who did outrageous things: not proud of it, but I really understand how evil some folks can get, but when I did, I lost opportunity for ministry and caused distrust more in my reputation than theirs, though their crimes were far greater.  Restraint may be the thing that wins the horrible person to Christ.   I only say this with three fingers pointing backward, and am quite forgiving when a dedicated Christian 'loses it' for a moment or two out of life:  we are up against murder, rape, sodomy, and cruelties which people take time to plan out; against bitter humiliations, career ruin etc.  We cannot confront these in our own strength, but Jesus can.

Among ourselves though (I have a ministry but am not an appointed missionary), we are called to the highest conduct: not just legal and civilized, but to love, to counting one another better than ourselves, to 'going the extra mile', 'dying to self',  the like.  No Christian, must less a missionary should every be caught in a crime or 'busibodyness' which hurts another person.  Grateful that we are saved, that Christ died for us, how could we consider any of such horrid behaviors as getting into someone's back account,  gossiping in a ruinous way,  stealing another person's work or reputation, or ruining another's place in the church.  Jealous?  deal with it: don't hurt someone Christ died for.  Think you are better for a position or promotion?  Take a long look at why the Lord allowed it to happen:  the idea that we are 'better' is carnal and does not show an understanding of God's ways.  Even when we are highly skilled, it may be a heart issue, an issue of unforgiveness that causes one to move forward and one to stay behind: in other words, our great failing in the church today is that we have lost God's way in favor of push and shove.

A missionary should then, be called, full of grace, understanding, temperate and self-controlled, sober and serious, love people , the Gospel and the Lord, and walk in the ways of God.  God's missionaries, walking in his ways accomplish great miracles.  Selfish, carnal people, who merely wanted an interesting job abroad, often cause trouble and make it impossible for real missionaries to reach the field and do a great work.

When Missionaries Should Be Removed

A tough topic, all things considered though, is when a missionary should be removed by a church, from service.   We do not want to remove missionaries because they always where the same blue tie, or because they didn't attend one or two events, etc.  There are however serious reasons when missionaries or any church officer needs to be removed.  I strongly believe, based upon Bible commands, that a missionary, evangelist, teacher, or pastor has to be removed for one of the following:
1. Unbelief and a consistent, long term pattern of false doctrine
2. Immoral conduct, punishable by law or not, including adultery, sodomy, seduction or consistent inappropriate touching or comments.
3. Commission of crime, justly judged.
4. Unrepented criminal slander.
5. Known, ongoing child or spousal abuse:  if it is a difficult time for the pastor, there may be a period of probation, to get help and composure, but failing that, a dismissal.
6. Large scale embezzlement or misuse of church funds for personal gain.
7. Intense violence against a congregate or even against an unbeliever, out of a carnal reaction, especially if repeated.  A minor slap is not what I am speaking of.
8. A serious violation of Civil Rights, particularly of a congregation member.
9. Demonstration, in speeches and sermons of a long standing hatred against any 'type' of person.
10. Theft, theft of work or sermons that is long term and unrepented.

The Church and Missions cannot go on nor accomplish the love of the Gospel and salvation of Christ unless we show, through Christ's power, the effect of the Resurrection:  that Christ, his death, and rising again are real and have an effect in our lives on a daily basis.  Though of another faith, I always like what Francis of Assissi said: "Preach the Gospel in season and out, if necessary, use words."  The point is not that we should ever avoid the verbal out loud preaching of the Gospel, that is essential, but that our lives must show that what we are saying is true.   Church discipline is not a dirty word: terrorizing another Christian or his or her family though should never be heard of in the Church.