Missionaries are just adventurers?

“I’m not going to the Missions Conference” said my friend in church. Having just given everything to help organise the conference that hundreds of people came to every year, I was deflated to hear these words from a core member of the Christian community. Why?

“Missionaries at conferences are just a bunch of extroverted adventurers who tell cool stories about their adventures following God elsewhere in the world. I’m not supporting their adventures under the name of Jesus.”

And to some extent, I could see where they were coming from. So many missionaries to gain support, tell story after story of impressive things, in scary situations, or radical moves of God. The story often revolves round them, their work, or their experience, and that’s somewhat natural.

And so many mission teams and people, end up doing things abroad that they would never dream of doing at home, or never think was wise or sustainable to do. Spending your time painting orphanages may seem wonderful, until you rob the local painter of a job. Blitzing the city of [insert name] that is predominantly [insert other religion] with gospel literature before leaving may seem brave and fearless, until you realise the negative impact it has on sustainable work of local Christians.

If those were the missionaries we were having on stage, I might go to be entertained, but equally I might decide to stay at home.

Thankfully, they’re not. For at least three reasons:

  1. Every Christian is a missionary

God is on mission – the Mission Dei. And He calls us along to partake in His vision, which we glimpse as we see His heart in the scriptures, and see His hand at work across the nations. It’s not an optional calling. It’s not a thing for adventurers or extroverts. It’s for everyone, both at home and abroad. And I hope our conferences reflect that – this year, we’d a diverse range of people speaking, from a teacher, to a student, to a golf green-keeper, a church worker, a stay-at-home parent and many more. Forget the scary terminology, or questioning whether missionaries are good for the world. They are. Because we’re all on mission. And His mission is His church, which is the best thing to happen to the world.

2. Every personality type is used in the body

There was a generation who delighted in Myers Briggs personality tests. “I’m in introvert” and “I’m INFP” were things you often heard. Those were very useful (and still are) but often were labels that people hid behind and used as excuses. “I can’t tell people about Jesus like that, because I’m not that kind of person.”

But while respecting the diversity of Christ’s creation, we can’t simply hide behind personality types as a reason why we’re not living and speaking for Jesus wherever we are. Yes, we must cherish the different parts of the body of Christ, value our unity in diversity, and not try and force everyone into the same mold, but we must also always push ourselves out of our comfort zones a little, so that we grow in areas we are not comfortable in. Perhaps that’s what might challenge even the current “Strengthfinder” generation, who like to build on people’s strengths primarily.

It’s why some of the people who’ve left Cork to go on mission to some of the more extreme places in the world, are actually introverts and humanly speaking far from being the stereotypical “adventurer”. And it’s beautiful when God does that – so changing people’s hearts and convictions as to who He is, that they can’t help but radically be re-orientated to His call. It’s who they were made to be, even if that doesn’t seem obvious to them years ago.

3. We must tell God’s story, rather than our own

This is something I struggle with. When does telling an incredible story about God working, actually point to me? Does every story I tell, necessarily have to be about me failing or being weak, but God still using it? I look at some of this in chapter 2 of my book.

And what do we expect of our cross-cultural missionaries….do we ask them to be normal church leaders in a local context, plus have the ability to speak other languages, learn other cultures, thrive amongst other worldviews and perhaps have a normal job on the side too? It’s very hard to say the sentence “God primarily uses ordinary followers of Jesus” when you’ve just said the sentence before it. That doesn’t appear like a normal person to me. That appears like an extremely gifted person (humanly speaking) in certain things, which we could not expect everyone to be. There’s a joke in some circles that love to emphasize how God uses “ordinary” people, that it’s a bunch of extra-ordinary personalities trying to persuade us that we can all be ordinary.

Regardless, every time we organise a conference, we try and excite people, not primarily with big personalities or intrepid story-tellers, but with God’s Word, His work and His story.

The Christian hostel community that I stayed with in Scotland the other night.

Regardless, every time we organise a conference, we try and excite people, not primarily with big personalities or intrepid story-tellers, but with God’s Word, His work and His story.

But it brings me back to thinking….

Perhaps if God uses all personality types and gifts, we should play to the strengths of those who are adventurers at heart? Shouldn’t it be a natural recruiting pool for people who could go to the hardest-to-reach spots in the world where there are still Unengaged People Groups? Sure, we must be careful that this is not the prime reason we pick them – Godly character, a love for God, and for His Church should still ooze from them. But to not tap into the adventurous spirit of many – to overlook travel – is to overlook some of the people most humanly fitted to going.

What if, instead of ranting about travelling people being always on the road, we were to empower them to do what they do well, to the glory of God, and for His mission? What if the way they learnt to love the local church, was to see that their adventurous spirit can be a key part of local church community, without making them feel like they are tied to a chair and strait-jacketed by Christianity?

By loving them, in their diverse gifts and passions, we give them an example of loving people of radically different gifts and passions, and serving and honouring them. And we trust that they’d start to do the same – to value to 9-5 office worker and the stay at home parent. To show love to the disabled kid, or the person who would rather sit at home playing computer games. To intentionally demonstrate that God’s community includes all sorts.

It’s why I wasn’t surprised that out of all those I talked to at a recent Christian hostel, many (even new believers, who’d come to faith in another hostel, and were now plugged in to local church) were considering overseas mission in hard places where Jesus isn’t known.

Perhaps, we should stop looking down on travel as a subsidiary luxury of the western church?

***********

PS: A question for another day is what church looks like in those hard-to-reach warzones, nomadic tribes or other places, when a bunch of extroverted adventurers turn up together on the doorstep. What does diversity look like then? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below).

3 thoughts on “Missionaries are just adventurers?

  1. Interesting article you got here. Citing Myers Brigg and Strengthsfinder truly had my attention. Thank you for this article, it made me clear some doubts that what I am doing right now is not actually walking on a self destructing path but actually answering the call. I am an INFP by the way and currently am studying my Masters degree in Divinity as I prepare to serve as either a short or long term Missionary. The pandemic had me walking on thin ice. Hope many more will stumble upon this article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kindness in stopping to say so Genevieve! May God guide you onwards in your journey. Ooph, the pandemic is like putting everyone through forced cross-cultural training, with all that it has changed in many places – not easy!

      Like

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