November 22, 2017

Who Should Go Forth?

Daniel Huffstutler

As happens to many prospective missionaries, the rose-colored glasses I acquired while growing up in missions-minded churches and schools in the United States tinted my perspective on missions. I thought I knew what missions was all about. After all, I had attended countless missions conferences, knew many missionaries, and had spent four months traversing the country on deputation. However, I was wrong.

After spending a year on the mission field in Africa and reflecting on what I did not know, to say that I have learned much would be an understatement. Those who train for a profession often realize they do not know as much as they thought after they actually begin the job. Missionaries face a learning curve as they deal with a new culture, language, people, and ministry.

Of the many things God is teaching me, one is the general lack of direction we as church leaders have in determining which missionary candidates to support. We cannot be judged for our lack of knowledge about cultures and nations all over the world, but we are often guilty of not prayerfully evaluating our missionary candidates. American churches spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year supporting missionaries, while failing in our stewardship of those resources. What kind of missionary candidates are we choosing to support? How do we know if a candidate will survive once he or she has left the shores of the richest nation on earth? Does this candidate have what it takes to minister effectively far away from godly supervision and accountability? What guidelines should church leaders use to answer these questions?

My continued experience on the mission field has persuaded me that we need to exercise more discernment in choosing our missionaries. How would we respond if we discovered that a missionary spends more time enjoying tourist attractions than doing his work, or that he scuba dives several times a week? Should we be concerned that a missionary is operating as a “lone ranger” and not working in coordination with others on the field, or that a missionary is enjoying a luxurious American lifestyle in a country where the average person makes a few hundred dollars a year? Unfortunately, these scenarios are sometimes more true than we would like to admit. This is not meant to disparage the many faithful, hardworking missionaries serving the Lord today, but none of us is beyond accountability.

As church leaders, we should work to prevent such abuses by employing spiritual discernment and common sense when considering a missionary candidate. We may assess a candidate’s fitness for the mission field by evaluating several key areas.

First is the candidate’s call to the mission field. A need on the mission field does not automatically mean that just any willing candidate is necessarily the right person for the job. The following might be appropriate questions to ask: Has God really called this candidate to missions? Has he or she been called to this specific mission field and ministry? Has this call been confirmed by other believers, including a local church and a mission board? Has the candidate been to this field before? How do people respond to the candidate’s ministry? Is the candidate suited for the cultural change he will have to face?

Second is the candidate’s spiritual character. A candidate who would go to the mission field as a church planter should meet the pastoral qualifications of Scripture (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). Qualities to consider include the following: zeal to communicate the gospel, careful exegetical skills, spiritual insight, spiritual perseverance, ability to work well with others, emotional stability, spiritual maturity, a Spirit-controlled life, unconditional love for the unlovely, courage in the face of loneliness and conflict, Biblical discernment, a sense of divine purpose, Biblical philosophy of missions, and godly leadership abilities.

What about the candidate’s educational background? A thorough understanding of Scripture is crucial for any full-time minister. One of the great paradoxes of the church has been our willingness to entrust the souls of men to those who have received little training in how to treat them. We demand the highest standards of medical doctors, financial consultants, and lawyers, but we lower the bar for those who handle the souls of men. While education is not the key to successful ministry and can lead to pride and spiritual destruction, we must not diminish its ability to make a more effective servant of Christ. Is it a coincidence that the well-educated Paul wrote at least twelve New Testament books?

We should consider the potential missionary’s professional training and real-life skills. At some point in their ministries, most missionaries will need to know how to fix a car, to unclog a sink, or to jury-rig a washing machine.

We should also consider a candidate’s financial habits. Does he or she have a budget? Is he or she responsible with money? Sometimes missionaries with unknown fiscal responsibility and little accountability must handle thousands— sometimes even tens of thousands—of dollars. The love of money is still the root of all kinds of evil, and missionaries are not immune to this temptation.

Of great importance is a candidate’s physical and emotional stamina. The mission field is no place for the fainthearted. Working and living on the field can be drastically different from anything the missionary experienced in the United States. What about the candidate’s health? Should a missionary who has serious medical needs be sent to a field that lacks basic medical services? On the other hand, we must keep in mind that many ailing missionaries, including Hudson Taylor and William Carey, were greatly used of the Lord. While health concerns should be considered, God often chooses to use missionaries who have physical needs.

Finally, let us consider the candidate’s personality. Sometimes believers joke, “If you can’t make it in America as a pastor, then go to the mission field.” On the contrary, we should be sending our best ministers to the mission field. One important trait for a successful missionary is the ability to work well with others. Why would we send to the mission fields of the world individuals who have trouble relating to people in America? Here are some personality traits to watch for: strength of personal character, willingness to serve, resistance to discouragement, ability to work, tact, reasonableness, common sense, and a strong sense of initiative. A candidate should demonstrate his ability to work well with different people and in new environments. He should possess a teachable spirit plus a willingness to serve joyfully in difficult situations.

After we accept a candidate for support, church leaders and the mission board should consider regular evaluations of the missionary’s spiritual, educational, and physical capabilities for the mission field. Sometimes life-dominating sins gain a foothold in a missionary’s life, and the missionary needs to return home to regain his spiritual footing. Periodic evaluations by supporting churches and the mission board may facilitate this level of accountability.

None of the things mentioned here can be evaluated in a short Wednesday night meeting in a local church. While many pastors must leave this work to a mission board or another pastor, greater evaluation of candidates and regular evaluation of current missionaries is warranted in our Fundamental circles. We are extremely blessed in this country and must not take our stewardship of such God-given resources lightly. Let us approach the responsibility of evaluating prospective and current missionaries with soberness as we pursue wise stewardship of our God-given resources. Moreover, may God bless the men and women on foreign fields with sanctifying and enabling grace.

Author Bio as originally published: Daniel Huffstutler is an assistant pastor serving under Pastor Juan Moreno at First Baptist Church in Lake Orion, Michigan. He served as a short-term missionary to Nairobi, Kenya.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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