Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Effective Missionary

An article I wrote a few years ago...

I have been in The Location for a number of years now. It doesn't seem that long. At the same time, it is hard to imagine that all of my experiences have been crammed into this short time. Each day I am becoming more and more accustomed to living here and fitting into the society. There are still times, however, when I feel very “foreign” to the culture here.

I now look back on my first few months here in The Location as a “childhood,” of sorts, when everything was brand new to me. As I have grown in my ability to speak the language and to understand how things work here, I have come to see that some of the assumptions and conclusions I made early on regarding The People and their culture were incorrect. Other early ideas weren’t incorrect, but not as significant as I once thought. And, finally, I am learning many things from first-hand experience that help me to better understand this culture rather than holding to many of the false assumptions and ideas within the foreign community about The Location's culture.

Recently I was reflecting about serving here in The Location as a missionary. What would I do differently to prepare myself to work here now that I’ve been here for a few years?

I decided I wanted to be a missionary when I was a sophomore in college. After graduating and working for a while, I decided I wanted to get some specific missionary training so that I would be prepared to serve on a foreign field. I subsequently enrolled in a particular seminary's Master of Art’s program in Missions. I spent two years there and another two years finishing up my thesis. I greatly value my time at seminary and learned an incredible amount of information and ideas that have been very helpful to me as a missionary.

At the same time, I wish I could have done a few things differently. I prepared myself in some areas that have proved to be helpful and others not so helpful. But I also did not really prepare myself in a number of areas that would have made me much more effective in my ministry.

I studied Cultural Anthropology so that I would know how to approach different cultures and different worldviews, how to understand them and how to communicate with them. That was good. But I know I would be a much more effective missionary if I had learned how to control my anger better. I never thought of myself as an “angry” person. It never really came out until I came over here. I am here to try to help this country and there are so many things that are blatantly not “up to standard.” The people here are not really my “peers” and I am already weird and different in their eyes. Consequently, it is easy for me to show my anger and displeasure in front of them. Showing anger and displeasure, while not a good thing, is still pretty normal for us in America. In The Location it makes you lose respect and discredits you in the minds of people. God’s kingdom could be expanded better by me if I learned how to quiet my heart, be content, and not show my frustration.

I studied Greek and Hebrew a year a piece so that I could understand how to best interpret the Bible. I loved those classes and would never think of going back and not taking them! In the future I hope this knowledge will have more practical application in my ministry, but to date it has really had very little use in my witness here. On the other hand, had I learned the discipline of studying my Bible every day, being in God’s Word and having his Word in my heart I know that I would be a much more effective missionary. Knowing about God’s Word and knowing his Word are as different as knowing about God versus knowing God. If I were the kind of person that had his Word on my mind, in my heart and on my lips by disciplining myself to be immersed in the scriptures every day, I would be much more effective in my witness here.

I studied Leadership and dissected the difference in meaning between leaders and managers, between mission statements and vision statements and between contextualization and syncretism. This was good… but it would have been more helpful had I learned the skill of spending time with people, listening to them, talking with them and getting to know them. Being the busy visionary has not helped me be an effective missionary when taking time to get to know people here would.

I studied Missiology and learned about missionary methods, approaches and strategies for evangelism among unreached peoples in ways that God’s kingdom will subsequently expand rapidly without hindrance. Again, this was very helpful and insightful. But I know that I would be a much better missionary if I had learned the practice of prayer and fasting, depending and calling on God to work miracles that I could never do. My first reaction to a kingdom “barrier” is typically a smart and fancy missiological strategy. But I would be a much more effective instrument of God if I would react and persist in prayer for the spiritual difference I am attempting to make.

I studied Church Growth and how pastors should lead their churches past the “200 barrier” or past the “1,000 barrier.” But I would have done better to address personal issues of over-sensitivity, pride and self-pity. I studied Ministry to Muslims, but would have done better to learn how to really stave off sexual temptation. I studied Linguistics, which has been very helpful and profitable. But I should have spent more time learning to have a close walk with Christ and how to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I would be a much more effective missionary if I possessed these fruits of the Spirit in greater quantity.

Our effectiveness as servants of God flows out of our relationship with God. That is because our wisdom, strength and riches, in all its measure, could not possibly begin to accomplish what we are attempting, and what only God can accomplish through us. The battle we are fighting is a spiritual one, not a worldly one. The difference we are trying to make is a spiritual difference.

Jeremiah says (9:23-24), “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.”

Amen. Please don’t take the above as criticism of those who trained me, or who failed to train me. It is not. Rather, it is a criticism of myself and my way of thinking as I was preparing to become a missionary.

When it comes down to it, if I actually live in relationships with people (and not just make teaching appearances), people will be much more affected by my example than they ever will be by my teaching. What they see in my life will be more powerful than what comes out of my mouth. In fact, how I live my life in the quiet, private and trying moments will prove whether or not people should believe what I say. When I understand and know the Lord, and when I also exercise kindness, justice and righteousness in my life, then I will be an effective missionary.


  1. Hi Koffijah,
    I like the things you are saying. Thanks for visiting BLDNG THE WALL. I added you to the blogs I follow. I really admire what you are doing working in a dark country doing the Lord's work. You are right about what you say in "The Blessings of Restricted Access" if we approach people in a way that shows the Love of Christ in all we do instead of preaching or talking at them, it can be a very effective way of ministry. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi CruxG,
    Thanks for coming by and welcome to the Koffi House! I also appreciate your blog and hope you keep all the info and resources there so I can refer back to it in the future and refer others there, too! Thanks again!

  3. These are lessons I'm still working on. I get them in my head but in practice I still struggle on how to apply the knowledge. Especially in relationship.

    I did learn recently that having my Youth share their testimony is more effective than pretty much anything. I think it is because of the cultural relationship that is already in place. In many ways I am a missionary to a culture very different from my own. I am amazed at how different the teen culture today is from when I was a student. Although in someways I'm way more prepared for this culture than I was for mine since I was heavily into computers and internet social life in the infancy of such things.

  4. Earlier this week, I read a passage from Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for His Highest". This post really confirmed that particular devotion. Thank you.

    March 17th.


    "Wherefore we labour that . . we may be accepted of Him." 2 Corinthians 5:9

    "Wherefore we labour . . . ." It is arduous work to keep the master ambition in front. It means holding one's self to the high ideal year in and year out, not being ambitious to win souls or to establish churches or to have revivals, but being ambitious only to be "accepted of Him." It is not lack of spiritual experience that leads to failure, but lack of labouring to keep the ideal right. Once a week at least take stock before God and see whether you are keeping your life up to the standard He wishes. Paul is like a musician who does not heed the approval of the audience if he can catch the look of approval from his Master.

    Any ambition which is in the tiniest degree away from this central one of being "approved unto God" may end in our being castaways. Learn to discern where the ambition leads, and you will see why it is so necessary to live facing the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says - "Lest my body should make me take another line, I am constantly watching so that I may bring it into subjection and keep it under." (1 Cor. 9:27.)

    I have to learn to relate everything to the master ambition, and to maintain it without any cessation. My worth to God in public is what I am in private. Is my master ambition to please Him and be acceptable to Him, or is it something less, no matter how noble?

  5. Hey Nick, thanks for coming by the Koffi House and for sharing your insights. You always have good things to say. I did read your post you are refering to. The power of a testimony coming from someone "just like us" should never be underestimated. That is why we want to send out nationals here in The Location and also send them as national tentmakers, rather than religious clergy, because of the power of "hey, they're just like us."

    Being a Geek (you called yourself this, not me) you seem to know much more about the internet social life than I ever have and that sounds like it is a very good and important thing if you're going to be working with American youth. So, I commend you for that! I was thinking recently that the amount that we're into and knowlegeable about the culture (or, pop culture, to be specific) becomes increasingly important the younger our ministry target group is. I think that is because that culture is more important to them the younger they are and as they grow older they become less interested or dogmatic about pop culture. Just a thought. You probably have better insight than I do, though. So, would love to hear.

  6. Hi Katdish... I like to refer to John 15 where Jesus tells us to abide in him... the Vine. If we abide in him we will produce fruit. We get busy trying to produce fruit and we come up with all kinds of strategies for producing fruit. But we like to forget that Jesus didn't command us to produce fruit. He commanded us to abide in him. His promise was that we WILL produce fruit if we abide in him.

    So, abiding in Christ, to me, means staying close to him in prayer, in the Word and in the transformation of my character to be like his character. We get the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) not by pursuing those things, but by pursuing the Spirit who gives us those things.