Guest article by Mike Pettengill, missionary to Equatorial Guinea
Like Dr. Frankenstein, I have occasionally tried to assemble the perfect missionary from spare parts. Unlike the good doctor, I have only ever tried this experiment in my mind.
What does this perfect missionary look like? The creature must be an orator with the skills of Billy Graham.
It is a necessity he have the exegetical skills of Charles Spurgeon. It is essential the perfect missionary have the stamina of an Olympic athlete and the driving skills of a NASCAR driver. He must have the bedside manner of Florence Nightingale and the ability to engineer something from nothing like the MythBusters.
Needless to say, this grotesque amalgamation of ‘super-missionary’ does not exist. That, however, does not prevent Christians from judging real life missionaries by this perfect missionary.
As should be the case, missions minded Christians read great missions biographies. We learn from these amazing Christ-centered missionaries of yesteryear. Mention missions to a typical disciple of Christ and visions of the greats dance in their heads. The result is that every missionary is compared to Jim Elliot, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael and David Brainerd.
The result is evident. All too frequently, missionaries and supporters of missions compare today’s servants to a standard to which they never can nor ever will achieve. Missionaries are tempted to view themselves as failures if the lives and their ministry are not worthy of a feature film, or at least a short book.
What is a missionary?
Playing a part in world evangelism and discipleship – be it going, sending, or praying – is not for the super-Christian. It is for the obedient Christian.
God does not set aside the special or more qualified disciples for missions work. The late Vance Havner once said, “The primary qualification for a missionary is not love for souls, as we so often hear, but love for Christ.”
In the Bible, there is little in the way of traditional qualifications for a missionary: He or she isn’t required to be seminary trained (although a good idea), hyper-spiritual, or have a ‘steel trap’ memory for Scripture. According to the Bible, a missionary must be willing to go (Isa 6:8). A missionary must be ready to endure hardship (Matt 10:16-31) and must be willing to serve, not from obligation, but from love (2 Cor 5:14-21). More is said in the Bible on how a missionary serves than what makes a good missionary.
Missions is an obedient servant taking a perfect message about a merciful Savior to a lost people. More is said in the Bible about a missionary’s willingness and obedience than his abilities. Christianity has been advanced by some very sinful and flawed individuals: Moses was a killer, Paul was a persecutor of Christians, David couldn’t keep his hands off his neighbors.
God can use all of us for his good.
Perfect in Imperfection
There is nothing good in us, and we can bring nothing of value to God. Our eternity depends only on the grace and mercy we receive from God. God receives great glory when flawed and imperfect vessels serve him.
Imagine if God only called the perfect Christians to be missionaries. Success would be expected, and God’s glory would be diminished.
On the other hand, as God calls flawed, sinful, and struggling servants to the mission field, his glory is magnified. When much is accomplished by suffering servants, the world sees more clearly that God was in control. We struggle with our imperfection because we only see it in contrast to God’s perfect will. Perfect love is God choosing to have a relationship with us while knowing in advance just how flawed and selfish we would turn out to be.
Missionaries should not agonize over not reaching the unachievable model of perfection. Instead, we should embrace our flawed nature. Like the Apostle Paul, we should admit our faults and then use our faults to point to God. We should brag about God and tell the world the only reason anything good happens is because of the grace he has given us (2 Cor 12:7-10).
Don’t hide how flawed you are, but use your flaws to point to the glory of the Lord.
Yes, my fellow missionaries, you are flawed. You are not now, nor will you ever be, the perfect missionary. In fact, those missionaries we all read about – they too were flawed and sinful. They had doubts, failures, struggles, and trials. They questioned their abilities and contemplated calling it quits.
Persistence, patients, prayer, and relentless reliance upon God is what makes a good missionary. Hudson Taylor, missionary to inland China, said, “There are three indispensable requirements for a missionary: 1. Patience 2. Patience 3. Patience.” Wait in the Lord and his perfect timing.
A missionary who trusts in his own abilities may occasionally succeed. A missionary who spends time on his knees and seeks the Lord’s direction cannot fail. A missionary dedicated to the perfection found only in the Lord Jesus Christ has already succeeded, no matter the outcome.
Imperfect missionaries who trust in God’s perfect grace and mercy are exactly what is needed to bring glory to the Lord.