Successful missionaries, mission programs, and mission movements in Christian history seem to have four characteristics. They don’t always have all three, there is a priority to them. Now some that have been numerically successful (such as the invasion and subsequent colonization and “Christianization” of South America) fail to meet the criteria of sound Christian missions, in my opinion. So maybe there is some bias up front. Decide for yourself.
1. Letting Go of the Ministry.
- The missionary is not focused on consolidating power, property, or people. He maintains a “light touch on the reins” as well as light touch on the reign.
- The missionary is willing to share power, and let go of power.
- The missionary prepares his people and organization for his temporary or permanent absence
2. Localizing God’s Work.
- Translate Scripture, songs, and liturgy into the local vernacular
- Create an indigenous (3 or 4 self) church
- Christians should be part of the culture (perhaps counter-culturally, but still part), not part of a different/foreign culture.
3. Loving God’s Lost and Found
- The missionary loves the people more than himself, and demonstrates more concern about their well-being than the well-being of his “own people.”
- The love the missionary has for the people overflows the small cup of eternal destiny to all aspects of their lives as individuals and as a community.
- The people understand, in some small way, the depth of God’s love for them through the love demonstrated by the missionary.
4. Linking Up Partners for God’s Work
- Training up local partners in the field
- Developing and organizing organizations for training and mobilizing missionary partners.
- Building and encouraging support back home for mission work.
I don’t find these to be equally weighted. Of these four the least important (although still important) is Letting Go. Power is intoxicating, and even good missionaries become addicted. It takes strength of godly character to be weak, to be vulnerable, to maintain limited control, to empower others.
The middle two are Localization and Linking Partners. I am not sure which is more important. Both really are needed. These seems to be more important and there appear to me to be fewer exceptions— fewer examples of successful missions where there was not localization or where there is no development of people in the field or agency or home.
The most important appears to be Love. A lot of “sins” and failures appear to be overlooked by the people being ministered to where the love of God is identified in the self-sacrificial love that the missionary shows the people he works with.
For me, at least, these seem to be important aspects for training and evaluating new missionaries.