Three beliefs about missionaries that I have heard that I think are… at least doubtful.
1. Is it true that strong and successful missionaries are highly pietistic? Are missionaries more spiritual than others? I doubt it, but it is hard to define what exactly “spiritual” pertains to. But let’s consider two choices:
(a) Spiritual means more fervent in spiritual disciplines. That comes to us from Pietism. A more spiritual person prays more, reads the Bible more, worships more, meditates more, and fasts more than others. Do missionaries do this more than others? Not that I have noticed. Missionaries tend to be more pragmatic in their faith… more task and service oriented. Now I do believe we need to have a healthy relationship with God. And I do believe that Bible study, prayer, corporate worship, and meditation (I am pretty doubtful about dietary fasting) are part of a healthy disciplined Christian life– in balance at least with other healthy parts of one’s life. But if “spirituality” is linked to spiritual disciplines, I think it is safe to say that missionaries are not typically all that spiritual. ( If they are big on spiritual disciplines, they keep that area of their lives private.)
(b) But if spirituality is defined by spiritual fruit… what can one say? Are missionaries more spiritual than the average Christian? All I can say is… Hopefully.
2. Is it true that only missionaries with a “real” missionary call will last? Personally, I doubt that is true. First, there is considerable doubt that there is such a thing as a “missionary call.” The most well-known such call was Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples to serve as apostles, “sent out ones” as well as Christ’s commissioning of Paul. But William Carey has made it quite clear that that call was, at least to some extent, a universal call, not a select call. And several others were called apostles in the New Testament that were not sent out at the word of Christ as far as we know. The calling of Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey was not actually by God. The Holy Spirit told the church to send out Paul and Barnabas. So the church of Antioch was actually the one that called Paul and Barnabas, as they felt led by God. For the second missionary trip, Paul took Silas while Barnabas took John Mark. It is not clear whether Silas was called in some sort of supernatural way or not. But there was clear disagreement as to whether John Mark was to go or not. But consider John Mark for the moment. Since Paul did not want him to go on the second trip, one may wonder the theological justification for that. It may mean that John Mark was allowed to serve as a missionary before without a “missionary calling,” or maybe it meant that Paul did not see a missionary calling as being forever. Just a thought.
Garry Friesen in “Decision-making and the Will of God” talked about the difficulty he had getting ordained as a minister of the gospel in his denomination because many in that denomination felt he had to describe some sort of mystical calling. Certainly he could have done what so many do… pull together a bunch of feelings and circumstances and declare that they constitute a “calling.” But he did not want to play that game. Many of the ministers in his denomination wondered whether it meant that he could not be ordained… that they were acting against the will of God Or maybe, if he could be ordained, would the lack of this “calling” mean that he would drift away when the going gets tough?
I don’t know many missionaries that have that sort of inflexible… forever… sort of calling. I don’t. My idea of calling is more like a path. I am following where God leads. I have served here in the Philippines for 13 years so far, and in all likelihood will die here. That is better than a lot of people who see divine calling more like a vocational prison.
Do people who believe in a permanent Missionary Calling last longer than other missionaries? It is possible, but I suppose it would have to be researched. The idea that only those who have that (fairly doubtful) theological perspective will last seems to be patently false, however.
3. Is it true that people who are highly evangelistic at home are more effective missionaries in the field? I remember years ago I had applied to the International Mission Board (of the Southern Baptists) and that was one of their firm beliefs. The argument was that those who are not highly evangelistic in their home country would not be in the field, and thus would not be effective as missionaries in a foreign country.
Of course, there are two parts to that question.
(a) Are those more evangelistic at home will be more evangelistic in the field? The answer to that is PROBABLY. I think that is true in most cases.
(b) Are more evangelistic missionaries more effective missionaries? This is much more doubtful. Foreign cross-cultural missionaries are almost always not that effective as evangelists… certainly less effective than local evangelists. The best missionaries are the ones who effectively train local leaders. Unless one can show that more evangelistic missionaries are better at training, the argument is quite suspect.
So for this third question, I feel I do actually have an answer. One’s behavior at home does flow over into one’s behavior in the field. However, since there are different types of missionaries, it seems doubtful that one particular ministry activity could be used to judge viability of future mission work of an individual. Additionally, a missionary learns and grows. What I do now in missions has little connection to what I did before missions. Faithfulness, willingness, and flexibility in service at home may be the best indication of viability of a potential missionary then any specific type of ministry. An evangelistic missionary may be more effective than other missionaries… or less effective. But since evangelistic missionaries are usually less effective than local evangelists, the most effective missionaries are likely to be focused more on training local leaders and ministers.