Missions Myths: Missionaries are Mavericks

Samuel Maverick (1803-1870) was a Texas lawyer so preoccupied in his business that he failed to brand his cattle. His neighbors soon dubbed his large herd of stray, unbranded calves “mavericks” and in time the term came to mean an independently minded person.

This is not a picture of St. Paul

To many, this is the perfect description of a missionary. He’s an individualist, a free spirit, and a dissenter, roaming the foreign fields without the branding of any higher authority save God himself. Off he goes to distant lands, a cowboy throwing caution to the wind—a kamikaze itching to make his mark.

The heroes adorning his wall are men like David Livingston—pioneer explorer to Africa—and Robert Morrison, the father of Protestant missions in China who sailed for the Orient alone. And couldn’t one add St. Paul to this list, for it was the apostle who wished bachelorhood upon everyone (1Co. 7:7)?

Truth be told, the New Testament model of missions is nothing of this kind. A quick survey of Acts reveals over a hundred proper names, many connected to Paul. Just as Jesus surrounded himself with disciples, Paul hemmed himself in by a large troupe of fellow laborers. The number of Paul’s friends is astounding. Continue reading

Missions Myths: Antioch is the Model Sending Church

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-6-14-53-pmPaul’s missionary endeavors did not begin in Antioch but well over a decade earlier. The apostle’s mission exploits are commonly divided into three journeys: first (Acts 13-14), second (Acts 15:36-18:22) and third (Acts 18:23-21:16).

Since Paul and Barnabas began the first journey in Antioch, and Acts 13:3 says the church “sent them off”, this assembly is often considered the model mission sending church.
Not only is this assertion be misleading but it could also mask a valuable application for the church. Here are two reasons Antioch is not the model sending church.

Paul arrived in Antioch as a veteran missionary

Most people estimate Paul’s conversion around A.D. 32 and his departure from Antioch around A.D. 45. What was he doing in the thirteen years between his conversion and his “first” missionary journey in Acts 13? Missions! Let’s follow his itinerary. Continue reading

Missions Myths

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-1-40-17-amBefore we set out on a little expedition through the Scriptures over the next few weeks, hacking our way through the jungle of Missions Myths, I thought it would be valuable to lay down a few presuppositions. I come to the table with some assumptions. Let me show a few of the cards in my hand.

First, I consider Paul the missionary par excellence. This is not because he is an exemplar for modern missions in every way. He certainly is not. Nonetheless, he is unquestionably the best the church has to offer. There are a number of reasons for this.

Continue reading

Four Cautions for the Short-Termer’s Swag

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-3-28-03-pmShort-term missionaries are as popular as ever these days. Like Abraham’s descendants, they are too many to count. Short-term missions (STMs) has its advantages. I’ve counted myself among their rank many times and I may not even be a full-time missionary today had it not been for those early short-term trips.

But there is a dangerous side that churches would do well to spend more time thinking about.

Let us address just one: STMs, by their very nature, appeal to fallen humanity’s infatuation with the new. If familiarity breeds contempt, the new and avant-garde breeds respect and esteem. Continue reading

Missionary Minds: Shipe in Tanzania

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 1.14.17 PMAaron Shipe, his wife Nicole, and their seven children are missionaries in Tanzania where they are church planting in the small village of Mapea. Though the church consists of over 15 tribes, their primary focus is to contact the lesser-reached tribe of the Datooga. For more, visit their blog.

  1. Finish the sentence: Do not become a missionary if ____. You do not have a wife who is fully dedicated to the ministry.
  2. What Scripture passage(s) is most comforting to you amidst the difficulties in missionary life? Hebrews 12:1-4 has been a consistent help to me as I consider the sufferings of Christ and the pattern He laid for me. My struggles have not been to the point of bloodshed. I may be mocked, harassed, robbed and deceived, but I have not suffered as my Savior or as other Christians throughout history. These verses are telling me to toughen up, stop looking at myself, and focus on my Savior.
  3. What are the most common errors that missionaries make? Many missionaries hurt the ministry with their wealth. Well-intentioned generosity can lead to false disciples.
  4. The most comical mistake I ever made is when ______. I was talking with college students and recounted the two years my brother and I lived together in college (chuo). Unknowingly I told them we had lived together for two years in a bathroom (choo). Their unbridled laughter clued me into my mistake. When I was preaching on the judgment of God, I inadvertently mispronounced the word judgment and spoke instead about female reproductive organs. Embarrassing!
  5. What role does the foreign language play in your ministry? Without Swahili, there is no ministry here in Tanzania. There are no English speakers in my entire church nor a single person even proficient in English in our surrounding villages. Tanzania has over 120 tribes and therefore over 120 languages. In Tanzania, Swahili is king.Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 1.14.39 PM
  6. How has missions changed the most over the past 50 years? The world has become much smaller because of the expansion of technology and the improvement of transportation. As a result, many missionaries come in for short stints and throw money after missions. They start churches and build buildings but their disciples are few. Missions is becoming more focused on outward humanitarian projects and “sound bites” and less geared toward the hard, often discouraging work of disciple making.
  7. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? Spiritually, the lack of oversight often breeds laziness. Physically, they face muggings, traffic accidents due to chaotic road conditions, and sicknesses like malaria, TB, and meningitis. There are also the emotional/relational dangers of living in a foreign culture. Many marriages are tried significantly by culture shock and the challenges of living far from friends and family.
  8. What is the most misunderstood thing about you and/or your ministry? True intimate friendships with Tanzanians are very difficult because of the cultural/economic/educational differences. We have many friends, but the barriers to intimate friendship are many.
  9. If we visited you, what is the place we would have to see? Ministry wise, the Sunday worship service with the believers in Mapea. From a tourist point of view, you would need to see the Tarangire and watch the animals come to the river in the evening.
  10. What is the best advice you have ever received? God is looking for faithful men not famous men.

Missionary Minds: Meyers in South Africa

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 6.54.58 PMSeth Meyers lives with his wife and five children in Louis Trichardt, South Africa where he is church planting among the Tsonga people.

  1. Finish the sentence: Do not become a missionary if ____. You do not enjoy and see that you have some ability with language.
  2. What are the most common errors that missionaries make?
    1. They choose to work among cultures that have more light than the least-reached places.
    2. They do not devote themselves to language mastery.
    3. They do not pray as if it is their lifeline in a war.
    4. They may be gullible about the nature and power of culture as a tool in Satan’s hand to bind men with a greater fastness in darkness.
    5. They are hasty to accept professions of faith without evidence of repentance.
    6. They devote their time to other labors rather than churchplanting.
    7. They raise more support than the average national pastor assuming that they must continue an American standard of living.
    8. They don’t actively look for a way to get around the 40-churches model of deputation that requires years to raise support and a lengthy furlough.
    9. They don’t commonly cultivate a love for theology and books.
    10. They are content with a superficial knowledge of Christ and His Spirit.
  3. What missionaries (past or present) have been most influential on you? William Carey for his tireless work ethic and broad scope (evangelism, teaching, translation, and botany). John Paton for his absolute devotion to his Savior and the lost. Don Richardson (author of Peace Child), for giving me zeal while in college to reach the least-reached. Paul Schlehlein for his fellowship in all the details of life, ministry, and theology
  1. What Scripture passage(s) is most comforting to you amidst the difficulties in missionary life? Second Timothy 2:10, “I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Revelation 5:9, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’”
  2. How has missions changed the most over the past 50 years? Globalization has produced more of a universal culture. Among other fruits, this brought American revivalism including crusades, instant conversions, speakers, synthesized music, and celebrities even to the rural villages.
  3. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? (1) Laziness and inefficiency since they have no one to watch them. (2) Cynicism since missionaries often come from a culture that has had deeper exposure to the gospel. (3) Superficial answers to problems like poverty. (4) Increased crime or persecution.
  4. The most comical mistake I ever made is when ______. I told a group of baptismal candidates from three different villages in Tsonga that they will hold their noses, I will place them in the water, they will “get wet,” and they will come out. But by adding one extra syllable to the verb for to be wet, I told them to relieve themselves.
  5. What is the best book you’ve read on missions? William Carey by S. Pearce Carey.
  6. Who is on your Mt. Rushmore of missionaries? The Swiss missionaries who translated the Bible into Tsonga. The Welsh missionaries who translated the Bible and evangelized in Madagascar in the early 1800’s.
  7. What is the best advice you have ever received? “Where’d you learn to preach like that?” A question not meant as a compliment by a man who heard me preach in 2002. It produced a crisis that led me to expositional preaching.