What Churches Should Look for in a Missionary

Select with Care

Given the seriousness and obligations entailed in sending out missionaries, we should carefully select whom we would send and support. Local churches should take an active and thoughtful role in encouraging and equipping members to go to the nations. I know some may think they lack the expertise to train up missionaries. But if you know how to train up healthy members in your own church, you actually do know most of what’s needed to train up a missionary. Here are three things to assess.

Assess Character

First, who better than a local church to assess the character of would-be missionaries? So often missionaries work in contexts without regular daily oversight. Much of what they do is relational, unstructured, and self-initiated. We need to send people who are self-starters yet faithful and willing to submit to authority. As we talk with members of our churches about going to the nations, we—not some parachurch sending agency—should be the ones to evaluate their character and help them grow as needed.

We need to be willing to ask awkward questions, say hard things, and exercise discernment in our evaluations. Often small character flaws can become big problems. Be willing to ask yourself whether these individuals are faithful. Will they complete a task they are given, or do they need a lot of prodding and hand-holding? Are they trustworthy with money, time, responsibilities, and the truth? Are they people we would trust with significant responsibility in our own church?

The apostle Paul gives us two helpful lists of character qualities for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 that should, in some measure, characterize everyone we send as missionaries, whether elders or not. Yes, we want to be realistic and allow room for growth. But unless a missionary team wants to take on someone who needs significant character development, we should have the courage to tell a person, “Not yet.” We should never abdicate that role to parachurch organizations.

Transmitting the gospel takes care and thought.

Assess Fruitfulness

Second, we need to be willing to assess a person’s fruitfulness. I realize that gospel fruit comes from God and that a person can be faithful without visible fruit. But this is where evaluation inside a local church can be so helpful.

Let’s say I have two couples in my church who want to be sent overseas as missionaries. They both live in the same community and have similar circles of Christian friends. Yet one couple is always having folks into their home and has significant relationships with internationals. And it seems like every other non-Christian who spends time with this family ends up being converted. By contrast, the other couple never seems to build deep relationships with people. They try, but somehow it never works out. They attempt to share the gospel, too, but nobody wants to have a second conversation with them. They initiate discipling relationships, but folks don’t really seem to grow. In fact, most of these relationships just die out as folks seek out other opportunities for discipling.

Both couples may love God. Both may be doing the best they can. But I will strongly encourage my church to spend money sending the first couple overseas, not the second. A trail of conspicuous fruitfulness in other’s lives is one of the grand marks of a good prospective missionary. And, generally, it’s a church that can best observe this kind of trail over time.

Missions

Missions

Andy Johnson

With practical, biblical wisdom, this book casts a vision for the local church as the engine of world missions—for the joy of all people and the glory of God.

Assess Bible Knowledge

Third, along with seeing fruitfulness and character, we want to send people who stand out in their knowledge and understanding of the Bible. We can debate how much formal theological training missionaries should have. But how much theological understanding should they have? Everyone who wants to see the gospel accurately transmitted and sound churches established should care about the latter. Take a cue from 1 Timothy 4:16 or Titus 1:9. Doctrinal instruction is essential. The reasons for this are (I hope) fairly obvious. Transmitting the gospel takes care and thought. We always want to make sure we are faithfully explaining and summarizing truth from the Bible. But communicating the gospel in a new culture we barely understand, in a language we are still mastering—that takes even more thoughtfulness and theological care. Planting biblical churches cross-culturally requires a deep, clear-headed, and biblical understanding of what a church is and does.

If you carefully read Acts and the Epistles, you will notice that heresy, confusion, and syncretism most often occur at the edge of gospel expansion. Therefore, that is where we need our best-equipped people. Such work is not for every Christian who simply loves to share his or her faith. We need to make sure those we send possess deep theological knowledge so that what they teach can be reproduced in the lives of their hearers with accuracy until Christ returns.

A Joy and Privilege to Partner

As long as your church provides for the material needs of missionaries, those missionaries are in some ways accountable to your church, and you are responsible for them. That’s the essence of the partnership in the truth that John writes about in 3 John 7. The same idea is stated negatively in 2 John 10, where John tells us to avoid those who teach falsehood and “not receive {them} into your house or give {them} any greeting.” We want to consider carefully whom to send. We want to prepare them well through fruitful and faithful work. And we want to send, support, and love them once they are far away. It’s a joy and privilege to partner in work like this. It’s what a healthy church does.

May both those sent and those who send embrace these relationships for one another’s good, for the joy of the nations, and for God’s greater glory.

This post is adapted from Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global by Andy Johnson.



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