Over the past several years, I have spent a great deal of time teaching, equipping, mentoring, coaching, and mobilizing missionaries. Different evaluations (e.g., theological knowledge, spousal cooperation, cross-cultural adaptability) are involved in a good pre-field assessment of candidates. But what is a good starting point before moving candidates into deeper levels of theological, missiological, psychological, physical, and social evaluation? What is a baseline for our church’s members? What do I look for in the person who is about to begin the pathway to the field?
Eight Essentials to Look For in Missionary Candidates
I turn to the example of Barnabas. The New Testament reveals his life as a church member in Jerusalem and actions as a church planter. An examination of his life reveals at least eight characteristics that I look for in candidates as essential before they leave for the field. These “Barnabas Factors” are the outward manifestations of inward character that mark effective missionaries.
1. Walks with the Lord
This factor is foundational to the other factors. Barnabas had a significant relationship with God. It was out of this relationship that he maintained an outstanding character and service to the local church. It was out of his walk with God that he remained faithful to his calling, spoke the truth in love, shared the gospel, valued raising up leaders, encouraged others, and responded appropriately to conflict.
Accomplishing great things for the Lord is never to interfere with a missionary candidate’s dynamic fellowship with the Lord. It is better to obey than to make sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22). It is necessary to have a sanctified life for effective ministry and for discernment to be applied to difficulties. A healthy relationship with God makes a candidate loveable, trustworthy, reliable, and wise. This walk enables one to persevere in tough times, be bold in evangelism, and be an encourager.
2. Maintains an Outstanding Character
Character flaws buried in the hearts of missionary candidates will manifest themselves during the actual challenges of ministry. I look for men and women who have a proven history of maintaining an outstanding character. Of course, no one is perfect. Barnabas gave into the sin of hypocrisy (Galatians 2:13). A good question to ask: Is the person above reproach?
Barnabas was a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24, ESV). Good people usually live life with a gentle spirit, good actions, and good speech. Someone full of the Spirit daily dies to self (Galatians 2:20) and bears the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The faith-filled candidate trusts God for provisions, for his ministry plans, and for future ministry opportunities. He or she gives God the glory when it is easy to take credit for accomplishments (Acts 14:14–15).
3. Serves the Local Church
Candidates without a commitment to the local church hinder global disciple-making. An examination of the life of Barnabas reveals a great deal of service in Jerusalem, Antioch, and the churches he planted (Acts 4; 11; 13–14). His service was characterized by offering encouragement to the saints, using his abilities and gifts, sacrificing his resources when needed, and submitting to the leader’s requests for help.
4. Remains Faithful to the Call
There are times when a missionary’s calling is the only thing that keeps him or her from leaving the field. Barnabas was committed to his calling as a disciple (Acts 4:36–37; 11:22–26) long before his calling to be sent from Antioch (Acts 13:1–3). He committed himself to the Lord, his team, and the Great Commission, even during times of persecution (Acts 13:50–51). Look for trustworthy and reliable people. Does the candidate feel called? If so, does he or she know who is doing the calling?
5. Shares the Gospel Regularly
Barnabas’s missionary journey with Paul involved many churches being birthed from the harvest fields. They would enter a community and begin preaching the gospel (Acts 13:5). Their sharing was done with intentionality, boldness, and tenacity. They shared a preference for receptive people (Acts 13:51) and with a follow-up orientation (Acts 14:21–23). Intentional and regular personal evangelism is an absolute must in the life of the candidate.
6. Raises Up Leaders
Barnabas was willing to take risks guided by wisdom, and he saw the potential in others. He stood up to church leaders and vouched for Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:26–28). When sent to help the new church in Antioch, he took the initiative to invite Saul to his teaching team (Acts 11:25–26). Later, when Paul refused to give John Mark a second chance, Barnabas partnered with him and went to Cyprus (Acts 15:39). Good candidates multiply themselves by making disciples who make disciples. They empower and release others to minister.
7. Encourages with Speech and Actions
“Barnabas,” called Joseph at birth, was a name that meant “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). This name described his words and actions among the saints. It is no wonder he received such an appellation, for he was filled with the Great Comforter (John 16:7). Candidates need to be men and women who have a holy habit of using words of truth, trust, consistency, and vulnerability. Your missionary candidates’ actions should be substantial, sacrificial, helpful, and exemplary.
8. Responds Appropriately to Conflict
Even Barnabas experienced conflict, twice in relation to Paul (Acts 15:36–40; Gal 2:11–14). All missionaries will experience conflict with their teams. The question is, How will they respond when conflict occurs? Barnabas and John Mark continued on with the mission. However, we do not read in the New Testament that Paul and Barnabas severed fellowship. And I think we can be confident that Barnabas repented of his hypocrisy as well (e.g., Paul’s attention to Barnabas in 1 Cor 9:6).
The assessing of missionary candidates is an important task of the local church. But where may we begin with our members? The “Barnabas Factors” are an excellent starting point. Look for a history of these characteristics in your church members as you move toward deeper levels of theological, missiological, psychological, physical, and social evaluations.