“No one would ever have to guess who that kid belongs to.” When my oldest son and I spend time together, people often point out the resemblance. From his stature to his short attention span, to the way his frame doesn’t match the length of his legs, there’s just no doubt that he’s mine. Similarly, those whom missionaries disciple will begin to look like the missionaries. If that’s the case, what sort of people should those serving among the nations be?
I realize that the requirements below set a high bar. This is intentional. Just like all Christians are on the road to Christlikeness, no missionary will embody these qualities perfectly. At the same time, we believe churches should only send people of proven character and worth in gospel ministry, people who are on the road to maturity in each of the following areas.
Missionaries Should Love Christ
Above all, churches should look for candidates who love King Jesus and are submitted to his Lordship in all of life. Though impossible to quantify, intimacy with God is both essential and foundational. That being said, there are some tangible signs of that of love and skills that help sent out ones faithfully serve.
Above all, churches should look for candidates who love King Jesus and are submitted to his Lordship in all of life.
Not all of these characteristics are weighted equally; the spiritual disciplines and character components are far more important than ministry skills and theological convictions. The skills and theology can be learned, but character paves the way for that learning. Churches must look for a direction of growth, not perfection in godliness.
Missionaries Should Be Committed to Spiritual Disciplines
The spiritual disciplines create the space for God to transform us into the image of Christ. Though they do not guarantee transformation, they set the sails for the wind of the Spirit to blow.
Those serving among the unreached need to exhibit a regular pattern of meaningful time in the Word (Psalm 119, John 15) coupled with regular prayer marked by worship, intercession for the lost, confession, and petition (Matthew 6:5–15, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). In almost two decades on the field, we’ve also asked teammates to cultivate healthy patterns of work and rest.
Missionaries Should Be People of Proven Godly Character
In general, they should be elder or deacon-quality examples – 1 Timothy 3:1–13. Some specific areas that are helpful overseas include:
- Humble and teachable (Psalm 25:9, 1 Peter 5:5–6)
- Hard-working (1 Corinthians 15:10, Colossians 3:23)
- Emotionally mature and stable (Galatians 5:22–23)
- Able and willing to suffer for the gospel (1 Peter 4:1–2, Romans 5:1–5)
- Physically healthy (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
- Demonstrated pattern of fighting sin with others: transparency and accountability (Romans 6:12–14, Proverbs 28:13, James 5:16)
- Proven willingness to submit to authority and work with others in ministry projects (Colossians 3:22–24, Titus 3:1)
Missionaries Should Possess Sound Doctrine
Because a large part of the missionary task involves teaching, missionaries must ensure that they teach faithfully. Areas, where they need deep understanding, include:
- Biblical theology – They should be able to see how any passage fits in with the grand narrative of Scripture.
- Systematic theology – They should hold a basic understanding of the doctrines of God, Christ, gospel, salvation, and church.
- Hermeneutics – They should demonstrate an ability to understand a passage’s meaning to its original hearers.
- Gospel saturation – They should hold a grace-filled, God-centered approach to God, Scripture, and people.
Missionaries Should Be Competent in Their Calling
While I was preparing to come overseas, a screening consultant told me, “You won’t start doing overseas what you aren’t already doing in your home country.” The flight to our new home doesn’t magically transform us into those who make disciples.
Those considering moving overseas need to demonstrate a proven ability to build a gospel–focused relationship with a lost person (1 Thes 2:7–8, Acts 16:11–5), share the gospel clearly, and call for a response in the hearer (Ephesians 6:19–20, Acts 4:29–31).
If they have not made disciples in their home context, then they must first help not–yet or new followers of Jesus become reproducing disciples (Matthew 28:16–20, 2 Timothy 2:1–2). On top of this, those moving long-term must commit to the rigors of learning another language (1 Corinthians 9:19–23)
Missionaries Should Understand Missions Biblically
Sending agencies and local churches seeking to send may define the missionary endeavor differently. Aspiring missionaries need a solid biblical theology of missions. They should seek to understand contextualization – how different cultures interact with the gospel message (1 Corinthians 9:19–23, Acts 17:16–34).
You won’t start doing overseas what you aren’t already doing in your home country.
They must grasp the concept of the missionary task – how missionaries bring the gospel into unreached places and stay there until churches and leaders are formed. As churches set a higher standard for those that they send to the nations, the disciples and churches that look like our missionaries will more accurately resemble the King who compels us to go.