With this excellent article by David Jones, we begin a series on the qualifications and realities of missionary life.
As Paul retraces the route of his first missionary journey, he returns to Iconium and Lystra and finds Timothy going on well. People have been growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. The local churches have been active during Paul’s absence. Spiritual development has taken place. The elders have matured and are open to Paul’s suggestion that Timothy be allowed to accompany him. “Him would Paul have to go forth with him.” But is he qualified for such a venture? Does Timothy need more seasoning? What qualities does Timothy possess which awakened the desire in Paul to have him as a companion in his labors? The answers to these questions can provide guidelines for local churches today when someone expresses a desire to be “thrust forth” to serve the Lord.
When elders are made aware of the exercise of a prospective missionary, they must look for certain characteristics. Does the individual possess the necessary qualities to serve the Lord in a foreign country? To send someone to a country where language, culture, values and living conditions are different from those “at home” requires care on the part of the elders before giving a letter of commendation.
What should be taken into account when considering the aptitude of someone who has expressed an interest in the foreign field? What is required? What are the procedures? The qualifications were already operative in Timothy prior to Paul’s arrival. His day to day involvement in the assemblies that knew him had prepared him for the moment when the Lord would call him to, “Go … and preach”.
It is not enough that someone should WANT to go to a foreign field. It is expected that the person has already been active in reaching the lost and building up the believers locally. If the individual is called to serve the Lord in a different area, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the believers. Unity of thought prevailed with regard to Timothy in three separate areas. Paul, Timothy, and the brethren all recognized the call that he should go forth. This would generate confidence, being convinced that God was in it.
Serving the Lord in a foreign land is very different from serving Him in the homeland. Brethren should be aware that conditions can be more demanding in a foreign country. Leaving the supportive environment of a home assembly in a developed country to live in totally different circumstances can be extremely trying – spiritually, personally, and socially. A person’s qualifications in these three areas will determine whether he or she is prepared to be commended. All three are important. A weakness detected in any one of the areas is sufficient to suggest further waiting upon God.
The Spiritual Qualifications
Missionary work is basically a work that deals with communicating spiritual truth to saint and sinner alike. It is not sufficient that a man be able to link gospel sentences together. He must have a basic understanding of the doctrines. These include the doctrines of reconciliation, the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus, and, especially, doctrines relating to the Godhead. Each country presents a different challenge, and unsaved people will have mistaken ideas about their approach to God. Having a doctrinal basis will enable the missionary to answer questions, pinpoint errors, and clearly present the truth of salvation through the Lord Jesus.
Like all exercised Christians, a young missionary will be in the process of ,” giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5). He will be daily “searching the Scriptures”. As he engages in one-on-one evangelism, he will learn to answer questions, point out error, and speak well of the Lord Jesus as Savior and Lord. The majority of missionaries get “on-the-job” training once on the field, but, prior to leaving, they should have an understanding of the basic doctrines.
The individual’s participation in the different meetings of the assembly, including the Breaking of Bread, will enable the discerning ears of the elders to tell them how well grounded he is. Being able to repeat the names of the twelve tribes and the different offerings is no indication that a person knows the “apostle’s doctrine” or how to transmit the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The spiritual qualification is basically an understanding of the truth and an ability to present it.
Paul and Barnabas were active in the local assembly testimony when they were called to leave Antioch, and no dissenting voice was raised against their going forth. Paul had confidence in Timothy’s understanding of truth, for he wrote him “… to abide still at Ephesus, … that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine”(1 Tim 1:3). Christian living and church practice is founded on a firm doctrinal basis.
The Personal Qualifications
Holiness of life is essential. Godliness is an essential characteristic. When Paul voiced his desire to have Timothy accompany him, he knew that the Christians recognized qualities in him which made him worthy of their confidence. He was “well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). When Paul wrote Timothy later about deacons, he established a principle that must be applied. “And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless” (1 Tim 3:10). A prospective missionary will have proven himself not only with regard to the doctrine, but in his personal life also.
The Lord Jesus told His disciples in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” People pay attention to our actions. Christian integrity is evident when those actions match our professed beliefs. Actions such as honesty, trustworthiness and efficiency are some of the qualities expected in a person who is to serve the Lord. Generosity and a pattern of giving will show an understanding of how God maintains His work and workers. If a prospective missionary has these qualities on the home front, he will not find it difficult to maintain his testimony abroad. Paul urged Titus, “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity” (Titus 2:7).
Missionaries often serve at lonely outposts, among people who don’t understand their motives. As they live in accordance with the truth, there will be no discrepancy. What is on the inside manifests itself on the outside, and testimony becomes effective. These personal qualities should be obvious in one who wishes to serve the Lord.
The Social Qualifications
Doctrinal purity is the spiritual qualification of a right relationship with God. Wholesome integrity is the personal qualification that shows a right relationship with the life of God in the inner man. Ability to get along with others in peaceful co-existence is a necessary social qualification to work in harmony with others.
At the outset of his service, a missionary’s circle of friends is greatly reduced while he struggles to learn the language, and becomes useful in God’s hand. It is frustrating not to understand what is being said. Not all people are good communicators, and more than one missionary has suffered discouragement when older missionaries have failed to inform of some pending activity. Dealing with frustration without becoming angry is a major challenge. The flesh that was present in the homeland retains all it’s horrible characteristics on the mission field. The only difference is that it manifests itself in a more narrow environment and the danger of a rupture in fellowship is ever present.
Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian believers is, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil 2:3-4). The prospective missionary should have some social maturity which enables him to interact with people, applying the principles of Phil 2:3-4.
The supreme example of our Lord Jesus Christ is the antidote, for “being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8). To die to self and sinful urges is the only way to establish and maintain a peaceful coexistence with our brethren. Not only is this to be applied to working with fellow-workers, it is equally applicable to relating to the people of the country where one goes to work for the Lord.
Timothy submitted to Paul by being circumcised. It was not necessary from a personal standpoint, but for the sake of the people with whom he would come in contact, he humbled himself and submitted. He also submitted when he went to work in Ephesus. Humility which leads to cooperation is an important qualification.
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy.. that thou mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (I Tim 1:18-19). Care exercised at the outset of the journey assures safe arrival at the distant port.