What makes a missionary?
As we started recruiting more long term missionaries to join us in India, people began to ask us, “What things are you looking for in a long term missionary?” Love and faith are really obvious answers, but they’re not the answers people are usually looking for when they ask this question. Of course, every believer should have an abundance of love and faith, especially those going into some of the darkest places in the world. But aside from being lovers and people of faith, it is most important for long term missionaries to be learners.
Being a learner is more important than advanced Bible knowledge, ministry skills or professional qualifications. How can this be true?
Everything is new for missionaries.
Being a learner is so crucial because everything is different when you move to an unreached area. Your counseling and Bible teaching skills don’t help you much if no one can understand a word that you say. Your big plans for youth or children’s ministry aren’t helpful if the plans are grossly offensive to families in your new community because you don’t know the culture. It takes a long time to learn what in the world is going on where you live before you can use your skills effectively.
And here’s the kicker. If you are a learner, that single trait can make up for any lack of skills that you have. Maybe you don’t know much about the Bible or ministry right now. That’s not a big deal if you are a learner. You’ll get there. But if you’re not a learner, every current weakness you have will be a weakness forever. That’s not good.
Maybe you’re sitting there reading this, thinking, “Oh, no. I’m doomed. I was never good in school. I’m not a good learner, so I will never be a good missionary.”
Learning is a mindset.
Being a learner is far more about your mindset than about your intelligence, skill, or academic ability. You can choose to be a learner right now and adopt a humble, teachable attitude. That humble, teachable attitude is what makes you a learner, and it will be your best friend apart from Jesus on the mission field.
You would think most missionaries move overseas with a humble, teachable attitude, but it’s actually extremely rare. Missionaries move overseas because they want to change the world (or at least part of it), and that’s good. But trying to change everything without having a deep understanding of language, culture, and the community’s specific situation is very dangerous. Missionaries who do so will be offensive, ineffective, inefficient and frustrated.
But it’s never too late to become a learner. It would actually be good for all of us, not just missionaries. Situations involving people are usually quite complicated. Understanding situations before acting rashly will benefit everyone involved. A great deal of humility is required to accomplish this. But if we don’t give up our pride willingly, it will be taken from us painfully when we act before understanding.
Learning is forever.
It’s important to note that we should never stop being learners. Society might lead us to believe that we “graduate” from the learner stage of things after a few years college or job-training, but that would be tragic. We have the potential to learn, grow, and improve for the rest of our lives. I hope you want to be better in 5 years than you are right now. And you can be. We have a great God who teaches those who listen to Him and strengthens those who rely on Him. Whether you’re a 20-year-old brand new believer or an 80-year-old super Christian, God has more growth for you, and that growth is exceedingly beautiful.
For Reflection: 2Timothy 3:14-27, 1Timothy 4:8-16, 1Peter 2:2, 1Peter 5:5