Would you fire Jesus from your missions agency? Would you lead your church to stop supporting him if he was your missionary? These questions seem outrageous and in a way, I mean them to be. Sadly, there is more truth to these questions than anyone wants to admit.
Modern missionaries are not Jesus. They do not claim to be the Savior of the world. They are just his messengers. Somehow, we want to hold them to a higher standard than we would the one they serve.
Here is the scenario. The missionary either raises their support or they are fully funded. Normally, the missionary who raises support will send out newsletters chronically their ministry successes. These newsletters will be full of pictures, numbers of decisions, worship attendance, or other metrics. The newsletters justify the missionary’s support. Like the newsletter, the missionary who is fully funded answers monthly ministry reports with much of the same information. Yearly reports must show a growing ministry of more salvations, baptisms, and new churches.
The missionary is tempted to embellish numbers or frustrated to see all their ministry turned to just a couple of numbers on a report or newsletter. Month after month, all of their hard work and ministry turned into numbers that never seem to be enough.
Can you imagine, Jesus in this situation? Early in his ministry, he had performed miracles, turned water into wine, and called the twelve disciples. One Passover over five thousand men and their families were fed by Jesus. Can you imagine his ministry report!
Well if you keep reading in John 6 where it records Jesus feeding the five thousand men, you will see that things take a turn for Jesus’ ministry report. Jesus began to teach on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35). Then Jesus said in the synagogue in Capernaum, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Then thousands left him (Jn 6:66). So many left Jesus that he asked the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well” (Jn 6:67).
Peter answered in a way that may help us evaluate the missionaries we support or oversee. He said, “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69). Missionaries have the very words of life. Instead of measuring missionaries on the response of lost persons, let’s make sure they are sharing the words of life. Here are some questions to ask instead of being so “decision” or “number” focused in your missionary evaluation.
- How are you doing?
- How is your family life? Wife? Children?
- Is there anything particularly difficult or challenging right now?
- What is most life-giving in your ministry?
- What are ways you have seen God at work around you?
- Is there any ministry story that you would like to share? This can be good or bad. Ministry is hard. We do not always get the “results” we hoped for!
- How can I pray for you?
There are many other questions but these are a good start. Instead of evaluating missionaries based upon basic metrics, try and use a time of reporting (which is good) as a way to build relationships and free the missionary to share the words of life. Let’s not forget, William Carey, the “Father of the Modern Day Missions Movement” served seven years before he baptized his first convert. Aren’t we glad support wasn’t taken from him because he didn’t “produce” or “reproduce” enough!