A heads up for those who work with missionaries

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Missionaries are not known for being self-critical so here is a brief attempt at such. Perhaps it will help pastors and churches and missionary agencies give better care to them. It might also help missionaries look at themselves in the mirror.

1. Lots of missionaries work with minimal supervision either from their missionary group or home church. That means the missionary is often not used to dealing with an authority structure and being brought to account. When someone confronts him, about his work or his marriage or his personal life, he is genuinely...

offended, even shocked. Just because he has received training does not mean that his methods are beyond question. Just because he has left home and country and family does not mean that his motives are always pure.

2. Some missionaries are spiritually proud. He is used to being told that he’s a hero, since no one wants to live and work where he does. Slowly but surely, he can develop an exalted sense of his own spiritual maturity. It's often hard for him to say sorry. 

3. Lots of missionaries have never been part of a good, healthy church, either in his home country or on the field. Thus, he doesn't know how to deal with criticism, correction and rebuke. This applies over a whole spectrum of cases. Some missionaries are planting churches. He’s the boss. Some engage in other ministries attend ex-pat churches. No one is ever going to discipline you in one of those. If he attends an indigenous church, he is often regarded as one of the most mature members of the church. He’s untouchable. 

4. Some missionaries drift theologically. The Ecumenical movement (which has been a bee-hive of all kinds of infidelity for decades) came out of the missionary movement in the early 20th century. A missionary may have been orthodox when he began his work, but life changes you and your beliefs. The missionary often encounters poverty like he's never seen before and masses of unbelieving people who have never heard the gospel and who are very hard to reach with it. Sometimes his sympathy for the people he is trying to reach blinds him to the sins of the culture that need confrontation. Missionaries in the Muslim world can become anti-semites. 

5. Lots of missionaries are irritable and for lots of reasons. He lives with cross-cultural stress every day. Things that are done easily and quickly in his home country often take days and weeks and months. It may be that he is separated from his grown children who live back in his home country. You can’t hug your daughter on Skype. Frustration is often his normal emotional state. 

On the other hand, several missionaries I have known are among the finest Christians I have met. One single woman who labored for decades in North Africa comes quickly to mind. We also treasure our colleagues with Mission to the World. But these tendencies need to be kept in mind by churches that send out missionaries and those who receive them. I feel the pull of each of them. 

David Wegener

David is an ordained Teaching Elder (Pastor) in the Central Indiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. Formerly serving in theological education in Africa with Mission to the World, he and his wife currently live in their hometown of Bloomington, IN.