What have been some of the short-comings of missionaries that have served in Europe?
I think one of the biggest is a lack of vision for discipleship and more specifically for church planting. Many people focus on European missions as a place to do sports camps, English clubs, and other like activities where their focus is on evangelism. Yet, Europe is a place where the Gospel has been for years but it has been distorted and there is little response to it, so there needs to be more than just a focus on evangelism. What then happens to genuine conversions in this process? How are they followed up? Evangelism can not be separated from discipleship. At the same time, there is a need for making the Gospel relevant to the people of Europe. Most of the people in Europe are atheist, agnostic, or traditionally Catholic or Orthodox. A simple run through of a tract or packaged evangelistic tool is not going to connect with these people who don’t believe in a god or don’t care if there is a god or not. Or in the case of those who have a traditional religion, they tract will only make them perceive you as a cult with some “new Gospel” or believe they already have the salvation you are trying to share with them. Using Western evangelism tactics are not useful for presenting the vital message of salvation to people in Europe and this must be taken into consideration when planning to work in this part of the world.
Another one of the problems is too much of a commitment to working with existing national churches. This may sound funny. For instance, why is it bad to work with the national church? I mean, isn’t that what our end goal is, to create more national churches? What I mean here is that missionaries will come in and spend all of their time and energy with the church and the church members. Their entire ministry is centered on strengthening the national church and they enjoy their fellowship with the local believers. But the problem is that many churches in this part of the world lack a vision for evangelism and growth in their community. The church is happy with who they have and never seek to expand and change. In this situation the missionary never has any significant ministry with non-believers, who should be the primary focus of any missionary ministry. I fully support working with the national church as well as strengthening and teaching the leaders to be missions minded, but not to the detriment of ministry to those whom have never heard the Gospel.
Specifically, what are some “methods” that could be scrapped in the missionary endeavor? Positively put, what are some missionary methods that have proved to be effective and should be utilized more?
I am still learning in this context what should be best used in this context, but I know that the best thing to do is use the Bible as a guide. It seems to me that the Bible is composed the way that it is for a reason, and thus we should use the entire Bible in presenting the Gospel. Thus I am a firm believer in teaching the Bible chronologically from creation to Christ. I see this as a tool used by Jesus, Stephen and Paul in the New Testament. The stories of the Old Testament give meaning to all of history and they point to Christ laying the foundation for understanding true salvation. Postmoderns and atheists need to see the meta-narrative of the Bible and of all redemptive history to provide meaning for their lives, and I believe teaching the Bible chronologically is the best way to do this. Another strength is that it combines evangelism and discipleship at the same time. By this I mean that as the people are learning about the message of the Gospel they are learning the truths of the Bible and about God’s personality as He reveals himself throughout history.
One last thing I will add here is that work should not be done alone by the missionary. I have seen that the best way to do any ministry is with a local believer working with or being taught by the missionary. The missionary is never going to relate on the same cultural level that a national will be able to do, thus the missionary must be training the national believers how to witness to their own people effectively. At the same time the missionary never knows what will happen to him and how long he will be allowed to stay in the country. If all of the people he is working with are only connected to him and his ministry, what happens if the missionary must leave? What other believers does this person know? Who will continue to share with these people? The missionary must be planning for effective follow-up by national believers. Having national believers knowledgeable and competent to do ministry also will further speed up the spread of the Gospel and the starting of new churches who can train up new leaders.
Someone is struggling with whether to go on the mission field, what steps should they take to make that decision?
My first response would be to have them search deeper for the reason behind their struggles. It is possible to be fighting God’s call to missions and to be personally looking for excuses not to respond out of fear or disobedience. Jonah is a good example of this. It is clear that Jonah had a call from God to go and he was fighting it. Thus, sometimes people will say they are “struggling” with whether to go or not when it is clear there is a call there. The evil one will use many sources to dissuade people from going to the labor fields, including family, friends, and even personal issues. I would therefore encourage that person to take a long look and reflect on the reasons for wanting to go to the mission field. What are their desires? What are the compelling forces behind their reason for wanting to go? What are the factors playing into their reason for wanting to NOT go? A clear call to go is not a valuable tool for missionaries, it is a mandatory prerequisite. Life on the mission field is tough and can not be done apart from God’s sustaining grace and mercy. Attacks will come and life will not be comfortable. Sometimes all a missionary has to fall back on is his call from God to be doing what he is doing, and without it the missionary will crumble and return home.
Someone is single and is worried they will not be able to “find” someone if they are in missions, what would you say to this person?
The person needs to rethink where their focus is. What is more valuable to that person: their desire for a spouse or God’s call to them to reach the nations? God does not need our help in anything, including missions and finding a spouse. So if God has called a single person to missions, then surely he means of him to go and to go without expectations. I truly believe that if someone is following hard after God then He will provide the desires of their heart. There are many people I know, including myself, who have followed God into missions and God has provided a spouse through this obedience. I know that there is no better place to find someone with an equally strong heart for missions that on the mission field serving God. But at the same time, there are no guarantees that going to the mission field automatically means that you will find God’s chosen for you. First things first, follow God wholeheartedly and allow Him to provide the desires of your heart in His timing.
What is missionary life like for a family (i.e. adjusting to culture, language)? That is, what should a husband and wife be prepared for that you weren’t prepared for before stepping off the plane?
Well, this is a little difficult for me to answer. Both my wife and I were single on the mission field in the same country where we returned as a family. Thus, we had worked through a lot of our culture stress and detachment from American culture issues previously as singles and were better prepared to return to the field as a family. The one thing that I wasn’t prepared for though was the adjustment to working from the home and being together so much. I have learned that as a missionary I do a lot of work in and out of our apartment. As a result my work time and family time has blended together and I have had to adjust to getting ministry things done in between helping to feed our daughter, play with her, change diapers, taking out the trash, picking up the mail at the post office, and so on. It has been an adjustment for a task-oriented person like myself, but it is part of missionary life as a family.
Last Question: What are your thoughts regarding miracles on the mission field and spiritual gifts?
I have never seen any miracles on the mission field, but I have no doubt that God is capable of working miracles and can and does use them at certain times. The missionary is many times on the front lines of a spiritual battle and the rules of spiritual war go beyond flesh and blood. I have heard many stories of God using dreams and visions to draw Muslims to faith and salvation and I believe that this is happening and will continue as part of God’s plan for reaching these people. There are also many stories of God using people in spiritual warfare through healings and other encounters with demons. Again, I have not personally encountered any of these happenings, but I do not discount the power of God and the truth of these stories in other places around the world.