Biblical Character for Effective Missionary Ministry

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In missions to Muslims as well as Christian ministry today there is a big emphasis on methodology. It is generally assumed that if you have the right methodology you will be successful and that lack of fruit always shows that a person is using the wrong method. This produces a professionalism in ministry that seems to contradict all that Jesus said about leadership being servant-based. Pastors and missionaries run from one conference to the next hoping to hear something that will give them the key to success. The problem is that much of it bears little fruit and many people who have been very fruitful have not gone out trying to have a big church or be successful in missions.

While I was serving in the Arab World I noticed many people running off to conferences which were touting a new method of reaching Muslims or seeing a huge Church Planting Movement happen in the Muslim world. At the same time we were seeing more people coming to Christ in our country than ever before. It seemed like people were not satisfied with this, but were wanting to keep up with what was supposedly happening elsewhere. Most of the people who were interested in these new concepts were not really sharing their faith or seeing any fruit. This brings me to my main point. As I have observed fruit in my own ministry and have seen others who have borne much fruit, I see that the key is not so much methodology as it is having biblical character and motives.

PAUL AS A GREAT EXAMPLE

I believe that the Apostle Paul not only can help us with CP methods, but can also show us what an effective church planter looks like. A great book that gives us a glimpse of this is Paul’s 2nd epistle to the Corinthians. This book is important for missiology because in it Paul is defending his ministry against the ministry of false apostles (many Biblical scholars prefer the translation “Super Apostles”). Much of Paul’s defense happens at the end of the letter, but he gives us a glimpse of his ministry and life in chapter 6 verses 3-13.

Verses 3 and 4 show Paul’s motivation for his lifestyle in missions. He doesn’t want to put a “stumbling block in anyone’s path.” He wants to live as a “servant of God” and commend the gospel through his life. So many times when we share the gospel in America people will ask about certain well-known Christians whose lives have not commended the gospel and have become stumbling blocks. In the Muslim world people have many negative ideas of what a Christian is by watching western television. We must live among them in a way that they see what a real Christian is. It also must be shown to them over a long period of time. In the rest of the passage Paul talks about four main areas where he has tried to commend the gospel with his life.

SACRIFICIAL LIVING

Paul first talks about the ways that he has sacrificed to bring the gospel to people. Verses 5 and 6 give a litany of hardships which he had faced. Over the last decade many missionaries have given their lives bringing the gospel to Muslims. We all need to realize that if we are preaching the gospel faithfully this is a real possibility. However, at this point of his ministry Paul had not yet faced martyrdom, but yet had endured real hardship.

How do we live a sacrificial life on the field? Two main ways come to mind. Firstly, we need to be bold in sharing the gospel. I’ve met many workers in Muslim countries that are overly concerned about being kicked out of the country. They become so worried about this that they are not very effective. The biggest fear that we should have is that we are not being faithful to the gospel. If someone has lived in a Muslim country for many years and has never faced any opposition, I really doubt that they have been faithful in proclaiming the word. Much of what Paul lists in these two verses (beatings, imprisonment, etc.) came upon him because he was preaching Christ. Of course we need to make sure that we are not being offensive to people because of bad character in our lives, but preaching Christ crucified is always opposed by Satan.

The second way we need to live sacrificially is in how we live on the field. Paul talks about “hard work” and “sleepless nights”. We must sacrifice many things that we enjoy if we are going to bridge the gap and reach out to the average person in the Arab world. We can’t live in Western enclaves or in neighborhoods with lots of other missionaries. We can’t live in huge homes or drive expensive cars. This separates us from the people. I remember one time talking to a missionary from a latin country who had been on the field for about a year. He was talking about how he didn’t have the funds that other workers had. However, he was developing some close relationships and starting to speak into believers lives. I told him he was blessed because he knows that these people are not hanging around him hoping to get something. If we are going to reach the Muslim world and see churches planted that can reproduce, we must live sacrificially.

PURITY AND GODLY CHARACTER

Paul then mentions how he lived his life “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness, in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love (v. 6).” Purity is essential to the life of a Christian, especially one in the ministry. When I was in seminary I took a year off and worked construction near my hometown. Most of the time I was working on a new courthouse for a local county. Unfortunately, many of the contractors including the one I was working for did not go by the plans. When the large beautiful building was finished and the workers moved in they encountered many problems and the building needed to be redone in many areas. In the same way a very successful ministry among Muslims can be brought down with one act of immorality. Unfortunately, many missionaries have fallen in this area.

On the positive side, we can, by a life of purity, commend Christ to the believers and nonbelievers that we minister to. I remember one time sharing with believers in the fellowship we helped start that I had not been involved sexually until I got married with my wife. They were all shocked. My wife also shared this with a young student she was sharing the gospel with and she had the same reaction. She told my wife that it is expected that all men will have sex before marriage. Many people in western countries think that Muslim countries have very little sexual immorality. However, in my experience there is even more immorality. Most of the believers we ministered to struggled with some sort of sexual immorality. We must be able to show them an example of the victory that Christ offers.

It is also necessary that we show those we minister to patience, kindness, and sincere love. One of the ways that we show love in an Muslim culture is by spending time with people and enjoying their presence. Also you can show people your love for them by learning their language. I have heard proponents of the C-5 method claim that if you use any other method you don’t love the people. This is ridiculous. I think that people know if you love them or not. You don’t have to have a high view of Islam in order to love Muslims. They are people first and foremost.

THE POWER OF TRUTH AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

Paul goes on to mention truthful speech and the power of God. One of the main reasons why many missionaries are enthralled by new methods is that they really don’t believe in the power of Holy Spirit. I’m sure doctrinally they would say yes, but they don’t really believe that the Holy Spirit is working when they minister to Muslims. I remember one time talking to a missionary who had moved away to another country. When he returned for a visit he said to me that he had heard that I had been having a lot of fruit recently. My answer was that it was almost like picking fruit off the ground. I really felt that it was God at work.

Anytime a Muslim comes to faith in Christ it is a miracle. In fact, anytime anyone comes to Christ it is a miracle. The person is rescued from the dominion of darkness and is brought into the Kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13.) We must depend on the Holy Spirit to do the work in people’s lives. We also must stress the power of prayer to the believer’s that we disciple. They need to see clear answers to prayer so that they will build faith in God and His provision for them. Too many times we see ourselves as the answer to the new believers’ needs. We can give the money, employment, etc. However, they need to see that God is alive and can take care of them.

The power of the Spirit goes along with fruitful speech. This can be seen in two ways. First, we share the word of truth with people. We need to make sure our teaching is according to God’s word. This is what the Holy Spirit works through. Second, we need to be truthful in our speech. This does not mean that we say we are missionaries with such and such mission, but we must be truthful with people that we are believers in Christ and we are there to share His word. If we are very incognito we will not make an impact.

LABORING FOR TRUE RICHES

In verses 8 through 10 Paul lists a series of contrasts. What is going on here? He gives a contrast between what is the truth in God’s eyes and how it is perceived in the eyes of the world. While this is of course true for all Christians, it is especially true for missionaries. We must work first of all to please God, not man. We must realize that if we are loving God with all our hearts and walking in his will that we “possess everything.” When we are secure in this we will not be motivated to look for fame in man’s eyes.

If you labor quietly on the field and see lots of fruit, you will probably never be heard of. However, remember that God knows your name.

Another thing that these verses show us is that a person who is successful in God’s eyes will many times be misunderstood. We might be regarded as “impostors and unknown”, but we need to be secure in the fact that we are obeying God’s word. It is very common today in America for people to see missionaries to Muslims as causing trouble. Also if a missionary stands up against unbiblical teaching or sinful behavior he can be seen as being divisive. We must make a decision that we are going to please God first and foremost. We will try to live at peace with all men, but not at the cost of dishonoring God.

CONCLUSION: PAUL vs. THE SUPER APOSTLES

As we catch a glimpse of Paul’s heart in this passage we see how he was very different from his detractors, the “False” or “Super Apostles”. For several reasons these men seemed more impressive to the Corinthians than Paul did. In chapter 11 Paul mentions two things that give us a glimpse into these the ministry of these men. They are trained speakers who make a great impression (v. 6). They also are effective in asking for money (v. 7-12). Also they preach another Christ and lead people away from a devotion to Him (v. 3-4). Of course today the issues are somewhat different from Paul’s day, however, there are some parallels. Too often on the field we see “professional missionaries.” By their resources they can seem very impressive to believers, but can end up leading them astray. Many times believers lose their first love and seek after man’s attention. We must be humble servants like the apostle Paul.

We need to remember who was the really successful one in this controversy. Paul was the one who lead the Corinthians to the Lord and planted the church. Also can you name one of the “false Apostles”? I don’t think so. The question we must ask ourselves: Do we want long-term effectiveness or short-term notoriety.

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About Author

Pat and family have been involved in ministry in for 25 years, 10 of them in the arab world. For seven years they were involved in a church planting team in North Africa. They are currently involved in missions mobilization, church ministry , and education on South Florida.

5 Comments

  1. encouraging post. I am so encouraged and I am also excited to what God has been doing in our ministry in Cambodia.

  2. I definitely agree that ministry is more than character. You do have to preach the word and point people to Jesus , not to yourself. However, bad character can definitely bring down your ministry very quickly. I think the key is to have integrity. I don’t think people look at missionaries or ministers as perfect people, but they do want to see that we love Jesus and that is to be shown in our lives.

    Just a thought on the idea of incarnational ministry. I don’t totally discount it, but I think it is much more biblical to say that we are to minister as servants of Christ. I think too much we buy into an American view of ministry that is dominated by professionalism. We do not need to make a big deal out of ourselves, but let’s make a big deal out of Jesus.

  3. Good evening Pat:
    Excellent post. It makes me think of how necessary it is to combine Orthodoxy–right thinking; with Orthopraxy–right action, with Orthopathos—right feeling.

    Carl’s post did remind me of something that is hard to put a finger on. It is an emphasis that I have seen in recent years on having the right character and correctly incarnating things in our mission work. I fully agree that these are vital as Christ’s ambassadors, but have their limits. In the final analysis, it is not my character that matters so much, nor my integrity that matters so much, but His integrity and His character. Otherwise I can set myself up as the standard of both character and integrity that people should aspire to, and this is a potentially disastrous setup. Would it not be much better to point people to Him whose character is flawless and whose integrity is 100% blameless? Like John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease”

  4. Pat

    Excellent. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen this throughout our 27 years of being involved in the Arab world (12 years living there). Lots of fad-chasers. On all sides of the spectrum. I think it’s human nature to want the latest and greatest. Purpose Driven. Seeker Sensitive. I can remember my dad – who has been a pastor all my life – talking a lot about having a “New Testament Church” in the 70’s. That was the deal then!

    Character and integrity trump everything else, for sure!

    Blessings
    carl

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