Skip to main content

7 Reasons Westerners Struggle as Missionaries

John chau all nations international a6c3e732
John Allen Chau had a dream founded in a desire to bring hope to people who needed it. And who can’t get behind the idea of bringing hope to needy people? That’s a righteous dream. Nobody could have tried harder to prepare to reach the North Sentinelese than Chau. But he missed a few found…
By sethbarnes

John chau all nations international

John Allen Chau had a dream founded in a desire to bring hope to people who needed it. And who can’t get behind the idea of bringing hope to needy people? That’s a righteous dream.

Nobody could have tried harder to prepare to reach the North Sentinelese than Chau. But he missed a few foundational biblical principles. Like too many Western missionaries, instead of seeking to understand how to best communicate with those he wanted to help, he showed up looking to them like a threatening foreigner.  The result: the islanders shot arrows and killed him.

A better way

The Bible shows us a better way. If we read the book of Acts we see that Paul brought the Gospel to foreign lands by understanding the customs, language and needs of those people.

Jesus, when he was beginning to teach his disciples about how to bring hope, didn’t say, “go in without a plan and just start preaching.” He sent them out in pairs and instructed them to find a trusted local person to help guide them. He called this local guide a “person of peace.”*

Missionaries at their best touch the needy, sharing the love of Jesus in a culturally sensitive way. When missionaries go to the field without adequate preparation, they end up giving all missionaries a black eye.

Here are seven reasons Westerners struggle as missionaries:

1. We struggle with commitment & relationships

We don’t realize how task-focused our own culture is until we travel to countries where relationships and hospitality come first. In some cultures (south India or Morocco for example), weddings can last up to a week. Relationships and celebration are prioritized. This is yet another reason why the best missionaries tend to be those who, because they live nearby, already understand culture and language.

2. We’re entitled

The missionaries from the Moravian movement went out prepared to die. They took their caskets with them. They were already dead to the world and its temptations. How much different are we in America today – the world’s richest nation. We grow up with expectations and comforts that make it difficult to relate to those whose culture and economic status is much different than ours.

3. We have low pain thresholds

Going to another country and learning its culture can be hard. Leaving family and friends can result in great loneliness. Missionary-living is often painful. How well have we parents done at equipping our  kids with resilience? Social psychologists conclude that too many have been coddled. They lack the resilience that missionary life requires.

4. We haven’t gone on our own kingdom journey yet

The best way to understand if God is calling you to missions is often to go on a shorter trip with appropriate leadership. We need to get experience with the issues we’ll be faced with as missionaries before we make such a big commitment. A kingdom journey like The World Race is a great way to begin to understand and confirm a call to missions. It’s also a good way to confirm your identity in Christ.

5. We haven’t done identity work yet

Too many missionaries offer a gospel based in works. Knowing who you are in Christ is what gets you to the freedom he promises. He said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And he also said that “the truth will set you free.” The truth is that we are sons and daughters of a Creator who loves us, warts and all. When we understand that, then we have good news to share.

6. We’re distracted and addicted to social media

Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge have researched the negative impact social media has had on young people. Most missionary work is grounded in relationships, but social media has made our society more anxious and less relational, poor candidates to serve as missionaries.

7. We’re not disciple-makers

If as a western Christ-follower you are not making disciples in your own home town, it will only be more difficult for you in another culture. Missionaries are disciple-makers who learn how to blend into cultures that are different than their own. We need to practice disciple-making in our own culture first.

Conclusion

Jesus asked his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. It’s not called the “Great Suggestion” but the Great Commission. If we follow Jesus, we have to lean into going to bring hope to those who need it. It’s part of the deal.

Those who worry about not being good enough in their going often use that as an excuse for not ever going. But we can also do a better job of getting ready to go! It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

Why not begin by asking God where his children need hope? When he shows you, then prepare to go. A great place to start is to study where other missionaries have stumbled and to learn from them.

*Luke 10:5-6

Comments (4)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

about team