Traditionally, superheroes live unassuming lives hiding behind ordinary careers and eyeglasses, from which they emerge in their caped glory to do incredible acts. It’s the polar opposite for missionaries. Most people know us as dressed up superhero families. But the truth is that hiding behind our supersaint costumes, the classic suit and tie, we are ordinary people who live extra-ordinary lives not because we’re supersaints, but because we have a super God who works through us in spite of our fleshly kryptonite. If you look closely in the pocket of any dress coat, you are sure to see the damaging green glow of flesh that constantly threatens to render us ineffective.
So if that green glow is there, then why do so few people seem to miss the ordinariness of missionaries? Well, missionaries leave the comforts of America; they leave their families and give up most everything for the cause of serving Christ. How could such people not be better than average Christians? It just stands to reason that it must be easier for missionaries to follow God’s will. They must not struggle with sin as much as normal believers. Missionaries must be all-around extraordinary people! Not so. Our families know better. If you have met a missionary and have come away with that kind of opinion, you don’t know them very well.
Ironically, the churches we visit which outwardly show the greatest heart for and active involvement in the Great Commission often seem to forget that missionaries are above all else saved, repentant sinners simply loving their Redeemer through obedience. When churches present missionaries as supersaints more than a couple of dangers lurk around the corner.
Such introductions place missionaries in a separate category from everyone else sitting in the pews. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, “I could never do what you’re doing.” Really? You can’t read your Bible and lean on the Holy Spirit to empower you to obey God’s commands? Every Christian is responsible to obey the Great Commission through the enabling work of the Holy Spirit. And yes, it can be hard and often uncomfortable. But missionaries feel these challenges too. When this is forgotten, and foreign missionaries are placed on pedestals as super-saints, the temptation quickly becomes letting the “professional take care of spreading the gospel,” instead of asking the Holy Spirit to both empower you and to bring opportunities for you to obey and love by sharing the gospel with your neighbors and co-workers.
Another danger of presenting missionaries as super saints is that by elevating people to a false position, we rob God of the glory of what He’s accomplishing as He redeems His people all over the world. He’s the motivating and empowering force here. The missionary simply takes orders and executes them. The equally repugnant twin of this danger is that by ignoring God as the primary hero in missions and focusing on his bumbling side-kick, we can inadvertently stir up false pride in missionary hearts. And remember the kryptonite? Trust us, missionaries struggle enough with sin, we’d really like to avoid that temptation.
Missionaries are no different from anyone else. We are susceptible to all of the challenges, trials, and temptations that any believer might face. I personally struggle with sins like covetousness (when I see people’s homes, iPads, and financial independence), arrogance (especially when I see seeming-problems in churches and with the deputation system), and doubt (questioning God’s will when things get difficult). I’m running a risk by revealing these chunks of kryptonite to you so openly. Please don’t hurl them back at me, but do pray them out of my pocket.
Missionaries in general and we in particular need you to go before God’s throne on our behalf as we seek to minister in Romania. As James O. Fraser appealed to his prayer team in the early 1900’s,
I am not asking you just to give ‘help’ in prayer as a sort of sideline, but I am trying to roll the main responsibility of this prayer warfare on you. I want you to take the burden of these people upon your shoulders. I want you to wrestle with God for them.
We are people, no better than you. But through prayer, God can use our partnership to accomplish superhuman tasks. Please pray for us!