“Missionaries are my heroes.” I’ve heard that statement more times than you might believe. In fact, I’ve said it myself. I’ve even said it in reference to other missionaries when I was a missionary. I think it’s fitting and biblical to encourage missionaries especially as their jobs require sacrifices that often sound like they were invented by Hollywood screenwriters. Often, we in the church in America, hear stories of missionaries and are in awe of what they have to eat, who they have to minister to, and what modern conveniences they have to leave behind. And when push comes to shove, it’s that extra encouragement from their home country that often gives them the extra energy to keep on keepin’ on.
But there’s danger to extolling missionaries.
The first danger is pride. As godly as missionaries seem and as much as they are sacrificing for the sake of the Kingdom, they are as vulnerable to self-destructive pride as any believer. However, there’s an extra danger for many missionaries. Unlike the typical pastor in the States, missionaries are not always surrounded by a godly elder board that keeps them in check or watched by churched Christians who examine the Scriptures like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11). It is not uncommon for a missionary to be the only pastor, the only exegete, or the only authority in the church. They don’t plan it this way, it’s simply part of missions and bringing the Truth to foreign lands. But when we in America give missionaries the belief that they are untouchable and can do no wrong, they can take that mindset and abuse their power overseas where no one’s the wiser (2 Pet 5:1-3). I have witnessed firsthand missionary pastors who I truly believe would be asked to step down or even be disqualified from ministry were they to lead an American church in the same way they are leading their church on the field.
Is it our fault when such things happen? Absolutely not. But as fellow brethren in Christ, it is our duty to live out biblical fellowship which includes admonition and rebuke as well as praise and encouragement. Think about it. We feel obligated to confront our pastors or call them out when they teach error or fall short in their shepherding. When’s the last time you did that for a missionary? We must be careful, brethren, that we do not give missionaries carte blanche simply because they are missionaries.
I want to mention another danger in extolling missionaries that involves those of us who serve stateside. The more we extol those sacrificing for the Lord, the more we extend the chasm in the minds of American believers between them and those who serve overseas. We make it out like missionaries are a whole different breed of Christian, born and bred to do what they’re doing…and then we wonder why we have trouble recruiting people for short-term missions every summer. Why would they want to go? They haven’t had the special breeding that missionaries have.
We need to remind our people that, yes, missionaries are making a great sacrifice and have been gifted by the Lord to do what they are doing, but we also need to remember that missionaries have the same Savior, the same Spirit, and the same God who gives spiritual gifts to all His children. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as radical Christianity; there’s only Christianity, and whether that involves preaching in a hut in Uganda or honoring the Lord through your janitorial work in the States, we can only be obedient or disobedient.
Are missionaries still my heroes? You betcha. I just need to remember that no hero is infallible and everyone has his kryptonite.