Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Bible teaching about
missionary traits

Christian Bible study about missionary traits: the personality needed to survive on the field – by Dr. Willis Newman

The Bible teaching about the missionary traits reveals the formula for success on the mission field. Our fictitious characters, John, Grace, and their two young children, are over the top excited about being called to serve God in a foreign culture. 

They have gone to Bible college or seminary (hopefully), have been accepted by a mission board, raised their support, packed their belongings, purchased their tickets, and are on their way to Timbuktu. 

They have in their mind what life will be like when they start their ministry. They just know the people will be so glad to have them, and their expectations soar. Then reality sets in, like running headlong into a brick wall. 

Culture shock slams them in the face. There is constant and unpredictable change, sometimes physical danger, family and financial concerns, political instability, and cultural restrictions. They may face opposition, indifference – and they don’t understand the language.

Food is different. Bugs bombard them. Dirt everywhere – the list goes on. Grace may soon decide she has had enough, heads back home, and starts divorce proceedings. Missionaries aren’t perfect heroes; they are people just like you and me.

Beyond the necessary spiritual dimensions and habits, there are several missionary traits that one needs to know to survive and succeed on the field. I suggest to you the following nine qualities.

Professional Commitment

Examples of these missionary traits include skills in goal setting and planning. 

A genuine loyalty is needed to the sending organization. They must carefully maintain the balance between what the home office wants, and the realities faced in the field. Things work different in different cultures.

Personal Conduct

This is one of the missionary traits that is truly important. The host culture will check you out, and so will the other missionaries you may need to work with. Honesty, integrity, love, relational skills, maturity, morality, and self-control are on the list. Again, building and maintaining positive relationships is critical. 

Motivation and Worldview

This trait means being decisive, and it must be grounded in your world view, values, and beliefs. The initial glow and excitement will soon wear off, and hardship settles in. 

That burning drive must be nourished. It might be religious motivation, humanitarian compassion, youthful idealism, curiosity, or adventure. 

For the Christian, it is the expectations of Jesus in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). The family must share in this commitment: both those on the field, and the ones back home. 

Flexibility and Adaptability

This personal trait will make or break you. One must evaluate, cope and adapt to confusing, unexpected and unpredictable changes. In developing countries you will experience weather problems (e.g. hurricanes, floods, etc), transportation interruptions, power shortages, lack of parts, or telephone outages. Internet service may be poor.

Western standards can seldom be met, and work ethics are different. For example, if a religious celebration, rugby game or important family events happen – your workers will simply not show up. 

Patience

included in the list of important missionary traits is patience. One pitfall that many fresh, excited new missionaries in the mission field fall into is being overly eager to begin "doing ministry" without first learning how to effectively reach their target population.  Patience is a very important trait for every missionary. He or she must be 

willing to take the time to sit back, watch, listen, absorb and learn as much as they can about the people they are going to minister to, and learn about their culture. Failure to 

do so sometimes result in fatal mistakes. It's been told that one of the early missionaries to the Fiji Islands was killed after he touched the hair of a chieftain, which was a serious taboo.

It is imporatant to take the time to get to know people and their culture. Try to find out who are the important and respected figures in the community, and learn about the protocol to follow in approaching community leaders. Try to learn how people celebrate special events such as weddings, funeral, etc. By taking the time, and showing genuine interest in people and their way of life, the missionary will not only gain valuable insights on how to minister to them in the most effective way, but often gain people's respect, which is what opens doors for the Gospel.  

Teamwork and Partnership

Also part of important missionary traits to have refers to the ability to work effectively with colleagues of different racial, cultural, religious, and sociopolitical backgrounds. You will need to work with a team of locals, and your other missionary teammates. Networking and interpersonal skills are the foundation to success. 

You must gain the cooperation with those of the host culture. That means teamwork, not treating them like your inferior lackeys. If you are a short term missionary, it is doubly important to listen to your contacts, and not strike out on your own. You may offend cultural expectations, and leave your hosts cleaning up damage you have caused. 

Cultural Sensitivity

You must be willing to set your own cultural issues aside, and work within the cultural patterns of the host culture. Learn the language, beliefs, values, worldview, and communication patterns – both verbal and non-verbal. I had to learn a hard lesson while living in a foreign culture. It was to separate my Western culture from biblical truth. 

The missionary too often wraps the Bible in their own cultural values and behavior, and tries to impose them on the host culture as biblical absolutes. I found out that many things I thought were sin were just my own cultural norms and values. 

We can blame this condition on something called, “ethnocentrism.” This universal tendency is where we judge other cultures through the lens of our own culture. The personal trait to offset this inclination is to learn to look at the world through the eyes of the host culture. Cultures are developed for survival, and contain both bad and good elements.

Home and Health

In learning about missionary traits, one must also realize that a different culture is a different world. It will not adjust or change itself to suit you – you must adjust to it. If you don’t, the result will tear at your family life and health. 

Homesickness and new environments have a tremendous impact on your spouse and family. It can be emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. You will find fatigue, bewilderment – and new germs. If your family or health fails, so do you. My good friend and deceased colleague, Joe Hennessey, a medical doctor, once told me, “Willis, if you are dead or sick, you are not much use to anyone.” 

Curiosity

This personal trait may seem strange among all the missionary traits one must possess. But, a keen sense of inquisitiveness into the nature of other cultures serves to blunt the stark differences you encounter. It will also keep you from isolating yourself from the people you are trying to reach. 

You must be willing to explore the unknown, partake of fresh ways of living life, and probe into the meanings of strange customs and institutions. Actually, it is quite exciting. You will never be the same.

Humility and Sincerity

One final characteristic in considering important missionary traits in this Bible study is humility. Humility tempers ethnocentrism. This attitude is valuable in breaking down cultural walls. I remember one local telling me, “All those missionaries want to do is come change us.” Paternalism will not work on your behalf. 

An attitude of arrogant superiority will slam doors shut. Remember that people do things the way the do for a good reason: it works for them. Along with humility and sincerity, it is good to have a good sense of humor, and not take things and yourself too seriously. Love people, even when they don’t love you back.

Get people into the Word of God, and let Him do the changing as they begin to filter His Word through their own cultural patterns and make changes through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Finally, we hope that John, Grace and their children will gain these missionary traits, and increase in their love and effectiveness in the culture God has placed them.

With this, Esmie and I wish and pray for your abundant success as you explore mission opportunities, or if you are already on the field. God bless. Incorporate these missionary traits into your own life.

Dr. Willis and Esmie Newman

BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS

1. How does 1 Corinthians 10:32 apply to the personal missionary traits?

2. How would you apply 1 Corinthians 10:24 to missionaries?

3. How does 1 Corinthians 9:23 apply to motivation?

4. How does 1 Corinthians 9:16 relate to the task of missions?

5. How does 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 relate to the personal trait of cultural sensitivity?

6. What does the Great Commission say about mission tasks and motivation?

7. What principles can you identify in relating to other cultures (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)?

8. What does Acts 17:26 teach us about God, culture, and ethnocentrism?

9. Study Acts 17:1-14. What responses might missionaries expect when the gospel is introduced into a new culture?

10. What stands out to you the most in this Bible teaching about personal missioanry traits? Explain.

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