The missionary trap (one of many)…

You may say that you have a love for missions, but do you have love for people? There are some of us out there who confuse our love to “do something” with true love for people. Love for people is absolutely the only way to prove our love for God. If you are constantly being critical of people, how can you say you love them? If you are not patient with those who are not living up to your doctrinal or spiritual standards, and you find yourself throwing spiritual rocks at them, how can you say that you love God? You are nothing, but a self-righteous pharisee who hates God and loves only yourself.

If you read the scriptures you will find that Jesus loved, truly loved, a band of twelve doctrinally incorrect  and spiritually immature men.  He didn’t just separate Himself from them because they weren’t getting it. No. He loved them instead. The self-righteous man would have omitted Rahab from the 11th chapter of Hebrews because she lied about the whereabouts of the spies, but God placed her there to show us that it is not our own doing that bring us to good standing with Him. His grace alone does this.

If a man or a woman is going to step onto the mission field and serve the God he says he or she loves, he or she must empty themselves from self and avoid at all costs the missionary trap that makes a man or a woman believe that they have it all figured out. The missionary must be like Christ, patiently holding the hand of those His Father brings to him or her, and loving them until the end, flaws and inconsistencies and immaturities included.

For the past seven months I have spoken with people who know very little about the truth of Scriptures but are willing and eager to be taught. They are hungry. They look up to the missionaries to teach them what they know. The problem that I find is that those who are mature or call themselves missionaries are too busy either feeding themselves or criticizing those who are immature. My heart breaks when I see this.

A lady came to my gate a few months ago and I asked her if she knew Jesus. She said she did. I pressed a little further to see who was this Jesus she knew. She told me about the Jesus she knew. She learned about him in some church. When I told her about the Jesus I know she was in shock. She had not heard about this Jesus. I found it strange that there are groups of people who are gathering together in church  to learn about Jesus week after week and they walk away not knowing the real Jesus. I find it even more strange that missionaries are so quick to make comments such as, “That church is horrible. Their doctrine is way off”, yet don’t make any effort to come alongside to help them and teach them the truth.

Lack of love for people. Lots of love for self. This is what God has been showing me lately. I have no rights to strip a brother or sister in Christ away and label them as a heretic when I haven’t even made an effort to reach out to them and tell them the truth. They are not heretics when they are not taught, they are heretics only if they persist to believe and teach an error after being taught. Until then, we have no right whatsoever to call them heretics. And we have even less rights when we are not willing to pick up our cross and teach them. When I think of this I am reminded of Paul speaking in Athens to the crowds and telling them how he perceived that the men there were religious because they worshiped all sorts of idols including an unknown god. He used this as an opportunity to share the gospel. He saw the error and brought correction to it because he loved them. Because of it, some believed the true gospel and were saved.

But so many of us are too busy defending our standing and forming cliques with those who hold our own views that we dare not step out of our comfort zones and bring loving, patient, gentle, convicting correction to others.  Instead, we stay away and we criticize. Everyone is wrong. So I stay away in my little place where everyone agrees with me and I can say what I want to say and never have to confront anyone with truth. And we call ourselves missionaries? No. We are blind hypocrites who don’t understand the love of God.

All of our knowledge is nothing if we don’t have love so deep that moves us to patiently bring a man back from his error. There is a huge mission field out there and it is not necessarily in the jungle. It is in the church!

Here is what I find ironic. Christians, myself included, go to a church for a while. We find out that they are a little off in some of the things they are doing, or teaching. We make a comment to our spouses, or friends. The comment turns into lengthy conversations about church doctrine. The conversations turn into lengthy prayers about what to do. The prayers feed our frustrations because we are not praying out of love for others, but rather out of love for self. The frustrations moves us to leave the church and go to another, or even start our own. And this keeps us in a cycle of fault and flaws finding because we were not seeking to glorify God by ministering to His bride in the first place, instead we were looking for something that meets our sinful desire to be pleased, or to be right. We go through all this hassle because we loved ourselves more than we love people. And this lack of love for people reveals our lack of love for God. For how can a man say he loves God if he doesn’t love man whom God created in His image?

By the way, when I speak of a church, I am not speaking of a cult here, but rather an evangelical church who adheres to the basic doctrine of salvation as define by Scriptures only, and might be off in some things such as spiritual gifts, election, evangelism, etc.

I ponder on these things a lot. And I have come to understand that there is a missionary trap that must be avoided at all costs. This trap blinds us to the real needs of people. It keeps us slaves to our agendas and desires and methods. It makes us think that doctrine is what we ought to follow. And it removes the bride of Christ, and sometimes even Jesus, out of the picture. I have seen this quite a bit on the mission field. And I have fallen in the trap too! Missionary, the bride of Christ might be immature, but that does not mean she is not the bride of Christ. Reach out to the bride of Christ. Whether that is in the church or outside the four walls of the church building, find yourself nurturing and laboring for the bride until she grows up to the stature of the measure of Christ.

Think about this, the clearest explanation of the gospel of Jesus was written by Paul to a church he had not even been to–Rome. Paul took the time to make sure the gospel was clearly understood by the church someone else had started. If the Roman church had any doctrinal confusion, it was addressed because Paul took the time to make sure there was no confusion at all. Rather than making judgements about their doctrinal position, he taught them. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Reach? Teach? Make disciples?

I don’t say these things because I am already there. These are things that God has been showing me during the past seven months as He is revealing my heart through His word, my experiences, and my interactions with other missionaries here in Costa Rica. I say these things because they are the truth, and if you are called a missionary, or a Christian, I want you to avoid this dangerous trap of self-righteousness which so easily masquerades itself as love for God. You may not be in love with God, but in love with your doctrine. Or even worse, in love with yourself.

I am still learning to walk outside of my little bubble of self and to step into the shoes of a servant, serving those who may not necessarily understand, know, or believe the truth the way that I do. I recognize that I am a student just like anyone else and that it takes a work of grace in our hearts to rid us of the bondage of self-righteousness which knowledge without love has the tendency to create in all of us. And I am asking the Lord to show us all “a still more excellent way”–the way of love. (1 Corinthians 12:31b ESV)

I pray that this encourages and challenges you to press on to Christ and to love Him with all your might, even when you have no strength to do so, so that this love can overflow out of you in a genuine love for people. When that happens, missions becomes about the glory of God throughout all the earth, and not about you trying to convince others that all your knowledge is of some greater worth than God Himself. Let us be like Paul, the greatest missionary ever, who called the foolish Galatians “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19 ESV emphasis mine). May His name be the only name that is exalted and not our own.–Maria

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