Why Is Having a Godly Character so Foundational for Missionaries?
The 4 C’s: Calling, Character, Chemistry, Competency
Article by Daniel Topf, PhD
Growing in godly character is part of God’s salvific purposes for us as followers of Christ. As born-again believers, the Holy Spirit dwells within us, empowering us for service and leading us on a path toward sanctification, with the goal of becoming more like Jesus. Having fellowship with God and growing in godly character is an expression of God’s grace in our lives, which is of foundational importance when doing any kind of ministry. Growing in sanctification is therefore one of the most valuable things you can do as you are thinking about becoming a missionary, and it is something you can begin to do right now! Here are some questions and suggestions regarding important areas in which we all need to continue to grow.
Practice a variety of spiritual disciplines on a regular basis
As an aspiring missionary or minister in a cross-cultural context, you will need a solid prayer life. Reliance on prayer is one of the six Guiding Principles we have at World Team, and it is essential that you have developed the kind of relationship with God where you are in regular communion with Him. As you pray, you develop intimacy with God and learn to rely on Him for all your needs, whether these pertain to your personal life or your ministry.
Pursue emotional and spiritual maturity
Mission agencies like World Team look for mature Christians to join them. Of course, we are not talking about being perfect – none of us are. It does, however, mean that we are looking for individuals who are on a pathway of growth when it comes to godly character. For example, this means that we want to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, displaying characteristics like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23).
It is also important that future missionaries are emotionally stable, strong team players, and know how to submit to those in authority. Often times, we achieve this kind of personal growth in critical areas of our life by seeking fellowship and accountability with other mature believers. In all these endeavors, we always want to focus on God, allowing Him to transform us by His Holy Spirit. After all, “it is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebr. 13:9, NIV), rather than by trying to follow a set of rules. As we experience transformation through the Lord’s gracious intervention, our lives become a testimony for the gospel to those we are ministering to.
Grow in specific areas
Based on God’s grace, we can expect to experience growth and transformation in specific areas of our lives. One of these crucial areas that affects all of us has to do with how we handle our finances. Jesus talked a lot about money, and for good reason – after all, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). As followers of Jesus, we need to renounce things like greed, materialism, and the love of money (cf. Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:5–10; Hebr. 13:5). Instead, we should embrace values such as generosity, simplicity, and contentment in all circumstances.
It also contributes to our spiritual growth when we develop godly principles in relation to our sexuality. If single, we want to be content with our singleness (while recognizing that we might wrestle with contentment at times). If married, we (hopefully) have learned how to work together as a team and have a healthy relationship with our spouse. Both single and married people encounter temptations when it comes to relating to the opposite sex, which is why it is critical to have healthy boundaries in place that enable us to stay on the path of sexual purity.
Points to Think and Talk About
- In many countries, there is no church (especially no English-speaking church). How would you sustain yourself spiritually in such a situation?
- Workers seem to be most tempted in four areas: money, sex, power/control, and pride. As you think about the last three years of your life, describe what you have learned about yourself. How do you handle temptation in these four areas?
- In your opinion, what are some of the characteristics of a person who is spiritually mature?
- What do you do to protect yourself in a sex-charged, materialistic culture?
- If you are single: How do you feel about going to the field as a single person? What would you say to a person who wants to be a missionary because they cannot find a spouse?
- If you are married: What resources have you ‘leaned on’ to help you grow in your marriage and family life? What do your children think about living in another country?
Endnotes / Suggestions for Further Reading
- 1 The Guiding Principles of World Team are: gospel-centered, reliance on prayer, holistic church planting, facilitative mindset, teamwork, and incarnational ministry (see also: Guiding Principles | World Team USA).
- 2 There are many good books about spiritual disciplines; a classic in this regard is Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).
- 3 In fact, one of the key characteristics missionaries need to be effective is humility, as highlighted by Duane H. Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006).