You know the drill. It's Sunday morning, and instead of your pastor launching into a sermon, a stranger comes up on stage armed with a video presentation featuring numerous photos of them working with groups of kids and adults in a far-off, exotic locale, along with a recitation of Matthew 9:37-38.
But the purpose of their message is never to reveal possible vacation locations to visit or avoid but to ask for your needed prayer and financial support. Missionary work throughout the world is vital for spreading the Gospel, and these men and women really could use your support to help their work. But how do you make sure your money goes toward a missionary who will effectively teach God's Word and make a lasting difference in remote, Third World people groups?
Papau New Guinea missionary Justin Bullington of new Tribes Mission USA writes for Every Last One and warns that many well-intentioned missionaries enter the foreign mission field ill-equipped and can even do more harm that good.
He suggests gives questions to answer a missionary before you support them:
1. Have they been trained for cross-cultural ministry? If you don't understand the culture you're preaching to, it's easy for you to be telling them one thing but having them get a very different meaning out of it due to differences of cultural expressions and practices. Bullington points out that many cultures believe strongly in a spirit world, and missionaries can mistakenly lead people to believe that Jesus is just another spirit to be appeased or tricked into giving them stuff.
2. Have they received a Biblical education? In the field, you have to deal with a full range of theological issues as you engage people in every aspect of their lives with a life-changing Gospel.
3. Will they learn the culture and the language first? Language conveys truth, but misunderstood language can easily lead to the seeds of falsehood that a missionary may not even realize they're planting because of a language barrier. And it's hard to get deep into the Word with people when your command of their language is very child-like.
4. Do they teach the Bible chronologically? It's easy for those of us with a church-going background to open up any book of the Bible and know its context. But for people who have never heard the Word, it's best to start in Genesis. Bullington writes, "God revealed Himself progressively to mankind, laying the foundations of His character, sin, Satan, and substitutionary atonement way back in Genesis, gradually adding more revelation over time to provide a clearer picture of the reality of the world." This is not the preferred method of those looking for quick and easy professions of faith before moving on to the next village.
5. Are they making disciples or making dependents? Sadly, some missionaries, intentionally or unintentionally, have garnered positions of great power amidst the people groups they're ministering to. The question a missionary must ask themselves after they've been in one place for a while is, if they were to leave the responsibility of shepherding the newly founded church in the hands of a trained local, would their work fall apart?
Can you think of other vital questions to ask? Asking for their evidence of salvation comes to mind.