How do Missionaries Measure Success ?

by Oct 3, 2022Reflections

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I have observed that missionaries, or “Sent Ones,” tend to be highly motivated people. They have to be. They have a vision to go to a faraway place and establish a new life. They convince their church to send them, then raise the necessary finances to fund their endeavour. Upon arrival on the field, they attempt the near impossible, through a God who does just that! But as the years go by, how do “Sent Ones” determine if they have been successful or not?

In other professions success is measurable. A doctor heals the sick. A businessman creates a profit. A lawyer represents his clients. Even in local churches, we traditionally measure success by new believers, rising attendance, and an annual increase in the budget. But for those who are sent out to work overseas, how do we know when we are succeeding?

Over the last 35 years I have observed that “Sent Ones” measure success in various ways. Some might think the goal is to simply arrive on the field. Others do physical humanitarian aid. Some start new churches or insist on becoming the pastor of an overseas church. I suggest that the answer lies in something Jesus said; something from the discipline of agriculture: “fruit that remains.” Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you (John 15:16).

I am glad I grew up on a farm and studied agriculture at university. For me, the knowledge and discipline I received from those experiences are essential for overseas work. Planting churches, training young pastors, and discipling believers are parallel to cultivating the soil, planting grape vines, and pruning fruit trees. Both tasks require discipline and long-term patience. As “Sent Ones,” we know we are divinely called to our work. We expect to produce fruit, and more than that, “fruit that remains.” But what does that look like? I believe it looks something like this; When the time comes for us to leave, the nationals are trained, self-sufficient, and reproducing what we had taught them. Like growing crops, there are seasons showing little growth, setbacks and loss. But over a long time line, there should be lasting fruit.

As we look back over our shoulders at a life’s work, may there be many new believers left behind who are growing in their faith. May we work ourselves out of a job to facilitate their autonomy. May we leave behind dynamic, healthy local churches that are evangelizing, discipling and reproducing other new churches. Success is knowing that our sending and labours changed our field for eternity.

D & S

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