The Work Schedule of a Missionary
One of the challenges of living on the mission field is keeping one’s perspectives in order, never losing sight of what the priorities should be. A possible pitfall for the missionary is that, in contrast to a staff member back in the States, he is his own on-site boss. Though there should be a system of accountability, often this is not the case.
Understanding this dynamic, the missionary would be wise to follow a few principles to ensure that he is being effective on the mission field:
- Have a constant appreciation for the sacrificial giving by hard-working church members back home.
The Apostle Paul, the great hero of missions, concluded his letter to the Philippian Church by remembering their sacrifice in that “ye did communicate with my affliction….concerning giving and receiving…ye sent once and again unto my necessity” (Philippians 4:14-16). I enjoyed staying in homes when we travelled on deputation, because it etched in my mind the sacrifice of those dear families who work 40, 50, 60 hours a week, and give a great percentage of their income to support ministries like ours. It is good for me to be mindful of the fact that they work diligently in order for me to fulfill God’s calling on my life.
When I remember these men who leave for work before daylight, and return at dusk, it convicts me that I must be busy about my Father’s business, the business I was sent by these hard-working men to accomplish here.
But all too often, the missionary gets into a rut of casualness. He assimilates into the casual, laidback way of life on the field. He justifies his lack of busyness by telling himself two things: a) “I’ve already sacrificed by giving up my way of life back home,” and b) “It takes so much of my time to just live here and take care of the mundane needs of the family.”
One way to overcome this temptation is for the missionary to live his life by a schedule. Because the missionary no longer has a boss, such as he had at his place of employment during college; and because he doesn’t have a pastor to whom he daily gives account, then he must make his schedule his boss. He must get up early and schedule a few hours each morning to spend in his Bible and in prayer. He must schedule office time to study and prepare lessons and messages, stay current on communicating with his pastors back home, and keep his finances and administrative duties of the ministry in order. He should have scheduled time to do manual labor at the church house. He needs to have scheduled time of ministering to his people each day during which he goes soul winning, visits his members, has activities with the church people, visits in the orphanages, nursing homes, and hospitals, and many other such ministry activities. He has to have a schedule, and that schedule has to become his boss.
- Never lose sight of the reason you were sent.
When Paul and Barnabas were chosen by the Holy Spirit to be sent out from the Church at Antioch, we read that they were separated “for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). The philosophy of twenty-first century missions should be no different from that of first-century missions: the purpose is to establish local churches, and teach them to go and do likewise. On each of Paul’s missionary journeys, he worked hard preaching the gospel and establishing local churches. And he taught them to go and do likewise. He was so devoted to this cause that he instructed his protégé to do the same in II Timothy 2:2: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
It was of these great churches on the mission field that he later wrote to the Corinthians, and this passage has become the challenge for our churches today to give to missions. He wrote that the churches in Macedonia [Paul’s mission field] had sacrificed beyond their power to give, though they were in a great trial of affliction. He wrote that the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality (II Corinthians 8:1-3).
This is a church that was started on the bank of a river, and whose charter members included the Philippian jailor and his family (Acts 16)! And yet the Apostle Paul worked, taught, trained and organized this church into one of the model examples of a missions-sending and missions-giving church in church history!
I hate to be blunt, but biblical missions is not going to a mission field and planting a garden and spending long hours canning or raising livestock. Biblical missions is not spending your days building a house on the mission field. Nor is biblical missions going to a remote village and teaching the people how to better grow their crops and how to more efficiently raise their livestock. If the only way to stay in a country is by humanitarian endeavors or teaching English, etc. then that is justifiable and fine and well. However, when this is the case, the priority and goal should still be to evangelize that community and to establish a local church.
The reason you will have a hard time finding anything left from a “missions society” from ages past, is that their goal was not to establish churches, but to establish schools and orphanages and clinics and teach the people how to make a better life for themselves. The church is the only institution you can establish on the mission field that will endure for the ages. Biblical missions is church-planting missions.The missionary should never lose sight of the purpose for which God has moved him to the mission field. He was not sent to the field to have a relaxed life and sit around the house and watch television. He was sent to reach the lost, and he should spend his time doing just that!
- A lazy missionary can become a hindrance to the ministry.
When a missionary’s weekly schedule is relaxed and allows for laziness, he becomes a hindrance to those who serve in the church on the mission field. The prospective preacher or Sunday school teacher begins to reason that, because they do as much work as the missionary, they should be on salary as well. Here are some interesting statements I’ve heard from prospective full-time Christian servants on the mission field:
- “You are paid to come here and reach these people with the gospel. Therefore, because I’m helping you do that, I should get a cut of your income.”
- “Why do you say I should visit ten hours a week when that missionary is only going out on Saturdays?”
- “If he is paid to come over here and start a church and he has such a relaxed schedule, why should I be expected to teach a Sunday school class without being paid?”
It’s difficult to exhort a new Christian to give his life to the Lord and sacrifice to serve the Lord when he sees a lazy missionary who spends most of his time at home and not busy working in the ministry. The young Christian on the mission field can conclude that he should also be allowed to work just a few hours a day and still consider himself to be a ‘full-time Christian servant.’ The only models of Christian service for the young Christian on the mission field are the missionaries he is led by. And when he perceives that the missionary is slothful in his work, this encourages him to be lazy as well.
In John 9:4, Jesus became our example in our labors for Him when He said,
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
May we be busy about our Master’s business to reach this world while the Lord gives us daylight!