We Have to Stop Idolizing Missionaries

Let’s be honest. Inviting your coworkers to church over lunch just doesn’t have the spiritual pizzaz of overseas missionary work.

If you grew up in church, your heroes didn’t live in the pages of a comic book. They showed up at church-hosted missionary conferences every year, telling stories about exotic animals, jeeps getting stuck in the mud, miraculous recoveries and villages transformed by the gospel. You watched videos of third-world children singing a familiar song in another language. You saw pictures of a half-finished church building. You felt the passion with which missionaries talked about their work. And somewhere along the way, you started to believe that overseas missionary life was the life that every Christian should be living, if they really loved God. And you started to question your own calling.

We tend to see full-time missionaries, especially those that work overseas in third-world countries, as sort of the pinnacle of Christianity. We spend time telling and hearing the stories of famous missionaries like the Judsons or Hudson Taylor. We romanticize the idea of giving up everything to go live in a South American jungle or an African desert.  We feel like if we aren’t serving God as missionaries overseas, then we aren’t living for Christ. Not really. Not to the max.

We say that every part of the body of Christ is important, but we don’t really believe it.

Especially not when it comes to the parts of the body that happen to be doing missions. You can see it in the way we talk about and even talk to missionaries. We’re kind of in awe of them. They’re superhuman, larger-than-life heroes of the faith in ways that we’re not.

If you think I’m making this up, read this blog post by an actual overseas missionary. He talks about how this romanticization and idolization of missionary life not only hurts people back home, but missionaries themselves.

I know I haven’t been called to any kind of full-time missions work, at least not yet. My gifts and my passions are about discipleship. But each time a missionary asks, “Who will answer the call?” or “Who will go?” I feel a profound sense of inadequacy. Like my work in my home church and with my friends and family isn’t good enough. I question everything I’ve been working on and wonder if it’s worth it, even though in my heart I know that God just hasn’t called me to overseas missions and that the people here are just as important to God as the people on another continent.

If I really examine my feelings in those moments, I realize that at the heart of it isn’t God, because it’s not what God has called me to.

It’s about me.

I want to feel important. I want that pedestal. I want the glory. I want to feel like I’m “giving it all up” for Christ, no matter what God’s will is. In my quest to feel more spiritual and be seen as more spiritual, for a moment I ignore the fact that I’m not called to that kind of evangelism. 

This isn’t to say that all missionaries who work overseas are only pursuing a level of Christian status. Just that our sense of importance should come from God and not from the location or manner of our ministry. God has called you to be content and to work hard, whether your mission field is a thousand miles away or just across the street.

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