Today, I came across a secular article regarding four questions to ask of those who seek to “volunteer in Africa.” What I read there struck me as some pretty good advice from a secular perspective that overlaps with advice that seems applicable in a spiritual perspective regarding missions. You can read the short article here.
I hope you’ll take an extra couple minutes and read the article (entitled: “Dear volunteers in Africa: please don’t come help until you’ve asked yourself these four questions”).
If you don’t have time or interest, here are the four questions without the explanations and thoughts of the author (which are quite good):
1. Would you volunteer abroad if you had no cameras with you?
2. Does the agency have the same intentions and values that you do?
3. Are you going to be doing more harm than good?
4. Would you trust yourself enough to do this job in your own country?
To add some thoughts to what you have just read, I think this also applies to missionaries, and especially perhaps for short-term missionaries (i.e. days, weeks, to months). These four questions might provide us with a simple litmus-test (other requirements notwithstanding; just some “rules of thumb”) for missions ministry.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with taking pics to document your work, but one’s personal motivation is certainly worth a critical self-evaluation. It’s always important to get down to why one wants to serve, minister, and go. One pitfall is to approve of anyone who “wants to go” with little if any introspection or evaluation over the “why?” (i.e. motivation for going).
Of course, that’s hard to absorb and to accept as it hits at our pride. No doubt, at times, we all struggle with wanting to serve Christ while also not wanting to go unrecognized for doing so. But Keith was right on (in the vernacular of his day) because this is exactly what Jesus taught:
- in regards to giving, Jesus taught us “to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing.”
- in regards to recognition (i.e. pride), Jesus taught us (in his cultural context) to take the least regarded seat at the table rather than accepting the place of honor as if we felt we deserved it.
- in regards to praying and spiritual service, Jesus taught us to do so in secret, in the closet where only our heavenly Father sees what we’re doing rather than doing so publicly in order to be seen by others.
In all these things and in many other teachings of our Lord, Jesus is knocking our pride. It’s our pride that is naturally at the center of our stage, and our pride must be knocked out of the spotlight. Doing so necessarily knocks us out of the spotlight too. As John the Baptist famously said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
I could also tie this issue of pride into the other 3 questions.
For example, we might not even care if the agency’s intentions and values are the same as ours as long as in going our ego is stroked by our hidden or perhaps simply unrecognized prideful agenda (Q2). We might not notice or even care if our “ministry” does more harm than good because our pride is satisfied by what we’re going to do and why we’re going to do it, or at least even by just what we think we’re going to do and why we think we’re going to do it (Q3). We might not ever do the same ministry at home because either we’re not really qualified to do it (and overseas the needs are so great we could simply “get away with doing it”) or because we find it easier to go somewhere distant and reach people with the “love of Christ” while we find it difficult at home because we find that our neighbors are simply “harder to love” (Q4).
All of this is not to discourage us from wanting to serve overseas or anywhere else, but we should always be quick to distrust our motives and to self-evaluate through Spirit-filled introspection. It’s not for me to do that for you or you for me. We need to “examine ourselves” and to be sure that our motives are worthy of our calling. I think this is a reminder that is timely for us…all the time.
Humility is the key to all ministry in the name of Jesus Christ, and I believe these four questions are helpful in identifying whether our ministry-motive is based in humility or in pride. Let’s remember to examine ourselves and answer them honestly.