By David Frazier
David is a veteran message bearer serving for more than 20 years in an unreached Muslim nation.
Research and Principles
Missiological (the study of Christian cross-cultural mission) research suggests that while most message bearer attrition is unpreventable (i.e., health problems, children’s education, normal retirement, lack of support, elderly parents, change of job, political crisis), much of the attrition seems preventable. These are the important issues that warrant research.
One such research project suggests the most common causes of early departure from the field are related to commitment/calling, relational problems with co-workers, marriage/family conflict, spiritual immaturity, poor cultural adaptation, problems with local leaders, inappropriate training, lack of job satisfaction, and immorality (Taylor 1997, 89). These issues are about Christian character, approach to ministry, personal worldview, ministry experience and spiritual maturity.
There is no guarantee for preventing all problems encountered by message bearers on the field; however, do most of the preventable ones stem from qualities that can and should be developed and tested at the local church level, during message bearer selection and candidacy?
Evaluating the lessons learned from ReMAP (an authoritative missiological research project considering attrition), Bloecher says, “Perseverance and humility are essential for an ambassador for Christ: learning the language, understanding the culture, and walking alongside new believers as Jesus did” (Bloecher 2005, 229). Research and experience suggest that message bearers who do not leave for the field with certain proven character qualities which undergird the necessary ministry skills and the cross cultural understanding struggle to achieve long-term, effective cross-cultural ministry.
Therefore, message bearers desiring to minister cross-culturally must enter their host culture with a heart of humility. Humility is crucial in order to labor diligently to learn the host language well. “Language learning and cultural adaptation is basically becoming as a child again” (Hile 1979, 2). Humbling oneself to learn a language “is a voluntary act requiring a special kind of maturity” (Brewster 1976, 6).
True humility enables message bearers to exhibit the “rigorous discipline and self-effacement” needed to play the role of a learner and gain cultural and spiritual insight from locals (Allen 1986, 121). “The goal of the message bearers is to become as much an insider as is necessary to be credible” because “living on the periphery of the culture as an outsider drastically reduces effectiveness” (Roembke 2000, 87).
Moreover, without understanding the local culture, message bearers have no way of discovering the underlying worldview of the host people. “The key that unlocks the secrets hidden behind the doors of another culture is language (Hile 1979, 2). Most of the problems faced by Christians today come from a worldview not impacted by Christ. Only a humble listener and learner will work patiently over time to gain this invaluable insight.
Humility is also demonstrated by listening to experienced foreign workers on the field. A constant attitude of humility is vital for every Christian, but its significance seems larger when a foreigner enters a new place and is attempting to incarnate a new faith into a new culture—a new worldview that has at its foundation the principles of child-like faith, servanthood, and other-centered agape love.
The message bearer Paul said to the brethren in Corinth, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3) and to the Thessalonians, “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thes 2:8).