I personally think we missionaries are a smart bunch. Our textbook education is typically high. We’ve been to college, perhaps seminary, and we know some stuff. We’ve figured out how to use our cognition for the King, our intellect for the Incarnated. But while western education is first and foremost intellectual (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing), life is lived and people are loved on the street level, not the lecture hall.
The classic quip about people caring how much you know only after they know how much you care is classic for a reason: it’s true. When we approach a hurting, lost world with brains first, we risk showing a skewed image of Christ. We need our hearts too.
Sometimes I Wonder Where We Put Our Hearts
Hearts can seem to get in the way of missiology, and emotions are inefficient. Emotionally detached workaholics may be great at “getting the job done.” They might not make wonderful spouses or parents, but disconnected, task-oriented, stoic workers can be low-maintenance, efficient missionaries.
Conversely, we must remember that emotions are Christ-like. A missions force with low emotional intelligence is bad for missions, not to mention families, teams, and planted churches. When the DNA of new believers and new churches excludes the sometimes messy reality of the heart, it’s not healthy DNA. Furthermore, a disconnected, task-oriented, stoic missions force isn’t much like Jesus.
“We must remember that emotions are Christ-like.”
Have you ever met a man or woman who seems bottled up emotionally, but the minute they start talking about the lost or missions, they start crying? I’ve met many folks like this, and I’m always baffled. When it comes to their families or other interpersonal relationships, they seem distant and cold, but the minute you mention unreached peoples, cue the waterworks. Something is not right about this picture.
It’s awesome they care about the lost, but how is it that all of their emotional capital got put there? Religion should not be the only place in their life where they really feel emotion.
Building Emotional Intelligence
So, how do we add some heart back in? How do we build emotional intelligence in ourselves and our teams? I believe both the Psalms and the life of Jesus can help us find our hearts. John Calvin in describing the Psalms said this: “What various and resplendent riches are contained in this treasury, it were difficult to describe…for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”
To grow in emotional intelligence and awareness, we must practice. Read a Psalm and the Gospels and try to identify as many emotions as you can. Both involve people, and people feel. Ask yourself, “How do the hands of Jesus reveal the heart of the Father?” If Paul helps us to know the mind of Christ (a good thing), the Psalms show us Christ’s heart. It is the Psalms that Jesus turned to and quoted more often than any other book in the Hebrew Scriptures.
But even more telling, the context in which Jesus referenced the Psalms was almost always when he was in a difficult situation. Jesus was hated without cause, which the Psalms foretold (Ps. 35:19, 69:4; John 15:25). He quoted Psalm 22 while dying on the cross (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34) and when talking about his betrayal (Ps. 41:9; John 13:18). These are just a few of many examples. In stressful situations, when he was under duress or attack, Jesus referred to the Psalms. Maybe that’s when we need to remember the Psalms too.
In our own lives, and in the lives of the people we live among, “bad stuff” is common. Corruption, danger, and loss are the daily realities. And so we need the Psalms. As we watch global instability and fear spread, we need workers with hearts that understand grief and loss. We need workers who know Christ as Healer. We need workers who bring their full hearts to the mission field. Not just their work ethic or their seminarian-intellect, but also their vulnerable, wounded, and healing hearts.
“As we watch global instability and fear spread, we need workers with hearts that understand grief and loss.”
If we connected heart and mind, we’d get kinder, gentler, more sensitive cross-cultural workers. And kinder, gentler, more sensitive disciples.
Making Room for Warrior Poets
The foreign field appeals to warriors, and we amplify this fighting spirit with our dramatic quotes and motivational epigrams. But the unreached peoples of the world also need poets and artists, those who see and speak in different tones, with different cadence and quality.
Too often we think of the “soft” qualities as counterproductive in church-planting work, especially among the least-reached. We recruit hard people for hard fields, and we can’t even imagine the artist or highly emotive worker surviving, let alone thriving. We need warriors, go-getters.
But this approach is wrong, and for the sake of the gospel, we must change it. Tenderness, creativity, gentleness, and whimsy are not soft, esoteric qualities. These are qualities flowing straight from the heart of Christ.
Yes, we should study the mind of Christ, but there is so much more. Christ’s death was not by guillotine, disconnecting head and body. His head was bloodied, his heart was pierced, and all of him was raised.
Let’s make sure that all of him is preached. Let’s make sure that all of him is shown:
- Jesus the advocate and disrupter, the wild one who defied Rome from underneath.
- The brilliant intellect who befuddled the learned men.
Let’s make sure we preach his heart too:
- A heart that felt the sting of death and the tip of the spear.
- A heart that felt abandonment and despair and cared about a widow’s son.
- A heart that laughed and wept and wrote in the dirt.
Let’s remember a Christ who loved the Psalms, and let’s imitate him. Let’s connect with the heart of God, and let’s show the world a richer, fuller, more complete image of Christ.
Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, serving with a missions organization called Team Expansion. He provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center and serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of sixteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. He is a guest contributor for imb.org.