Endemic throughout many churches and Christian homes is the myth that missionaries are “super-saints,” more spiritual, godly, and moral than the “common” Christian. For the most part, this myth is rooted in an understandable desire to honor and respect believers who’ve sacrificed home and family in order to further the Great Commission.
But not only is this myth profoundly untrue, it’s also damaging to the church and to missionaries themselves. IMB’s Caleb Crider met with retired missionaries Dr. Rebekah Naylor, Tom Jones, and Larry Pumpelly to discuss the myth’s roots and how churches can correct it.
Damaging to the Mission
For many would-be missionaries, this assumption that they must somehow graduate into a higher class of spirituality is the very thing which holds them back from the mission field. Too often, the call of God is drowned out by the chorus voices demanding absolute perfection of any believer seeking to serve overseas.
Moreover, this myth holds missionaries to an impossible standard. No man or woman can live up to this image of the ideal missionary. Believers serving overseas will struggle and stumble and even fall, just like their brothers and sisters back home. And the constant pressure of perfection makes failure not only more devastating but more likely, as missionaries crumble under the weight of misguided expectations.
At the end of the day, a missionary looks like everyone else, serving God where he has placed them and how he has gifted them. They may be in a different geographic location, but they are not on a higher spiritual plane. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “There are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person” (1 Cor. 12:4–6 HCSB).
Jaclyn S. Parrish worked as a writer for IMB in South Asia. She currently serves in the US as a writer, editor, and social media associate for IMB. You can follow her on Twitter at @JaclynSParrish.