Seven Mistakes that European Missionaries Make

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Operation World says that Europe is the “most secular, least Christian” continent on earth today.  The Lausanne World Pulse Archives states that there are some 234 unreached people groups living in Western Europe alone.  Unreached.  Just in Western Europe.  As in they have never even heard the Gospel message.

For missionaries to Europe, the burden and the scope of the work ahead of us can be overwhelming at times.  Europe desperately needs more missionaries[1].  And because of the gross lack of missionaries, the size and scope of the work ahead of us, and the personal sense of burden for Europe, missionaries here make seven mistakes that could cost them their ministries:

  1. Secular work – Many missionaries in Europe spend all their time and energy working, at both their ministry and also at an outside job in order to support themselves. This is a danger that is particular to the European mission field.  I know very few missionaries here whose support is at 100 percent.  Europe is quite likely the most expensive mission field in the world.  A missionary to Africa can live like a king on $100 a month.  For a missionary here, that won’t get them through a week.  Rents are high in the cities, especially in Western Europe.  But living outside the city will require a vehicle, and everything about even the most economical car is more expensive in Europe: insurance, upkeep, and especially gasoline[2].  As a result, many missionaries must supplement their income by working.  Even the Apostle Paul worked to support himself as a tent-maker.  But he only did this for a few years.  There is nothing wrong with working a secular job to support your ministry.  The problem is that the number of hours in a week remains the same, so something has to suffer, either ministry or personal time.  Full time work equals part time ministry.  And full time work plus part time ministry equals little or no real time for family.
  2. Good works – Many missionaries spend all their time and energy on good works. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a bad thing at all.  That’s the problem with how the defeated enemy operates.  He wants to see us so busy doing ten good things that we neglect the one thing that God actually gave us to do.  Good works don’t scare the defeated enemy, as long as you’re neglecting to share the Good News along with it[3].  With the flood of refugees, missionaries here in Europe are compassionately responding.  Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing.  But if they fail to share the Good News, their efforts to help will have only a temporary effect, at best.  People are hungry, but only Jesus, the Bread of Life, will truly satisfy them.
  3. Inexperience and fear of sharing the Gospel with Muslims – Speaking of the flood of refugees, many missionaries spend all their time and energy, and often their own resources, to feed and clothe them. But in the wake of the recent bombings in Paris and Brussels, they are reluctant to share the Gospel with Muslim refugees.  This is a huge mistake.  Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet.  Did you know that the virgin birth of Jesus is recounted in the Koran?  And Jesus, Himself, is appearing to Muslims all over the world in dreams and visions.  This is a unique opportunity to speak with Muslims in an environment where they are far more open and receptive than in their own countries, and under the watchful eyes of their imams.  We need to be bold to share the Good News with Muslims.  There may only be a brief window of time in which we can do this before Europe becomes another Muslim majority territory.
  4. Skipping or cutting short prayer time – The abundance of more pressing or more practical things can cause busy missionaries to skip or cut short their prayer time. In reality, prayer is the most pressing and practical thing that we do each day.  If you had an appointment to meet with your boss for a strategy session each day before work begins, would you skip that?  Would you cut your meeting short?  And yet that’s exactly what many busy missionaries do.

It is counter-intuitive, but by spending more time in prayer, often God will show you which activities you can or should drop.  Sometimes He will have someone else take over that activity without your even asking them.  We should never be too busy to spend time in prayer.

  1. Skipping or cutting short family time – Because of their busy lives, many missionaries also skip or cut short time with their spouse and children. They reason that the whole family was called to missions, so they’re all on the same page.  The problem is that relationships take work.  In an atmosphere of such busyness, little hurts can fester and grow into big, deep wounds.  The defeated enemy takes advantage of such situations.  Wounds left unchecked can ultimately result in children that rebel, families that split, and sometimes divorce.  When the family unity fails in these ways, ministries and lives are destroyed in the process.  And not only for the missionary family, but also for the people they have reached out to.

Set aside an inviolable hour each day to spend with your family.  Let others in the ministry know that during this time, you are not available.  This investment of time will pay off in close relationships that resist every scheme of the defeated enemy.

  1. Failure to take time to rest – Busyness is also the reason why many missionaries fail to give themselves a day of rest. They think that they are keeping the Sabbath holy by attending or helping out at their local church on Sunday.  But the original reason the Sabbath was given to mankind is rest (see Genesis 2:2-3).  Why are we so busy that we skip our God-ordained day of rest?  Could it be a lack of faith?  Are you saying, “If I don’t do it, then it won’t get done”?  That, my friend, is pride.  That is lack of faith in God’s ability to get the job done despite your weakness and need to rest.

The original Sabbath day is Saturday.  When I began celebrating the Saturday Sabbath, I realized that it turned out to be a good thing that Sunday was established as the “Christian Sabbath.”  This gives missionaries and pastors the opportunity to honor the Sunday Sabbath by pouring themselves into their local church, while honoring the original Sabbath in the original way, by resting, relaxing, and reconnecting with their families on Saturday.  God built the Sabbath into our week so that we would have time for rest and for the important relationships in our lives.  Unfortunately, I can count on one hand the missionaries and pastors of Europe who actually do this—and I am one.

  1. Skipping or cutting short self-care – Few missionaries my age exercise regularly. As working seniors, we’re tired much of the time, so often the first thing to go is the thing that takes both time and energy: exercise.  Many also either overindulge, eat fast food meals, or skip meals—or all three from time to time.  And most make up for the lack of sleep by drinking too much coffee.  Their dedication to ministry is admirable, but unfortunate because if they keep up such bad habits, they will wear their bodies out, weaken their immune system, and set themselves up for early death.  This is an outcome that delights the defeated enemy.  Think about it: what virtue is there is working yourself into an early grave?  That’s not strategic thinking.  That’s nothing but pride.

However, incorporating exercise into your busy day can be easier than you think.  When you have an errand to run, take a bit more time and walk there instead of driving or taking a bus.  Consider investing in a bicycle, and make it your main mode of transportation.  Here in Milan the city has a bike sharing program.  Bike sharing is a concept that is growing in the cities of Europe.

Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, which often cost far less than fast food or processed foods.  Invest a little time in preparation by steaming vegetables, fixing salads, and blending up smoothies.  It will take a little time for you to adjust your routine and taste buds, but give it 66 days—just over two months.  In that time, you’ll find that you’ve lost excess weight, got more energy, and have better muscle tone.

We need to put first things first: our relationships with God and family; and self-care through rest, proper nutrition, and exercise.  If we will put aside our pride and take proper care of all that God has given us, then we will live long enough to see the fruit of our labors.  God is good!

[1] I pray daily for more missionaries to this important and largely overlooked mission field.

[2] It costs about $6.65 for a gallon of gas in Italy, somewhat less in Eastern European countries.

[3] A really excellent book on this subject is Good or God by John Bevere.

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