You know this: A missionary needs an identity rooted in Christ, and not in being a missionary.
You also know this: Who you are matters. If God didn’t care about each of us being unique, why go to the effort of multiple hair colors and textures, body types, heights, skin colors, and sports teams?
Being a missionary is something to take pride in, the problem many of us run into is that with our mouths we say, “My identity is ultimately in Christ.” But too often with our hearts we believe, “My identity is wrapped up so much in being a missionary, it’s really where my value as a person lies.”
Being a missionary is good and worthy and important (and fun and we get to go to cool places!), but it is not supreme. It cannot bear the weight of being the most important part of your identity, only Christ can.
We know this! But it is so important we get it right. Because this is what’s at stake:
- Your worth is not in what you do or how much you are paid. Your worth is in Christ. The world values money and status. The church, sadly, can also place higher worth on certain roles. In this case, the world and the church are wrong. You are worthy because you are a precious child of God. You are the very Imago Dei.
- The amount of transition missionaries tend to experience can lead you to unfairly link identity to a city, an organization, or a people group. All virtuous, yes. All will experience change.
- Many of the fields and assignments for missionaries have instability built into them. Your visa may be assumed to be a shoe-in, but we serve at the pleasure of governments that can change their minds. We have landlords that can change the contract. We live in countries that experience conflict. Hello, COVID, I’m looking at you too!
- No matter how great your family is, your hometown is, or your internet connection is, being a missionary influences your sense of belonging.
- It is more discussed now than it had been, but because you may be support-based, there is a pressure to perform. An identity in Christ relieves the pressure to perform, as it is based in love, not works. In a recent newsletter I wrote: “The last three years I have set out like I was in a courtroom and you were the judge. I have presented evidence that your faith and support in me are not in vain. In part, I wanted to educate you about XYZ ministry. But a greater part was to let you see exhibit A: look at what Amy is doing! and exhibit B: look at what Amy is doing over here! and exhibit C: More doing folks! I have crossed another line in my newsletter-writing career. I feel secure here. You know what XYZ ministry is. You know who I am. You know the heart of what I am trying to help foster in the world. The spirit of scarcity is not the the Holy Spirit I follow.”
- The results of your work are not always seen. I’m working on a project involving my newsletters from the mid-90s and in rereading them, I’m reminded of people we had been investing in and praying for. In many cases, they did not become Christians. But that was twenty years ago and I’m wondering where they are spiritually now.
- Someone will always have better behaved children, a “more spiritual” walk, superior language skills, or a more harrowing medical story.
- You may be allowed to do things on the field that you are not allowed to do in your passport country (like preach or serve communion). Or vice versa.
- You know Sabbath and other spiritual disciplines are important. When you are a missionary, you might practice them because you “should” or feel guilty because you are not practicing them. Instead, when your identity is in Christ, you might not have less internal struggle as to how challenging they can be, but you will have less guilt and more assurance in your position in God’s heart.
- It shows you really believe Jesus when he talked about coming to him like a child and coming to set the captives (like you) free. Or when He spoke on the importance of being a servantnand the command to not be anxious about anything in our lives.
I love being a missionary (most of the time). I love that I have been exposed to many countries and people and different ways to be human. I love it. What I don’t love is when I confuse my role in the kingdom of God with where my true identity lies.
This list reminds me of what it means to be a missionary whose identity is rooted in Christ, instead of a Christian whose identity is rooted in being a missionary. My hope and prayer is that it’s done the same for you.