Missionary Intangibles

mission intangibles

Intangibles: Intelligent, high-character, well-respected player on and off the field. Quiet leader by example.

A couple of weekends ago the National Football League had its annual draft.  My son knew the name, position, and ranking of every player on the board.  He knew the player’s college team, how fast they ran the 40, how much each bench pressed, and which NFL team would probably draft them.  I wish he was as diligent about studying his geometry.   Anyway, after you wade through all the absolute physical necessities of a potential NFL player, you get to the intangibles.  Beyond the times and weights and other statistics, professional teams look at qualities such as character, reliability, morality, honesty, and teachability.  Coaches and general managers know that the strongest and the fastest cannot be productive employees if they can’t learn the plays and stay out of jail.

Recently, I was looking  over a three page document entitled:  Minimum and Preferred Qualifications for Wycliffe Membership.  If you think a missions organization will take any warm body, you really need to go through Wycliffe’s application process.  Before Wycliffe will approve a person for membership, he or she has to meet specific nonnegotiable requirements in four critical areas:  Spiritual Foundation and Maturity, Personal Foundation, Interpersonal Skills, and Family Foundation and Relationships.  I won’t explain all of these “must have” qualities because I promised to keep my Mission Fortnights short.  But this leads us to the mission question for this fortnight:  Beyond the minimal requirements, what single intangible characteriztic is essential for a missionary’s success?  Over the years I’ve spent thousands of hours talking to people who “made it” as missionaries and those who didn’t.  Wycliffe Personnel Administration has screened people for the basics, my job is all about sorting out the intangibles.

So, what is the number one intangible needed for mission’s success?  Oh, I believe it is HUMILITY.  If there was such a thing as a Humility Quotient (HQ), missionaries would have to score in the genius range.  I’ve seen many people come and go in missions over the years.  I’ve seen smart people and no so bright people.  I’ve seen the skilled and the unskilled.  I’ve seen the happy and the sad.  And I’ve seen the arrogant and the humble.  But through it all, HUMILITY trumps everything in terms of survival across cultures.  People who know how to say,  “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry” and “I don’t know, what do you think?” and “Thank you for your help” and “How can I serve you?” are able to make it through the most stressful conditions. Not surprisingly, HUMILITY is essential for keeping healthy relationships.  And really…those relationships are the key venue for disciplemaking.

I’ll paste a link to more than fifty Scriptures on this topic but let me just mention a couple here:  Matthew 23:12 says, For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”  and Proverbs 29:23   “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”  I’ve seen these principles played out in reality over and over and over again in and out of missions.


You all have a humble and exalted fortnight.  See you again in a few weeks.

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