Qualifications and certifications are a popular thing in the Western world. The more letters before or after your name generally shows competency in your field, an increase in your salary, or more respect from others. (Though if you are like me, you have to google what the letters mean in most cases!) This line of thinking has filtered itself into the Church today and so I wanted to take a minute to discuss it in a missional context. Let’s start with the question: what kind of qualifications does it take to become a missionary?
The answer to that question is simple. There’s only one thing required to become a missionary.
I’ll get to seminary degrees and ordination in a little bit, but for now, consider the Apostle Paul’s words to the Church in Ephesus:
Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ
(I realize that the wording of the King James Bible could indicate that the work of the ministry is to be performed by the groups of people listed in verse 11. To that I say we have the awesome privilege and ability to search elsewhere in Scripture to interpret Scripture! We see in places like 1 Corinthians 12, specifically verse 7 in this case, that the Spirit is given to every person to profit, not just those set apart. Or in 1 Corinthians 14:26, that we all have something used to edify the church.)
Look even to Jesus, who chose fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and other untrained people to be His closest disciples and Apostles. He even had the audacity to send them out in pairs without Him! Jesus seems to know something that we have forgotten. Namely, that head knowledge does not equal a changed heart and that a changed heart is better than head knowledge.
I know there will be people out there that will say that missionaries are only church-planters and that to plant a church you need a seminary degree. But let me be clear about this. A degree in theology or divinity is not the same as a saving knowledge and personal relationship with Jesus. It is not and will never be a substitute. An unsaved person with a Doctor of Theology with 20 years of experience pastoring churches is worse, far worse than a saved 15-year-old high schooler totally dependent on the Holy Spirit. Not because of who they are, but because of who is the power behind them.
Yes, post-secondary education in Christian beliefs can enhance a person’s faith, ability to articulate those beliefs, and help safeguard someone from false beliefs. When education becomes a part of the work of God in a person’s life it becomes a beautiful thing. We need to guard against education replacing the work of God in a person’s life though. If we don’t, titles and degrees become barriers to service rather than bolstering that service.
So are you qualified to be a missionary? If you are in this great body of believers, yes! You are more than qualified! (You don’t even need the crippling debt.) The work of ministry is not to be done only by the pastors and leaders, but by the whole body of saints.
Is it absolutely terrifying to step into a situation that you are forced to rely on God? Yes. There’s no sugar-coating it. I’ve counseled young people, met with gang members and wondered if I’m leading my family well. There’s been more than one occasion that I thought that the guy in front of me was going to try and kill me right then and there. My first thought in all of these situations is always “God, I have literally no clue what to do here, but I’m depending on you.” Don’t hide behind the fear that you aren’t smart enough, not qualified, or not perfect enough. You don’t need to know more of the right answers, instead, you need to know more of how mighty our God is.
P.S. Don’t go it alone. Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs, not alone. I’ve seen a few people over the years that have chosen to fly solo and tried to minister to others while rejecting the accountability and encouragement of fellow believers. It didn’t go well and will almost always result in burnout, false doctrine, or falling into sin.