Some Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Missionary

This the second post in a series.  The first post was titled The Most Challenging Missionary Candidate Question.

Before the missionary candidacy interview, the interviewing team should have finished their homework in terms of who this person is, their background, where they are going, and what they will be doing. These are things that the missionary should not spend the interview time talking about. If any point needs clarification, do so briefly, but avoid having the person repeat things they have written to you about. Try to focus your interview on things that are important for you as a church. Your goal is to determine whether this person’s work will advance the vision of your church globally. So, pick your questions carefully. Here are some suggested questions to ask.

Share with us how God worked to bring you to faith in Christ. First of all, you want to make sure that you are sending out a believer. That is important. Is there a clear evidence of conversion?

What is your understanding of the gospel message that is necessary for salvation? Any missionary going to the mission field will say that they will work to see that people come to faith in Christ. Easy to say. But, what is the message that they are taking to the nations? Listen for clarity in their understanding of the gospel message of salvation. One of the key things to listen for is how they understand the message of salvation in the context of the over arching story line of the whole Bible.

Tell us the story of the Bible. You can create a scenario where the missionary finds himself among people who cannot read but need to hear the gospel. They know nothing about the Bible. How would this missionary help them? What is the story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation? You are listening for a basic understanding of how the Bible fits together.

Describe your biblical foundation for missions. Listen for the biblical foundation for his or her sense of calling and for missions. A strong answer will cover both the Old and New Testaments.

Describe for us your sense of call into this ministry. Is it clear that God has been preparing this person for the work to which he feels called? How has God worked in this process of call? If one is truly called by God for a ministry, he would have been working in his life over the years in ways that makes that call clear. The evidence will differ from person to person, but listen for clear evidence of call.

How have you prepared for this ministry that you are called to? This question goes along with the previous one. It is also a very important question and churches should not take this lightly. If a person has spent the last ten years studying engineering, but now wants to train pastors overseas, that should be a problem. The standard for preparing pastors for ministry here at home should be applied for the training of ministers for the churches overseas. So, listen for whether the candidate is qualified to do what he is setting out to do.

If for some reason you are not able to go to the mission field, what kinds of jobs are you qualified to do here? This goes with the question of preparation/qualification. He should be able and qualified to do here what he is seeking to do on the mission field.

Given what you will be doing, how do you see it fitting with the vision statement of our church? This question requires that the missionary must have studied your church and known you and is interested in you not just for the money. He or she should be able to make a case for why you should support him in light of your own vision statement.

What are your core theological values? This question is intended for full disclosure. Where are you theologically similar or different? There will be differences and you are not only to send people that agree with you a hundred percent. Yet, you do not want the missionary to be worried about communicating the challenges of their work if some are particularly theological. You also do not want to send a missionary who will teach contrary to the theological core values of your church.

The interview process for a missionary is important. If you are to invest time, prayer, finances, and personal care in this candidate in order to fully support them, you want to know whom it is you are supporting!

The Most Challenging Missionary Candidate Question

Missionary training is very helpful. You are looked at from all aspects. Most agencies do a great job helping candidates prepare for the field. Instructions are given about how to raise support, send letters, make initial/follow-up phone calls, who to meet, and how to get the most out of each meeting. After that, you are on your own when it comes to making those appointments and meeting with pastors and mission boards to talk about the ministry to which God has called you.

You have to be prepared to answer any and all questions. One quickly finds that just as you can prepare 1, 2, or 3 sermons that will serve during support raising, the interview questions fall into general categories. Where are you going? What are you going to be doing? Tell us about how you became a Christian, etc. After the first few interviews, you begin to learn what works and what does not work.

Once, visiting a church that was considering supporting us, we met with the elders so that they could get to know us better. First of all, this was an unusual move since we were used to meeting with either the pastor or with the missions committee of any given church. This situation made me nervous since I had never faced a board of elders to be interviewed for mission work.

We all ate dinner first, and as the interview time approached, I got more nervous and was silently rehearsing all my strong points in terms of where I am going, why it is important, how I have prepared for it for years etc. Then, the first question shocked me and rendered me speechless. With a serious, honest look on his face, the pastor told us that we were their first missionaries. They were supporting missions work through their denomination, but did not have a missionary unit that they knew and have met and interacted with. “So,” he said, “we have never done this. What kinds of questions should we be asking you?”

There are many reasons that was a difficult question. Here are a few. I had never been asked that before, and so I had not prepared my answer. It meant that I had to think outside of the box, and think of my candidacy from their point of view. I was not prepared to answer those kinds of questions during my preparation period. I could not call a friend or ask the audience. Most importantly, it was difficult for me because I had to be honest in my answer. He was basically asking me, “In your judgment, what should a church be looking for in a missionary before choosing to support them?

This question has been in my heart over the years and has caused me to appreciate more and more the relationship between a missionary and his or her supporting churches. Missionaries do have a role to play in helping churches know how to interview and choose their missionaries. A humble interview team will ask that kind of a question.

So I ask you, what are 10 questions a church should ask you in your interview process whether to be a missionary or to be involved in any Christian ministry. What are your core values and how should those be part of the interview process?

Next week’s post will discuss how a church can interview a missionary.

The Preacher and the Medicine Man

I’m going to relate two experiences I had on a recent trip to Cameroon, West Africa. See if you can identify what the situations have in common and the solution to the problems raised.

On March 17th, 2012, I boarded an Amour Mezam bus from Douala to Bamenda. The 7 hour trip (with many stops on the way) was daunting but entertaining in a sad way. Within 10 minutes of leaving the station, a young man in a suit stood up and called on all people to bow their heads for prayer. Really? I thought. Yes, really and everyone bowed their head for prayer. The prayer was not bad, but I thought, “Is everyone here really a believer?” After the prayer, the young man proceeded to preach a sermon he had prepared. I wondered what he was seeking to accomplish with such a message: a guarantee to all on board that Jesus has saved them and will protect and provide for all their needs. After half an hour of preaching, he sat down and I was relieved. Did I say I was relieved? I was wrong. About 30 minutes after he sat down, another preacher stood up and preached a similar message except this sermon was 45 minutes long. Then he sat down and I thought, now we are done. Thank God.

Enter the Medicine Man

Four hours into the trip, we stopped for food. When everyone had reboarded the bus, I noticed a new passenger, well dressed. He refused to take a seat though there were empty seats on the bus. He stood for 15 minutes and then started his own show. No!! He was not preaching. He was selling medicines for all kinds of diseases. Name it, he had a cure for it. He had the attention of almost everyone on the bus. He argued that before the white man came to Africa, our forefathers used natural herbs to cure diseases. It is time we return to nature and have nature heal us. Is this man serious? I thought. Yes he was. After making his arguments for returning to nature, he called out the recipes for some herbal medicine to cure rashes, cough etc. Then he pulled out his bag with leaves and barks of trees and some smelly liquid stuff in small bottles. He explained what each of those could cure; anywhere from sexually transmitted diseases to cancer and AIDS. He took the bark of the tree and ate a little piece. He then offered it to people to eat and I was shocked to see how many people took it and chewed it right there on the spot. He brought out the liquid stuff and then people sniffed it and nodded in approval. Then the leaves came out and people ate in hopes of getting healed. Then, the real business started. He offered the stuff  they had just tasted for sale and many bought. It was good business for him. After an hour and a half on the bus, and after collecting much money, he got off the bus to join another one.

Oh No. The Preachers Again?

With the medicine man now gone, the preachers reemerged. This time, the messages were different. They were no longer preaching God’s protection on the journey (maybe because we were close to our destination) but this time they seemed set to outdo the medicine man. They declared how it is not God’s will for people to be sick. Any sickness can be healed in Jesus name! Poverty is due to a lack of faith! They had people write their sicknesses on pieces of paper and hand to the preachers. They had them write what they wanted God to do. There was no limit to what you could claim. After collecting the papers, they prayed and declared, “IT IS DONE IN JESUS NAME.” Then, just when I thought it could not get worse, they brought out a basket to collect offerings and many people gave money. Why? Following the offering, they handed out a number for people to call so they could be blessed by God. Those who did not have money on the spot could call the number for further information.

What is the difference between the preachers and the medicine man? Not much difference. I do not think that the medicine man was interested in people actually getting healed. I also do not think that the preachers really cared about people having their sins forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. What both cared about was money and money is what they got.

In talking with a few people on the bus, I learned that they are believers (they say) and members in their local congregation. When I asked why they found nothing odd with the preachers, they answered, “These are men of God and we have to listen to them.” I realized that the problem was not so much with the people who listened and tasted and wrote down their requests. The problem lies in a lack of knowledge of what is truth.

So I concluded that until pastors take theological education seriously and pay attention to what their people are believing, they will continue to be “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). People have itching ears only wanting to hear what will benefit them (1 Tim. 4:3) and most do so because they lack knowledge of the Truth.

Pastors in Cameroon and other countries have a duty to address these issues in their churches through teaching their people the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and helping them learn to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:20). They need to help their people (most of whom live in poverty) understand that the answer to poverty is not quick fixes (God never promised that). Rather, they should embrace the truth that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6). In fact, I Timothy 6 has much to say to people in this context.

Yes, theological education is the answer to such a situation. Let us not grow weary in training pastors who will in turn train others in the churches. In so doing, they will fight off false teachers one at a time with the Word of Truth.

Do This in Remembrance of Me: What Does it Mean to Celebrate the Lord’s Supper in Remembrance of Jesus?

In Paul’s account of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, he says that he is delivering what he also received from the Lord (meaning Jesus himself). What did he receive? He recounts the event of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper found in Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; and Luke 22:18-20. In recounting the events of the Lord’s Supper, Paul includes the statement, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24, 25). This statement is also found in Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper event, but not in Matthew and Mark. What does this phrase mean, and how are we to “remember Christ” when we partake of the Lord’s Supper? In order to answer this, let us consider the statement from the background of the Passover meal in Exodus 12.

In anticipation of the final plague, in which God was going to kill the firstborn of the Egyptians, he instructed the Israelites to kill a lamb without blemish (Exod. 12:5-6) and put its blood on the two doorposts and the lintel(12:7). This meal was called “The Lord’s Passover” because the blood was a sign for the Israelites. When the Lord saw the blood on the doorposts and the lintel, he passed over the house and judgment did not come on those in the house (12:11-13, 23). Following the instructions, the Israelites were told that the day of the Passover shall be for them a memorial day, a day they were to keep throughout their generations, as a “statute forever” (12:14, 24).

As we continue reading in Exodus 12, we find that Moses instructed the Israelites to continue this service of observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread (12:17, 25) when they come to the Promise Land. Then we read, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ You shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’” (12:26-27).

After the final plague, Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites to go. Shortly after they left Egypt, God spoke again to Moses and Aaron and instructed them to institute the Passover (Exod. 12:43-51). Furthermore, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a feast for Israel: it was on that day that the Lord brought them out of Egypt with his strong hand (Exodus 13:3). We see then that the Passover meal that marked the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt became a memorial in which they remembered what the Lord had done in bringing them out of Egypt. It was a reminder and a testimony to their children of what the Lord had done.

In the New Testament, John says that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins (John 1:29, 36). Paul says that Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), calling attention to the OT background. In the Gospels, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated during the Passover meal.  In the statement, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we see a connection with the command to Israel to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread in remembrance of what God had done (see Exod. 12:14).

Just as Israel was to remember what God did to bring them out of Egypt, from slavery to the land he promised their forefathers, believers are to remember what God has done in Christ’s death to deliver us from slavery to sin, into his kingdom. In light of its OT background, participating in the Lord’s Supper in his remembrance involves testifying to ourselves and to our children the reason behind it. It is an occasion to answer those who ask why we are doing this. We tell them that on the cross, Christ paid for our sins and took away the wrath of God that was due us (Rom. 3:21-26). He died our death so that we might live (Rom. 5:7-9). We remember his death on the cross and reflect on its implication for our lives. Therefore, remembering necessarily involves proclaiming.

May we always remember what God did for us on cross and what he is doing for us now and will do for us because Christ died on the cross in our place.

The Death and Resurrection of Christ in Animistic Cultures

What would you do in this situation? In my years of teaching on the death and resurrection of Christ in Cameroon, I found that students had no problem accepting the facts of it. Yes, he died, and yes he rose from the dead. Yes, he appeared to many people. This may sound good, but there is an underlying problem. The question raised is this: why is this doctrine not troubling for my students? Is it that it is just so clear that they see it as it is, or is the Spirit so at work that he has already softened their hearts to immediately embrace this doctrine? The answer is “no” to both questions.

As we progressed in the class, they explained to me that this doctrine of the death and resurrection of Christ is just like the death and resurrection of people now. What do they mean? They explained that in their contexts, there are stories (and some claim to have actually experienced it) of people known to be dead but found walking in other locations. For example, someone said that one day they met a person while on the way home, but on arriving home, they found that he was dead and the funeral was in progress. This is a common belief among many people (particularly in animistic cultures). When we bring the Bible and begin to teach the doctrine of Christ, his death and resurrection, they quickly embrace it because it is just like the other stories that they have heard and experienced. Growing up in Africa as a kid, I heard many of these stories, though I did not personally experience any.

The truth of Scripture that Jesus appeared to people after everyone knew he was dead (Luke 24:13-27; 1 Cor. 15:3-8), makes sense to them but for the wrong reasons. How are we to teach this doctrine (which is of so much importance for the Christian faith) in such contexts so that it has its intended effect?

What Not to Do

One’s immediate instinct when faced with this situation is to argue against such a belief system. But are we convinced that these are false beliefs? Why should they accept our rejection of a belief that is at the core of their worldview and accept your position on it when you are a stranger to their world? We lose credibility as preachers of the gospel when we spend much time denying what people believe. Such denials and objections do very little to help people embrace the truth of the gospel.

What to Do

Instead, for me, it is not necessarily my job to erase this belief from the hearts of my students. My job is to help them understand what Scripture teaches about death and resurrection. So, rather than telling them how they are wrong, there is wisdom in helping them know what Scripture teaches on this subject. I do not have to affirm or deny their position in order to help them understand what Scripture teaches.

In response to the comment that the dead and resurrection of Christ is just like the dead and resurrection of people in their context, I can simply say, “WOW!!! Thanks for sharing but I do not have that same background and have never experienced it personally. Have you personally experienced it or have you just heard people share about it? In any case, whether it is true of not, let us look at the teaching of Scriptures and hear what it says about the dead and resurrection of Christ. I guarantee you that when we are done, you will find that Christ’s death and resurrection is very different, and unique and central to faith.”

From there, without denying or affirming their view, I can help them understand why the death and resurrection of Christ is different.

First, it was necessary for Christ to die and to be raised from the dead. His death was not something that happened accidentally. God planned it and it had to happen (Luke 24:24-27).

Second, His death fulfilled Scriptures. It all happened in accordance with Scripture. As Luke reports, all of Scriptures pointed to Christ and as Paul says, both his death and resurrection for our sins fulfilled Scriptures (Luke 24:27; 1 Cor. 15:3).

Third, Jesus rose from the dead not to die again. He ascended into heaven bodily (Acts 1:9) and he will come again just as he ascended (Acts 1:11).

Fourth, his death defeated Satan, paid the penalty for our sins, and appeased God’s wrath. He died our death, and his resurrection is evidence that we too will be raised from the dead on the last day.

As you can see, what Scripture teaches about the death and resurrection of Christ is nothing like the belief about the death and resurrection of ordinary people.. Believing that Christ was killed on Good Friday and that He rose from the dead on Easter morning is necessary for salvation. The students should be asked if they can embrace this truth on the basis of what the Bible says and not on the basis of stories they have heard. What is the significance of this truth for them personally?

May we seek to help people accept the truth of Scripture on the basis of what the whole Bible teaches, not on the basis of their own worldviews.

In my experience teaching this doctrine, this approach begins to change the mindset of the students and they in turn are the ones to critique the belief systems of their context from the Word of God.

Whether the dead come to life in Cameroon or not is debatable. What is undeniable is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scriptures and on the third day, he rose from the dead in accordance with Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3). His death and resurrection means that though we die, we too will be raised from the dead to live with him forever. This is good news.