Missionary Envy

Each calling has its own advantages and disadvantages, its blessings and its struggles.

When your missionaries come into town, know that their struggles are real. They are broken sinners in need of the message they are bringing to others and they need encouragement. Missionary envy is real. Remember that they have their own issues of envy with you, just like you might envy them for their courage, their exotic adventures, their fascinating lives and apparent successes in ministry. In the end, it is a matter of calling.


A missionary is not someone special, more gifted, or more holy than anyone else. In fact, many of us missionaries joke that God needed to take us to the mission field to teach us the hard lessons we could not learn at home because of our own stubbornness. Among missionary leaders, there is a saying that leading missionaries is like “herding cats” because of our independent streak. Missionaries can exude strength and courage, but as the years progress, I have noticed certain patterns of struggle that are unique to missionaries (and I’d venture to say much of this applies to those who are in full-time ministry, as pastors or church-planters).

The first and biggest area of struggle is the coalescence of job and Christian life. My sister once said to me: “it must be difficult to be a professional Christian.” At first, I was set aback by her comment, but as I mulled over that expression, I realized that it is at the core of some of our twisted identity issues. On the upside, when our job is full-time ministry, we feel like we are “all in” for Christ. Our kingdom focus is clear. All of life visibly serves the same purpose, namely to be a part of expanding God’s kingdom and this broken world. Family, ministry, and personal life are one and the same and serve the same ultimate purpose. Our children see us living full of a devotion which affects all aspects of life. Even our rest and our hobbies are opportunities to be evangelistic. Our hospitality is missional. To be sure, there is beauty in having an integrated Christian life. But there are also struggles that come along with it. Because we are “professional Christians,” we believe we are never off the hook. We are always being watched by the unbelieving world, the unseen world, our supporters and churches, our children and God himself. How do we deal with the fact that we are weak, struggling and broken believers? The state of our hearts does not always match our calling. This can lead to formalism in our work or using people to fulfill our own mission to make us look good.

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