Psalm 133:1 “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." Most young missionaries have no idea how much their relationship with other missionaries can affect their own work. Hudson Taylor was an excellent example of how to relate to other missionaries. He learned how to not only deal with his own missionary recruits of the China Inland Mission, but missionaries from other groups as well. He went to great lengths to maintain good relationships with them.
Let us look at some guidelines and principles to consider in developing Christ-honoring relationships.
Determine Your Distance
Amos 3:3 “…can two walk together except they be agreed?”
No one can escape the influence of his friends. I have noticed that as a man gets closer to his friend, his friend has greater influence on him. Therefore a missionary should build his closer missionary relationships with those with whom he agrees. There are three basic areas to consider in determining your distance.
Romans 14:1 “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.”
According to this verse we are not to allow those who are weak in the faith to have undue influence in our lives and ministry.
Some missionaries may be in an uncomfortable situation because the only other missionaries in their geographical area are not independent Baptist missionaries. When Americans live overseas, they often feel the need to have American friends in their area; however, when the only Americans there are different in doctrine, it poses a problem.
My advice is to be kind and friendly to other Americans who differ in doctrine, but not to become friends to the point where you do things together. You will probably not agree with every independent Baptist missionary on some minor issues, but it is better to be friends with those that you agree with doctrinally.
I know an independent Baptist pastor here who developed a friendship with a local Pentecostal preacher. It was not long before the Baptist pastor began attending special meetings at the Pentecostal church, which resulted in many problems for him in his church.
Most missionaries’ philosophy of the ministry is formed by the Bible college they attended and/or their home church and pastor. Have your closest missionary friends be those who share a similar philosophy of the ministry.
For example, for many years my closest missionary friend here was Steve Heidenreich. Part of this was due to the fact that our churches were only about an hour’s drive from each other. Even more important is the fact that we have a similar type of ministry. We are both training preachers and striving to build aggressive, soulwinning churches. Our services are informal and emphasize preaching. Our music is conservative but not dead. We both attended the same college. We were close friends, and because we agreed so much on the type of ministry we should have problems were kept to a minimum.
One dictionary definition of ethical is, “Having to do with standards of right and wrong.” It can be easy to misjudge the ethics of another missionary who works in your area. You will find that your work is more interrelated as your workers and converts cross paths with the converts of other ministries. Misunderstandings and situations where you think someone has been treated unfairly can make it tempting to think of another missionary as being unethical. The closer we get to someone, the easier it is to see his imperfections.
I recommend trying to establish relationships with the kind of missionary who you would like to be like.
Try to Get Close to Those Who Have High Standards in the Following Areas:
Although none of us are perfect, the following areas are extremley important, and you should try to develop friendships with people that value these areas.
1. Honesty and integrity
Ask yourself, “Does this person keep his word, pay his debts, etc.?”
2. Financial matters
A pastor once told me the story of a missionary (without mentioning his name) he trusted who visited his church. While there, this missionary “worked on” a wealthy individual and as a result was given a very large amount of money for his ministry. The pastor said he lost his respect for that missionary.
3. His ministry
Ask yourself, “Is he ethical in dealing with other missionaries?” For example, there are missionaries who have tried to get workers being trained by other missionaries to leave their work and go work for them.
4. His separated life
Since ethics have to do with standards of right and wrong, a missionary’s own conduct should be considered. If you believe a certain kind of dress is immodest for a lady, and another missionary allows his wife and children to dress in that manner, then you would not want that missionary to become one of your closest friends. We must also be careful about being too judgmental when our standard is a little different, but at the same time, we should follow our conscience. You can still be kind to and be a friend to a missionary with whom you have differences. Certainly your closeness to a missionary should be partly determined by standards of separation.
5. His attitude
Ask yourself, “Is he the kind of person my children like to be around?” That is usually a good test of a missionary’s attitude. My children loved it when Brother Heidenreich came to visit because he was funny and he took an interest in them.
Do not get close to a missionary who has a critical spirit. One of the characteristics I liked most about my pastor, Dr. Jack Hyles, was his attitude and his unwillingness to criticize other men of God. In a sermon he preached entitled, “Who Cares?” he made this statement:
The tragic thing is Christian people have not learned to stick together. We just haven’t done it. We criticize each other. We talk about each other. Preachers gossip about each other, and churches criticize each other because we differ on some little insignificant point. We talk about each other. That’s a little way to live.
I honestly believe, and you’ve heard me say this a thousand times or more, I don’t think one of God’s men ought to ever speak ill of another one of God’s men. I mean that. Of course, we don’t all agree on everything. Of course, everybody is wrong on some things. The day is coming when we’re going to have to stick together or we’re going to fall apart… There’s something about independence especially that makes us almost independent of each other, and that’s to our disgrace and shame.
I have noticed that a critical spirit usually comes from an angry person. Proverbs 22:24 says, “Make no friendship with an angry man.” That verse teaches me to have relationships with missionaries who are uplifting, kind, and gracious.