Would you believe me if I said emotionally-healthy missions could determine how long you stay overseas? If I said it was a predictable gauge of the longevity and success of your ministry?
You will meet them. I promise: Emotionally-unhealthy missionaries. I wish I could tell you this is a category of people, offering you a litmus test. But in reality, our level of emotional health links closely to our sin.
Sometimes their emotional lack of health pulls them off the field. Other times, it simply creates a toxic environment for disciple-making.
As pastor and author Peter Scazzero observes, it’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.
And this means none of us falls squarely in the category of emotionally-healthy missions.
Here’s the deal. It’s the little “emotionally-healthy missions” moments that define your ministry. On his last night before his crucifixion, Jesus illuminates a golden principle of disciple-making: By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).
And we can assume the “if” we love bleeds into a “how” we love. And emotionally-healthy missions is about loving each other well. Not in a general, this-is-probably-good way. But acknowledging the complexity inherent in wisdom: “Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7; see also 16:11).
What Does Emotionally-Healthy Missions Even Look Like? 17 indicators
Emotional health is pretty hard to encapsulate in bullet points. But consider traits like these:
- humility; avoidance of actions for appearances only (see more here on humility); transparency with our own sin and weakness, and openly repentant
- healthy rhythms that nurture our souls, encouraging solitude and stillness before God, rather than the idolatry of value in what we do (self-righteousness); maintaining healthy boundaries
- merciful rather than judgmental (see Amos 7:9); listens well and holistically receives others’ burdens
- embracing and examining the past as part of God’s story in our lives
- appropriate flexibility in thinking, particularly in cross-cultural contexts
- continuing to seek the heart of matters, digging beneath the surface
- when encountering difficulty, pressing into grief, loss, and pain, rather than shellacking over it with faux “joy”
- pursuing self-knowledge for the sake of knowing God (John Calvin wrote, “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God”)
- expressing negative emotion with an inner attitude of trust in God rather than entitlement, complaining, or blaming; consistently, intentionally grateful
- informed by emotion, but not managed by it
- self-controlled, delaying gratification
- persevering amidst difficulty; “go the distance” in relationships
- eschewing hypersensitivity; consistently returning a blessing for an insult; gracious
- not hinging oneself on flattery or criticism; not a people-pleaser
- consistently honoring others above self (Philippians 2:3)
- interdependent on others; working against isolation (1 Corinthians 12:21)
- constructive in handling conflict; seeing conflict as an opportunity to grow and glorify God, rather than faking or breaking peace
What Could Have Happened?
Studying Acts 18 recently, I stumbled over a biblical example love of emotionally-healthy missions.
First, I see Paul leaving his ministry in Ephesus in the hands of his coworkers, Priscilla and Aquila. He’s okay with stepping away when it’s time, “entrust[ing] to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
But watch the emotional savvy of this couple. Apollos is there, teaching in Ephesus. He’s described this way:
He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. (vv. 24-25)
Apollos was a charismatic, well-reasoned, winsome follower of God. But regarding what he doesn’t know, catch the actions of A & P: “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (v. 26).
See, they’re classy. Tactful. Respectful.
And watch what they don’t do: Position themselves as “experts”. Put him in his place as an amateur. Rip him open in front of his followers. Ride the coattails of his fame. Rant about his truncated theology.
Then Apollos, in return, is teachable, humble, rather than hypersensitive,
They act as brothers and sisters. And many came to Christ as a result, as Apollos co-labored with Paul (see 1 Corinthians 3:6, 4:6).
What would have happened if they didn’t?
Emotionally-Healthy Missions: A Few beginning resources
If you’re interested in furthering the emotional intelligence of your ministry, start with resources like these.
- Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally-Healthy Spirituality and the Emotionally-Healthy Leader
- Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Proud vs. Broken People test
- Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership –a commendable place to start to make sure you have “bread to offer that is warm from the oven of our intimacy with God”
- Shauna Niequist’s Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living
- Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, offering other healthy perspectives on work
- Praxis Labs’ Rule of Life site offers wisdom particularly geared toward BAM/B4T/redemptive entrepreneurs
- ALifeOverseas.com–a great site to subscribe to–has compiled an “Emotional Development Library” for missionaries.
- These questions from Tim Keller help diagnose who you tend to serve when God isn’t truly calling the shots in your heart–because much of unhealthy missions flows from our personal idols. (Tim Keller divides these into core categories of power, comfort, approval, and security.)
Unhealthy missions also flows from inadequate training, humble rhythms of rest/Sabbath, and debriefing. Check out Go. Serve. Love posts like these:
Our Cultural “Icebergs” Series
Help Your Marriage Thrive Overseas!: The Series
Make emotionally-healthy missions a top priority as you look overseas. It could mean the difference between the kind of damage done…or eternal work accomplished.
Look for more Go. Serve. Love posts to come on emotionally-healthy missions!
Tell us: How have you seen the beauty or pain connected to emotional health–or the lack thereof?