Ethical Dilemmas of a Missionary

Since arriving in South Africa, I have been stretched in ways that I didn’t expect. Probably the most unexpected was the swirl of ethical decisions that I found confronting me at one time or another. So here is a top ten list of situations that I have had to face as a missionary. This list is calculated to motivate you to pray for us as well as other missionaries that we would be discerning, reflective, and Scriptural at all times for the sake of the Gospel.

1.    Should I give people a lift if I know they are going to a false church?
When driving the roads in SA, it is common to see people asking for a ride. We have a pickup truck that could easily take them. But many of the churches here love money and are therefore enemies of the gospel. They also encourage their members to wear uniforms so I can often tell which hitchhiker goes to which church. If I give them a lift, will they think I am endorsing their idolatrous religion, or will they see my love and know that my church is different?

2.    Should I evangelize a woman if she is the only adult home?
Now, rarely do I do Bible studies inside homes. Typically, we sit outside the home in the yard area. But my regular pattern of evangelism is 4-8 weeks of Bible studies in Romans. Does it send a bad message to people passing by if they see the pastor return multiple weeks to sit outside if there’s only a woman and her two children listening? Or, should I merely invite the woman to church if I see there is no one else there?

3.    Should I give a generous offering of my salary to our churchplant?
Like most churches we want to meet in a building with musical instruments and multiple rooms. Yet I am not a permanent fixture in our church because I am hoping to move on to the next churchplant. Would my offerings to our church create dependency and irresponsibility or would it be a tool for evangelism as well as a good example?

4.    Should I baptize a young person who has given a testimony of salvation, but has not shown Christian maturity?
We often have youth and children with unsaved family members visit our church. Once they profess Christ, should they be immediately baptized in hopes that their baptism would encourage them to grow, or should they wait lest they quit their new church and give the name of Christ a bad testimony in the community?

5.    May I spend money on my family and personal standard of living even if it is above those in my village? What if it is very above? How much do I let them see?
When coming from America, it is difficult not to have more discretionary spending than the average person in our village. If I have a higher standard of living does that make them marvel at the power of the Christian worldview to create wealth or does that make them greedy of western money and afraid to approach me about the gospel? At what point, if ever, could my family’s western lifestyle hinder people from being converted?

6.    How harshly should I handle believers who fall into sin?
No one in our church has a heritage of Christianity. Everyone is a first generation Christian. None of them went to a Christian school or college. Should I be more patient with them than I would be with a US church member when they fall into sin, or should church discipline be equally strict in all cultures?

7.    Should I address cultural issues that are not clearly sin, but may not be consistent with a Christian worldview?
Littering. Receiving handouts from the government. Families not eating together. The Bible does not explicitly say these are sin, but a consistently Christian perspective will avoid them. If they are common in a culture should a pastor address them?

8.    Should I give jobs to church members?
In a country with vast unemployment living in a village where nearly every adult would like a job, should “rich” missionaries employ church members? Will it communicate love or hamper the church’s ability to stand on its own? More importantly, will jobs attract unconverted people who would be glad to act Christian for a salary?

9.    Should I keep doing Bible studies at a person’s home if they have showed very little initiative?
Jesus told his disciples to shake the dust of their feet if the village would not hear them. If the family isn’t saved after my 4-8 weeks of Romans Bible studies should I leave and go somewhere else or should I stay if there’s even a little interest? How can you tell when to move on?

10.    Should I use expensive books, computers, and handouts to make my sermons as good as possible if I know that the next national pastor will not be able to keep the same standard?
Our people have greatly benefited from my library as it has wormed its way into my teaching and preaching. Will the people develop a taste for a style of preaching that the next pastor may not be able to give simply because he can’t afford Harold Hoehner on Ephesians?

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1 Response to Ethical Dilemmas of a Missionary

  1. Keith Call says:

    Your remark regarding #10 is interesting. Aren’t you simply setting a high standard for the next pastor? This seems like a gift rather than a hindrance. Rather than discouraging him, might your ministry create a template for future work? And what is your alternative? Could/would you somehow lesson the quality of your handouts and sermons to accommodate the fragile ego or (maybe) paltry resources of this as-yet non-existent pastor?

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