How Missionaries Reflect Christ

Definition of Christlikeness: What qualities in missionaries reflect Jesus Christ so well that they can be called Christlike?

Incarnational missionary ministry refers to an approach to engaging with people in another culture in ways mirroring the concept of the Incarnation in Christian theology -- the belief that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

A missionary ministering incarnationally should seek to embody the example and teachings of Christ in cross-cultural interactions. Incarnational ministry means that missionaries will immerse themselves in the lives of those they serve, sharing in their joys and struggles, and actively participating in the realities of the human experience. This approach prioritizes relational, compassionate, and hands-on involvement, seeking to bring the transformative love and message of Christ into the very fabric of people's daily lives. Being a Christian missionary means going beyond proclaiming beliefs verbally to living them out tangibly. Incarnational ministry will lead to fostering a genuine connection and an understanding of people in other cultures that transcends mere words.

Gina Pottenger, editor of Engage magazine, asked me to write a series of brief essays on the characteristics of Christ's earthly ministry that should be reflected in the way we do world evangelism. Some would say "We can never be like Jesus. He was perfect in every way; we are not." Nonetheless, there is Paul's in Philippians 2:5, "Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus." Colossians 1:27 also has that wonderful phrase "Christ in you."

My wife Barbara, who is a mental health counselor, likes to talk to her clients about God's declaration in Genesis 1:26, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness." It is a thought that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where he says we "are being transformed into His image." It was this concept that led John Allan Knight in 1976 to write a book titled In His Likeness: God's Plan for a Holy People

So, the question then is, what of God's image should shine through in cross-cultural missionary activity? What image of God should people see in a missionary from another country who has come to serve them? What should being a God-called missionary of the Gospel look like? Shouldn't the qualities of that person include compassion, humility, mercy, forgiveness, discernment, servanthood, being proactive and intentional, vision casting, holistic ministry, a desire to empower others, and a primary focus on transformation?

  1. Compassion -- Jesus Christ is the greatest example of someone who lived and ministered with heartfelt compassion.
  2. Humility -- Jesus's example of humility needs to shape those involved in cross-cultural missionary ministry.
  3. Radical transformation -- Jesus kept a focus on the radical transformation of people's hearts while also meeting other human needs.
  4. Discernment -- Those in cross-cultural ministry need the gift of discernment so evident in Jesus' life and offered to believers by the Holy Spirit
  5. Strategic team builder -- Missionaries should follow the pattern of both Jesus and Paul of forming discipleship and church-planting teams to carry forward the work long after expatriate missionaries have been re-deployed elsewhere.
  6. Holistic in ministry -- If missionaries today want to do ministry in the name of Jesus Christ, they must approach it in the holistic fashion of our Lord and Savior by meeting human needs at the same time they are trying to save souls.
  7. Merciful and forgiving -- Though Jesus is described as our "judge," He is also pictured as being merciful and forgiving. Missionaries must reflect that side of our Lord.
  8. He lived among us -- Cross-cultural missionaries must "move into the neighborhood" in the ways that John 1 indicates that Jesus did.
  9. Casting a vision -- Missionaries would do well to follow Jesus' example of casting vision.
  10. Proactive and intentional -- Missionaries, like Jesus, need to act intentionally so that daily activities contribute to purposefully following a pattern that fulfills the call of God on their lives.
  11. The upside-down kingdom: Servants as leaders -- Missionaries who follow Jesus' model of servant-leadership will foster Christ-ward movements in which Jesus does truly reign as Lord and King.
  12. Empowering others -- Missionaries who follow Christ's model of leadership will empower people in the same way as Jesus did.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

With thanks to my friend Brendon Weaver whose questioning led me to come up with the list of characteristics that evolved into this series of mini-essays.

In terms of the Kingdom, Jesus set a model pattern: Go, proclaiming the Kingdom. That's what Matthew said that Jesus himself did (Matthew 4:23 and 9:35). It's also what Jesus said in Matthew 10:7: "As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'"

These mini-essays on Christlike attitudes and actions that will lead to fruitful cross-cultural missionary service were published in Engage, a monthly online magazine.

What does "being Christ-like" mean?

When Christians talk about being "Christ-like," they are referring to emulating the qualities and characteristics of Jesus Christ in their own lives. This concept is deeply rooted in the teachings of Christianity, particularly in the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the perfect example of how humans should strive to live.

Being "Christ-like" involves embodying virtues such as love, compassion, forgiveness, humility, selflessness, and service to others. It also entails following the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus as found in the Bible, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the parables he used in His teaching and preaching.

For Christians, being "Christ-like" is not just about imitating Jesus' actions but also about cultivating a deeper spiritual connection with God and allowing the teachings of Jesus to transform their hearts and minds. It is about living a life that reflects the values and principles that Jesus taught, with the ultimate goal of glorifying God and bringing about positive change in the world.

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