4 Responses for When Missionaries Fail

When missionaries make mistakes, we must rest in the perfection of Christ.

Everyone fails—even missionaries.

How should missionaries handle mistakes they make on the field?

1. Build Guardrails.

First of all, missionaries should strive to set up a system that helps us to make as few mistakes as possible. This is one of the reasons why ABWE missionaries work in teams rather than simply as individuals on the field. It is not that teams can’t make mistakes (of course they can), but if the team members can function together properly, they should be able to amplify each other’s strengths and diminish each other’s weaknesses. Good teams can help us notice what is in our blind spots and can help us to avoid making some critical mistakes in the first place (Matt. 18:16-20).

2. Take Responsibility.

Secondly, take responsibility. If someone points out a mistake you have made then do not be afraid to say, “You’re right; I shouldn’t have done that.” We certainly want to admit our mistakes in the most appropriate way possible within the culture where we are serving, but we can’t allow that to become a means to escape responsibility.

This often comes down to the issue of pride and humility. If we are so prideful that we can never admit a mistake, then it will inevitably destroy both our testimony and ministry. Even king David admitted his grave sin when he was confronted. David humbled himself before God and others, and we can learn from his mistakes as well as our own.

Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. (Rom. 12:16-18 CSB, emphasis added)

3. Avoid Blame.

Thirdly, do not play a blame game. When we find ourselves in a tough situation, a planning meeting can quickly turn into a witch-hunt. People tend to ask, “Whose fault is this?” But it is rarely helpful to assign blame to others, and it is usually best to just take responsibility for our own part of the situation and move on towards a solution.

In Togo, I have been in several conversations about a present challenge in ministry when people have asked questions like, “Is this the fault of the missionaries or the local pastors?” Or younger generations may ask, “Is this the fault of the previous generation of pastors and missionaries?” In my experience, I have never found this line of questioning to be helpful in finding a solution to the current problem.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. (1 Cor. 13:4-5 CSB, emphasis added)

Avoiding a blame game leads us to the next important question: How can we move beyond mistakes that were made in the past?

4. Meditate on the Perfections of God.

Certainly, we do not want to repeat any mistakes that were made in the past, but it is rarely useful to revisit old wounds in the middle of a crisis. We need to accept and learn from past mistakes made by us or others on the field without dwelling on them to the point where we cannot make progress in our current situation. We need to be sensitive to the fact that sometimes we must address past errors and mistakes that have contributed to our current problems to properly analyze our situation and find appropriate solutions.

It is a tough balancing act to analyze and learn from our past mistakes without fixating on them in an unhealthily manner. Rather than fixating on past mistakes we should meditate on God’s history of faithfulness amid our mistakes.

I will remember the LORD’s works; yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders. I will reflect on all You have done and meditate on Your actions. (Ps. 77:11-12 CSB, emphasis added)

When we keep our focus on God’s ways, his instructions to us in his word, and his enduring faithfulness to his people in every generation, then we will have the proper mindset to move beyond our own mistakes in ministry. We know that we will continue to make mistakes until we are glorified with the Son, Jesus. Until that time, we must strive to live according to the Father’s precepts, following the model of the Son’s humility by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Andrew Paul Ward

Andrew Paul Ward is an ABWE missionary to Togo, West Africa, sent from Grace Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Andrew is the husband of Mary, father to Emmanuel, Cyrus, and Alethia. He holds a B.S. from Bob Jones University, an M.Div. from Temple Baptist Seminary, and an Ed.D. from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Support Andrew’s ministry.