Why Missionaries Can Be Irritating


C. Peter Wagner in his seminal work on biblical holisim, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel writes:

“Mission structures, at least the better ones, do not have a broad vision. They are single-minded and concentrate on one task. Their narrow vision is part of their very nature, not something to be criticized.

The better mission structure leaders frequently exhibit three characteristics which broader-minded pastors need to understand and appreciate (although at times it is difficult to do so).The better mission structure leaders are:

1. Convinced that their task is the most important task in the kingdom of God
2. Convinced that their particular organization is going about the task better than any other similar organization.
3. Have a low need for people and a high dedication to the task.”

“Church Growth and the Whole Gospel: A Biblical Mandate” (C. Peter Wagner)

4 Responses to “Why Missionaries Can Be Irritating”

  1. Keith Says:

    I’ve seen these 3 charactistics in action. However, they can be lived out arrogantly or graciously. Two things I would mention are: 1) Hold your most-important-better-than-others-task-focus without being arrogant or judgemental of others; and 2) For those who make it into your org but turn out not to have the calling or giftness of the org’s narrow focus, be willing to give a bit of your time to help them launch out (on their own? to another org?) successfully in what God’s called them to do.

    Both of these points are in some tension with Wagner’s 3 Characteristics, but godly leadership is about navigating such tensions. You navigate the tensions well Sam.

  2. Sam Says:


    I would agree wholeheartedly with your observations and suggestions. If I had more space, I would have unpacked this post further and would have gone exactly in the direction you articulate. I think these are elaborations that Wagner would validate as well.

    In essence, these three realities can be sanctified or arrogant in the life of apostolically gifted individuals. You’ve seen them both from your vantage point living and ministering cross-cultrually throughout Asia.

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. Darren Says:

    There’s something about this quote that bugs me, but I’m not quite sure what it is. I think it’s the “low need for people” part that rubs me the wrong way. My sense is that the task can be the focus, but in the end the task is aimed at reaching people, and is accomplished only by people. The “better than anybody else” language does sound arrogant to me as well.

    Curious title for your post, Sam. Is there some personal narrative behind this that makes the Wagner quote resonate with you? Sounds like a good Sam vs. the Pastor story I should hear sometime. : )

  4. Sam Says:


    Thanks much for the comment. I agree as I trust you will see in my reply to Keith’s insightful comments.

    I think Wagner is describing an historical, biblical and missiological reality that when played out, can be sanctified or as you note, arrogant. Unfortunately, it can be irritating even when it is sanctified which may be inherent in the structural dynamc. And I beleive an essential component of such sanctification is being people oriented in the task.

    Charles Mellis in “Committed Communitis” says it this way:

    “...the nurture structures [the church in its local form and connected versions] down through history have been loathe to provide channels for growing, highly-motivated members to express their deeper commitment. And they are slow to bless those that have emerged. In fact, they have often clawed at the heels of those members who have reached out for deeper forms of commtiment. What we are talking about, of course, is frankly a form of elitism and elitism almost inevitably produces tension. But tension is not negative, per se. It can be either crative or destructive. Of course, this whole concept of elitism has particularly negative overtones in American society where we loudly proclaim our egalitarin convictions.”

    Darren, I don’t have any personal angst that’s behind the post. Rather, it is part of an overall desire I have to see a better understanding of these structural dynamics on the part of both local church leadership and missionary leadership. That is because I believe missional ecclesiology is an essential, often overlooked issue that is crucial for the health and vitality of the Christian movement.

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