Vincent Donovan’s summary of the role of a missionary

The following passage from pages 120 and 121 of Christianity Rediscovered provides a good outline Donovan’s understanding of the role of a missionary, developed throughout his book. Read it, cross-cultural missionaries, and reflect on it. It has been challenging me greatly, though I do not yet know what the outcome of that challenge will be:


But before dreaming of world evangelization we would have to change our approach to young mission churches. [Protestants can substitute the Protestant equivalents in the following sentence:] Today before we count our work finished in the young churches, we feel compelled to leave with them a staggering complexity of buildings and institutions and organizations; church buildings and their accouterments, seminaries to train candidates for the priesthood, catechetical centers to train teachers, novice masters and superiors to begin religious congregations, lay organizations, diocesan and chancery structures and a promise of continued financial assistance and subsidies.What if instead of this unending process we considered our work a truly finishable task and left these churches only what St. Paul left them? At first sight, this seems much less than we feel compelled to leave with them. In reality, it is more than we dare to give them.As you sit watching the sinking sun you wonder if there were still time for missionaries, somewhere, somehow to be able just once to carry out missionary work as it should be carried out:To approach each culture with the respect due to it as the very place wherein resides the possibility of salvation and holiness and grace.To approach the people of any culture or nation, not as individuals, but as community.

To plan to stay not one day longer than is necessary in any one place.

To give the people nothing, literally nothing, but the unchanging, supracultural, uninterpreted gospel before baptism.

To help them expand that gospel into a creed and a way of life after baptism.

To enable them to pray as Christians.

To leave them the bible towards the day when they can read it and use it as a living letter in their lives.

To insist that they themselves be their own future missionaries.

To link them with the outside church in unity, and the outside world in charity and justice.

To agree with them that baptism is indeed everything; that the reception of baptism is the acceptance of the total responsibility and the full, active sacramental power of the church, the eucharistic community with a mission.

To encourage them to trust in the Spirit given at baptism, and to use the powers and gifts and charisms given to the community by the Spirit.

And then the final step.

The final missionary step as regards the people of any nation or culture, and the most important lesson we will ever teach them–is to leave them.

(Above photo courtesy of Will Pate)