Godly Servants: Discipleship and Spiritual Formation for Missionaries
A review by Ken Guenther
As someone who has served as a cross-cultural missionary in three different countries for more than 25 years, I know that we cannot assume that all missionaries are spiritual giants. Far too many Christian missionaries admit to anemic personal spirituality and a lack of satisfaction and enjoyment in their relationship with Christ. David Teague understands the challenges of missionary life, and how easy it is to focus on activity and neglect the foundations of godliness. This book is intended to help missionaries deepen their personal communion with God. Drawing on the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and gleaning insights from the Catholic and Orthodox traditions in spirituality, he guides us in choosing spiritual disciplines that will help us go deeper with God. Although he writes specifically for missionaries, the book has a much wider application to all who want to grow in their intimacy with Christ.
I am aware that some in North American churches don't like the “spiritual formation” vocabulary. This book does a very good job of explaining what spiritual formation is, why spiritual formation is biblical, how it is different from discipleship, and why some people don't like the phrase. It also differentiates the Catholic understanding of spiritual formation from the evangelical understanding.
But Teague does not only address the interior journey of deepening spirituality. He recognizes that spiritual formation happens in the context of a covenant community. Often missionaries are limited in their choice of fellow Christians with whom they can build such a covenant community around them, and yet this community is vital for spiritual health. So the author talks about the need to respect differences in personality and the implications personality has for spirituality.
In the third section, the book deals with spiritual formation in the context of incarnational ministry. Here Teague has drawn from training materials aimed at equipping chaplains in acute care facilities. Generally, missionaries understand incarnational ministry to mean that we live among and identify with the people we serve, seeking to overcome cultural and language barriers that would prevent us and our message from being accepted by the host culture. Teague had defined incarnational ministry more broadly as embodying God's love to people in need. Thus Teague does not address the challenges to missionary spirituality that come with living in a foreign culture, struggling to understand a foreign language, and having lost most of the support systems, public teaching and fellowship groups that encouraged and supported one's spiritual growth in one's home cultures. Nevertheless, this section has some helpful insights on how to deal with corruption in society, how to make godly decisions, how to deal with temptation, and how to overcome feelings of envy and bitterness. These questions and challenges are not unique to missionaries, but nevertheless very relevant for those serving in cross-cultural situations.
Godly Servants is not at all a difficult read, and most of the chapters are really short. I would highly recommend it to anyone who seeks to understand how one can intentionally cooperate with the Spirit of God as He forms Christ within believers.
Dr. David Teague served as a missionary in the Middle East and is now a seminary lecturer and pastor. He especially brings to his writing a familiarity with the spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt.