Cross-cultural mission work is hard. The difficulty of learning the local language and culture often presents missionaries with a seemingly insurmountable task. It is in the grind of everyday missionary life that overseas workers are tempted to take shortcuts. In his book, No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions, Matt Rhodes lays out a conceptual and practical framework for missionaries and mission organizations to follow. Rhodes develops the framework of mission work as long and arduous by highlighting two important concepts: 1) the Holy Spirit works through normal human means and methods to accomplish his purposes and 2) the commitment to excellence in missions must be one of the primary emphases in cross-cultural work.
How the Holy Spirit works. Rhodes sees a concerning trend in modern mission paradigms that emphasizes the lesser role of human effort and acquired skills and the elevated role of a complete reliance on the Spirit. While utter reliance on the Spirit is good and necessary, we must not assume that God no longer is interested in working through normal human activities and abilities. For example, relying on the Spirit is no replacement for the hard work of learning the local language. Rhodes states, “He [God] works through things as human and as seemingly ‘unspiritual’ as study, intelligence, relational instincts, and the professional wisdom that can be acquired only through years of experience” (31). To many it may seem more spiritual to invest more time in prayer and fasting than in language study, but it is not, nor is it advisable. To expect God to work in “supernatural” ways apart from the hard, disciplined life required of missionaries, is to sign oneself up for disappointment and failure. “[D]epending on God to work in unlikely ways just because he can do so is unwise” (18-19). According to Rhodes, this flies in the face of the priority of numbers over faithfulness and speed over quality that is promoted by many up-and-coming mission organizations.
The use of professional means. Hard work and dedication are not enough to succeed in mission work. As with any career or profession, mission work requires professionalism, which Rhodes defines as “approach[ing] ministry with responsibility and devotion to excellence” (35). This commitment to excellence begins during pre-field preparation and extends through the entire time the missionary is overseas. What happens when missionaries lack preparation and a dedication to working hard on the field? According to Rhodes, the end result is often malpractice and, eventually, failure.
“Perhaps missionaries, like practitioners of other vocations, can be guilty of malpractice, and for the same reason: people under our care can be hurt by our negligence and lack of professionalism just as they could be hurt by the amateurism of untrained medical professionals, marriage counselors, or mechanics. A burning heart and a Bible are not enough” (27, italics original).
The long, hard work of developing professional skills and abilities is difficult. However, Rhodes insists that it the only responsible way to engage in cross-cultural mission work.
The heartcry for excellence and resilience in missions found in this book stem in part from the author’s research about and personal experience with other mission organizations that have taken shortcuts by failing to prioritize excellence and resilience in mission work. This book is a wake-up call to the church and to mission organizations to raise up resilient cross-cultural workers who have the skills and the commitment to excellence to faithfully build the Kingdom of God.