No Shortcut to Success

Posted on: 
December 16, 2022

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.


  • “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
  • “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things.” Luke 24:47, 48
  • “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
  • “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.” Ephesians 3:6
  • “That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
  • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” Mark 11:17
  • “Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.” Psalm 2:8
  • “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Revelation 7:9
  • “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
  • “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
  • “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10
  • “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” Psalm 22:27
  • “Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21
  • “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:3, 4
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
  • “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:60
  • “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations.” Malachi 1:11
  • “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Psalm 86:9
  • “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:11
  • "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10
  • "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
  • "You are worthy. . .; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God." Revelation 5:9, 10