Book Reviews

Book Review: No Shortcut to Success (Matt Rhodes)

What is a missionary? What does a missionary do? What should a missionary be doing? In No Shortcut to Success, Matt Rhodes makes a compelling case for professional missionaries. That is, missionaries who know the Bible and the gospel message, who learn the language and culture of the country they are in, and who disciple others as they share the gospel (or are involved in a church plant).

No Shortcut to Success is a 9Marks book, a series of books focused on growing the local church to be centered on and to grow in Christ through God’s Word.

In the first part of Rhodes’ book, he argues against “amateur” missionary work found in many new missions fads—insider movements, business as mission, the Camel Method, CPM, DMM, T4T. While these fads have legitimate strengths, it is impossible to become a good missionary “without the slow acquisition of professional skills.”

There are many organizations who want missionaries—both short- and long-term—to just come and be a light for Jesus. For as even Rhodes writes, “God works in mysterious ways, and we should never set limits on him.” Yet he adds immediately after, “All the same, depending on God to work in unlikely ways just because he can do so is unwise.”

Christian doctors, firefighters, and teachers all need to train and hone their skills to be good at their jobs. Missionaries are no different. If we wouldn’t accept an amateur doctor to perform surgery on us, we shouldn’t accept unprofessional missionaries either.

Rhodes notes, “The Spirit works in unique ways in each vocation, but—and this is critically important—he does not bypass our humanity when he works through us.”

Short-term mission projects are important too. Rhodes doesn’t write them off. They wouldn’t have enough time to come and learn the language themselves. But those long-term missionaries whom they visit and serve ought to know the language and culture well enough to be able to guide the short-termers in the kinds of spiritual needs that should be addressed.

Missionaries need to do the hard work of learning language and culture. We need to be able to speak easily enough that we can participate in a wide variety of conversations “marked by high emotions, nuanced concepts, and fast, colloquial speech.”

We can’t just tell people “Jesus loves you” or just be silent witnesses, praying that God in his sovereignty will use our feeble actions. He certainly can! But he has called us to do real work, and he does work “through the skills and choices of ordinary men and women.” It takes hard work over a long time to create a healthy church and to bring it to the point of being able to plant a sister church. What’s the use of planting six churches if none of them are healthy enough to last?

New Testament missionaries explain the gospel message clearly so that it may be understood and credibly (or persuasively) so that they may be believed. One’s lifestyle must follow the gospel shape, which gives credibility to the message. Missionaries speak clearly by knowing the gospel message and the biblical story of who God is and what he has done for us. But we also need to know both the language and the culture of where we are serving.

Rhodes gives proper discussion on the importance of being fluent in the language of the country you are in and/or the people group you work with. As we learn the language and the culture, we learn which cultural beliefs people hold that run counter to the gospel message. This helps us craft our message to show how Jesus is the answer to their problem better than whatever it is that they believe.

In chapter 8, Rhodes provides a broad sketch of ten milestones for missionaries who want to plant churches. It’s helpful to have some broad guidelines, and it also shows that those who try to plant a new church every six months isn’t a healthy option. Planting a church in a foreign country requires a “daunting level of commitment.”

Recommended?

I really enjoyed this book, especially as a missionary. I’ve been working on Norwegian, although not as hard as I should. Rhodes’ book has given me great encouragement to push forward with language to really know the people I am serving and trying to reach for Christ. If you are a missionary, and especially one with an eye for either church planting or serving in a church, pick up this book. Rhodes is clear, biblical, and honest. He wants you to succeed, and it will take work. But if you want to see results, then you’re going to need to put in effort. But God is with you the whole way, working together all that you learn for his glory.

Lagniappe

  • Series: 9Marks
  • Author: Matt Rhodes
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (February 15, 2022)

Buy it from Amazon or Crossway!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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