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The Missionary Attitude

Updated: May 30, 2020

According to St. Pope John Paul II

Now, I have read a lot of books on evangelization, as well as attended numerous lectures on the subject, but I have to tell you that none have focused (or even mentioned for that matter) this saintly pope's great insight.


So what is the missionary attitude?

It is the firmly held belief that the Spirit 'which blows where it will' (John 3:8) is already at work in humanity, and therefore is deserving of great respect when we encounter it in the lives of others.

This is how St. Pope John Paul puts it:

"The missionary attitude always begins with a feeling of deep esteem for what is in man, for what man has himself worked out in the depths of his spirit concerning the most profound and important problems."

So what is the missionary attitude?

It means that you are not the first evangelizer to touch the life of this person in front of you, God is.

And because the Spirit is already at work, you have to be very careful about condemning how far this same God has brought them along on their spiritual journey.

This is especially important if their religious beliefs and practices are still contrary to Christianity.

St. Pope John Paul knows this is difficult to do.

And so he offers us the example of St. Paul in the Areopagus.

While St. Paul was preaching in Athens he was "greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols." (Acts 17:16) And so the Bible continues that Paul reasoned with them all, Jew and Greek.

Greek philosophers present at Paul's preaching however, believe that he is promoting belief in foreign gods, in fact, that is exactly what they say.

Based on this, they invite Paul to a meeting of philosophers and here they give Paul a chance to explain himself further.

Now this is where it gets interesting.

Like a skilled missionary, Paul praises them for being "in every way, very religious, for as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship..." (Acts 17:23) 

WAIT A MINUTE...Before they were 'idols' but now they are 'objects of worship?'

That's right, Paul is changing his language to fit his listeners.

FURTHER he uses an inscription from one of the altars he finds there (i.e. to the unknown god), as well as a quote from one of their own poets to teach them about the true God.

BUT NOTICE Paul doesn't give a homily here about the evils of idolatry. And he doesn't discuss the many immoral practices found in ancient Greek culture. 

INSTEAD Paul meets them where they are at and uses their culture, their expressions and their religious practices to help them take the next step towards Jesus Christ.


Is idolatry wrong? Yes.

Is polytheism wrong? Yes.

Are they living morally upright lives? No way.

But Paul doesn't focus on this.

Paul praises and respects what he can. And in the case of the men from Athens, this means their religiosity and their general practice of worship. That's something Paul can work with!

And of course, he has to.

After all, Paul is only one step in their spiritual journey, whereas God and only God is their constant companion, the One who brought them as far as they have come, no matter how few the steps. 

So what do you think? Do you have a missionary attitude?

Do you meet people where they are at, and praise what you can even as you help them to take the next step towards our Lord Jesus?

I have no doubt that you do. 


Have a great day!

in Christ,


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