Religious Self-Transformation and Faith Development of Protestant Missionaries

Religious Self-Transformation and Faith Development of Protestant Missionaries

According to the “Status of Global Mission” (Bonk, 2011, p.29), widely considered as serious statistics of missionary population, in the year 2011 approximately 4,800 mission societies (“foreign-mission sending agencies”; line 44) and about 409,000 “foreign missionaries” (line 50) were counted. As these figures cannot even reveal the full picture of the situation, in future we may additionally expect an increased cultural differentiation and pluralization of cross-cultural encounter in the context of Christian mission. Missionaries are more than ever involved in intercultural communication and cooperation and engaged in an intense struggle with experiences of cultural difference and alterity, and in this, they are likely to fulfil many requirements necessary to achieve “intercultural competence” (cf. Straub, Weidemann & Weidemann, 2007). Moreover, in a recent cultural psychological analysis of autobiographical narratives of German Protestants, empirically grounded on cultural psychology of religion (cf. Belzen, 2010) and symbolic action theory (cf. Boesch, 1991), has been shown that missionary assignments create many new possibilities of religious self-realization and provide missionaries with the opportunity to develop their full “action potential” (ibid.). Consequently, the intentions, motives and ambitions range from suggestions and advice given by encounters with others and the aspiration for stability in faith to secular desires, proclivities and longings. Not surprisingly, such autobiographical narratives also provide access to implicit, on-going self-development and transformations as well as individual key events that are of biographical significance to the interviewees. With the decision to go abroad, the Protestants fulfilled an eagerly awaited desire that represents, in psychologically terms, a “development task” (Havighurst, 1972). In this sense, a mission assignment is not simply a completion of any task of whatever kind, but an intensive confrontation with oneself as a religious and spiritual self. Such kind of individual faith development and self-transformation not only affect their behavior but also their social environment. Last, but not least, missionary action can neither be reduced to the missiological objectives nor humanitarian purposes. It is both complex and ambivalent: Missionaries need to adapt themselves to different cultural environments and to preserve their own identity at the same time. Missionary self-realization is situated in the centre of this area of tension.


Belzen, J.A. (2010). Towards Cultural Psychology of Religion: Principles, Approaches, Applications. Dordrecht: Springer.

Boesch, E.E. (1991). Symbolic Action Theory and Cultural Psychology: Recent Research in Psychology. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.

Bonk, J.J. (2011). Status of Global Mission 2011, in Context of 20th and 21st Centuries. International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 35(1), 29.

Havighurst, R.J. (1972). Developmental Tasks and Education (3rd ed.). New York: Longman.

Straub, J., Weidemann, A. & Weidemann, D. (Eds.). (2007). Handbuch Interkulturelle Kommunikation und Kompetenz [Handbook of Intercultural Communication and Competence]. Stuttgart, Weimar: Metzler.

Invited Talk: ‘Transformationen des religiösen Selbst: Eine kulturpsychologische Analyse missionarischen Handelns deutscher Protestanten’ [Transformation of the Religious Self: A Cultural Psychological Analysis of Missionary Action of German Protestants], Forschungskolloquium Wintersemester 2011/12 ‘Heiligung und religiöse Glaubensentwicklung’ [Sanctification and Faith Development], Marburg: Evangelische Hochschule Tabor.

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Dr. Maik Arnold is Professor for Non-Profit-Management and Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Transfer at University of Applied Science Dresden.