It sounds strange, but I have interacted with dozens of individuals who believe missions to be an easy gig and something just about anyone can do. They might not verbally say it out loud, but in their unwillingness to take the time to think through the idea of being a missionary and get the needed training, it is evident that they have no idea what they are getting into. The complication of culture shock, the ongoing problem of culture stress, the monumental task of learning a new language, the certainty of sickness, and much more are all realities missionaries will need to deal with and will need to be equipped to handle. Here are some basic thoughts to consider before you board a plane:
- Is your theology of missions Biblically accurate? This question might sound complicated and overwhelming, but it is necessary. Why are you going to the mission field? Is it because there are starving, sick, and hurting people? Those intentions are noble, but you can feed people day in and day out and you won’t ever exhaust the need. What does the Bible say about missions? A good resource to start with is John Piper’s book Let the Nations Be Glad.
- Do you have the backing and support of your church’s leadership? This is often a sticky question with missionaries. Sometimes churches don’t want anything to do with the missionary’s vision. But that is a very rare case. Most of the time, however, churches are excited about what God has called the missionary to do, but just don’t have the resources or the education to know how to help and lead. And that’s okay! There is ample help available (that’s why organizations like Saving Grace World Missions exist). The focus of this question is, however, whether or not they believe in your calling and support (not necessarily financially) your plan to become a missionary. In other words, what does your pastoral leadership have to say about your desire to become a missionary? And secondly, are you heeding their advice?
- What does your family have to say about your desire to become a missionary? Now I understand that most unsaved family members will be opposed to you moving overseas and won’t see the point. That doesn’t mean that we don’t consider what they have to say. But this question is more focused on what input your saved family members (assuming you have some) have to offer. Also, if you are married and/or have kids, what is their input? I have seen plenty of missionaries so blinded by an overwhelming passion to go that they disregard all wise and godly counsel from those closest to them.
- Are you sufficiently trained to serve as a missionary? I have seen amazing Christians with extraordinary gifts fail on the mission field due to the lack of missional training. This point should not be taken lightly! I have witnessed marriages get destroyed and I have seen individuals walk away from the faith all due to issues that arise on the mission field and that person’s lack of training in how to deal with them.
- Are you willing to be discipled? Don’t be stubborn and don’t think you have all the answers. You are not God’s gift to the mission field. Just because you have served as a pastor for ten years in the States doesn’t mean you know how to pastor in Tanzania. Are you willing to listen and heed the counsel of those missionaries and pastors who have gone before you? Are you willing to change your ideas, methods, and strategies? Now I know what some will say at this point; they may accuse me that I don’t believe that the Bible is sufficient. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Bible is sufficient, but do you realize that you view the Bible through the lens of your own culture? Do you know that you will need to learn how to translate and communicate the Bible into a completely different culture that will take you 20 years to learn? Your job is not to establish an American church with American principles. Your job is to establish a Biblical church with Biblical principles. So I’m asking: Are you teachable and are you willing to receive discipleship so that you can learn how to be a shepherd in foreign cultural context?
- Are you willing to work hard? Missions is an exhausting endeavor that will push you well beyond the means of your own abilities. Not only will you need to keep up with the relentless and never-ending needs of the people you are ministering to on the mission field, but you will also need to keep up with the tasks of communicating with your pastoral leadership, family, friends, and supporters. Oh yeah, and about a hundred other unforeseen things will come up too.
The goal of this article is to overwhelm the person that is considering being a missionary. It is not a good idea to jump into missions just because everything else in your life is falling apart. Missions is a specialized calling that requires specialized training. If you are not willing to dial in your theology, heed the counsel of your pastoral leadership, your spouse, your extended family (saved and unsaved), if you are not teachable, or if you struggle with laziness, then missions is not for you.
Train4Missions.com is a ministry Pastor Mike Thiemann runs to help equip and train missionaries and senders on all topics of long-term overseas service. Pastor Mike and his wife Erin serve State-side as full-time missionaries through Saving Grace World Missions and raise their own missionary support. If you would like to partner with Pastor Mike and Erin to help them further the ministry of Missions Training, please click the “ways to give” image below. Also, you can access their website by going to sgwm.com/thiemann.