So you want to be a Missionary.

by Jim on 30 January 2009

So you want to be a Missionary?

I get a lot of emails through from people who are interested in being missionaries.  These are people from all over the world, from all different backgrounds, with all different motives.

I try to give them some ideas to get started.  Obviously, my suggestions depend on what specifically they’re asking.  But there are a few common things that I’ll often suggest.  (Note: I’m talking about cross-cultural mission work specifically here)

So, I thought I would share it here to see what you think – maybe you have something to add!

  • Prayer and Bible Study:  This one should go without saying, but sometimes you need to say it.  Of course, we should all be seeking God through His Word and prayer.
  • Church leadership:  I often encourage people to talk to the leadership in their local church.  Why?  Because you need their support, you need their guidance, you need to work together with other believers.  That relationship with a group of believers, and leadership, is critical – we know from Heb 10:25 and Heb 13:17, which talk about meeting together, and our spiritual leaders.  We can’t ignore passages like these, then try to teach others to obey them.
  • Know your passions:  I often ask people – what are you interested in?  What are your passions, your gifts?  What work experience do you have?  Many people don’t realize that missionaries are car mechanics, computer experts, radio hosts, construction workers, writers, painters, nurses, cooks, teachers… there’s lots you can do!
  • Network:  Now that you have some ideas, go find some missionaries who are doing things that interest you.  Or missionaries at the same stage of life (ie retired, with young children, students…).  Finding a missionary who blogs is great, because you can often get a more intimate view of their lives.  But email, and ask questions.  Contact mission agencies, and ask for more contacts.  Sit down with a few people, if you can.  We did this before joining CAM; we talked to representatives of several mission organizations face to face, and corresponded with missionaries on the field, asking the tough questions.
  • Books:  There are some books that I recommend to people interested in serving the Lord in another culture.  The first is Send Me: Your Journey to the Nations.  [Update:  There’s an excellent new edition (2009) of this book out now – Global Mission Handbook – packed with great tips, resources and guidance for aspiring and new missionaries – or even experienced ones!]  Also on my short list of must reads are Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry (great for understanding the concept of culture), The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (a book everyone should have on their shelf), and Let the Nations Be Glad! (a classic look at what the Bible teaches about missions).

There’s lots more that could be said, but there are a few ideas that I think will help someone who is considering serving in another culture.  I know there are some people with experience reading this post – what would you add (or delete!) from my list?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia Knightly (via Facebook) February 8, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Something to ponder if one is considering missions abroad is “The light that shines farthest shines brightest at home” L.E. Maxwell.
People should ask themselves if they are living as missionaries at home before trying to do that abroad.

Jim February 8, 2009 at 8:51 pm

You’re right (although maybe “living as missionaries” can be a misunderstood term). I didn’t include that specifically, because I think #2 will ideally cover it. If your leaders feel you are an excellent pew-warmer, I doubt you’ll have their support to go pew-warm in another culture.

On the other hand, some people think they are wonderful Christian workers, but when you hear from their church you get a different story. We’re excellent at deceiving ourselves.

That being said, sadly I think sometimes churches and church leadership can be less than helpful. Recently I heard a story of a man who went to the leadership of his church with a similar question. “Why are you asking us?” they said,”That’s between you and God!”

Hmmmm… not very supportive. And Jesus gave us the “assembly” so that we could…. ignore it and all do our own thing?

So maybe you’re right, maybe I should include specifically the point about service at home.

Elizabeth H. February 12, 2009 at 12:40 am

Nicely worded, especially about knowing your passions. It may be as specific as a profession, or it may just be an interest that has always had a special place in your life, but you’ve never known how it could be useful. And in missions, it suddenly makes sense. Even if your official missionary “duties” might be described one way on paper, all those other gifts and passions that don’t quite fit into a specific role will gradually find their use.

Jim February 13, 2009 at 9:39 am

Good point, Elizabeth, about your job “on paper”. It’s amazing how other talents and bits of experience can be used by God…

RebeccaC April 3, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Good post, Jim. Totally agree with everything. ;^)

My favorite book for preparing to move to a new culture was “The Survival Kit for Overseas Living”. I went through it with the kids and I think it helped us to not make as many “gringo” mistakes as we would have otherwise. It’s not a specifically Christian book, but it’s very applicable — and it’s a quick read, too.


What’s this about pillar wars??? You’ve got me curious! :^)

Michelle Porter February 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm

One of the most challenging aspects of my work in urban missions is convincing folks at home that it is a worthy missionary calling. I wish more people, who feel the call of God on their life, would consider giving a year of service to their local mission.

We have an extensive training program, where we cover room and board, and, for those enrolling in City Vision College, their education. But we also have had up to 11 position openings this year, that we have had trouble filling. Imagine, you could skip the whole “raising support” thing, come work cross-culturally at home for one or two years, and really find out if full-time missionary work is for you!

It gives experience to the individual, and lends credibility to their call to go overseas. It also helps those at home who are trapped in the inner city cycles of poverty, addiction and sin. And by the missionary’s connection, gets home churches excited to serve the poor as well.

Not all can go to foreign lands, but all can do something.

Jim March 1, 2010 at 7:13 am

Thanks, Rebecca and Michelle!

I haven’t read the book, but here it is – The Survival Kit to Overseas Living. Looks like it’s aimed more toward Americans, but there it is for those who are interested (yes, I know people from the US read this blog!). 🙂

Yes, those working part or full time at “home” do have special challenges, there’s no doubt (we know, having done it!).

I would say one thing, though. I wouldn’t want anyone to skip the whole “support raising” thing. Whether or not they need additional funds, building a network of supporters is SO important, both for them and for the Christian worker. I wouldn’t want anyone to miss it.

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