Questions 3: So You Want To Be A Missionary?

So you want to be a missionary; what should you do?

This question has one easy answer; talk to your church leaders and tell them about it.

There are two basic reasons for this, the first is theological and the second is practical.

Theologically, it is churches who send out missionaries, not mission agencies. The agencies exist to help churches with the technicalities of the sending, but the church’s role is primary. So talk to your pastor/vicar/elder before you talk to an agency rep.

Practically, if you do become a missionary, you will be looking to your church to pray for you and provide a slice of your funding for years to come (our home church has been supporting us financially for over thirty years). If you are going to expect your church to get behind you like this, it would be wise to talk to them before you make any decisions.

The thing is, church leaders love to hear about people who feel called to serve the Lord, but they feel less positive about people who have decided to go off to somewhere exotic and, without warning, expect the church to stump up a share of the costs.

As well as talking to your church leader, you should get stuck into the life of the church, serving in some way. This gives good experience in Christian service which is a useful discipline but also builds up contacts and friendships which can serve as a support structure if you do end up going abroad. Again, being practical, why would a church leader agree to support you to do Christian work thousands of miles away, if you never did anything in your local congregation?

A word about mission agencies; social media is full of adverts for agencies who want you to talk to them about your future and at every Christian conference, there are stalls with ernest reps trying to entice you in to talk to them. If you haven’t talked to your church leader, ignore the siren calls of the agencies. If you don’t want to take my advice, talk to lots of agencies and learn lots of things, but don’t focus till you know your church is supporting you. Also, if any agency talks to you about serving with them (short, or long-term) and doesn’t mention talking to your pastor, run a mile.

If your pastor agrees that you are called to mission work, the complicated bit of working out where, how and when starts. I may look at this in a later question. However, if they don’t agree, then things are even more complicated, but the next steps are always the same.

It could be that your church leadership feel that you don’t have the gifts or temperament required for mission work. As someone who has led a mission’s field operation in two countries, I wish more people had been told this. One of the biggest hardships in mission leadership is dealing with people who should not have been there in the first place. I realise it can be hard to accept this sort of verdict, but the answer is to get stuck into the life of the church, to be discipled and to serve. That’s the primary calling we all have – and who knows, as you get stuck in and start to grow, your minister may change their assessment of you.

It could also be that the church leadership agree that you might have a call, but don’t think you are quite ready for mission work. So, get stuck into the life of the church to be discipled and serve…

Another possibility is that the church feels it is right for you to serve as a missionary, but they don’t have the wherewithal to support you. This one is complex, but can the church help you to make contacts elsewhere who can help with finance? Meanwhile, get stuck into the life…

It is possible, but unlikely, that your church leadership simply have no vision for world mission and refuse to countenance the idea of sending you as a missionary. In this case you have two options, the first is to switch churches, but I find the whole idea of going to a church so that it can serve you rather odd, secondly you can get stuck into the church and serve others to such an extent that the church simply can’t ignore you call to mission.

One last thought; it can be good to get together with a small group to pray about your sense of call to mission. A group that you can be open with about your hopes and frustrations. It is even better if others in the group have big questions about their futures, too. An hour’s prayerful sharing over a coffee every week or ten days can help to sharpen your thoughts and, if your friends are honest with you, to show you the strengths and weaknesses that you have.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. What About Church Mission Strategy?

5 replies on “Questions 3: So You Want To Be A Missionary?”

This is helpful and practical advice, Ed. It also has the quality of being true, which helps.

Just for your interest, and that of your readers, the last two people who went to serve as short-term missionaries from our church did not ask us first, or even second. They joined up and told us at the point of asking for references. At this point – being a bit of a soft touch – I duly gave the reference required along with a note to the effect that it would have been nice if the agency had refered the candidate to us well before we reached this stage. No reply from either agency. We supported both people enthusiastically and financially. Both returned after two years (in one case) and three (the other) and never darkened the doors of our church again. In future, I will be really resistant to any individual who did not talk to us first of all.

Hmmmm… I tend to agree, but what if you are the church pastor/vicar/leader??? Or another scenario where you have just finished serving in a church as a pastor/vicar/leader and are not yet plugged in with another local church, but wondering if you have a call to be involved in mission???! Any thoughts appreciated!?

I don’t think I’d change my advice in that situation. The Lord called Paul to mission at the time of his conversion, but it wasn’t until the Spirit told the church at Antioch to set apart Paul and Barnabas, that he actually started his missionary journeys.

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