So you want to be a missionary?

Mission schoolPhoto credit: breezy 421 (Creative Commons)

Nothing magical occurs when a person moves into a cross-cultural situation. Arriving on foreign shores, a new missionary doesn't suddenly morph into an evangelistic go-getter. 

When we come across people who are about to go onto the mission field, while standing in awe of their commitment to Jesus, our usual question to them is this: "What have you been doing here in this country?"

Whatever a person is doing now, back at home, in terms of working for the Kingdom, is most likely what they'll do overseas. If they never spread the Good News here, it's not likely they'll find it any easier elsewhere. If they've never started a church here, it's not going to fall into their lap in a foreign context.

So what is the best basic training for you, as one whom God is calling overseas? Is it years of seminary? Bible school? [God uses such people –remember, the apostle Paul had done the equivalent in his day–but that wasn't what qualified him to reach out to the Gentiles.] There's nothing to compare with practical experience.

Many missions or missionary sending churches, no matter their denomination or affiliations, have recognized that old-style missionary methods do not generally have much impact on the Kingdom in terms of new followers of Jesus. Teaching in schools, bringing healthcare and so on may provide  extremely valuable help to the local people, and that may be what God has called you to do, but it doesn't usually result in new churches. 

The most effective pattern being used around the world today is the multiplication of networks of small, organic churches meeting in homes. We know several mega-churches who start house churches in other countries. No matter their background, this is what sending agencies are doing overseas. Many missionaries today train indigenous leaders in these patterns. Relief of needs–feeding the poor, caring for orphans, may play a part, and may provide inroads into the community, but it's not the primary means of gathering the harvest.

Therefore, the most effective preparation for overseas missions is to do here at home what you'll be doing, or what you'll be training others to do, abroad. Start a multiplying network of simple/organic/missional churches. This practical, on-the-job training, coupled with learning about cross-cultural challenges and opportunities, together with some experience in other cultures will provide a good basic training for what you will do overseas.

5 replies on “So you want to be a missionary?”

As a missionary of 25+ years, about 20 spent in countries other than my home country, I’d have to say this is exactly right.
Most western mission organizations want the missionary to have a seminary degree or equivalent. Such an education is mostly worthless for the mission field. Cross cultural adaptation training can be quite useful, if its practical. But the most important thing is loving Jesus, knowing how to follow him by listening to his voice and being a warm sensitive person who is willing to live within the appropriate bounds of the new culture. And knowing how to do things like plant churches and disciple. That is knowing from experience, not reading a book.
The most important thing, in my opinion, is training people in the new country. They will be much more effective in reaching their friends than we are. But don’t try to control them. They are instinctively doing correct things which would never occur to us.

Felicity, Terrific post, as usual. We are who we are, no matter where we go. Equipping and training should start here, just as you describe.
Ross, your post is right on. The most effecive stuff that I have done outside the States (after I learned from my various mistakes) goes something this: Listen, ask lots of questions, pray, give a few suggestions, a few Bible passages, a little advice, some prophetic vision, and then watch the local folks do exploits without me. If I can return at a future time, that is a bonus, and the process repeats.

Thank you all for your comments.
Ross, your experience is invaluable and just serves to confirm what I’ve been thinking for many years. And like Bruce, I think the most effective thing we do outside the US (or here for that matter) is to encourage local people to interpret Biblical principles into their own context.
Shanda, thanks for commenting. My husband, Tony, was brought up on the mission field too and he is firmly persuaded of what you say.

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