Steps to Becoming a Missionary

Intro

There aren’t any “official steps” to becoming a missionary. Everyone you ask will probably have their own opinion, the worst being: “Just go!”

One of the best things that you can do when considering missions is to talk to missionaries and find out the steps they took to get from here to there. When talking to them you will usually find out two things:

  • Everyone’s story is different. Not everyone went down the same road or the same path. Meaning, talking to several different missionaries will help give you ideas about what to do and what not to do.
  • There are usually a lot of small steps and very few big leaps. Meaning, becoming a missionary isn’t an overnight process. It is slowly taking steps toward that goal and then waking up one day and realizing you are living your dream.

With that being said, I want to give my thoughts on different steps that you should consider taking if you are wanting to be a missionary.


Surrender: Ministry & Missions

Step #1 Surrender to full-time ministry and missions. A full-time minister of the gospel is one of the greatest ways that you can live your life. As you study the Word, God starts doing a work inside of you and you start to develop a desire for the ministry and taking the gospel to people who have never heard (I am assuming that you are already saved, baptized and attending a local church). As God works in you, your desire needs to turn to surrender. Surrendering your entire life to serve Him, forsaking all other worldly occupation and desire to live fully of the gospel.

Many times when people surrender, they don’t exactly know what they are surrendering to, but they know that they are surrendering to “serve the Lord” and whatever they see that to mean at the time. Some see if through the lens of their “talents” and desire to serve full-time using just that talent. Others surrender to use their occupation full-time, since there may be an unwillingness to trust the Lord fully for your income and/or fear of raising funds or living from others giving to you.

When I surrendered to be a missionary, in my mind I surrendered to be a missionary that went to another English-speaking country (I was afraid of learning another language) and simply told people about Jesus. I didn’t know anything about discipleship, church-planting and having to stand in front of people to preach. In my mind, I could do one-on-one full-time. I didn’t realize surrendering to the ministry was also surrendering to a life time of study. I didn’t even like to read at that point in my life.

So with that being said, I want to clarify two areas that I think you, as “a person with a desire to be a missionary of the gospel” ought to consider surrendering to.

Step #1a Surrender to Ministry. When I say ministry, I am talking about it in the traditional, old-fashioned sense. I am not talking about these new “think-out-of-the-box-ideas” that lead to quick results but ultimately little real fruit. There are so many things that are passed as ministry in today’s world, so let me clarify what I mean:

Ministry of the Word. Surrender to be a full-time minster of the Word of God. This means you will be a reader. It means you will be a lifelong learner and student of the Word. It means you will be actively teaching the Word. It means that preaching and teaching are part of your main ministry.

Ministry of Training. As a student of the Word you will also desire to train others everything that you are learning. This involves discipleship, teaching others through your life and lessons, building up the church of God, and helping other young ministers as they prepare for ministry.

Note: Ministry of the “Word” and “Training” are not things that you can do quickly. I will have to save this for another post, but let me say that these are ministries that you will spend your life doing to see fruit (versus the quick fix: buying a bible program, hiring a pastor, or providing 10 lessons for training).

Also, you should surrender to ministry separate from missions. This is because you might not always be a missionary but you can still be in the ministry. Maybe the door closes for the country you were wanting to go to. Maybe you get kicked out by the government or your visa is refused. What should you do? Well, you shouldn’t quit the ministry. When we refer to mission, we are mainly talking about a location. When we talk about ministry, we are talking about your life occupation.

Step #1b Surrender to Missions. By surrendering to missions, I mean leaving the comfort of your home, the guarantee of your health, and the relationships of your family and friends to take the gospel to a foreign land, and even more so, to a foreign land without much of a gospel witness.

A surrender to missions is a surrender to go. Be willing to really go. Go and stay. Don’t count by the days, months or weeks, or even months but put in the years. My generation has two things that make it hard to stay on the mission field, money and cheap/quick transportation. Be willing to go to a place and invest your life there.

A surrender to missions also means to look and consider the places around the globe where you can be used the most. Meaning can I go here and help in the harvest or can I go here to a place and plant seeds to start a harvest. One area is in need of workers because of how God is working and the other area is in need of laborers because there is no one there doing the work.

Ministry and missions is hard. That is why we use the word surrender. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is not better way to live your life. I love my life. But consider these areas as you surrender to be a missionary.


Training & Preparation

Step #2 Training and Preparation. After you have surrendered to ministry and missions, you need to start your training and preparation. There are four areas I would recommend that you need to consider as you take this next step:

Step #2a Mentorship. You need to find a mentor that is willing to invest in your life. Someone who understand what life-on-life really means and is willing to invite you into his life to train you and help you before you go out on your own and that will be there as a continual voice in your life as you start your our ministry. This person is hard to find. This might mean that you have to move where you are living, change jobs or work hours to spend time with them or whatever else it takes. You adjust your life and schedule to theirs so you can learn from their life. A true mentor is constantly learning and teaching and so just being with them you are learning.

Step #2b Bible Knowledge. You need to be studying the bible and equipping yourself with the right tools to learn the bible. This could mean Bible college, institute, or training center. Up until this point you have been handed fish and learned to eat it well. But now you need to learn to fish for yourself. You need to have a sufficient knowledge of the Bible and what/why you believe what you do. You need to have a toolbox and library at your disposal.

Step #2c Practical Missions. Some things you can’t learn in the classroom and somethings non-missionaries can’t teach. You need to learn from real and active missionaries who can teach you from experience. Find missionaries who are getting the job done and ask them tons of questions. Missionaries on deputation or in their first term don’t know anything (me). Ask those why have planted a couple of churches, trained pastors (not just hire pastors), and learn from that practical side of their ministry. Also, consider spending time under a missionary during your first year or so on the field. If the missionary is a good one and knows how to mentor, you will benefit greatly. (Note: A topic for another post, but don’t mistake encouraging fellowship for real mentorship.)

Step #2d Theology and Philosophy. This goes along with Bible knowledge. You don’t have to have everything in the Bible figured out, because the more you study the more you will realize that you don’t know. But you need have a sturdy theology or what you believe about things and how you view the world, God and the task at hand. Also, you need to have a good philosophy of ministry and missions. How exactly will you carry out the mission. Missionaries will disagree in this area, but again, find those who are getting the job done, and learn from their philosophy and make it yours.


Mobilize

Step #3 Mobilize a Team of Financial and Prayer Supporters. This step is important and will help you on your journey as a missionary. Because I work with so many missionaries who do a great job in this area, I forget that many people are scared or don’t know how or why they should take this step. Many times you find people finish their training and then take a huge leap to the mission field skipping this step. Here are four reasons why I think you need to mobilize a team of supporters.

Step #3a Prayer Support. You need others to hold the rope in prayer. Missions is not a one man sport. It is a team effort. You need others to be holding the rope as you leave and go into the harder places of the world carrying the gospel. You need people praying for you and with you. You need people to help carry the financial load.

Step #3b Missions is teamwork. Give others a chance to help reach the world through your ministry. Obviously, not everyone can be everywhere at once. Not everyone is or can go. We can be involved in other places of the Earth through our giving and praying. Let others get involved where you are located through partnering with you.

Step #3c Financial Support. Raise funds needed to allow you to do more ministry. Raise enough funds that allow you to do the ministry you desire to do. It is going to be a long time before the people you are ministering to learn to give, so don’t handicap yourself by going under supported. Also, having financial support frees you from having to work another full-time job on the mission field and allows you to spend all your time doing ministry.

Step #3d Missionary Assistance. You probably need a mission board to aid you. A mission board can by a great assistant for you, in helping taking care of all your business in your home country and assisting to get your financial etc. in your new country. Most local churches don’t have the resources, organization, or know-how to probably take care of a missionary and therefore, I would recommend you find a mission board that can help you and your local church.


Field Learning

Step #4 Field Learning: Language, Culture & Missionary Experience

Now you are ready for field learning! It is time to learn the language, culture and experience of a senior missionary.

Step #4a Language. The language is one of the most important parts of your new life. You need to make sure you spend enough time learning the new language. Even if you aren’t talented in language learning you need to learn it the best you can and put the time in to learn it. Much of the effectiveness of your new ministry will be based on how well you can communicate with the local people. There are so many barriers that hinder the message you desire to bring them, don’t let language be on of those.

Step #4b Culture Adaptation. Learn and appreciate the new culture you find yourself in. Learn the “how to’s” of the new culture and get involved with the local people. An important are in culture adaptation is your attitude. Keep a positive attitude during the entire process and through your ministry. The culture will test you in many ways and everyone will go through culture shock.

Step #4c Missionary Experience. You should work under and learn from a senior missionary for a limited time. Make sure that you are learning under the “right” missionary. Do not just work under a missionary because he is there or has bee there for a long time. The wrong missionary can actually hurt your future ministry. I do believe you can learn something from everyone, but that does’t mean you should work under everyone. Find a missionary who has learned the language well, has a ministry that you want to reproduce, and is willing to help you and invest in you.


Field Work

Finally, you come to the last step, start doing what you were trained to do: start churches and train men.

Step #5 Field Work: Evangelize, Establish, Equip.

You have carefully gone through each of the steps, surrendering to missions and ministry and then getting the proper training necessary for your cross-culture work. You have moved to the new country and have a good grasp on the language and culture, as well as, learned from the experience of others. Now it is time to get busy working. All of your training and preparation is now going to be put to the test. This step is extremely exciting and scary at the same time. You are now taking full responsibility for whatever happens next. If you took any short-cuts in the previous steps, it will most likely show as you step out to start your work.

Step #5a Evangelize. As you desire to start a church or bible study, you will need to start with a lot of evangelism. Your desire is to see people come to know Jesus as Lord. You will need to meet with people on several occasion to help them understand the gospel so they can believe the gospel. This can also include personal evangelism, tract distribution, preaching or going from house-to-house.

Step #5b Establish. As people get saved, you need to start discipling them, teaching them the bible, and establishing them in the faith. Also, it is time to start establishing churches. Our goal is not just evangelism but to start indigenous local churches that will reproduce themselves and reach their community and the world.

Step #5c Equip. Finally, you want to equip the believers so the can grow and continue doing the work without you. The key point in this step is to train leaders of leaders. You want to invest much of your time into training pastors and full-time ministry workers. If the work is going to thrive, it must be done by national leadership.


This post was originally posted as a 6 part series on www.chinaramblings.com and was reposted here by the original author.

Mark

13 comments

  1. I really appreciate the article and certainly hope that many young men and women that are deciding what God wants them to do and where will read this article. I am hoping the students of the Training Center will get on here and have a discussion with you!

  2. Mark, Thanks for sharing this. As a person that is in step two. (Training) what is the balance between having an urgency to get to the mission field and getting sufficient training, experience to do the job? On one hand the less time spent in training, the quicker a person could get to the next step, but on the other hand too little time spent in training will result in less effectiveness on the mission field. Is there a point where you can spend too much time in training and is there a point where you can have too much of an urgency to get to the mission field and what do you think that balance is?

    1. Great question, Kanon! I think it depends on personality types and personal goals. Remember there are no shortcuts. So if you don’t spend the time learning something now, you will spend the time later doing it. You need to be so full of the Bible and practical knowledge that you can reproduce yourself in others. I personally believe that your ministry grows as you do and the more faithful you are with what you have will lead to more blessings.

      For me, I like to think of it in fishing terms: you need to learn how to fish (training); you need to fish (ministry); and you need to eat the fish (blessings). When are you ready to step out on your own and do all the fishing? Can you teach others how to fish? Or are you just eating the fish everyone else is catching and thinking you are ready to go. Do you know where you want to fish? Does your fishing ability and knowledge match with fishing in that area? (Fishing in a pond behind your house and in the ocean are similar and yet very different, which are you prepared for?)

      To put it simply: Have you been discipled, are you able to disciple yourself, and can you disciple others?

      As you move on to the next step you will continue to grow in: Training, Preparation, Mentorship, Bible Knowledge, Practical Missions, Theology, and Philosophy. I think each area will have self-evident indicators that you are ready to go as long as you are committed to continued growth and never “arrive”.

  3. Thanks. This is a great article. I know we all want partnering churches in support. How did you build your prayer support group. I think you called them rope holders. Was this a list that you kept in touch with as you did your supporting churches.

    1. Thanks Kevin. For me, it seemed that there were different people we met during deputation and where especially interested in partnering with us and praying for us. We try to keep everyone updated so that they can knowledgeably pray for us. This si mainly down through the blog, but also done through phone calls, text etc.

  4. Kanon, Your question is the big dilemma without a doubt. Many missionaries live very frustrated lives because they see God blessing someone else and them not seeing so many blessings. They blame it on their field. They blame it on everything but the fact that they were not prepared. If I had to err I would err on preparing more.

    It needs to be a practical preparation more than anything. Books can be read later, but get out and deal with people. See people saved and baptized. Do what you are going to do so that what you do is what you have been doing!

    Some have stayed to prepare to long but usually they are not the type to even get there. They just keep looking at a reason to study.

    You need to do the work. Preach, visit, pray, see God work here and you can see Him work there. Go study how Hudson Taylor prepared to go to the mission field!

    Good question.

  5. I would heartedly agree about the need for preparation. I personally feel that I would have greatly benefited from more practical experience. I graduated from Bible College and spent 6 months in Peru watching and listening, but I needed several years of trying to put things in practice before heading to the mission field. A couple years under the mentoring, correcting, and guiding hand of a mentor would have saved me many years of mistakes and frustration on the mission field. The mistakes made in someone else’s ministry while a student, intern, or assistant are always easier and less costly than when you are the lead church-planter and everyone is looking to you. If in doubt, I would say get more preparation. Does not mean more head-knowledge but more practice swinging your sword in battle.

  6. How much time do we need to spend with a mentor? What kind of qualities should our mentor have and how do you chose who to mentor you?

    1. Spend as much time as possible because once you start your own ministry you won’t have the chance to do that again.

      Who do you want to become? What do you want to do? Find someone who is that AND is willing to help you become that. No mentor is perfect and will have downfalls, so where one is lacking in something you can learn through others who are strong in that area or through books etc.

      Most of us need a mentor that will work with us on the “Be” level. So find someone who is willing to do that.

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