Tips for Preparing for a Missions Career
Have you ever considered becoming a missionary or getting involved in missions only to discover that you really have no idea how exactly it all works? Do you aspire to become a missionary? These tips will help you understand a bit better what is involved in becoming a missionary and how you can proactively move forward towards your goal of serving Jesus full-time on the mission field. Too many aspiring missionaries today lack tangible action steps to get them on the path of actual fruitful missionary service. To transform your aspirations into a life-changing reality, we've compiled nine practical tips that will guide you on the path from wishful thinking to impactful mission work. In this blog post, we'll explore actionable steps to help aspiring missionaries take that first, essential step towards fulfilling their calling, creating a lasting impact on those they seek to serve.
I. Make Sure You Are Well Discipled
In other words, be a good disciple. Get discipled. Be intentional about getting discipled. Pursue a discipleship relationship with somebody older than you, somebody who's been walking with the Lord a long time, somebody grounded in the faith with a sound Biblical theology. Meet with this person regularly. Be intentional to meet for the purpose of growing in grace and useful to the Master. Read good books. Read good theology. Know the Bible very well. To be a missionary it's not necessary that you have a formal education in the Bible, but you do need a real and robust education in the Bible. You do need to spend lots and lots of time in the Word. Study theology like they used to do in the olden days. (Sadly, not too many people do today.) Whatever you do, be intentional about learning sound doctrine, learning the Word of God, knowing scripture, and if you can get a good grasp on the original languages. Do all that you can to be well discipled.
An important part of good discipleship that cannot be overlooked is taking on good Christian character. Learn from godly folks what it means to live a godly life. Part of being a good disciple and being discipled is also learning to be truly content in Christ. Few are content today, even though we live in a time of great prosperity and comfort and ease. Most of us live better than the kings of the past... Yet few of us are actually satisfied on a consistent basis. In Christ and Him alone, we need to learn true contentment. When you get to the mission field, you'll be tested in every way possible. If you know not how to be content in Christ and the Gospel, you will very likely fall into Despair.
Part of being discipled is also knowing your strengths, your weaknesses, your limitations, and who you are. It's important to know how God has made you and with what gifts He has graced you. Only then can you best apply yourself as a valuable part of a missionary team.
To the end of being well discipled and trained, there's also lots of courses now available online that enable you to learn from great teachers. One does not need to go to a Bible college or seminary to get well trained. It's not a bad thing if you have the means to do that, but if you apply yourself to be well trained and discipled within your local church and with supplemental courses, by God's grace you can truly become a fruitful missionary in the school of Christ and at His service.
Currently at PMc, we are formulating a number of quality courses via the Academia to help equip the next generation of missionaries. we have a number of links that will mention in the course. The current curriculum includes the following course: Foundations, Doctrines of Grace, Missions, Evangelism, Soul-Winning With Spurgeon, Preaching, Apostolic Church Planting, Roman Catholicism.
II. Learn Self and Time-Management
Our lives no longer belong to ourselves, but to the Lord. It is essential that we understand how to be good stewards of our time and resources. We must learn how to manage ourselves and our time. This is crucial in the day in which we live because now more than ever we are surrounded by distractions. All kinds of media and social media demands our attention and commitment. If we are to be good missionaries, it is essential that we know how to manage our time.
We need to know real world skills for being a productive Christian in this modern world. Personal leadership and personal management are to be developed. It's absolutely essential. (You may or you may not learn this by going to college). You need to understand how to operate and how to do things in this life. When you get to the mission field, everything becomes more complicated, including the simple execution of everyday tasks. As a missionary, you live in a foreign land. They do things differently. They have a different mentality. They prioritize things differently. They speak a different language. You need to have a good handle on executing tasks and running your life. You need good systems in place to keep you vibrant and productive in this world and to fulfill your calling.
Here are a few resources that can help you to better manage yourself and your time.
Read Tim Challies' book, Do More Better -- It's a substantial, very good, Christ-centered approach to productivity.
Read Doug Wilson's book, Ploductivity -- also very helpful for long-term fruitfulness and understanding tools.
Read Matt Perman's book, What's Best Next -- a bit technical but overall helpful.
Read John MacArthur's book, The Book on Leadership -- great examples of various men of God in the Bible.
Part of managing yourself and your time is also having a healthy and productive lifestyle. This would include a balanced lifestyle, good eating, proper exercise, proper sleep, proper rest, knowing how to take a Sabbath, being disciplined, (learning discipline), and knowing how to not be consumed by media, but instead to use it for your purposes. We live in a day when many people are consumers to the maximum and they never get anything done as a result.
Learning self and time-management is absolutely fundamental for fruitful missions work. It's necessary for getting yourself prepared to be a missionary and for serving long-term on the field with a team.
III. Be a Good and Healthy Church Member of a Biblical Church
The 9 Marks Ministry has a great book called What is a Healthy Church Member? It's important to understand both church membership and what being a good church member entails. If you are not a good member of a good church you ought not expect to be a good team member of a band of missionaries that operates like a small church to start Biblical churches.
Just consider for a moment what ministry could look like for pastors if they have sheep that are eager to be well fed, to be most useful to Christ, to care for one another, and to limit their being a burden to the body of Christ. Most of the troubles that Timothy had to deal with, and Paul had to write to him to encourage him about, could have been prevented had the members of the church learned to be healthy members. Fruitful members build one another up and together the body of Christ bears fruit in this world as we reflect the character of God. Let it be noted as well that in missions, there are no independent missionaries. All missionaries are to be sent out by their home church where they are members. Missionaries are accountable to their home church.
IV. Learn Frugality and Faith and How They Operate Together
Too often today we lack faith and frugality, but we need both. We need to know how to reduce what we spend and be happy with what we have. We need to learn how to do things with our own hands or build/create things if we don't have them instead of always running to buy more stuff. At the same time, we need to have faith that God will provide what we actually need; we do indeed need stuff to do the Lord's work. The Lord cares about our needs and loves to provide for us and show His glory to the church and the unbelieving world that observes us. These two concepts (frugality and faith) go together, and they're helpful for getting yourself onto the mission field, as well as surviving and flourishing on the mission field in another country.
When living as a missionary in a foreign context where everything is done differently, you need to understand how to live frugally and with faith at the same time, trusting in God for all your provisions. The reality is we're often taught and we believe that we need way more things than we actually need, even when it comes to serving our Master. Sadly, this often results that too many of us have debts that we just can never seem to pay off. Personal debts in the US are staggering!
As you prepare for missions, it's crucial to learn what it means to walk by faith; to know that you are in the Lord's hands. This is best learned before one gets to the mission field, but undoubtedly it gets learned more profoundly once you're in the trenches. We need to walk by faith and let our requests be made known to God. As we do, we see the Lord provide our needs, what we really need. When we're on the mission field, nothing changes in this regard. You still will be walking by faith and trusting God to provide all you need.
V. Be Debt Free
When you're on the mission field and you're living for the Lord, one thing you usually won't have too much of is money. Typically, missionaries have just what they need. (Unless they are serving in a 3rd world context. In that case, they may indeed have extra). If you start off with a debt, it can make things very complicated, and it'll be hard to actually get that debt paid off. It would be better to live frugally with faith. In this way, you can cut your expenses way down, living below your means, so you can pay off any debts before going to the mission field. Ridding yourself of any debt beforehand results in more fruitful missionary labor later.
Part of getting debt free is also learning how to properly manage money. As Christians, we need to learn to rightly manage resources in order to be good stewards of what God has given us. Money management and budgeting are things that should fundamental for Christians. After all, we have only what the Lord Himself has granted us, and with that we are to cause an increase. As Christians we want to manage wisely. We want to seek out counsel and help for how to best use and invest our money. Money on the mission field can be tight at times so it's crucial to learn how to be a responsible steward before becoming a missionary.
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. - Mt. 25:29
VI. Do Short-term Work First
It's important to have a firm conviction and confirmation from your elders and church family as to where and how God would have you serve as a missionary. A great thing to do before committing to long-term service is to get yourself involved in other ways and to learn the mission and the field. Test out the waters. Learn all that you can about the mission you desire to work with. Learn what they actually do and what they believe, their philosophy of ministry. Seek to understand the country and the people where you're going. Consider if you can really live among those people and adapt adapt to their culture. Would it be a good fit for you or would it perhaps be too drastic or stressful? If you cannot adapt well, you may find yourself in constant troubled waters, so to speak, and so you may never be able to truly be fruitful. Unfortunately, some missionaries come to Italy with a romantic idea of what it means to live in Italy. These folks often don't last long. The dark spiritual realities of Italy together with the complexities of living in the real Italy have a way of eradicating missionaries rather quickly. It's not for no reason that Italy is named the "graveyard of missionaries"...
Do some missions trips, short-term stuff, and use that time to get to know the people and the culture. Take your time and make sure you're choosing the right place. Prayerfully consider all things. Consider as well the type of missions work that the mission you're going to work with does. Some people do medical missions, some people do orphanages, other people do evangelism, discipleship and church planning like PMc. You need to understand your God-given gifts and how you would fit with the existing team. You want to be involved in the kind of ministry where you fit in and can be an asset. Ask as many questions as you can when you're seeking out which mission you should join.
VII. Get Confirmation
You should talk with your pastors about your desire (and internal belief in your calling) to become a missionary. You should have a good relationship with your pastors, your leaders, those who mentor you, those who have instructed you in the way of the Lord. You don't need confirmation from your biological family, but you do need if from your Christian family. Let them know you're considering missions. Invite them to pray with and for you about this. Talk with them. Maybe they have experience in this. You want to understand, humbly, if becoming a missionary is actually something God would have you do. All of us have wrong notions about ourselves. The Christian should be quick to admit that he/she may very well be wrong and so seeking out others is vital.
You want the blessing of your church. You need their blessing. You need a confirmation from your church at large, because they're the ones who are going to be praying for you and supporting you. You wouldn't last long without them. When things are difficult on the mission field, and they will be, you will face many things alone. If you have the confirmation from God through your church that you are to be there, you will be able to endure whatever may come to pass.
Part of getting the confirmation is also applying to the mission that you're going to work with and getting accepted. They usually have a process that you go through; an application and various interviews. They will learn about your background, history, and where you are spiritually and doctrinally. They will want to know any limitations you may have, as well as your strengths. You will need to apply and get accepted and this adds to your confirmation. A good mission will also have a document with some form of an agreement as to the nature of the work you'll be doing. Having a clear vision and job description is also helpful when it comes to raising funds.
VIII. Learn How to Raise Support
Faith-based missionaries must learn to raise funds and form a team of ministry partners. Since no missionary sends himself, this is something you need to learn. So how do you raise funds? There's all kinds of things that can be said but we're only going to scratch the surface in this particular post. Simply put, you need to create a network of ministry partners, almost like you're running a business. At the same time, you need to not have all your eggs in one basket. Typically speaking, you cannot get all your support to live off of from only one place. It happens, but it is rare. You should pray that the bulk of your support can come from your official home church, but the reality is most churches cannot fully support any one missionary. It does you well to have numerous individuals, family members, friends, and members of churches that come alongside of you to partner in the ministry as well. It's good to seek multiple churches to support you as a missionary.
Fund raising is actually rather complex. As you raise funds, you're going to need to create and send support letters that share about the spiritual reality of the country, the mission that you're going to be working with, what they focus on and what your role will be in that mission. You'll invite people to prayerfully consider joining in with you as prayer partners and/or financial partners to sustain you for the term or terms that you plan to serve. One-time donations are good to get you started, but you'll also need to raise monthly support so you can maintain yourself on the mission field.
Part of raising funds then would also be creating a prayer card so people can see you, learn about the mission that you're working with, and have something in their hand to remember you on a consistent basis and be praying for you. Fund raising takes time and lots of prayer. For some it can take six months and for others it can take several years. Typically while raising funds you will also need to do the tedious work of acquiring a visa to stay long-term in the country to which you are going. This involves lots of paperwork and multiple trips to the nearest Consulate for that country.
IX. Go By Faith
From the beginning of your Christian walk, you need to learn what it means to walk by faith. It's a never ending process to learn to truly trust in the Lord day in and day out for all your needs, including the strength to obey and do what he calls you to do, and to lay down your life for Him.
The thing to keep in mind here is that when we do go onto the mission field, when we are sent, we raise our support, we get out there, we're going by faith, but that going by faith doesn't stop, actually. You're there, you're in the new country, you're now set up and you're living for the Lord, you're serving. You're working together with the team that God has placed you in. But you will be going on a daily basis. You don't stop going by faith. By faith, you will go apply yourself to the things the Lord has given you to do. By faith, you will be learning the language and the culture for several years. This you must seek to do as if you're doing it unto the Lord Himself. You'll need His help to rightly understand the people to whom you are ministering and to speak to their hearts in their own language.
Once you are set up and established in the mission you will be evangelizing lost people. This is a constant laying down of your own desires, your own plan. It requires you to go out of your way to reach the lost, make disciples, and see the Lord form churches through the ministry. As you go by faith you'll be enduring, you'll be suffering, embracing your calling, fighting the good fight, and standing firm in the Gospel. All these truths are part of what it means to be going by faith. Learn it before you become a missionary, because you're going to be applying it every day after you become a missionary. No doubt about it.
Today's topic of preparing to become a missionary and knowing whether or not you are called is going to be one simple lecture of the PMc course on missions. The PMc Missions Academia is especially for those who are getting involved in missions, either short-term. internships, or long-term. This is something we make available to any new people working with us, and even to our ministry partners who just want to understand missions better. This particular course on missions will cover a lot of different things related to missions, but specifically also in places like Italy, in Europe, where the context is not what most people think of when they think of missions. If you're interested in more about these nine tips and what they will look like in practice, be sure to check out that course where we go into this in much more detail. Coming soon!
Written by Jesse Schreck | founder, director, and missionary with Practical Missions Cohort
To learn more about Biblical Missions, stay tuned for our upcoming course at the Missions Academia.