I often get emails or Facebook messages from people who want to know how to become a missionary. They sense God’s call but don’t know where to start. Who should I go with? How do I prepare? Can I support myself? Do I need shots?
Actually, I should probably step back a moment. Apparently, they do know where to start: Google. That’s how they end up on my website, sending me an email asking where to start.
Since I get email inquiries like this somewhat frequently, I thought it would be helpful to do a post on how to move from “I want to be a missionary” to actually going to the field. There is no precise formula but here are some practical steps that should get potential missionaries going in the right direction.
1. Talk to Your Church
Talk to your church leaders. It is amazing how many people start researching and contacting missions agencies without first bringing their church in on their plans. Missionaries are sent out from, and are responsible to their local church. You need to be a member in good standing in a church, and have the support and endorsement of your church in order to go forward. Talk to the pastor and elders of your church (but not 5 minutes before the Sunday worship service begins). Tell them your desire to be a missionary and get their thoughts. If you’ve been a member of that church for a decent period of time, and been involved there, then your church leaders should have a good sense as to whether you are ready to go out to the mission field, and they may have some advice and/or requirements for you. Please listen to their advice and guidance, even if they don't think you're ready yet or have some things they'd like you to do first (like formal Bible school training, for example) before you go to the field. Not all churches know what to do with someone who volunteers for missionary service but hopefully, if you are in a decent Gospel preaching church then your church leaders are concerned for your spiritual growth and service in God's kingdom. They are on your side. If you are going to go the mission field, you will need their support and partnership. It is never too soon to start that conversation and get them involved in the process.
2. Talk to Your Family
If you are young and single, it is highly advisable to talk this through with your parents, whether they are Christians or not. Some people find that their parents are initially opposed but warm up to the idea over time as they learn more information, as you pray for them, and talk with them.
If you are married, both you and your spouse need to be sold on the idea of being missionaries, otherwise this plane will never get off the ground. Or it will get off the ground and be a very short trip. Men, make sure your wife really wants to be a missionary too, and is not just going along with you in order to be submissive. It will not work. Many couples are not initially both on board with the idea of being missionaries, but you can embark upon a discernment process together, praying and talking about your developing thoughts on the matter over a period of time. If God wants you as a couple, and as a family, to go to the mission field then eventually He will bring both spouses to that conviction. Don’t rush this.
3. Talk with Those You Trust
Talk with those whom you know and trust, and ask them, “Knowing what you do about me, could you see me being a missionary?” If you have a close friend who can be brutally honest with you, that would be great. If the Lord’s people say to you, “Yeah, I could see you doing that” then it is a good sign. If they are not sure, don’t take that as a “stop” sign but rather a call to more carefully re-evaluate and see if there are some things that need changing before you are ready for such a move. Also, if you want to be a missionary but are not sure if you can do it, other people may be able to give you that confidence boost that you need to move forward. Sometimes other people know us better and see more potential in us than we do ourselves.
4. Take the Perspectives Course
Offered all over the United States (and in some other countries, I think), the Perspective Course on the World Christian Movement has a lot of really good info about missions, from the standpoint of the Bible, history, culture, and strategy. Not everyone will agree with every part of the course material as it runs the gamut as far as evangelical missions goes. But overall, I think that it is really worthwhile to orient you to what is going on in missions today, and it will help you think about the options out there as your discern your next steps. See http://www.perspectives.org for more info and to find a class in your area. Alternatively, you could take a missions course at a local bible college or seminary, or online.
5. Research Opportunities to Serve
If you get some positive encouragement towards full time missions when you pray with your family/spouse, and talk with church leadership, then start investigating opportunities to serve. Get suggestions for agencies from your church leadership. If your church is part of a denomination, then your denominational missions agency should probably be your first stop in checking out opportunities to serve. You also might ask what organizations the missionaries supported by your church serve with? Write to them and see if they like their organizations. Missions organizations can look very similar on the surface, but if you dig a little you’ll find that they all have distinctives that will make them either a good fit or a bad fit for you. Types of ministry, location, theology, and many other variables determine which group you should serve with.
After looking at websites, send some emails and make some phone calls to organizations that look like they might be a good fit. Not everything available is on the website, especially for missionary service in countries that don’t give missionary visas. If you actually talk with a living, breathing person at a missions organization, they might have some ideas and advice that you wouldn't have run into just by doing an online search.
After doing some data collection and talking to people, you could go for a short-term trip initially to survey the options. Or you could go out for 1-3 years initially to get some more experience, and then if God confirms that that is the place for you, then you could go longer term. Or you could just go long-term directly. Getting some Bible school / seminary classes in preparation for long term service is highly recommended. Increasingly, some Bible college and seminary courses can be done online so you might even be able to serve on the mission field while doing formal Bible training at the same time. Either way, don’t sell yourself short in preparation just because you want to get out to the mission field right away.
Hopefully the above five tips will get you started in the right direction. Now you know where to start, so get out there and find your calling!
For Further Reading
How God Called Me to Be a Missionary
How to Prepare for Missionary Service
Your Wife Must Be a Missionary Too
Hudson Taylor on Essential Missionary Qualities
Do You Need a Bible Degree to Be a Long-Term Missionary?
Where Do Missionaries Get Their Money?
Four Reasons Missionaries Fail to Learn the Language