I (Nate) have worked in the local church for the majority of my adult life. For the last 8-9 years I have overseen global missions and local outreach. Through my experience as a missions pastor, I can honestly say I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Christians who feel called into missions.
My experience is not just limited to the church in which I have served for the last 12 years. I have had the privilege of working with pastors from all around the country, from different denominations, movements, and networks.
This collective experience and knowledge required Stacy and I to pursue healthy decisions when the time came for us to say “yes” to missions. What were those decisions and steps? I’ve compiled a list below that I hope is helpful for other pastors, missionaries, or anyone who is thinking about or feeling called into missions.
Seek outside counsel.
A calling from God cannot be discerned alone. BUT, you must seek counsel from those outside your friends and family. Sometimes those closest to us have a difficult time being objective. Mentors, coaches, and other leaders in your life who know you and can speak objective truth are typically best-suited to help navigate the details of what you are sensing in a calling.
Take your time.
It took months to discern whether this was the right move for us. We had multiple conversations with our mentors, peers, family, pastors, children, potential bosses, and others. We prayed, processed, and deliberated, ultimately feeling confident this was a calling and not just a change for the want of adventure or something new and exciting.
Give up control.
Putting your future in the hands of others is difficult, but necessary. Besides, becoming a missionary is not about you! It’s about the people, culture, and ministry that you will be inserted into. It is vital that you work through a sending agency that knows the needs on the ground and whether or not this will be a good fit. We gave ourselves over to the leaders of Three Worlds and our sending agency, Global Strategy, the mission arm of Church of God Ministries.
Honestly, it will feel like removing duct tape from a flesh wound, however this is one of the healthiest steps you can take. At times, you will feel naked, vulnerable, and weak when going through an assessment debrief. However, you will come out of it feeling equipped, empowered, and confident in how God has created you and wired you for the work he has prepared for you. Nevertheless, it will expose some things that you will have to work on in order for Him to work through you. Our assessments and debrief were done by Greg Wiens of Healthy Growing Leaders and Truewiring.
Get a fundraising coach.
If there is one reason people don’t enter the mission field, it is this – fundraising. However, if you get the right coach to walk you through the process, you will not only have the confidence to raise support, but also the proper language and perspective to go through it. We used Tailored Fundraising.
Enjoy the ride.
You will have the tendency to rush through all these steps, wish away the months before your departure, and miss the journey of “leaving well.” Enjoy all the “lasts” before you leave – house projects, family time, holidays and birthdays, etc. As it is in all of life, it’s not about the destination but the journey in getting there.
Become trained for cross-cultural work.
We have not gone through this yet, but we will in June 2020. As a missions pastor, I can say with confidence that this has got to be the most critical step that some missionaries skip. I have seen ministries, families, and marriages destroyed, damaged, or delayed due to the lack of pre-field training. There are many reasons given for not taking this step – not necessary, eager to get to the field, it costs too much, it takes up time – but it is absolutely essential. We are registered for COMPASS at Missionary Training International next summer.
Trust your agency.
At the end of the day, these are the experts, or at least they are more an expert than you. This also assumes you are working with an agency. If you are thinking about not going with an agency – stop it! And no, the local church cannot assume the workload that an agency can provide.
Have a sending church.
Several churches will support and partner with you in ministry, but make sure you have a sending church. This is a church that is full of people who know you, love you, and care for you. That doesn’t mean all the work or expectations of missionary care should fall on one church or their church staff, but that personal connection with a sending church body will give you the launch and ongoing connection and encouragement you’ll need. Our sending church is County Line Church of God located in Auburn, IN.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you are considering missionary service or walking alongside someone who is, these are some great things to think through.
Blessings on your journey,