How would someone who wants to go to the mission field know when to stay and get more training and experience and when to pack their bags and hop on a plane?
The Bible doesn’t have a chapter explicitly telling us how to evaluate that kind of decision, but it does provide us with qualifications for elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9). Missionary, your life should be marked by similar character qualifications.
“Missionary, your life should be marked by similar character qualifications as elders and deacons.”
If you’re considering going overseas, I’m going to assume that you are a baptized Christian. If you haven’t been baptized, start by talking to your pastors about what baptism is and what it means. If you have been baptized, let me suggest a few questions to ask yourself after you’ve spent time praying and asking the Lord for direction.
Being a faithful church member is the foundation of any growing disciple of Jesus. All missions work should aim to either support or plant local churches in some way so you’ll need to have experience as a church member before you go.
All missions work should either help to support or plant local churches.
After all, God’s plan for displaying his wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms isn’t the parachurch but the church (Ephesians 3:10). I say that as someone who has over twenty-five years of experience working for parachurch ministries.
Perhaps you came to Christ through a student ministry and have grown through that ministry but haven’t joined a church yet. Even if you’re planning to do parachurch campus ministry abroad, you’ll want to grow as a faithful member in a healthy church for at least a few years before going overseas.
Are You Engaged in Fruitful Ministry Where You Live?
Like a good friend of mine likes to say, sitting on a plane and flying to the other side of the world never transformed anyone into a prepared missionary. If you’re not bearing fruit in gospel ministry where you live now, you’re not ready to go and try to bear fruit in a different culture (Luke 16:10). Spend time participating in gospel ministry that involves ministering across some kind of cultural divide right where you live.
Most cities in the United States and Canada have pockets of immigrant nationalities and there’s often a church or parachurch ministry already doing work among them. If you’re not sure where to find that, ask the elders at your local church. Remember, the apostles went on multiple short-term missions before Jesus commissioned them to take the gospel to the world (Matthew 10:5–7). Learn to bear gospel fruit in ministry before you go overseas long-term.
Have You Received Adequate Ministry and Theological Training?
Depending on the ministry you hope to be doing, it’s often wise to take advantage of the riches of ministry and theological training that are available in the West before you head to the mission field. Do you know your Bible well (2 Timothy 2:15)? Can you explain the gospel (Ephesians 2:1–10; Timothy 3:3–7)? Do you have a good grasp of the most important doctrines of the faith? If someone asked you what a church is and what makes it healthy, could you answer?
Perhaps you should consider getting a certificate or even a Master’s degree if you’re young. If you’ll be working to reach a people group without a Christian witness and you’ll have to do in-depth language training, consider missionary training with a program like Radius International or the Radical Training Center.
Would the Elders of Your Church Affirm that You’re Qualified?
If you’re thinking and praying about serving as a missionary, begin sharing this desire with the elders in your church now. Ask them to pray for you and what qualifications they’d look for in someone before recommending them. This makes them aware that you’re aspiring to this kind of ministry and leaves an open door for them to give you suggestions along the way. You might even ask if one of them would be willing to disciple you.
In the book of Acts, even the Apostle Paul and Barnabas had the affirmation of their church in Antioch before they began their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1–3). Going through the process of evaluation and affirmation with your church’s leadership will protect you in the long run while building trust back home and in the field.
Should You Stay or Should You Go?
There are many different factors to consider when deciding if you need to stay longer at home or go immediately to the field. You might ask questions like, “Does my spouse want to go overseas?,” “Is there a gospel-preaching church where you’re going or will you be planting a church?,” and many more.
But remember, Jesus promised to be with us throughout the process of discernment (Matthew 28:19–20) and to grant wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). He will give you wise counselors, as well if you ask (Proverbs 27:9).
If there’s more to be done before you go, don’t be discouraged. God is always working, even in a season of waiting and more preparation (Isaiah 40:31). Taking the gospel to the nations is worth the prayer, preparation, and time it takes to be affirmed by your church.
Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at radical.net.