I get approached by people all the time who want to go to the mission field and my first question to them is always, “what ministries are you involved in right now?” The answer to this question will tell me a LOT. Most people will rattle off all the ministries that they have been involved in and the Bible College classes they have attended. But there are a few that will say to me, “I am not really doing anything. I got fired from my job. I still live with my parents. So I figured that I should try missions.” The difference here is that person #1 doesn’t need as much training (they still need a lot) and person #2 needs a substantial amount of training and discipleship. Missions isn’t just something you do. It is to huge of a thing to approach it flippantly. Also, it can be extremely dangerous and life threatening. People that approach missions and don’t believe they need training are crazy.
The extent of the training will differ greatly from individual to individual. But training should never been overlooked as it will lessen the stress when you first get to the field, help you from making pointless and damaging mistakes, and will ultimately make you a much more qualified missionary. I want to highlight three categories of missions training that you need to think through.
This has more to do with the answer to this question – “what are you going to do when you get to the mission field?” Are you planting a church? Then you should have some Bible College under your belt as well as some years of pastoral experience behind you. Are you administrating a medical clinic? Then you should have some basic knowledge of the medical field as well as some extensive training in administration. Are you going to be teaching? Then you should have at least your teachers certificate.
Our goal is to ultimately bring fame to the Lord’s name and to touch peoples lives with the hope of the Gospel. In doing this we want every aspect of our ministry to be held in the highest of opinions. In other words, everything we do we should do well unto the Glory of God.
Also, one point to consider is that professional training can possibly open up a door for you to smooth out visa problems.
Country & Ministry Specific Training
Do you understand the do’s and don’ts of the culture you are about to enter? Don’t take it for granted. A simple and honest cultural misunderstanding can destroy your ministry before it even gets started. This means you need to talk to and interview as many missionaries as possible. Ask them about their mistakes and take note of everything they say even if you disagree with it. I have interacted with many missionaries who disagree with a point of counsel. For example one point of council I remember hearing was – open air preaching is the most absurd thing culturally or an alter call will always pull a 100% response rate. So the council is – don’t utilize those methods. The new missionary was furious and disregarded the council. The problem is that the new missionary is failing to see that this new culture is a “save face” culture so if you ask anyone if they want to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior they will ALWAYS answer “yes.” Because they believe that is what you want them to say not because they understand the message of the Gospel. In other words excessive a little humility (also see the article about going as a learning).
Some practical steps that you can take is purchasing a couple history books specific to your country. You need to know the history, the culture, the religious, the politics, the language/s, the economy, etc… You need to become a scholar of the country you are going to ministry in. However, keep in mind that there is a difference between book knowledge and actual knowledge. You still need to engage with the people and learn from them.
Everyone who is thinking about being involved in missions whether it is short-term or long term should have basic missional training. Of coarse the degrees of this training changes depending on the length of the missions trip and the cultural gap the missionary is jumping (meaning the difference between the missionaries home culture and the culture they are going to). This type of training should improve our missional skills and make us more adaptable to the cross cultural realities we will face.
It is often said that the greatest cause of missionaries failing is the conflict in interpersonal relationship between other missionaries. They simply don’t get along with the other missionaries and are not equipped with the skill to overcome their differences. Adding on top of that the sickness you’ll get from the mission field, the general uneasiness of living in another culture and the fact that the Devil does not want you to succeed. This is a recipe for disaster. You need to be training and equipped to be able to handle all these situation.
A lot more could be said about each of these topics but I hope that you get the point. Sadly, most missionaries are spurred by the “urgency” of the needs that they are not willing to take the needed time to get the training that they need. I want to encourage you with a few truths. First off, God does not need you. That sounds harsh but it is true. You are not God’s gift to the ministry. God can accomplish the task without you. Secondly, God want to do more to change you then you can ever imagine. God wants to develop you into a sharp well tuned tool in His toolbox that He can use to accomplish the task. Remember, God took 80 years to develop Moses and He took 14 years to prepare Paul after his conversion and not including the decades of training as a Pharisee he already went through. God is not in a rush. Take the time and do missions right.