12 Tips for the New Missionary
The mission field is full of experiences — new sights, sounds, tastes and stories. But as anyone in ministry knows, it’s not all mountain top experiences. There is excitement, nervousness, disappointment, and every feeling in-between. So how do you prepare for this? How do you prepare to serve Jesus in a culture you know so little about? Here are some practical tips to ready yourself for entering the mission field:
- Grow in your love of and trust in God: Without a strong, vibrant and growing trust and faith in God and His provision for you, you won’t last long in ministry. Take time (maybe even whole ministry days) to grow in your personal relationship with God.
- Know your ministry skills: Using both spiritual gift inventories and the input of trusted spiritual advisors, determine your spiritual gifts and strengthen them. Seek to work in a team that recognizes your spiritual gifts and allows the primary use of those gifts. That ministry team should ideally complement your spiritual gifts, so that as a team, you are better equipped to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples.
- Be flexible: Ministry often won’t resemble the opportunities presented in the mobilization brochure. And, as you enter the ministry with your unique God-given skills and abilities, the opportunities of the ministry will expand. Be willing to morph and grow within the opportunities of ministry that God presents.
- Seek help when needed: The stress that you face in cross-cultural ministry on a daily basis would render many people insane. That stress may overwhelm you at times. Seek the help of peers or professionals. Many organizations employ Member Care staff to assist members who are struggling with the stress of ministry. Make use of these people! The only “weirdos” are the people who either: a.) don’t recognize they are experiencing significant stress; or b.) don’t seek out and accept help from peers and professionals.
- Be ready to request and receive forgiveness: Sometimes, the most difficult thing about ministry is the other people you must work with daily. Having a humble attitude, able to give and receive forgiveness will greatly increase longevity, ministry effectiveness and health in the ministry.
- Have a hobby: Seeing change in people is slow. Exercise a hobby in your area of desires, be it reading, hiking, running or mechanics. Being able to exercise your God-given desires in healthy ways will increase ministry effectiveness and health on the field.
- Be aware that God’s ministry preparation is unique: God prepares people for His service using methods that might not be received well in a ministry update, but are essential to what God is attempting to accomplish in the individual so that person can be used to accomplish God’s purpose. Some of my favorite examples of these preparatory courses are: “You Promised me What,” with Abraham; “40 Years Tending Sheep in the Wilderness,” with Moses; “Rags to Riches,” with Joseph; “Idols, Lions and Fiery Furnaces, oh my!” with Daniel; “The School of Hard Knocks,” with Paul, including his experiences of lashings, ship-wrecks and stoning all in the name of spreading the Gospel; “Facing False Prophets and Evil Queens,” with Elijah.
- Maintain your health: While I’m not suggesting being a “gym-rat” (i.e, spending all available time in a gym), I am suggesting that normal exercise will have benefits far beyond just the exercise. There may be ministry opportunities in just walking around the community and praying for each house/business/person that you pass.
- Be willing to make a lifetime commitment: Seeing transformation in the lives of disciples will not occur on a short-term ministry trip; or often, not even in an 18-month or two-year ministry. Real, transformational spiritual growth occurs in years and decades, not days and weeks.
- Check your ego at the door: God isn’t looking for superheroes for His service. Don’t expect God to use you to change the entire world. He might be pleased to use you in that way, but most likely you will serve in more humble ways that demonstrate His glory and that bring honor to Him, not you. In fact, the most significant work of God may not be what He does through you to others, but rather what He does in you.
- Eschew the “Lone Ranger” mentality: Do not try to do it alone. The Lone Ranger was great as a 1940’s TV show or a dime-store novel, but is an unsustainable model for ministry. Be part of a team of people that you like being around. Your strengths together with the ministry strengths of the other team members will greatly increase your ministry effectiveness and the effectiveness of the entire team.
- Prepare for the ministry of the mundane: Sometimes ministry is shoveling the snow from the single mom’s sidewalk and driveway next door; or asking the cashier at the local market about her/his health; or offering to pray for the invalid that you routinely meet in the streets of your village; or providing a children’s Bible to the kids at the local Kindergarten. These “seemingly” mundane tasks may be exactly the door of opportunity that opens entire communities to the truth of the saving work of Christ.