Becoming a missionary requires practical resources like time, money, and a means to travel. But becoming a successful missionary requires something equally important: a proper mindset. Without the right mindset, preparation, and heart approach to missions, burnout and discouragement are too often unavoidable. There are several critical questions to ask when preparing for the mission field. Here are the first three:
1. What is your view of money? When it comes to finances, what is the focus of your life right now? Is money a means to accomplish your God-given purpose, or an end in itself? Here’s the good news: God is in control of your finances. As Hudson Taylor wrote, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.” Yet missions requires complete surrender of everything – including your money. Put another way, are you defined by what you own, or by what you are doing for God? (and that could mean being a successful businessman to the glory of God) Are the choices you are making today consistent with the frugal lifestyle and dependence on God that missions will demand? Whether you are a young person thinking about future missions, or a successful entrepreneur following God’s call, these are critical questions to ask yourself before you get to the field.
2. Where do you find security and safety? Simply put, missions work is often dangerous. Not only because of kidnappings and persecutions and hateful language and wild animals. These are present and real dangers. But spiritual dangers are equally real. Satan hates those who take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. As the Apostle Paul warns, we do not war against flesh and blood, but against principalities and the powers of darkness. Ask a veteran missionary about spiritual struggles, and you will hear stories of depression, heartache, self-doubts, temptations, and a thousand dark, lonely moments when it felt like everything was unraveling despite years of effort. This is a real danger, and a danger that brings many missionaries home from the field in despair.
So where do you find security and safety? In Christ alone. And how do you prepare for the physical and spiritual dangers of the mission field? By surrendering everything – even your “right” to be safe – to Christ, and taking Him at His Word. He has promised, “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day . . . a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee” (Psalm 91). In order to be successful on the mission field, you must give your fears to God, and trust Him wholly for safety. Indeed, there is a difference between safety and security; when you trust God with your life and the lives of your family members, you may not be “safe”, but you will be secure. When we find our security in Christ, trusting His promises, we are free to follow Him wherever He calls, without the fears and stresses that so often allow Satan to cripple the lives and work of missionaries on the field.
3. What are your priorities? In other words, are your decisions today preparing you for the life you plan to live on the field? This is a practical consideration, but an issue of great importance when preparing for missions. Put another way, how do you spend your time? For instance, if you spend much of your free time surfing the internet or chatting with friends on Facebook, how will this change when you become a “missionary”? If you have a hard time fitting in daily spiritual disciplines – prayer, study of God’s Word, Scripture memorization – how are you preparing yourself for spiritual strength and success on the field? Your life will not change dramatically once you leave for a different country. That is why it is so critical to develop spiritual habits now, and to align your priorities with the work that God has for you now. If you live each moment purposefully for the Kingdom of God – whether you are washing dishes, studying for an exam, working in the office, or playing with your siblings – you will prepare yourself well to do the same thing one day as a missionary.
These are some of the most critical questions to ask yourself – and to answer honestly – when planning and preparing to follow God’s call into missions work. There are several other issues that are equally important in developing the right mindset and attitude towards missions, which we’ll consider in another post.
Ultimately, the best preparation for missions is not to make plans for a future life of service and sacrifice, but to start living the “missional” life now. If you envision giving up your life for God in a far country, start by giving up your hopes, priorities, and plans of today. Ultimately, successful missions is not a task or a destination, but a lifestyle – a heart attitude and mindset of self-sacrifice to God, to be used as He directs, for His glory. The story is often told of James Calvert, who journeyed as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands. When in sight of the islands, the captain of the ship tried to turn him back, saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages!” To which Calvert replied, “We died before we came here.”
“The biggest hindrance to the missionary task is self. Self that refuses to die. Self that refuses to sacrifice. Self that refuses to give. Self that refuses to go.” – Thomas Hale, missionary to Nepal