Every pastor knows the routine. Missionaries are seeking prayer and financial support to go where God has directed them. We first get mailings which will include testimonies, facts about where the particular place, and usually a letter of recommendation from the mission agency or sending pastor. It often followed up by a phone call.
Most of the time, the pastor has no idea who they are or how the missionary got the churches address. Often, the missionary is assuming they will get a meeting and some will even suggest a date for a possible presentation for support. Having been a missionary, missions pastor, and lead pastor, I am very familiar with the routine. Some say it is in need of repair and even perhaps a major overhaul of the system could make missions less difficult for the missionary. That is something for a different post.
The purpose here though is to suggest some questions that every pastor needs to ask a candidate long before a missionary ever gets to do a presentation. It is also a reminder for the missionary to perhaps have some things in his own thinking that he needs to consider as well.
1. What is the Gospel? This is not a question you take for granted. I think in my early years had someone asked me this question, I would not have been able to articulate it well. If a missionary is supposed to be the spokesman for the Gospel he should be very adept to speaking the Gospel from several angles and use several Scriptures rather than recite the “Romans Road.” Their understanding of the smallest points of the Gospel should be clear and precise. Their ability to articulate it should be literally at the tip of their tongue. Their passion for the purity of it should show up in their delight to talk about it. They should have stories about people they have personally dealt with who have been forever changed by it. You should see their love for the Gospel in their eyes.
2. What is your greatest priority as a follower of Jesus? If anyone should know the Great Commission, it should be a missionary. For the glory of God all believers should make disciples of Jesus. Church planting can certainly be one outcome of the priority of disciple making, but there must be a solid, vigorous, and clear zeal to be personally involved in the lives of people (from all cultures) helping them to become more like Christ and less like themselves. This is the Christian’s greatest priority!
3. What is your strategy for living out #1 and #2? Many candidates have little to no answer for this. The Gospel and disciple making is often something that is merely “understood” and not strategically planned. Part of a strategy will be to know your immediate culture. However, even knowing your culture is not enough. My good friend and missionary David Hosaflook says his strategy is “Pray, meet people, and tell them about Jesus.” I love it. However, one may pray and for a myriad of reasons will never make “meeting people” a genuine reality. If you love people and you love God you will purposefully be with people. However, talking to some candidates, loving people seems to come with great difficulty. There needs to be a well-thought-out strategy in place that is honed over time that intentionally makes meeting people a reality. Paul suggests a strategy to be in place in Romans 10:14 when he says “…how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” I call it a philosophy of ministry, but it is simply a way that one person lives in such a way that he strategically meets people for the purpose of discipling them with the Gospel. It can vary in methodology but it must be there!
4. Who are you now discipling? If a candidate is not presently making disciples being in a different country won’t flip on the switch. If they truly believe it, they will be doing it presently. I am often surprised at the answers I get when I ask that question. Take a cursory look at Paul’s epistles and they are littered with names of people he has discipled. Take a quick look backward in your life and see if you can see faces of people who are more like Christ today and less like themselves because of your immediate impact in their lives. A missionary candidate should have many.
5. What is your timeline for the first 5 years? Knowing how to begin is one thing, but knowing how to plan for the future is another. Having at least a 5 year plan is crucial. A plan is a map, a guide, or a path that you plan even though you know you will need to have adjustments. Even a young, inexperienced missionary should make a plan and outline a timeline that he wishes to pursue and at the same time leave it open for God to make His divine providence known. Set goals, give priorities, and place them in a reasonable time schedule. Then take each step humbly submitting to God’s final and ultimate plan.
6. What is your exit strategy? This addresses the question of the end. Many start out with much zeal only to find out that there is no end plan. In the past it has been considered noble to promote no end at all–just a desire to be “faithful.” While faithful is indeed noble, God actually desires that we consider the end (see Luke 14:30). Is there a retirement savings plan? But more than that, is there a plan in place to grow up their own replacement from within their own existing ministry? It is important to prepare the next generation and raise up leadership/servants to do the work when one no longer can do the work. Each missionary should seriously consider and plan effectively for their exit.
7. What is the real level of commitment of your wife and children? I cannot tell you how many missionaries I have met who when speaking to the husband/father really had little to no real understanding of what they were asking of their wife and children. Often, you can see it the eyes of the wife. The family has such a powerful impact on the overall effectiveness of ministry–especially in countries where the family culture is so devastated with the ravages of a self-serving environment and broken relationships are the norm. The missionary’s family should be strong, unified, committed, and joy filled not only around each other, but their love for each other should resonate throughout the ministry. The bond between the husband and wife should be obvious and unwavering. It will not be perfect and kids will always wrestle with the things of God, but there should be a grace-filled unity that gives space for each other in each step of life.
I am sure there are more questions to ask, but these questions address things that are often assumed and I don’t think we should assume these key elements. Anyone who is seeking to serve the Gospel should have a healthy transparency that welcomes the questions and they should even have reasonable answers for them.
I have been a missionary for 43 years. I think if I was the president of any mission board I would ask both husband and wife to sign a statement that all was well between them before they return from every furlough. I know some that do not and no one but a few people close to them know it. I wrote my doctoral thesis on why missionaries quit. Dr. Tom Latham
I found these questions to be spot on. The 6th question regarding exit strategy and succession planning is particularly true and important. It is one area that far too many missionaries fail to consider and work on. Thanks for the post!