Ministry Tips for beginning Missionaries
We have discovered through the years that many people are surprised when they hear God’s voice calling them into the mission fields. It may be that you are someone who never saw yourself as a “minister,” much less a “missionary” for the Lord.
Thank you so much for responding to His call in your life. Now that you are on this journey into the mission fields, it may be helpful to know that many others are also walking this journey in faithfulness.
Below we have listed a few ministry tips which we hope will be supportive to you as we walk this journey. We look forward to that day when we will meet you and share our experiences together:
If you have grown up in church most of your life, you may be surprised to discover that people’s perceptions of church differ from the reality you know. For example, many people believe that the church is “all about money.” Others believe that “church people have their life together,” or that the church is all about “judgment” and/or “condemning those who don’t go to church.”
These perceptions form barriers which will take time to overcome. Patient, consistent love will help to dissolve barriers, create authentic relationships and to extend bridges that help connect people to the Lord and His church.
Watch Your Language
Because we are immersed in it, we don’t always recognize that church people sometimes speak a language that unchurched people may not understand. Church words, particular phrases, familiar songs, and even entire theological discussions may have real meaning to us, but miss or turn away the very people we are trying to reach. It is important to speak carefully, to listen well, and to love people in a way that transcends our own cultural and traditional perspectives.
Don’t Presume too Much
Many of us have had the privilege of growing up in church. The stories from the Bible tend to be familiar. We know where to find the books of the Bible and can easily equate a reference about “the coat of many colors” to the Old Testament story about Joseph. Remember that others may not have had the same opportunities to know the stories we have learned to love.
The good news here is that we can relax. You can avoid the common fear of some who feel that they “don’t know enough” to teach God’s word.” The caution is to make sure we teach carefully, staying close to the basic biblical stories and core truths of the faith. Be patient. Go slowly. Enjoy people as they discover the stories and the truths of God’s word for themselves in their own time and in their own way.
Stay Close to the Gospel
People need the Lord. When teaching the scriptures, stay close to the good news that Jesus loves, forgives, and wants to have a personal relationship with each listener. You may be surprised by 1) how easily people respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, and 2) by how easy it is to become distracted from teaching the “main thing.”
Tracts and other tools can be helpful at times, but nothing substitutes for personal relationships, an authentic testimony, and natural conversation with those who need Christ. Be sensitive to the Spirit, but be careful not to procrastinate, waiting for that “perfect moment” to share.
The Lord will use your willingness and openess to His leading more than He needs from you a sophisticated and/or professional presentation of the Gospel. Let Him lead you. Trust Him. Share Christ humbly and faithfully. Then watch what God will do.
Help When and Where You Can
Sometimes the physical needs of people can be overwhelming. Remember that our job is to be faithful, and not necessarily to make everything come out right. At the same time it is important that we respond to the physical needs of people where we find them.
Help people when and where you can. Be careful not to ”outsource” people to other resources if it is a need you can meet. It may be that the Lord is wanting to send you the resources to meet that need. And it may be that meeting that physical need allows you the opportunity to develop trust and/or a deeper relationship with that person or family.
Neither should you be hesitant, however, to connect people to the kind of resources that are available within your church or community. There should be no need to “recreate the wheel,” so to speak. And the fact that others have created or provided specific physical resources to meet certain needs may keep you free to focus on the multitude of differing needs of people you are growing to love.
Be Gracefully Motivated
It is important not to make the mistake of ascribing other people’s sins as “major” while viewing ours as “minor.” Scripture teaches us that in Romans 3:23 that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s best plan for our lives.
We go into the mission fields not because we have no sin, but because the One who forgives our sin has found us and changed our lives. We simply want others to have the same opportunity to receive God’s love that we have had. They won’t hear unless we go, and our message will be effective to the degree that it is offered in grace.
Sin brings spiritual darkness into the lives of people. This darkness can often extend to several generations of people. Scripture teaches us that our enemy is on the prowl looking to steal, kill, or to destroy (John 10), and that is exactly what you will find when you go into the mission fields.
When you see the effects of this sin on people you care for in the fields, one temptation will be to withdraw from the very ones you are wanting to love. It will be helpful to remember that you aren’t called to fix the problems or to erase the pain you find at various points, but to be a faithful and loving witness.
Your goal is not to transform the mission field into mirror images of “the church back home.” Let people and their congregations develop in their own time and in their own way. Just because a particular approach or program worked where you grew up doesn’t mean either that it will work in the field or that it will be the best approach for the people you are helping to grow. When you start something new like this, you are free to let God move without encumbrances. Enjoy this freedom. Traditions will develop naturally enough over time.
Remain in the Fields
Because the mission fields we are talking about could be just across the street or around the corner from your church home, the temptation will be to transport people back into the safer and more familiar surroundings of the place you call home. After all, the facilities, programs, and personnel which your home church so graciously and willingly offers could never be matched with the resources you have in the field.
Remember, there is a reason that you went into the mission fields in the first place. In the mission field, people don’t connect back home because the walls between the church and the field are too difficult for people to climb. It isn’t the fault of the church which introduced you to Christ and nurtured your spiritual growth.
It is the fact that the economic, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and generational barriers are real. Vaulting people back into your church for programs you can’t reproduce in the field may not only hinder the work you want to accomplish, but could hurt the very people you are wanting to love.
Take the Time
How much time will this ministry take? It is a normal question to ask, especially given the bi-vocational nature of our calling, but it also may be a difficult one to answer. You really can’t quantify the kind of time it takes to build a successful missions ministry. The simple truth is that your ministry will develop in proportion to the amount of time and energy you put into it. A second truth, however, is that when you are serving Him, He finds way to multiply and bless your time in ways that you never expected.
A common question of missionaries, or so it seems, is “How long does it take?” When will people “get it?” In other words, we wonder if people are ever going to grow to spiritual maturity. The truth is, that spiritual maturity develops over long periods of time, takes a lot of effort, and isn’t always easily visible.
It is easy to forget how long it has taken us to grow, how far we still have to go, and how many people invested in our lives over a period of months and years. Spiritual Growth takes time. It comes in spurts. Sometimes the biggest growth comes after some of the deepest spiritual failures. Don’t give up on people. Don’t take growth or the lack thereof personally. Plant the seed, pray, water and weed, then praise God for the growth He gives.