What is a missionary anyway? Isn’t it a bit outdated?
In the past 200 hundred years, the term ‘missionary’ has been used for people who have gone to other parts of the world to communicate the gospel, largely to people who have never heard of Christianity. Today, the situation is more complex and while the work may be still with unreached people groups, it can also be in places where churches need help, or where special ministries and skills are needed. Either way, a missionary is still a disciple of Christ, who has crossed a culture with the aim of seeing lives transformed by Jesus, and vibrant churches established in every part of the world.
What do missionaries do?
Ultimately, missionaries are involved in gospel ministry at some level. They want to see the gospel proclaimed, disciples made and churches established that are self-sufficient in people and resources. So a missionary may be an evangelist, pastor or Bible teacher, but they will also need to be someone who can train and equip others to do these tasks.
However, many missionaries use professional (secular) skills as a base for their ministries and often for their visas! Just like careers in Australia, some of these missionary jobs are clear-cut—e.g. doctor, teacher, engineer, nurse or builder—but other ‘missionary jobs’ really require a blend of skills that may not be clear-cut, but are still strategic ministry opportunities.
The reality is there is no one profile for what missionaries do—just who they are.
So what sort of people should be missionaries?
Well for a start, men and women who are committed to Christ and are seeking to follow him and honour him in their lives. They should be prepared to count the cost, financially, career-wise and in other ways too. They should be people who have a ‘fire in their belly’ about a world that is lost without Christ. And they will be people who are prepared to be available for God to use.
So should only ‘super Christian saints’ apply?
Any group of missionaries will tell you that that isn’t true and a week watching any of them would prove it! Some people will tell you that missionaries are all strong-minded individuals, with drive and energy, who don’t like being fenced in. The truth is, there are no two missionaries alike and we shouldn’t pigeon-hole them because we will end up restricting our criteria for new missionaries to the image we have.
Missionaries shouldn’t be placed on pedestals—it isn’t good for them, nor for us either, especially if we are thinking of becoming one.
What should I do to prepare myself?
I am interested in becoming a missionary, but still want to find out more before signing on any dotted line!
- Develop your ministry gifts—determine what they are and be involved in ministry.
- Give a gospel dimension to your ministry. Seek opportunities to tell others about Jesus, become practised at working out how you best function in evangelism and discipling.
- Look for ways to be involved in cross-cultural ministry. Start to learn about crossing cultures and what it teaches you about yourself.
- Develop your devotional life. Make time for prayer and Bible reading. It will never get any easier than it is now and it is fundamental to missionary life.
- Be well informed. Join CMS and other mission agencies. Read the literature and get on some missionary news mailing lists. Adopt one or two missionaries for close prayer and support.
- Seek honest feedback. Look to your minister and other godly Christians in your church and Christian groups. Find people who will be honest with you—you need to know whether your vision is accurate against the feedback of others.
- Be faithful in the ministries God has given to you to do now. Why should he give you greater opportunities otherwise? Give your best now and learn how to do it for the rest of your life.
How do I know if God wants me to go?
Start with the steps above. You need to have a ministry to offer in the first place—something that can be evaluated by others. Talk with your local CMS branch General Secretary or State Director and seek the advice of other mature Christians. Pray about it a lot and ask God to guide you—he will!
In the end, there are numerous opportunities around the world, so the need itself won’t be the deciding factor. But there are so many practical issues associated with determining if it is wise to offer missionary service. The best step is to take one at a time and see where God leads.
If it is in obedience to Christ, then whatever the case, there is a great blessing in it. Don’t be afraid of the possibility of missionary service—be afraid of lukewarm, half-heartedness. At least explore it as an option, so that whatever you do and wherever you end up in ministry, you will know that you are serving Christ with all your heart.
CMS and pastoral care
How does CMS pastorally care for missionaries?
The CMS Australia office has three Regional Mission Directors (RMDs) whose role is to send missionaries to location and support them while they are there. This involves the logistics of establishing their location and ministry before they go, getting them physically there and then providing pastoral support once they are on location.
Before departure, it includes organising visas, travel and what missionaries will take with them; shipping belongings overseas; arranging for them to be met at the airport when they arrive; the relationship with the receiving organisation; housing and an appropriate vehicle; and language study and children’s education.
Once missionaries are on location, their RMD continues to stay in regular contact with them through SMS, email and Skype. They contact missionaries to see how they’re going and respond quickly when there is a request or a problem.
What about pastoral visits?
CMS staff visit each missionary unit (single, couple or family) once a year. They aim to spend 48 hours with each missionary unit and also try to meet up with the people and heads of organisations with whom the missionaries work.
Pastoral visits are important as they are a chance for CMS to see and understand the situation in which our missionaries are working. They allow time to chat about work, spiritual life and health, provide a fresh pair of ears and eyes to a situation, and listen and provide support as missionaries make decisions about their ministry, location, children or other things.
Pastoral visits tell us more about the missionary’s situation and how to pray for them better. They reveal other opportunities that might be there and could be crucial in sending other people to work with and support them in mission.
What happens in emergency situations?
We have a crisis manual but when there is an emergency, we don’t tell the person what to do. Instead, we work with them and ask questions to discern what options are available to them, listening and reflecting with them as they decide the best action to take. Because everyone is different, there is a great diversity in the ways CMS supports missionaries.
Generally, CMS follows the advice of the receiving organisation or church. If an organisation or the local church says that a missionary should leave the country for safety, or if in a crisis they say that the missionary remaining is creating difficulties for the church for whatever reason, then we will arrange for the missionary to leave the country.