People often come to me and ask what is the best preparation for missionary service. They are usually interested in recommendations for training programs or books to read. While these may be important, the best way to prepare for overseas ministry is to be actively involved ministry at home. Ministry in your own context will build ministry experience and verify that you have the skills needed for overseas service. Also, the changed lives from your ministry is an indicator that God may be leading you toward even greater ministry responsibility.
Any time a new team member came to join our team on the field, my wife and I would have them over for dinner. One question that I would always try to ask was about the new missionary’s ministry experience, “I’d like to hear about the ministry that you came from and the people who you have led…” If there was an uncomfortable silence, or if it became obvious that the people they were describing were part of someone else’s ministry, some cautionary flags were raised about the skill and experience level of the new missionary.
If I can recommend one activity that will give the best ministry training and, at the same time, give the best help in evaluating whether missionary service is for you, I’d ask you to start and lead a small group Bible study. The skills to do this closely match the skills that missionaries need:
- Initiative (Do you actually get the group started or just talk about it?)
- Ability to get people to follow you (If you think you are a leader, can you list those who would say that they are following you?)
- Teaching skills (Do people engage in the teaching and seem to learn?)
- Pastoral skills (Do people feel cared for and genuinely appreciated?)
- Leadership skills (Are you able to make decisions with and for the group?)
- Organization and coordination skills (Are the logistical elements of the group handled well?)
- Communication skills (Do people know what’s going on and why? Do they feel that their input is heard?)
- Hospitality skills (Do people feel warmly welcomed?)
- Consistency and perseverance (Does your commitment and others’ attendance drop off over time?)
- Discipleship (Over time are there members of the group being raise up to lead a similar group?)
- Creativity (Do you add interest by offering variety?)
If you have a history of starting and leading small Bible study groups, that is a good sign that you have the ministry skills needed to be a missionary. An even better indicator is if you can start the group with people from different cultures, like international students.
If you haven’t started and led a small group Bible study, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be a missionary. However, I’d recommend that you first confirm with experience that you have these essential ministry skills before applying to go.
Any comments on the items on the list? What would you add to the list?
Other posts in this series: