Feeling the conviction to serve in long-term missions is an exciting time in any Christian’s life. It may come during a short-term mission trip or an engaging sermon at church. It may shock you or feel like exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
But however you felt led to long-term missions, you’re probably wondering, “What do I do now?”
My “calling” to serve God in missions came at the age of 14, in the form of an unmistakable inner conversation with God that I couldn’t ignore. That started me on the path of preparation. Since then, I’ve not only served in missions but helped to prepare many others to do the same.
Here are five key tips for preparing for long-term missions.
1. Prepare your heart.
Learning to hear God’s voice is absolutely foundational, not just for His commands but for the nurture of our spirits, for guidance and for simple delight! Without Him, we can do nothing.
So, grow your relationship with Him. Go deep into the Scripture and let God show you how to apply it in your life. Learn to hear God’s voice in the circumstances of your life and cultivate joy in His presence.
Jesus’ life is the example for us. He was sent by the Father to accomplish a mission, but His priority remained His relationship with the Father.
If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend Skye Jethani’s book With as a helpful guide to growing your relationship with God. You might also pick up Dallas Willard’s Hearing God. Though not an easy read, it is like having a thoughtful mentor work through deep questions on how God speaks to us.
2. Pay attention to your relationships.
What are your relationship strengths and weaknesses? What has been your hardest relationship, and why was it hard? Don’t overlook those pain points, but open yourself up to understanding how you do relationships and where you need to grow.
Several years ago, the Canadian International Development Agency conducted studies asking, “What characteristics does a person need to be effective in an intercultural posting?” Their study found that the ability to make good connections and develop deeper, long-lasting relationships with local people was the most powerful factor in intercultural effectiveness, satisfaction in an assignment and the sustainability of their projects.
In addition, “the second major predictor of success was a strong sense of self-identity, which allowed people to be real with each other. People who are comfortable with themselves tend to be authentic and avoid pretense in relationships.” (Cited in Cross-Cultural Servanthood, by Duane Elmer, p. 96.)
During this preparation phase, make sure to put yourself in the place to create and sustain deep relationships. If you aren’t in a small group at church, join one! Be intentional about creating community if you can’t find it! And be on the lookout for places and ways to begin relationships with people of other cultural groups.
3. Develop your knowledge and skills.
What knowledge base, skill set, professional certification or educational achievement will help you to offer your best to others? What do you dream of doing “there”? Have you done it here yet?
If you want to share God’s love with others “there,” are you practicing doing that in word and deed here? Have you ever led a small group study? Have you apprenticed yourself to someone doing a ministry that you hope to do someday? Give yourself a chance to be taught by the best teacher — experience.
Prepare yourself professionally to hold your own on a world stage. Be the best you can be. And then, humbly offer that to God. After all you’ve learned, you will have to become like a little child to learn how to offer those skills appropriately in a new culture.
Oh, and while you’re working on those competencies, do develop your hobby! Music, photography, fishing, climbing, biking, theater, art, writing — you never know. That hobby may open doors into hearts that would otherwise be closed to you!
4. Find mentors who have been there and done that.
Ask God to connect you with someone who will have the heart to invest in you — and then ask that person. Don’t wait to “be discovered.” Take the initiative. The best missionaries are those who invest in others gladly, so most of these people will say yes if you ask!
5. Listen to your own life.
What has your life journey taught you? What story is God weaving already? Have you learned from failure? At what points has God “shown up” for you? Have you allowed God to comfort you and teach you in adversity and pain?
It is likely that your vulnerabilities, failures, delays and losses are the very things God is using to prepare you to bring hope to others in a world where suffering is ubiquitous, poverty is grinding and justice seems merely a dream. Don’t overlook your own experiences. Through them, God will help you dig a deep well from which to draw His living water.
Remember Who Sent You
Ultimately, the God who called you is the God who will prepare you. At the end of the day, this is His gig — His responsibility! Learn to view the next step in your life through the lens of His love and grace, and ask Him to keep you on His track.
He is so faithful to do that!
Still figuring out if you’re really ready for the mission field? Download this free tool to prayerfully evaluate your health in eight key areas before you serve overseas!
If you have more questions about missions, talk to a missions coach to discuss your next steps!