Should I Go Maverick or Go With a Missions Agency?
There is nothing more exciting than stepping on a plane and going to a country you’ve never visited to have adventures you’ve never had. If God has put a desire in your heart to pursue cross-cultural missions, to make Him known and worshipped in regions where He is unknown, why not not begin your ministry now?
Many people would rather go alone and be their own leader than serve with a missions agency. But through my own experience, I have discovered that a missions agency is crucial to success as a missionary. Here’s why:
1. Missions agencies have the expertise.
Missions agencies specialize in helping churches send their sent ones. Ideally, the church and the missionary recognize the Holy Spirit’s leading, and then, the agency equips the missionary with their practical expertise like preparation, accountability, dealing with culture shock and more.
I have served short-term in the Middle East, both with a missions agency and with a well-known, secular study abroad program (I consider this going “maverick” as well, as I still wanted to form gospel-centered relationships while there but didn’t have support to do so). My experiences were vastly different, mainly due to the organizations I served with.
With the secular program, I learned Arabic and local culture, took classes and kept busy. But with non-Christian leadership, I couldn’t seek help or express my desire to share Christ in the region. I didn’t have guidance on how to have gospel-focused conversations with my host family or classmates. I didn’t know what was culturally appropriate for a foreigner to do or how to serve the Lord well in that context.
Conversely, when I went to the Middle East with TEAM, a missions agency, I was able to specifically learn about sharing the gospel in my host culture. The missionaries I served with had a combined total of over 50 years of living and working in this country.
They helped answer questions such as:
- What is the Christian church like in my host country?
- What can I say and do in public in regards to the church and ministry?
- How do I best protect myself as a single woman living in a city?
- How is ministry contextualized in this Muslim-majority nation?
They were all great lessons for a heart that was burning to share Christ.
2. Missions agencies provide training.
With the secular program, all the training I received was a one-hour seminar about the packing list and required shots. Upon arrival, we had one day of safety training and a lot of tours. Then we were released, with no follow-up. Many days I felt alone and ill-equipped to live in the country.
With TEAM, I had a one-on-one missions coach who made sure I processed my expectations, who challenged me to learn about my host culture and who prayed for me every week leading up to my departure. I even had a one-week training course that covered everything from teamwork to cultural sensitivity, from the history of the country to culturally specific needs for redemption.
I also had on-the-ground leadership who challenged me, spent time building a relationship with me and made sure I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy. The foundation that my coach and the training laid, along with the missionaries’ leadership, helped me successfully navigate cultural situations and Christ-centered conversations with locals.
3. Missions agencies provide accountability, at home and on the ground.
Missions agencies have one goal: to help churches further the kingdom of God around the world. And when you serve with an agency, there are supporters, churches, directors, and leaders to make sure you are not distracted from this goal.
This support and accountability can even extend to Christians professionals with a desire to engage in cross-cultural missions while building their traditional career.
Going alone or with a secular organization, however, does not bring unity of purpose or accountability. In my study abroad program, many students went to the Middle East because they had to, while others went with the goal of joining a branch of government. Some went because their families were from that region.
I couldn’t tell people why I went to the Middle East: to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and to encourage the local church. There was no leadership, and no one helped me in ministry. I did have some fellow students who had a similar heart, and I did get involved in a local church. But I never realized how key unity in the desire to share the gospel is until there was a lack of it. Everyone went with their own goal in mind, working individually to accomplish that. A missions agency would have provided teammates to follow the Great Commission with.
4. Missions Agencies follow up when you go home.
With an agency, there is a debrief process and someone to make sure you act on what you learned, rather than going back to the same routine. There’s someone to walk with you through reverse culture shock and help your process your experiences, both positive and negative. This level of care and support is invaluable.
It has been a few years since I returned from my experience traveling with a secular program, and I have not had any contact with my leaders there. No one challenged me to continue language study, to remember the cultural experiences and lessons I learned and to keep seeking ways to share Christ at home.
Furthermore, the staff knew I endured a traumatic experience abroad, and they did not follow up with or care for me. It took a year of healing and processing before I felt comfortable walking around alone or wasn’t dealing with anxiety. Love and care, centered in Christ, lacked when I needed it the most.
Ultimately, my two vastly different experiences of serving overseas with a missions agency and without one taught me about God’s heart for community and mentorship in furthering His kingdom. That’s why God is three in one. That’s why He ordained the church to participate with Him in fulfilling the Great Commission. That is why I believe successful missions and missionaries are rooted in the church and equipped by an agency.
So if you have a burning desire from the Lord to pursue cross-cultural missions, consider the lesson I have learned. Before you decide to go overseas independently, think about the rich preparation, accountability and support a mission agency can offer you. Seek the Lord in your going and coming, because going maverick overseas may not be the most fruitful choice in furthering the gospel.
Right now, there are hundreds of ways you can serve as a short-term, mid-term or long-term missionary with TEAM. Find out more.
10 CommentsLeave a comment
Great points, Jordan! It is also risky to go with a young organization. Years ago, a dear friend called me from her new assignment in the Middle East . For years, she had prepared to minister in this country. However, she had an emotional breakdown a short time after arriving, and her young organization had no idea what to do. I called the TEAM counselor at our home office, and he quickly helped my friend’s organization to bring her home and found appropriate resources for her. My fellow missionaries and I are so thankful that TEAM has medical and Member Care resource people!
Also, many countries where missionaries serve are collective cultures. They tend to be suspicious of “Lone Ranger” expatriates. I understand and have observed that these cultures are much more accepting of missionaries who are “connected” to an established organization and to other national churches.
Thanks for your article, Jordan!
Thanks so much for the encouragement and for the stories. The holistic care of going with an agency is so important. So glad that missionary got the care they needed!
Great post, Jordan!
I agree 110% with what Jordan said but what’s missing from this article is a contact or team that we can go with. Please provide your favorite team contact information. Ed Davidson
Hey there Ed! TEAM | The Evangelical Alliance Mission is a missions agency that supports missionaries on nearly every continent. You can find out more about opportunities to serve by browsing on their site at http://www.team.org. You’ll also find contact information there. Other agencies to explore are SEND International and South American Mission (SAM). Best wishes!
This has been our experience as well. The agencies that are out there provide a lot of support, support that is hard to fake. The best organizations provide a passion for mission but supplement it with a lot of expertise and worldwide connections. Really liked this article, thorough and shows the reality.
I totally agree with this article, I have travelled quite sometimes by myself to other countries with the intent of sharing the gospel and even entering some churches to enflame them with my passion for sharing the gospel. There were cultural divides, suspicion and a lot of other issues that did not go on well. I did what I could do but not the kind of impact I desired. Though, I still desire to go on another mission but I will prefer to go with a more coordinated approach like TEAM if the opportunity is available.
This is an interesting article, but it really is weak in defining why you should go with a mission agency or not. Having served with an agency, there are some things that need to change to convince “goers” that you need an agency today. Many have found that the mission agency to be a block to getting overseas. For example, the training that I have experienced first hand was not all that. Sure, you got to know the agency and possibly talk with someone in your respective field. In reality, it really was a getting to know you session. You would take personality tests, learn about raising support and maybe a few games or role plays. Coming from the military, this was not training but more of an application process. The follow up process at home was nothing more than Q&A about your experience and to see if there were any issues that needed to be addressed. Frankly, this could be done with your sending Church. The mission agency does not raise support for you when you are on the field. What they mostly do is supply a back office and recruit others to “go”. In today’s 21st century digital world, newsletters have been replaced by FaceTime, even in creative access work.
So, why do you need a sending agency? I would say to help you with finances, retirement, insurance and to help if a crisis occurs. This is important. What I would like to see from mission agencies is more help on developing more support when you are overseas. When missionaries return, they come back to a foreign land. The mission agency could help their missionaries with new supports and helping them to tell their story. They can connect with your churches to keep them connected while you are overseas. This connection keep them connected to you when you are busy with your work. I liken this to an account manager in a business. They “missionary account manager” works with a group of missionaries to help keep them connected when you are abroad. That way, when the missionary comes home, they are not sprinting to raise support, but actually getting a break. This is a new way of thinking, but from what I am seeing, mission agencies need to find a value proposition. The world has changed and many agencies will cease to exist if something does not change.
Thanks so much, John, for sharing the experience you had with your sending organization. You bring up some very important points about training, support while in the field, and follow-up – topics that are very critical to effectiveness and success in mission work. At TEAM, we are continually evaluating the way we equip and prepare our global workers as well as how we care for them throughout their time in the field and beyond. And as you also mentioned, the world IS constantly changing and while the points made in this 2016 post are still relevant, there are even more robust ways we’ve learned to support our workers in the past few years. We are blessed at TEAM to have strong Mobilization, Learning and Development, and Member Care teams that recognize these changes and work hard to respond to the changing needs of our global workers. Your thoughts here echo the heart TEAM has as we strive to cultivate and maintain a community of grace throughout our organization and respond as comprehensively as possible to the ongoing needs of our TEAM family as they partner with the global Church worldwide.