Missionary life can be both a wild adventure and, at times, a struggle. But there is one thing for sure — being a missionary is a learning experience. Whether you’re getting ready to head to the field, or you have years of missionary experience, there is always more to learn.
I talked with some of our missionaries about things they wish someone had told them before they went to the mission field.
Find the right fit
Just like with anything else, no missionary work will be all fun all the time. There is no such thing as a perfect fit. But some types of ministry are better suited to certain people than other types — and the right fit for you may be something you don’t know about yet.
TEAM missionary Steve Dresselhouse wishes that he had known about the business as missions model earlier in his missionary career. He was on the verge of burnout when God showed him how kayaking could open doors for the Gospel. Steve now runs a kayaking tour company in Mexico that he uses to build relationships and win hearts to Christ. Through this outreach, his house church plants are growing, and he has more energy for discipleship!
Before you head to the field, try to explore a wide range of ministry possibilities. A TEAM missions coach can help you look at all the options and figure out what might be the right fit for you! And remember to hold plans loosely, knowing that it may take time on the field to find your best fit.
Realize there will be good and bad
Even the best ministries in the world have difficult days. TEAM missionary in Mexico Ellen Shepard advises, “One thing would be not to let yourself go up and down on the roller coaster of ministry life. Be in it for the long haul and know that there will be good and bad days in it.”
Some of these ups and downs are bound to come from members of your ministry team.
“Don’t be surprised or discouraged by interpersonal conflict between missionaries,” says TEAM missionary Miles Douglas. “Our expectation when we went out 35 years ago was that missionaries are on a pedestal spiritually and are above petty conflict. Not true. Missionaries are no different from Christians anywhere, and there will be conflict on the field.”
Steve Dresselhaus also suggests taking basic counseling classes to help with interpersonal conflict, as well as the pastoral parts of ministry.
Keep things in perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of ministry. Attendance numbers fluctuating, continuous fundraising, event planning, relationship building, logistics, navigating a foreign culture — it’s a lot. And the details of your ministry are definitely important, but ultimately they are not why you are there. You are there to show people the love of Jesus.
“People will remember who you are — as a person, as a spouse, as a family — more than they will remember things you teach and preach,” says Ralph Shepard, TEAM missionary to Mexico. And TEAM missionary David North says, “Success is more about day by day walking with God than big visions.”
That’s why it’s important to make sure you are taking care of yourself as well as taking care of your ministry. “Self-management is so important — taking care of yourself, taking time to rest, spending time in the Word and in prayer, ‘filling your well’ by reading good articles and books,” says Ralph.
Keeping things in perspective, and taking proper care of yourself will help you avoid burnout.
Rely on God
It sounds cliche, but remember that you aren’t going to the mission field alone. God is leading you there, and He will be with you while you are there.
“Don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself, others, the importance of your role, or your living situation,” says Miles. “The fewer expectations you take to the field, the better it will be when you get there.”
God will work in and through you during your whole time on the field, but that doesn’t mean it will always be easy. Sometimes relying on God can be one of the hardest things we have to do. But we can learn a lot from these times.
“Over the years, we came to realize that what God wanted to teach us was at least as important as the ministry we expected to have with others,” says Miles.
Heading to the mission field can be intimidating, but it’s always good to be as prepared as possible before you go. Are you a missionary? What do you wish someone had told you before you went to the mission field? Let us know in the comments!
Are you interested in becoming a missionary? A TEAM missions coach can explain what the process looks like, help you find out if you’re ready and provide missions opportunities specially curated for you! Talk with a missions coach today.