8 Reasons You Should Never Become a Missionary

by Laura on January 24, 2012

1. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think You Are Going to Change the World. First, high expectations doom to disappoint, but, also, maybe your desire to change the world is trumping your desire to serve. Ask yourself if you would be happy moving overseas to a much harsher environment in order to quietly help a local, while getting no recognition and seeing no fruit in the process.  If you can answer honestly yes, then maybe you’re still in the running. {Don’t worry, we thought we would’ve answered yes, but found out that we really had some unhealthy saviour-complexes to begin with. You can read about that here: On Living a Good Story and Not Trying So Hard and The Guy in the Orange Shirt .}

2. Don’t Become a Missionary to Make Yourself Better. My first mission trip was as a middle schooler to Jamaica. I’m not really sure how much good we actually did, but I do remember one of the missionaries we worked with. His name was Craig, and he had some of the biggest glasses I’d ever seen. And the dude talked to everybody about Jesus. Everyone– the pot-smoking Rastafarian in the line, the tourists at the store, the check-out guy at the food stand. And I remember turning one time to another missionary who worked with him and asked what made him so “good” at evangelizing.  The older missionary said, “Craig?  Oh, he didn’t come to Jamaica and become like that. He was already like that in the States.”

And I think Craig with the big glasses dispels the lie that if you move overseas, then you will magically become a superhero Christian. Um, false. What you are here, you’ll be there. And while it’s true that the change of environment can spark growth, it doesn’t mean you’ll go from luke-warm average Christian to Rob-Bell-Cool-On-Fire-Mother-Theresa just because you suddenly find yourself on another continent. Pretty sure it doesn’t work that way.

3. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think You Have the Answers and the Nationals Don’t. Westerners have clunky shoes.  This is just true. We are loud and obnoxious and, good Lord, arrogant. Our DNA has us descending on other cultures and dictating ways they can “fix” themselves, while throwing money at their problems. I think I’ve learned that every good missionary LISTENS, first. And listens, a lot. {Don’t worry, I suck at this still. You can read about that here, Rich Guy with the Crappy Car or Quiet Heroes.}

4. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Can’t Hack Transition. We’ve been overseas now for less than two years, and we have moved houses three times, taken two major trips, and have gotten close to and then had to say goodbye to over 15 good family friends. People come and go on the mission field. Terms are up and governments change the visa laws. You find a deal on a house or the house you are in has rats. When you sign up for missions, like it or not, realize it or not, you are signing up for a transient lifestyle. {On Moving House, Like A Lot and New Girl both speak to this reality.}

5. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think You Are Really Pretty Great, Spiritually-Speaking. There’s nothing like moving to a foreign country to reveal all the crap that’s in your heart.  Seriously. I have cussed more, cried more, been more angry, had less faith, been more cynical and, generally speaking, have become in many ways a worser person during my last two years of serving in Asia. Call it culture-shock if you will, but I tend to think the stress of an overseas move thrusts the junk that was conveniently- covered before out into the blazing-hot-open.

6. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think Living on Support is Cake. It might look easy, but it is most definitely not– this monthly process of holding your breath and praying that you get a full paycheck , while knowing that even that paycheck is based on the kindness of your parents or your friends or the lady you know hardly has two pennies to rub together anyway. And then, when you do have a little money, you stress about how you should spend it —  Should I treat myself to a coffee? Do the kids really need to go to the pool today? Should I buy the more reliable scooter or the used one that will {probably?} be just fine?

And then, and then, shudder, there’s that awkward process of asking for it in the first place and feeling like you are annoying-the-heck out of the same people, who happen to be the only people you know  — like that pushy lady selling Tupperware down the street.

The whole thing might be great for your faith, but it can sure be a killer on your . . .  heart, finances, sense of self-worth, savings, relationships, budget, fun, and freedom.

7. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Aren’t Willing to Change. Flexibility is more important than I ever thought it would be in an overseas life. So is humility, actually. Unfortunately, neither of these qualities is naturally at the top of my Character-I.Q. However, I have learned that the more determined you are to stick to your original plan– regarding ministry or living situation or friendships or organizations or personal growth– the more painful it is when that plan changes, and change it most definitely will. It’s the ones who humbly hold things loosely that I think can go the distance with far less collateral damage.

8. Don’t Become a Missionary to Find Cool Friends. Now, I’m not saying you won’t find amazing friends– maybe the best in your life– but there is no denying that the mission field can draw some pretty odd ducks. {Of which, I, of course, am not one. See #7 regarding my natural humility.} Don’t be surprised, though, if you find yourself in a church service with ladies wearing clothes from the 80′s singing praise songs from your middle-school years like Awesome God, but without even the drums. Don’t be surprised, too, if your social interactions are awkward at best with many of your fellow mission-souls. Living out the in jungles for twenty years might do wonders for your character and strength and important things, like, oh, the translation of the Bible into another language, but it can sure do a number on a person’s ability to shoot the breeze in a church lobby somewhere.

But, there, again, maybe there’s a necessary shifting that has to happen to your definition of cool, anyway.

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What would you add to the list?  Bring it. Even if you are not a missionary, pretend and add to the list.

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{ 146 comments… read them below or add one }

LivitKnights January 19, 2014 at 3:13 am

Can I be a missionary if I think that I might like the Missionary position?

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TarTar January 22, 2014 at 3:41 pm

So what exactly would you suggest for people who have a burning desire to do more? I’m glad I read this, it brought clarity on the subject for me but now what do I do? I’m aching to serve my God and hilariously enough I probably know just about as much as the people I so want to witness to.. I’m a mother of a three year old with one on the way and I’m ready to change and grow, I just have nowhere to start. Desire isn’t good enough for me, I NEED to do something before I leave this earth that pertains to saving lives for eternity. I’m at a loss…

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Xandi March 28, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Wow, I’m only 13, but when I first found Christ, I thought I was meant to mission in China because I was born and adopted in there, then realized that isn’t necessarily what God wants me to do. I’ve gone back and forth, thinking I may be called for it, sometimes not. I’m going into high school next year and am not sure if I am meant to have a job in missions, especially now that I realized a little while ago that you don’t have to be a missionary to evangelize. I think this brings up some good points, and when I first read the title, I thought it was going to be some atheist or something (no offense) telling people to stop spreading lies or something. Boy was I in for a great surprise! Thanks, I think this is cool, even more so with your own personal experiences. Hope the rest of your ‘missions’ go well!

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Vivian C. Conrad April 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm

I would add, don’t expect your home culture to stay the same while you’re on the field. Returning to the States after 24 years in Asia, we were shocked to find that it’s not the same society it was when we left. I’ve had more culture shock trying to adjust back here than I ever did on the field.

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Anatoliy Dzhenzherukha April 8, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Such a great article!

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Dale Frances Del Principe May 4, 2014 at 12:00 am

I my opinion the first trip is usually for the person going not the people group;

Listen to the worker who lives there and knows language and culture etc.
It i not about you at all.
Pictures are cute but who is it all about?
Why use the missy word?

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