In the past, I would often tell short-term team members, “If you feel like you should come – or sense a calling – overseas, you should just come. Your flesh wouldn’t lead that way. Satan wouldn’t lead that way.” I don’t totally disagree with that recommendation, but as it’s become easier to get overseas and harder to maintain presence, I now need to amend some serious qualifications to that recommendation. Not everyone who can go to the nations should go.
How to Know if You Should Go to the Nations
Many missionaries and pastors who share a deep passion for the nations have said, “Your default should be to go, unless God tells you to stay.” Is this a biblical idea? It seems that in the New Testament, the majority of Christians did not join missionary endeavors outside their hometowns. Every Christian should participate in the Great Commission, either through going or sending and supporting, but only some are called to be the ones who serve overseas as a missionary. Consider these questions before deciding to go to the nations.
Is my local church ready to send me?
Since the church at Antioch set aside Paul and Barnabus in Acts, God’s desire has always been that the local church sends missionaries (Acts 13:1–3). For all the good that they have done, parachurch organizations and mission-sending agencies have at times ignored this plain, biblical truth. Any potential missionaries should have the affirmation and support of their local church.
Am I abiding in Christ?
Faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry can only come through a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus (John 15:1–17). The rigors of life overseas, the spiritual warfare in a new culture, and the temptations that come when we’re removed from our normal environment will devour those who are not walking closely with God.
Have I suffered well?
God calls those formed by suffering to go to those in suffering to tell them of a victorious Savior. The kind of refining that comes only through the furnace of affliction will serve potential missionaries well (Romans 5:1–5). I’m not suggesting you go looking for suffering, but consider how you have weathered the sufferings that have already come into your life in this fallen world.
Am I doing in my home country what I will be doing overseas?
If you aren’t sharing the gospel with those around you in your home country, the plane ride will not make you into an evangelist. If you haven’t learned to make disciples in your neighborhood, you may need to wait before relocating to the nations (Matthew 26:16–20). If you aren’t engaged with the church community at home, you won’t be successful in building the body in another culture.
If you haven’t learned to make disciples in your neighborhood, you may need to wait before relocating to the nations.
Am I holy and set apart?
Missionaries must be able to say to those they’re discipling, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (2 Timothy 2:14–26). Though we will never reach sinless perfection in this life, those going to the nations must live in exemplary ways. If you aren’t addressing patterns of sin and idolatry, this will eat you alive as you go overseas.
Am I humble and teachable?
Missionaries must come as learners. We cannot effectively communicate the gospel to those whom the Lord sends us to without a deep understanding of their language and culture. Ministry overseas differs greatly from church planting in other contexts, so even those with church planting experience should willingly learn new paradigms, methods, and approaches. Are you willing to be stripped of your competencies and expertise and learn from others?
Is there a team I can work with?
In his missionary endeavors, Paul never worked alone (Romans 16). Any missionaries who hope to reach effectiveness on the field should tether themselves to a long-term team for training, encouragement, support, and accountability. Do not go overseas alone.
Is this the right time?
Virtually every person in the Scripture whom God used mightily, from David to John the Baptist to Paul to Jesus, first endured a long period of preparation. In our well-meaning zeal for the nations, we can move overseas before we’re ready. Ask those with spiritual authority in your life to help you look wisely at your spiritual condition, finances, health, and preparation to determine if now is the right time.
These answers to these questions are not easy, but they’re a good gauge of our potential for effectiveness. We must take a sober estimate of ourselves and ask God to search us before he sends us.