What to Know Before Becoming a Missionary Among an Unreached Language Group - Radical

What to Know Before Becoming a Missionary Among an Unreached Language Group

The desire to reach unreached language groups stems from the Tower of Babel (Genesis 10–11). In the next chapter after the world is plunged into chaos with the mixing up of languages, God initiates his rescue plan through a man called Abraham. From that day until now, our God has been gathering people like a shepherd that gathers sheep from other sheep pens (John 10:16).

When we’re talking about unreached language groups, it’s important to remember that learning another language as an adult is hard! Most missionaries to unreached language groups will list language learning as the hardest job they encounter. It’s hard to learn the vocabulary, grammar, enunciation, and all the culture that comes with it, to the point where someone wants to listen to you share an important message. But, by God’s grace, there are still those men and women from around the world who will leave behind homes, families, jobs, and opportunities to move somewhere where the grace of our God is unknown and where no church exists (Luke 18:29).

With that, what should those who feel led by Scripture and are affirmed by their church’s elders to go to unreached language groups know before they leave for the field? As a 16-year veteran who, by God’s grace, was able to see a Bible translation completed and church planted among an unreached language group, let me offer these three pieces of advice. 

Get Good Training

My home church is located in San Diego, California, where the Navy Seals train. Many of them attend our church and speak to the rigors of the selection process and the training to be a Navy Seal. And this makes sense—the hardest jobs require a high level of training. Missions has many faces today, but make no mistake, working with unreached language groups is the hardest job in missions. Those who go without good practical training pay a severe price in the long run or drop out. 

Working with unreached language groups is the hardest job in missions.

What should you look for in this training? Experienced staff who have done what they teach, high-level language and culture training, in-depth cross-cultural church planting teaching, some good classes on teamwork and how to raise missionary kids, a robust theology of suffering, and rigorous character evaluation. If someone gets those components of training, they stand a much better chance on the field.

Know Your Bible Well

In our time, there is a lot of excitement about missions, but the substance is light. Zeal without knowledge is not good. People who go to the field need to know their Bible well. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, Biblical theology, and a wide array of other topics need to be embedded in potential missionaries. Only in the last 70-100 years has there been a split level of Bible training for pastors and missionaries. This is not how it should not be. Missionaries, especially those who are going to plant churches, should know their Bible as well as the pastors who work in their home countries. 

It’s a shame that there are so many pastors that stay in the English world to begin with, but it’s even more of a shame that so many who go to the field don’t know their Bible well enough for the task ahead of them. Know your Bible well before you go to the mission field for the sake of the people you will lead to Christ! 

Stay the Course

The indisputable fact is that the unreached language groups remaining are the toughest ones on earth. They have the hardest languages to learn, live in difficult areas to reach and live alongside, and usually have national governments that are hostile to Christianity. Missionaries who go to these language groups will need to think in terms of decades, not years, if a church is their goal. 

Missionaries who go to these language groups will need to think in terms of decades, not years.

In the West, we are not big on long-term projects. We like things fast and efficient, and that’s great for burgers and cars, but not so good when it comes to the gospel and church planting because a church takes time. It doesn’t happen on weekends or even for a few years. A weak church with nominal believers and flimsy doctrine can be set up quickly, but one that will last for generations is a longer endeavor. If you want to go to an unreached language group, convince yourself from the beginning to stay the course until you have a strong, lasting church. 

One of my favorite missionary biographies is the Autobiography of John G. Paton. He closes with this advice for those who would work among unreached language groups. 

Plant down your forces in the heart of one Tribe or Race, where the same language is spoken. Work solidly from the center, building up with the patient teaching and life-long care of a church that will endure. Rest not till every people and language nation has such a Christ-centered throbbing in its midst, with the pulses of the New Life at full play.

Getting to work among an unreached language group is the most rewarding job. May our God raise up many to reach those last languages that still do not know of him. 

Brooks Buser

Brooks and his wife, Nina, planted a church among the Yembiyembi people in Papua New Guinea. In 2016, they returned to San Diego. Brooks now serves as president of Radius International.


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!