Every Christian participates in the Great Commission, but not all in the same way. If you are considering a move to serve cross-culturally, let me offer four reasons you may need to reconsider.
1. Don’t Go Overseas if You Don’t Want To
Often, we treat reluctance as a prerequisite in discerning our place in the Great Commission—as if somehow it’s more spiritual to decide to move cross-culturally if you aren’t really inclined to do so. If pastoral calling begins with genuine aspiration (1 Timothy 3:1) and is not to be pursued out of compulsion (1 Peter 5:2), why would a call to missions be any different? If you don’t want to be a missionary, don’t be a missionary.
Of course, there’s nuance here. Our inclinations and desires can be faulty because we’re sinners. “Don’t trust your heart” is solid advice. However, if we’re walking with God in the company of the local church, we can take our inclinations and desires as one of the ways that the Lord leads us. Desire is the not the final test of whether you should be a missionary, but you shouldn’t ignore it either.
2. Don’t Go Overseas if You Are Having a Hard Time
Leaving your country to preach the gospel out of obedience is worship—but it’s a terrible way to get out of trouble. It’s not a good idea to uproot yourself and replant in a foreign environment for a “change of scenery.” It’s likely the temptations you experience here will be intensified and multiplied on the field. Those deeply entrenched in the battle against sexual sin, anxiety, or the like would probably be better served by staying put until God, by his Spirit, gives them increased victory over their habitual sin.
It is imperative new team members be thriving Christians pursuing holiness. Missions isn’t for perfect Christians, but missionaries should normally be those established in the faith and bearing good fruit.
3. Don’t Go Overseas if You Aren’t a Member of a Local Church
Lone ranger missionaries will make lone ranger disciples. God has provided the local church as the arena in which the Christian life is lived. Christianity is a team sport.
The local church is God’s missionary-sending agency. Whatever organization you work with should only be the mechanism by which your church affirms you and sends you out with the gospel to places where Jesus has not yet been named.
On top of that, our mission doesn’t stop at conversion or individual spiritual growth. The Great Commission is about seeing new believers gathered in new churches where together they learn how to obey everything Jesus commands them (Matthew 28:20). You can’t help start what you haven’t experienced for yourself.
4. Don’t Go Overseas if You Don’t Normally Help People Follow Jesus
Ministry is irreducibly relational. Would people in your life say you excel in forming significant spiritual relationships? If not, pause. What do you plan to do when you get to a new place with new people who speak a new language you do not know? It’s almost cliché at this point, but the sentiment is air-tight: nothing about getting on a plane and moving to a new place will transform you into an evangelist or a disciple-maker.
Healthy, mature Christians leverage their lives to do spiritual good to others. They share the gospel with unbelievers in their spheres of influence. They help believers around them love Jesus more. If that isn’t your normal pattern, ask others to help you. We’re all learning and growing in grace, but don’t try to become a missionary just yet.
Don’t be discouraged if what you’ve read makes you think you’re not ready for cross-cultural ministry. “Not right now” is not the same as “never.” Consider the short-term options that your church has available. Besides, believe it or not, God loves “normal” Christians just the same as missionaries. Keep this in mind before you make an ill-advised decision to go overseas. God wants you to glorify and enjoy him, wherever that ends up being.