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Practical Counsel for Those Who Want to Be Frontline Missionaries 

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It is no small thing when someone reads the words of Jesus and discovers that his heart beats for all the people groups of the world. What a privilege when someone in their younger years is gripped with the heart of God and is willing to lay down their life to make his name known where it has never been proclaimed. O to be among that privileged group of people who look back on their days and realize they gave the best years of their life to see God’s kingdom advance among the darkest of places!

But, for those who are gripped with Jesus’s final words, where do they start? What should they prioritize, and how do they reach “the ends of the earth”? Let me recommend four action points for those who aspire to become frontline missionaries.

Get involved in your local church.
The Great Commission was given to the church, not to individuals. This is a wonderful truth that should encourage church members. What it means, though, is that there are no lone-ranger Christians, or at least there shouldn’t be. If you are going to effectively take the gospel where it has never gone, you need to be rooted in and sent out from your local church [1]. Some churches do this well; some do it poorly. However your local church sends its missionaries, don’t ignore them and decide to “do your own thing.” God calls the church his body, his bride, the very thing he died to redeem. Keep the local church central to all you do as a missionary.  

My recommendation for high school and college students is to make yourself a blessing to your local church and learn all you can. Pull weeds, clean bathrooms, carry sound equipment, and do whatever else you can to serve the body of believers that God has put you in. Get to know your pastors. Ask to sit in on elder meetings, deacon meetings, and get involved on the missions committee if they have one. Ask your pastors for recommended books to read, classes to take, and offer to take them out to lunch so you can talk one-on-one. And then, finally, let your pastors know your heart for missions and ask them to hold you accountable. Good missionaries know their local church and their local church knows them. 

Read good books.
Aspiring frontline missionaries do well to know the history of those who came before them. Men and women such as Adoniram Judson, Adoniram Judson’s 3 wives (he was only married to one at a time!), Gladys Aylward, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, John Patton, and William Carey are treasures that will lift your heart. Their stories will inspire you as you realize what previous generations went through and overcame by God’s grace. Aspiring missionaries (and church leaders) think and speak differently after they have read To the Golden Shore, or Beauty for Ashes. Know these saints, and better yet, know the God who they lived and died for.  

Beyond reading missionary biographies, read books to understand the church better, to understand God better, and to understand missions better. It is quite true that we are only able to teach from the pool of knowledge we have already obtained ourselves. Good books on the church, God being the center of missions, and how to know our Bible better will serve any potential missionary in ministry and in life. Books on why going to the unreached is primary to the Great Commission, how good missionaries go and are sent, and why missions is the very heartbeat of God are all so very helpful.  

Get good training.
The last people groups on earth (estimated at around 3,100) [2] that have no gospel witness, no disciples, and no church are not the last ones for no reason. It’s not random that they are still without the gospel and without a church. They live in really difficult-to-access locations, their languages are challenging to learn, and the countries they inhabit are usually hostile to the gospel. If missionaries are going to make it there, and complete the task they set out to do, they will have to be well-equipped and thoroughly trained.

A well-trained missionary knows his Bible. While good Bible training does not have to come from a formal Bible school or seminary (those are pretty recent developments in the history of the church), it can definitely be helpful. If you don’t know your Bible well—not just random facts, but how the whole Bible fits together along with a good grasp of the major areas of theology—it will end up handicapping you in the long run. Good missionaries know their Bible and are lifelong students of it. 

Besides biblical training, serious practical and character training (more than six months by experienced staff) is crucial for frontline missionaries. How do you learn a language that may or may not have ever been written down? How do you raise normal kids overseas? How do you gain access to a closed country (a country that won’t grant a visa if you’re a missionary) and stay till a church is planted? How do you translate the Bible into a foreign language? What do you do if you’re a single man or woman overseas? How do you know when it’s time to leave? All of these questions are answerable for people who have had good, practical missionary training [3].

Establish good habits.
There is so much to say on this point but let me focus on just three habits: 

  •       Learn to pray well. Missionaries are praying people because they know that any real fruit will only come from the hands of God. We teach, we encourage, we exhort, we pray, but only God changes people’s hearts, only God can (and will) build his church. Learn to pray well, pray often, and make prayer central to who you are. 
  •       Have memorized Scripture under your belt. Missionaries are people of the Book. If you are in high school or college, make Bible reading a regular, unskippable part of your day. Beyond reading, memorize key portions of Scripture that will uphold you when times get tough. Men and women who know their Bible without having to open it are not easily shaken. There will be a cost to taking the gospel where it has never been before. Know your God through his Word before those storms come, and during the storm those memorized passages will be a sweet anchor that will hold you fast. 
  •       Persevere. One of the saddest parts of my job is seeing young people who want to get to the mission field get sidetracked by lesser dreams and lower standards. That girlfriend or boyfriend who “is just not that into missions” becomes a husband or a wife, and there goes your future in missions. The wonderful church that needs a youth pastor and thinks you are perfect—there goes your future in missions. Very few of the things that sidetrack potential missionaries are evil, or even wrong. They’re good things, but they sidetrack and ultimately kill what God has placed on your heart. Persevere, don’t give in to smaller dreams, and stay the course. 

The Great Commission is still binding on the church today, and it will not be accomplished without committed churches and their ambassadors. May they be prepared well for the race that lies ahead, not only to start well but also, by God’s grace, to cross the finish line. 

[1] Romans 10:14–15 speaks well to this. 
[2] https://www.imb.org/research/reports/.
[3] The best I know of is https://www.radiusinternational.org.
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. Both Brooks and Nina participate in the teaching at RADIUS as well as leading and traveling to spread the word about the necessity of pre-field training.
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