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My 5 mistakes sending missionaries

For 24 years I’ve been sending people on short-term missions (STMs) that challenge them to live the kind of life God dreams for them. STMs are great discipleship tools. This year at Adventures, we’ll send out our 100,000th person on an STM. Our goal is for our STMs to activate participants t…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
For 24 years I’ve been sending people on short-term missions (STMs) that challenge them to live the kind of life God dreams for them. STMs are great discipleship tools.
This year at Adventures, we’ll send out our 100,000th person on an STM. Our goal is for our STMs to activate participants to one day go and bring the hope they have to those that have none in some dark place in the world.
But moving from a short-term to a long-term focus requires a different set of tools. While Jesus sent all his disciples out on STMs (Luke 10), only a few were called to cross-cultural missions (in Acts). This may be one reason why he asked his disciples to go only to their own countrymen.
 
In my eagerness, I’ve made mistakes in sending people out for the long-term. Here are five:
1. Not enough screening. To be an effective long-term missionary, you’ve got to go as a learner. You learn the culture, the language and you learn people’s stories. To do this, you need a mindset and you need skills.
Sometimes in my enthusiasm to help, I’ve not spent enough time asking if candidates to go long-term had the mindset and skills they needed.
2. Not enough of a team. While some can make it on their own, most effective missionaries go as a team. Every day they have to expend emotional energy to look more like the culture they’re in than the culture of their home country. It’s the same kind of assignment Jesus had in the incarnation. Every day they are asked to exchange the things that they find normal and comfortable for a set of behaviors that are new and strange. They need a team’s encouragement to be able to make it. A team gives them the reference point to acclimate organically.
 
Team unity is essential if the team is to strike the right blend of encouragement and guidance for its members to choose into the transformation process day after day.
3. Not enough leadership. Good teams need good servant leadership. Leadership is especially important on the front end of a team’s time. The leader helps maintain team safety and unity and helps shape the team’s cultural assimilation process. These are her primary assignments. If the team can’t be a safe place and unity maintained, then its members will not have the emotional reserves to perform the basic missionary task of assimilating the culture.

4. Not enough preparation. In my eagerness to get teams to the field, I’ve sent them without the skills they needed to be successful. While we’re taking steps to avoid this in the future, we’re having to go back and retro-fit teams with the skills they needed: conflict resolution, cross-cultural assimilation, spiritual warfare, team-building, and self-leadership.

5. Not enough support. It takes a strong sending team to help sustain a long-term missionary. The sending team prays for them, helps them raise support, and communicates with them on the field. Too many missionaries neglect this part of the process and have inadequate covering when the pressure of life on the field inevitably comes.
 
Recently we have developed a model of a sending team that incorporates both Adventures staff and outside volunteers. Unfortunately, some of our earlier teams did not have a good sending team. We’re having to go back and help them recruit their sending teams.

Comments (6)

  • this is good. it’s not easy to take a step back and take ownership in areas that need improvement. but the fruit of doing so is so worth it. i think that fruit is evident in the lives of AIM folk.

  • Seth,
    You model humility and servant leadership in articles like these. Thank you for leaning out on the side of acting out of eagerness, versus waiting around doing nothing until aim has it all figured out. You inspire us all!

  • Great post Seth! Thanks for taking the time to think through this and write it out for others – for learning from mistakes made and changing to make it better. As an MK or TCK I’ve seen these mistakes played out more than I cared to know of. There is so much more that sending organizations can do today in screening, preparing, training, educating, team and support building, and ongoing discipleship or accountability, and followup. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a life-long process for all of us, wherever we are. Am passing this on to friends.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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