Every once in a while, someone will "feel called" to become a missionary and plan to go alone; independent of a mission-agency. Usually, they raise the money themselves or have their home church sponsor them. But is it a good idea to go out on the mission-field alone?
We’re very skeptical of people who say they “feel called” and don’t have an emotional, spiritual, and strategic supporting agency in place. Usually these people have a lot of good-hearted zeal and love the Lord; but the reality is that you can’t skip steps—and being mentored and having the right experience is the way to have a lasting impact--and not do damage to yourself. Specifically, there are a number of things to consider before going or sending out someone to be a missionary all alone.
- The Danger of Burn Out: The rate of burn-out for missionaries is extremely high. The average missionary lasts 1 year. The average 'career missionary" lasts 4 years. At 3W, we only accept those that can commit to 7 to 10 years; leaning more toward 10 minimum. It takes 4 years just to understand the culture and the language, so it’s not worth investing so much in people that can’t affect long-term change.
- The Emotional Challenge: Many people are traumatized on the mission-field. There are very high rates of depression and there are those that come home broken; it’s just not often talked about in the church and sometimes there’s shame for those who come home under less than happy circumstances. Emotionally, It’s a dangerous, very high-stress job. It challenges you to your very core.
- Strategy is very important. Many go out just thinking that they will convert people or serve people on the streets not understanding that there are many things that you should and shouldn’t do in those situation. Evangelism can really differ from culture to culture and the American-style is not always the most effective. That is especially true in Europe. Ministry to the needy is good, but you will be faced with many emotionally-wrenching experiences and ethical dilemmas. You have to be prepared to emotionally handle the fatigue that comes with seeing things not always turn out well, despite a lot of prayer and investment.
- Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges to the missionary life. So people going without any kind of a team or support system is not a good idea. As a missionary, you are often someone that the vast majority of people can't relate to: both in your home country and in your foreign location. It's important to have a community that understand the very unusual and unique challenges of this kind of life.
- The need for wholistic support: Mission-Agencies, when they are healthy, can offer mentoring, development of strategy and fundraising approaches, teammates to work with, a network of donors, health insurance and spiritual and emotional support (Member Care). These are a lot of important aspects that the lone individual will have a difficult time replicating.
- Are you really needed? Another issue is how the missionary fits into the mission-field they are going to be serving. Do they mess up the ministry ecosystem that currently exists, or will they create new dependencies, or bring imbalance to a team or ministry? Is the host country truly open to missionaries or will they be weak in their support? Are there behind the scenes church politics that make it a bad time to serve as a missionary. Are they doing things that really would be done better and cheaper if a local Christian did them?
- Getting Permission to Live in a Foreign Country. It’s pretty hard to just go to a country in many parts of the world and get permission to stay in the country for more than 3 to 6 months. You need a local organization in that foreign country to sponsor you and your job needs to be something that local people cannot do. That local organization will be held accountable for you legally. It is often necessary to have a foreign organization also sponsoring you--one the foreign government will investigate. Often you need to have proof that you have a significant amount of funds in a bank account to guarantee that you are not coming to a foreign country to live off of their welfare system. In most of our countries, the visa application process is very complicated and closely scrutinized. There are definitely many countries where we cannot place anyone. Some countries have very tight restrictions since 9/11 and many have become hostile to immigration. The process of getting permission to live in a foreign country is often a very stressful one for missionaries, who are never guaranteed that the country will say "yes," even after they have lived there for a while.
For our 3W Team working in the Europe and Middle East we look to hire people that have considerable experience working in ministry and who are particularly gifted at being mentors to young generation leaders. We expect a commitment of 7 to 10 years to make the training, finances, and connections that we provide worth it for the long-run health of EME. Teammates have to be extremely committed to team unity and not seek elevation for themselves; as the whole purpose of 3W is to empower the next generation of leaders from the Europe/Middle East. All of our missionaries are placed in catalytic roles where they are creating synergy and helping us reach our 3W Prism: 1) Engaging Young People in Ministry 2) Supporting and Empowering Leaders Under the Age of 45 and 3) Creating inner-connectivity in the Europe/Middle East Church of God. A lot of our work involves consulting and tracking with congregations and pastors that are making major re-calibrations in their ministry. Consequently, relevant experience really matters a lot to 3W.
As Global Strategy missionaries, we receive the support of a team back in Anderson, Indiana advocating for us and supporting us, while also providing the framework to represent us as employers in the United States and to vouch for us to foreign governments. They play a critical role in enabling us to truly live here long-term.
There are people that have gone on the mission-field alone with no support that have done a good job. Usually, they are couples, or one person in the couple is a national from that country, or they are singles that are short-time. It is possible, but there are a lot of logistical issues to overcome alone and it is high-risk. For us, there is no need to to take that risk and we try to minimize the damage that can happen to missionaries on the field as much as possible.
It's always necessary for the call to be strong, but since that can easily be a subjective, or overly-emotional decision, it is also good to have that call confirmed by wise friends that are in prayer with the potential candidate. And then there are still many logistic things to consider. Overall, we don't recommend it for the reasons listed above, but of course God can use anybody at anytime in any way he sees fit.