Experienced missionaries are often approached by fellow Christians with the inquiry: "I want to do mission work, but don't know how to go about it. Where do I start?" Mission work is a most difficult, demanding work. Unless one is aware of what he is getting into and has made adequate preparation for it, his chances of doing an effective work in the mission field are slim. How does one become a missionary?
The first step toward the mission field is prayer. Tennyson uttered a profound truth when he wrote: "More things are wrought by prayer than this old world dreams of." Christians should never make crucial decisions in life without prayer. Our Lord prayed all night before choosing his twelve apostles (Luke 6:12-15). The apostle Paul pleaded for the prayers of the saints on behalf of the work in which he was engaged (Eph. 6:18-20; Col. 4:3-4; 1 Thess. 5:25). One who plans to go into the mission field should seek the counsel of older, wiser brethren and solicit their prayers.
Once one has made a firm commitment to serve the Lord in a mission field, he must begin specific preparation to equip himself for the work. This preparation should include a good general education. A missionary must be able to adjust to a new culture. He may have to learn a new language.
It is essential that he be able to communicate effectively in both writing and speaking. A college education is usually the best way to achieve this. A missionary especially must know the Bible from cover to cover. He must be able to instruct others in the Word of God, defend his faith, and answer false religions. Schools of preaching usually provide the strong biblical foundation needed by a missionary. In addition to formal academic training, several years of practical experience gained from full-time work with a local church at home is extremely helpful.
Next one must choose a field of labor. Some of the factors to consider in choosing a field are: (1) receptivity of the people to the gospel; (2) the possibility of acquiring a missionary visa; (3) the needs of work already done or in progress and; (4) whether additional missionaries are needed.
If it is at all possible, the prospective missionary should make a survey trip to his chosen field before making a final commitment to it. It is wise for his wife to accompany him on this visit. The survey trip could be made in conjunction with a campaign or combined with holding gospel meetings or training series for churches in the field.
Many Christians dream about going to a mission field someday, but few ever make a move in that direction. Once one is definitely committed to a field, he needs to begin working toward it as soon as possible. The most difficult part of mission work now begins—finding the financial support to do the work. Half of the fund raising battle is won once one has found a sponsoring church. The sponsor must receive all finances for the work and stand behind the missionary and his family. A sponsoring church should be sound in the faith, stable, and have a qualified leadership. It should be committed to the work to the extent it is willing to provide a substantial part of the missionary's support.
In the media today, we hear a lot about "delinquent dads," men who father children but refuse to provide for them financially, legally, morally, or spiritually. All sound- thinking people will agree that a man who will not provide for his own is a pretty sorry specimen of humanity (1 Tim. 5:8).
A missionary can be a "delinquent dad" too if he begins a new work, then goes home before it is able to stand on its own. Many examples could be cited of "two-year wonders," missionaries who served long enough to baptize a handful of converts, and then headed home, leaving behind a group of babes in Christ who could not survive on their own. One must be committed enough to a work to stay until it can stand on its own. If necessity dictates his leaving earlier, he will help make provision for a replacement.
A fruitful and faithful mission work does not simply "happen." It results from the labors of one who has prayed fervently, prepared fully, planned carefully, and proceeded diligently to convert the lost and organize them into a sound, self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating congregation of Christ.