One of the reasons I love the question of how to disciple someone is because it implies a recognition that potential future missionaries must be disciples of Christ. In fact, we speak of “discipling” others because, in the Great Commission, Jesus calls His “disciples” to “make disciples of all nations.” Following Christ is exceedingly more important for a missionary than possessing certain personal traits, experience, skills, and/or giftings.
It helps me to rephrase the question as two:
- What areas of the Christian life require special attention for those who might become long-term missionaries?
- What are some practical ways to help them to grow in these areas?
Discipling for future missionary work: A humble heart.
Missionaries must be humble to embrace a different lifestyle, to withhold premature judgment of differences, have a fruitful ministry, and have unity with teammates. Pride is not only self-destructive; it is also harmful to the witness of Christ and to fellow workers. Missionaries must go as servants who have much to learn from others, not as superiors who come with all the answers.
Practical ways to grow for future missionary work: Discipling Humility.
When you are discipling others in preparation for missionary work, suggest establishing habits of daily worship of God, confession of sin, and habits of gratitude.
Discipling for future missions work: Anchoring Identity in Christ.
A missionary’s identity is challenged in many ways as they leave their jobs, friends, families, and country behind and cross cultures to live among people who think, look, and value differently than them. It is very important to help individuals grow and have a deep understanding of their identity in Christ before they embark on cross-cultural missionary work.
Practical ways to grow for missionary work: Discipling Identity in Christ.
Teach and remind potential missionaries of who they are in Christ, e.g., adopted children of God, saints, beloved, redeemed, forgiven, members of Christ’s body, etc. Walk through a study on Identity in Christ.
Discipling for future missions work: Charity with others.
By “charity,” I mean kindness, forgiveness, and tolerance of others. Missionaries are often placed in stressful circumstances with people who think and act differently from them. They must not be easily offended or quick to judge others. They must extend much grace to struggling people, themselves, and even annoying teammates.
Practical ways to grow for missionary work: Discipling charity.
Firstly, encourage future missionaries to reconcile present relationships. In addition, it will be important for them to practice team ministry on short-term mission trips, community projects, etc., This will help them identify and work through any challenging attitudes that emerge.
Discipling for future missions work: Trusting in the goodness and sovereignty of God.
Missionaries often observe injustice, suffering, disease, and poverty. Their faith in the goodness of God will be tested. In addition, they will likely fail often, and may not see much fruit in their ministry for long periods of time. They must know that God is sovereign and must rest in knowing that the fruit of ministry doesn’t ultimately depend upon them.
Practical ways to grow for missionary work: Discipling Trust.
Anyone can experience a crisis of faith, but being prepared for cross-cultural missionary work is critical. A practical way of preparing for challenging situations in missionary work is to work through Old Testament narratives and wisdom literature with the person you are discipling. If we’re honest, some of the ways that God acts and some of the circumstances He permits challenge our natural sense of justice, righteousness, etc. Coming to terms with the God of the Bible helps us to recognize where we may have erroneous theology and misplaced confidence in our own understanding. The stories of Joseph and Esther remind us that His purposes will not fail. And books like Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms confront us with our fallen world, help us to fear God, despise our own wisdom, and appropriately lament suffering.
Discipling for future missions work: Providing emotional and spiritual support.
The process of becoming a long-term missionary can be challenging and overwhelming. Be there to provide emotional and spiritual support, encourage them to persevere through challenges, and pray with them regularly.
Discipling for future missions work: Exploring global missions.
One of the best ways to disciple a future missionary is to help them form relationships with missionaries. Introduce them to missionaries and mission organizations. I would suggest that they begin supporting a missionary, even at $10 per month. They’ll begin to receive prayer letters that can better help them think through what it means to be a missionary and identify areas of needed growth. It is also helpful for the person to understand the world of missionary work. Invite them to attend mission conferences, share mission-related books and resources, and encourage them to attend short-term mission trips. Future workers can also join online groups and visit missions organizations to learn more.
Practical ways to grow for missionary work: Exploration
- Research missions organizations (link to Moody’s resource page for orgs: Agencies | Missions Conference | Moody Bible Institute).
- Support a missionary.
- Explore opportunities in missionary work (link to SIM skills & interest page).
- Take a short-term mission trip (link to Upcoming short-term & team trips page).
Helpful resources for future missionaries:
These are just two resources I highly recommend out of many available:
Perspectives Course: This course explores biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic perspectives on world missions. If you have the availability, it would be great for you to attend with the person that you are discipling. (Perspectives Classes) It would provide you with many opportunities to discuss various aspects of being a missionary.
Xplore: A 7-lesson study to help believers discover the biblical theme of God’s global purpose, the task remaining in frontier missions, major world religions, and how they can participate in God’s global purpose, no matter their location or vocation.
It’s essential as you disciple individuals and groups who are exploring cross-cultural missionary work, to help potential future missionaries look to Christ in faith, and to trust more deeply in the gospel that they will carry with them. He is the perfect example of humility, charity, and faith in God. And they will find their unchangeable and eternal identity in following Him. In addition, equip people in your church for global missions by giving them practical ways to explore missionary work, meet with current missionary workers and research mission organizations.
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Chris served as a senior pastor in North Georgia for eight years. He then moved with his family to Bolivia as missionaries to Amazonian least-reached people groups. After returning from the field, he has served in various positions at the home office in Charlotte, including director of personnel, chief recruitment officer, and, most recently as lead trainer. He is deeply passionate about helping the church to send and prepare global workers.