For churches, selecting which missionaries to support can be difficult. Missions committees and elder boards are often overwhelmed with requests from prospective partners. How should they sift through these opportunities and decide which ministries to prioritize?
Sometimes the challenge comes from having too many quality candidates. However, not everyone who requests the church’s backing is worthy of it. The New Testament warns about supporting the wrong kind of missionaries (2 Cor. 11:12–15; 2 John 10–11).
Churches should test, approve, and send faithful workers.
Instead, churches should test, approve, and send faithful workers. When they do, congregations can expect to share in the joy and reward of their labor (Matt. 10:41; Phil. 4:17; 3 John 5–8).
The questions below help churches filter opportunities, vet agencies, and assess prospective missionaries, as well as care for them when they return.
This first section provides categories to consider throughout the process. These questions are not deal breakers but assist churches in filtering opportunities, especially when inundated with partner requests.
1. Relational Proximity. Do we know and trust the candidates personally? What is their connection to our church? Are they supported by other churches in our region or network? What is the likelihood of their ongoing relationship with us?
2. Nature of the Work. Is the work global or local? What does the work prioritize (e.g., evangelism, church planting, leadership training, Bible translation)? Is it a ministry of mercy, doing relief or development work? Is this a long-term or short-term opportunity?
3. Need for the Work. Is this work among reached or unreached peoples? Even if reached, what are their needs? Are other ministries doing this work? Do the nationals or others on the ground see this as a strategic opportunity?
4. Strategic Fit. Is this a need we’re well positioned to address? Is it in an area where we already work or where we want to grow? Is the candidate, including their skills and experience, well suited to this location and ministry?
5. Collaborative Opportunity. Would this partnership create opportunities for ongoing, meaningful ministry collaboration? Would this partnership engage our church in greater praying, giving, and going?
Criteria for Support
This set of questions narrows the discussion and is meant to provide specific criteria for receiving support. A negative answer in this section would likely be a nonstarter for partnership consideration.
1. Ministry Qualifications. Does the candidate demonstrate exemplary character as a model for other believers? Does he or she know the Scriptures and have the ability to teach them faithfully? Does he or she have ministry training (theological and cross-cultural) and experience?
2. Theological Agreement. Are we in basic agreement on matters of first importance? Can the candidates affirm our statement of faith (perhaps with clarification or minor variation), and can we affirm the beliefs and values of their mission?
3. Missional Alignment. Do we support their ministry objectives and methodology? Do we trust them and their sending agency, or are there specific concerns regarding their understanding of the church and its mission (see below)?
General Questions for Sending Agencies (and Missionaries)
Once a church has determined that specific missionaries could qualify for support, they’ll want to learn more about their sending agency. This next set of questions helps churches to understand various organizations’ perspectives on issues that will directly influence their ministry approach.
1. Church. What is the nature and role of the local church?
2. Commission. How do you seek to fulfill the Great Commission?
3. Cooperation. With whom do you cooperate, and how?
4. Contextualization. What are appropriate and inappropriate levels of contextualization?
Questions for Prospective Missionaries
As churches near the point of approving prospective missionaries, they’ll want to get to know them and their ministries more deeply. This should include a personal interview with questions that assess their readiness to be sent out and supported.
1. Personal. How is your walk with the Lord? How is your relationship with your family? With your local church? Do you have any concerns about your physical, mental, or spiritual well-being?
2. Educational. What is your education and training? Do you have ministry experience?
3. Cultural. Are you in contact with someone in-country? What will be some challenges of living there? How will you learn the language and culture?
4. Theological. What is the gospel? What is the nature of the church? What is your understanding of other religions and the fate of those outside Christ?
5. Missiological. What is the mission of the church, and how does your work fit into that? What do you think of current trends in missions (e.g., Discovery Bible Studies [DBS], Obedience-Based Discipleship [OBD], Disciple-Making Movements [DMM], Church-Planting Movements [CPM], Training for Trainers [T4T], or Insider Movements [IM])?
6. Practical. What is your job description? How long will you stay? With whom will you work? To whom will you be accountable? How will you communicate with us?
7. Financial. Are you secure financially or are you in significant debt? Do you have a budget that you or your sending agency has determined? How much support do you still need?
Questions for Returning Missionaries
When coming off the field, either termporarily or permanently, missionaries often have unique challenges. These questions help supporting churches care well for their returning missionaries.
1. Personal. How are you doing spiritually? How is your family, marriage, and parenting? Where have you seen God’s grace in the last few years? What made these years difficult? Are there ways we can help?
2. Cultural. How is your transition back? What do you miss? What have you learned about different cultures through your ministry? What have you learned about your own values?
3. Missiological. Are you part of a local church? What were the biggest challenges to your ministry? What discourages or concerns you? What excites you? What were you unprepared for? How have you seen God work?
4. Practical. Have your responsibilities or roles changed? Has your location changed? Do you plan to return? How are your team dynamics? Are you working well with others?
5. Financial. How are you doing financially? Do you have personal or project needs that we should be aware of? What local resources are available to you, and have you considered them?
Such an extensive list assumes that churches have a responsibility to know their missionaries. Of course, this level of personal knowledge and accountability requires a significant investment by all parties. Therefore, churches that take the time to affirm and send qualified missionaries should also consider a significant financial commitment to them.
While this will limit the number of supported workers from a given church, it can multiply their effectiveness. By focusing on fewer missionaries, churches will be able to better care for them and pray for their needs. A narrower geographic focus also allows for more consistent field visits for encouragement and collaboration. Fostering such depth in long-term ministry relationships ultimately increases the collective responsibility, fruitfulness, and joy in the work.
Content adapted from Mission Affirmed by Elliot Clark (TGC/Crossway, 2022), available now in the TGC store.