People always ask me, “What led you to Reaching and Teaching?” The answer is simple: a Toronto Blue Jays hat. Not the answer you expected, right? Most people expect something grand, perhaps something mystical. But in reality, because there are more missions sending organizations than ever before, you eventually just have to choose one somehow—unless you go independently. So my journey to Reaching & Teaching started with providentially meeting a brother wearing a Jays hat. But it didn’t stop there.
If you’re reading this, you likely already know of an organization or two through missionaries from your church or denominational affiliations. But how do you discern which organization is a good fit for you? Too often, whether out of ignorance or desperation, we go with the first option available. Instead, we should slow down and consider our opportunities.
To that end, here are three pieces of advice.
1. Involve your pastors early.
The brother in the Blue Jays hat turned out to be an RTIM mobilizer. He introduced me to Reaching & Teaching and answered my questions. It was so helpful. But our pastors helped us actually make the decision. Involving your pastors early is critical. Selecting a missions org includes issues of both truth and wisdom, of principles and preferences. Every issue will influence both the fruitfulness and perhaps even the longevity of the partnership.
Your pastors should pray for you, read statements of faith with you, connect you with current missionaries, and help you ask the right questions. They should have an idea of where you as a prospective missionary would flourish.
If you don’t know your pastors personally, that’s fine! Now’s the time to develop that relationship. Involve your pastors early on and genuinely be open to their counsel, even if what they say surprises you.
2. Prize and prioritize theological conviction.
Unity flourishes best when theology is clear, when everyone’s on the same page theologically and philosophically. That’s true for local churches and it’s true for sending orgs. This is precisely why it’s best for the work of missions to be led by local churches who already experience a measure of unity. We export overseas what we experience at home.
As you prioritize theological clarity, I would encourage you to assess your own theological priorities even as you assess the organization’s. Aim for being theologically proportionate. According to theologian Scott Swain, “[Systematic theology] is concerned with the whole counsel of God; but it tries to reflect the Bible’s own priorities and emphases and to shape our thinking, living, and worship in light of these priorities.” In other words, certain doctrines are more central in Scripture than others. We must let the Bible’s proportions be reflected in our own, and we should seek an organization who does the same. At the same time, we must avoid falling into the trap of relativizing secondary doctrines to the “unimportant” folder.
To put it as clearly as possible, your organization should be clear about what the gospel is and is not. What other non-gospel questions should you prioritize? Here are a few recommendations: What is conversion? What is the church? What is the mission of the church?
These concerns aren’t exhaustive. You should also ask questions about contextualization and baptism and the Bible. I could keep going. But the overarching goal is simple: prioritize clarity on important issues. Openness to various positions may seem useful, but it rarely yields effective work.
3. Don’t forget to ask about strategies and operations.
As one pastor told me, “You have to have a little crazy in you to want to be a missionary.” Generally speaking, he’s right. Missionaries are passionate. They want to get to work for the Lord. Because of this, many missionaries will relativize theology in the pursuit of a strategy that “works.” We need to learn how to wisely balance both theology and strategy. In other words, we must recognize that our theological convictions do have implications for our methods and strategies. We must also recognize that there is a place for strategy and innovation. Choose a missions org that strikes the right balance; theology and strategy should be friends, not foes.
How do you do this? Ask questions about how ministry actually works.Interview current missionaries; that’s the most direct way to learn what actually happens. Just because an organization uses your favorite confession of faith doesn’t mean you’re a good fit.
Here are some other questions to ask: What’s required of my spouse? How does the ministry get funded? How long is their desired commitment? What cities and countries does your org serve? How do you build your teams? What’s the role of the sending church? Where does the org fall on the contextualization continuum (and why)? Does the ministry encourage working with missionaries from other orgs? How much overhead expense does the ministry charge? What about medical insurance? Is the missions org established in other countries, for sending or giving and receiving funds? Does the organization offer pre-field training? Is seminary required? I could keep going.
As a missions org interviews you, you have the opportunity to interview them. Be prepared with practical questions about their operations and strategy. While not overtly spiritual, they can help you to avoid a lot of headaches and hard conversations later on.
So slow down and take your time. Not every missions organization is going to be a good fit. But when you find the one that is, it’s a precious gift.
Scott Swain, “Lecture Notes” from Lecture 1: Scripture in Basics of Systematic Theology, TGC Courses online (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/course/basics-systematic-theology/#scripture). Accessed 10.12.2021.