Category Archives: Missionary Problems

Hardships of Missionary Life

When a person chooses to be a missionary, there are certain sacrifices that they make in order to partake in this kind of ministry. Essentially you lose a lot of your “identity” to become a missionary. The simple question, “Where are you from?” becomes a complicated question because while I was born and raised in South Carolina, I have spent more time in Mexico than the US. Mexican people we visit. Sometimes they joke saying, “David is more Mexican than we are!” I have adapted to Mexican culture and foods, and I really like at least most of the Mexican foods.

But this price we pay is difficult to handle many times.  You kind of “lose your identity” in the process of being a good missionary. We must celebrate the Mexican holidays and basically follow the Mexican culture, because you just cannot survive without doing that. Image if a Mexican was to pastor your church and not celebrate the Fourth of July! He would be extremely out of sync with the people he is trying to reach.

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Missionary Problems: “I wish I had known how difficult long-term fruit really is.”

This post is my own response to an article in “”
What do Missionaries wish they had known before they first went?

“I wish I had known how difficult long-term fruit really is.”

To be truthful, long term results are very difficult to get.

I have been a pastor and missionary since 1986. Working with people is great. But when you have less than 10 years in working with a group of people, you see fruit. That fruit often disappears over longer time periods. What you thought were great, well-established Christians really weren’t.

I see the problem here in various forms. My observations come from years in the ministry, and from examining my own ministry and its results, as well as other people’s ministries. Some of my observations and comments are very simply my personal convictions. I have always done things like x-y-z, or I have never done things like that.

Continue reading Missionary Problems: “I wish I had known how difficult long-term fruit really is.”

Missionary Problems: “I wish I knew how to deal with conflict.”

“I wish I knew how to deal with conflict.”

This post is my own response to an article in “” “What do Missionaries wish they had known before they first went?

I have been in a lot of conflict as a missionary. Believe it or not, the principle point of these conflicts are usually mission boards. Mission boards are supposed to help us, but that is not the way things work out.

If you study the Bible, there is no intermediary between the Missionary and the churches that support him. There are no overarching directing organization or element except the Holy Spirit. When men try to interpose themselves into that position, it just doesn’t work. Why?

1.) God leads individual ministers into a specific ministry calling for them.

To be brutally blunt here, it is nearly an impossible task for a godly man to discern God’s leading in his own life and ministry. I remember Paul’s crew, wanting to go up into modern Russia, and God stopped them cold, and sent them due West into Greece, Macedonia, etc. God did this by the Holy Spirit working through cruel hardship (they just couldn’t physically go north it would appear), and by working on Paul’s heart. If Paul was a modern missionary, he would have had to return home because he didn’t have the mission agency’s permission to change course mid-stream.

2.) God gives peace and rustles spirits to guide people, but only mid-stream

I sometimes get the opportunity to talk to young missionaries. They tell me something like “God has called me to street preach giving out the gospel with a P.A. system on the streets of China. First of all, you can’t do that there. Wish you could. But the Chinese will put you in jail within a short period of time, and God will change your ministry to a jail ministry! The issue here is that in order to actually get to some field as a missionary, you have to be hard headed (“bull headed”) and just keep butting your head again the goal no matter how much things go wrong. That is not a good characteristic for a missionary, that is a highly essential characteristic, and if you don’t have it, and if you don’t have a lot of it, you will never serve on a foreign field as a missionary.

Having said that, you must learn to control, tone down, and “give up” also if you will work in God’s will. If you cannot pass over that hard headedness when it is necessary, Satan will just turn you into a corner and you will butt your head forever there, and most likely not ever get anything done as a missionary either.

If you look at Paul’s missionary life, you will see how he was persistant in so very much of his life and ministry, but at the same time, he was spiritual enough to know when God was changing his direction and ministry, and he rolled with that like a pro. The point here is to be sensitive to God’s direction, and once found, not vary from it, but also not presume that your discernment at a certain point is a final declaration forever in your life. God wanted Paul to enter Macedonia from Asia minor, not directly from Antioch through the Mediterrean. I don’t know why that approach was so important to God, but it was. Don’t question God’s ways of doing things. Maybe God had to try Paul on a less difficult course (north into Asia) first, to see if he was going to give up or not, and when Paul proved himself, then God could put him into where He really wanted him. We just don’t know what was in the mind of God, but we do know it was not to go into Russia. That was eternally the same. But God first called Paul into Russia to see how Paul would work out first, and then put him into his Macedonia/Aegean Sea work.

Paul left Antioch for parts north. That was God’s will when he went out. Paul got stopped, and redirected to the west. What happened? Was Paul wrong when he felt God’s first directing? No. God wanted him to go straight north into Asia, and then meet resistance, and then move in another direction. God doesn’t tell us everything we need to know from the beginning just as God wants it. God reveals in steps, and we should go as far as we can into that path God leads, and when we are stopped, be extremely open to what God says from there.

Note the old saying. You cannot change the direction of a stopped car. It is too heavy, too impossible to move the car perpendicular. But it is very easy to move the steering wheel of a moving car.

As a missionary, God is not going to use you fully until you are moving for Him.

Inter-minister conflict

Again we look at Paul and his relationship with Barnabas and John Mark. This just resounds so missionary to me. You have to understand the “nature of the beast” before you can understand why missionary/minister conflicts happen. A person is no good as a missionary if he is not a self-starter. Nobody comes into your bedroom at 6AM to wake you up. Nobody comes and checks to see if you have prayed this week, gone soul winning, or done a good preparation of a sermon for Sunday. We are independents, and as such, a good missionary is always a self starter. It is so easy for self-starters to be impatient people, and they as a habit take those people that are up to speed with them, and they go. Mark wasn’t up to speed with Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas had sympathy for Mark, and Paul had none. Normal. Perfectly normal.

What conflict there existed between Paul and Barnabas, was there because both were trying to pull the group forward, but each decided that the direction to go into was one way, the other another. While it is good to “just all get along together”, that rarely works in situations where money, opposition, and hardship assails the team work. Things have to be done, decisions made, and when people come up to the plate to bat, it is difficult when two want to take the leadership at the same time, and in different directions. Conflict happens.

What we can discern here is that Paul and Barnabas parted company. What we see is the Holy Spirit at work through personality conflict. I fully believe that Barnabas went into a parallel or duplicate ministry of what he and Paul were doing. Perhaps the issue was over going north or west. Maybe Barnabas went back to the crossroads, and God led him north. We don’t know. It wasn’t for our knowledge to know what Barnabas did in the end. I feel sure that he was still in the ministry.

The curious detail is that later on in Paul’s life, Mark appears as Paul’s teammate. This is extremely interesting, because most probably the issue of Mark was that he wasn´t mature enough, and Barnabas said he will grow into the need of the hour, and Paul said no. In the end, Barnabas went one way, we don’t know what happened to Mark really, but later on Mark is with Paul. Paul eventually accept Mark, and Mark eventually ended up ministering beside Paul. Don’t take things too seriously when you have conflict. If both are men of God, things will work out in the end.

Pagan/Gospel Conflict

Another area of conflict that missionaries have to deal with is resistance from the pagan culture and people where they minister. This is extremely discouraging, and extremely hard. The only thing worse than resistence of pagans to the Gospel is the United States. Everybody is “Christian” even though they are not really saved (the majority), and you have one worse than the pagans, now you have to convence these people of their unsaved condition before you can work with them. Everybody is an expert on Christianity, and nobody is really saved.

Missionary Problems: “I wish I had known about language learning and missionary relationships.”

This post is my own response to an article in “”
What do Missionaries wish they had known before they first went?

“I wish I had known about language learning and missionary relationships.”

 Language Learning

There is a simple rule. If you are bad at a language, you will probably be bad at every additional language you learn. In my 30 some years of missionary work, I have seen missionaries come and go (return home). I have seen missionaries stay on the field for decades, and never speak the language well (and to the detriment of their ministry). What determines if a person does well learning another language can be resumed in a few points.

  1. Do they know language well to begin with? Do they know their own language well? Grammar and all? If not, don’t expect much learning another language.
  2. Are they diligent and careful students? If they like to learn, they will probably do well. If they are impatient and get frustrated easy, they won’t.
  3. Are they learning the language from educated people in that language? If they are studying in a formal school setting with native speakers that are educated (college or PhD is best), then they will have a better understanding of their new language.
  4. Are they immersing themselves in the new language or dragging most of their daily conversation back in their home language. Total immersion is best.
  5. Language learning is a full time job. Don’t cheat it. Devout your complete time for a year or more to it, because short changing language learning will put the rest of your ministry for the rest of your life on a poor level.

Missionary Relationships

For those that don’t know (and most pastors and common church members don’t know this), the world of missions is “dog eat dog”. This is the fault of Christianity in general. We can read about Paul’s missionary team, and we see how they worked “as a team”, and we only dream and wish. Reality is that most missionary relationships are poor or horrible. One of the reasons is because of the lack of spirituality among those missionaries, but that excuse isn’t always the case. The very nature of missions is to go out where nothing is, and start and create a work from scratch. Those who are followers are not given to this task. Only leaders, people who are not afraid to act, decide, and lead are the ones who do this missionary stuff, and do it well. The nature of the work makes taking orders and cooperating a hard thing to do many times.

While I read about Paul and his team, I also remember the Barnabas and Paul split. So from the first century, missionaries have differed as to their understanding of God’s will. We should not be surprised today if that persists.

Missionary Problems: “I wish I had known how difficult missions really is.”

This post is my own response to an article in “”
What do Missionaries wish they had known before they first went?

“I wish I had known how difficult missions really is.”

What my take on this is the following. First of all, missions is really nothing different (or shouldn’t be anything different) than what the regular ministry is in the United States. The only difference between church work in the US and on a foreign field is simply location. Having said that, there exists missionaries from other countries which go to foreign countries (to them), and some of these even go to the US. Again, church work is the same all over. What is different is the adjustments to culture and language that one has to contend with when going to a foreign place he is not used to. Missionary Kids (MKs) grow up on the foreign field, and they are automatically adjusted from birth, and make great missionaries.

The rub comes in at the point that ANY CHURCH WORK ANYWHERE is difficult. You should not underestimate the problems you will encounter as a missionary. I will put down some thoughts here. Most of these things any pastor in the US will understand. A few will be unique to the adjusting to a foreign church situation. Continue reading Missionary Problems: “I wish I had known how difficult missions really is.”

Missionary Attrition (Dropouts)

This blog article is my thoughts on missionary dropouts. I saw an interesting article here, Dropouts-Burnouts-Forceouts-Never-Should-Have-Goneouts, which I will use as an introduction to my thoughts on the subject.


Let me begin by saying that it is extremely expensive to get a missionary on the foreign mission field working. Besides the years of personal and educational preparation that the missionary himself has to shoulder, once he “officially begins deputation” the costs are shared or shouldered mainly by local churches and the people of God. This “business of missions” should first of all be understood to “NOT BE A SECULAR BUSINESS”. Although many aspects of missions is like a business (money funds the activity on the foreign field, there are workers, there are acquisition of funds, fund raising, promotion, etc), the basic thrust of missions is spiritual, and cannot be reduced to simple business economics. Continue reading Missionary Attrition (Dropouts)