Missionary Attrition (Dropouts)

Missionary Attrition (Dropouts) 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.

Missionary Attrition (Dropouts)


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 is the acquisition of funds, fundraising, promotion, etc), the basic thrust of missions is spiritual, and cannot be reduced to simple business economics.

Because of the high cost of getting Americans to other countries, fluent in the language of that country, acclimated to the culture of that country, and working the work of God there, we need to be very concerned about missionary drop out. The article is entitled, “Dropouts-Burnouts-Forceouts-Never-Should-Have-Goneouts“, so let me begin there. A dropout is somebody who says they are called and going, but never make it. The preparation and actual final steps before leaving the home country are too much for that missionary. A Burnout is a missionary that actually gets on his foreign field of service, and then cannot support the stress and demands of living there and comes back home. The Forceouts are missionaries who are on the field but come back home because of health, money, etc concerns, a decision not of their own making really. A “Never-should-have-gone-out” is a concept the author of that article makes which is valid. These are people who simply are not a missionary, and probably not even ministerial material and never had any business being in the ministry, much less on the foreign mission field. These people basically are people that see some advantage in being a missionary, usually money or income, or the lack of close supervision, and therefore they enter missions for ulterior motives.

The purpose of studying Missionary Attrition is to do everything possible to stop good ministers from leaving the field and to prevent bad missionaries from absorbing the limited funds and energies.

Let me explain my position here. I have been a missionary since 1984. My opinion is that Satan has swelled the ranks of missions with probably more than half of these people not being real missionaries, and they are just there to absorb the funds and energies (and prayers though praying for them seems pretty useless as these people are not working the work of God).

Good missionaries are normally not good businessmen nor good fundraisers. That is because their focus is on the ministry, not on business. Unthinking and unspiritual churches that give the greatly limited missionary funds that are out to missionaries on the basis of what shines is good. (Not everything that shines is gold though). So instead of stopping missions, Satan dilutes the life source (missionary donations by churches), channeling the majority of these funds into super missionaries who simply pay unsaved nationals to pretend to be pastors, and these national “churches” are simply propped up frauds. Take the US money away from them, and they fold overnight and no longer exist. The majority of their operating budget is from the US.

Causes of Attrition: 1. Spirituality

I agree with the author here. Having had dealings with literally dozens and dozens of missionaries over the years, I have come to the conclusion that a numb er of these people simply are not even saved (a view which I repeat towards many pastors which I have presented our ministry in their churches).

The issue of salvation is the most serious issue of all. An unsaved person cannot possibly do the work of God, but only causes disgrace and destruction to the real work of God. You may be shocked by my observation but for a moment, accept it, and then consider a few verses.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul gives the great defense of his missionary (apostolic) ministry. We must remember that Acts 1-2 lays down the requirements for one of the twelve as having traveled and witnessed the events of the life of Christ from his baptism through his ascension. Paul simply wasn’t any way a “one of the twelve” apostles. His apostleship was that of a missionary apostle.

In  1Cor 9:1 he argues “have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” as if this somehow validates or justifies Paul being considered one of the Twelve apostles, but again, Acts removes any possibility of Paul being considered one of the twelve apostles. The phrase is also used to understand a person seeing Jesus in the sense of being saved. Even on Emmaus road, Paul did not “see” anything because he was blinded.

So why would Paul defend his missionary ministry with the “I have seen Christ” concept? Because this is apparently a very real issue in missions, at least in supposed ministers of God who go between churches raising money for their ministry.

Rev 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

Again this is a very strange verse when you seek to understand it. Why would there be any question as to who are the 12 apostles? There should not have been any doubts as to their identification. But here Christ identifies a group of people as “apostles” (missionaries or people sent on a mission to complete), and these people are liars. In what sense would a missionary be a liar. In what sense are they evil? Simply put, these people that Christ condemned are people who present themselves as missionaries, yet their professed work doesn’t check with reality, and they work evil.

When you hear of glowing missionary reports where the missionary goes out for his first four years and starts 6-7 churches in those years, and each one has 500-2000 people, ask yourself some questions:

1) If he is so successful on the field, what is he doing here raising funds from US churches? Why don’t these mission field churches take on his total support?

2) Is it really normal and natural for a ministry to do so much so fast? If he has national workers doing this, where did they come from? In the US, a church plant may take 5-10 years to get 50 solid members. To train an assistant pastor who is immature and inexperienced, you need probably 6-7 years, and to get a really good balanced, and experienced pastor, that may take 20 years. We normally think of seminaries for this. So a missionary can raise 6-7 churches, more than a dozen ministers to run those churches, all in 4 years? The facts don’t check with reality in the US religious environment, which the base church members being people who grow up in good churches and in Christian families, so even less likely will Muslims, Catholics, or pagan people produce so much, so good quality, in so little time.

The point of the article is that so many missionaries that we send out are simply having tremendous spiritual problems of their own to endure and survive the difficult situation of being a missionary. Add to that the many missionaries that aren’t even saved, and we have a mess.

2. Lack of Relational Skills

Another real problem they identify is the relational skills problem. The article’s view is the need for team ethics and vision in working in mission groups. My experience has been that in most cases, missionaries break off from any interaction one with another because of relational problems. This extends to their not working with other national churches, and even within their own work, they have relational skill problems.

Let’s face facts here. To actually get to the mission field and actually get to the point of doing missions work, you have to have a really thick skin, hold your breathe and endure a lot, and just plain be bull-headed or pig-headed. Things will never “always go the way you want” and the real missionary has to forget about perfection, and deal with reality. He makes his ministry work by sheer force of his own will. He does without, sacrifices, and makes himself content with whatever God gives him in order to continue forward with his mission.

It disgusts me to see pastors in the US jump from church to church, ministry to ministry, because of what is really minor problems, or their own personality problems they have with their own people. In the real world, with real ministers of God, we have to change our goals and aspirations to what God is doing in our ministry, and we need to be the ones to adapt, love when people are unloveable.

The “spiritual weakness” of any minister to handle these personal problems with people (be they other missionaries, be they people in their own church, or even interfamily problems) is a guaranteed failure element.

3. Lack of Ministry Skills

Okay, let me just describe my view of the article’s point here as “baloney.” We don’t have problems on the mission field with “talent” in how to do what we are to do. This is NOT THE PROBLEM PEOPLE! The problem is that we don’t have a clue about WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING!

The end goal has never been more lost than in the minds, concepts, and aspirations of young missionaries going to the mission field. This is because US American Christianity is clueless as well. The only way to clarify this is by defining things clearly, and setting biblical goals, and seeking biblical methods to reach those biblical goals.

1) God’s Work

God’s work is 1) the salvation of souls. If this doesn’t happen first as a priority, and happen constantly as a habit, then whatever you are involved in is purely a social work, and it is not the work of God. Therefore, any minister claiming to be a missionary who is not actively and constantly involved in soulwinning, simply is a liar, a fraud, and a false minister of the gospel.

Today we have overloaded missions with about 80% “support” missionaries, and 20% evangelistic and church planting missionaries. The reality is, these support missionaries absorb probably close to 90% of the funds available, and choke off anybody doing “real missions”.

We do not need full time $100,000/year income missionaries to fly airplanes. I can get to anywhere in the world paying national (pagan) pilots to fly me there. Most of the time, land access is available although much slower. Why do we have to fly in, speak 1 night, and fly out to wait 2 weeks in a nice city house to do it again? What happened to live among the people you minister to?

The issue is very simple, we MUST EVANGELIZE, every minister and Christian, and we do it always. This is the heartbeat of Christianity, and we are in dire heart problems.

2) God’s Goal.

The second extremely important element here that causes missions to blur into nothingness if it is missing is what is the goal of all we do. The Calvinist-Reformed will quote, “do all to the glory of God”. I am sorry, but I have heard that line to the extent to make mad. NO! God’s goal is not some fuzzy, blurry, undefined thing! God’s Goal for us is for us to be as Christ is. Christ’s character and morality is to be imposed in our lives.

Specifically, we are to be totally absorbed in the work of God the Father, which is reaching the world with the gospel. The entire objective of the church is to get this instilled into people. We focus on the method and goal understanding that this is just a further extension of the first point, evangelism.

The reason why “all to the glory of God” is what people want to take as God’s goal and their goal, is because when you make it blurry and undefined, then each individual can define their own personal and ministry goals for whatever they want.

Missionaries say they are serving God by teaching against abortion on the mission field, by serving food to the hungry, by healing the sick, by doing all kinds of mundane and silly (vain, non-spiritual) activities, and they all say, “My ministry is such-and-such, and I am doing it for the glory of God.” No! Glory to God is to obey His will, and ministers and Christians who build their world view and ministry view without doing the hard things are weak and sick Christians. They will be highly prone to depression and giving up.

There is a place for learning skills and talents, and the article does focus correctly on the place for this, the local church. We have robbed this essential ministry from the local church, and we assign it to Christian Schools which don’t have a clue as to how a local church really functions. They work by dictating rules to their faculty and students, and that is not how real-life churches work. Churches in failure often work that way.

3) The Church is the center of the Work of God

What so many missionaries and Christians miss is that Jesus Christ founded the church of God, and this is “GOD’S METHOD OF DOING GOD’S WORK”. I often hear people tout the “local church is broke” horn, and they redefine ministry to exclude the local church (except to suck local churches dry of missions funds to finance THEIR NON-LOCAL CHURCH MINISTRIES!). Many times they redefine a local church to be “something else” like any group of Christians.

Let me clarify. In the NT, a local church was ONLY a local group of truly saved people with a specific set of doctrinal beliefs who regularly met on Sundays to worship God, teach the Word of God (by a pastor-teacher), who took up offerings for the financial needs of the Work of God and had officers (pastor and deacons). This local church had the Lord’s Supper periodically and did baptize their new converts, and this reflects that their main spiritual work was evangelism.

Anything anybody wants to call a “church” (like AWANA clubs, or some other Christian clubs, home Bible studies, home study groups, cells, etc) that doesn’t have ALL of the above elements, IS NOT A CHURCH! Perhaps the most important element above is that this “church” has to be self-supporting. What they do as a ministry has to be limited to what they personally can pay for (both ability and desire). You will never find the concept of a mission church being funded by a home church in the New Testament. In fact, I don’t find the concept of a “mission church” as being used by missionaries in the NT. Every spiritual group that Paul started was a “church” from the first service held. There is no such thing as a “mission” that is under the control and financial support of a mother church. They may meet in somebody’s home at the beginning (what they can afford), but they are independent units from their birth.

4. Training

Basically the article “cops out” on this point. Their viewpoint is that one single person cannot be a missionary alone. I understand their viewpoint (most of their member-missionary societies take this same position).

The necessary training for a real, biblical NT missionary is local church “MINISTRY” training. You need to study your Bible and do that a lot. You need a tremendous amount of biblical knowledge to be a minister. But, in the end analysis of things, knowledge is not what will get you through to a long term ministry on the mission field. You cannot teach and preach without knowing what is true, but the talent or skill that is essential and so many missionaries ruin their ministries for lack of is simply, how a local church functions.

NOTE: No matter how many pastors these Christian schools drag through their doors to teach their students, you do not learn these church ministry skills in a classroom situation, but rather, in a local church dealing with local church ministry problems. You will only learn this “being full-time in the ministry” in a local church. It is my recommendation that every missionary work 2-4 years in a local church full-time. You must deal with the day-to-day ministry problems, and especially deal with people’s problems of the members, of working with addicts, with the sick, elderly, one-parent families, divorce situations, parent-child rebellion problems, etc.

That is where you will learn your needed skills. Every situation is different, but patterns begin to become clear, and a young minister needs to understand those patterns and seek to learn how the Bible addresses them.

5. Church involvement

In truth, I find the article being very hypocritical here. This article is written under the EFMA/IFMA group of mission boards. If ever there was a force to break, limit, or restrict church involvement, it is the entire mission board movement. The reality is, what they say is “churches need to get involved in missions”, but what they mean is, “churches need to give US more money”.

The promotional line of mission boards is that “a mission board does missions better.” Better than what? Better than local churches. The very issue of church involvement is against mission boards doing everything in missions except paying the bill for their own ministry.

Mission boards want local churches to supply the personnel, pay for their education (church members-parents of these young people), then pay for the administration and infrastructure of their mission boards, pay the daily costs of their overhead, and then pay for their missionaries, and then they come around again for extra special missions projects.

When a missionary “fails” and comes home, both the school that “educated” him as well as the mission board that chose him and sent him and supervised him, both disavow any relationship with him. His failure was because of his own personal spiritual life, and this is attributed to what the local church failed to do in his life, i.e. “pass the buck”.

I have personally seen what mission boards do with these “failed” missionaries, and they cut all relationships at light speed. They don’t even think to get them home before they are on their own. The missionary’s family is likewise orphaned even if they had nothing to do with the failure. Anything from moral collapse, nervous breakdown, to health failure, the mission board will summarily “dump” these workers as if they owed them nothing. They are the “local church’s responsibility” now.

I will agree, they always were the local church’s responsibility, and the mission board presumed to invade this biblical relationship in an unbiblical construction of modern man, “improving” on God’s design, making things “easier” for the local church, but in the end, when their designs fail, they dump everything bad back in the local church’s lap, and everything good that we are to be proud of, is because they are missionaries under “our supervision” (like that is what makes the missionaries succeed.

The truth of the matter is, mission boards handle missionary finances, taking a larger and larger cut of that income (besides running in competition with them for mission dollars). That they do, but not all that well most of the time. I have yet to see a mission board “with their head screwed on right” about finances. What they tell the missionary is his goal is so ridiculous it is pitiful. In my early years (the 1980s), mission boards low-balled it so that the missionaries starved to death. After the mid-1990s, they got on the game with high-balling support levels, and then skimming off the top, from the middle, and from the bottom. Mission boards make money off of missionaries in every way possible.

The reality is, Americans are just too educated and have too high of a lifestyle to be good missionaries. Those are the facts of life. Wherever they go, they spend too much money, they live too high with a very high standard of level of living (causing friction, envy, and separation from the nationals), and these issues cause them ministry problems. Any national worker that works for them either 1) wants the same standard of living (which the missionary won’t give him, and the national church cannot), 2) he resents the income discrepancy.

There is no solution here EXCEPT that the missionary agrees to live like the nationals as much as is possible. That means that the new missionaries go to the field with a couple of suitcases of clothes and that is it. It is ridiculous that missionaries spend $50,000 in shipping containers to places in the world where they have Walmarts with furniture imported from the US. They take washing machines, video centers (not just a TV), microwaves, ovens, refrigerators, etc, when none of the US stuff run well on irregular foreign electrical currency (which national factories of these things build in special electronic circuits to protect from spikes, brownouts, or radical fluctuations). The point is, the modern US missionary wants to live like a rich person, and there is no way he can tell poor people that Christ sacrificed all to fulfill the will of God, and they should too. Hypocrite! Where is the missionary’s self-sacrifice in all of this?

Getting back to the article’s line of thought, I think the missionary-local church relationship is extremely indictive of a missionary “staying at the work” or “giving up”. When a missionary “feels” that he has a lot of support from local churches, his work is more pleasant, the problems less severe, and everything goes better.

This support I am talking about is not money deposited in his checking account every month. It is real people who read what he writes, and initiates correspondence with him about his problems, his needs, and is interested in him. I know some churches send us birthday cards and anniversary cards. That is nice. But it is more important that pastors write missionaries regularly (every couple of months) asking how the ministry is going. What is going on with them? It needs to be more than a standard “canned” letter. The pastor needs to give his opinion, experiences, advice, or at least, “we are praying for you”. There are churches that don’t even have an email address that the missionary can write to them with to get in contact with them. Many churches change pastors and never advise their missionaries. Some churches make even calling them impossible with unlisted telephone numbers, and other such nonsense. Pastors, if you are so concerned about your privacy, get out of the ministry!

There is no reason why a church cannot have people email their missionaries every month. Yes, it would be nice to see a little more income when we are sick or have special needs. I know a lot of missionaries that if you just read their prayer letters, they live from one financial crisis to another from each prayer letter. For those people, cut them off from everything. They are just trying to squeeze money out of their supporters, and everything they say becomes suspect of being a liar or blown out of proportion. But there are regular missionaries who have bad months, and churches should give more to those needs. Today, churches want mission boards to force missionaries to have “emergency funds” so that none of that ever comes across to the people, and they can read the missionary prayer letters without fear of their good church people wanting to send something extra to the missionary. I have been in that situation before, and my response to it as a missionary is why are you sending me anything in the first place if giving to a missionary “puts you out”?

6. Improper or Absent On-field care

Again, the article is promoting its mission board based concept here. The on-field care is what “mission boards do for the local church and missionary.” Again, this is a lot of baloney by the article’s author.

I am an independent missionary. I don’t have “anybody over me” except God and my home church that handles my finances. Some pastors have even dropped my support when I left a regular mission board for this situation (as a personal conviction). My answer to them is that I am a pastor. If they are a pastor, what organization is over them to keep them from grabbing a prostitute on the corner, or going out and buying a pint of whiskey? Nobody. Their own church may have a church board over them (I believe this is unbiblical, “pastor” governs, that is the concept, not the pastor is governed).

I have personally known missionaries that both had a drinking problem and had a prostitute problem. In these cases, they were people I was very familiar with, their wives knew of their problems, and they were under mission boards. In one case, the guy was the area field director of his area missions for the board.

In none of these cases where I have seen this happen, was there any missionary board oversight that prevented it, detected it when it happened, nor tried to aid the families after it came out publically. The missionaries themselves resigned or made self-declarations and just walked away.

Being many years under a mission board, this supervision doesn’t work. Why? Because it is a competitive environment, and while you are a missionary with the board, you still are not “one of them” most probably. By that I mean, they will dump you if you mess up, and they will pressure you to leave the board if you are not a “perfect little missionary” according to their concepts. Being human around these people is impossible, because everything they see wrong in you, they jump on, and use to rebuke you. It is just unnatural to share anything with the board. If you do (mostly new missionaries do this), after you get sharp stinging rebukes over things that really needed no rebuke, then you never share anything else with the board again except if they absolutely HAVE TO KNOW. This is the way of life for missionaries.

Anybody can hide their vices for a 3 day visit from a mission board rep. When some co-worker sees something wrong, then they will believe whoever is the highest in “the pecking order”, those in good with the board can do no wrong, and if you are a missionary with problems with the board, then you can never be right, have a correct judgment or attitude, and everything you do and say is just wrong, even though they will not rebuke you for everything, they despise you. This is the truth of mission boards. They support themselves using missionaries and local churches. Their ministry comes before anything else.

When I see a mission board keep a missionary that fell into sin with another woman for a couple of years, giving him counseling, finding him a “pet position” as they do for their washout favorites, then I will believe maybe they have changed. But I don’t see that happening. In the end, there is no such thing as a mission board that “shepherds” their personnel on the field. A local church pastor has the ability to detect problems, get to the truth, reveal, and resolve spiritual problems. An administrator is clueless. These people trip over themselves trying to even pretend to care. A secretary sending a birthday or congratulations on the new baby card is very administrative. A phone call to people, even if it is 5 minutes, is a caring shepherd’s way of showing he cares.

These things cannot be quantified, qualified, packaged, programmed, and set on auto-pilot. This is what administrators do. They decide what is the minimum that we can do to acknowledge that our workers “exist”, a card on their birthday, then they get everybody’s birthday on a list, and program a secretary to buy a box of birthday cards, and her job is to send out the cards every time one is due.

If your kid had a birthday card service send you a card on your birthday stamped from some such service, would it mean anything to you? No. Neither does all that administration and oversight really mean anything to the missionaries.

The cold, cruel, brutal truth is that you are out there all alone, and besides God’s comfort and maybe a mom or dad who really cares, nobody else really does. When the supporting churches’ pastors and people get involved on a personal level, writing, talking, and not just wasting the missionary’s time, but actually getting involved in what he is doing, then he feels he is not alone. That is a tremendous factor to keep him working on the field.

In this, I should make mention of the dynamics of inter-missionary problems. First of all, the team concept is null and void. It doesn’t work. Why? Because there are always veteran missionaries who do all the “good stuff”, make all the important decisions, and get the easy and desired jobs. The new guy checks the mail, cleans the bathrooms, etc. In mission board situations, these new guys get very discouraged because they enter a work being told what the team’s leaders want him to do, not what that particular missionary feels God has called him to do. That is the great deal-breaker with team missions. The missionaries are not equals, but rather there enters a “pecking order” of who is in charge.

On another side of this dynamic are the churches. Poor is the new missionary who gets to the field and sends back his prayer letter saying this month I cleaned the church every week, washed the team leader’s car, carried out his garbage, dealt with a drunk that the team leader didn’t want to deal with, etc. His supporting churches all want to drop his support. In general, most churches don’t send money for “lackies” (people who are other people’s menial servants). So team missions don’t work on so many levels it is pitiful.

Modern missions are splitting into basically all independent missionaries, each with his own valid ministry, and mission board team missions, where these other missionaries come into the field situation knowing they are not a real missionary, they just teach the missionary kids. As such, these menial servant missionaries end up refusing to learn the language or culture, want to live as they did in the US (only better), and they don’t witness nor participate in the ministry except “in their own special ministry and calling.” Many of these people don’t attend the national churches even if it is in English or they learn the language, and the people on the field don’t understand how these American missionaries can have hired servants at their beckon and call. (I don’t understand this either.)

7. Evaluation

Again the article goes off in mission board-style missions, and they insist that only when a mission board is involved giving administration and oversight then can missions be done right. Baloney. What are they evaluating? What are the norms which these missionaries are to be compared to? An evaluation is a fraud if there are no set norms with which the testee must comply with. That is the basic educational principles in testing. If neither adding nor subtracting nor multiplying nor dividing are “goals,”  then anybody can pass the test by just putting their name on the paper. Likewise, you cannot expect elementary school kids to understand calculus.

So what are the norms that all missionaries should be judged by? Faithfulness – that is easy, faithfulness to the mission board or group is identified as faithful to God. That is the way it works in the US right? Good Doctrine – sign a doctrinal statement, and because they sign a doctrinal statement, they MUST BE GOOD! (I have heard missionaries in Mexico, Americans, tell Mexicans wanting to be missionaries, that they need to accept any doctrine of any church they visit, and that they will never get their needed money without visiting Southern Baptist and Pentecostal churches. This guy said, just agree with their doctrine, sign their doctrinal statement, and then do and teach whatever you really believe!).

What we should use as the norm, is the image of Christ. Paul defended his missionary ministry with “are not you my fruit?” (1Cor 9:1). The presence of fruit, real fruit, not bought fruit. Anybody can raise up a church of 1000 people in a few months by giving away foods, free medical and dental care, etc. Those churches exist only as money flows from the US to it. When a true church is raised up, it is self supporting, paying its own bills, and paying its ministers, including the missionary. A real prudent “tip-off” is when the missionary says he doesn’t receive a cent from his national church he is planting. That is because it is ridiculous for him to do so. They have 1000 people with incomes of $100 a week ($10/person/week tithe is $10,000/week), but the real offering is like $50 total if that much, and the missionary has to put in $5,000/month into the church to just keep half their members coming. That being the case, he is pumping his US supporting churches hard for money, and he doesn’t want them to think he is getting anything from the work on the field.

The evaluation must mean something. What does evaluating your missionary mean? What action is taken after evaluation of failure or success?

The lack of evaluation “by an official mission board” should mean your church cuts off that missionary. That is the point of mission boards evaluating.

As a pastor of church evaluating your missionaries, really, where do you go with the evaluation? Cut them off? Continue giving? Rebuke them? Complement them (more money)? Consider Noah, working so long for the Lord, faithful, but no results. If Noah was your missionary, and you evaluate him with a simple evaluation form like the mission boards suggest, what would that lead you to do with him? Cut him off right? But if he is with a mission board, and they “vouche for him” that he is a good worker, then you take their word for it.

This enters into the need for people in the states to go to the mission field and see the work first hand, meet the missionary, and the people he is working with. Please don’t send your unspiritual rich folk to come with a bad attitude and complain about the water. Send ministers, people most concerned about that missionary, and let them evaluate the spiritual life of the missionary.

8. Closure

I understand that the article wants a “soft landing” for the older missionary, retiring. Personally, I am 54, and have no retirement. As a missionary, I really feel sensitive at this point, but I have mixed feelings. Not having sufficient income over the years to really make me a nice retirement fund (my retirement fund right now would not support us even 1 year), I would like to retire somehow, go somewhere less conflictive, and live the rest of my life in pleasure. Being a missionary, I gave up those thoughts a long time ago, and I never see anybody in the Bible “retire” except to heaven. So I will work until Jesus comes or calls me home, or simply I cannot do things.

The issue is very difficult. On the one hand, missionaries “live” on a month to month basis by income from donations. Having that money “come in” means you can live a more or less normal lifestyle. Retiring means, many churches will immediately drop you, and some will not. Those churches that “drop you” will give your donations to some other missionary (a good thing), and those that “retain you” will keep those mission funds tied up probably for 20+ years when you are least productive.

I think the idea of retirement is the problem here. To stop working is a luxury except for the sick, and to reduce workload is much more desirable.

The church’s part in all of this is that they need to be loyal to their missionaries. When this loyalty is felt, especially when that feeling is backed up by real sacrificial investments by the church, such as a missionary house on church property, perhaps a modest ministry in a stateside church, and the missionary slowly goes back and forth from the US to the field for a few years and eventually settles down in the US ministry/permanent housing situation, then the missionary is more likely to work without thinking “this is eventually a dead end, and I will have to go stateside, find a secular job, and work for retirement.” This is a constant consideration for elderly missionaries, and many not so elderly.

That is where the article ends, but I would also make some other observations about missionary attrition.

Calling and Obedience

The bottom line in a missionary fulfilling his ministry on the foreign mission field is a combination of two factors, his personal calling, and obedience. First, many missionaries are not called to the mission field, are not even called to the ministry, or not even saved. That is my conclusion from my own experiences with these knuckleheads who come to Mexico and then give up, and from what I come across talking with other missionaries in mission conferences in the US. If they never should be on the field, it is most probable that they will not last.

The obedience of the individual is also a very clear dynamic in all of this. The individual must be called, and he must obey that call. When you hear exiting missionaries going home, they complain of the food, the culture, the diseases in their country (don’t eat in the street and you won’t get so sick), and other issues that very simply, a called and obedient servant would never use these excuses. To go on a mission and obey that mission’s directive means you pay the price personally. Paying the price means personal sacrifice and hardship, and if the missionary is not saturated in that mentality of personal sacrifice and suffering personally, then he won’t last long.

The indicators of defective missionaries on this issue is that 1) they want very high income, 2) they make a lot of demands for “creature comforts” typically dragging dozens and dozens of US hardware, furniture, office items, kitchen items, washers, driers, etc. with them as “necessities”. 3) They complain a lot about their country, often presenting “unique” and “weird” things in their country of service. Every missionary has “culture shock” the first term, and they will return with these weird photos and stories. They basically are “fill-in” material because they don’t have anything real to say about their ministry and efforts, which they try to hide with cultural things. After 4-5 years, these things should decrease, and they should talk about their ministry, what they have done, what they wanted to do and failed to do (valid comment not to be taken as a negative against them), and what they want to do in the future.

In the end analysis, the “sufferings” of a missionary become null and unimportant because he realizes they are part of his work for Christ, and he shouldn’t complain about them, and they are trivial beside what Christ suffered for us.

Family Disasters

Many good missionaries are called and obedient, but still, come home because of family disasters. By this, I mean the usual problems here are sexual problems between husband and wife, or with others if the missionary is single. I have seen some of these up close and personal. A missionary family came to my church on the field when we were with a missionary board (they were under the same board), and they left the ministry after less than 1 year on the field because the man ran off with a Mexican woman. I have dealt with this first hand.

The bottom line here is that the calling and obedience have to be firmly planted in BOTH HUSBAND AND WIFE. In the majority of these cases, the man has sex with another woman, and when pressed, his wife will admit that she was not allowing him to have sex with her for some time. You cannot disobey God on the issue of sex without incurring serious problems.

Indicators here are difficult to detect. The bottom line, if you drop all the mission board supervision baloney (everybody has their guard up when visitors come), most couples, even Christians, and even missionary couples fight and have problems from time to time. The key element here is not the absence of fighting, but the issues over which they fight (major problems or petty stuff), and how they resolve these issues (not talking to each other, cutting off each other sexually). We are humans, admit it, and we are prone to err. In these things, we must insist (1Jn 4) that the mark of a truly saved person is the constant abiding presence of love in their life, and that everybody forgives as they truly want God to forgive them, not 99% but 100% of the wrong done is forgotten. With those two issues firmly planted in a couple’s marriage, they will probably work out their problems.

Health Disasters

I am cautious about these missionaries who come home because of health problems. Yes, many of them “catch” something on the foreign mission field, and their health is ruined. I suspect many get too much into the “culture” and eat and do things which not even the nationals should do (like eat on the street in street stands). In some cases, being a minister of the gospel, you are invited, and in order to not offend, you should and must eat in somebody’s house, and you get sick from that. I would pity these missionaries and help them as is possible.

There is another class of missionary “wash-outs” here, and that is the nervous syndrome missionaries. The few that I have seen like this is simply because the stress of their situation was impossible to bear. I don’t think most people understand these situations, and they are not things that you can talk about in public very easily, but sometimes spouses have severe vices that they hide or other sins, and the pressure of being in that situation that doesn’t get treated much less resolved, and the constant abiding of that stress causes a “melt-down”. Many of these situations are stress within the home, and many are stress within the ministry, mostly between missionaries, or between missionaries and mission boards. Some missionaries get fed up with the junk that goes on, and just leave mission boards altogether, and become independent, and from the great number of missionaries doing that in the 1990s and 2000s, we can deduce that this ministry stress is rampant. These people are not leaving the ministry, they are leaving their problems, i.e. mission team situations, and mission boards.

Financial Disasters

I think a good many of these financial disasters that cause missionaries to go home are basically a failure on the missionary’s part. In today’s missions, a missionary has to be a fundraiser. Paul, Luke, Timothy, Titus, Peter, etc. never had that problem. That is because today’s missions has broken drastically from the NT concept. The short of it here is that these missionaries cannot get income, so they call it quits because economically continuing forward becomes impossible. Some elements here are typically, the wife (one of the two, wife or husband) cannot take the financial pressure (i.e. their desired standard of living is more than what their income allows), they are not willing to make changes, they are not willing to return to the US to raise more support, they are willing to change their affiliation, group, or mission board, etc. The key element is “they are willing…”

Let’s face facts, in the majority of third world countries where missionaries labor, some people make a “good living” with $700/month or even $1000/month. They make due somehow. A dedicated, called, and determined missionary cannot but help to notice this, and if he changes his lifestyle to be like these people, he can survive, but he is not willing to pay the price. Of course, if he is with a mission board that “skims off the top”, they will not allow him to live making $1000/month and their share is $300, plus he is to give them his tithe (as many mission boards do). They want him to make $5000 a month and their “cut” is more agreeable to them, $1500/month.

The second key element here is that these missionaries refuse to obey God’s Word and examples. Paul received more from the church of Philippi from the beginning of his ministry. Paul planted that church, and it was “on the mission field”, and they faithfully gave from the beginning of Paul’s ministry. Apparently, the church at Antioch that sent Paul out didn’t give at the beginning of his ministry. So the whole concept of a sending church that supports the missionary seems very “flawed”.

Probably the church at Antioch took up a very large offering to help Paul, let’s say enough for his group to travel, work, and survive for let’s say 9 months to a year. Paul’s group worked teaching Christ’s teaching in Matthew 10…

Matt 10:9 Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10 Nor scrip for [your] journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.

I have wrestled with that verse for years, and I still cannot understand how you can evangelize house to house and live off of that. But obviously from Christ’s principle “the workman is worthy of his meat,” and Paul’s like comment in 1Cor 9 about a worker is to be paid by those who receive the benefit of those labors, that God’s plan is that our support as missionaries should very quickly come from where we labor, i.e. the church on the mission field should be supporting us in an increasing percentage as we labor on with them.

The consequences of accepting this deduction are extremely important. Let me explain some of them.

1) There are invalid “mission projects”. All the junk ministries that churches typically support with missions dollars like Bible schools, Christian camps, Christian political action groups, etc. are not missions. They should be all separated from the missions concept entirely, and the missions budget should remain complete, and a minor amount given to these “other good things” but which are not true missions. Missions is witnessing and organizing the converts into churches, and the missions budget should go entirely into those ministries undiluted. People can do those things, but they should not be soaking up missions funds.

2) The only valid out of house ministries are missionaries which evangelize and plant churches like the NT example. I hate to be so persistent and hard on this line, but this is essential to Christianity, and people simply don’t understand it. The salvation of souls (preaching of the gospel) is what got us saved. The heartbeat of the local church is soul-winning. And the work of God is squarely centered on evangelism. The whole idea here is circular, we evangelize and get the converted from that evangelism into our local churches which in turn are the ministers that evangelize further, and Christianity grows. When people get sidetracked into “good things” that are not the best, then all our energies and efforts get diluted until they completely disappear.

Any local church that doesn’t focus on evangelism as its number one priority is not biblical, including any missionary’s ministry. This is what those we consider missionaries in the NT did, like Paul, and we cannot move the emphasis from this without destroying the Work and Plan of God.

Getting back on topic, when a missionary goes home for lack of finances after serving for some years, my question is where is his local church on the field in all of this? We all hear the same lame story, my people are poor, and they cannot help me economically. But these same missionaries brag about their church has several hundred. My understanding of Scripture is that the first financial priority of any church is not missions, but the paying of the salaries of those that minister in that local church. I find that squarely planted as the normal, and the only economic priority, and as what Paul defended in his own ministry and what Christ imposed as our law, a laborer is worthy of his salary, and it should be a worthy salary.

Having declared that, we must understand that the economic well-being of YOUR MINISTER is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY as a church. You should fulfill that before anything else. NT churches met in houses (free rent), and Paul spoke of the Macedonian churches that out of extreme poverty they gave generously to Paul’s missionary work. I don’t know how representative that was of their income, but 1) a mission church work giving to their missionary is very biblical and follows the biblical norms and standards, and 2) Paul labored in that church, and in a sense, they were paying their dues to their minister.

Let me plant a really radical plan and suggestion.

Let all our churches write all their missionaries and tell them, they are cutting off all of their support. From now on, they are working on a different mission plan. When they find a new missionary going to the field, they interview him. If they like him, he comes to their church for 3-4 years to work as an assistant minister or pastor, preaching, evangelizing, etc. They have housing for him, and they give him for his personal needs (very little, just enough to cover the basics). He works in that situation in evangelism and teaching. If he cannot work very well, they ask him to leave. If he shows great heart, that personal touch, and great personal effort and energy in the ministry, then after a couple of years they do like Antioch, they separate him into the foreign mission service.

When they separate him, they give him money for 4 years (dispensed monthly). In those 4 years, he has the task to go wherever is called to work (but cannot go on raising money in the US), he witnesses, evangelizes, and does whatever he can, but his mission is to get a small group of 10-30 families saved and coming to his local church. He teaches tithing to these people from the beginning, and after 4 years, they take over his financial needs and support.

In actuality, the biblical model is even more different. Paul and his team of helpers returned to Antioch and set up in a normal ministry there after their first missionary journey. In other words, they went out, did what they could with what God gave them, and when the funds ran out, they came home and worked secular jobs and worked in their local “sending church” forever. The idea we get from Scripture is that while they took that attitude, God moved on their hearts to repeat their missionary journey, and the people in Antioch (or Paul’s mission field churches) funded them again.

The singularity of their mission seems to come through even though it was repeated. Paul left churches standing when he came home after the money ran out. There was no “disgrace” on Paul’s part because of that coming home. It was like it was part of their plan. They never had the intention of being a constant financial drain on the Antioch church nor any other church.

We need to extremely emphasize this significant detail of the Gospel account, and that is Paul never did deputation! Think about it. We have no record that Paul visited any church asking for money, support, presenting his ministry, or even prayers. What he did do was to minister in Antioch. The people where he ministered, always people that he built friendship and love with through preaching and teaching to them, and most of all, by actually leading them to the Lord, were the people who supported him.

See Flawed Modern Missionary Methods

If you look at the typical missions budget of even a small church over 4 years, this is feasible and doable. Each missionary has the idea of becoming self-supporting (from his church on the field) within a very short period of time. He has no more financial relationships with churches in the US, and the US churches can “send out” missionaries at a constant rate.

The charlatans that are just raising “easy money” in the guise of “ministry” will go crazy over this plan, and they will have a fit. Responsibility is in each man of God and the local church that pays his salary. They discern fraudulent or sinful activity, they cut off their financial support of him, and he goes broke.

For those missionaries who are adventurous, after 5-6 years on the field, their mission church sends them (with a salary equivalent to 4-5 years) to start over again. Because their existence is due to his efforts as a missionary to start a church plant with them, and because so many of their members were won to the Lord by this man, then they continue to support him once he leaves that work. The NT model seems to be constant missionary financial support came from churches ON THE MISSION FIELD that Paul had established as HIS PERSONAL MINISTRY, and they continued to support him as their spiritual father (keys here, he won them to the Lord personally, and he organized them and taught them, or discipled them).

This plan seems to fit the biblical model much better than what we have today. It is so sad to see our present missions situation. Missionaries have to be professional “fund-raisers”, and they have to constantly leave their work on the field to return to raise more and more funds. As a missionary and pastor of a local church on the mission field, you cannot do much to establish the people and organize a church in 4 years. After 10 years, things begin to take solid form. Few missionaries wait 10 years between furlough. That is economical suicide.

But modern missions are full to over-abounding with fakers and frauds that are just making shows for the purposes of raising funds in the US. These people live more in the US than on the field most of the time. Their interest is in money, not doing the work of the Lord. This is seen by how high they set their financial goals, with many missionaries setting goals upwards of almost $10,000/month as their “needs”. They disguise this with different “funds”, like a work fund, a national worker fund, etc., but if you add all these up, they are taking in a large sum of money. What is there to show for that? What can a pastor really do if he is only preaching in his church for 2-3 months out of the year? This is where you can detect these guys. They present themselves as “not pastors”, but as missions organizers. Their main work is not evangelizing, preaching, and teaching, but rather, missions strategist. That means they get the money, and they spend the money, and that is their ministry. Of course, of $10,000/month, $2,000-$3,000 typically goes into their own retirement, and another $5000 for their personal allowance, and there it goes. The actual ministry expenses is very minimum, and they need even more than $10,000/month because that becomes trivial after they finish slicing and dicing their personal desires from it.

In Ezekiel, God rebuked the bad pastors of Israel because they were greedy dogs that only had eyes to consume and take advantage of the sheep. That was true in Ezekiel’s day, and that is true today.

When we look at missionary attrition, we see a defined plan of Satan, saturate the field with many “missionaries” that are not doing the work of God (evangelizing and organizing churches), and starve out the true missionaries driving them home. Is nobody paying attention to what is going on? Are ALL THE US PASTOR’s totally deaf and dumb? Are there no “dogs to bark” the warning as God rebukes in Ezekiel? Apparently not. The majority of US pastors like things the way they are.

2 thoughts on “Missionary Attrition (Dropouts)”

  1. A lot of great information here. I am a person with no formal training in ministry that started serving as a missionary to Honduras four years ago. I started out with a large ministry and soon became discouraged at how they seemed to focus so much on money and getting/retaining paying customers (people that come for a week to give basic medical care and witness). You say about a missionary, “He does without, sacrifices, and makes himself content with whatever God gives him in order to continue forward with his mission.” and “In the end analysis, the “sufferings” of a missionary become null and unimportant because he realizes they are part of his work for Christ, and he shouldn’t complain about them, and they are trivial beside what Christ suffered for us.” Also, “There is no solution here EXCEPT that the missionary agree to live like the nationals as much as is possible.”
    After two years of seeing the business of ministry in Honduras, I knew that is not what God called me to continue to be a part of. I now serve independent of any ministry.

    • Hi Brother, I did not understand your last comment, “I now serve independent of any ministry.” I am assuming that you are not in that “game” professional missionaries plan of doing everything for money. I hope it doesn’t mean you are no longer serving God in Honduras. I was part of a formal mission board, and left it in 1999 because of differences of view between me and them. You can serve God successfully without being part of the rackett that missions has become. It is never easy to follow Christ, and there is a lot of personal sacrifice, but it is possible. Keep up the good work!

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