What questions should I ask a mission organization I am considering joining?

“Five questions about ministry, five questions about family.”

Five questions to ask about ministry:

1. How do your teams or fields make decisions? Majority vote? Consensus? Team leader or field leader decides after getting input from missionaries?
2. How does a team or field resolve their differences and make a decision about a course of action?
3. How many nationalities are present on a field or team? How have nationalities and cultures affected the style of team leadership and decision making?
4. Are ministry funds pooled together into a team or field budget or does each missionary have a separate ministry budget?
5. How are evaluations performed? How often? By whom?

Five questions to ask about family:

1. Are the wives expected to be part of the ministry team? Are they considered employees? What expectations does the mission have for wives?
2. Schooling for kids: What options are available for the schooling of our children? Do we need to raise extra funds to cover those costs? Is home schooling an option?
3. Is it possible to raise funds for our kids’ college costs?
4. How often do missionaries return to their passport country for furlough/home assignment? 
5. How many families on our proposed field have children near the ages of ours?

Answer from David, who served with One Challenge for twenty years, including 15 in Colombia and Guatemala, and now serves with Mission Data International.

“Five questions to ask if you are single.”

1. How are singles, especially single women, viewed in your organization? Can they hold ministry leadership positions?
2. If singles are part of a team, is there a good balance of singles and married couples?
3. How is the support structured for singles? Is it assumed they will live with another single or do they have the freedom to live alone?
4. What are your policies for a single marrying someone from their country of ministry?
5. Is a single woman treated at all differently than a single man? What is the difference?

Answer from Elizabeth, who has served in multiple countries with SEND International for thirty-seven years.

“Not all agencies think and act the same.”

Look at this list thinking about which things are important to you and make sure you ask about those things.

1. Location

There is no mission that works in every country and people group in the world. If you have a particular people group in mind, the prospective mission agency must have work there or at least an interest in working there.

2. Ministry

Some missions carry on a very specific ministry, others are involved in many kinds of ministry. Often you will need to ask specifically if the mission is involved in a particular kind of ministry. For example, WEC International is involved in radio work but it doesn’t have a prominent place in their literature. Also WEC does work in many restricted access nations but they seldom mention this in the literature available to the general public.

3. Theology

There is actually a wide spectrum of theological beliefs within the sphere of Christianity called “evangelical.” Many missions have a distinctive theological blend from within these various areas. It is vitally important that you find a mission where you are comfortable with their theological stand, both what they believe and do NOT believe. Some examples are: baptism, gifts, salvation, spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, and are the lost really lost? 

4. Structure

The subject of mission structure sounds rather dreary, but it is of great importance. How does the mission structure itself? Is there a board in the West that gives total direction? Are people assigned duties or are they encouraged to seek God’s direction for themselves, or is there some blend of these? Does the mission work with autonomous teams? Are decisions in the hands of a few or is there equal voice from the various team workers? Do they practice democracy, servant leadership, or patriarchal leadership? When a vote is taken, who votes? How long must you be on the field to vote? What percentage of votes is taken as a decision? How are leaders chosen and who can lead?

5. Finances

What sort of financial system does the mission operate under? Is it based on the idea that the missionaries are the fund-raisers for the organization? Will you be expected to raise money for yourself and home office administration and other overheads? How much of the money that comes in for your support actually gets out to you? Is the organization cost effective? What about debt? What is their policy?

6. Prayer

Does the mission have a structured prayer support system? Will you be able be able to speak at prayer groups interested in them and their work? Does the mission have a network of prayer warriors that will back them up as they go to the field? 

7. Member care

Is there a structure in place for pastoral support on the field? Who will counsel and guide you? Who will introduce you to the new culture? Who will help when interpersonal relationship problems develop? Who will help when you have trouble with your team or team leaders? What plan and support is there for some sort of furlough breaks? Is there assistance in re-entering the home culture? Is there a someone who will debrief you? Is there help if you desire counseling? Will someone help you with preparing audio/visuals, displays, etc for communicating with your network? Will someone help you arrange tours, and encourage you in your deputation?

8. Education

What kinds of training does the organization offer? Both before and after joining the mission. What about supportive information and programs for your children and children’s education? Are there flexible options for educating children? Are they even interested in your children’s well being?

9. Goals

Do you agree with the purpose, direction and vision of the mission? Does the work and direction of the mission stir you with enthusiasm? Is the mission actually moving somewhere or is it all talk and no action? Does the mission spend bigger bucks on advertising than it does on the ministry taking place? How truthful and realistic is the mission advertising and recruitment persuasions? Is the mission simply carrying on the old vision or are new ministries being started or new areas being targeted?

10. Screening

Does the mission screen its applicants? How? By what methods? Are all conforming to one mold? Do all require the same educational standards? Remember that if you have been screened poorly, so will your fellow team mates.

11. Witness type

Does the mission emphasize incarnational life style? Do they practice it? Do you agree with this approach to evangelism? This is important as it will affect your life and ministry on the field in many ways. Does the mission engage in lifestyle evangelism? Will they encourage you to get involved in personal evangelism?

12. Fringe Benefits 

What sort of fringe benefits does the mission offer? Is there a retirement plan? A health plan? A savings plan? Does the mission relinquish all responsibility of the missionary when something goes wrong? Have a look at those who are retiring or resigning. Are the retirees happy? What problems did they face? Usually those who resign have had problems. What sort of problems were they? Will you have the same problems?

13. Relationships

If you are in a relationship, how does this affect you joining that mission? Eg: dating/ engagement/ marriage? 

Each organization is structured to deal with issues differently based on what is important to them. When you choose an organization, you choose a particular way of approaching issues, and you should be comfortable with these approaches.

Answer from Roland in Canada, who has served with WEC International in the Middle East for 40+ years.

“Important questions to ask a missionary service agency”

MissionQuest.org has put together a great list of questions for missionaries to ask agencies which provide administrative services to missionaries. 

Answer from Kathy in IL, who has served with Mission Quest.

“Five questions to ask yourself, too.”

As a student, I was active in campus ministry and learned to love leading Bible studies, planning events, and emceeing meetings. So when I got involved in missions, I already knew I wanted an environment where someone like me would have the chance to coordinate projects, do some public speaking, and train others.

I looked for a ministry that was growing, not very hierarchical, and included and empowered young people in leadership roles. A good friend of mine who had a greater need for structure and supervision found the same environment a little dangerous and unstable; our agency was not the best fit for her, long-term.

What about you? How well do you know yourself, your values, and the kind of work environment in which you are most likely to thrive (especially at your current stage of life?) As you talk to mission agencies, spend some time reflecting on the work and ministry environments in which you have served thus far – even if you are young. 

Also ask yourself:

  1. How would I describe the kind of sending organization I am looking for? Is this picture realistic?
  2. What are my assumptions about how mission agencies work and what they do for their field workers?
  3. What areas are most important to me? List a few things that could be “deal breakers.”
  4. What areas are less important to me? 
  5. In what kind of agencies or roles are other people with similar backgrounds, gifts, interests, and requirements serving? Look for people you can identify with.

Answer from Marti, who has served in missions for twenty years and currently serves with Pioneers.

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