“Join an established team first.”
I went to the mission field in 1980. My first service in Ukraine I made sure I was with an established team. I was there to learn, and learn I did. After the first year I became a team leader.
I believe it is always an advantage to be part of a team first. There are so many things you only learn from those with experience.
Answer from Lindee in Germany, who served in Ukraine, Italy, and Russia for thirty years.
“Seek God’s calling and purpose, meet needs, and learn from others.”
First and foremost, the important things are:
(1) to find our God’s will about your calling for mission work (see Rom. 1:1 )
(2) to find the purpose of his calling (see Paul ministry for the Gentiles – Acts 15:7)
(3) to meet the need of the people/place (see interaction between Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10:5 and 10:19).
We depend on God’s leading to know the will and purpose of God in our lives to serve him.
Generally, one new to ministry can join in an established mission team to learn the basics of mission work by experience from the senior missionaries. The Lord will reveal his purpose in our life when we are equipped. If a need arises, he will lead us to serve him in greater ways and in a wider circle. For example, Timothy grew up under the leadership of St. Paul. Paul is instructing Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:13 to fulfill the things he learned. Now Timothy is an independent preacher, teacher etc.
It is important to follow the above three points prayerfully and then as the Lord leads us, we have to follow his plan in every area of life in the ministry.
Answer from a brother in India who has served among children in remote parts of that country for more than thirty years.
“Seek God’s call first, then move!”
There are many variables here, and my complete answer would depend on knowing them. That said, of course, the first thing to do would be to seek God and what His will for you is. Then while you pray I would answer these questions, which may make all the difference to your decision:
Do you have a call to a specific place?
How old are you?
What is your ministry background and experience?
Who is behind you on this?
Are others for or against this?
Can you start something on your own?
Who will be there when you get to the field?
Do you have existing contacts?
How well do you know them?
What will be your living situation?
There are pros and cons to both directions. I am currently a missionary in Haiti without the umbrella of a missions organization. In some ways, this would not be my first choice. But, like many around me in Haiti serving as missionaries on their own, I am over fifty. Missions organizations that I know do not consider sending someone who is over fifty to the mission field. My nephew has just been rejected by an organization because his wife has allergies. She has been to the mission field and was able to handle them. They are still pursuing going.
If you are called, and it is God’s will, he will make a way no matter what any organizations say. The key is not to create a situation because you so want it that way.
The advantages of going out on your own can be many: You don’t have to adhere to the structures of an organization, such as filing many reports, doing things the way they may think is best when you are on the field and working within a cultural context they may not understand. The paperwork alone can be tedious and limiting and time-consuming. You may be told you cannot do certain things which you may see a need for. And because you are working for them, you may have to do it their way.
But there are disadvantages to doing it on your own: You may be starting from scratch. You will not have the advice of others unless you seek it out. Accountability happens because you search for it, not because it’s there. If there is an emergency you may be on your own. When you get home, the mission organization may have a place for you to stay and a car. They may have resources for your children, such as schools and camps and scholarships. On your own, you have only what you come up with yourself. If you are not good at seeking things out, it may be very difficult for you.
It’s important to objectively listen, investigate and find out what it REALLY will be like, not what your romantic side might think would be lovely. Do some exploring, talk to missionaries and organizations and nationals and prayerfully consider. Forming an organization with your friends can be a beautiful thing. It can also divide friends for life.
Lastly, don’t rush into it. I have friends right now who are doing this and I see red flags all over the place mainly because they are missing things in their hurry to get there and not listening to what they don’t want to hear in their eagerness to serve on the foreign field.
Answer from Janis, who has served for 15 years in the Philippines and Haiti.
“There’s no best way.”
There are benefits and weaknesses to both. Joining an existing team, if it’s a good team, will give you the benefit of years of experience and understanding from the other team members. Starting a team with friends means you’ll all learn and grow together. They can both be good.
However, I’ll say this, there’s no best way. You can join an existing team and it can be a bad situation, people can leave unexpectedly, it doesn’t work out and you’re left hurt. You can start a team with your friends and because of lack of experience or conflict, or any number of possible issues, you all leave, everyone is hurt, and no one is friends anymore.
Just do what God says and, even if it crashes and burns, you’ll know you were following God.
Answer from Cody who serves in Asia Minor.